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December 07 2011


Daily Must Reads, Dec. 7, 2011

The best stories across the web on media and technology

1. Nearly 80% of college students can't figure out QR codes (Digital Trends)

2. Verizon to take on Netflix with web video service (Reuters)

3. Oregon court deems blogger "not a journalist," imposes $2.5 million judgment (Seattle News)

4. iPhone could be used by police to take fingerprints in the field (Cult of Mac)

5. Interactive feature: predicting the future of computing (New York Times)

6. Amazon to publish children's e-books for Kindle Fire (paidContent)

7. The naked retweet dilemma (American Journalism Review)

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July 12 2011


Yahoo prepares new ad network to deliver content personalized to sites

Wall Street Journal :: Digital media company Yahoo Inc. launches a new content and advertising network later this year. It will be a market offering for entertainment websites and popular blogs to install Yahoo software on their pages that would deliver "content personalized", articles and videos to visitors tailored to their personal interests to increase time-spend-on site. It will be an ad revenue share model. Ad networks typically take half the revenue, industry experts say.

Continue to read Amir Efrati, online.wsj.com

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July 02 2011


E.W. Scripps or why they dismiss you for your blog, Twitter and Facebook activities

GigaOM :: Mainstream media entities of all kinds continue to come out with policies that show they still don’t really understand how social media work. The latest example comes from E.W. Scripps, a media conglomerate that owns a chain of newspapers and TV affiliates. The chain’s new policy threatens its employees with termination if they use their blogs, Twitter or Facebook accounts improperly.

Continue to read Mathew Ingram, gigaom.com

May 20 2011


This Week in Review: What Twitter does to us, Google News gets more local, and making links routine

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

Twitter on the brain: Last week, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller got a rise out of a lot of folks online with one of the shortest of his 21 career tweets: “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. Discuss.” Keller revealed the purpose of his social experiment this week in a column arguing, in so many words, that Twitter may be dulling your humanity, and probably making you stupid, too. Here’s the money quote: “But my inner worrywart wonders whether the new technologies overtaking us may be eroding characteristics that are essentially human: our ability to reflect, our pursuit of meaning, genuine empathy, a sense of community connected by something deeper than snark or political affinity.”

This, as you might imagine, did not go over particularly well online. There were a couple strains of reaction: Business Insider’s Henry Blodget and All Twitter’s Lauren Dugan argued that Twitter may indeed be changing us, but for the good, by helping make previously impossible connections.

Alexia Tsotsis of TechCrunch and Mike Masnick of Techdirt countered Keller by saying that while Twitter isn’t built for deep conversations, it is quite good at providing an entry point for such discussion: “What you see publicly posted on Twitter and Facebook is just the tip of the conversation iceberg,” Tsotsis said. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, meanwhile, defended Twitter’s true social nature, and sociologist Zeynep Tufekci gave a fantastic breakdown of what Twitter does and doesn’t do culturally and socially.

Two of the most eloquent responses were provided by Nick Bilton, one of Keller’s own employees, and by Gizmodo’s Mat Honan. Bilton pointed out that our brains have shown a remarkable ability to adapt quickly to new technologies without sacrificing old capacities. (Be sure to check out Keller’s response afterward.)

Honan made a similar argument: Keller, he said, is confusing the medium with the message, and Twitter, like any technology, is what you make it. “If you choose to do superficial things there, you will have superficial experiences. If you use it to communicate with others on a deeper level, you can have more meaningful experiences that make you smarter, build lasting relationships, and generally enhance your life,” Honan wrote.

Google gets more local with news: Google News unveiled a few interesting changes in the past week, starting with the launch of “News near you.” Google has sorted news by location for a while now, but this feature will allow smartphone users to automatically get local news wherever they are. ReadWriteWeb’s Dan Rowinski explained why newspapers should be worried about Google moving further onto their local-news turf, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram criticized newspapers for not coming up with like this themselves.

Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman, on the other hand, said Google’s feature is still in need of some human curation to go with its algorithmic aggregation. That’s an area in which local newspapers can still dominate, he said, but it’ll require some technological catchup, as well as a willingness to get over fears about linking to competitors.

Another change, not publicized by Google News but spotted by the folks at Search Engine Land, was the addition of an option to allow users to filter out blogs and press releases from their results. This raised the question, what exactly does Google consider a blog? Google told Search Engine Land it relies on a variety of factors to make that decision, especially self-identification. Mathew Ingram ripped this classification, and urged Google to put everything that contains news together in Google News and let readers sort it out. (Former Lab writer Zach Seward wrote about the problems with Google News’ blog label back in 2009.)

Fitting linking into news’ workflow: A discussion about linking has been simmering on Twitter on and off over the past few weeks, and it began to come together into something useful this week. This round of the conversation started with a post by web thinker and scholar Doc Searls, who wondered why news organizations don’t link out more often. In the comments, the Chicago Tribune’s Brian Boyer suggested that one reason is that many newspapers’ CMS’s and workflows are print-centric, making linking logistically difficult.

CUNY j-prof C.W. Anderson responded that the workflow issue isn’t much of an excuse, saying, as he put it on Twitter: “At this point ‘linking’ has been around for twenty years. The fact that this is STILL a workflow issue is almost worse than not caring.” This kicked off a sprawling debate on Twitter, aptly chronicled via Storify by Mathew Ingram and Alex Byers. Ingram also wrote a post responding to a few of the themes of resistance of links, particularly the notion that information on the web is inferior to information gained by old-fashioned reporting.

British journalist Kevin Anderson took on the workflow issue in particular, noting how outdated many newspaper CMS’s are and challenging them to catch up technologically: “It’s an industrial workflow operating in a digital age. It’s really only down to ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ thinking that allows such a patently inefficient process to persist.” Publish2′s Scott Karp gave an idea for a solution to the CMS mess.

AOL’s continued makeover: Another week, another slew of personnel moves at AOL. PaidContent’s David Kaplan reported that AOL is hiring “a bunch” of new (paid) editors and shuffling some current employees around after its layoff of hundreds this spring. Overall, Kaplan wrote, this is part of the continued effort to put the Huffington Post’s stamp on AOL’s editorial products.

One of the AOL entities most affected by the shifts is Seed, which had been a freelance network, but will now fall under AOL’s advertising area as a business-to-business product. Saul Hansell, who was hired in 2009 to run Seed, is moving to HuffPo to edit its new “Big News” features. In a blog post, Hansell talked about what this means for HuffPo and for Seed.

Meanwhile, the company is also rolling out AOL Industry, a set of B2B sites covering energy, defense, and government. But wait, that’s not all: AOL’s Patch is launching 33 new sites in states targeting the 2012 election. The hyperlocal news site Street Fight also reported that Patch is urging its editors to post more often, and a group of independent local news sites is banding together to tell the world that they are not Patch, nor anything like it.

Reading roundup: As always, plenty of other stuff to get to this week.

— We mentioned a Pew report’s reference to the Drudge Report’s influence in last week’s review, and this week The New York Times’ David Carr marveled at Drudge’s continued success without many new-media bells and whistles. Poynter’s Julie Moos looked at Drudge’s traffic over the years, while the Washington Post disputed Pew’s numbers. ZDNet’s David Gewirtz had five lessons Drudge can teach the rest of the media world.

— A few paid-content items: A Nielsen survey on what people are willing to pay for various mobile services, Poynter’s Rick Edmonds on The New York Times’ events marketing for its pay plan, and the Lab’s Justin Ellis on paid-content lessons from small newspapers.

— A couple of tablet-related items: Next Issue Media, a joint effort of five publishers to sell magazines on tablets, released its first set of magazines on Google Android-powered Samsung Galaxy. And here at the Lab, Ken Doctor expounded on the iPad as the “missing link” in news’ digital evolution.

— Columbia University announced it will launch a local news site this summer focusing on accountability journalism, and the Lab’s Megan Garber gave some more details about what Columbia’s doing with it.

— The Columbia Journalism Review’s Lauren Kirchner had an interesting conversation with Slate’s David Plotz about Slate’s aggregation efforts, and in response, Reuters’ Felix Salmon made the case for valuing aggregation skills in journalists.

— This weekend’s think piece is a musing by Maria Bustillos at The Awl on Wikipedia, Marshall McLuhan, communal knowledge-making, and the fate of the expert. Enjoy.

February 25 2011


This Week in Review: TBD gets the axe, deciphering Apple’s new rules, and empowering more news sources

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

The short, happy-ish life of TBD: Just six months after it launched and two weeks after a reorganization was announced, the Washington, D.C., local news site was effectively shuttered this week, when its corporate parent, Allbritton Communications (it’s owned by Robert Allbritton and includes Politico), cut most of its jobs, leaving only an arts and entertainment operation within the website of Allbritton’s WJLA-TV.

