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December 08 2011

15:20

Why Our Startup Decided Not To Target the Newspaper Industry

Are there opportunities for technology startups which target the media business?

Fred Wilson -- a venture capitalist who has made investments in Twitter, Zynga, Tumblr, Etsy, and FourSquare, among others -- apparently thinks not. As reported on MediaShift on November 15, Wilson told an audience of CUNY students with interests in business and journalism that better opportunities could be found in industries that aren't as "picked over" and have problems that aren't being solved.

As the co-founder of a technology startup that once considered the news industry as a source of partnerships and revenue, I agree with Wilson that startups should look elsewhere.

However, the reason they should do so is not because the media industry lacks problems that need to be solved. If anything, the media industry has problems that span every sector of the industry and every segment of the value chain. Rather, the reason why startups should look for other opportunities is many industry problems are so intractable, and the chance for making a successful business is so slim, that it simply doesn't make sense to target it.

The case of Invantory

Right now, we're developing Invantory, a mobile software platform that targets the local classifieds marketplace that is currently dominated by Craigslist. We're going to make the Invantory experience one that is defined by an easy-to-use interface and great-looking photographs that are now possible with most smartphones. Further, we're attacking a problem that has vexed users of Craigslist and newspaper classifieds for years -- the lack of a system to vet who you're dealing with. Our reputation system, which is built on proprietary algorithms and other safeguards, will help users better evaluate the other parties before they make contact.

My partner, Sam Chow, is a former Microsoft engineer and an experienced programmer for Apple's iOS platform. My own background is online news, content and communities. In the 2000s, I was a technology journalist and online editor, and in the 1990s, I worked at a daily newspaper and on a daily television newscast.

My news roots run deep, and I thought there might be some alignment between our platform and the needs of local news publishers, which have seen their own classifieds revenue fall sharply in the last five years. In 2006, classified revenue in four categories (cars, jobs, real estate and "other") totaled $17 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Last year, it totaled just $5.6 billion. Wouldn't it be great if our platform could somehow help the media industry, while building Invantory's user base?

craigslist_350x225.png

I began seeking out publishers, online news professionals and other experts to better understand the market and the possibilities for our platform to serve online news operations through white-label apps or other solutions. Very quickly I realized there would be a problem selling to publishers. Most people I talked with had reservations about dealing with software vendors, ranging from a reluctance to share revenue to outright mistrust.

"I've dealt with enough vendors to become very cynical," a publisher of a small newspaper told me. "Whether they extrapolate revenue based on bigger markets or outright lie, we have become very suspicious."

This sentiment, which was echoed by others I spoke with, made me realize that the sales cycles would be punishing. For many customers, it would be hard to get our foot in the door, let alone successfully close a deal.

Yet the same publisher was interested in a technology that could help once again make classifieds a draw -- as well as bring in revenue or improve efficiencies. He readily admitted that his own technology was complicated for users. "On Craigslist, it's easy to create an ad, upload a photo, and publish," he said. "We should be able to do that."

The barriers

I spent time studying how classified systems worked at various publishers. I found it very interesting that many smaller publishers still had a classifieds desk that took ads over the phone, often augmented by email with customers. Some larger publishers had online classifieds tools, but they were clunky. Part of the problem related to the fact that most attempted to serve both the print and online classifieds, and did neither job well. Others were poorly configured. The system used by my hometown newspaper didn't even let me post classifieds locally -- but did make it possible to create listings in markets more than 20 miles away. The system also tried to charge expensive rates for relatively small ads -- $15 to $20 was a typical base rate for a small text ad in print. (A simple online classified ad was included for free.) No wonder people were abandoning newspaper classifieds for Craigslist.

Beyond the clunky ad creation systems, one of the biggest technology problems I observed was the nonstandard online publishing platforms used across the industry. This is actually a huge, underappreciated issue for all news publishers, including broadcasters, news agencies, blog-based news and opinion sites. It leads to additional costs, complexities, and talent shortages that companies based on older media platforms -- including print, television and radio -- did not have to deal with.

Among newspaper websites, it's not hard to find home-grown hacks or heavily customized content management systems. Even at publishers which use the same CMS across their properties, variations are common -- a typical example might involve different versions of Drupal and Drupal modules, owing to staggered technology upgrades, different needs for various brands, and complications involving legacy applications and data. Throw different registration and online payment systems into the mix, and you can start to understand the problem new software platforms targeting this industry are faced with.

Related to the CMS mess was a lack of developers and other technical staff at media organizations. This is a problem that afflicts many industries, not just the news business. But it exacerbated the problem with nonstandard publishing systems. Not only would heavy programming work be required to get Invantory to work with a new customer's site, but integration would largely fall back on us. Systems integration is technology consulting that requires lots of time and specialized development staff. It was not a business that we wanted to get into.

The Final Nails in the Coffin

The final nails in the coffin came at the New England Newspaper & Press Association's fall conference in October. There, I heard more details about the pain being experienced by publishers, and received advice that helped us make our decision to abandon our original plan to target the media industry.

One of the speakers, Amy Mitchell of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, laid out the grim financial outlook. She stated that while most newspapers are still managing a profit, they're surviving by managing costs. Mitchell was unable to identify any solution to the revenue crisis. "We are not recommending anything other than experimentation," she told the audience, adding that this was going to be tough at many publications whose corporate cultures are resistant to change and innovation. This signaled that publishers were not only less likely to invest in innovative technologies, they were also unable to afford more expensive third-party software.

News industry analyst, author and blogger Ken Doctor was even more skeptical of a turnaround. "It is impossible for anyone to keep up with the disruption," he stated. Doctor went on to predict that broadcasters would soon begin to feel the same pain as newspapers and magazines, as business models based on traditional advertising eroded further.

However, Doctor also saw opportunity in tablet platforms. "If you read, you're going to have a tablet," he said, adding that the price of Kindles and other devices will soon drop to $50. "Why wouldn't you buy one?" he asked the audience.

The final presentation of the afternoon was from Alan Mutter, a former newspaper editor turned Silicon Valley CEO. As a consultant, speaker and author of the Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, he has become a well-known pundit on the travails of the news industry. During his NENPA talk, he predicted more top-line pain for publishers, owing to a number of trends:

  • "The audience trend is you don't have audiences under the age of 40."
  • "The most important thing happening is brands are going directly to consumers."
  • "High-priced reach advertising is not defensible."
  • "Coca-Cola has 34 million friends on Facebook ... This is the future for marketing and advertising."

Later in the day, I spoke with Mutter, and described our vision for Invantory as a mobile classifieds platform that could potentially sell white-labelled apps and platform technology to the news industry. He was pessimistic, not only because of the problems I cited earlier, but also because of the climate for raising capital in this space. "VCs with any experience won't invest in you," he warned.

Nevertheless, Mutter seemed hopeful about the idea of doing something different with classifieds. "Think about a real way to reinvent the classifieds market," Mutter told me. "Because there isn't one now."

Moving on

That evening, I met my partner and told him that the idea of selling to the news industry wouldn't work. Doing so would require huge investments of time and staff expertise, for skeptical customers who generally couldn't afford expensive technology systems. Raising capital would be more difficult when investors heard who we were targeting. We are still going ahead with our plan to create a mobile classifieds platform, but will instead go direct to consumer based on a freemium business model.

We've already built out the cloud infrastructure and now have a demo application. Work has already started on our intellectual property -- the proprietary technologies that will drive our reputation system. Soon we will begin user testing. (If you're interested in signing up for product updates, or seeing an alternative to Craigslist in your town or city, please use the sign-up form on the front page of the Invantory website.)

We understand that we'll face a new set of challenges, especially in terms of developing a solid go-to-market strategy and revenue plan. But we believe the time is ripe for innovation in this space.

Ian Lamont is the former managing editor of The Industry Standard and a web media veteran with years of experience developing online news, community and content. He eventually left the news media to return to grad school, earning an MBA as an MIT Sloan Fellow. His startup, Invantory, is a mobile software platform for local classifieds. Follow him on Twitter at @invantory or @ilamont or email him at ian.lamont@invantory.com.

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October 05 2011

14:46

Once Magazine Takes the Photo Magazine into the App World

Photographers who might have aspired to see their work published on the glossy pages of a magazine can now opt for the glossy screen of an iPad.

Once Magazine, a "visual storytelling" app for the iPad, is a new showcase for photographers' work and related multimedia. The app provides three cohesive photo essays, each with an array of high-resolution photos that are united by narrative text and supplemented by other features, such as infographics and audio clips.

Once's free pilot issue was released in August. Its next issue -- which will cost $2.99 and offer subscription options -- will likely be released in October with the debut of Apple's iOS 5 and its new Newsstand feature. Once is yet another magazine app that challenges our understanding of what magazines are -- and might be. Its founders think it might also represent an important path into the future of photography.

Once's Editorial Concept

Once's strategy is to assemble "stories worth touching," said publisher Andrew Jones, in order to make the most of the iPad's interface and its ability to display high-quality images.

The app's focus on quality visuals means that its editorial process begins with the photography. The editorial team identifies photographers with intriguing work and asks them to participate. After about 20 photos on one theme are selected, the Once editorial team identifies a journalist with relevant knowledge and experience, and commissions text that wraps a compelling story around the photo sequence. Additional interactive elements and audio clips are added to the photos to enrich the reading experience.

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The three photo essays included in Once's pilot edition cover a lot of territory, and each depict life in different regions: the far reaches of Greenland; Abkhazia, a region of the country of Georgia; and Sun City, Ariz., a retirement community near Phoenix.

While photographers whose work is used in Once may have taken these photos while working on other projects, the text used with them is newly developed.

"It's a unique editorial model in that the stories are built retroactively. It fits well with our budget and our business model," said Nick Hiebert, Once's communications director. "We don't have to pay journalists upfront to go to these countries. We find journalists who are already in these areas or already have expertise in the area, which makes reporting much easier for them and more cost-effective."

once-greenland.jpg

Photographer Andrea Gjestvang, whose photographs of life in Greenland are included in the pilot issue, appreciated the opportunity for a different selection of her images to tell a new story in Once.

"I like the idea that they brought in the journalist who wrote the independent text. [It was] her words, her story, but it went very well with my pictures," said Gjestvang, a freelance photographer who is based in Norway. "Normally, when I have been presenting this project, I've been focusing more on the daily life and social life, whereas they focused more on the hunting side. The selection of pictures was a bit different than what I normally use, but it was nice that one big project can have different stories within the project."

The Audience for Photography

Once's high-end visual concept is based on its founders' observation that the public is increasingly interested in and sensitive about photography, but so far it's been difficult to make photography lucrative.

"Once is addressing a number of problems, we like to think, one of them being that photography is not paying very well," Jones said. Yet DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) cameras and cell phone photography have helped more people take higher-quality photos and in greater quantities, he observed.

"It seems like a real disconnect. More people know more and are exposed to really high-quality photography. Once is trying to leverage that whole shift in consumer habits, toward thinking about photographs being really valuable," Jones said.

