- New numbers from The New York Times: A gold star for managing the digital transition
- The newsonomics of newspapers’ slipping digital performance
- Facebook teams with Storyful to highlight news content published on the social network
- “Can Philanthropy Save Journalism?”
- Q&A: David Leonhardt says The Upshot won’t replace Nate Silver at The New York Times
- Q&A: Craig Mod on making writing more mobile-friendly and where digital publishing is headed
- “The Golden Era of ‘Fashion Blogging’ Is Over”
- How is user-generated content used in TV news?
- Why Vox (and other news orgs) could use a librarian
- Creating a new brand for financial news, in Michigan of all places
- New Knight Prototype Fund winners offer a glimpse of new journalism tools
- American newspaper revenue is still dropping, just not quite as much as before
- Slate debuts its membership model, Slate Plus
- A money-back guarantee: How Blendle hopes to convince Dutch news readers to pay by the article
- This Week in Review: Making sense of the Pulitzers, and a new daily paper in Los Angeles
- Get a free taste of NYT Now with the help of Starbucks
- Graph your readers’ sentiment with this new tool
- The newsonomics of the Kyiv Post’s embattled work
- Six things to consider about the new Los Angeles Register
- A look at the state of local public media via Localore
- Some news orgs are killing comments, but not just because their commenters are terrible at being humans
- Paying for news by filling a need: Lessons from Austin’s Digital News Revenue Summit
- INNovation fund backs eight projects from news nonprofits with an eye towards sustainability
- “Not white. Not male. Fast”: John Cook addresses what’s happening and who they’re looking for at The Intercept
- What’s the return on investment for news video? Tow looks at strategies in 125 newsrooms across the country
- What are the kinds of legal problems online publishers run into today? Here’s an analysis
- Religious but not Mormon? The church-owned Deseret News considers you a growth market
- Connecting place to product: Nikki Usher’s new report on the physical shifts of digital newsrooms
- This Week in Review: Vox and the wonk boom, and Comcast defends its TWC merger plans
- What does Heartbleed mean for journalists?
Look at The New York Times Co.'s Q1 earnings report, released and webcast today, this way: The Times — for now — is doing an above-average job of managing the print-to-digital transition. Several pieces of data confirm that belief. A couple of numbers tell us a lot: In the first quarter, the Times took in $40 million in digital-only subscription revenue. That number has been growing; it ended up at about $150 million for 2013. But in that same quarter, the Times' _overall_ circulation revenue increased by only $4 million, year over year. On the face of it, the numbers don't make sense. Why is the overall circ revenue increase so small, given how much digital circ revenue continues to grow at a good pace — 18 percent year over year, now creating a paid digital-only circulation number of 799,000? Put simply, print circulation continues to tumble dramatically. It's down in copies sold — 6.5 percent daily, 2 percent Sunday. While the Times put more print price increases into the market over the last 15 months, its print readership continues to drop rather dramatically. The Times is still growing digital-only circulation (albeit at lower prices than in print), reporting 799,000 than print. It added more net digital subscribers in the first quarter of 2014 than in any quarter in 2013. But the key element is successfully — if only marginally — managing this transition. The goal: Keep that reader revenue growing, even as the Times loses paid (and higher priced) print. One important point: The cost of fulfilling those digital subs is far lower than the print ones. That's the 2018-20 story: Get to that future fairly intact, and the business becomes far more profitable. This is the story the Financial Times — in many ways the Times' model — has been able to start telling. In its last report, it reported only a 1 percent increase in revenues, but a 17 percent jump in profit. Farther along in the digital transition, its profit picture is improving more quickly.
