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April 14 2012


Live Coverage of the 6th Annual Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium

BERKELEY, CALIF. -- Once again, I am covering the Logan Symposium on the UC Berkeley campus, a gathering of some of the top investigative journalists in the country. I'll be covering the day's panels and talks via ScribbleLive. I can add in your coverage or tweets, just let me know if you're at Logan via the comments below.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».


Live Coverage of the 6th Annual Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium

BERKELEY, CALIF. -- Once again, I am covering the Logan Symposium on the UC Berkeley campus, a gathering of some of the top investigative journalists in the country. I'll be covering the day's panels and talks via ScribbleLive. I can add in your coverage or tweets, just let me know if you're at Logan via the comments below.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

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July 15 2010


Kachingle Hopes 'Social Payments' Can Help Fund Content

If advertising alone isn't going to support all the online journalism and content sites, and pay walls will just turn readers away, perhaps there's another solution, a third way: Social payments. More than just simple donations, social payment systems such as Kachingle and Flattr simplify giving money to sites you visit. Both services set up a monthly payment system, with a set amount each month, and the more sites you like, the more ways your payment is split.

While Flattr is still in a closed invite-only beta test, Kachingle launched in February and works a bit differently. Here's the basic run down for Kachingling (yes, it's also a verb):

1. Sign up at the site to pay $5 per month through a credit card or PayPal. No more, no less.

2. Go to sites that have Kachingle enabled and become a Kachingler for them by clicking on their Kachingle medallion. Big Kachingle sites include the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo. and Carta.info in Germany.

3. Kachingle will pay out your money to the sites each month based on which ones you visit the most. They begin making a payment when the site gets at least $3.35.

4. Kachingle takes about 7% of your $5, PayPal takes 8%, and the sites get 85%.

So far, there are less than 300 sites that take Kachingle payments, but there's been a huge uptake in Germany. Ulrike Langer, who runs the German new media blog Medial Digital, told me that she was impressed by the new social payment services.

"I think it's a great opportunity for bloggers like me who would never make that much in advertising," she told me. "I realize that from the tiny amount of money I get from Google AdSense. As soon as I heard about Kachingle, I checked it out. The concept appealed to me because regular users of my site, who read the feed and come back regularly, would have a way to say 'thank you' that's more than just leaving a comment or clicking the 'Like' button for Facebook."

So far, Langer's best month of income from social payments was 40 Euros from Flattr, and about $15 to $20 on Kachingle. That's not exactly going to pay the rent, but she's still impressed to get that much as these services are in their infancy.

I got the chance to talk in-depth to Kachingle founder Cynthia Typaldos, who told me why she started the service, what the challenges are to get publishers on board, and how it's often more about creating a bond for users and sites rather than being all about money. The following is an edited transcript of our talk, with some video clips shot with my Flip cam.


Tell me about social payments, explain to me what they are, and also tell me about your own background.

Cynthia Typaldos: My background is all high-tech. I have a degree in computer science, an MBA at MIT, and I've worked at a number of technology companies, including Sun Microsystems. I did my first startup called GolfWeb in 1995. I'm not a golfer, by the way, but it was a great place to learn about the social aspect of the Internet, because most of golf is about being social. Then I did another startup called Real Communities, which was an earlier form of Ning, but was too early. So this is my third startup.

As far as social payments, it's the name that's gelling now around people voluntarily paying for free content online. It sounds crazy, in a way, because you wonder why people would pay for free stuff. But we think it's a new movement that will be successful because people want to support great digital content and services they love, to make sure they'll be around. On Kachingle, they get credit for that and build a persona around what they're consuming and supporting.

What was your motivation for starting Kachingle?

Typaldos: I got the idea a few years ago. What happened was that my best friend got brain cancer -- it's a sad story. Her English wasn't very good and so she asked me to do brain cancer research on the Internet. So I did, I went around and got all this information, and at the end of the month I gave it to her. Afterwards I wanted to give $100 to all the sites that helped me out in my search, but it was all a blur. I couldn't remember all the sites, and didn't know how often I'd been there. It wasn't about a contribution to cure brain cancer, it was a contribution to support great information and show that I valued it.

How have you funded it?

Typaldos: [laughs] Believe it or not, I don't advise people to do this, but I sold my house and used the proceeds so I could work on this full-time and fund web hosting and things like that. I've also brought in some partners who have put in some money, and we have some angel funding.

How has your growth been so far? How many sites are using it and how many users do you have?

Typaldos: That's a good question. We have almost 300 sites ... and we have individual blogs. What's important is that we're getting the idea of social payments out there. The main thing that's important is how many times our medallion is served up. The medallion is our widget that runs on publishers' sites. And those views have peaked at more than 1 million medallion views per day.

Typaldos explains how they are trying to create a new social norm, and will be launching new Twitter and Facebook apps:

I'm curious what the excuse is from larger newspaper websites who won't use your service. What is their excuse? It seems like a simple enough thing to try.

Typaldos: What it takes is there needs to be a person at the company who is forward-thinking, is willing to experiment, and has the authority and power to implement the medallion on their website. It only takes like five minutes. There aren't any integration issues. When you are talking about pay walls, those systems take time to implement. [To get Kachingle on a site] takes a champion and it takes a champion with clout.

Tell me how it works. Does a publisher's site have to have PayPal to make it work? Can they take credit card payments?

Typaldos: It's really very simple. A publisher pulls the medallion from our site, and posts our medallion on their site -- and they could even have multiple medallions for various parts of the site. Each medallion can have its own PayPal account. So they could have the money go to the newspaper's finances or it could even go to one journalist. It's their choice. Yes, it does go into PayPal, so they need an account to retrieve it.

What's your cut in the equation and what's the cost with PayPal?

Typaldos: This is an interesting question. We wanted to make it incredibly simple. We manage all the financial transactions through PayPal. So we can tell people using our system that 85 percent of the money they put in will go to the publishers' hands. We manage all the transaction fees. We went to PayPal and did a deal with them for the pay-in when people buy the $5 subscription, and we told them we had to have a better price, and we did a deal on the pay-out too. We got those fees down to 15 percent, ours is about 7 percent and theirs is 8 percent. We got them down from 11 percent but think it should be even lower.

We're really happy with PayPal because they were willing to do this deal with us even though we're just a small startup. The reason they did the deal is that they really believe this will be a very big market, and they want to be part of that market. They improved their existing products for us, and they'll be coming out with new products to make it even better.

It seems like a perfect fit between what you do and what non-profit news sites might want.

Typaldos: We do think there are lots of great non-profits in the journalism field that don't have a regular source of revenues. So we're really pleased we have signed up a bunch of non-profits, including the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Center for Public Integrity, and many more. We're excited about that, but we have plenty of good blog sites doing great journalism as well. It's really up to the users to decide what to reward and what the user values.

Typaldos talks about how Kachingle is trying to build up the user base by signing up more publishers:

How did you come up with $5 per month, and why are you so strict about people putting in no less and no more than that?

Typaldos: It's a really interesting question. Early adopters and bloggers love lots of choices, but our target audience is ordinary people and they don't like a lot of choices. I don't know if you've read The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, but it's one of my favorite books. He talks about how you go into a store and there are 25 types of peanut butter, and it doesn't make your life any easier. We want to send a signal to users -- they don't know how much to spend when they first sign up, they don't know what their friends are doing.

It's like tipping. If you didn't know the standard 15 percent to pay for tips, each time you went out to eat, it would be a stressful experience. We wanted it to be $5, no thinking, to reduce the barrier for getting people to sign up. We're also saying that $5 is enough, these are micropayments, and we're not expecting people to be putting in $100 or even $30. Over time, we will start sending some signals saying that their friends are giving $10 a month, and would they like to give more. But without social signals people don't really know what to choose ... Eventually we'd like to bring people up to $10 to $12 on average per month.

What's been your biggest compliment from people and your biggest complaint?

Typaldos: The compliments largely come from the more than 300 sites who have got more money -- but it's not always about money, it's often more about building a stronger bond with users. We even had users write to us saying, 'please I'd like to Kachingle a certain site but they don't have the medallion -- can you make them do it?' We're trying to figure out how to make that happen. The biggest compliment is from the sites and users saying they want to connect, and connect in a monetary way.

As far as the biggest complaint, the biggest difficulty, is in Germany -- we're big in Germany and the U.S. -- where they require a credit card just to use PayPal for a subscription, even if the credit card isn't being used. And credit cards aren't big in Germany so it's an issue for us. We're working with PayPal to fix that. It's been our biggest issue.

One other compliment we get is on being totally financially transparent. As a user, you can see exactly where your money goes. You can track every penny. I felt that this was incredibly important because users really want to know where their money is going. I call it 'crowdsource auditing.'

Typaldos tries to explain why Germany is such a popular place for Kachingle:

How do you differ from the online tipping services?

Typaldos: One of those companies, TipJoy, went out of business. A lot of these companies have way too many mental transaction costs. We're not a tipping system. A tipping system requires you to figure out how much to pay each time. For us, you just start at Kachingle and pay $5 a month, and choose the sites you want to pay once, and we do all the work in the background -- figuring out which sites you went to most, and splitting the money that way. It's a simple, fair algorithm. Most systems before required people to take action each time.

There's a new company in the space, Flattr, and a new French company too called Rue89, so soon there will be three companies. The more, the better, because we are trying to change social norms. There's dramatic differences between Flattr and us. They ask you to click a button like a Facebook "Like" button to give money. We're very much different than that, because you only have to turn on the medallion once for a site to give money to them.


What do you think about social payment systems? Could it help with the business model of online news and journalism? What will it take for them to break through to a wider audience? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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May 07 2010


DoApp Wants to Dominate Mobile Apps for Local Media

The buzz surrounding mobile and tablet apps is deafening. Media companies of all sizes are considering how mobile apps might help a hurting bottom line, leading them to consider mobile ads or paid apps. The We Media folks even threw a one-day Tablet Throwdown so media companies could show off their iPad apps and talk about possible business models.

But what's a local media outlet to do? Apps are costly to create, and you need to make them for iPhones, iPads, Android, Blackberry and more.

Into that void step the folks at DoApp, a self-funded startup in Minneapolis that has transformed itself from a utility and game app maker into a partner with local TV and newspaper outlets who want news apps. In fact, DoApp says it has 120-plus local media apps built and a total of 185 signed on.