TBD had been seen many as a bellwether in online-only local news, as Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore documented in her historical roundup of links about the site, so it was quite a shock and a disappointment to many future-of-newsies that it was closed so quickly. The response — aptly compiled by TBDer Jeff Sonderman — was largely sympathetic to TBD’s staff (former TBD manager Jim Brady even wrote a pitch to prospective employers on behalf of the newly laid off community engagement team). Many observers on Twitter (and Terry Heaton on his blogpointed squarely at Allbritton for the site’s demise, with The Batavian’s Howard Owens drawing out a short, thoughtful lesson: “Legacy managers will nearly always sabotage innovation. Wall of separation necessary between innovators and legacy.”

Blogger Mike Clark pointed out that TBD’s traffic was beating each of the other D.C. TV news sites and growing as well. The Washington Post reported that while traffic wasn’t a problem, turning it into revenue was — though the fact that TBD’s ads were handled by WJLA staffers might have contributed to that.

Mallary Jean Tenore wrote an insightful article talking to some TBD folks about whether their company gave them a chance to fail. Lehigh j-prof Jeremy Littau was unequivocal on the subject: “Some of us have been talking today on Twitter about whether TBD failed. Nonsense. TBD wasn’t given enough time to fail.”

While CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis lamented that “TBD will be painted as a failure of local news online when it’s a failure of its company, nothing more,” others saw some larger implications for other online local news projects. Media analyst Alan Mutter concluded that TBD’s plight is “further evidence that hyperlocal journalism is more hype than hope for the news business,” and Poynter’s Rick Edmonds gave six business lessons for similar projects from TBD’s struggles. Journal Register Co. CEO John Paton ripped Edmonds’ analysis, arguing that Allbritton “can’t pretend to have seriously tried the hyperlocal business space after a six-month experiment it derailed half-way in.”

Applying Apple’s new rules: Publishers’ consternation over Apple’s new subscription plan for mobile devices continued this week, with Frederic Filloux at Monday Note laying out many publishers’ frustrations with Apple’s proposal. The New York Times’ David Carr and The Guardian’s Josh Halliday both covered publishers’ Apple subscription conundrum, and one expert told Carr, “If you are a publisher, it puts things into a tailspin: The business model you have been working with for many years just lost 30 percent off the top.”

At paidContent, James McQuivey made the case for a lower revenue share for Apple, and Dan Gillmor wondered whether publishers will stand up to Apple. The company may also be facing scrutiny from the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission for possible antitrust violations, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The fresh issue regarding Apple’s subscription policy this week, though, was the distinction between publishing apps and more service-oriented apps. The topic came to the fore when the folks from Readability, an app that allows users to read articles in an advertising-free environment, wrote an open letter ripping Apple for rejecting their app, saying their new policy “smacks of greed.” Ars Technica’s Chris Foresman and Apple blogger John Gruber noted, though, that Readability’s 30%-off-the-top business model is a lot like Apple’s.

Then Apple’s Steve Jobs sent a short, cryptic email to a developer saying that Apple’s new policy applies only to publishing apps, not service apps. This, of course, raised the question, in TechCrunch’s words, ”What’s a publishing app?” That’s a very complex question, and as Instapaper founder Marco Arment wrote, one that will be difficult for Apple to answer consistently. Arment also briefly noted that Jobs’ statement seems to contradict the language of Apple’s new guidelines.

Giving voice to new sources of news: This month’s Carnival of Journalism, posted late last week, focused on ways to increase the number of news sources. It’s a broad question, and it drew a broad variety of answers, which were ably summarized by Courtney Shove. I’m not going to try to duplicate her work here, but I do want to highlight a few of the themes that showed up.

David Cohn, the Carnival’s organizer, gave a great big-picture perspective to the issue, putting it in the context of power and the web. Kim Bui and Dan Fenster defended the community-driven vision for news, with Bui calling journalists to go further: “Let’s admit it, we’ve never trusted the public.” There were several calls for journalists to include more underrepresented voices, with reports and ideas like a refugee news initiative, digital news bus, youth journalism projects, and initiatives for youth in foreign-language families.

The J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer gave 10 good ideas to the cause, and Drury j-prof Jonathan Groves and Gannett’s Ryan Sholin shared their ideas for local citizen news projects, while TheUpTake’s Jason Barnett endorsed a new citizen-journalism app called iBreakNews.

Three bloggers, however, objected to the Carnival’s premise in the first place. Daniel Bachhuber of CUNY argued that improving journalism doesn’t necessarily mean adding more sources, recommending instead that “Instead of increasing the number of news sources, we should focus on producing durable data and the equivalent tools for remixing it.” Lauren Rabaino warned against news oversaturation, and the University of Colorado’s Steve Outing said that more than new sources, we need better filters and hubs for them.

Blogging’s continued evolution: The “blogging is dead” argument has popped up from time to time, and it was revived again this week in the form of a New York Times story about how young people are leaving blogs for social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Several people countered the argument, led by GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, who said that blogging isn’t declining, but is instead evolving into more of a continuum that includes microblogging services like Twitter, traditional blog formats like Wordpress, and the hybrid that is Tumblr. He and Wordpress founding developer Matt Mullenweg shared the same view — that “people of all ages are becoming more and more comfortable publishing online,” no matter the form.

Scott Rosenberg, who’s written a history of blogging, looked at statistics to make the point, noting that 14 percent of online adults keep a blog, a number he called astounding, even if it starts to decline. “As the online population becomes closer to universal, that is an extraordinary thing: One in ten people writing in public. Our civilization has never seen anything like it.” In addition, Reuters’ Anthony DeRosa argued that longer-form blogging has always been a pursuit of older Internet users.

Reading roundup: I’ve got a few ongoing stories to update you on, and a sampling of an unusually rich week in thoughtful pieces.

— A couple of sites took a peek at Gawker’s traffic statistics to try to determine the effectiveness of its recent redesign. TechCrunch saw an ugly picture; Business Insider was cautiously optimistic based on the same data. Gawker disputed TechCrunch’s numbers, and Terry Heaton tried to sort through the claims.

— A couple of Middle East/North Africa protest notes: The New York Times told us about the response to Egypt’s Internet blackout and the role of mobile technology in documenting the protests. And Amy Gahran of the Knight Digital Media Center gave some lessons from the incredible Twitter journalism of NPR’s Andy Carvin.

— The Daily is coming to Android tablets this spring, and its free trial run has been extended beyond the initial two weeks.

— Matt DeRienzo of the Journal Register Co. wrote about an intriguing idea for a news org/j-school merger.

— Alan Mutter made the case for ending federal funding for public journalism.

— At 10,000 Words, Lauren Rabaino had some awesome things news organizations can learn from tech startups, including thinking of news as software and embracing transparency.

— And here at the Lab, Northwestern prof Pablo Boczkowski gave some quick thoughts on how we tend to associate online news with work, and what that means. He sheds some light about an under-considered aspect of news — the social environments in which we consume it.

December 05 2010


December 03 2010


How Storify Helps Integrate Social Streams Into Articles

Curation seems to be the big buzz word in journalism and online content these days. It's also an area that's generating a lot of product innovations. New services such as Keepstream, Storify, Storyful and Qrait are jumping into the space, aiming to offer new tools to help people curate web and social media content.

Curation is a way for journalists and bloggers to help the public make sense of the overwhelming amount of information out there by carefully selecting the interesting bits and pieces and by providing context. In this new information environment, the thinking goes, we need fellow humans to make sense and filter for us.

For me, curation is part of the all-important process of telling stories and connecting people around these stories. Storytelling is about involving people, finding out new information and providing context so people can find out why that particular story is meaningful to them.


Storify is one of the new curation tools I've been using to tell stories and organize conversations. To gain access you still need an invite code, which you can find in various places on the web such as in this TechCrunch post or on Mashable.

Here's a short video introduction to the tool:

Storify demo from Burt Herman on Vimeo.

In this post I'll focus on why Storify is an interesting new tool for media sites and blogs.

For background, in the above mentioned Mashable post you'll find some use cases (and the home page of Storify has some interesting examples). On Zombie Journalism, Mandy Jenkins offered ten ways journalists (and bloggers, of course) can use Storify: Gathering reactions on breaking news; combining past content with newer information and social streams; showing your own quests on Twitter, Facebook etc.; or organizing your own live tweets from a conference.

Mark Luckie at 10,000 Words also identified several ways that journalists are using the tool.

I recently used it on the financial blog of my newspaper for a post about U.S. GDP statistics that included some lively comments from economics professor Nouriel Roubini being pessimistic about growth prospects. I also used Storify from a post that collected some initial reactions on the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing. (MediaShift's Craig Silverman used it to collect the notable tweets of a Canadian politician.)

Five Reasons to Use Storify

From my readings and experiments with Storify, I've come up with five reasons why you should use it:

  1. It helps you to discover stories on social media. While using Storify to look for reactions to the GDP statistics, I came accross the rather vigorous discussion of professor Roubini's predictions. That became part of my story.
  2. It's graphically appealing for readers and it's easy to use for content creators. Basically, you use Storify to search for content on various social media services and the web, and then drag and drop them and then rearrange it, adding text in between items to create a story. Readers see a clean, interesting presentation of your story, and you can also track traffic to your Storify story.
  3. It makes your work transparent. Your community gets to view the raw material you used to write your story. Storify also makes it very easy to notify the people who created the individual tweets, pictures and status updates that you've curated. This makes it easy to them to react to what you've done.
  4. Even though it presents the raw material, it also enables you to filter out the noise, such as retweets and other distracting elements.
  5. Last but not least, Storify enables you to integrate things such as Twitter into an environment that is more familiar to your community members: Your own blog or website. It works with what you already have.