Starting with the next issue, photographers published in Once will receive a cut of the magazine's revenues. The $2.99 charge for each issue first will be reduced by Apple's standard 30 percent cut, then the remainder is split: half to the magazine and half divided among the three published photographers. So far, the magazine's writers have received a flat fee, but Once is exploring ways to include them in the revenue-sharing model as well.

Hiebert noted that this isn't usually how photographers are paid for their work. "Typically, photographers are contracted with a set amount of money. Because we have this new data that Apple gives us through iTunes, we're allowed to see how many downloads are coming -- and how much money the magazine is making -- much more accurately than publications in the past that were relying on traditional sales data," he said.

Photographer Gjestvang is hopeful that this model will appeal to a wider audience.

"Many photographers hope that it will bring a new way of publishing work in the future which will also pay for what you are doing," she said. "Of course, you need the audience to pay for the project that you spend so much time on ... It's also important that if you want to have a broad audience, to not only make a magazine for other photographers, but for all kinds of people, to make the audience curious about what's going on in the world."

Once Looks Ahead

The Once concept is likely to evolve to include additional multimedia -- though photography will always play a major role -- and to be available on new platforms.

"We're trying to push a new type of storytelling experience that is only available on the iPad, kind of a tactile experience," Jones said. "That learning experience, that entertainment experience is so much richer when we can bring in the reader through physically touching."

Today's photographers shooting with DSLRs often capture audio and video that can be incorporated into Once. Infographics are also now easier to create with new online tools. The complexity of the app as a whole, though, is still somewhat limited by technical considerations.

once-infographic.jpg

"We would love to include as much video and audio in every essay [as we could], but the truth of the matter is that it increases file size and that maybe affects download numbers," Hiebert said. "We also don't want to ... distract from the narrative focus."

The magazine plans to move next to the iPhone, then to explore opportunities on Android platforms, including the new Kindle Fire tablet, which require more development than the shift to the iPhone. The potential for the forthcoming iPad 3 to include a higher-resolution "retina display," similar to that already used for the iPhone 4, would also be an ideal match for Once's content, Jones said.

The new platforms will likely lead to still more innovations.

"The iPad has allowed us to develop a pretty unique product in Once. You don't envision a magazine as a three-essay package," Hiebert said. "But we can reconceptualize what the magazine is, now that there are different platforms for delivering them."

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Linfield College. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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September 16 2011

18:17

What's the Best Business Model for Metro Newspapers?

Metro daily newspapers have been in a long rut in the United States, with many retrenching, closing or flailing for a new digital business model while cutting editorial staff to the bone. Many papers are watching the pay walls at places like NYTimes.com, and the new launch of the pay site, BostonGlobe.com. And what about newspapers like the Guardian in the U.K. that have kept content free, and pushed for an even bigger global audience?

What's the right mix of free and paid content for metro newspapers? Answer our poll, and share your thoughts in the comments below.


What's the best business model for metro newspapers?

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16:30

Mediatwits #20: Newspaper Special: Boston Globe Pay Wall; Guardian U.S.; Philly Tablet

CUNY-J LOGO.jpg

The Mediatwits podcast is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which offers an intensive, cutting edge, three semester Master of Arts in Journalism; a unique one semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism; and the CUNY J-Camp series of Continuing Professional Development workshops focused on emerging trends and skill sets in the industry.

Welcome to the 20th episode of "The Mediatwits," the weekly audio podcast from MediaShift. The co-hosts are MediaShift's Mark Glaser and Rafat Ali, the one and only founder of PaidContent. This week is a special edition on newspapers, newspapers and more newspapers. First up, the Boston Globe launched its new pay-walled site, BostonGlobe.com, which is free for print subscribers but costs $3.99 per week for non-print subscribers. The old Boston.com site will look more cluttered and have less content from the paper. The special guest this week is Chris Mayer, publisher of the Globe, who talks about why they went with a two-site strategy, and how people will still be able to see Globe content if they come from social media or search links.

Next up is the move by the U.K. newspaper the Guardian, with its third attempt to take on the American market. The paper launched a new site, GuardianNews.com, helmed by Janine Gibson, and will be moving over star reporter Nick Davies as well as new hire Ana Marie Cox. Can they finally get a foothold in the States? And finally the Philadelphia newspapers and Philly.com are subsidizing an Android tablet for subscribers at $99 with a two-year subscription contract. Will people take up their offer?

Check it out!

mediatwits20.mp3

Subscribe to the podcast here

Subscribe to Mediatwits via iTunes

Follow @TheMediatwits on Twitter here

Intro and outro music by 3 Feet Up; mid-podcast music by Autumn Eyes via Mevio's Music Alley.

Here are some highlighted topics from the show:

Intro

1:40: Update on Michael Arrington leaving TechCrunch

3:10: Big conflicts of interest at TechCrunch Disrupt

4:10: Rafat likes "retro" feel of print NY Times

5:15: Rundown of topics on the show

BostonGlobe.com pay wall

Chris Mayer photo.jpg

7:20: Rafat likes clean look of BostonGlobe.com

8:35: Special guest Chris Mayer, publisher of the Boston Globe

10:30: The split between two groups of Globe readers

15:40: Mayer: Readers appreciate advertising, as long as it's not disruptive

18:20: Will BostonGlobe.com do a special app or stay out of App Store?

21:10: The Globe's marketing push for its paid content

23:30: BostonGlobe.com will allow free reads of stories via social media and search without limits

25:45: Mark wonders if having two sites will really hurt the Globe

Guardian launches new U.S. site

26:20: Guardian moves Nick Davies stateside and hires Ana Marie Cox

28:20: Rafat impressed that they're hiring 20 to 30 people

Philadelphia papers subsidize Android tablets

30:35: Get a $99 tablet if you subscribe for two years at $9.99 per month

32:40: Allows many possible advertising deals

34:45: Why we're still watching moves by newspaper companies

More Reading

Four Observations (and Lots of Questions) on the Boston Globe's Lovely New Paywalled Site at Nieman Journalism Lab

Boston Globe pioneers double website strategy as it erects paywall at the Guardian

Judgement Day: Does the Boston Globe's paywall site have a chance in hell? at the Boston Phoenix

BostonGlobe.com, the pay site, now free until Oct. 1

The Guardian Launches a U.S. Homepage with a Special American U.R.L. at New York Observer

Nick Davies, Ana Marie Cox Join Guardian's New U.S. Operation at Capital New York

The Guardian Launches in America at the Next Web

GuardianNews.com, the new U.S. site

Philly papers offering subscribers $99 Android tablet at CNET

Sound Familiar? Philadelphia Newspapers Subsidize A Tablet To Sell You A Subscription at Wired

Weekly Poll

Don't forget to vote in our weekly poll, this time the best business model for metro newspapers:


What's the best business model for metro newspapers?

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. and Circle him on Google+

CUNY-J LOGO.jpg

The Mediatwits podcast is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which offers an intensive, cutting edge, three semester Master of Arts in Journalism; a unique one semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism; and the CUNY J-Camp series of Continuing Professional Development workshops focused on emerging trends and skill sets in the industry.

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August 02 2011

17:00

How to Control (Or At Least Influence) Children's Media Access

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This week, MediaShift will be running a special series on navigating the relationships between kids and media. Stay tuned all week as we explore topics like this one.

Once you have a child old enough to use a remote, the angst begins over how to control access to media. And absent the will to live a technology-free existence, media access is virtually impossible to control.

Still, I have been able to assemble some tips on ways to at least try to influence how children navigate the media landscape. These are some of the conclusions I've reached after talks with friends and family, and a lot of personal experience as a father.

TIP: RESTRICT TV IN THE HOME

Often, the first screen a child will access on his or her own is the TV. In earliest years, it's not too hard to put the remote control out of reach and monitor use closely.

Once they get a bit older, you can turn on whatever parental controls your TV provider or set allows, sometimes even block access to certain channels.

A few friends and family members don't subscribe to cable TV. You can also go without TV, which one friend told me she has done since before the era of video on the web.

HINDRANCE 1: TV? What is this, the 1990s? Most media shown on TV is soon available on some other screen the child has access to. As I said to a friend whose children were issued notebook computers in middle school: "Once they get laptops it's game over."

HINDRANCE 2: Media is pervasive out of the home. Family members in Minneapolis don't have cable. So, their daughter for years has just gone over to the house of a friend who seems to have every channel known to man, as well as a giant plasma screen.

Even at school, your children might watch movies and shows without your explicit permission. I was unhappy, for example, to learn that my child during elementary school recess on rainy days was put in an auditorium to watch entertainment that was anything but educational.

HINDRANCE 3: Parental controls are often based on rating systems that may not match your values. My friends and I, for example, find sometimes startling levels of violence in programming that's considered "safe" for children, while a fleeting bare breast in an innocuous setting will cause a show to be blocked.

TIP: CONTROL NETWORK AND COMPUTER PERMISSIONS

router block sites.jpg

You can restrict access and set permissions on your wireless router for different computers (via, for example, identifying the computer's "MAC address" -- a unique identifier code for every computer's WiFi antenna). Some routers allow different permission levels for different computers, so you can restrict them from accessing certain web addresses. On some routers, you can also monitor activity on the network.

You can also set yourself up as an administrator on a computer, and make your children simple users, then use browser tools to restrict access to certain web addresses and kinds of content.

HINDRANCE 1: Do you really want to be the admin on your children's computers and have to be called on every time they need to download some little plug-in to access something they may need for homework or to play a legitimate game?

HINDRANCE 2: Your progeny (they are smart, aren't they?) may find a workaround and get the content from some avenue you haven't blocked. If you restrict them at the browser level, for example, they may figure out a way to download through a different browser.

Another friend was able a few years ago to block his daughter's access to AOL Instant Messenger chats by, he said, denying access on his home router. But the means of accessing AIM and other real-time social engines have ballooned to where he knows it would be a losing battle now to even try.

My movie-obsessed 15-year-old nephew knows how to fake proxy servers and make a website think he's coming from a different IP address or country to get around restrictions where he lives.

TIP: CUT OFF WIRELESS ACCESS

Instead of trying to restrict access over a home network, how about doing away with it altogether? One friend told me he and his wife decided to go retro. "We cut off our wireless Internet at home, and instead ran cables through our house" so everyone had to physically plug in to access the web there, he said.

He and his spouse also require their children under the age of 16 use computers in open areas of the house rather than their bedrooms.

HINDRANCE 1: Neighbors. My friend and his wife noticed their children doing homework in a cramped area near the front porch. It turned out they were accessing an unprotected wireless network named "Stevo" emanating from next door.

HINDRANCE 2: Going without wireless can tie your own hands. My friend, who is a busy hospital doctor, found it to be a hassle when he had to get online at home and find a free port while the kids were doing homework.

In a house like mine, where I'm constantly accessing media in all corners for work and pleasure, I have trouble imagining going without wireless.

HINDRANCE 3: Children often have access to smartphones and tablets, on which they can consume media over a cellular network, and sometimes tether to a computer to give it wireless access.

HINDRANCE 4: Laptops can be carried to places with WiFi over which you have no control.

TIP: CONTROL ACCESS TO PAID SERVICES

You can set up a separate log-in or account for your children's access to services like Netflix, and monitor what they're watching.