What makes the startup so successful in getting local media outlets to use their services? DoApp CEO Wade Beavers told me it's the low cost charged for apps that run on multiple platforms. He said DoApp typically charges media companies $750 to $1,000 per month, with a split of ad revenues, and says some outlets are already turning a profit based on that arrangement.

wade beavers.jpg

"We build them an Android, iPhone, and even a Blackberry WAP [site]," Beavers said. "It's very affordable. We've heard a lot about media companies in financial trouble so we said, 'Let's make this a no-brainer.' They pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for content management systems. We're a mobile content management system and they're paying a fifth or even a tenth of the price."

While DoApp made a name for itself with utility apps like MyLighter (turning your iPhone into a lighter), the startup has made local media a focus with its Mobile Local News platform ("The Best Mobile App You Never Had to Build"), and a budding local mobile ad network, AdaGoGo. But DoApp faces serious competition from Apple's own iAds network, as well as various app developers such as Verve Wireless, which has worked with Hearst, Cox, Belo and the AP.

I recently talked with DoApp CEO Wade Beavers, who previously worked at IBM in user experience, and founder Joe Sriver, who worked as the first user interface designer at Google, to hear more about how their service works, what they are offering publishers, and their view on geo-targeted local mobile advertising. The following is an edited transcript of our phone conversation.


Tell me about how your company got into creating mobile apps for news organizations?

Joe Sriver: The company's roots are back in '07 [when] I started a company called PagePal. It was a website widget development company ... We shifted our focus from widget development to mobile development. And that's just when the iPhone SDK came out, and at first we were trying to get our feet wet so developed some games and utility apps.

We created MyLite and MyLighter, which creates a virtual lighter, and they were two of the top downloaded apps in the App Store for '08. We did some work with Sony BMG for their artist David Cook who had won "American Idol," so we did an app for them. At first we were seen as an iPhone gaming company, but we knew it was just to [build experience] on the platform, and we would do something bigger. We had contacts at WCCO, the local CBS affiliate here in Minneapolis, and they wanted to get their content delivered on mobile. So that got us into mobile local news, and we teamed up with another group to deliver journalism content from TV stations or newspapers on mobile devices. Our Mobile Local News product has had about a year of development on it, and we've been able to achieve most popular status for the number of apps we have for local TV stations and newspapers around the U.S. We have the most apps out there among our competitors.

So how many local outlets are using your services?

Wade Beavers: We have about 120-something in the store and about 185 signed, so another 50 or so coming out to market. I can tell you that on a daily basis I'm getting three to four calls from companies who want this service. About a year ago, when we talked about local mobile, a lot of them were intrigued by it, but now they're scurrying; they're feeling like mobile is definitely an important point for distribution. A year ago, we had to do a whole lot more convincing. Now we're getting calls from smaller local properties. I have one down in Mississippi, where the town's entire population is 10,000. I was surprised.

When we started the Mobile Local News product, we saw the handwriting on the wall. I'm 40 and Joe is in his mid-30s, and we have employees in their mid-20s, and I see the lack of them using print regularly, and the way they consume information is asynchronous -- 'when I want it.' It's hard to get people to sit down and watch the 6 o'clock or 10 o'clock news, and it's hard to get people to take the paper. You capture everything in nuggets of information, and that's when we said mobile makes sense because the phone is such an appendage to people, it's not even funny. You take it away for a day and people go through withdrawal.

Sriver: There's a lot of news aggregation sites like Google News, but for me, I still want to know local news, and the local TV and newspapers have a trusted brand that they've been developing for 50 years or more. There's still a need for truly local news.

How does the business model work? If a news property wants you to develop an app for them, how do you charge them?

doapp ad.jpg

Beavers: We have two models we work with: One is a subscription model with an ad revenue share; or a straight revenue share with limited monthly costs to help them get going. But the reason for that is we built an ad network called Adagogo, with geo-targeted ads we can serve. When people see it working, their jaws just drop open, because we draw a circle on a map and say that when your app is open in that area, your ad will be served. When you have that kind of detailed functionality it's pretty impressive, and we have digital coupons that can be shared on Facebook and Twitter with one click. So they get it.

Adagogo is something we want to grow; that's our business model. What we got tired of was people built ad networks like AdMob, and then they let developers build apps, but there's a true disconnect, because ad networks don't understand how to make apps. And app developers don't understand how to integrate an ad. We know how to do that. So when [Apple CEO] Steve Jobs says that mobile ads suck, we say that we've been doing this for a year creating a great experience.

So is it a plug-and-play platform so publishers can decide what to put into the app? Where to put sports, weather, etc.?

Beavers: Exactly. They can create it and move things around and decide what is a priority and not. We also let them change the navigation color. It's scalable so they can add categories on the fly without having to re-submit to the App Store. We realized that news and information changes so much that we had to build this scalable. Before we built ours, we weren't the first in market, but we did our homework and said, 'How do these news outlets work?' We found out that they're not technical people, they're writers, they have different jobs, so we knew this had to be easy. If it wasn't, then you're going to run into all kinds of problems. We even created a 'feed cleaner' where we could take a feed with a photo image that would be too large and compress it on the fly so it could go through the data network faster.

joe sriver.jpg

There were things we learned along the way to improve that experience. We definitely didn't want to do -- what many competitors have done -- which is throw a WAP [Wireless Access Protocol mobile website] inside of an app. We didn't want that. I commend Apple for putting the kibosh on that because you're not even using the phone the way you're supposed to. Why don't you just make a WAP, why are you making an app? We have geo-targeted weather and traffic for cars. We built things that were useful for having on your phone.

Sriver: The main point for newspapers is that it would integrate into what they already have. So they have RSS feeds on their website, and they can simply add those RSS feeds into our back end and they don't have to do any extra footwork. We use what they already have, and it's easy to get up and running. We can usually get their app into the store in 30 days or less -- and usually it's less than 15 days.

Beavers: We also added user-generated content so people can take a photo or a video right within the app and submit it within the app. And no one was doing that besides CNN. We do it on a scale of 100-plus properties. And we do it on Android too. When we did that, we should have promoted it more. The stations love it. Most of what they get is weather and local sporting events. They'll get their traditional inappropriate things [laughs].

Does it cost different amounts for each platform, or does one subscription fee pay for all of them?

Beavers: It's one cost for all the platforms. We decided that as we add more functionality, we're not going to itemize that. User-generated content or geo-targeted traffic -- we added those in one of our updates and everyone can use it. They can just turn it on, and we don't charge extra. We think of it as an ongoing thing and we'll keep improving the product. We did nine updates in the app in the last 12 months, and they were all major updates, not just bug fixes.

espn chicago.jpg

Everyone talks about Pandora. That's single-handedly created a competitor to local radio. News properties need to figure that out, too, because the New York Times announced it would go into local markets, and CNN is trying to do that as well as ESPN going into cities and having ESPN Dallas and ESPN Chicago. So local news outlets need to start thinking about ways of using new technology or they're going to be challenged. Their one advantage is local and they better start providing that or others like CNN will.

Do the outlets set a price for the apps if they want to charge?

Sriver: In all the ones we've done, we say that we recommend you make them free, and ad revenues is where they'll make their money. Paid walls are a big issue, and a lot of them want to charge. I think charging for the app is fine, but what I've seen is that when people put up paid walls your number drops immensely. Could you make that up by giving it away for free and getting ad revenues? Yeah, you would tend to make more that way. Unless you have really unique content.

Beavers talks about who DoApp considers to be competitors in developing apps for media companies:

When these local news outlets first went online, they used providers like WorldNow and IBS to help them develop their websites. A lot of the sites looked similar. Is that the same problem with these apps, that they look cookie-cutter in design?

Beavers: I would say that's true, and with our design, the navigation is the same. But they can definitely brand it differently, they can change the color, but it does have the same feel when you open the app. But you know what's funny? If you look at all the other news apps, they're all the same because they're using Apple's SDK. They have five buttons on the bottom -- four are categories and then you have a 'More' button. We wanted to do something different, and everyone says they love our navigation design.

Sriver: The other point is that the percentage is very low of people who download the app from the Daily Herald as well as WCCO and someplace out in California. For an individual user, they probably don't know that a sister station in New York has the same interface and they wouldn't care.

Beavers: If someone wants uniqueness, we can do that for them if they pay for it. But I always tell them there's a cost for that. There's more we can do for a fee. But you know what's funny? The content is king. What they provide is the key. There are some apps that are good and some that are bad based on the fact that some don't provide good content and others do a great job.

People have complained that some apps don't allow comments on stories or don't have outside links to the web. Is that something you leave to the publisher to decide to include?

Beavers: There's about 40 or 50 different commenting technologies out on the web. Every time we talk to a group, they ask whether we can include those. But who's going to monitor and manage the acceptable terms and what people put in there like expletives? Otherwise we have to tie into all those technologies. We can for a fee, and most of them say they don't want it.

Sriver: The other thing is the form factor of a mobile device being so small and it's difficult to type on. So that might thwart someone from commenting because it takes people so long to type. With the iPad, that might be a feature we want to integrate because the keyboard is much bigger. So we might circle back on user comments or interactive elements. Outside links work, and publishers can put those in there. We launched a light version of the browser within the app, and technically they could do commenting the same way if they wanted to. A link could bring up a browser session to do that, but no publisher has asked for that yet -- but they could.

Beavers talks about how he thinks there isn't a problem distinguishing between advertising and editorial on mobile apps:

What kind of ads do you offer? Interstitials, roadblocks, rich media?

Beavers: We do, and we're adding more. One of the things we're working on is a splash interstitial. We have billboards, we've got banners and we integrated ads into RSS feeds on the fly, which is patented technology that we have. Video pre-roll ads are the next one we'll be rolling out. It's one of those things that a lot of people think they want, but so far with the video numbers on mobile across news it's not as high as viral video where people watch the kid in the back seat who came back from the dentist's office.

Sriver: The other thing about ads is that they can get annoying for the user if a lot of these ads from AdMob are national ads. If I'm reading a local article about a sewer system, and there's an ad to download [a game] that's not relevant for me. But if I see a local ad about cleaning your sewer or it's a time-based ad at lunchtime with a local restaurant ad that comes up with a two-for-one deal ... I would feel better showing relevant ads, which would ease people's hesitation to put ads in the app.

Do you have people buying ads through your network, or are outlets selling ads into their apps? How does that work?

Beavers: We end up doing both. We provide the path for outlets to sell locally, and we also have an opportunity as we are negotiating some national ads for people. But we also have a self-serve component, so any advertiser could choose what app they want to be in depending on geo-location.

Sriver: Right now, if you download our apps, you'll probably say that the ads aren't relevant. But it's a gradual process where we're building up the Adagogo network on our side. In the next six to nine months I think we'll gain more traction for local ads. The Denver station and the station up in Seattle are selling local ads, but once we release the self-serve ad service, local mom and pop shops can come in and advertise their stores and the local aspect will...