Things to Think About

Screen shot 2010-12-03 at 12.05.37 PM.pngNow that you know a few reasons for using Storify, here are things to think about before you do so:

  1. A Storify presentation can be confusing, especially for readers who are less familiar with social media. Make sure you offer a bit of background about what they're looking at, especially if Storify is new to your website. I also found that keeping things in chronological or reverse chronological order helped our readers better understand what they were looking at. Finally, be careful about how much you're mixing YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr with blogs and your own text. Don't try to tell too many stories in too many ways in a single Storify story.
  2. Providing context. The neat thing about Storify is that it allows you to insert your own text in between the curated items. But it's also sometimes a good idea to start with a classical long form blog post or written intro above your Storify story, and then embed the Storify below. Often times, just inserting Storify into a blog post isn't enough to help people understand the context of what they're reading.
  3. Beware of the unknown. Storify is still in private beta and more and better features are being added. However, we don't know if the company/product will succeed, so I wonder what happens to all of my Stofiy stories if it shuts down? What if the company decides to integrate ads in a way that's not acceptable for you or your media company? I asked (on Twitter of course) Storify whether it's possible to export one's stories, and the good people at the company said you one can export stories using their API." Just append .json to the story URL and you're good to go!

The Future

I think Storify has the potential to become a very interesting platform. While services such as Seesmic make it easy to monitor social streams from many different services, they don't provide a very easy and straightforward way to combine all that stuff into stories. I look forward to seeing how Storify will develop its service (for instance, on tablets).

What are your experiences with Storify or similar services? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife, Liesbeth.

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This Week in Review: Making sense of WikiLeaks, a Daily tablet paper, and Gawker leaves blogging behind

[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]

We’re covering two weeks instead of the usual one in this review, so there’s a ton to pack in here. I’ll try to zip through it a little more quickly than usual.

What to make of WikiLeaks: WikiLeaks made its third big document drop since this summer this week, releasing about 250,000 confidential diplomatic cables. Here’s coverage by The New York TimesThe GuardianDer Spiegel, and a roundup by The Columbia Journalism Review. Time talked to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange about the leak, and Forbes published an interview and long piece about Assange’s next target — corporate America.

As for the leak itself, The Guardian detailed the documents’ path from the alleged leaker, U.S. soldier Bradley Manning, to Assange, to a Guardian reporter. Yahoo’s Michael Calderone looked at The Times’ editorial process with the cables, including the revelation that they got them from The Guardian, not WikiLeaks. The Wall Street Journal and CNN both declined to sign agreements with WikiLeaks to see the documents in advance, and The Journal examined news orgs’ decisions on whether or not to publish. The Times explained its own publishing decision, then (quite eloquently) responded to readers’ objections.

The reaction against WikiLeaks was quicker and harsher than those following each of its last two leaks. Before the documents were released, its site was hacked, the U.S. and British governments issued pre-emptive condemnations, and senators called for WikiLeaks to be prosecuted. After the release, the Obama administration said it was indeed pursuing a criminal investigation, Interpol revealed it has put out a call for Assange’s arrest (ostensibly for his rape accusations), and Amazon booted WikiLeaks from its servers under pressure from U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman.

WikiLeaks’ actions left many journalists and media observers divided: An Economist blogger accused WikiLeaks of degenerating into gossip, and Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger called them enemies of the American people. Assange and WikiLeaks had their defenders, too: Slate’s Jack Shafer praised them for puncturing “the prerogative of secrecy,” and another Economist blogger made a similar argument. The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins noted that “the job of the media is not to protect power from embarrassment.” Meanwhile, Northeastern j-prof Dan Kennedy wrestled with the balance between transparency and secrecy.

Others’ primary concern was not value judgments, but classification. Is WikiLeaks espionage? Journalism? Radically open government? Or, as Lab contributor C.W. Anderson argued, is it a facilitator of real-time history documentation? NYU j-prof Jay Rosen hashed out his thoughts on WikiLeaks as a stateless news organization on video, concluding, “The watchdog press died, and what we have is WikiLeaks instead.” Paul Balcerak wondered why WikiLeaks gets so much more attention than the press’s own reporting.

If you really want to spend the weekend pondering the meaning of WikiLeaks, it’s best to start with two posts: Some incisive questions by Salon’s Dan Gillmor, and a brilliant post by Aaron Bady sifting through Assange’s own words to determine his motivations behind WikiLeaks’ radical transparency.

Rupert’s big tablet splash: We’ve heard bits and pieces about Rupert Murdoch’s planned tablet-based national news publication, but we got the first substantive report on the subject two weeks ago from Women’s Wear Daily. Among the key details: It’s going by The Daily, it has a staff of 100, it’ll cost 99 cents a week, and it’ll come out once a day. The New York Observer gave us some more information about the publication’s design (it’s text-first and will be published overnight, but apparently looks pretty cool). Other tidbits: John Gruber at Daring Fireball heard that it’ll pioneer a new app subscription API from Apple, and New York’s Gabriel Snyder said it will have a centrist editorial outlook.

The reasons why this project is getting so much pre-launch attention seem pretty readily evident: Murdoch, original tablet news org, iPad news subscriptions, you know the rest. As The Columbia Journalism Review noted, what’s new about this publication is that it won’t even have a website. The initial response from the media-watching world was predominantly negative, with skepticism coming from The New York Times’ David Carr, Gawker’s Ryan Tate, Scott Rosenberg, Sam Diaz of ZDNet, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, Fast Company’s Kit Eaton, The Guardian’s Emily Bell, and paidContent’s Andrew Wallenstein.

Many of those critics made similar points, so here’s a roundup of the main ones: 1) It’s trying to impose slow print-think onto the speed-oriented world of mobile media (this is Rosenberg’s main point); 2) The fact that it won’t have inbound or outbound links means it can’t share in the virality that makes news on the Web work; 3) The folks on board don’t exactly seem like the tech revolutionaries they might need to be (Wallenstein’s main point); and 4) How many people are actually going to pay for this, and can it really cover The Daily’s costs? (Carr’s main objection)

Several of those people also noted a few factors in Murdoch’s favor: Carr argued that people will be more likely to pay for news in an app world than on the web, and both Tate and Eaton noted that Apple’s Steve Jobs (who is reported to be tied to the project) is a pretty powerful guy with a history of success in ventures like these. We got a few good suggestions for Murdoch’s project, too: TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld said to make it local, real-time, and social; Frederic Filloux wanted it speedy, simple, beyond Apple, and with adjustable pricing; and at paidContent, Nic Newman wanted to see a mixture of free and paid content.

Designing apps for tablets and mobile media: Murdoch isn’t the only one with a big new tablet app to unveil: Yahoo’s Joe Pompeo summarized two others — mini-magazines called Nomad Editions and a new iPad magazine by Virgin called Project. Of those, Project, announced Tuesday, got a bit more attention. PaidContent had some details about its video cover and “living magazine” mindset, and All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka pointed out the magazine’s rather intimidating instruction page, though David Carr told NPR it’s still pretty magazine-like.

Also in the process of launching: Next Issue Media, a joint venture by several magazine magnates, will launch its digital newsstand early next year and gave some details to MediaWeek, and Swedish publisher Bonnier, whose Mag+ everyone loved, is expanding into News+. Meanwhile, the Financial Times’ iPad app is doing well, but The Guardian’s Dan Sabbagh remained skeptical that most newspapers’ iPad apps will be able to stand out among the sea of more enjoyable apps.

A couple more smart thoughts on mobile media: PaidContent founder Rafat Ali talked about designing for touchscreens, and Poynter’s Damon Kiesow argued that smartphones are fundamentally a mobile device, while the iPad is a leisure device, so their apps can’t be imposed onto each other: “To fully serve and engage an audience, an app needs to target one distinctive strength — either location or leisure — and make the content and experience fit that use.”

Gawker grows beyond the blog: In advance of its coming overhaul early next year, Gawker head Nick Denton wrote a manifesto explaining why the network of sites is going beyond the blog format (his post at the previous link is in the sites’ new design). Denton said he’s discovered the new formula for online media success: Not so much Gawker’s former trademark snarky meta-analysis, but a few huge juicy scoops accompanied by a steady stream of aggregation, all with a visual bent. He extended the model to include advertising and branding as well.