One other data point tells us about this tightrope transition success: The Times reported a 4 percent print ad revenue increase for the first quarter. The entire newspaper industry lost 8.6 percent of its print revenue last year (see today's earlier story, "The newsonomics of slipping digital performance"), so being up 4 percent is significant. Times Co. CEO Mark Thompson made a major point of April being a tough month and the ad waters still being very choppy. (In other words, don't expect 4 percent growth again in Q2.) But for Q1, consider that the Times is shedding lots of print customers, but still growing print ad revenue _and_ managing to still grow reader revenue. Give Thompson one gold star for now: His first mandate is to improve revenue growth, and this is the third quarter in a row he's done that. Many challenges, and rocks, lie ahead: * Digital advertising was up just 2 percent (comparable to 1.5 percent at U.S. dailies generally). New ad head Meredith Levien is especially bullish on the kind of native advertising that is populating NYT Now; a half-dozen top-drawer advertisers are running campaigns. Profit was marginally down (to $22 million from $28 million), and will continue to be pressured. NYT Now costs money to produce, as will the new opinion (later spring) and food (summer) digital niche products. * Further, as NYT digital chief Denise Warren pointed out, the marketing of those products and of digital circulation overall increases near-term costs. Warren, of course, wouldn't say how well NYT Now and the new upsell Premier product are doing so far, less than a month after launch. It sounded, though, like NYT Now was taking off faster. If that's right, it's good news for regional publishers looking at adapting its low-cost, mobile-first model. * Those local publishers have a parallel, but different challenge, than the Times. The Times has the whole world to sell to; it said today it will start offering its subscriptions in local currencies to bolster that push. The local press — dailies and many others — must work smaller markets. But then again, the relationships they have on their doorsteps, with readers, merchants, and community institutions, are unlike those to which the Times has access. Tomorrow, a conference in New Jersey, "Innovating the Local News Ecosystem" (livestream tomorrow at 9ET here, #innovatelocal on Twitter), will focus on those local challenges and opportunities. Sponsored by the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University, it has a packed agenda (I'm on a morning panel with USA Today publisher Larry Kramer, Jim Brady, Tiffany Shackelford, and host/Montclair State school director Merrill Brown). Still, what we're learning from The New York Times, across the Hudson, shouldn't be too far from our conversation.
The newsonomics of newspapers' slipping digital performance
Photo of The New York Times Building by Alexander Torrenegra used under a Creative Commons license.
As we approach the middle of the 2010s, where do newspapers fit in the battle for America's largest ad sector — digital? And how well are all those paywalls doing? Two reports tumbled into the public sphere within a week of each other recently, and _together_, they help us answer both questions. The numbers here show that the newspaper industry _overall_ — a relative minority of leading-edge players aside — is trending the wrong way. Both digital ad revenue and reader revenue continue to grow, but both are _less positive_ than they were a year ago. Let's start with the overall digital ad market. The Interactive Advertising Bureau's 2013 full year report is its usual rosy self. Ten years ago, IAB had to explain what it was. Now, it tracks the country's No. 1 ad type — digital. Digital ads passed broadcast TV for the first time, and by a healthy margin, $2.7 billion. Passing TV is another milestone, coming just a year after digital surpassed print (newspaper + magazine) spending. Now, its lead over newspapers, as seen in the IAB chart below, is more than two to one, $42.8 billion to _what IAB counts_ as newspapers' $18 billion. Curiously, that last number — part of a study PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) did for IAB — counts $5.8 billion less in overall newspaper advertising than does the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), which released the other big summary 2013 report. That's a big difference — 25 percent. How come? ("It was sourced within PwC data," offers PwC's Steven Silber in explanation.) Metrics are a big issue in the web world, but this ad delta — print and digital combined — is an outsized one. Whichever number you want to use — $23.8 billion or $18 billion — is highly meaningful. But your choice won't change our tale much. The gulf between digital and newspaper advertising is now enormous, and still growing: Digital advertising grew 17 percent year over year. The graphical time series reinforces the numbers and puts squiggly lines to the lost decade for newspaper companies:
There's a lot more in the report than the top-line numbers, and we'll get to some of that below. First, though, let's compare the IAB report with that NAA report that came out at the end of last week. Let's start with the NAA's digital ad number. It came in at $3.42 billion, an increase of only 1.5 percent year over year, shown below in the context of other 2013 revenue categories. (Note: The direct marketing and niche publication data is all print; any digital niche revenue would be in "digital ads.") So, as digital advertising overall grew by $6.2 billion in a year, newspapers' digital ad take increased by only $50 million — less than one percent of that six-billion-dollar growth. That's a fairly incredible number. But it's not a surprising one. Each newspaper company reports (and internally allocates) its digital ad revenues by its own standards, so it's tough to get apples-to-apples comparisons about how well these publicly reported numbers differ company by company. (Not to mention the many newspapers going private and only selectively releasing any data at all.) Is McClatchy's digital-only revenues report significantly different than Gannett's, or A.H. Belo's? What we can see in this NAA assemblage of numbers is that digital advertising growth has become an increasing challenge for all