Beavers: The other part is that because they can sell geo-targeted, you may get the [Minneapolis CBS TV affiliate] WCCO app. You're in San Francisco and if you open the WCCO app, you'll get national ads or geo-targeted ads for that area because WCCO will have local businesses, but businesses will be able to choose where ads can run geo-targeted. Research has shown that 50 percent of your transactions are done within a five-mile radius of where you live and where you work. So why wouldn't an advertiser want to serve ads based on geo-location? It makes sense.

Sriver talks about the difficulty in finding out market penetration for apps in each locale:


What do you think about DoApp's local media apps? Do you use them, or have you contracted with them to develop apps for you? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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March 23 2010


Why Newsrooms Don't Use Plagiarism Detection Services

Six years ago, in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times, Peter Bhatia, then the president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, gave a provocative speech at the organization's 2004 conference.

"One way to define the past ASNE year is to say it began with Jayson Blair and ended with Jack Kelley," he said.

Bhatia's message was that it was time for the industry and profession to take new measures to prevent serious breaches such as plagiarism and fabrication:

Isn't it time to say enough? Isn't it time to attack this problem in our newsrooms head-on and put an end to the madness? ... Are we really able to say we are doing everything possible to make sure our newspaper and staffs are operating at the highest ethical level?

Today, six years after his speech, another plagiarism scandal erupted at the New York Times (though it's certainly not on the scale of Blair's transgressions). A separate incident also recently unfolded at the Daily Beast. Once again, the profession is engaged in discussion and debate about how to handle this issue. One suggestion I made in my weekly column for Columbia Journalism Review was for newsrooms to start using plagiarism detection software to perform random checks on articles. New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt followed up with a blog post on this idea, and there has been other discussion.

Many people are left wondering how effective these services are, why they aren't being used in newsrooms, and which ones might be the best candidates for use in journalism. Surprisingly, it turns out that newsrooms are more interested in finding out who's stealing their content online than making sure the content they publish is original.

Why Newsrooms Don't Use Them

  1. Cost: The idea of spending potentially thousands of dollars on one of these services is a tough sell in today's newsrooms. "We've had a lot conversation with media outlets, particularly after a major issue comes up, but the conversation is ultimately what is the cost and whatever cost I give them, they think it's nuts," Robert Creutz, the general manager of the iThenticate plagiarism detection service, told me. He estimated his service, which is the most expensive one out there, would charge between $5,000 and $10,000 per year to a large newspaper that was doing random checks on a select number of articles every day. Many other detection services would charge far less, but it seems that any kind of cost is prohibitive these days.
  2. Workflow When New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt asked the paper's "editor for information and technology" about these services, he was told the paper has concerns about the reliability of the services. Hoyt also wrote that "they would present major workflow issues because they tend to turn up many false-positive results, like quotes from newsmakers rendered verbatim in many places." News organizations are, of course, hesitant to introduce anything new into their processes that will take up more time and therefore slow down the news. They currently see these services as a time suck on editors, and think the delay isn't worth the results.
  3. Catch-22 In basic terms, these services compare a work against web content and/or against works contained in a database of previously published material. (Many services only check against web content.) Major news databases such as Nexis and Factiva are not part of the proprietary plagiarism detection databases, which means the sample group is not ideal for news organizations. As a result, news organizations complain that the services will miss potential incidents of plagiarism. But here's the flip side: If they signed up with these services and placed their content in the database, it would instantly improve the quality of plagiarism detection. Their unwillingness to work with the services is a big reason why the databases aren't of better quality.
  4. Complicated contracts The Hartford Courant used the iThenticate service a few years ago to check op-ed pieces. "It's worth the cost," Carolyn Lumsden, the paper's commentary editor, told American Journalism Review back in 2004. "It doesn't catch absolutely everything, but it catches enough that you're alerted if there's a problem." When I followed up with her a few weeks back, she told me the paper had ended its relationship with the company. "We had a really good deal with them ... But then iThenticate wanted us to sign a complicated multipage legal contract. Maybe that's what they do with universities (their primary client). But we weren't interested in such entanglements."

The Strange Double Standard

So, as a result of the above concerns, almost no traditional news organizations use a plagiarism detection service to check their work either before or after publication. (On the other hand, Demand Media, a company that has attracted a lot of criticism for its lack of quality content and low pay, is a customer of iThenticate.) Here's the strange twist: Many of these same organizations are happy to invest the money, time and other resources required to use services that check if someone else is plagiarizing their work.


Jonathan Bailey, the creator of Plagiarism Today and president of CopyByte, a consultancy that helps advise organizations about detecting and combating plagiarism, said he's aware of many media companies that pay to check and see if anyone's stealing their content.

"It's fascinating because one of the companies I work with is Attributor ... and I'm finding lots of newspapers and major publications are on board with [that service], but they are not using it to see if the content they're receiving is original," he said. "It's a weird world for me in that regard. A lot of news organizations are interested in protecting their work from being stolen, but not in protecting themselves from using stolen work."

(MediaShift will publish a follow-up article tomorrow that looks at Attributor.)

How they Work

Bailey compares these services to search engines. Just as Google will take a query and check it against its existing database of web content, plagiarism detection services check a submitted work against an existing database of content.

"They work fundamentally with the same principles as search engines," he said. "They all take data from various sources and fingerprint it and compress it and store it in a database. When they find potential matches, they do a comparison."

Each service has its own algorithm to locate and compare content, and they also differ in terms of the size of their databases. Many of the free or less expensive services only search the current web. That means they don't compare material against archived web pages or proprietary content databases.

Bailey said that another big difference between services is the amount of work they require a person to undertake in order examine any potential matches. (This is the concern voiced by the editor at the New York Times.) Some services return results that list a series of potential matches, but don't explain which specific sentences or paragraphs seem suspect. This causes a person to spend time eliminating false positives.

ithen.jpgBailey also said some of the web-only services are also unable to distinguish between content that is properly quoted or attributed, and material that is stolen. This, too, can waste a person's time. However, he said that iThenticate, for example, does a decent job of eliminating the more obvious false positives, and that it has an API that enables it to be integrated into any web-based content management system.

Where They're Most Effective

Bailey has used and tested a wide variety of the plagiarism detection services available, and said they vary widely in terms of quality. Along with his experience, Dr. Debora Weber-Wulff, a professor of Media and Computing at Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft Berlin, has conducted two tests of these services. Her 2007 study is available here, and Bailey also wrote about her 2008 research on his website.

Asked to summarize the effectiveness of these services, Dr. Weber-Wulff offered a blunt
reply by email: "Not at all."


"They don't detect plagiarism at all," she wrote. "They detect copies, or near copies. And they are very bad at doing so. They miss a lot, since they don't test the entire text, just samples usually. And they don't understand footnoting conventions, so they will flag false positives."

Her tests involved taking 31 academic papers that included plagiarized elements and running them through different services. Her data is important and worth looking at, though journalists should note that academic papers and articles are not going to elicit the same results. The Hartford Courant seemed happy with its service, as was the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when it used one a few years ago, according to Clark Hoyt's blog post. On the other hand, the New York Times continues to have concerns.

For his part, Bailey mentioned a few services that might work for journalism.

"IThenticate do a very good job, they provide a good service but it is pricey," he said, "and it is very difficult to motivate newspapers to sign up when they're putting second mortgages on their buildings."

He also mentioned Copyscape.

"Copyscape is another one that is very popular and it's very cheap at only 5 cents a search," he said, noting it took the top spot in Dr. Weber-Wulff's latest study. "It's very good at matching -- it uses Google -- and it does a thorough job, though the problem is that it only searches the current web, so you have a limited database."

He recommends using Copyscape if the plan is to perform spot checks for a news organization. Bailey also mentioned SafeAssign as a third offering to look at.

In his view, it's unacceptable that news organizations are ignoring these services.

"The risks of not running a [plagiarism] check are incredibly high," he said, citing the damage that can be done to a brand, and the potential for lawsuits. "At the very least, they should be doing post-publication checking rather than letting the public-at-large or competitors do it for them -- because that's when things get particularly ugly.

Craig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author, and the managing editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is founder and editor of Regret the Error, the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, and a weekly columnist for Columbia Journalism Review. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigSilverman.

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March 12 2010


NPR, SiriusXM Internships Steeped in Multimedia, Social Media

for credit only.jpg

When you think about internships at media companies, you probably picture people fetching coffee, running errands, or worse. But some internships have taken a different tack, setting up specialized blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages for their interns to help them understand new technology and spread the word about their programs.

At NPR, the 40-plus interns put together a special 30-minute multimedia and audio presentation for the rest of the staff each term. The special "Intern Edition" -- run mainly by interns themselves -- has morphed into a regular blog with daily updates. At satellite radio giant SiriusXM, 150 interns are herded by "Ross the Boss" Herosian, a former intern who has a special Twitter feed, Facebook page, blog, podcast and even YouTube channel for the internship program.

The advantage for interns coming into these programs (which run in spring, summer or fall terms) is that many of them are already immersed in digital media, so there's nothing to relearn. As Doug Mitchell, former head of the NPR Intern Edition, told me for a MediaShift story in 2008:

There's no 'legacy' to concern ourselves with because Intern Edition starts completely from scratch each term with a room full of strangers and me as the continuity and institutional memory. What better place to develop new thinking about media, development and consumption than where nothing truly exists.

A Major Juggle

One thing that interns at NPR have in common with other workers at media companies is the need to juggle like mad. They have their regular internship with a specific NPR radio show or production service; they might have classes at school or other internships; and then they have the extra-curricular work of Intern Edition, their creative outlet. And that creativity can take many forms: video, drawing, comics and more.

"It's never easy," said NPR senior trainer Sora Newman, who has taken on Doug Mitchell's former role. "The interns need to be committed to the project and they always underestimate the amount of time it takes to produce a radio story or slide show, etc. These are just skills learned by experience."

A slide-show by NPR intern May Ying-Lam of the Tiny Desk concert series

Intern Edition gives NPR interns a place to showcase new skills, test their limits and even build an online audience via social media. The @NPRInterns Twitter feed has more than 2,500 followers. And one intern, Teresa Gorman, has just one job for her internship: executive producing the Intern Edition. Gorman told me that "We do almost everything ourselves ... It's tough. It's worth it, though."

At SiriusXM, social media outreach is less about promoting the work of interns as it is about promoting the internship programs to prospective interns. Herosian told me he took a program that had 15 interns four years ago and built it into a powerhouse with 150 interns spread out around the country. The internships are unpaid, but they do offer college credit.