HINDRANCE: My 14-year-old daughter and nephew are masters at finding whatever they want to watch. They're fans, for example, of the British version of "Skins," which is considerably more frank about sex and drugs than the American knockoff.

If they can't get what they want through Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and other legitimate services, they seem to find it some other way. When they can't get a whole show, someone inevitably posts choice bits to shared sites like Tumblr or YouTube.

I have told my daughter of the agreement reached between content providers and cable companies to limit access to unapproved content, so she can better understand the dangers of downloading material that our ISP finds illicit.


TIP: WATCH TOGETHER

tv watch family.jpg

In our house we encourage media consumption together, as a family. That way, at least, we can ask and answer questions, discuss what we're seeing and hearing, and I can gauge reactions and levels of sophistication. I'd rather have an idea of what's being consumed than believe I can place blanket restrictions.

HINDRANCE: Many children, once they're old enough, will resist watching shows with the family. Friends and I have experienced various excuses and explanations.

Our children will say they've already seen a show we want to watch and don't want to watch that episode again, or that something they want to watch isn't appropriate for younger siblings.

CONCLUSION: TEACH YOUR CHILDREN

Let's be frank: Part of growing up is doing things your parents don't approve of and testing limits.


Rather than resign myself to losing battles, I try to influence media consumption -- and production -- habits by instilling values and judgment. My daughter at this point would have to be pretty dull, for example, to not understand the risks of a) putting embarrassing personal material online or b) interacting with someone she doesn't know.

I try to encourage her to tell me what she's watching and listening to, even if it makes us both squirm a little at times.

An upside for a media professional like me is that children often act as a window into other media worlds. My daughter told me of YouTube sensation "Fred,"":http://www.youtube.com/user/Fred whom I've since researched and now use in lectures to demonstrate the power of the new social ecosystem.

I also believe we can't lord it over children if we're going to let them have rich, interactive lives, while hoping they have gained values and judgment that buffer them from the worst possibilities.

I know my daughter won't share everything with me. Yes, I can see her Tumblog and am her "friend" on Facebook. But I also am well aware that there may be other Tumblogs, social networks and websites where she does things she hides.

I do hope I've helped arm her with values so that in creating and consuming content she shows the good sense I've seen on so many other occasions.

Read more stories in the Kids & Media series on MediaShift.

Photo of family watching TV together by Paul Emerson via Flickr.

An award-winning former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA (with honors), Dorian Benkoil handles marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, and activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk.

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July 29 2011

16:47

Mediatwits #15: Special Cord-Cutters Edition; TV Networks vs. Streaming

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Welcome to the 15th episode of "The Mediatwits," the weekly audio podcast from MediaShift. The co-hosts are MediaShift's Mark Glaser and Rafat Ali, the founder of PaidContent. This show is all about cord-cutters, people who like to watch TV without paying for cable or satellite TV (like Mark & Rafat). The big news is that Fox will not allow free streaming of its shows online for 8 days after airing unless you pay for Hulu Plus or can authenticate that you are paying for TV. Special guest Brian Stelter of the New York Times talks about the move by Fox and how ABC might make a similar move soon. Brian also talks about the streaming race between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others, as Netflix raises its rates and Hulu goes on the sale block.

Plus, the show covers recent moves by various app-makers who are stripping out the ability to buy books or subscribe to magazines within apps to keep from having to pay 30% to Apple. Apps for Kindle, Barnes & Noble and Kobo all have stripped out "buy" buttons and are directing people to buy outside the Apple ecosystem. Will others follow suit? Will a rush continue to develop web apps and HTML5 apps that get around Apple's big bite out of revenues?

Check it out!

mediatwits15.mp3

Subscribe to the podcast here

Subscribe to Mediatwits via iTunes

Follow @TheMediatwits on Twitter here

Intro and outro music by 3 Feet Up; mid-podcast music by Autumn Eyes via Mevio's Music Alley.

Here are some highlighted topics from the show:

Cutting the cord

0:25: 'We hate Skype' episode

1:50: Rafat uses Roku, Apple TV to stream Netflix, Amazon

5:10: Mark sometimes watches shows on iPad via Hulu Plus

6:25: Rundown of topics on the show

Fox restricts online streaming of shows

7:45: Background on Brian Stelter of the New York Times

9:45: Fox affiliates happy with this move

hulu targeted.jpg

12:20: Will people get to watch the shows they want when they want (without cable)?

14:15: The pain of authenticating pay TV to see streaming services online

17:00: Can Netflix get more content?

18:20: Competitors like Amazon now targeting Netflix

21:10: HBO Go as an example of the future of streaming

Getting around Apple app restrictions

24:00: App makers strip out "buy" button to keep from giving 30% to Apple

26:00: Magazines pull "subscribe" buttons, look at web apps instead

27:20: Amazon's Android tablet could break Apple's chokehold

More Reading

Your Guide to Cutting the Cord to Cable TV at PBS MediaShift

Fox to Limit Next-Day Streaming on Hulu to Paying Cable Customers at NY Times

Fox TV Shows Get Pay Wall at WSJ

Fox Affiliates Pleased With Network's Plan For Limited Streaming at B&C

Amazon Prime Follows CBS Deal With Movies From NBCUniversal at PaidContent

Big Cable Braces for a Lousy Quarter at AllThingsD

Netflix vs. Hulu - the screen battle at Variety

How Netflix, Hulu And Amazon Stack Up at PaidContent

Analysts: CBS Corp.-Amazon Streaming Deal Bodes Well for Sector Giants at Hollywood Reporter

Apple forces Amazon to alter Kindle app at CNET

Kobo creating HTML5 Web app to buffer Apple at CNET

Weekly Poll

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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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July 21 2011

17:46

Google+ Terms of Service, Illustrated

Editor's note: When Google+ launched, there was much ado about the Terms of Service, especially in how they related to photos. So, artist Ryan Estrada set out to simplify things with the following infographics, which immediately went viral. He explains below what inspired them.

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I'm an artist who makes my living sharing my work online, and when I joined Google+ I found a whole new audience for my work, which is one of the hardest things for artists to do. Thousands of new readers a day were discovering my work, downloading my books, and telling their friends. Many of them were new to webcomics entirely, and I've been able to introduce them to a number of artists.

I was trying to convince some artist friends to join in the sharing love too, but many of them had been scared off by people selectively copying and pasting the scariest-sounding parts of Google+'s terms-of-service. I got tired of having to copy and paste the missing sections every time it came up in a discussion, or retype what they meant in regards to a social network. So I decided to put the entire section, along with my interpretation, in one easily shareable graphic so that we can stop having the same discussion, and start sharing some art!

Ryan Estrada moves to a new country every year just because he can. He has worked on graphic novels, anthologies like "Flight: Volume 4," his own online adventure show called "Expeditions," an Adult Swim series, an animated feature, and had a strange afternoon doing voiceover work for a Bollywood movie. He loves sharing, so all of his work is available for free at www.ryanestrada.com. He can be found on Google+ at plus.to/ryanestrada

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July 07 2011

21:59

UK Phone-Hacking Scandal Shows Clash of Privacy with Need to Know

British journalism has undergone one of the most radical weeks in several decades this week.

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"Rocked," "chaos," "shocking" -- use whatever adjectives you like, but news this week that the News of the World (NOTW) tabloid hacked into the phones of child murder victims, families of July 7, 2005 terror attacks and parents of soldiers killed in action has turned the stomachs of much of Britain.

Now Rupert Murdoch's News International has shut down the NOTW after 168 years. This weekend will be the last edition of Britain's biggest selling newspaper.

The public appetite for information, particularly about celebrities and major news stories is insatiable -- until it becomes an intrusion into your own individual life. Is the duty to provide information more important to society as a whole than individual privacy? Does the civil "public interest" test outweigh the private protection of an individual?

'Hackgate'

The phone hacking scandal, or "hackgate" as some have dubbed it on Twitter, is a long-running saga and the New York Times Magazine investigation last year remains the best and most detailed single explanation. The Guardian has steadfastly kept attention on the matter.

As a basic summary, a reporter or private investigator would dial into the cell phone of a celebrity, politician or other public figure and then use a four-digit PIN number to access the voicemail. Many people never even change the PIN on their mobile voicemail or know how to do that. Investigators might pose as the celebrity in question and call the cell carrier saying they lost their PIN and need to reset it.

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The technique first began to unravel in 2005 when messages to Royal family aides were appearing read and saved, even though they hadn't heard them.

That eventually led to the conviction of NOTW Royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. Police said Mulcaire's notebook had thousands of names and corresponding details of cell phone numbers and PIN numbers.

Since then, attention has always been on which celebrities, MPs or other public figures had their phones hacked -- a practice which is illegal, except by the security services with a court order.

A Widening Scandal

That was until this week. When it emerged on Monday that Mulcaire had accessed the voicemail of 13-year-old Milly Dowler who went missing, and deleted messages in some cases giving the impression she was still alive to worried family members, the public reacted. Only on this past June 23 a man was convicted of murdering the schoolgirl so it was still fresh in the public's mind.

The revelations have continued, with more alleged hacking vicitms: the parents of murdered children Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002, the family members of victims of the London terror attacks on July 7, 2005, and the parents of fallen soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It has also been revealed that up to five Metropolitan Police may have been paid bribes of £100,000 for information, from the same force that was supposed to be investigating the allegations of phone hacking, throwing the entire voracity of the inquiry into question.

So, how widespread is the practice of phone hacking? There have been reports -- by the New York Times feature last year in particular -- that other newspapers may have bought information obtained through phone hacking, or phone hacked directly, or that the technique was common at the NOTW. Although there have been a handful of arrests from within the NOTW, nobody has ever been charged beyond the original Royal reporter and private investigator. No other newspapers have yet been identified by police.

Pushing the Boundaries

I know a fair number of reporters and not one of them would engage in illegal activity for a story. Have we sometimes pushed boundaries? Of course. Do we sometimes feel a bit questionable afterwards? Yes. We're human.

When a newspaper told me they wanted a picture of school pupils but with "no fatties, uglies or ethnics," they apologized but that was the style of the paper. That's not illegal, but it's not the journalism I believe in.

Stories are regularly "spiked" because of the biases or agenda of a paper. Thankfully the UK has enough publications that almost any story can end up in print eventually, despite those barriers.

This story is still moving rapidly. Advertisers were pulling out of the paper. Ford was the first, very early on after the revelations and before any social media campaign really got going.

Social Media Pushes Advertisers Out

Mitsubishi said they were second on Tuesday as "morally right" to suspend advertising with a paper. Based on a suggestion from one of their Facebook followers, they are diverting the money to a children's charity instead.

As the week went on and the public identified which advertisers were in the weekly paper -- particularly thanks to data from the Guardian -- many other firms have pulled the plug, including the Royal British Legion on Thursday morning.

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Tesco, the UK's largest food retailer, said they wanted the police investigation to take its course, even while people on Twitter and Facebook bombarded them demanding they pull their advertising.

The Co-operative Group confirmed they heard from members by email, phone and via Facebook and Twitter while they were already reviewing their advertising, which they have now suspended.