newspaper companies. NAA's compilation is a fairly comprehensive extrapolation, based on 24 newspaper media enterprises, including all the public companies and some private ones. Its aim: to "cover all regions of the country and all circulation size groups." It shows this troubling trend in digital ad revenue growth over the past few years: * 2010: 10.9 percent * 2011: 6.6 percent * 2012: 3.7 percent * 2013: 1.5 percent That takes us back to the recession-wracked year of 2009, when overall advertising dropped 19 percent — and that's what took the breath out of the industry. Digital advertising, unsurprisingly, declined 11.8 percent that year. Before that, it all felt like upside: Digital ads grew at annual rates between 18 percent and 31 percent between 2004 and 2007. This is where we need a New Yorker cartoon: Silver-haired mid-aughts newspaper CEO standing in front of chart, presiding at an impressively long, carved from a single exotic tree and flown in from wherever, whatever-the-expense, table. Pointing to a drawn five-year spreadsheet, he's saying, "Yes, the down arrow of print advertising is regrettable, but manageable. Look at the up arrow of digital ad growth! As you can see, we'll hit a crossover point of digital ad growth surpassing print ad decline, and all will be well." It didn't work out that way. Few of those CEOs are left. The digital ad arrow rocketed higher and at a sharper angle than nearly anyone would have believed 10 years ago. But newspapers didn't benefit from the boom. And the newspaper print ad arrow plummeted, a fall that now looks stuck at about an annual 8 percent rate. What was once was the great growth hope is now a popped balloon. The digital ad war looks almost over. Newspapers haven't lost, exactly — $3.4 billion is still a lot of money — but they have been reduced to supporting player status. DIGITAL ADVERTISING Put a few numbers together and we can see that newspapers take only about 8 percent of all digital ad spending, a share that's clearly in decline. In the old pre-Internet world, newspapers took about 20 percent of overall ad spending. Those two numbers are another shorthand to understand the destruction of the industry's core business, as advertising once supplied 80 percent of the industry's revenues and nearly all its profits. Take in these numbers from the IAB report: * TEN COMPANIES CONTROL 71 PERCENT OF ALL U.S. DIGITAL ADVERTISING. The next tier, those companies ranked 11th to 25th, account for another 10 percent — leaving 19 percent of the largest ad category in the country for _everyone else_. IAB doesn't list the top 10, but we know no publishers have been among the top eight, led by the likes of Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Microsoft, over the last several years. The dominance of that top 10 has moved between 69 percent and 74 percent for about a decade. * THE HIGHEST GROWTH DIGITAL AD AREAS ARE THE ONES IN WHICH NEWSPAPERS ARE THE WEAKEST. Mobile grew 110 percent year over year, to $7.1 billion. Digital video grew 19 percent, to $2.8 billion. Performance-based ads now make up 66 percent of ad spend. Search, while maturing, still commands 43 percent of all digital advertising. * DIGITAL CLASSIFIEDS REVENUES, A TRADITIONAL NEWSPAPER STRENGTH, WERE UP BUT 2 PERCENT, to $664 million.
American newspaper revenue is still dropping, just not quite as much as before
It's important to say: A relative few leading-edge newspaper company players are growing digital ads in high-single and even low-double percentages. Those are the companies I usually dwell on in my work, in this column and at Newsonomics.com, the best practice examples that may push faster innovation for others. Those companies are using a new portfolio of good techniques, deploying advanced ad technology and optimization, selling local digital marketing services, and retooling their sale forces to widen and deepen relationships with advertisers. One brighter spot the NAA numbers can point to: Digital agency and marketing services grew 43 percent, albeit off a still-small base ("The newsonomics of selling Main Street"). This week, though, it's essential to face the _average_ reality for the industry. That 1.5 percent digital ad growth rate says volumes. Most companies simply aren't executing at a transformative level, and their continued cutting of staff and product reinforces that often dismal reality. A few have prioritized print over digital — the Orange County Register's Eric Spitz is the most vocal in that camp. Most, though, are _trying_ to focus on digital — they're just not succeeding. The IAB data tells us something else about the 2015-18 digital ad ecosystem: Publishers may succeed best by aligning themselves with one or several of the top 10 players. Those players' ad tech so far surpasses most publishers' that partnerships — and using others' tech and reach — become essential. Take the Local Media Consortium, which grew out of major newspaper publishers' relationship with Yahoo ad tech. It now uses Google's DoubleClick Ad Exchange, as do many other individual chains and papers. Google is a foundation for their digital businesses. Then there's Facebook, now building itself into an ad network, which will no doubt be used by newspaper companies. (Many of them already resell Facebook advertising.) Riding along — finding the most profitable place nesting within the biggest ad players — is much of the future of local newspaper companies' digital ad future. DIGITAL AND ALL-ACCESS CIRCULATION
The newsonomics of selling Main Street
Finally, let's get back to that other growth area for newspaper companies, what I have identified as the revolution of reader revenue. NAA reported an increase of 3.7 percent in circulation revenue. That surprised me. I'd expected it would come in around 4-5 percent. Why? By the end of 2013, more than four in 10 U.S. dailies had restricted digital access in some form, including almost all the chains other than Advance. Some charge extra for digital access; many include it as part of single-priced print-plus-digital sub. The singular compelling idea: Get more reader revenue to help offset the awful decline of print ad money. While 3.7 percent is good, up from the flat circulation revenue we saw in 2008-10, it's a point less than the 4.5 percent circulation revenue growth in 2012.