Ross Herosian.jpg

"I wanted to get the message out about what we're doing and market it to college students," he said. "I thought it would be great to go where the students are, rather than waiting for them to come to us. So when Facebook came out, I was creating groups for people to join, and when they launched the Pages feature, I saw a great opportunity for a community and outlet so that people can follow us."

Challenges for Interns

While both programs have had success in training college students and bringing some of them on board with full-time jobs, there have been some obstacles along the way. NPR interns have had to deal with an entrenched traditional media mentality, and SiriusXM has had to sort through various online platforms to get it right.

Dominic Ruiz-Esparza is the communications director for Intern Edition, and an intern at "Talk of the Nation." He told me there have been battles among interns over the direction of Intern Edition, which mixes newsy stories with lighter fare.

"There's a bit of disagreement about how much should be news content and how much is trying out new things that are fun for interns," Ruiz-Esparza said. "There's a bit of a battle here among people who run Intern Edition. I have a news background and would like that, but that gets boring and some people want to try innovative things. So it's really up to the managing editor to decide, so that we have some news and the interns have creative freedom, too."

dominic ruiz-esparza.jpg

He's also noticed that there's still resistance to change at NPR as a whole.

"Guy Raz, the weekend 'All Things Considered' host, talked to us awhile ago and acknowledged that there's a very conservative spirit here at NPR and it's changed," Ruiz-Esparza said. "It's a lot better than it was, but it's still not the norm for these new forms of content to be primary. The website has changed a lot due to the new CEO [Vivian Schiller], but there is that divide. It's changed somewhat, but not quick enough for young people here."

At SiriusXM, Herosian has a serious challenge just keeping track of the 150 interns spread out around the country. Luckily, he has interns to help him with that task. Because Herosian is only a handful of years removed from his own internship, he can relate to the interns and has taken on the "Ross the Boss" nickname in a light-hearted way. Herosian hasn't been afraid to try new digital platforms to promote the SiriusXM internships -- and he admits some of them just didn't work out.

"At first with the blog I set up a LiveJournal format where everyone had their own account, but it was just too many moving parts," Herosian said. "For us, it wasn't the best interface to use. We also used Ning, which is a great service but it didn't quite meet our needs. Sometimes less in more with social media, because everything you create you have to maintain. People in corporate environments will create these pages and then say 'my job is done' and there's no maintenance that goes into it. It's the conversation aspect that's important, so you can't create them and then have them lie dormant."

Intern Learning and Teaching

As for what's been working well in social media, Herosian said Facebook has been the best way to promote the program to college students, who are much more comfortable commenting or asking questions in that environment. He was surprised that many college interns were new to Twitter and had to be prompted to use it regularly. One SiriusXM intern, Jeremy Lubsey, said he had heard a lot about Twitter before, but had never used it very much until his internship. That said, he thinks he'll get a lot more use out of his new LinkedIn profile.

Jeremy Lubsey.jpg

"[One of my biggest lessons was] the importance of social networking sites such as LinkedIn," Lubsey told me. "The second week, I was talking to one of the production guys and he said to put up a page on LinkedIn and get your name out there. That's helped me to work on my career after SiriusXM."

And when it comes to social media, sometimes it's the interns who help teach the staffers new tricks. Mediaite editor-at-large Rachel Sklar told me that the startup site had been blessed with "awesome, kickass interns" who also have their own Twitter feed.

"As for social media training, it's gone both ways!" Sklar said. "Only an idiot would welcome these kids just out of school without making a point of learning from them. They've grown up steeped in this stuff. The training flows both ways!"


What do you think about internships that include blogs, podcasts, Twitter feeds and more? Should more media companies do that? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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February 18 2010


Best Online Resources for Following 2010 Winter Olympics

Spoiler alert! Thanks to NBC's use of time delay in broadcasting the Olympics to the Western U.S., those who live their lives online during the day are bound to find out what happened long before it airs in prime-time. Anyone who doesn't want to know the results prior to airtime is going to have to avoid just about every website they frequent, from Twitter to Facebook to newspaper sites, and even their email in-box (those CNN email alerts aren't so helpful when filled with spoilers).

The broadcast delay -- as well as the authentication requirement to view live video online -- has people seething in towns as close as Seattle is to Vancouver. In fact, sports blog Deadspin has been collecting various reader complaints about NBC's tape delay, dubbing it the "Tape-Delaympics." And one reader, Kat, wrote in to note how much better Canadian TV coverage was:

I was just talking about it last night with a friend of mine. Both of us are Canadian and have been totally impressed with the coverage here. They've got it live on at least 3 channels at all times to catch everything, plus 2 channels in french with their own coverage, and the main CTV channel doing live coverage as well as interviews and regular news breaks.

Beyond the broadcast brouhaha, Olympic coverage is not just for credentialed journalists anymore. Alternative and citizen journalists armed with digital cameras, or even just cell phone cameras, are capturing what's happening in front of them -- even if the IOC would prefer they didn't.

So if you don't mind the spoilers, here's a cheat sheet to help you find relevant Olympics coverage online, whether it's on special websites, photo sites, video-sharing or Twitter lists. Thanks to mash-ups and curated aggregation, there are not only more forms of multimedia coverage of the Olympics, but also more innovative ways to see what's happening and who's talking about what -- including the Olympic athletes themselves.

Special sites and pages

CBC's Vancouver Now

ESPN Winter Olympics page

Huffington Post's Winter Olympics 2010 page


Official Schedule and Results

Olympic.org IOC site

NY Times Olympic Tracker with personalized schedule

NY Times Olympics section

SB Nation Olympics page (via @Bankoff, among others)

Sports Illustrated's Olympics section

Thoora's Olympics page

Vancouver 2010 official site

Vancouver Sun's Olympics page

Yahoo Sports coverage

Twitter lists and searches

AP Olympic Athletes list

AP Olympic Staff list

BBC presenters, journalists and experts

Bloggers, journalists, locals and True North Media House list from @northgeek

Huffington Post's Winter Olympics LIVE lists (via Craig Kanalley)

kk's Vancouver 2010 Olympics list

NBC Olympics Tweet Tracker

NY Times' athletes and reporters list

NY Times' Winter Olympics media list

Twitter verified Olympians

Winter Olympics Athletes on Twitter on Twitter-Athletes.com

Twitter feeds

2010Tweets from VANOC


Apolo Anton Ohno


Jeff Lee of Vancouver Sun

Juliet Macur of the NY Times




Randy Starkman of Toronto Star

Robert Scales

Shani Davis

Swiss Olympic Team

Facebook pages

Olympic Games page

Olympic mini-games app

Lindsey Vonn fan page

NY Times Olympics Coverage on Facebook

Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics


CTVOlympics.ca photo stream on Flickr

Kris Krug's Winter Olympics photo sets on Flickr

Robert Scales' Vancouver 2010 Olympics set on Flickr

Map of Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics Pool on Flickr

Here's a Flickr photo gallery from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics pool

Roy Tanck's Flickr Widget requires Flash Player 9 or better.

Get this widget at roytanck.com


BBC Olympic video

CBC Olympic video

CTVOlympics.ca World feed schedule

VANOC official highlights page on YouTube

NBCOlympics Video page includes highlights and some live streams (if authenticated with your pay-TV provider)

Watch Live Olympic Coverage Online -- go down to pull-down menu at bottom of page and choose your country

Yahoo Sports video mostly from wire services such as AP

Mobile apps and sites

Cowbell2010, so your phone can ring like a cowbell

Foursquare app with NY Times

NBCOlympics mobile app (via @tsutrav)

Official Mobile Spectator Guide from Bell, an iPhone app (via @tsutrav)

Vancouver Sun mobile site

Vancouver 2010

Blog posts and articles

American Networks Serve Advertisers First and Viewers Last at Huffington Post

The gold medals for best mobile Olympics sites go to... at Poynter.org

5 Android Apps for the 2010 Winter Olympics experience at Androinica

Foursquare Partners with Zagat, New York Times at ReadWriteWeb

Get Ready for Some Olympic-Sized Authentication Frustration at NewTeeVee

NBC's tape-delay coverage of Olympics frustrating for sports fans

NBCOlympics delivers 8.1 million video streams in first four days at NBC Universal press release

Olympic madness at Seattle Times

Sharing the Olympic Magic with Fans at the Facebook blog

Vancouver 2010 - Olympics, Twitter Tracker For Top Countries at NowPublic

Watching the 2010 Winter Olympics Online Around the World at NewTeeVee

What Olympic tape-delay controversy? NBC still doesn't get it at Seattle Times

Where to Watch the 2010 Winter Olympics Online at NewTeeVee

What online resources do you use to keep up with the Winter Games? Share your favorites in the comments below and we'll update this list with any ommissions.

For more Olympic coverage at MediaShift, check out these posts:

Citizen, Alternative Media Converge at Olympic Games in Vancouver by Kris Krug

Inside the Social Media Strategy of the Winter Olympic Games by Craig Silverman

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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February 04 2010


Google News to Publishers: Let's Make Love Not War

krishna bharat.jpg

In the view of some traditional media execs, Google is a digital vampire or a parasite or tech tapeworm using someone else's content to profit. As that rhetoric heated up in the past year, Google has responded not with equal amounts of invective but with entreaties to help publishers.

Google launched Fast Flip to help bring old-style page flipping to the web, promoting higher forms of visual journalism and sharing ad revenues with publishers. Then came Living Stories, a new format for updating stories at one URL, designed in tight collaboration with the New York Times and Washington Post. Google realized old-line media were hurting (and lashing out at them), so they wanted to help.

"Specifically for Google News, we don't see publishers as our competitors. We don't have a product without their content," said Josh Cohen, senior business product manager of Google News. "There's really a symbiotic relationship there. We don't have a product without high quality content to index, whether it's on Google News or Google overall. So part of it is there's interest in making sure that content thrives online. There's a balance there of the benefit that we certainly get from being able to index the content, and the benefit we give to publishers in the form of traffic."

I recently went to Mountain View, Calif., to visit Google headquarters, known as the Googleplex, to talk with Google News creator Krishna Bharat, now a distinguished researcher at Google, as well as Josh Cohen, who was in town from New York. Bharat provided background on the origins of Google News (as well as a peek into its future), while Cohen explained how he is spearheading outreach to publishers. The following is an edited transcript of our chat, as well as video clips.

When you first were developing Google News, what did you have in mind? What were your goals?