Reuters’ Felix Salmon responded with a meticulous analysis of Gawker’s new direction, noting that while Denton was the first person to make blogging into “a large-scale commercial venture,” he’s now aggressively dumping blogging’s defining reverse-chronological format. Ron Mwangaguhunga of eMedia Vitals compared Gawker’s new model with a TV business model, and Anil Dash said that while Gawker is still a blog, it’s borrowing Twitter’s design that emphasizes both content and the stream of news. “By allowing that flow to continue regardless of which particular piece of embedded content has caught your eye, Gawker and Twitter are just showing the vibrancy and resilience of the format.” Terry Heaton didn’t like the change, arguing that it’s a statement that Denton doesn’t trust his readers enough to find their way to the best material.

Why Twitter matters: Speaking of Twitter, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger offered a stirring defense of Twitter’s meaning for journalism as part of a lecture on the state of the Fourth Estate. His list of 15 reasons Twitter matters covers most everything: Reporting, conversation, aggregation, search, marketing, authority, writing. Likewise, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram argued that Twitter’s real cultural power “could well be that it is the simplest, the easiest and arguably one of the most efficient forms of mass publishing — or at least micro-publishing — ever invented.”

Later, Ingram took Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s apparently off-the-cuff statement that Twitter could develop a news network as an opportunity to think about how news orgs could filter Twitter into a usable crowdsourced newswire. And MediaBistro talked with Canada’s National Post to get a sense of how one major newspaper uses Twitter.

Business-model developments and discussion: A few notes on the ever-evolving paid-content front: At least two more news organizations are using the Press+ system of Steve Brill’s Journalism Online for their online revenue goals — ProPublica, which is using it to solicit donations online, and Oklahoma State’s Daily O’Collegian, which will charge outside-the-area readers. Over at The Guardian, Cory Doctorow examined The Times of London’s paywall numbers, and CrunchGear’s Devin Coldewey thought out loud about a possible online paid-content system.

Meanwhile, British journalist Kevin Anderson wrote a post arguing that value-added journalism has to be developed with specific revenue streams in mind. Howard Owens of The Batavian countered that would-be entrepreneurial journalists need to focus more on basic local events journalism than “adding value” or analytical journalism, and TBD’s Steve Buttry tried to bring the two perspectives together.

Reading roundup: Here’s what else you should see this week, in the quickest-hit form I can give it to you:

— A British court upheld a stipulation that news organizations can charge paid online news monitoring agencies for using their content. The Telegraph, TechCrunch Europe, and the Press Gazette explain why it’s bad news for aggregators.

— No less an authority than World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee joined the chorus of people extolling the value of data journalism during a panel. A somewhat related debate broke out when Mark Luckie opined on the myths about digital journalism skills. Journalist Andy Boyle disputed Luckie’s claims about what new-media skills journalists need (and don’t need) to know, and j-prof Mindy McAdams and journalist Brian Manzullo chimed in. Anthony DeBarros and Robert Hernandez turned the discussion toward data journalism, with Hernandez asserting that programming doesn’t replace the story. That got Michelle Minkoff kind of riled up.

— The New York Times ran an article looking at the ways technology is creating increased distractions for young people, which was met by smart rebuttals by Duke prof Cathy Davidson and the Lab’s own Megan Garber.

— Also at the Lab: USC prof Henry Jenkins on his concept of “spreadable” media.

— Mashable’s Vadim Lavrusik wrote a great roundup of what’s going on at the intersection of investigative journalism and social media.

— Finally, if you’re looking for a single document to answer the question, “How should newspapers adapt to this new media environment?” you can’t do much better than John Paton’s presentation on how he’s turned around the Journal Register Co. It’s brilliant.

November 22 2010


With its new food blog, WordPress gets into the content-curation game

This month, the company associated with one of the world’s most popular blogging platforms took its first, quiet step into the realm of for-profit content aggregation. FoodPress, a human-curated recipe blog, is a collaboration between blogging giant WordPress.com and Federated Media, a company that provides advertising to blogs and also brokers more sophisticated sponsorship deals. Lindt chocolate is already advertising on the site.

“We have a huge pool of really motivated and awesome food bloggers,” explained Joy Victory, WordPress’ editorial czar. (Yes, that is, delightfully, her official title.) Food was a natural starting place for a content vertical.

If the FoodPress model takes off, it could be the beginning of a series of WordPress content verticals covering different topics. WordPress.com currently hosts more than 15.1 million blogs, and when the FoodPress launch was announced, excited WordPress commenters were already asking for additional themed pages on subjects like art, restaurants, and beer.

(To clarify the sometimes confusing nomenclature: WordPress the blogging software — sometimes called WordPress.org — is free, open source, and installed on your own web server; we use it under the hood here at the Lab. WordPress.com is a for-profit venture offering a hosted version of WordPress software, owned by Automattic, which was founded by WordPress developer Matt Mullenweg. FoodPress is a WordPress.com project.)

For now, though, FoodPress’ creators are keeping their focus on their first blog and seeing what kind of traffic and advertising interest it attracts — the start-small-then-scale approach. And one question that remains to be answered in this first experimental effort is how WordPress bloggers will respond to the monetization of their content, and whether featured bloggers will want compensation beyond the additional traffic they’re likely to receive.

So far, the response from users has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, Victory said. While the familiar issue of blogger compensation has been raised in response to the new venture, “our users don’t seem concerned so far,” she said. Instead, they’re largely excited about the possibility of even more themed sites. Advertising is already a part of WordPress.com, Victory pointed out, popping up on individual WordPress blogs unless a user is signed into WordPress itself.

WordPress’ venture into the editorial realm is significant on its own merits, but it also provides a fascinating case study in how media jobs have proliferated even as the news industry suffers. Victory used to work for metro newspapers, as did Federated Media’s Neil Chase. Now the two are working on a project that brings atomized pieces of user-created content together as a singular web publication. (FoodPress’ tagline: “Serving up the hottest dishes on WordPress.com.”)

Victory is optimistic about this “new way of looking at journalism” — even though, she said, “I consider myself someone who has left traditional journalism behind.” But while some of the FoodPress content is aggregated automatically, Victory believes as well in the value of human curation in creating a good user experience — a sentiment shared among many in the burgeoning ranks of web curators. (Up to now, WordPress’ content curation has focused mainly on Freshly Pressed, a collection of featured blog posts on the site’s homepage, which Victory hand-selects daily.) And to bring more editorial oversight to FoodPress, Federated Media turned to one of its affiliated bloggers, Jane Maynard, to oversee the project — a paid, part-time position.

The blog won’t be just an experiment in curation, though; it will also be a case study in collaboration. “It’s the first step in what we think will be a critical partnership,” Chase noted — one that emerged organically from the collaboration-minded, conversational world of San Francisco-based startups. And just as Federated Media and Automattic have shared the duties of creating the site, he said, they will also share the revenue FoodPress generates.

As for the expectations for that revenue? Victory isn’t releasing traffic stats for FoodPress at this point — both she and Chase were hesitant to talk too much about a project still in beta testing — but noted that the site’s social media presence is growing, with, as of this posting, more than 1,400 Facebook “Likes” and 1,200 Twitter followers. The rest will, like a recipe itself, develop over time. “This is a little bit of an experiment for us,” Victory said. “And we’re hoping it’s wildly successful.”

October 31 2010


John Rentoul, Media Oops Number 1 : You cannot close the door once a blog post has bolted

John Rentoul of the Independent has the blog with the longest running single-blog meme in the known world. “Questions to which the answer is no” is now up to number 411 (“Will Barclays carry out its threat to leave UK?“),

I can’t compete with that, so I thought I’d start a list of Media Oops-es, i.e., cockups. This is all in the interest of media transparency, you understand. Shooting from the hip is just as big a problem for blogging journalists as it is for rednecks and Harriet Harman – though I suspect her invective was planned.

(Update: since this is about educating student journalists, I thought I would cross-post to the Online Journalism Blog in addition to the Wardman Wire).

The first one comes via Justin McKeating, who’s doing something slightly similar, though I suspect we’ll be tracking different bits of media silliness.

Rentoul came up with a slightly unflattering comparison:

A friend draws my attention to a resemblance I had not noticed.

Ed Miliband, he says, reminds him of Watto, the hovering, scuzzy garage owner on Tatooine who enslaves little boys in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, my favourite film of the six.

Miliband spoke in his speech to Labour conference of his being compared to “Wallace out of Wallace and Gromit” – although he department from the text issued, “I can see the resemblance”, to say: “I gather some people can see the resemblance.”

But I thought he looked more like Gromit – the dog who is cleverer than his master who expresses himself mainly by his eyebrows.

If he’d just left it there none of us would have made a fuss. But he thought better of it and deleted the piece. As Justin says:

It looks like the mighty John Rentoul thought better of comparing Ed Miliband to the Watto character from The Phantom Menace and pulled the post without comment. You now get a ‘page not found’ error when you click on the link. Particularly piquant was when Rentoul noted Watto is ‘scuzzy’ and ‘enslaves little boys’. And he deleted his tweet advertising his insightful blog post (we know it was there because somebody replied to it). What a shame, denying future students of journalism this exemplary example of the craft.