The newsonomics of majority reader revenue
There are lots of moving pieces with reader revenue, but looking at individual company numbers, it looks like reader revenue growth may already be slowing — and that would be bad news for publishers still searching for a way to first get to zero revenue growth — and then, hopefully, _positive_ revenue growth. Let's also remember that The New York Times' reader revenue number is included in that 2013 over 2012 NAA industry increase of $430 million. The Times increased its overall circulation revenue by $51 million in 2013 — so that's 11 percent of NAA's increase right there in one paper. (For context, The New York Times' circulation revenue equals about 7.5 percent of all U.S. circulation revenue. For clarity, the Times' 2013 net increase in reader revenue was $51 million, despite its reporting of what is now a $160 million run-rate in digital-only subs. The $100-million-plus difference? The Times, like all dailies, continues to lose print subscribers, and their money. Just this morning, in its 1Q earnings call, the company noted that print circulation dropped 6 percent in daily copies, 2.5 percent on Sunday. So figure this: For every two dollars lost in print reader revenue, it is gaining three in digital. That's a tough tradeoff, but one that seems to be working. In fact, with print advertising just reported to be 4 percent up for the first quarter, the Times is doing decently in print overall.) Why might reader revenue increases be slowing, a topic that needs to be deeply explored? Consider these possibilities: * MEDIOCRE EXECUTION: Press+, the largest supplier of digital sub services, has made a major point of how much reader revenue varies among its affiliates, as much as 10×, all based on the fundamentals of pricing and marketing. * TOO MUCH CUTTING: The amount of news content, too, is a driver of digital subscription success, Press+ has noted. Clearly, some would-be customers are balking at paying increased prices (when digital access is added to print) for what they perceive to be (and which often is) less news. * VOLUME LOSS IS HOLDING DOWN THE ABILITY TO PRICE: That, of course, is the dynamic balance. How many paid copies are you willing to give up to improve your per-subscriber revenue? Charge too much, and the math doesn't work. Newspaper pricing, after an initial blush of paywall-inspired increase in 2011-13, _may_ be hitting a wall. * FIRST-YEAR PRICE INCREASES — when papers started restricting digital access — may be tough to match in the second and third years. It's too early to know what's yet true, among that mix-and-match set of possible scenarios. Something, though, seems afoot.
The newsonomics of zero and The New York Times
One could say the numbers are sobering. But this is an industry that was shocked into sobriety years ago. Overall, NAA put the best face it could on its numbers, noting industry revenue was only down 2.6 percent. That's still down, though, and those digital ad and reader revenue growth rates are going in the wrong direction. It's a performance that may raise new questions for the spate of new owners, and the would-be buyers of properties on the market or soon to come to market. As the industry sells off Cars.com, newspaper sellers may find its hard to put a fresh gloss on a used paper.
The newsonomics of selling Cars.com
Photo by Ian Koppenbadger used under a Creative Commons license.