Krishna Bharat: It was in response to September 11 [terrorist attacks]. I was reading news from a bunch of papers all over the web. And I discovered that there was no efficient way to find coverage of the same topic from different sources. To find the same coverage about the Taliban I would have to go to the L.A. Times site and [go to all these sites]. It seemed fundamentally inefficient. That's not the way the web was supposed to work. The web was supposed to have a link structure that helped you find content.

Part of the problem is that all of this news was fresh. By definition, news is fresh and doesn't have links. And if Google is to fulfill its mission to find information efficiently, it occured to me that what I was doing a computer could do. A computer could, in fact, visit all these websites, find the same article, or similar articles, and group them together. I tried it, and it worked.

Also, given my background, having grown up in India and read about Western events from there, I knew the diversity of reporting that existed, and certainly different points of view. Especially on this subject [around 9/11], there is a Middle East point of view, a British point of view, an American point of view. Bringing those views together seemed like a good social function. Helping people understand multiple points of view, and hence becoming wiser for it -- whether they agree with it or not -- just understanding there is another point of view is enlightening.

Bharat describes how Google tries to serve the user first and then figure out the business model later:

How do you measure the success of Google News?

Bharat: We look at the number of queries that we impact on web search. I don't remember the number now, but it's a non-trivial subset. It's also a sign of the times, there's a lot of interesting stuff going on, a lot of good real-time information. The fact that we are contributing to that, making web search more powerful, and we're satisfying user needs, it's a sign of success. Besides that, the headline pages we have are a starting point for some people, and they follow the links, and we send traffic to publishers, which is also very satisfying.

I remember when Google News first launched, you made a point about saying that there was "no human intervention" in creating the site. But humans created the algorithms and have had a lot of intervention in it, right?

Bharat: Of course the algorithms don't come out of the blue, but that's obvious. The interesting thing is that the algorithms aren't trying to replace an editor, they're trying to assimilate the wisdom of mulitple editors, and say 'statistically, this is the most interesting story right now because more editors have covered this story than any other story.' That's the basis for our ranking. Even in news search, we look at who's publishing a story, when it's published, but also how big of a story is it. Ultimately, we are aggregating editorial wisdom.

I wouldn't say at all that this could operate without humans. In fact, everything on the web is a function of human output. People author content, people link to content, people prioritize content. And all of the different algorithms on the web, be it web search or Digg or something else, is drawn from human input. So yes, we draw on human input but the algorithm ultimately decides what leads and what does not lead.

Josh, what about in your role working with publishers? How do you measure success?

Josh Cohen: If we don't have a successful product, then it's not going to be all that successful for publishers. The business model we have is a little different. We're an aggregator, but we're not really a portal. So our focus is to get all that traffic and send it out to publishers. The more that we grow, that means the bigger our traffic hose is from the links that we're sending directly to publishers. So if we don't have something our users want, everything else falls apart.

On the engagement side, we don't have any content to offer pubishers -- we don't have editors or reporters -- but we have technology and tools. We see publishers taking advantage of the tools we have to make their websites better. Probably the best example today is Google Maps. So many editors will use the open API, embed that into their stories, think of different ways of telling stories online that you can't do in a paper. And the last part is monetization, which is a big part of Google's business, whether it's in display ads or search ads to help them make more money.

Cohen talks about the legal issues surrounding Google News, and how Google lets publishers remove their content from indexing:

How has Fast Flip gone so far? I know there's a revenue split with publishers, are they happy with that?

Bharat: Fast Flip was a way to increase engagement and look at new ways to monetize that. When I pick up a magazine, turning the pages is instantaneous. It's really fast to turn pages and see a lot of pages rapidly. On the web, things are slow, but they shouldn't be slow because we have the technology to make it fast. Loading a page from a top news sites may take 5 to 8 seconds on broadband. If it took you that long to turn the page of a magazine, you wouldn't turn many pages.

There's inertia here, so we're decreasing inertia and allowing people to see more content. We made Fast Flip really fast so you can skim through content really rapidly, and in the process encounter a lot more ads, thus making more money for the publisher. When you find something interesting, you spend time on it and click through. So we have a site optimized for skimming, but even the skimming experience is monetizing for the publisher.

And are those ads sold as CPM (cost per thousand) ads or CPC (cost-per-click)?

Bharat: They're CPC ads, but we're just starting out with this experiment. Right now we're serving the ads, but you could see a situation where a publisher serves the ads. Or you could see a situation where this is premium [pay] content and the idea is to encourage people to buy the content and buy subscriptions. There are any number of ways that this could evolve. The idea was to find out more about user behavior if you made it really fast. And we learned that people look at a lot more content, and a lot more ads.

We also found out that the old model of just showing you a title and a snippet [on Google News] does not do justice to certain kinds of content -- very visual content or enterprise journalism that if you don't have a sense where it's coming from and that the Economist or the Atlantic are behind it, you don't appreciate the quality of the content. The title does not do it justice. We're observing that a lot of traffic is going to sites that are extremely well typeset and carefully authored. And right now the model on the web does not help that kind of production.

Cohen: The assumption we had going in was that if you're showing more content, then there would be a lower clickthrough rate than showing just a headline and a snippet. The assumption was that with a lower clickthrough rate people would consume more of that content. It's hard to find that kind of content because Google News is so search-based. This is more a factor of serendipity. You don't necessarily know you're looking for these long-form investigative pieces that [you experience] more like sitting back and reading a magazine.

And we're seeing now that, especially for smaller publishers, Fast Flip is giving them a real burst of traffic. And Google News is so focused on breaking news that this is really a new channel for them.

Bharat and Cohen discuss the Living Stories project, and how Google employees were "embedded" in the New York Times and Washington Post newsrooms:

Where do you stand on what can be included as a source that's indexed on Google News? I remember discussions about whether blogs should be included, but there are also press releases, too.

Cohen: Overall, I'd say the bias is toward inclusion. Increasingly, it's a gray area, but in the same way Krishna talks about having the algorithms drive our rankings, we don't want to sit in judgment saying 'this is a good source or a bad source.' Making qualitative judgments is not a place where we want to be in selecting the sources. So you really try to make it a binary decision. Is it current events? Is it covering news? That's a big one. Is there original content? If you're aggregating content you want to get it from original sources instead of from sites that are purely aggregators.

We have press releases and label them as such. We have blogs and label them as such. A big part of it is having a certain level of disclosure for the user so they can understand the nature of the sources.

At one point, I remember that you would include blogs but only if there was more than one person working on it. Is that still the case?

Cohen: We want some evidence of an editorial review process. But it's not easy and it's getting that much more difficult to define those kinds of sources. There's a larger debate about what is news and not, and whether Twitter is news or not. I have a feeling it will only get more difficult.

Bharat and Cohen talk about possibly integrating real-time feeds from Twitter into Google News search, and the challenges of doing that:

Have you been tempted to bring in editors and even fact-check what goes onto Google News?

Bharat: Just the sheer volume of what we deal with becomes challenging, and then there's the issue of objectivity. If we had an editor in-house, then we would become another publication. That said, there are editorial functions one can perform that stop short of making those decisions, that don't take away the diversity we have right now. It is something we could think about in a limited scope at some point in the future, but right now we don't have editors in that role.

Can you talk about some projects you're working on now, anything coming up with publishers?

Bharat: What I can say is that the industry appears to be moving toward pay walls and subscriptions. And we've explained that Google as a company is very interested in working with whatever scheme ultimately takes off. We are happy to bring technology to bear on the problem. If a publisher feels they can monetize their content with ads, more power to them, we're absolutely happy to work with them, helping them drive traffic and providing increased engagement and better monetization models for ads.

If they do want to put the content behind a pay wall, you still need to find the content in order to get subscribers, and we're happy to play a role in that. Google would still want to link to the content or a preview of it and still drive traffic, which means we'd still have to know where the content lives, and there are technical challenges there. Beyond that, we have ways to pay for content like Google Checkout. We are actively looking at ways we can work with the industry to help non-ad based solutions take off.

The other thing we have a broad interest in is personalization. Every time a reader looks at something and says 'that's not for me' and moves on, there's inefficiency in the system. Along with getting the top news of the day, we want to make sure the rest of their experience is as efficient as possible -- not only on Google News but on other publishers' sites. Trying to be smart about selecting content will help the industry, and that's something we're investing resources to try to figure out how that can be done differently. And when we have technology that's ready, we'd be happy to work with the industry to make that successful.

Would you go by what users input or by their browsing history?

Bharat: A bit of both. Obviously if users are willing to tell us, that's great. It's very accurate. Beyond that, there's plenty of evidence from the way they browse the content to tell us where their attention is going.

Cohen talks about some of the factors leading publishers to attack Google, and how they deal with that heated rhetoric:


What do you think about Google's efforts to work with publishers? Do you think publishers should work with Google to help with their businesses online or go it alone? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Videography for this story was captured by Charlotte Buchen.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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January 15 2010


Best Online Resources for Following Haiti News, Taking Action

In the face of devastating news happening far away, there is comfort in making connection. And those connections often are made online, among strangers, who are sharing video, photos, stories or just tweets, about the devastation around them. Such is the case in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a city that was devastated by an earthquake last Tuesday, with tens of thousands feared dead.

While Twitter has had a growing role as a first-responder medium with breaking news, that role has grown this week into a major booster for giving. When the Red Cross said people could donate $10 by texting the word "Haiti" to 90999, those instructions were passed along virally via Twitter, helping to raise more than $5 million for relief efforts. The Yele Haiti Foundation similarly used text messaging to raise more than $1 million; you can donate $5 by texting the word "Yele" to 501501. A search on Google's real-time feed from Twitter for "90999" brings up more than 48,000 results, meaning it's been mentioned in that many tweets.

And the spirit of giving became infectious online. The cell carriers said they wouldn't be taking their customary cuts of those charges, nor would they charge users for sending the text messages. Even the credit card companies got into the act, waiving their fees for donations to Haiti. Plus, I noticed at one point today that the home pages of the major U.S. cable networks had removed their most lucrative ad slots and replaced them with Haiti relief pitches. (Commercial ads came back later tonight.)

The only downside to all this kindness was the confusion that so many free offers brought. According to AdAge, UPS offered "in-kind services to Haiti," which somehow became interpreted to mean that people could send free packages to Haiti if they were less than $50 in cost. When American Airlines offered free miles for donations to the Red Cross, people misinterpreted that to mean free flights. "It was misinformation that got picked up, and we got information back out on Twitter saying that it wasn't the case," an American spokeswoman told AdAge.