Airlines, phone companies, the Post Office, and others have all pulled their advertising. One parody story even joked that Fish Refusing to Be Wrapped in the News of the World.

Other social media suggestions have included canceling subscriptions to Sky TV (i.e. BSkyB) which News International is trying to buy, or avoiding shops that sell the paper.

Closing NOTW

And then late on Thursday afternoon, News International chairman and Rupert's son James Murdoch told staff that the good work of the paper had "been sullied by behaviour that was wrong -- indeed, if recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our company."

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"The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself," he said.

Ultimately, the paper was in decline already. Circulation of the NOTW fell from 4,104,227 in October 2001 to 2,606,397 in April 2011, a drop of 36.5 percent. That is a significant pressure on any paper.

Total sales for 10 Sunday papers in October 2001 was 14,044,396. That has plummeted to 9,082,065 as of April, a drop of 35.3 percent. But the UK remains one of the most read newspaper markets in the world.

One non-press colleague said yesterday: "Everyone talks about freedom of the press. They've had their chance. Take it away."

Hundreds of people have worked for the NOTW as staff, hundreds more as contributors, and thousands more have been willingly quoted in the paper.

The actions of a handful of reporters or those they hire does not in any way dissuade me from the importance of journalism, a free press or a "smart, fearless journalism," as Mother Jones magazine aptly puts it.

Feeding the News Appetite

I personally don't know any reporters who lack souls. We don't exist in such realms of black or white, good or evil. But I know all of us are under pressure to feed the ever increasing news appetite, often within ever shrinking offices of demanding firms with expectant shareholders.

In one case, a colleague was required to supply one story each week on Harry Potter author JK Rowling, no matter what. "No" isn't an answer to the boss. They achieved those results perfectly ethically.

To interpret pressure as justifying unethical and illegal practices is a choice of individuals. They are culpable, as are any bosses who knew of them.

However wrong the hacking activities were and are, many of those leaping to condemn them are not without bias themselves.

Broadsheet newspapers are almost gloating at the peril of the tabloid press which disgusts, but outsells, them.

MPs have repeatedly been caught in adulterous or worse behavior by the tabloid press over the years, but would never dare speak out against News International prior to the current public furor.

And government opponents see this as a chance to extract blood from Prime Minister David Cameron for making the mistake of hiring former NOTW editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief (who might be arrested tomorrow).

Final Consequences

Ultimately we have a clash of what my retired philosophy professor father refers to as the "social duty to provide as much information as possible", and the duty of "non injury to others." So which trumps which?

The question now is what will happen in this Sunday's last ever NOTW. What will the NOTW put on its front page (one tweet suggested the word "Sowwy" and a picture of a kitten)? Will it come back in another form in a few months?

When the Sun published lies about the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, it has arguably never recovered sales in Liverpool and is still reviled. That may well have happened to the NOTW, but would have requited more than 2.6 million customers to switch off to the celeb gossip and "real life" coverage they are in the habit of devouring. Has the Murdoch empire now successfully drawn a line under this sordid tale by closing the paper?

It is only one product -- the conflicting appetites for information and privacy are not going anywhere any time soon.

Disclaimer: I have, a few years ago now, been paid for freelance stories and tips by the Scottish editions of the News of the World and the daily sister paper, The Sun, and more recently by the Sunday Times. I stand by those individual stories.

Photo of Rupert Murdoch by David Shankbone via Wikipedia.

Tristan Stewart-Robertson is a Canadian freelance reporter based in Glasgow, Scotland, operating as the W5 Press Agency.

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18:12

KOMU-TV Puts Google+ Hangout Video Chat on the Air

As a reporter and anchor for KOMU-TV, the NBC affiliate in Columbia, Mo., and the broadcast lab for the Missouri School of Journalism, I already chat with viewers via Facebook and Twitter on our "Livestream" behind-the-scenes webcam mounted on the news set. Now, KOMU has added yet another delightful distraction to the other side of the set. It's turned me into one distracted driver.

Google Hangout is Google+'s video chat feature, and it's a shiny red sports car for an interactive anchor.

Squirrel!

Google+ Distraction

Let me explain the allure of this distraction.

Hangout is similar to a group Skype chat for up to 10 people. On Monday, we believe we were the first station to use this video feature to interact with our TV viewers during a live newscast. We posted notice of our "Hangout" on our Google+ profile and invited people inside and outside our "Circles" to join in. The result gave viewers around the world not only the opportunity to see what happens behind the scenes of a live newscast, but for the first time, it also gave us anchors the chance to see our viewers beyond their profile pic. 

We followed up Wednesday night with what we believe to be the first Google+ Hangout on air. Viewers from all over the world got the chance to wave to people in mid-Missouri as we took a live screenshot of our video chat screen. (Watch the video here.)

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On Livestream, I can only see a still profile picture of who's chatting with me during the newscast. In Google Hangout, I can see the viewers in real time: his sunburn, the baby she's holding, the psychedelic curtains hanging in their living room. No more chatting with profile pics or typing emoticons in chat. Anchors -- and the audience -- can now see our viewers' smiles!  

On Sept. 12, KOMU News will launch an interactive newscast "U_News @ 4" that will further explore this real-time conversation going on between anchors and viewers during the newscast. We're excited about the role Google Hangout could play in better connecting with our viewers, especially during severe weather and breaking news.

Jen Lee Reeves, the station's interactive director, put it this way: "KOMU's goal has always been to reach out to our market and truly connect. The Google Hangouts allow that in a way we've never been able to do before. Not only are we writing and speaking, we get to see instant reactions and feedback. It's just one more way for us to really show our news consumers that we are in this together."

Changing lanes

No longer is the studio camera an anchor's sole focus during a newscast. Now, there's a lot of typing and talking to viewers even during a 10-second sound bite. The talented people who keep KOMU on this interactive road are changing lanes and embracing this new kind of "talking head." With two netbooks, two phones and two tablets on set, all with different viewer conversations going on them, our floor director is starting to add a snap to our "standbys" to get our attention. Producers are learning they have to talk in our earpieces like bingo callers and repeat instructions loudly and slowly.  

Drop, B-17.

Drop. B 17.  

Bingo!

With so many interesting roads for interactive anchors to explore, the good news is they all lead to closer connections with our viewers. I'm still learning how to talk and drive and not end up as roadkill on camera.   

After a couple test drives, I see Google Hangout as another opportunity for us talking heads to take our hands off of 10 and 2.

Squirrel!

How to Improve Hangouts

Here are some items that would make Google Hangout an even better extension of our newscast.

1. Allow more than 10 viewers in the Hangout. 

2. Make the Hangout screen a 16×9 friendly format so that its dimensions look proper when we take it live on-air.

3. Provide captioning when audio is muted. We have to mute the Hangout audio during our newscast so as not to interfere with our microphones. We can see Hangout viewers but not hear them. It would be great if there was a captioning or Google translate function that would pop up when you mute the audio so that anchors could still read what the viewer is saying.

4. Provide the opportunity to join a Hangout even if you don't have a Google+ profile.

5. Allow recording of the Hangout so that after the session ends, the creator can save it as a video file that can be shared on other social networking sites and blogs.

6. Enable some kind of private messaging in chat. We get frequent story tips in newscast chat. Why? Viewers like to say in front of a bunch of people that they've got a hot news tip. But they often don't want to provide the background details of the City Hall extortionist in a public chat room. 

Sarah Hill is an anchor and reporter on KOMU in Columbia, Mo. You can Hangout with Sarah weekdays during the 5 pm (Central Time) newscast here. Not on Google+ yet? You can also check out KOMU's behind-the-scenes webcam and chat with us here during the news. 
 

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July 05 2011

18:06

Golf Digest Adds Interaction, Depth, E-Commerce to iPad App

It seemed like the first-delivered iPad was hardly unsheathed from its box before News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, apparently unfazed by a rich past of misguided forays into Internet ventures, announced the launch of The Daily, which was immediately labeled the first tablet-only newspaper.

And it was mere weeks -- if not days -- after its debut when media critics began declaring it a failure, often pointing to a sense of wandering malleability as The Daily's staff grappled with the dilemma of where a news app fits in a world of near-instantaneous news. Gawker readers guffawed at a leaked memo from editor in chief Jesse Angelo instructing his staff that they were to find, among other things, the "oldest dog in America, or the richest man in South Dakota." Hilarious comments like these reveal an oft-repeated lack of vision that nearly always plagues the first pioneers of a new medium.

In its early days, the radio industry remained a meandering platform thought to be utterly useless to advertisers and entertainers until Albert Lasker, considered by many the founder of modern advertising, discovered comedic actors like Bob Hope and used them to promote Palmolive soap, Pepsodent toothpaste, and Lucky Strike cigarettes to millions of listeners. With mobile and tablet apps, content producers must weigh their offerings in print and on the web and determine what more, if anything, they have to furnish on an app.

Despite such still-lingering questions, Conde Nast has thrown its hat into the ring, launching iPad apps for several magazine titles. It led with an app for the venerable New Yorker and a much-touted, widely praised one for Wired, and it began expanding into the app sphere even more when Apple launched magazine subscriptions on its tablet device.

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Though it's still too early to be considered a "veteran" of the mobile app, Golf Digest wasn't exactly a novice to the medium when it joined its sister publications with a new subscription offering. It had already been publishing a mobile phone app and, earlier this year, had spun off one of the magazine's annual features -- the Hot List -- into its own iPad app. The monthly iPad magazine subscription, Conde Nast announced, would be $1.99 per issue or $19.99 per year.

So how did Golf Digest determine what kind of content would be ideal for not only driving its print and web readers to the app, but new users as well?

The rule is to read the reader

Bob Carney, the magazine's brand editor, is someone who grappled with this question in the months leading up to the subscription's launch.

"For Golf Digest, I think at the very beginning we thought we'd add every kind of bell and whistle we can," he told me in a phone interview. "And we found out that not only is that costly, but really for someone coming to Golf Digest, what they want is more of what they get in the magazine. So for the magazine, instruction and service information about the equipment are the most important things, and the iPad app ought to take that and extend it, not go somewhere else."

Case in point: the publication's swing sequences. Flip through any issue and you're apt to come across them -- the arc of a golfer's swing spread out across several images. The digital editor's natural inclination is to dispel of the still images completely and upgrade to video, perhaps even making it embeddable for wider distribution. Carney and his team, when making the iPad app, opted for an even more granular level. Taking advantage of the tablet's high-resolution screen and interactive features, they designed the swing sequences so the user can control every facet of the swing, jumping forward and back, pausing at the moment of impact. By handing over this control to the user, Carney said, it allows him to learn at his own pace.

This isn't to say video doesn't have its place within the iPad. Sometimes, the magazine will take a swing sequence by, say, Adam Scott, whose swing Carney characterized as "beautiful," and then shoot video of other golfers offering audio commentary, analyzing the minute details of Scott's technique in a way that sheds light on the methodology of a truly superior golfer.