Facebook and Storyful are partnering to create a newsfeed of newsworthy content, originally published on Facebook by its users, to encourage journalists to use the social media site as a source of user generated content. Called FB Newswire, the new Facebook page will be available publicly and updated in real time with photos, videos, and status updates across a spectrum of topics, including breaking news, entertainment, and sports. Posts will also be shared on, ironically enough, a dedicated Twitter account. The newsfeed is part of Facebook's effort to continue to market itself to journalists as a news-gathering tool. Facebook is of course a major source of traffic referrals for many news organizations — half of BuzzFeed's desktop traffic arrives from Facebook, for instance — but it wants to continue to improve its utility as a content gathering tool, said Andy Mitchell, Facebook's director of news and global media partnerships. "In addition to the value we're delivering with referrals, if we can help surface content that is relevant to the journalism that they are creating, that will just further the relationship between Facebook and the news industry," Mitchell said. When looking for user-generated content, many journalists might first look to places like Twitter and YouTube over Facebook — not least because Facebook posts often come with some level of privacy settings. Still, there are 2.46 million pieces of content posted to Facebook per minute, and Facebook wants to emphasize the wealth of what is available on the social network. (Facebook also owns the photo-sharing service Instagram, but FB Newswire will be initially limited to just Facebook content.) FB Newswire is just the latest move Facebook has made in recent months to promote newsworthy content as it has tweaked its News Feed and search algorithms, introduced trending topics, and added hashtag functionality. Facebook's recent Paper app also drives home the social giant's increased interest in the news space. Even as Twitter gets ragged on in some corners for a Facebookish redesign, Facebook is clearly trying to take some of the news mojo that Twitter's built up. As David Leonhardt, editor of The New York Times' new The Upshot, put it to us this week:
Journalists really like Twitter. You don’t have to twist most journalists’ arms, particularly the journalists who are doing this kind of work, to spend time on Twitter. It comes naturally to them…You do have to give them a little nudge to spend time on Facebook. But Facebook’s really important.Facebook decided to partner with Storyful because it specializes in locating and verifying user generated content from across the social web: "This is basically what they do," Mitchell said. "This is their reason for being. They’ve developed an expertise." For Storyful, which will run the page, FB Newswire serves as an opportunity to showcase its brand and products to a larger audience, said Aine Kerr, Storyful's managing editor: "We hope this is really going to show off what we can do." (Storyful was bought by News Corp last December for $25 million, and it counts The New York Times, the BBC, and other major news brands among its clients.) Each post on FB Newswire will allow users or news organizations to embed posts like any other Facebook post, but it will also link back to the Facebook page where the content originated. Storyful will provide short written context for each post as well as relevant hashtags. Users will also be able to comment on the FB Newswire posts, and Kerr said Storyful is looking forward to the feedback journalists will be able to provide on the content they post. Kerr said Storyful's goal is to provide newsrooms with access to content and information that they might not typically have access to. "We want to start to help users and newsrooms tell stories from different parts of the world," she said.
Photo of a woman taking picture of a protest in Egypt by Darla Hueske used under a Creative Commons License.
Philanthropy Magazine, the magazine of the Philanthropy Roundtable, dedicated its newest issue to a question very familiar to Lab readers, albeit usually expressed in a less absolutist form: "Can Philanthropy Save Journalism?"
The upheaval in the traditional business model for journalism has meant a rapid rise of nonprofit news outlets. That, in turn, has led to questions about how those outlets can find sustainability for the long term — or just gain 501(c)(3) status. The magazine wanted to pull back and ask a few big questions:
What does sustainability look like in nonprofit journalism?
Can philanthropists and businessmen with a taste for “social investing” do more than just soften the losses at news-reporting organizations whose business models have collapsed? Can they subsidize certain kinds of investigating and publishing to serve public interests? Can they help discover and extend new formats, new reporters, and new subjects that will strengthen journalism’s role in maintaining the health and freedom of American society?The issue features a contrarian take from the oft-contrarian former New York Sun editor Seth Lipsky, who argues that news organizations need a profit motive to be self-reliant. Lipsky writes:
From the Bolshevik revolution to the golden age of newspapers, the lesson of history is that self-supporting profitability provides both the entrepreneurial force and the absolute autonomy that make a powerful and independent press possible. Philanthropists who want to keep journalism vigorous might therefore want to spend less energy setting up ersatz newspapers and more time building up the profitability of our marketplaces, and protecting the right to private property — which is what the press ultimately is.Another feature goes around the horn to take a look at the state of nonprofit newsrooms and the funders behind the scenes, including ProPublica, the Texas Tribune, First Look Media, and MinnPost. The issue also looks at how a donor-funded conference, the Faith Angle Forum, provides reporters with insight into religious issues that may cross into their coverage areas. You can find all the stories here.