With so many people missing in Haiti and communication systems down, social media has played a surprising role of life-saver in some cases. The CBC reported that a Montreal woman got a Facebook message from someone in Haiti saying that their neighbor was trapped in rubble next door. The Montreal woman contacted the Red Cross and the neighbor was eventually saved. These are the stories that give us hope, even when we're thousands of miles removed from the disaster zone.

Online Resources

Here's a list of online resources to follow the news, tweets, find missing people, see satellite imagery, and take action to help out in Haiti.

Special sites and pages

Wikipedia page on 2010 Haiti Earthquake

Miami Herald's Disaster in Haiti

Ushahidi's 2010 Earthquake in Haiti

Global Voices Online Haiti Earthquake

Huffington Post's Haiti Earthquake

CNN's Voices from Haiti reports on the ground

Twitter feeds

Red Cross




Wyclef Jean








Twitter lists and searches

NY Times haiti-earthquake

LA Times haiti-quake

FoxNews haiti-earthquake

CNNbrk haiti

MSNBC's BreakingNews haiti-quake

Google real-time search results for #haiti

Facebook pages

Earthquake Haiti

Haiti Earthquake Relief

Support the Victims of the Earthquake in Haiti

Photo Sets

Boston.com's The Big Picture Haiti 48 hours later

Google Maps with satellite image overlay

Google Earth Library's links to satellite images

BBC's Haiti after the earthquake (from GeoEye)

International Federation of Red Cross and Crescent Society Flickr set (not Creative Commons; must get permission to use)

boy gets treatment.jpg

UN Development Program Flickr set (under Creative Commons)

Disasters Emergency Committee Flickr set (all rights reserved, mainly from Reuters)

NPR's Photo Gallery


YouTube's CitizenTube channel

YouTube videos geo-tagged in Haiti

iReport videos on Haiti earthquake

Take action

Google crisis response page with various ways to donate

CNN Impact

FoxNews How to Help

Huffington Post's How You Can Help

NPR's How to Help

Find people

Miami Herald's Haiti Connect

Red Cross FamilyLinks for Haiti

CBC Help people find loved ones


This list will be updated over the coming weeks, so please add in your own favorite online resources in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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January 08 2010


Your Guide to Cutting the Cord to Cable TV

From time to time, I'll give an overview of one broad MediaShift topic, annotated with online resources and plenty of tips. The idea is to help you understand the topic, learn the jargon, and take action. I previously covered Twitter, citizen journalism, and alternative models for newspapers, among other topics. This week I look at cutting the cord to cable (or satellite) TV and watching TV content online.


Anyone who gets cable TV or satellite in the U.S. has noticed a pronounced trend over the years: their monthly bill keeps going up. Sure, you can get lots of channels, plus HD channels and DVR functions, but those usually cost extra. According to research from Centris (PDF), the average digital cable bill was nearly $75 last year, and the average monthly satellite TV bill was $69.

What's causing those bills to skyrocket? A lack of competition among cable and satellite providers, and the rising costs of programming. The most recent programming dustup happened when News Corp. demanded carriage fees from Time Warner Cable, and settled before any channels were dropped. Time Warner is planning an upcoming rate hike. Like other traditional media, TV networks (both cable and broadcast) are being squeezed by lower advertising income, and think they can just keep raising the cable bills indefinitely.

Unfortunately for the cable TV industry, they've picked a bad time to raise their rates. Centris found in a separate report (PDF) that due to the economic meltdown, eight percent of U.S. households were likely to cancel their pay TV in the third quarter of '09, and nearly half of households contacted TV providers for discounts or cheaper packages.

Thanks to the rise of Netflix, Hulu and hardware like the Roku box and Apple TV, cutting the cord to cable TV doesn't mean cutting yourself off from your favorite shows and channels. While past experiments at bringing together the web and TV (such as WebTV) have failed, the recent recession has pushed people to pursue their own convergence projects that enable them to watch web content on their TV. Depending on various living room setups and viewing habits, making the changeover from cable to online TV can be complex and maddening. But you're sure to save a bundle of money.

Hardware and Services

The first thing to do when cutting the cord is list the shows you watch regularly, and your favorite TV channels. Next, do a little online research to find out whether those shows appear on the channel's streaming sites (such as NBC.com, CBS.com, etc.) or on Hulu or YouTube. Many shows on pay channels such as HBO don't appear until much later, and usually must be bought via a service such as iTunes.

In addition to what's available online, you might be surprised at the quality of over-the-air broadcast channels since the digital switch-over last year. Many newer TVs only require an antenna to get local broadcast channels, while older TVs need a converter box, which runs from $40 to $80. Plus, some of the programming includes HD content. To find out which digital channels you can get over the airwaves, input your location at the AntennaWeb site.

(Note: Broadcasters recently announced at CES that they would be offering "mobile DTV" so that people could pick up digital broadcast TV on laptops, smartphones and tablets.)

Below is a rundown of some of the more important elements to enjoying TV content via the web. You won't need to get all of them but you can mix and match those that will get you what you need. Most cable quitters find they can get about 95 percent of the TV content they used to watch on cable via the various services below.


This is the box most cable quitters seem to like. It connects to your TV and your computer network, let's you watch Netflix streaming movies, and offers some free and pay options for additional content. It costs $79.99 for SD and $99.99 for an HD model.

It's basically a front-end device to iTunes, letting you download movies and music and play them through your TV. Problem: No TV tuner or DVR functionality.

Digital converter box
If you want to get the digital over-the-air stations in your area, you'll likely need an antenna for newer TVs or this box for older TVs. Cost: $40 to $80.


This small box connects your TV to an external hard drive, letting you play movies, TV shows, photos or music you have downloaded. The standard WD TV is about $79, while the WD TV Live that lets you watch Net content is $119.

eyeTV hybrid
It's a TV tuner for a Mac, letting you watch digital over-the-air channels on your Mac, or even on your iPhone with an extra $4.99 app. Cost: $149.95.

Game consoles
Netflix will let you play movies through your XBox 360 or PlayStation 3. There are also a wide variety of TV tuners and other devices that can turn game consoles into home entertainment systems.

Note: If you prefer simply connecting your computer directly to your TV set without any other hardware, you can do that, too. Here's a great video explaining how:

Services and Sites

The granddaddy of the DVD-by-mail services, Netflix has also become a huge entryway for people who want to dump cable and get TV shows later when they're available on DVD. Netflix also offers unlimited streaming of some movies and TV shows, which works well with a Roku box or other Netflix-ready devices. Cost: $8.99/month for 1 DVD plus unlimited streaming, with various higher cost plans for more DVDs.

The free U.S.-only TV show service is a joint venture between NBC Universal, Fox, and Disney. You are forced to watch commercials before and during TV shows and movies. While it has been an especially popular service for those dumping cable, there has been chatter that Hulu might charge for content at some point. Cost: Free (for now).

Apple's poorly named digital media buying service started out selling music downloads. Then it added a podcast directory, and now sells TV shows and rents/sells movies. Downloading TV shows at $1.99 per episode can get pricey, though there are discounted "Season Passes" and some limited free TV show offers.

The most popular video site on the web also can be accessed through various devices in order to view its content on your TV. These devices include the Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3 and TiVo.

amazon on demand.jpg

Amazon on Demand
Trying to compete with Netflix and iTunes, Amazon offers quick downloads of various TV shows at similar prices to iTunes. They are playable on Macs or PCs, or on devices that connect your computer to your TV.

Free software that helps you organize TV and movie content on your computer. Currently in beta, the Boxee software will soon come on a special Boxee Box from D-Link for under $200.

Windows software that lets you play Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc. from your computer on your TV via a PlayStation 3, Wii or XBox 360. Cost: $39.99 after 14-day free trial.

Popular free file-sharing software for people who trade TV show and movie files. You'll need to search your own conscience to decide whether to download copyrighted material from sites that utilize the torrent system.

Sample Setups

Here are a few sample setups of people who get TV content without subscribing to cable.

Roku + Netflix and Amazon

Who: CancelCable.com bloggers

Setup: Roku box that plays Netflix and Amazon content; digital TV converter box.

Quote: "Since we need to be more proactive and select shows from Netflix or Hulu, we read a lot more reviews and tend to sit down and watch complete movies rather than just switching around hundreds of channels."

eyetv setup.JPG

eyeTV + Mac Mini

Who: Dan Milbrath, product manager, San Francisco

Setup: eyeTV hybrid to get broadcast channels on a Mac Mini; projector for movies; Netflix.

Quote: "I'm intrigued by on-demand, online TV options like those being offered by Amazon and iTunes but I think the pricing is still a bit too steep. $1.99 for a one hour episode of 'Mad Men' is about double what I think they should charge."

AppleTV + PlayStation 3

Who: Leo Prieto, founder of online community BetaZeta.com, Santiego, Chile

Setup: AppleTV with iTunes and Boxee; PlayStation 3 playing BitTorrent content, podcasts.

Quote: "I spend less than $30 a month on content, and it's all stuff I decided to watch (and not just 'what was on' or 'what I remembered to record on my DVR'). I also have Boxee on the Apple TV installed, which lets me access lots of public and free podcasts or web shows that aren't available on Apple TV (all free and legal)."

Hulu + laptop

Who: Carla King, author and tech editor, Pt. Richmond, Calif.

Setup: Laptop watching Hulu; uses projector for some movies on Netflix or iTunes.

Quote: "The availability of content of all kinds on the Internet is a terrible distraction for me from tasks at hand and health in general. Whereas before I could cancel my magazine subscriptions and choose not to buy cable TV to keep myself on task with personal and professional goals, I find that today I need to develop my willpower to the utmost."

What's Missing

For many people, the biggest barrier to canceling cable is the loss of live sports. While MLB.com has a package of games you can stream online, and CBS has offered a popular March Madness on Demand stream, many other leagues have been slow on the uptake. Plus, there are often restrictions and blackouts with some online season pass deals. For example, the NBA League Pass Broadband does not include nationally or locally televised games. So if you're living in Boston, you won't be able to see Celtics games online if they are also on TV at the same time (whether they are home or away).

Leo Prieto.jpg

The same goes for other live events, such as awards shows. "Mainly, live TV content is impossible," said Leo Prieto, who gave up cable in 2005. "And most of that live TV content isn't available to download on iTunes later. For example, the Oscars or some sports event. In that case I have to go to BitTorrent and get the show afterwards. I would love iTunes or YouTube to offer live content."

Multimedia reporter Sean Mussenden is also living the cable-free life, and says he believes TVs will eventually come with direct Internet capabilities. He had an interesting take on how his discovery of programs changed without cable.