Who am I to deny an education to students of journalism? I love computer networks with memories; and also search engines with caches.


For the record, here’s the Milliman, who Rentoul (and everybody else) has previously compared to a panda:


The best bit is that the next Rentoul blog post was all about “tasteless metaphors“.

Pot. Kettle. White and black.

(Update: since this is about educating student journalists, I thought I would cross-post to the Online Journalism Blog).

October 27 2010


Hyperlocal voices: Will Perrin, Kings Cross Environment

hyperlocal blogger Will Perrin

Will Perrin has spoken widely about his experiences with www.kingscrossenvironment.com, a site he set up four years ago “as a desperate measure to help with local civic activism”. In the latest in the Hyperlocal Voices series, he explains how news comes far down their list of priorities, and the importance of real world networks.

Who were the people behind the blog, and what were their backgrounds?

I set it up solo in 2006, local campaigner Stephan joined late in 2006 and Sophie shortly thereafter. The three of us write regularly – me a civil servant for most of my time on the site, Sophie an actor, Stephan a retired media executive.

We had all been active in our communities for many years on a range of issues with very different perspectives. There are four or five others who contribute occasionally and a network of 20 or more folk who send us stuff for the site.

What made you decide to set up the blog?

The site was simply a tool to help co-ordinate civic action on the ground. The site was set up in 2006 as a desperate measure to help with local civic activism.

I was totally overwhelmed with reports, documents, minutes of meetings and was generating a lot of photos of broken things on the street. The council had just created a new resident-led committee for me and the burden was going to increase. Also I kept bumping into loads of other people who were active in the community but no one knew what the others were doing. I knew that the internet was a good way of organising information but wasn’t sure how to do it.

When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

The first post was in July 2006. I used the blogging platform Typepad because it is simple and cheap. I’ve stuck with it because I am lazy and any time spent fetishising about the layout is time taken from dealing with local issues.

I quickly introduced Feedburner-driven email subscriptions – many people prefer email.

When I set the site up I was a Senior Civil Servant in the Cabinet Office. When you do a job like that you are supposed to be incognito. I had strong support from my immediate civil service and political management but the propriety and ethics people were never very comfortable with me publishing.

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

None really at the time – there were hardly any active community sites with a campaigning thrust that you could find through Google. There were many static earlier-internet sites for reference but not frequently updated.

How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

The site is about civic action, a critical part of which is information and communication. If you can’t communicate what needs to be done you can’t get it done. ‘News’ per se comes some way down the list. We often don’t cover ‘news’ say about train problems at the station because it doesn’t really affect the neighbourhood.

For the sake of comparison with traditional news, Kings Cross Environment is more granular and relevant to local people, with no commercial pressures. It would make no economic sense for a traditional news organisation to cover the issues we do.

We make no pretence to be impartial in the often bogus way news journalists do – we are pro-community. But we do try to be accurate and give balance.

We also generate a lot of original content where one of our extended network stumbles across something and it ends up on the site.

We happily coexist with the local papers, such as the Islington Gazette.

What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

The site helps us get stuff done in the community. Most community action in an area undergoing regeneration is an information game. The web helps us play that game very well, often better than the council and companies. We fought a major planning battle with Network Rail that gained £1million in local improvements through Section106, took on Cemex, one of the world’s biggest concrete companies and got them to restructure a local plant.

We help keep people informed and simplify their route to action on dozens of local planning and licensing issues from land banking to pubs to sex shops.

We also find anecdotally that by making an issue public while in correspondence with local public agencies it miraculously gets solved quicker.

In order to do that we are non-partisan, polite, fair and avoid religion.

I don’t edit posts pre-publication, people just follow a general tone. We set a firm tone on comments to avoid partisan nonsense and the comments follow this tone.

When we make mistakes and are inadvertently partisan our readers weigh in and correct us, firmly. Since the first few posts, our local councillor has commented regularly (when in and out of power) in a helpful supportive ‘I’ll get that fixed’ sort of way and occasionally other local politicians weigh in, again in a non partisan way.

What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

I publish a report on traffic about once a year. We get up to 200 uniques and 250 odd emails readers a day. We seem to be at the top of a classic ess-curve.

My interest is in reaching people who are active locally rather than trying to grow and audience for advertising say.

We don’t run the site for comments as such – there are about 1400 comments on 1100 posts. This reflects our use of a blog platform to publish stuff, rather than interest in running a blog or forum per se.

Anything else you feel hasn’t been covered?

Sites work best if they have a concrete purpose and build upon existing real world networks. If i had run the site as a ‘news’ operation or a social media plaything then I don’t think it would have worked.

Having multiple authors with different perspectives and backgrounds has been invaluable not least to cover each others busy spells.

We were a very early adopter of YouTube in 2006. I used video a few times when it added value to tackling a local issue such as noise pollution where it is a godsend for prima facie evidence gathering. But even with the latest tools, the time and equipment overhead of making and uploading a short video clip remains too high for regular use.

We were early into Facebook too with a group ‘I love kings cross’ with over 200 members but the limitations of Facebook meant it didn’t add much value. I will revisit Facebook now the new location-based features are around.

The site has become a remarkable local archive in a way I didn’t expect at all – we are now the definitive source of information on long running local issues. This makes the community stronger and reverses the traditional monopoly on information held by the public sector. The site is archived at the British Library.

October 26 2010


Hyperlocal voices: the Worst of Perth

Having already interviewed hyperlocal bloggers in the US and the Netherlands, this week’s Hyperlocal Voices profiles an Australian blogger: The Worst of Perth. Launched 3 years ago to criticise a local newspaper, the blog is approaching a million views this year and has the an impact on the local political scene.

Who were the people behind the blog, and what were their backgrounds?

Just me. I have a background in stand-up comedy and photography amongst many things, with a bit of dabbling in graphic design and art too.

I used to work for quite a while in video production, (as well as a few occasions as best boy/lighting assistant in a tax write-off kung fu/zombie movie or two). I currently work for Curtin University and am also a student of Mandarin.

What made you decide to set up the blog?

Heh. Well, amusingly from an online journalism point of view, my very first motivation was to label a senior print journo “Australia’s worst journalist”!

Perth has a single daily newspaper, The West Australian, (circ I think about 250 000 daily) which has in many people’s opinion not been best served by being the monopoly daily provider. The paper and its journalists used to be a frequent target of TWOP, but not so much anymore.

The reason for this is at the heart of what’s happening to journalism around the world. Because The West was the only daily paper, in pre-news blog times, people used to be passionate about its faults.

Now no-one really cares how bad it is, because they can get their real news elsewhere. The paper hasn’t got any better, in fact it’s consistently worse, but the difference now is that nobody really cares that much.

The Worst of Perth is totally different in focus these days, much more about design, public art, and the built environment but some time before starting, I had a particularly bellicose email from a former editor of the paper which included both the phrases “head up your arse” and “ivory tower” over a letter to the editor they wouldn’t print. So you might call the original motivation vengeance, but I was also sick of the only forum you could criticise the paper being their own letters page. Hasn’t blogging changed all that!

The blog claims to be “A showcase of the worst examples of architecture, design, culture and humanity in Perth Western Australia”, but it is often more of a celebration of the city more than anything else, albeit a highly satirical celebration.

When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

September 2007. I didn’t know anything about platforms, and I chose WordPress group hosted almost at random, which was both good and bad.

I love that it’s free and they handle all the technicals, but I would like more control over design.

Also, I didn’t know you couldn’t have advertising on WP group hosted. I have had a few offers of sponsorship which I can’t take up because of this, although ads are not really that important to me.

Every time I am just about to decide to switch to self hosted WordPress, I hear someone’s horror story about upgrades and tech problems.

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

Well, to be honest, I didn’t really read that many before I started. I used to read Crikey, Australia’s major independent online news and some of the political blogs, but that’s all.

Now I read a lot of “future of news” stuff, such as your blog and a lot of design too. new shelton wet/dry (http://www.newshelton.com/wet/dry) has been my favourite site for a long time, and I have been really enjoying The Orwell Diaries lately.

How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

Well as I say, originally it was a reaction to a flabby, lazy print outlet, but now the only intersection will be events, where The Worst of Perth is more likely to deal with the ephemera.

Look, The West like most other papers is crammed full of opinion these days, so the difference is less than it should be. I’m never going to do hard news, but hey, neither are they most of the time. It’s just that on The Worst of Perth, I will be funnier than them, and the commenters have an enormous freedom of expression which doesn’t happen in the paper.

I occasionally look through the paper’s and other news sites’ online comment threads and they are most often filled with hatemongering morons. My comment threads are often wild, with libel the only no-no, but even then it is overwhelmingly civilised and amusing.

The demographic is what I really like. Everyone from architects and designers around the world to schoolkids. I was recently very pleased to find that Kieran Long, Architecture critic for the Evening Standard in The UK is a fan.

When something ostensibly hyperlocal can interest a global audience, then I think I’m doing something right.

Expats are an important part of the audience too, and I think that servicing the expat need for home news is an important role that the local blogs can fill far better than the big operators, even if your expat is just in the next city.