Yesterday, The New York Times launched The Upshot, a new politics and policy vertical that was conceived when Nate Silver left the paper for ESPN. The project is led by David Leonhardt — previously a Pulitzer-winning economics columnist and Washington bureau chief at the Times — who says he's excited to experiment with story formats and tools for storytelling. The first day of publishing at The Upshot revealed a content scope that goes beyond the numbers-driven journalism Silver has become famous for. The launch included a reported piece on the American middle class, a Senate forecast model explainer, a "where the data came from" piece on income, a short post about an old Truman-in-peril photograph, and more. Leonhardt believes there's a market in news for complicated issues, simply explained, which has invited much comparison with recently launched FiveThirtyEight and Vox. It's too soon to say exactly how the three measure up — Leonhardt says he's fan of the work being produced by both sites — but the Times has both resources and a preexisting audience to set it apart. Here's a lightly edited transcript of a conversation in which Leonhardt explains how The Upshot will function as an experimental space that is both outside the Times, in a sense, while also integrated into the newsroom.
CAROLINE O'DONOVAN: Thanks for making the time to chat with me. It was nice to look at the site and read some of the pieces you have up there. So much different stuff going on — it's not just data and explainers. You've got photos of former presidents, you've got pieces about why you're going open source on the polling model — it really is an ambitious project.
DAVID LEONHARDT: Thank you! I appreciate that. One of the things that's fun for me is this is the first interview I've done with someone who's read the site, because all the other ones were before it launched. Let me just tell you: It's so much more fun. I enjoy talking about it, period, but it's so much more fun to talk about specific journalism rather than principles of journalism.
O'DONOVAN: That's a good point. Something I think people have been talking about is the difference, when you launch something, between explaining what it is you're going to do — what the goals are, who we are, who we're not — versus just doing it. How did you approach how you were going to launch the whole thing?
LEONHARDT: We started with a pretty general idea. What this grew out of was Nate Silver's departure. Nate left, and I was well known internally as a champion of Nate's. I was a sort of obvious person to put on a committee to figure out to do after he left. We decided quite quickly — maybe even in our first meeting — that we didn't want to go out and replace Nate. Nate has a set of skills that is unusual, in a good way. And not only that, but that 2012 wasn't going to be repeated. There wasn't going to be, in all likelihood, another election that went the way that one did. Trying to recapture that lightning in a bottle, when other people out there — including Nate — were going to be out there doing it, seemed like not the right way to go.
On the other hand, we said, you know what? The lessons of FiveThirtyEight are not narrow lessons. They're consistent with a bunch of whole other lessons we think we've heard here. You look all over the paper, in all kinds of different ways, and it's clear that readers had a demand for this sort of journalism. This funny mix of really substantive on really big, complicated topics, but presented in a really approachable way. Our hugely successful interactives are another example of this. The most visited page in New York Times history is based on an academic study about linguistics, right? That's amazing. We realized, when we do this journalism, people like it, and we can do much more than we're doing. Once we defined it that way, I realized it was a dream job for me, and I got interested in doing it.
O'DONOVAN: I had this question, and someone actually voiced it in the Guardian earlier today: Conventional wisdom might say the audience for explanatory journalism and data journalism are opposite. That the explainers are for people who don't know as much as they want to about something, and the data is for people who really know a lot about it and want to know specifically new things.
But it seems like what you're saying is you've found a way to do both at the same time in a way that's interesting for people.
LEONHARDT: I don't know that we've invented anything totally new. I really do think people want both. I don't think they conflict. I think that people want information on big, complicated topics that they can grasp, even if they're not experts. I think that description encompasses what I would define both as explanatory journalism and data journalism. To me, explanatory journalism is just something that's written well enough that someone who isn't an expert really understands it. Understands it so well that they could turn around and explain it to somebody else. That's my test as a reader. If I get to the end of an article about how X caused Y, and I can't go then explain to someone else how X caused Y, I think the article has failed. It's data journalism because I don't think it's possible to write about 99 percent of important topics without using some data. Sometimes it's a single number, and often it's very few numbers, but the cliche is, data's just another word for facts.
O'DONOVAN: It seems like The Upshot is interested in working with existing New York Times content. I was talking with someone recently about how interested Jill Abramson is in the "story behind the story," and the Times' role in surfacing its own process — you have Times Insider, a new project along the same lines. How do you think about the role of existing Times content in what The Upshot is trying to do? I think a really interesting example is making Leo1 open source and completely transparent. How have you thought about that?
LEONHARDT: Two different ways. Leo is the better example, but the smaller example is we put two pieces online, one about the methodology and two about the backstory behind the middle class piece. For a long time, journalists tried to project this image of the infallible authority. Maybe that worked in another time, I don't know, but it doesn't work now. People don't buy it. People are too smart to believe there's this special class of people called journalists who were infallible.