"When you rely on cable, the easy access to thousands of shows tends to limit your willingness to explore further," he said. "But there are far more options for informative and/or entertaining content beyond cable. Not having having cable has made me more willing to explore. For example, at the moment I'm really enjoying watching talks on Ted.com and MIT's OpenCourseWare. I don't think I'd have discovered either of them if I still had cable."

In many cases, people who have canceled cable still get to see their favorite TV shows, but often much later than those with cable. If they can deal with being a bit behind, and don't mind the tech hassle of setting up a Net-to-TV connection with gear, they're often happy to save money and watch what they want.

More Reading

If you want to read more about cutting the cable TV cord, check out these sites and stories:


Cable Freedom Is a Click Away at NY Times

You Don't Need Satellite TV When Times Get Tough at News.com

Cancel Cable and Save with Free Internet TV at Digital Trends

Ways To Watch TV Without Paying An Arm And A Leg For Cable Or Satellite at Bible Money Matters

Turn On, Tune Out, Click Here at WSJ (paid subscription required)

Cancel Cable TV by Paul Kedrosky

Cable TV's Big Worry: Taming the Web at NY Times

Who Will Win the Cable Wars? Not You. at Slate

Broadcast TV Networks Want Your Money at The Atlantic

More Fees For Broadcasters Could Hurt Cable Networks' Growth at Dow Jones

Why the Roku Netflix Player Is the First Shot of the Revolution at NY Times

Netflix Agrees To Warner's New Release Delay In Exchange For More Streaming Rights at PaidContent


Have I missed any important elements to cutting the cord? Have you cut the cord and if so, what's your setup? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and I'll update my story with any gear or services I missed.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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December 17 2009


California Watch Says 'Yes' to Open, Networked Investigative Reports

Some investigative journalists have been resistant to change in their profession, but hard times at newspapers have brought about a new sense of experimentation and collaboration. That is evident at the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) and its new California Watch project, which attracted major foundation funding from the James Irvine Foundation, Hewlett Foundation and Knight Foundation.

When I visited their cramped offices in Berkeley, Calif., recently (they are moving to a larger space soon), CIR's executive director Robert "Rosey" Rosenthal and California Watch's editorial director Mark Katches were the ultimate "yes" men. Nearly every experiment I brought up to them, from crowdfunding to holding town hall meetings, was on the table and in the realm of possibility for them. "We're open to anything," Katches said at one point. "You ask us anything, and we'll say, 'Sure we'll try it.' "

When the California Watch site relaunches in early January, it will showcase some of those new approaches. Reporters will be blogging and tweeting openly about their ongoing investigations, and the audience will be included in a network of eyes and ears on the ground. While the latter is still a work in progress, Katches is open to having the audience help crowdsource work on documents, or give tips to reporters as they work on investigations.

California Watch soft-launched a few months ago, and its first story received wide distribution, making the front pages of dozens of California newspapers. While Rosenthal has had success in fundraising and hiring what he says is the largest investigative reporting team in the state, his attempt to keep the site non-partisan will be a challenge. Having reporters blog and tweet without giving away their biases will be difficult. CIR itself shows liberal leanings via online distribution partnerships with Huffington Post, Mother Jones and Salon, without any similar conservative sites in the mix. When I brought up this point to Rosenthal after our interview, this was his response via email:

In addition to hundreds of stories published in mainstream news outlets over 30 years, we have worked with outlets you mention. Going forward we hope to broaden our distribution more widely, working with with as many outlets as we can to reach people of all political persuasions and points of view. If you are going to make a judgment on the nature of the work by where it was published I think it makes sense to read, view or listen to it, and see if the stories were unfair or biased.

The following is an edited transcript with video clips from my recent visit to the CIR/California Watch headquarters.


Robert Rosenthal explains how the idea for California Watch grew out of talks with the Irvine Foundation:

How do you choose your partners for distribution? Are you selective about that?

Robert Rosenthal: We are selective, but we also really want to reach an audience. We're not looking for exclusivity. Exclusivity lasts about three seconds now on the Internet. We want to reach an audience, and part of that model is working. We had a piece where Mark Shapiro, whose expertise is in the cap-and-trade carbon issue, his work is in Mother Jones, it will be in Harper's, and we've worked with FRONTLINE/World on a series called Carbon Watch. There's a piece on Marketplace with NPR, on NewsHour with PBS. He's blogging and other people want to work with us. Our idea of having one core reporter working on multiple stories really works.

One of the stories we did was on 25 front pages throughout California on the same day, which is unheard of, plus radio, plus TV. Again, there's different partners. If we went to a big national partner and they said they wanted exclusivity, we would consider that. But what we're finding is that they don't care. If 10 papers have it in California, or if it's on "California Report" on KQED, they see themselves as having a different audience, and they will take that story and give it a much more contextual, national flavor. They're interested in the information we're bringing them.

The last story we did was translated into Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Spanish, and [we] distributed it to ethnic media in California, which I don't think anyone has done. Sandy Close at New American Media helped us out, and La Opinion translated it for us in Spanish.

Mark Katches: For the first stories we've done, there's no set model for how we'll distribute stories. A lot of other non-profits that are sprouting up are mostly doing one-offs with one news organization or a collaboration for an exclusive story. ProPublica will do that, but they also give their content away to anyone who will take it online. They are partnering with one news organization at a time.

What we did with our first story was that it ran on the front page of 25 newspapers with a combined circulation of 1.8 million. There isn't a newspaper in California that comes close to that circulation on its own. We want to get the story out to as many eyeballs as possible. Our mission is to tell stories that will make an impact and change lives. The broader the audience you have, the better you can do it.

For that first story, we created 15 versions of the story. It was a story about Homeland Security grant spending in California -- misspending in a lot of ways and lack of oversight. G.W. Schulz, a CIR reporter, did a fabulous job reporting it. To sell that to very different news organizations, we couldn't hand them over a 100-inch story and expect them all to run it. So we had the story edited at three different lengths. Beyond the custom lengths, we also created a version with custom content for the Sacramento Bee, San Jose Mercury News and others.

What are you doing for online promotion?

Katches: When we launch our new website [in January], all our stories will be running jointly with the news organizations that partner with us. We're also thinking we'll use our blog as a marketing vehicle. We're not up there yet, but when we start rocking and rolling in January, we'll let people know stories are coming on our blog, and keep stories alive on our blog and on our websites.

Rosenthal: And on Facebook and on Twitter.

Katches: Yes, we're going to use lots of social networking. Everyone here has a Twitter account. If you go to our site, you can see what our reporters are up to, we're using Publish2 to show what people are reading. We're also -- without giving [away] the store -- showing what our coverage priorities are, what we're working on. Our reporters' latest tweets are there on our site. We have a Facebook page, a Twitter page and will use the whole gamut of social media.

Would you consider partnering with Yahoo News? The same way you're talking about getting distribution in print, isn't there a parallel online?

Rosenthal: Yes. We're hoping to reach out to them and do just that. We want our site to be vital, but we know it's not going to become a news site, with that kind of activity. We want to showcase our work and create traffic, but our model is not to have our site as the only place you can find it. If we do this right, our stories will be on multiple sites -- not just on California-focused sites but, for the right stories, national sites and global ones.

Rosenthal explains what the funders' expectations are and how California Watch has to create a ripple effect to be successful:

What do you think would be the ideal split in the business model between bringing in money with ads and charging news organizations for content and grants from foundations?

Rosenthal: Right now we're about 90 percent or 95 percent reliant on foundations. We haven't been as aggressive about raising $50 checks and more, but we're going to build that into the model. I think if we can get to 30 percent or 40 percent revenues outside of foundations, it will be very successful in the next 12 to 18 months. My own feeling is that we're not creating a strategy where the end user pays, but we're seeing that newspapers are willing to pay. Some are talking to us about long-term syndication models. There will be TV stations that might be willing to pay a consistent fee for access to what we're doing.

There's a lot of interest. The niche we're in, high quality investigative, unique storytelling... I think there's an opportunity to get more funding. Not to totally fund us, but the goal is to bring in revenues and hire more journalists to do more of this work.

What do you think of the crowdfunding model and what Spot.us is doing?

Rosenthal: We'd like to work with Spot.us and we'd like to try that. I think there are issues around the quality, and we've talked to David Cohn. If we can put out a pitch and help manage a story and get it placed, it may add value to that. I think there are issues around how you pick a story. If you say you want to make sure so-and-so is never re-elected, that may raise some issues.

The challenge long-term is establishing this as a credible model at a time when information and news is becoming more partisan. That's a risk. If we're seen as being partisan or coming from the right or left, it would hurt our credibility in the long term.

So would you stay away from syndicating in a place like Huffington Post?

Rosenthal: No. If they were our only outlet [it would be a problem], but we're talking about multiple outlets and you're not looking to one outlet or the other. You're arguing that you want to reach eyeballs from different points of view. If an organization said it doesn't want a story because it doesn't fit their point of view, then I don't think we'd ever deal with them again. I think the Internet opens the field up to a lot of opportunities to reach audiences.

What about your own reporters? You are showing off their tweets and inside thinking and blogging. They are people with biases and political leanings. How will you deal with that?

Katches: A lot of that will have to managed pretty strictly early on. We're expecting people to be responsible. We don't have a social media policy but we might need one. We have professional, outstanding journalists, and they know how to handle themselves, whether they're blogging or tweeting or conducting an interview. But it's something we need to keep an eye on.

One of my worries is that reporters are venturing out into one area they're not used to, revealing what they're working on. Investigative journalists have tended to be paranoid by nature, they don't even let people in their own newsroom know what they're working on. We're not going to give away the store, but we do want to pique people's interest.

Rosenthal: We have clearly addressed that, and we do have guidelines, but it does potentially create issues. Everyone has to be aware of that. We're already perceived, because we're physically located in Berkeley as being '"Berkeley [liberals]." We are sensitive to that, and our goal is that our body of work will address those issues if they exist.

Katches talks about the balance of doing long-term and short-term investigations, and how the staff will spend 10 percent of its time blogging and on social media:

The Guardian used crowdsourcing with its Investigative Your MP's Expenses in the UK. Are you considering doing things like that?

Katches: Absolutely. We're looking at those kinds of things, and have had discussions about those. Not only are we building our investigative team, we're right now working with three different USC class projects with more than 40 student journalists collaborating with us. We're looking at mobilizing small armies to do the types of work you're talking about. We can't do it all ourselves, but if we do it collaboratively, we can get a lot of things done.