"What we learned is to not try to reinvent the wheel," Carney said. "You try to take what you have and move it to the next level so that the user gets more information and control and you're using all the audio, video, and other tools available. The web is nice, but the web is usually 'lean forward,' where somebody says, 'You should see the Adam Scott swing sequence,' and you have two minutes before your next call and you look at it and you think it's cool and a great swing and now you're back to work. When you're playing on the iPad and you have the time to listen to those guys and move that swing back and forth, it's a different experience, and it's very cool."

Like the web, an iPad app is devoid of the distribution costs that hinder print, allowing the editorial team to vastly expand on something that might take up only a few pages in the print magazine. But of course most of the stuff that ends up in the app must be directly correlated with that month's print issue, necessitating constant overlap between the print and digital teams as the magazine is put together. Carney estimated that it takes three weeks to compile the print issue and three weeks for the app, with a two-week overlap in between. "We have a wall where every page is put out, and I noticed recently they have a layout of the July issue for every iPad screen as well."

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Expanding the Hot List

Like other publications, Golf Digest is experimenting with rolling out individual apps and products centered around its annual lists. Its Hot List, a yearly ranking of the best golf equipment, was spun off into an iPad app before the magazine itself was even offered on the device.

Craig Bestrom, the magazine's editorial development director, told me in a phone interview that the app allowed his team to expand the list beyond the realms previously employed in the print product.

"The equipment portion of the magazine that was devoted to the Hot List was probably 60 pages," he said. "And this app had close to a thousand screens. That's probably the greatest comparison that you can make, that suddenly we're able to devote a lot more photographs and information. This is a far more comprehensive guide compared to what you get in the magazine. It's not only drivers, but all the new sets of irons, all the new wedges, all the new putters. It's all the club gear for 2011."

In the print version of the Hot List, for instance, the magazine featured about 14 drivers, and each driver was assigned a quarter of a page. But with the iPad app, Bestrom said, you get "multiple images of the driver, you get the sound the driver makes at impact, you have the ability to share on Facebook or on Twitter to your friends about a particular club or clubs that you liked and why you liked them."

The opportunity for e-commerce

The app allows for an e-commerce opportunity as well, enabling its designers to offer the clubs featured in the list up for sale with a simple click. Through a program called Golf Digest Rewards, a user is able to sort through the best prices for a club and purchase it via the app. Bestrom didn't have ready sales figures for me, but the e-commerce component indicated an opportunity for a diversification of revenue that may be necessary as print advertising revenues decline.

Ultimately, it seems the iPad app fits in between the stodgy formality of a print product and the open flexibility of the web. For Carney, it's the removal from the immediacy of the Internet that allows the magazine to flourish within this new medium.

"It works much more like a magazine, in that you really have to make it an experience in itself," he said.

And according to a recent survey, the consumers most coveted by high-end advertisers may agree. As Business Insider's Noah Davis put it, "The average user is roughly $60,000 richer and eight years younger than the typical Golf Digest reader, with an annual household income of $279,600."

Perhaps Golf Digest, the magazine for a sport thought to be played mainly by the affluent, is the perfect publication for a device often associated with that same demographic.

Simon Owens is the director of PR at JESS3, a design agency in Washington, D.C. You can read his blog or follow him on Twitter

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July 01 2011

18:26

Smartphone Sensors Could Revolutionize Digital Magazines

We've all done those personality and health quizzes in magazines. You know, the ones where you suspect that answer A will categorize you as the personality type you're trying to avoid, so you choose B instead.

Everyone does that, right?

These evasive strategies for magazine quizzes, though, could be a thing of the past as smartphones and tablet devices evolve to incorporate a variety of new sensors that will keep us honest. While they might not be able to assess your personality yet, sensors are rapidly becoming capable of detecting all kinds of information about you and your surroundings. These sensors will not only change digital magazines' editorial content and advertising, but also lead to entirely new ways of authoring content and serving readers.

Location Services Have Room to Grow

Many consumers already use location-sensing tools, such as GPS features on smartphones, to find nearby businesses. Some magazine and media applications have also integrated location-based features that display relevant content for a user's local area. But there's a lot more that can be done with location information as sensors improve, and as media companies take fuller advantage of what they will offer.

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Location-based services still have space to evolve, said Wayne Chavez, an operations manager for the sensor division of Freescale, a semiconductor company that is developing a variety of sensors for mobile devices, among other products. Chavez said improved location sensors and related applications will combine both GPS data and magnetometer readings to determine the device's orientation and know which way the user is facing. That detail allows greater customization of information.

For example, imagine a tourist taking a picture of a notable building. The picture can easily be geo-tagged already with today's GPS sensors, but new sensors and related applications could gather more information, including "what direction you took the picture from. It can tell you based on your previous interests and queries what's around you near that building. You might be around the block from another historic building," Chavez said.

Software on the device -- such as, perhaps, a local magazine's app -- could then use the sensor's data to push to the user details of how to navigate to that next location of potential interest, as well as ways "to read more about a historical marker, at any length, with instant access to that media," Chavez said.

Magazines' editorial content could even dynamically change to reflect more detailed location information. Joseph J. Esposito, an independent media consultant, offered an example of how it might work.

"If you're reading a future edition of The New Yorker, maybe a story about a young couple that falls in love in New York, and you're walking along, then the story changes because you just walked in front of a Mexican restaurant," Esposito said. The story could update its content to harmonize with the reader's location and activity.

While some digital magazines have already experimented with contextual advertising based on location data, Esposito said the use of this sensor information eventually "will start to have an editorial direction as well."

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There's room to improve contextual advertising based on location, too, for digital magazines and other media applications. Chavez suggests that location data could eventually be combined with information from "the cloud" -- online compilations of user information -- for more precise targeting.

"I see many providers saying, based on the location of your handset and your history, I can pre-filter and stream to you information that might be relevant to you," he said.

Sensor Publishing

Esposito's example of the dynamically updated New Yorker story, mentioned above, is just one way that sensor data might alter magazine content. As Esposito puts it, our phones are, in reality, sensors that we carry everywhere we go. Users of sensor-equipped mobile devices could serve as passive authors of projects that gather, analyze and present data from these sensors. Esposito calls this "sensor publishing" to distinguish it from crowdsourcing because it doesn't require participants' active involvement.

Digital magazines and other media applications could collect sensor data -- such as location, temperature, ambient light or other readings -- and find ways to incorporate the data into stories, or to make them stories in themselves.

"We become carriers or hosts, collecting data passively all the time," Esposito said. "It's different from how we like to think about our phones, but there's also passive use of the phone, when it picks up temperature or humidity. When you're collecting information from 350 million phones, now it's starting to get meaningful. Those little data aggregation points start to mean something."

Esposito noted that all types of sensors -- anything scientists use in laboratories, including spectroscopes or Geiger counters -- could eventually be incorporated into mobile devices, making all kinds of data-gathering opportunities possible for the creation or enhancement of digital magazine content and other media.

Sensing Health Information

Sensors might also mean the end of cheating on magazines' health quizzes, along with new ways of experiencing health-related content. A range of health sensors are already available and, as their cost falls, media companies could distribute them so that the data users gather about themselves as part of daily life could be integrated into various types of content.

Carré Technologies is a Montreal-based company developing health sensors that can be integrated into clothing. The sensors will interact with mobile devices to collect and analyze health information, and could have intriguing media-related uses.

"People in general are taking more responsibility for managing their own health," said Pierre-Alexandre Fournier, president of Carré Technologies. "It's going to help preventive health [care] ... A lot of this monitoring can be done remotely now because of the Internet."

Fournier said health sensors like his company's are useful for a variety of fitness and health applications, such as games, biofeedback, and health observation.

"The sensors we make are meant to be worn 24/7, so there's a huge amount of data created by just one person," he said. "There are a lot of creative ways to show that data, to make it useful for the users."

One way to experience that data might be to have it integrated with media content. For example, a digital magazine application that collected health data from a reader using these sensors could then offer customized diet or exercise recommendations within the context of the magazine, as well as pool data from users anonymously to produce sensor publishing projects. Articles could describe the activity patterns of the publication's audience, contextualizing the individual reader's activity level within that broader picture, and then offering suggestions for improvement.

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This approach to providing personally relevant health information might be an opportunity for health-related magazines and other media seeking to capitalize on demographic trends in their mobile applications.

"One of the megatrends here is our aging population," Chavez said. "As our baby boomers reach their mid-60s now, many of them are very tech aware, and looking for telehealth solutions, whether that's out of personal interest or clinically driven."

Naturally, there are privacy concerns related to the collection of health and other personal data. "I'm not sure how much people want the media company to have access to their physical data," Fournier said. "Media companies already collect a lot of data on people. I'm not sure how far people will be able to go before they start to react."

It seems inevitable, though, that we'll see more integration of varied sensors into our mobile devices, and more creative applications for them in magazine and media applications, for both editorial content and advertising. What we've seen so far are just the earliest stages of sensors' uses in the media world.

"We [just passed] the fourth anniversary of the iPhone, and it's been transformative. The first app for reading books on a phone came in July 2008," Esposito said, offering a reminder of how recently these digital possibilities have evolved. "All this world we're talking about here is so preciously new. But it's difficult to imagine turning back the clock."


Maps and graphs image by Courtney Bolton on Flickr

Smartphone photo by Gesa Henselmans on Flickr.

Google Earth image by Miki Yoshihito on Flickr.

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Linfield College. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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June 13 2011

22:21

FCC Report on Media Offers Strong Diagnosis, Weak Prescriptions

A consensus has begun to emerge around the Federal Communications Commission report, "The Information Needs of Communities," released Thursday: The diagnosis is sound, but the remedies are lacking.

The 465-page report (see full report, embedded below) is the result of 600-plus interviews, hearings and reams of research conducted over 18 months. It represents the most ambitious attempt yet to come to terms with the consequences of the current media transformation. It's a synthetic and comprehensive look at the entire ecosystem -- commercial, non-commercial and user-generated; across print, broadcast, online and mobile -- making it a tremendous resource for advocates, journalists, entrepreneurs and media educators.

Steven Waldman, journalist, editor and digital news entrepreneur, was lead author for this project and worked with a distinguished team of experts from across the country to compile both capsule histories of each sector and an atlas of current facts and figures. See the gallery of graphs from the report below, assembled by Josh Stearns of the media reform organization Free Press, for a sense of the range and depth of the research. (Overwhelmed? A two-page summary of findings and recommendations is also available here.)

Trouble for Local Reporting

The primary conclusion echoes that of many recent reports: Amid vibrant experimentation by a broad range of news producers, local reporting is in the biggest trouble. There are less ad dollars for newspapers, fewer reporters on the beat for both print and broadcast, fewer enterprise investigations, and more "hamsterized" reporters, all resulting in a gap in the ability to hold governments and corporations to account.

The report also represents an unprecedented effort by the FCC to take stock of the results of previous policy decisions supporting non-commercial and community media. Rather than focusing solely on public broadcasting as the answer to commercial news woes, as many recent analyses have, this report acknowledges the growth and dynamism of a broader non-profit news sector:

More accurate than "public broadcasting," the term "non-profit media" better captures the full range of not-for-profit news and media organizations. Some non-profit media groups are affiliated with public broadcasting, some not; some receive government funds, most do not. But what these groups have in common is this: they plow excess revenue back into the organization, and they have public-interest missions that involve aspirations toward independent journalism.