I think we have more credibility when we're honest with people about what we know and what we don't know. "Hey, this clearly seems to be happening, but we don't know what's causing it." Or: "Hey, it looks like this is more likely to happen than not, but it's not certain." Or: "These two sides are having a fight and this one side seems to have a bigger claim on the evidence, but we're not sure about that." That is the kind of voice we're going to write in. I think it's a voice that readers appreciate. Consistent with that voice is the idea of showing our work. I don't want to show it most of the time on the first pass, because a lot of our readers don't want to see all our work. But the beauty of the web is you can publish it and people who want it can go get it. It is consistent with Jill's vision. We are going to do a lot of it. One of the things I want to do — I hope we can wait a while before doing it — is say, Here are some of the things we got wrong over the past few months. I love when columnists write that column. I really want us to be integrated in the newsroom. I really want us to work with other Times reporters — on the national staff, on the political staff, on the science staff — who are interested in doing this kind of journalism. We're not separate. Our material will run in the newspaper. It will run on the website. Sometimes it will run without even The Upshot label. What I care about is doing good work that gets in front of Times readers.
O'DONOVAN: What about people outside the Times?
LEONHARDT: We have these outside contributors, like Michael Beschloss and other people. And to some extent we'll collaborate with academics. I've done a lot of that in my career. Today's story about middle class incomes is effectively a collaboration, even though it's not a formal collaboration. So, yes.
O'DONOVAN: There's an interesting element of this that's actually more about tone than you'd think. There's the one side, these very specific data reporting skills, but then there's also this other question of how it's written. How is the way The Upshot is written different from the way typical New York Times copy is written?
LEONHARDT: I think tone matters. We newspapers adopted this tone that worked for a long time that was based on the idea that people were getting their news from the bundle of newspapers that arrived at their door every morning. When you are trying to explain the implications of something that people already know about, I think you want to use a voice that's different. That's more conversational, that sometimes uses the first and second person. It's not as if smart people avoid using first and second person when they talk. Sometimes, it's hard to be clear about your point when using the 20th-century–form journalism. You can be a lot clearer in using a different form. What we should do is think about the best form for every story.
O'DONOVAN: Speaking of that genuineness, and the desire to have a conversation — in your announcement you really focused on wanting to communicate with readers, having the readers contribute ideas, be able to ask questions, to be in conversation with them. How do you see that playing out more specifically? Whose job is it? How are you bringing them into the process?
LEONHARDT: It's all of our jobs. One of the things I want us to do is spend more time on Facebook than many journalists do.
O'DONOVAN: Specifically Facebook?
LEONHARDT: Specifically Facebook. Journalists really like Twitter. You don't have to twist most journalists' arms, particularly the journalists who are doing this kind of work, to spend time on Twitter. It comes naturally to them.
O'DONOVAN: I'm guilty.
LEONHARDT: Me too! You do have to give them a little nudge to spend time on Facebook. But Facebook's really important. We've created our own Facebook page at The Upshot, which is relatively unusual at The New York Times. We're also going to encourage people to spend more time on Facebook. Josh Barro is already quite good on Facebook, and he can become a model for the rest of the team.
We want to try some things that the whole paper isn't necessarily doing. Let's say some new social media site comes along and we decide we're going to spend 10 hours a week combined doing stuff on this new social media site — and then after a year we decide, Well, that social media site has fizzled, it's not worth our time. That's not that big of a cost. If the entire New York Times had done that, it would have been a big cost. On the other hand, if we do it and it succeeds, we've been this little laboratory that the rest of the Times can then learn from.
O'DONOVAN: Ah, there's that laboratory word.
LEONHARDT: We should be a laboratory! The traditional mistake that longtime, successful organizations make is they say, We can't do that because we've never done it that way, or, We can't do that, because that will cannibalize us. When a business is changing, you don't get to choose whether you're going to be cannibalized. You only get to choose whether you're the one who does it, or you let someone else do it. People at the Times — my bosses, Jill and others — very much want us to experiment, and want us to learn from things, so that when we see something that seems to work, the rest of the Times can adopt a version of it. And when we try something and it doesn't work, we haven't just tried to turn the huge battleship of The New York Times and then have to try and undo the turn.
O'DONOVAN: This is a smaller question, but I'm curious how you're thinking about how people get to the content. Are you hoping people visit nytimes.com/upshot, or are you thinking it's going to be based on what their interests are through those various social networks?