What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

I decided early on to (almost) never use non original photos and never to aggregate.

The blog is being archived as a historical document by the national/state library. Because I insist on original photos, this has meant an archive of photos of the city’s ephemera already in the thousands.

Part of the job of the hyperlocal is not just about the present, but also of recording or even forming a different local history than would otherwise be saved – don’t you think?

I receive sometimes dozens of photos a day, many specifically taken for the site, of things that would otherwise be forgotten or not recorded. Will someone in the future want to see what Perth’s worst car or letterbox was? Seems likely they will.

An important part of the role of The Worst of Perth is that it is recording things that have disappeared from the city, whether that is a heritage building being demolished or the city’s worst garden wall going.

There are so many different aspects, and I feel that most local focused blogs could value-add a lot more than they do.

The Worst of Perth does all the following: recording ephemera and lost sites for posterity, media criticism, public art/architecture/built environment forums, battling wits with other commenters, straight out satire, notification of events, etc.

A major key moment was when The Worst of Perth started to make a physical difference to the city. Regularly, posts featuring some risible piece of art, culture, planning or neglect can effect a removal of the object within days, even hours.

This can be as trivial as a misspelt sign, but has even gone as far as The Lord Mayor closing one of the main city streets to have a rotting public sculpture removed at vast expense after having seen it featured on the blog and being horrified.

I also run a Twitter feed of “fake news” on the site, @theworstofperth . I initially started the twitter account for TWOP specifically to link back to blog posts. I almost immediately decided to choose a different tack and created an all original satirical news feed not connected with the blog posts at all.

I get more people following the profile link in Twitter back to the blog than I ever got from post linking.

Twitter is another area where hyperlocal blogs could often do more. I never retweet and seldom tweet promote posts, but that is maybe an extreme stance. My advice to hyperlocal blogs would be to forget about promoting every post on Twitter unless the twitterstream can stand on its own. Use it to add a dimension. Create a # for drinkers at the local or people on public transport or what the local graffiti is saying and put that up.

If the stream can stand alone, then throw in the latest post link too. Twitter as an original content medium has huge potential that has not really been tapped by many.

The Worst of Perth has started to become part of the local politics, and I think this will increase. A candidate standing for local council saw a post criticising him, and jumped in taking on (and sometimes besting) many people in the massive 500 plus comments thread.

The way he did it was an interesting example of how it should be handled. Instead of getting angry, he used humour and openness to all but win over a fairly tough crowd.

What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

The traffic has been rising steadily for the last 3 years and is still going up. Of the straight WordPress hit stats, it should go close to a million views this year, which is not bad for a design/art/culture blog from a small city.

There are a lot of return viewers, as the comment threads are often highly amusing, and there are a lot of people lurking on the sidelines watching on if there’s a post that runs.

October 21 2010


No comment: The Portland Press Herald’s about face

The halcyon days of SnoodFan99 and other anonymous commenters briefly came to an end Tuesday, at least on PressHerald.com, the website for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. In an afternoon note to readers, MaineToday Media explained that it was shutting down online comments across its family of newspapers, including KJOnline.com and OnlineSentinel.com, immediately:

because what once served as a platform for civil civic discourse and reader interaction has increasingly become a forum for vile, crude, insensitive, and vicious postings. No story subject seems safe from hurtful and vulgar comments.

That was Tuesday. On Thursday, the Press Herald surprised readers by bringing comments back, using a different back-end system, Intense Debate. As the paper put it on Facebook, “Just trying to keep you on your toes!

Comments have been a longstanding source of complaint at newspapers. And this is an issue I have some personal experience with, having worked at the Press Herald for 7 years prior to joining the Lab. I emailed publisher Richard Connor to get his thoughts on the seemingly abrupt changes over the 48 hour period where it appeared Press Herald and other papers had abandoned reader comments. In an email Connor declined to go into specifics but said this:

We switched to a monitoring and content management system to control comment abuse. We halted commenting for about 24 hours as we made the switch. There are many monitoring systems. We are testing several others as I speak. This is a fluid situation not only for us but for all media. We believe we will find a system that will correct 80 to 90 percent of the problems that can result from a totally open commenting system which we had.

Intense Debate is a popular commenting platform, owned by the company behind WordPress.com. It offers moderation settings, comment threading, a points system and integrates Facebook Connect, Twitter and WordPress logins. Intense Debate may solve some of the paper’s commenting problems from a technological standpoint — but “vile, crude, insensitive, and vicious” comments are the problem, it will take more than a technology. Here’s two points I take from the paper’s decision.

A healthy commenting environment requires resources.

The Press Herald’s online staff, already tasked with building pages, editing news updates, Tweeting and posting Facebook updates, as well as creating multimedia, is also the line of defense for reader comments. In the past the staff relied on filtering software to block profanity or other flagged words, leaving the job of moderation with people, not an algorithm. It’s a job that could be all-consuming without any other responsibilities, as online producers could predict bad days in advance, namely any story touching on immigrants, gay rights, politics, crime or poverty.

Stop me if this is a situation that sounds familiar: Story on gay marriage/welfare/suicide is posted, anonymous commenters surge en mass to have their take and derail the discussion over the topic of the story onto something else entirely. For a small online staff (under a half dozen people) the sheer volume of responses can be difficult to manage, let alone deciding what’s acceptable under the commenting policy. For larger news organizations the solution might be to farm out moderation work or build a specialized comment system. By deploying Intense Debate the Press Herald and other sites will likely be able to better filter problem posts. But moderation, the act of applying a paper’s standards and defining the boundaries of readers speech to allow better dialog, takes people.

Why are comments on stories worse than comments on blogs?

The original question in all of this is that newspaper reader comments are out of control. But what is it that makes comments so much worse on traditional news stories than they are for blogs, even newspaper blogs? For three years I wrote a blog for PressHerald.com, and the comments on my posts there had little in common with those at the end of news stories anywhere else on the site. Instead of attacks or random tangents, blog comments stayed largely on-topic and at times were helpful in providing new information. Even when commenters called me out or questioned my work, it never got personal. Name calling was mostly played for comedy. This pattern holds true at many newspapers.

Why are the experiences so different? It could be that a blog attracts a different kind of audience — people already comfortable engaging with social media and maybe more inclined to civility. It could be because I jumped into the comments myself from time to time and tried my best to model good behavior. Or it could be because the voice of a blog — less newsy, more human and more conversational — sets up a better relationship with readers than traditional newspaper writing.

But maybe it’s also because, almost 20 years into the web’s history, online discussion still isn’t second nature to some newspapers the way it is for blogs or online-native news outlets. There are tools and policies available for encouraging better behavior, as places like Gawker and The Huffington Post have explored. And as we’ve reported here previously, in Gawker’s case the comments are going way up, even in a more restrictive environment.

In the end, news outlets each place their own value on reader comments. Is it the natural extension of the letters page? An experiment in connecting with readers in new ways? A way to drive up pageviews and ad impressions? There’s no one right answer, but in the end a news organization has to make sure its policies line up with its values.

October 20 2010


Reportr.net wins Canadian Online Publishing Award for best blog

I’ve just heard that Reportr.net has won a Best Blog award at the Canadian Online Publishing Awards in Toronto.

It is an honour to be recognised as among the best in online media in Canada.

I would like to thank the judges, drawn from highly respected industry professionals and experts from Canada and the U.S., for the recognition.

Two other projects that I supervised at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism are also nominated for awards in the best video and best community feature.

A heartfelt congratulations to all the winners and nominees who are evidence of the strength and vibrancy of the online media community in this country.

Reportr.net was nominated in the business-to-business, professional association, farm and scholarly division.

The three posts entered for the award were:

I created Reportr.net when I joined the UBC Graduate School of Journalism in mid-2006, after 16 years at BBC News.

However, I first started blogging in January 2004, seeing blogs as a way to share and discuss ideas in a conversational and informal style. During my time at the BBC, I was the first BBC live blogger in 2006.

For academics, blogs offer a way to do what is known in the jargon as “knowledge mobilisation,” defined in Wikipedia as “putting available knowledge into active service to benefit society”.

Through blogging, academics can provide a window in their work, engage with readers, and make their research accessible to a broad audience.

I still write papers for scholarly journals and contribute to academic books. But I see blogging as part of my as an academic role to provide new ways of looking and understanding our world, to use the new technologies to experiment with ways of sharing and engaging with a range of publics.


Hyperlocal voices: James Rudd, Towcester News

Hyperlocal voices: Towcester News

James Rudd launched his website covering “Towcester and the villages of NN12” after conducting research for a newspaper group. “Their mentality was one of territory and regions,” he explains, and they didn’t listen to his suggestion of a hyperlocal focus – so he went ahead and launched it independently. This is the latest in a series of interviews with hyperlocal publishers.

Who were the people behind the blog, and what were their backgrounds?

I originally worked in the family business of free distribution newspapers in the late 70s early 80s (after that years in the media side of the pre press world mostly working on magazines and catalogues), so the concept was quite clear in my mind.