The report's authors see the growth and vigor in this sector as promising, and even have some kind words to say about public access stations, often dismissed or left entirely out of the local news equation. However, they also confirm that news production by non-commercial outlets is still not sufficient to fill the yawning gap in local reporting that has opened up over the past decade.

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What's more, stable business models for such outlets have not yet emerged, and the federal funding that undergirds the largest swath of non-commercial outlets, public broadcasters, is under political threat. Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds that were supporting digital innovation were slashed this year, as were funds earmarked for buildout of new station infrastructure.

To add insult to injury, Waldman & Co. note, public interest obligations for commercial stations have been defanged, offering no way to ensure diverse or high-quality local public affairs coverage. Those requirements that remain are rarely enforced.

No Bold Solutions

Yet, bafflingly, despite identifying these clear market gaps, the report stops short of offering bold solutions, perhaps in reaction to the currently charged political and funding climate. Instead, as several commentaries -- such as this piece in GigaOm -- note, the resounding message to the media industry is "don't look to us, we can't help you." GigaOm's Matthew Ingram writes:

One of the biggest trends that the FCC flags as important in the report is the loss of what it calls "accountability" journalism, in which news outlets on a local and/or national level cover the government and thereby act as a check on power. As more than one person has noted, this conclusion isn't exactly a news flash that required government funding and two years of research to unearth, but is arguably still worth highlighting, since it's a gap that has yet to be filled. And what does the FCC think can be done to fill it? Not much.

Commissioner Michael J. Copps objected emphatically to this laissez-faire approach at the report's release; he was the first to observe that "the policy recommendations ... don't track the diagnosis."

For some conservatives and the entrepreneurially minded, that's just fine. "I think I'm relieved that, on first scan, the FCC report on journalism recommends little," tweeted CUNY's director of interactive journalism Jeff Jarvis. As Waldman explained at the release event, a primary goal of the report's recommendations was to protect the First Amendment, a priority that sits well with libertarian commentator Adam Thieirer. He blogged his initial reaction at the Technology Liberation Front site:

For those of us who care about the First Amendment, media freedom, and free-market experimentation with new media business models, it feels like we've dodged a major bullet. The report does not recommend sweeping regulatory actions that might have seen Washington inserting itself into the affairs of the press or bailing out dying business models.

Spurring Conversation

So, what kind of remedies should the report have offered? Of course, I have my own ideas about how taxpayer dollars can best support civic engagement and innovation -- many of which I've reported on in the pages of MediaShift. I also have my own stake in this report, which cites research that I've conducted with colleagues at the Center for Social Media and the New America Foundation -- see the annotations in the embedded version of the report below for some highlights.

But, as several observers noted, the report will do its job if it spurs broader conversation about how best to support the evolution of news. That process has already begun.

Read more:

Using Storify, I've compiled reactions currently being shared via Twitter.

[View the story "Reactions to the FCC's Information Needs of Communities Report:" on Storify]

And, you can read the full document here:



Jessica Clark is a Senior Fellow at American University's Center for Social Media, a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation, and is currently consulting with the Association of Independents in Radio on a forthcoming initiative.

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May 27 2011

15:18

Mediatwits #9: Twitter Buys Tweetdeck; Facebook's Role in Breaking News

jen reeves rji.jpg

Welcome to the ninth episode of "The Mediatwits," the weekly audio podcast from MediaShift. The co-hosts are MediaShift's Mark Glaser along with PaidContent founder Rafat Ali. This week's show looks at the recent purchase of Tweetdeck by Twitter, and the questions it raises about companies starting businesses on the platform of other companies. If you run an app for Twitter but aren't bought by Twitter, where does that leave you?

This week's special guest is Jen Lee Reeves, who teaches at the Missouri School of Journalism and is the interactive director for KOMU-TV. She has been covering the recent tornadoes and bad weather in Missouri and using her TV station's Facebook page to connect with its community. Finally, the talk turns to conflicts of interest for entrepreneurial journalists and tech bloggers such as Michael Arrington, Kara Swisher and Om Malik. Should they be able to invest in companies they cover, be venture capitalists themselves? How do they maintain credibility?

Check it out!

mediatwits9.mp3

Subscribe to the podcast here

NEW! Subscribe to Mediatwits via iTunes

Follow @TheMediatwits on Twitter here

Intro and outro music by 3 Feet Up; mid-podcast music by Autumn Eyes via Mevio's Music Alley.

Here are some highlighted topics from the show:

Rafat taking one more trip

1:08: Getting to Uzbekistan

2:20: No media fact-finding

2:45: Rundown of the show's topics

Twitter buys Tweetdeck

04:30: What will Twitter do with it?

07:05: Dick Costolo remains Twitter CEO (for today)

08:40: Inhibiting innovation?

10:25: TechCrunch Disrupt startups not tied to Twitter, Facebook

Interview with KOMU's Jen Lee Reeves

11:10: Background on Reeves

13:35: Heavy Facebook use in mid-Missouri

15:30: How Facebook use is different from Twitter

18:45: People coming to KOMU page rather than just reading news feed on Facebook

21:40: KOMU website changes to "river of news"

Conflicts for tech journalists

om and arrington.jpg

23:45: Background on conflicts for Michael Arrington, Kara Swisher, Om Malik

25:55: Rafat on how PaidContent dealt with conflicts

28:10: Mark notes the problem might be what people don't cover too

30:10: Om Malik was a respected journalist before becoming venture funder

More Reading

Twitter Buys TweetDeck at WSJ Digits

What the Tweetdeck Acquisition Means for Marketers at AdAge

Newsroom, Community Use Facebook as Key Hub After Joplin Tornado at MediaShift

Images and Video from Joplin Tornado at KOMU

KOMU on Facebook

Kara Swisher, Michael Arrington, and me: New conflicts, and new opportunities, for the tech press at Nieman Lab

Godspeed on That Investing Thing, Yertle-But I Still Have Some Questions for Your Boss, Arianna at AllThingsD

Arrington Says The Real Conflict Of Interest In Tech Reporting Has Nothing To Do With Money at Business Insider

It's Hilarious That Mike Arrington Gets Beat Up For Investing In Startups When Om Malik Is A Partner At A VC Firm at Business Insider

Weekly Poll

Don't forget to vote in our weekly poll, this time about how journalists can deal with conflicts:




What's the best way for journalists to deal with conflicts of interest?Market Research

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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May 24 2011

19:59

Newsroom, Community Use Facebook as Key Hub After Joplin Tornado

When Joplin, Mo., was hit with a massive tornado, I knew my community would react. Even though we're nearly 250 miles away, many people in Columbia and mid-Missouri are either Joplin natives or have family there. My newsroom's normally local-focused Facebook page quickly became a clearinghouse for updates about how mid-Missouri could help the tornado-ravaged community.

Fans are using the page now to share news, photos, videos, information on relief efforts, and in general, to connect with each other in a time of crisis.

The efforts grew organically on our page. The KOMU online audience is already very interactive. We have 10,000+ fans and, on average, 7,500 users have some level of interaction with us on a weekly basis, according to Facebook Insights.

I encourage sharing and conversations among everyone in an open and transparent way. I and my web team pay attention and are constantly interacting with our fans. Over time, a relationship has developed -- the kind that's enhanced during severe situations like what happened in Joplin.

When the tornado hit, our Facebook fans knew they could trust us to coordinate and share important information there.

So that's just what we did. Since the tornado, I've been on overdrive. In the last 24 hours, I've gathered information on social media to share on our website, KOMU.com, and on Facebook. I'm gathering as many relief drives as possible to share on Facebook, KOMU.com and the newsroom's Twitter page. My goal is to share and gather data from the social spaces where KOMU's audience already interacts.

The Beginning

When the first information came out on Joplin, KOMU-TV was on the air with details about severe weather in our area. Our meteorologists shared images live that were posted on our Facebook page using an iPad. Anytime we show live Facebook content on television, our interaction online starts to jump.

I was working from home, but knew we had a spark of community activity on our Facebook page. I and a few others working in our newsroom started posting links from our website to Facebook. One of the most viewed pages is a collection of tweets curated on Storify. It's had more than 8,000 views in less than 24 hours and was shared on Facebook more than 165 times. These kind of collections continued to bring people to our Facebook page to interact and share.
SharingOnFacebook

A number of people wanted to know how they could help. We posted immediate links and information about how medical providers could offer their expertise and how relief agencies were trying to coordinate assistance. I wrapped up my oversight of the page around 1:30 in the morning with a dramatic video on YouTube. It created a stir, even though it was very late at night (or early in the morning, depending on your perspective).

Some of the conversations I had with our Facebook audience led to our morning show coverage. A woman who posted a picture about a tree that crushed her van became the subject of a live report the next day.

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The Next Day

Not only did we have continuing requests on how our Facebook users could help, a growing number of people had information about blood drives, fundraisers and donation sites. Not only did I take the time to thank users for the information, I added a link to my Facebook profile by typing "@jen Lee Reeves" to identify myself as the person commenting as a representative for KOMU.

My newsroom started to ask for the community to tell us about the relief efforts they knew about. I tried to keep up with a list and encouraged our Facebook users to post their efforts on a discussion page. When I learned about items that weren't added to the page, I'd copy and past from the Facebook wall and Twitter. (Our newsroom encouraged our region to use #JoplinMidMo to help us keep track of local efforts.)

The best development with Facebook pages is the "Notifications" link that helps me keep track of any interactions on the page. I'm able to see new posts, likes and comments on items that might be hours old on the page. Almost every time I respond, I add that link to my Facebook profile.

Near the end of the day, I slowed down my obsessive oversight of the page. One member was unable to find a donation location, and other page members jumped in with some details. I was able to research a few extra details and add to the conversation.
HelpingScreenShot

A Wish List

After spending so much time inside the Facebook page, I have a few things I'd love to have the next time I'm helping manage a crisis.

  • The ability to post notes. Facebook groups have a wonderful ability to let members create and contribute openly to notes. This would have been much easier to manage with our collection of relief efforts. I'm helping manage a community Facebook page that allows notes. My "television station category" doesn't get notes in Facebook.
  • The ability to create a call to action at the top of the page. I had to repost a number of helpful links and information because our Facebook users kept asking the same questions. It would have been great to have the main relief information easily accessible.
  • Photo tagging needs to be easier. I know this is a new feature where Facebook users can tag a page they like. I had a number of people tell me they weren't able to tag KOMU to a picture. I've also noticed this service is spotty.
  • The ability to tag posts from a mobile app. When I left the newsroom, I had to add to the comments on the KOMU page without the ability to identify myself.

It will be interesting to see how long this call to action continues on our Facebook page. Our newsroom is planning a telethon with local organizations on Thursday for Joplin. I hope to Livestream the event on our Facebook page and offer anyone the ability to embed the stream to their websites. (I haven't figured out all of the logistics, but hopefully I'll have it ready by Thursday.)

Many other Facebook pages focused on Joplin relief, especially one built solely to offer updates and relief. KOMU was able to focus on the efforts in mid-Missouri. The online relationship we had before the crisis was able to grow in this time of need.