Rosenthal: Mark is right that what we're doing with USC Annenberg is great, but you have to build an infrastructure to manage it and do it. What we can help others with is to figure out how to do this. It's not easy. You have to know how to manage it and have the right people, and willing partners. We're looking to raise more money for the California Watch and CIR, and I want someone whose job is basically a collaboration editor, because it's really full time. You have to have some journalistic skills, but it's complicated. When I was at the Philadelphia Inquirer you had to have a collaboration editor for inside, for the warring departments [laughs].

Katches: One of the things that's been wild is that a reporter will file the story, we'll edit the story, Rosey [Rosenthal] will review the story, and we'll get the story done to the point where it meets our standards. Then we put on our salesmen's hat and we're calling news organizations around the state and we're actually selling the stories to them. In some ways it's the same jobs we've always been doing, producing good journalism, but [we're] going to another level of marketing it and distributing it... it's an exciting new world.

Rosenthal explains how journalists need business partners for help now, and how new models will have to have alignment between funders and journalists:

Are you planning on having something to help people take action on your reports?

Katches: We are. We're planning to have a feature called "React & Act" and tie it to every one of our stories. We may not do it right at launch, but pretty soon after. We hope it's a platform, a jumping off point for people who want to get involved. It goes beyond commenting on stories. If we do stories about a particular agency, then what runs along with it is a sidebar with the photos, the email addresses, the phone numbers of stakeholders who can make a difference.

Do you feel you might even bring your audience together with you in some way, like a town hall meeting?

Katches: Sure, we're open to anything. You ask us anything, and we'll say, 'Sure we'll try it.'

Rosenthal: You still have to make sure you have an infrastructure so that you can manage it. But strategically, we'd like to be a place where there is discussion. If there's a town square where we can help take a big state-wide issue and show a community how it impacts them, or show them data on a ZIP code level, we want to get that information to a community. We might even facilitate a public meeting.

We're talking about websites, but one of the key things that might develop is that in some communities it won't be people having laptops. It's going to be handheld devices or cell phones, or whatever that becomes. So creating content for that is just as important. And we talked about ethnic media and how they reach an audience, and that's a completely different issue. If we're going to be effective, we have to do all those things. If we're going to be effective, we don't have to only build the journalism -- [we have to build] the infrastructure to do all these things.

Katches gives a preview of the coming redesigned site for California Watch:

With your redesign, I saw part of it asks people to "join our network." What is that exactly?

Katches: The idea is that it will start with the ability to comment and engage on our site. We would love to get it to a point where it becomes like a crowdsourcing community of people who can converse about investigative reporting, share their own knowledge of things they are learning in their community, and maybe even direct coverage. It's early in the development, but it will start with the basic ability to comment and engage on the content we put up.

So it's required for people to register in order to comment?

Katches: Yes, that's one of the things we want to do to make sure we have responsible commenting.


What do you think about the work of CIR and California Watch? Can their non-profit model be replicated in other states? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Videography and photo by Charlotte Buchen.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

November 04 2009


@FakeAPStylebook Editors Explain Their Overnight Success on Twitter

For anyone who has suffered through reading the entire AP Stylebook for a journalism class, there's a cathartic release when reading the dry wit of the @FakeAPStylebook feed on Twitter. It combines parody of the journalism usage bible with funny repartee and the absurd. That mix has brought amazing success to the people behind the feed: more than 40,000 followers in 15 days, plus they've scored a literary agent for a book deal.

Here are some of my favorite recent tweets from @FakeAPStylebook:

> STAR WARS Episodes IV-VI are to be referred to as "The Original Trilogy." Episodes I-III are not to be referred to at all.

> When there's no more room in Hell, omit the final paragraphs to save space.

> When composing a story about strange murders, always refuse to believe the kids until it's too late.

> It is poor newsroom etiquette to throw yourself out of the window to prove that your co-worker is Superman.

While Callie Kimball was touting her sleuthing prowess in uncovering the identities of the folks behind the feed for Wired Epicenter, I simply emailed them and asked them to tell me their story. The two main guys behind @FakeAPStylebook are Ken Lowery, a copy editor at United Methodist Reporter in Dallas, and Mark Hale, an unemployed friend of Lowery's in Louisville, Ky. They work with a motley crew of contributors online called "The Bureau Chiefs." Here's a rundown of who they are:

David Campbell, 40, Seattle, Wash. -- copywriter, ArenaNet
Andrew Otis Weiss, 37, Woburn, Mass. -- communications specialist

David Lartigue, 41, Springfield, Mass. -- database whatzit (not technically a DBA)

Kevin Church, 35, Somerville, Mass. -- online marketing specialist

Dorian Wright, 34, Santa Barbara, Calif. -- currently unemployed

Mike Sterling, 40, Oxnard, Calif. -- manager, Ralph's Comic Corner

Chris Sims, 27, Columbia, S.C. -- freelance writer

Benjamin Birdie, 33, Astoria, NY -- graphic designer

Josh Krach, 35, Las Vegas, Nev. -- freelance designer

John DiBello, New York City -- national Internet account manager, W.W. Norton

Dr. Andrew Kunka, 39, Florence, S.C. -- associate professor of English, USC-Sumter

R.J. White, 34, Philadelphia -- manager of media relations

Matt Wilson, 26, Chattanooga, Tenn. -- reporter

Anna Neatrour, 34, Salt Lake City -- librarian

Eugene Ahn, Washington DC, 29 -- attorney

Shane Michael Bailey, 32, Jacksonville, Fla. -- web designer/developer

Here's an edited transcript of my phone conference call with Lowery and Hale. We spoke about how the feed became an overnight sensation, what a potential book will be like, and their fears of legal trouble with the Associated Press.

How did the idea come about for @FakeAPStylebook?

Ken Lowery.jpg

Ken Lowery: I just became aware of the real @APStylebook Twitter feed, and sent the link to Mark because he was a journalism student at one time, and I thought it might interest him. He had said, "I don't know if I'm sad or relieved that this is not a fake account" because there are so many joke accounts for celebrities. That's when the inspiration struck. We passed back and forth a few jokes, and put them on out Twitter feeds and asked our own followers if they thought it was a good idea. We got a "yes" so we went ahead with it.

Tell me more about the group working on the Twitter joke feeds?

Mark Hale: A lot of us have joke Twitter feeds: Ken has two or three, one of our other contributors has at least three, and I had one I abandoned a couple months ago because I couldn't sustain it. This was in that same vein, but it hit a nerve with more people than anything we had done.

Ken Lowery: I've done some before... with some success. @Zombiehorde has about 600 followers, and is the articulate thoughts of a bunch of zombies. Then there is @ThisReallyHurts, which has 200 followers and is just a guy describing extreme pain, which is a dumb gag but it seems to work for some people. The same group latching onto this new joke [of @FakeAPStylebook] really took off.

How do you guys operate as a group? Do you use instant messaging?

Hale: It's basically an email list through Google Groups. It's funny to me how popular email lists have become again. They were pretty popular in the mid-'90s and tapered off, but they serve us quite well. We always have our instant messaging windows open, so people are always saying, 'how about this?' or 'how about that?'

Lowery: We have the Google Group going and we have a few threads established. [There's] one for the open submissions thread, one for open questions when people ask the Fake AP questions. We link to the question and all throw out answers, and we're able to suggest responses, tweak them, and fine-tune them. Mark and I are basically the editors but as far as the actual creative part goes, it's a roundtable.

What happened after you launched the feed, and how fast did you get a big following?

Lowery: The first day we got upwards of 1,000 followers, which was explosive and way more than we expected. Then, Wednesday morning, the next day, Newsweek's Twitter feed mentioned it, and it just boomed completely out of control after that. A few blogs like the Chicago Tribune's [Eric Zorn] have basically been quoting stuff because it makes them laugh. That's how it's gone since then. By Saturday, four days in, we had about 9,000 followers.

Mark Hale.JPG

Hale: By that Sunday, after being live for about a week, we passed the real @APStylebook feed. We don't want to be egomaniacal, but...

Lowery: We were just looking for a metric at that point because it seemed so crazy and out of control. 'How do we measure our success here?' And that was it. Late last week, we hit a terminal velocity and it slowed down a little bit. But got a fresh round of [sign-ups] after the Wired article and a couple other articles. It's begun anew.

Hale: We've officially passed the population of my small hometown, New Albany, Ind., according to the 2000 census figures. It's across the river from Louisville.

When did you first hear from literary agents?

Lowery: I think it was day two. It was Thursday, which is when we heard from the first one, who we eventually went with. Then we heard from another on Friday, and since then, we've heard from five or six more. Kate McKean at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency was the one we chose.

Hear them talk about their excitement when they heard that comedian Michael McKean liked their feed:

Why do you think out of all the things you've done that this one has resonated with so many people

Lowery: Initially, the first popularity came from journalists who said, "I needed this" or "this made my week" or "this is very cathartic." My own highfalutin theory is that journalists have taken a pretty bad beating the past few years in public perception and job security, and this is a way to goof off without being mean or cynical. It's been journalists, salespeople, marketing people, English teachers, students, and fans of word humor [following us].

Did all the contributors meet online?

Hale: I think some of us know each other in real life. I've never met any of them in person.


Lowery: Same here. We're pretty well scattered all over the country. We initially hooked up because we're all big nerds. At one point we all ran comic book blogs just goofing on comic books. We did all our own blogs, but commented on each other's blogs over the years. Through that we developed a friendship, a writer's workshop, whatever you want to call it.

How will the book be formatted? Will it contain tweets and some original material as well? Will it look like the actual AP Stylebook?

Hale: It won't look so much like the official book. It will take a subject, say entertainment, and then it will tell you how to cover obituaries of celebrities, how to approach closeted gay celebrities, how to review a fine art piece, and a glossary, which will be more like the actual guide.

Lowery: The way we have it mapped out now is there will be a sections like sports, entertainment, medicine, etc., with tips on writing up front, and then a glossary of terms that looks more like the Stylebook and the Twitter feed. The stuff we've put together so far for the entertainment chapter is about 75 percent or 85 percent original material that hasn't gone live.

Hear Lowery talk about the tone of the @FakeAPStylebook feed as a faceless voice of authority:

Have you heard from people at the AP about what you're doing, and do you have a fear that they might come after you?

Lowery: We have fans who are AP reporters. We were approached early on by an AP reporter to do a story about us, but nothing came of it. We are talking about changing the name if and when the book becomes a reality. Part of the bind is that this is how people know us now. If we change it too much, then we could potentially lose everyone... We're already thinking about it and tossing around ideas, but some of this might be up to the agent or publisher.


What do you think about @FakeAPStylebook? What are your favorite tweets from them? Share your thoughts and favorites in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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