What made you decide to set up the blog?

I did some research for a newspaper group on the internet and discovered that their mentality was one of territory and regions. This, however, only suited national and large local companies for advertising. I suggested that they produce hyperlocal websites providing advertising opportunities and content in smaller areas.

When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

The newspaper group didn’t listen, my wife happened on the AboutMyArea.co.uk franchise whilst with our toddler, I thought that would sort out my needs and bought the franchise. I did this at the end of February 2007.

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

I only came across other bloggers really when I came across Twitter, two years ago. Certainly Christian Payne (Documentally) and Rick Waghorn‘s blog Out With A Bang.

How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

I compete on every level with the local newspapers – or attempt to, both on news and of course for advertising.

One has given up and gone away, the other is half-hearted and dependent on dwindling sales and the property section.

Effectively I have become the news organisation for the area, primarily through engaging, but also by being positive about the area, trying to avoid too much bad press and publishing daily throughout the day.

I now supply images to the local daily paper. I also find the BBC, Anglia, local and national newspapers, some press agencies looking at my site most days.

Many local stories have broken with me and then been picked up, usually a week or so afterwards by other organisations.

What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

All the content comes to me, I only edit it really.

Certainly when the local councils, and major organisations started to take it seriously was important.

The first key moment was when people started to want to be regular correspondents and send me weekly information.

What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

My business model is content, visitors, content, visitor, then advertising.

I now get around 23,000 visits a week – hits probably 5 times that. Traffic seems to be continuing to grow but I think it will level off soon – which is fine.

What else has been important in the development of the blog?

It is very important to engage properly with the local community, that takes time, probably a couple of years.

I get a high rate of renewal for advertising which means that it works and is a business, my aim is to be the local news organisation that local people can look too and trust – I am very close to doing that now.

October 15 2010


Hyperlocal voices: Warren Free, Tamworth Blog

Hyperlocal blog: Tamworth Blog

In the latest in the hyperlocal voices series, Tamworth Blog‘s Warren Free talks about how the same frustration with lack of timely local coverage – and the example set by the nearby Lichfield Blog – led him to start publishing last year.

Who were the people behind the blog, and what were their backgrounds?

I started up the blog after seeing what was happening around the Midlands, primarily in Lichfield and saw the concept would give us something in Tamworth where we could communicate the news as it happened. At the time I was working from home, so in Tamworth the majority of the time.

My background though isn’t one which is littered with journalism experience. My only brush with journalism was during my GCSE’s where I studied Media Studies: we took part in a national newspaper competition, where we came in the top 20. That’s kind of where I left it, until Tamworth Blog was set up in 2009.

What made you decide to set up the blog?

I saw what was happening in Lichfield and suffered the same frustration: local news in Tamworth wasn’t accessible unless you purchased the weekly newspaper. Great if you wanted to find out what happened on Saturday a week later. So I endeavoured to try to provide this service to people in Tamworth.

When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

The first story was published on WordPress on March 2009. We moved to our own hosted box in May 2009, giving us a lot more control on the content and what we could do with it. It started off as just me, but over time more people have offered to write articles for the blog.

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

The big influence was Lichfield Blog. I have known Philip John now for what seems like a lifetime (sorry Phil), after working with him in the past. He assisted with the initial frustrations I had with getting started. He pointed me in the direction of other like minded people across the region including the guys at Pits n Pots and Digbeth is Good. I’ve tried to keep Tamworth Blog unique though, just using ideas and putting our own unique spin on it.

How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

I like to think we can work alongside the traditional news operation, we both provide services to different demographics in my opinion.

I think a lot of people who read the newspapers are people like my parents who like have paper. Whereas I think the younger generation – and by that I mean anyone from early teens up – if they have an interest in their local area or want to know what happened on their road, will pump it into Google and want to get the information from the web and will never go to a shop for that. I think it’s a generation thing.

We both ultimately do the same thing: report on the news – we just make it available as it happens and don’t do it for advertising revenues, which I think many of the publications are driven by.

What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

We average 2,000 unique hits a week. This depends though on what happens in Tamworth. Strangely this weekend saw a spike because of police cordoning off one of the major roads for forensic investigation, which saw some 4,000 unique hits over the first few days this week. Whilst this isn’t great traffic, it is growing month on month.

What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

Probably the most pivotal moment was being invited to the Operation Nemesis raids in Tamworth just before Christmas. We were invited with the traditional media (both paper and TV) to go out on the dawn raids and report on them.

Normally this is something we would get information on from the police later on. Being there and seeing it happen enabled us to report on it properly. Again, until we published this, there was no information on what happened on the streets of Tamworth that morning. That week we saw record hits, simply to find out as much information as possible.

We were also invited to cover the General Election results, live from the count, enabling us to get the news out for people to follow live or wake up too. We had followers through the night and beat the big boys (BBC, ITV and Sky) to getting the announcement out. Thanks to Rawlett High School and the council for giving us access to that.

The biggest hurdle I have found is convincing people of the value of the news on the web. Once this has been overcome, you can quite easily be swamped with news, some of it that isn’t that useful, but wouldn’t have a place on the web if it wasn’t for the blog. You can have it take over your life – finding the balance is key.

October 08 2010


‘Making it findable’ – the creed of the hyperlocal blogger

I’ve written a post over at Podnosh.com (full disclosure: where I do some training and consultancy) on ‘Making it findable’ – the creed of the hyperlocal blogger, reporting on a discussion berween hyperlocal bloggers and local government officials at Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands. The meat of what I’m saying is in the middle:

“I noticed a recurring theme from the bloggers’ perspective on their role – something unique to online journalism, and which I’ve commented on before: the duty to make things findable.

“Bloggers repeatedly referred to information about the local democratic process that was hidden away on council websites – and which they worked hard to make available and interesting to their community. Council meeting times; minutes; planning meetings.

“At one point someone said that the bloggers were there to “hold power to account”. Not always in the active sense of posing difficult questions – but also in making the invisible visible; the obscure findable.

“By doing so they are not only shedding a light on the workings of local government, but transferring power. “This is your responsibility”, it says – not “This is my story”.”

There’s a nice comment below saying it “is the closest anyone, including me – has ever got to stating what my blog is about.” Full post here.

October 04 2010


A brilliant Donald Duck mashup – Right Wing Radio Duck

Jonathan McIntosh of Rebellious Pixels has just published a mashup of Donald Duck cartoons matched to a mashed-up Glenn Beck (of Fox News) voice track, called “Right Wing Radio Duck”.

Jonathan has taken dozens of segments from the cartoon archives, and dozens of voice clips from Glenn Back, to create a new jigsaw from existing pieces, satirising the North American Right.

This is work of studio quality. Alternatively, it can be produced by an individual in their bedroom, and can potentially in this case be a career-creating “splash”.

Either way, it demonstrates how high the bar can be raised. It also illustates the advantages of having a liberal set of copyright laws. How difficult would it be to make this in the UK?

Here’s the Youtube blurb:

“This is a re-imagined Donald Duck cartoon remix constructed using dozens of classic Walt Disney cartoons from the 1930s to 1960s. Donald’s life is turned upside-down by the current economic crisis and he finds himself unemployed and falling behind on his house payments. As his frustration turns into despair Donald discovers a seemingly sympathetic voice coming from his radio named Glenn Beck.

“This transformative remix work constitutes a fair-use of any copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US copyright law. “Right Wing Radio Duck” by Jonathan McIntosh is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 License – permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution.”

As a contrast, this below is an agitprop video produced by Lib Dem campaigners within a few hours of Gordon Brown’s decision to back away from holding an Election in Autumn 2007. This one was made so quickly, that they used a US version of “The Grand Old Duke of York”.

This video did not circulate outside the political/media community.

September 27 2010


Hyperlocal Voices: Julia Larden (Acocks Green Focus Group)

Hyperlocal voices - Acocks Green Focus Group blog

Today’s Hyperlocal Voices interview is with Julia Larden, chair of the Acocks Green Focus Group blog, which campaigns to make Acocks Green a “better place to live, work and shop”. The group was established in 2004 and the blog followed in 2007. “We are less likely to get confused or get our facts slightly muddled” than professional journalists, says Julia. Here’s the full interview:

Who were the people behind the blog, and what were their backgrounds before setting it up?

That’s a bit complicated. Originally the blog was set up, more as a straight website, by a member who has long since left the area. It was not working very well at that time, and the ex-member was also asking for quite a lot of money to carry it on. I don’t think the member had any particular background in IT – he was in education, although he has set up a few small websites of his own. I had done some work for it, written some materials and supplied some photographs. My son, who runs a small software company, agreed to take the whole thing into his care for a bit.

Things lay dormant and then, when my son had time he simply picked the content up and plonked the whole thing into a WordPress blog – one of the slightly posher ones that you have to pay a bit for, but he has some sort of contract and can get quite a few of these blogs, so the group just pays him a very nominal sum each year.