Hopefully, it's an example of how a commitment to social media can help encourage ongoing conversations between a newsroom and its community.

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May 12 2011

18:15

Massive Digital Divide for Native Americans is 'A Travesty'

Perhaps nowhere in the United States does the digital divide cut as wide as in Indian Country. More than 90 percent of tribal populations lack high-speed Internet access, and usage rates are as low as 5 percent in some areas, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

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Sascha Meinrath, director of New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative calls it "a travesty."

"You have a community that perhaps treasures media and cultural production more than almost any other constituency in the country, and you have an entire dearth of access to new media production and dissemination technology," Meinrath said.

Since 2009, New America Foundation has worked with Native Public Media, which supports and advocates for Native American media outlets, to help tribal communities take advantage of new media platforms. In January, the organizations formalized their partnership, and this fall, they plan to launch a media literacy pilot project that will train Native radio broadcasters in at least four communities to tell stories using digital tools.


"It's a very proactive way to address the digital divide, apart from the hardware," said Loris Ann Taylor, president of Native Public Media.

Tribal Digital Village

The organizations plan to work with both digital experts and tribal groups that have pioneered technology adoption. An oft-cited example is the Tribal Digital Village in Southern California, which brought Internet access to libraries, schools and other community buildings across 13 reservations, with grants from Hewlett-Packard and others.

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Native Public Media has itself led the way in digital storytelling, partnering with WGBH in 2009 on We Shall Remain, a multi-platform project on Native history. But its primary goal is expanding local production.

Currently, 10 tribal radio stations stream over the Internet, including KGVA 90.1 FM, serving the Fort Belknap reservation in Montana, and WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation in Wisconsin. The Coeur d'Alene tribe in northern Idaho created RezKast, a YouTube-like video and music sharing site. The Navajo Times, Cherokee Phoenix and other Native newspapers publish online.

As innovative as these projects are, without access, they will only reach a fraction of the Native population.

'The Digital Revolution is Stirring'

Native Americans will be savvy users of new media when connectivity arrives, Meinrath said. A 2009 report [PDF file] he co-authored found that when broadband was available, Native Americans did everything from blog to download podcasts at higher rates than national averages. Although the report noted that it was more exploratory than representative, it concluded: "The digital revolution is stirring in tribal communities."

Still, the revolution is far away for most Native Americans. Broadband infrastructure does not exist in most tribal areas, and where it does, charges are marked up radically, compared with urban centers -- by 13,000 percent, in some cases, Meinrath said. Regulatory frameworks have also contributed to under-servicing, he said.


new media study.jpg

Lately, advocacy by Native Public Media and others for government action seems to be paying off. The FCC's National Broadband Plan, unveiled in March 2010, included the goal of increasing broadband access on tribal lands, with involvement from local leaders. The Plan recommended that Congress consider creating a Tribal Broadband Fund. Last August, the FCC established an Office of Native Affairs and Policy to work with the 565 federally recognized tribes on improving access to communications services. One of its first moves, in March 2011, was to invite tribal representatives to a Native Nations Day, where the FCC expanded a "tribal priority" to promote licensing of radio stations serving Native communities.

Recent federal action is a leap forward in focusing attention on a long-ignored issue and producing empirical data for reform, Meinrath said.

Yet, he noted that progress has largely remained rhetorical. "We've run into an FCC and an Obama administration that has not, as a whole, prioritized this issue," he said.

Challenges and Opportunities

When it comes to expanding access, the challenges are steep. Many tribal areas are geographically remote, which can make provision difficult and expensive, according to the National Broadband Plan. Service is unaffordable for many Native Americans, a quarter of whom live at or below the poverty line. At the same time, funding for public media and telecommunications facilities is at risk.

But, physical remoteness and high costs are a familiar excuse for failure to serve Indian Country among decision-makers focused on majority constituents, Meinrath said.

"This is not a technical problem -- this is a remarkable lack of leadership," he said.

The challenge is not only addressing a digital divide, but also a pattern of historical exclusion from media and communication services, Taylor said. Some tribal populations still lack emergency and postal services, and almost a third lack basic telephone service. The rapid pace of technology risks leaving Native populations even further behind.

Despite the challenges, the potential for technology to improve media capacity in tribal areas is tremendous, Taylor said. New media tools will help Native Americans cover issues that are ignored or misrepresented in mainstream media. They can fill extreme gaps in information access and enable cultural preservation. They allow local news and cultural programming to reach tribal members who have left reservations for jobs or military service.

Leaping the Divide

Critically, technology offers a chance to "leap over" the traditional media divide, especially as many tribal newspapers have shut down in the economic downturn, and radio stations, the traditional medium of choice for Native communities, are not feasible in all areas, Taylor said.

Most of all, Taylor's vision is about enabling Native Americans to have a voice on vital issues, from the housing market to the energy crisis.

"In this country, if we leave people out from having access or ownership or control of the technology, then we're really denying them something even larger -- to have participation in a democratic society," she said. "It's really about self-determination at the end of the day."

Katia Savchuk works as an investigator and writes for Ethical Traveler and Polis, a collaborative urbanism blog she co-founded. She previously spent a year and a half documenting the work of slum-dweller federations in India. Her writing has appeared in Let's Go travel guides, Environment & Urbanization and the Palo Alto Weekly.

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May 11 2011

19:02

No Gloom Here: In Latin America, Newspapers Boom

If you spend much time in U.S. newsrooms these days, you might contract a serious case of gloom and doom. Talk is still focused on declining circulations, aging readerships, and the absence of new business models to pay for the production of quality content.

But it would be a mistake to assume that this is the case for the rest of the world. In fact, in many regions, the newspaper business is booming. Some countries' newspapers are pulling in record advertising and those double-digit profit margins that were common in 1990s America.

I recently had the chance to observe this phenomenon firsthand at the Bogota, Colombia, conference of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), where there was little gloom or doom to be found.

eltiempofrontpagescreengrab.png

Instead, newspapers were reporting extraordinary growth in advertising sales from 2005 to 2009: 62 percent in Argentina, 70 percent in Brazil, and 57 percent in Colombia itself. (These figures, drawn from a ZenithOptimedia forecast, contrasted with 34 percent drops in the U.S. and the U.K. over the same period.)

Newspaper circulation is growing sharply in Brazil (29 percent), modestly in Argentina and Bolivia, and holding steady in Colombia and Chile. (It was down more than 12 percent in the U.S.)

But what's most striking about the Latin American news industry is the sense of dynamism. The digital revolution is coming to Latin America -- but it's arriving hand-in-hand with the news organizations, and that makes all the difference.

Multi-Platform Success

That point was reinforced with a visit to the newsrooms of El Tiempo, Colombia's leading daily. The newspaper understandably prides itself on the way it has implemented newsroom convergence. Its expansive headquarters are a few decades old, but look freshly minted, refitted top to bottom with new technology. They include the daily paper, two television channels (CityTV and Canal El Tiempo), as well as a vast array of online products.

In El Tiempo's model, information is endlessly produced and recirculated across platforms. Pieces that air on the television channels are recut by a team of young online editors into two- and three-minute pieces that can circulate online. Breaking news goes out on Twitter, leading traffic back to the website and the newspaper. Each platform is carefully monitored for editorial quality.

According to newspaper director Roberto Pombo, "We had to appoint a journalist to be our Twitter editor because we had a report that went out on Twitter that diverged from the story on ElTiempo.com. It was a garden-variety error, but it convinced us we needed editors to be responsible for social networks."

Pombo has shaped the paper's news to be platform neutral. "We're going with everything in every medium, and the audience can stay where they are," he said. Pombo said the newspaper El Tiempo, whose staff create much of the core content, generates about a 9 percent profit, which is augmented by profits from the television and online operations. "Our newspaper readers are not diminishing, our online audience is growing, and the ads are holding," he said.

Online earnings are smaller but are growing more rapidly. The company has no plans to charge for online content, but goes to great lengths to leverage cross-promotion.

robertopomboeltiempo.jpg

Spanish Ownership

"You can't carry out convergence as a cost-cutting measure -- but you save money in the long run," Pombo said. "All I care about is that if somebody gets a news update on Twitter and somebody asks, 'Where did you get that,' they answer 'Tiempo.' It's all about the brand."

El Tiempo was founded in 1911 and long operated under the leadership of the Santos family. In 2007 the paper was sold to Planeta, a Spanish publishing group, which had to readjust to the Colombian market.

"The owners are living two realities. There's an economic crisis in Spain, but things are fine here, so we have to explain it to them," Pombo said. Spain's newspapers are suffering worse than those in the U.S.

El Tiempo is not alone in its prosperity. Sebastian Hiller, director of La Vanguardia Liberal in the city of Bucaramanga, said, "Most of the major Colombian papers are making 15-20 percent profits, and some of them 30 percent, especially if they've been investing in convergence." (One exception is the venerable Bogota paper El Espectador, which has recently struggled back from the brink of extinction.)

Slow, Steady Economic Growth Good for News

What explains the robust health of these Latin American news organizations?

The first answer is the local market. The Andean nations have largely dodged the 2008 economic downturn, and have been experiencing steady growth in recent years.

Second, this growth has been more evenly distributed than in the past. Many Latin American countries are seeing incomes rise among the urban poor, and with them disposable income. This is a sweet spot for newspaper sales, since there may be discretionary spending for a daily newspaper, but not enough for a computer and an Internet connection.

In Colombia, as in other Latin American countries, there has been a boom in new tabloids and glossy consumer magazines, many of which subsidize quality broadsheets in the same company. Some of these tabloids have reached circulations of 2 million to 3 million within two years of their launch.

Capturing Digital Sales

Third, and perhaps most intriguing, digital is arriving in Latin America, but more slowly than in the U.S. and Europe. This has allowed news organizations to learn from other markets' mistakes, and claim larger shares of the online advertising space before the search engines and aggregators can dominate it. The managers don't care whether the advertising ends up on paper or online -- as long as it ends up with them.

One of the side benefits of this development is a dramatic rise in quality. A number of papers in the region have expanded their foreign coverage and investigative journalism, and have won the prizes to prove it. (For a striking example, look to Costa Rica's La Nacion, where exemplary reporting in 2004 landed two past presidents in jail.)

This is not to say that everything's rosy south of the border. Mexican newspapers are under attack from narco traffickers and corrupt government officials, while Argentina's leading newspaper, Clarin, is locked in a bitter contest with the government. On the other hand, news media are playing a stronger role in Latin American society than ever before, and their business models may buy them precious time to forge a path into the future.

Anne Nelson is an educator, consultant and author in the field of international media strategy. She created and teaches New Media and Development Communications at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and teaches an international teleconference course at Bard College. She is a senior consultant on media, education and philanthropy for Anthony Knerr & Associates. She is on Twitter as @anelsona, was a 2005 Guggenheim Fellow, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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May 03 2011

22:27

What's the Best Social Media Policy for News Organizations?

So far, most legacy news organizations have been all over the map when it comes to social media policies. The old guard doesn't want reporters and editors to go on Twitter and show bias or give opinions on stories in progress. The new guard wants to mingle with the audience and have some personality on social media. The latest place to put up restrictions is Bloomberg, which asked reporters to join Twitter but "we should not share work in progress or use social media as a vehicle for breaking news."

So what is the right balance for a social media policy? How much freedom should reporters and editors have to engage with people, and how much should be restricted? Vote in our poll below, or share your own thoughts in the comments.




What's the best social media policy for news organizations?online surveys

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May 02 2011

17:30

Canadians Prefer to Get News from Friends (not Editors) on Social Media

Journalists today are expected to be active on social media, sharing observations, anecdotes and links with their audience. Facebook itself is reaching out to newsrooms, recently launching the Journalists on Facebook page as a resource for the media.

But a study from Canada suggests more people prefer to get their news via their friends and acquaintances on social media, than from a journalist or news organization. And there are mixed signals as to whether audiences think journalists should be using Twitter in their professional work.

I was the lead author of the study, "Social Networks Transforming How Canadians Get the News," from the Canadian Media Research Consortium (CMRC). It gave further evidence of the impact social media is having on how people get the news and from whom. Social media services are turning into personalized news streams for Canadians of all ages, who rely on their digital circle of friends, family and acquaintances to alert them to interesting news and information.

The CMRC study is based on an online survey of a representative national sample of 1,682 adults conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion. The margin of error -- which measures sampling variability -- is +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

Keeping up with the news was one of the attractions of social networks for more than two-thirds of social media users. Every day, almost half of social media users in Canada get some of their news every day via links and recommendations from friends, family and colleagues who broadened their horizons, the study found.

A study by Pew Research last year found a similar trend taking place in the U.S., as news consumers increasingly shared links and recommendations in their social networks.

Your friend as your news editor

People have always shared the news, from discussing last night's news bulletin to sending a newspaper clipping. But social media is extending the ability of audiences to influence the distribution and reach of news.

The CMRC study points to the growing influence of users to decide what is seen and read, as newsrooms jump onto social media platforms as a new way to distribute content and reach a bigger audience.

The survey showed that Canadians were twice as likely to get news from friends on social networks than from journalists or official news accounts. Only one in five said they receive news from a media outlet on social networks. For Twitter, only one in ten get their news from tweeting journalists.

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The figures signal that it is more important for a newsroom to get others to share and recommend content than to do it through an official account. The study suggests that the more than 18 million Canadians on Facebook and almost 5 million on Twitter are becoming the news editors for their social circles, deciding whether a story, video or other piece of content is interesting enough to recommend.

Should Journalists Tweet?

As journalists increasing use Twitter and tap into social media for reporting, networking and storytelling, the CMRC study strikes a note of caution. Canadians were evenly divided on whether news organizations should include information gleaned from social media into their reports.

There was a similar ambivalence when it came to whether journalists should even use Twitter to report the news. While 39 percent said yes, 34 percent said no and 26 percent were unsure. The ambiguous results suggest that Twitter may just be too new for audiences to decide whether it is a good or bad thing for the media.

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Perhaps more significantly, younger Canadians were much more comfortable with a more social type of journalism, which is not surprising given how social media has become woven into the fabric of their lives.

The CMRC study found that a majority of under-34-year-olds in Canada use social media regularly, and that younger adults tended to be heavier users. Students, in particular, were much more comfortable with the idea of journalists integrating social media content into their reporting.

Similarly, just over half of students agreed that journalists should use Twitter to help report on trends and issues. The figures suggest a generational divide in attitudes toward social media and journalism.

For example, the study found that virtually no one over 55 follows journalists on Twitter. But kids who have grown up with the social web seem far more accepting of news organizations and journalists integrating these new services into their daily routines.

The conundrum for media organizations

Social media presents tremendous possibilities for journalists to reach audiences, expand their range of sources and engage with communities. The changing consumption patterns for news also raise questions for media organizations.

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Sharing the news is becoming an important part of how people experience the news. The CMRC study found that 64 percent of news consumers value being able to easily share content, rising to 83 percent for those under the age of 34. But those "share" and "like" buttons tend to point users towards Facebook or Twitter, undermining existing mass media business models based on delivering large audiences to advertisers.

While social media creates new opportunities for the news industry to reach and engage audiences, particularly younger Canadians, it also represents competition for consumer attention and revenue. It further fragments the audience and potentially could signal a shift in reader loyalty from a news brand to their social circle.

Alfred Hermida is the lead author on the CMRC report on social media. He is an online news pioneer and digital media scholar. He is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, the University of British Columbia, where he leads the integrated journalism program. He was a founding news editor of the BBC News website. He blogs at Reportr.net.

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April 29 2011

17:40

April 25 2011

17:41

Why I Gave Up the Newspaper to Save Newspapering

The following is a guest post from Nicholas White, the CEO of The Daily Dot, a new startup in community journalism. White leaves a long lineage of newspaper men and women in his family to join digital media and explains why.

Six months ago, I quit my family's 179-year-old newspaper company. I left not because newspapers are crumbling -- though they are -- but because the very thing that has made the old industry so fragile offers hope for the future of journalism.

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I quit to start an entirely new newspaper: an experiment in media called The Daily Dot.

Everything you know about this failing industry is wrong. Which is to say, it's right, but it's also not why the industry is failing.

Growing Up with Newspapers

I grew up in the news business. My family has owned and operated small-town newspapers for six generations. You can see the history of the entire industry in the United States in the history of my family: why it once was great, what's wrong with it now, and why I'm starting the newspaper of the future to save it.

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My great-great-granduncle I. F. Mack bought our first paper, the 47-year-old Sandusky Register, in 1869. He was a "free lance" or "bad boy" (depending on whom you asked) of the old school, and he was a fixture of the local scene. In 1891, the Detroit Free Press said, "He runs a Republican morning newspaper in the city of Sandusky, Ohio. The town and county are both Democratic, but still the Register lives on, a credit to a larger city. Mr. Mack is one of the most brilliant paragraphers in the country and maintains a paying business because more people desire to see what he says than they do for the news in the paper."

He left the Register to R.C. Snyder, his son-in-law, who owned the Norwalk Reflector 16 miles to the south. He was a small man who strode the avenues of Norwalk and Sandusky, Ohio, swinging his cane like a boulevardier's rapier. He kept a stub pencil and ends of newsprint in his pocket in case news broke out wherever he found himself. His daily column chronicled the comings and goings about town, a favorite feature of which were the antics of his grandson and the Pleasant Street Gang. He was also a shrewd businessman and he bought out the competition or put them out of business, and we became monopolies.

When Snyder died shortly before World War II, my grandfather was in Washington, so my great-grandmother took over. We had nearly lost everything in 1929, but we didn't lay off a single employee during the Great Depression, even though we had to print our own money, good only in town, to stay afloat. Mambi inherited that huge burden, and at less than five feet tall, she handled the company's debt collections personally and with all the mercy and compassion of a loan shark.

Twenty years after she died, my father still heard complaints about her behavior, such as the time she walked into a haberdashery on Main Street during business hours, stood in the middle of the sales floor, and loudly announced that she wouldn't be leaving until she got the money she was owed. But she handed down a company that was debt-free.

My grandfather ran the papers when he returned from Washington. He published his son's school report cards in the paper (D average). That may not have been great parenting, but he wanted everyone in town to know that we printed the news, all of it, and without exception.

Publishers Not from the Community

For more than a century, these newspapers were of, by, and for the people that lived in their communities.

And community is why the newspaper business is falling apart.

Some blame lies with the industry. Dad (Dudley White, Jr.) took over the newspapers in 1957. He started buying other newspapers across the country, and we became a chain, like everyone else. He remained publisher of his hometown papers, and he continued to run the editorial page where he advocated for things like a university campus (successful) and an effort to combine town and township (unsuccessful).

In his mid-40s though, he moved to California. That was OK because a good community man took his place.

Today, as a result of my father and my cousin's leadership, the company owns 12 newspapers and 10 radio stations. Eventually, as the company grew, publishers mostly stopped being community men and women. They merely paused in the towns they covered -- keeping the lid on things until they got a better offer, a bigger town, and a larger paycheck. The publisher today who's an authentic member of his community -- and I am privileged to know a few -- is rare indeed.

The internal problem, however, is not nearly so large as the fact that the world beyond our insular industry is changing. Community itself has moved. People don't swing their canes on Main Street anymore, and if someone did, he wouldn't hit a soul.

That doesn't mean community is gone, however. Wherever people get together and talk, and form relationships and social structures and identities, you've got a community.

We may once have defined it by geography, but it wasn't ever really about breathing the same air: It was about the ethereal bonds between people.

Redefining Place

And today, people are forming those bonds in ways that transcend and redefine the concept of place.

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So what is community about today? I wish I could tell you. Human nature is such that we can't imagine anything that is truly new -- at least, not all at once. Most of the time, we just rearrange images of the past whenever we attempt to see the future.

Stumbling our way toward the inevitable requires a leap of faith. The Daily Dot, a new publication we announced recently, is my leap. The Daily Dot will swing its cane on the main streets and thoroughfares of the online community.

There are communities in Facebook and Reddit and Etsy today just as surely as there was a community in Sandusky, Ohio, 142 years ago. But right now they're living without the benefit of community journalism. The Daily Dot is going to change that. We're going to report what happens in those communities, up and out of those communities, just the way my great-great grand-uncle did. When news breaks in Tumblr or the kids get up to tricks in 4Chan, we'll be there with our stubs of newsprint to tell the story.

This is what we mean by calling The Daily Dot the hometown newspaper of the world wide web. There are stories waiting to be told, issues discussed, and communities defined by their collective senses of interests, concerns, and even histories. These are the aspects that have always been foundational to a sense of community for my family, and as we migrate to a world of digital natives and experience more of our lives online, The Daily Dot will be the paper of record for these emerging territories.

Community Journalism in a Digital World

I trust that if we keep following people into the places where they gather to trade gossip, argue the issues, seek inspiration, and share lives, then we will also find communities in need of quality journalism. And rather than simply covering the web from broad and outside perspectives like other publications, The Daily Dot is conceived from the outset to be of, by and for the web -- which is, after all, the largest community in the world.

We will be carrying the tradition of local community-based journalism into the digital world, a professional coverage, practice and ethics coupled with the kind of local interaction and engagement required of a relevant and meaningful news source. Yet local to us means the digital communities that are today every bit as vibrant as those geographically defined localities.

Unfortunately, geography is forged into the very foundation of the newspaper business, in its heavy iron presses and fleets of trucks, and in the deeply etched mindsets of its journalists. It may be that the industry as we've known it for the last century has to disintegrate so that the reportage it sustained can survive and flourish.

The only reason I walked away from my family's generations-long heritage serving communities is because I thought I could better carry on that work through a startup. If that sounds crazy, well, my father is fond of saying, "You don't have to be a genius to run a newspaper. You just have to have brass f---ing balls."

If you think community and journalism matter, or if you live any part of your life online, I want you to join us. Go to dailydot.com and sign up for our newsletter. There are stories waiting to be told.

Nicholas White is the co-founder and CEO of The Daily Dot, the hometown newspaper of the world wide web.

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