It then sat there for a bit longer with not very much happening except the occasional comment, and then several members pointed out that it was a valuable resource which we were not using properly.

One of the members had web experience (running his own online teaching company) and started to make it into a far more interesting blog, asking for more materials, creating new pages and adding in bits and pieces and an opinion survey of the area – as a launch gimmick. (We have kept that – it still gets a lot of interest – more since I shifted it to another page, for some reason.)

Eventually she didn’t have much time. At my son’s urging I nervously started to do tiny bits and pieces and then realized that WordPress is really, really simple. It’s ‘blogging by numbers’, as far as I can see. Now I enjoy it and do all of it. I have zero I.T. background. Again, my own background is education. Mainly I teach English Literature and Film Studies to adults.

I did sort of come into it with a background of amateur P.R. I suppose – have been doing press releases on and off for 30 years, mainly, previously, for the local CND group (and am launching a brand new CND group blog, properly, very shortly.) and, from time to time, to promote courses I am teaching – I still do that sometimes. Up until recently local papers generally used my press releases. In these times that is getting harder …

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

Nobody really – this was a couple of years ago and there wasn’t exactly a lot out there re: local blogs. (There is more on our blog that got ‘lost’ – we had one major crash last year.)

How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

We are the same in that we put the news, and our opinions out there. We are different because we can do more.

We are less likely to get confused or get our facts slightly muddled (Not knocking local journos, we know some great ones, but they don’t always live round the corner, and have other stories to cover!)

We can give more. We can put in as many links as we like – both down the side, and in posts, without cluttering things up. The sidebar links are a way of giving some idea who we like and/or work with, as well. (Two Lib-Dems but we have no political affiliations, incidentally.)

We can have big permanent collections of photos and other data on other pages than the main blog page – a ‘library’ in fact. We can put in whole documents, like local plans, which we often do, and set it up so things can be blown up large on screen. In fact we seem to be better than the local council at present, at providing this kind of facility!

We also have ‘quick response’ – a threatened local building of merit for example, can be on the blog the same day as we find out about it. We can help get the word out fast.

We also have a talk back facility, of course. We hope we don’t lose our local press though – they can still cover a lot of households quickly – and help point people to us, as well.

What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

Blimey – probably each time someone took the blog over it was a ‘key moment’. Otherwise, I think it has just kind of developed gradually.

What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

I just go by the posts that get the most attention. Those that give details of plans tend to get a lot of hits (which is satisfying), as do the latest posts. We get a huge amount of stuff about the old Swan centre at Yardley, which worries me, because we are only peripheral to that, and I think Yardley urgently needs its own blog.

We get quite a few people asking for ‘Acocks Green MP’ – no such person of course, but the constituency MP is John Hemming and there is a link to his blog from our site, so, hopefully, people looking for ‘Acocks Green MP’ find their way to that – quite a few people do click on the Hemming blog. Do they sometimes really want a councillor, though, I wonder?

We also get a remarkable amount of people asking about the re-design at Kensington and miscellaneous enquiries, e.g. about bus routes, which suggest to me that there needs to be a general info website for every area, whilst we are a specialist site, focusing on the group work of campaigning on fixed features in the area (and some we would like to be unfixed)

Anything else you feel has been important in the development of the blog that hasn’t been covered?

Oh – photography. My partner does most of the photographs. He used to do them for press releases too, although we do fewer of those these days (just not getting so much stuff into the papers, so the blog is more important). We tend to work as a team. He’s won a mention on the Birmingham Post & Mail Flickr competition a couple of times now, and I think he is quite good. I think good photos help.

September 22 2010


7 Little-Known Muppets

Sure, you know the Swedish Chef, Kermit, Miss Piggy and Beaker. Who doesn’t? But what about some of the more obscure Muppets? Let’s take a closer look at seven of those with a little (okay a lot of) assistance from the awesomely amazing MuppetWiki.

1. Catgut

Catgut is the blues-singing, trumpet-playing cat from The Muppet Musicians of Bremen. Formerly owned by Caleb Siles, Catgut was thrown out for befriending the rats. After laying down in a graveyard to die in melodramatic fashion, she was found by Leroy, Rover Joe, and T.R., who asked her to join them. Catgut possesses a husky singing voice, reminiscent of Carol Channing’s. She is the only one of the four-legged animals in the group to walk on her hind legs, leading the little band on her trumpet.

2. Rover Joe

Rover Joe is a hound dog who first appeared in The Muppet Musicians of Bremen. In that special, he wasMean Floyd’s dog, thrown out after the superstitious farmer mistook Rover Joe for a ghost. Befriended by Leroy the Donkey, Rover Joe plays the trombone in the animal band, though he initially confuses the instrument with a hambone. Rover Joe is a tired old dog, rejuvenated by the companionship of the other animals and the hope of finding a new family.
Rover Joe later appeared in several episodes of The Muppet Show (often performed by Jim Henson) and The Muppets Take Manhattan.

3. Timmy Monster

Timmy Monster appeared on The Muppet Show, and was performed at various times by Steve Whitmire, Dave Goelz, and Jim Henson. Timmy is a full-bodied blue-green monster. He first appeared in the background during the opening of episode 117, and later joined Ben Vereen in the closing number, “Pure Imagination.” In episode 117, certain publicity photos, and the cover ofthe first Muppet Show album, Timmy had green hands, eyes without eyelids, and what appear to be goggles or antennae over his eyes. From the second season onward, he lost his eye antennae and gained eyelids and green hair. Later in the second season, his hands were changed to match the color of his fur, he lost his hair, gained teeth and a tail, and his eyes and eyelids changed. The only time Timmy was called by name was in episode 423, in which he stretched a pair of too-small shoes for Miss Piggy. Steve Whitmire performed him in this scene.

4. Doglion

Doglion is a full-bodied Muppet monster who was featured on The Muppet Show and more sporadically thereafter. Notable sketches include an interpretation of “Beauty and the Beast” with Lesley Ann Warren, singing with Sweetums and Cloris Leachman, and filling the role of destructive monster with Madeline Kahn. He holds the distinction of being the first Muppet to ever grace the silver screen as evidenced in the opening shot of The Muppet Movie, walking through the backlot as the camera pans down from the World Wide Studios statue. He also appeared in the 1990 The Cosby Show episode “Cliff’s Nightmare,” alongside a number of other Muppets (mostly from The Jim Henson Hour). He appeared in three episodes of Muppets Tonight. The most notable was in episode 107. As the punchline to a riff on the famous Mahna Mahna sketch, with Kermit andSandra Bullock, Doglion manifests when Sandra says “Shave and a haircut” (to add “Two bits”).

5. Mean Mama

Mean Mama is a voracious brown monster who debuted on the “Beast of the Week” sketch on episode 201 of The Muppet Show, where she protected her baby from Don Knotts. She is one of the few explicitly female monsters on the show and has been performed by Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz, and Louise Gold.
Mean Mama has been known to fans for years as “Big Mama,” the name she was called in several UK publications, including the Muppet Show Annual 1979,The Muppet Show Diary 1979, and a December 1978interview with Louise Gold in Look-in Junior TV Timesmagazine. However, her name was never used in aMuppet production, and internally, the Muppet Workshopreferred to her as “Mean Mama”.

Mean Mama is unique among the monsters in that she has appeared in both full-bodied and hand-puppet versions. She first appeared as a hand-puppet, with the full-bodied version debuting in episode 217. Although Mean Mama is unquestionably female, her gender is sometimes emphasized more strongly, depending on the sketch. At times, she has been adorned with long eyelashes, a sundress, and bosoms (as in episode 318). In The Muppets Go Hollywood, she appears in the “Hooray for Hollywood” production number in a deep purple gown, with a matching bow in her hair and a feathery black fan. In other appearances, the puppet would lose all its feminine accoutrements and become more masculine in appearance and voice.

6. Thog

Thog is a nine and a half foot tall blue monster. His size may make him imposing, but he has a sweet and gentle disposition. He first appeared as a monster in the 1970 Christmasspecial The Great Santa Claus Switch, partnered with a green monster named Thig.
In 1973, Thog was featured prominently in a dance number, “Oh Babe What Would You Say,” with Julie Andrews in The Julie Andrews Hour. He also had a featured number in the 1974 pilot The Muppets Valentine Show, singing and dancing with “Real Live Girl” Mia Farrow.

On The Muppet Show, he could be seen in the opening theme from season two on, and appeared in a number of segments including: as a “dangerous” animal in episode 110; reprising “Oh Babe What Would You Say,” this time with Kaye Ballard, in episode 123; detonating a blast for “School’s Out” in episode 307; and demolishing a desert research facility in Loretta Swit’s number, “I Feel the Earth Move,” in episode 502.

7. Shakey Sanchez

Shakey Sanchez is a small pink creature who can be seen in several episodes of The Muppet Show. He debuted in episode 116, scatting along with guest star Avery Schreiber and a host of other creatures in the closing number. The puppet was later recycled in Mopatop’s Shop as Princess Lulabelle, a princess looking for a frog to kiss.

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