LEONHARDT: All of the above. One, we want to get audience through social media. Two, The New York Times' homepage is a massively powerful convener of audiences and we want to benefit from that. Three, we want to do stuff that's interesting enough that outside sites link to us. And then four — and this isn't in any order — we want to build an audience for our own page, so that people feel as if, Oh, hey, there's something interesting there every day, I want to go back and check it out. To me, the ideal thing is if someone comes to us because they saw a link on another site, or they saw a tweet about us. They see an article of ours in another place, they read it, they think it's interesting, they decide to check out the site, they see more stuff there, then they come back to the site — and suddenly that person is a New York Times reader.
O'DONOVAN: Getting back to the specific content a bit, I did want to ask you about the dialect quiz of 2013. You're bringing some of that into The Upshot, but as I said, there's a lot of stuff you guys are trying to do. How do you see it fitting in?
LEONHARDT: I think that one of the things to remember is that Arthur Sulzberger, at least internally, famously liked to use the phrase platform agnostic to talk about paper versus web. A version of that is we should be story-form agnostic when we start thinking about stories. There's this fascinating information — should we write a 1,500-word article about that? Should we go send a reporter somewhere to spend three weeks there? Should we do a 10-minute video on it? Should we do a chart on it? Or, wait a second, we should give people 25 questions and let them answer and place them on a map — _that's_ the right way to do that story. I think a lot of it starts from that. Today's a good example: We did do a traditional 1,800-word story on the middle class. We didn't do a 1,500-word traditional story on our Senate model. Either you or I could write that story. You could take our Senate model — you could write a newspaper story based on it. We didn't think that was the right form to do that.
O'DONOVAN: On the one side, you're taking datasets that are big and have tons of information in them and breaking them off into granular, interesting chunks, but is there any effort or focus on getting access to datasets that other people don't have? Trying to get your hands on data other people aren't looking at?
LEONHARDT: Yes. That, to me, is really important. We don't just want to be chewing over the same data that everyone's chewing over. You know, today's two stories are an example. It's not as if this was secret data that we had to steal or persuade a whistleblower to give to us — it was out there. We had to spend a lot of time collecting data in the case of the Senate model before we could even begin analyzing it, and we had to persuade a group of academic researchers that we were serious about this project and we were going to spend time to do it seriously. Going out there and getting new data sets is, to me, crucial. It's saying: Are you shedding light on something, or are you just saying the same thing that everyone else has said?
O'DONOVAN: If there was a breaking-news–caliber whistleblower data set that made its way to the Times somehow, would that go to you guys, the news desk, a collaboration, or what?
LEONHARDT: I think it would depend. The Times has a great database reporting team. They're the ones who did all the stuff with the Medicare doctor data a few weeks ago. I think if you asked me to try to think about what would have happened if that had come out after The Upshot launched, I think the answer is they take the lead, they work with the reporter writing the main story, and we think about: Can we play a supporting role, given the expertise the people on our team have? And can we do something that no one else at the paper is doing? Is there a way to break off other pieces? Is there a way to take some of the knowledge that people at The New York Times already have that ends up on the cutting room floor and put it in front of readers? This is something we think about with polling. Our polling team here is fabulous. They often are asked by members of our staff to look at polls and analyze them, and they'll write these emails or memos that make you so much smarter about polling. We should be publishing some of those. In fact, we're just about to — we're going to publish something about the polling behind affirmative action. That's the kind of thing that, in the past, would basically have been an internal document. Joe Nocera, the op-ed columnist here who used to be a business columnist, sometimes likes to say that he often finds when he talks to a reporter about a story that he or she wrote, that reporter is much smarter about the story than they could have gleaned from what they wrote. One of the jobs of journalism today is to help bridge that gap, help move the story that we publish closer to the knowledge and insight that the journalist has.
O'DONOVAN: That's so interesting, because of all the things that I've heard people say, it reminds me most of what Nick Denton says about Gawker. He's talking about gossip, but he's still talking about this extra stuff that journalists know, or think they know, or are talking about that wouldn't have made its way to a traditional story, that can now find a different digital home. Even though he's talking about a different information value, it's actually the same thing.
LEONHARDT: Yep — I agree. I absolutely agree.
Image of David Leonhardt at the Aspen Ideas Festival by The Aspen Institute used under a Creative Commons license.
Notes* Leo is the Senate polling model used by The New York Times, described by The Upshot here
Craig Mod spends a lot of time in motion. He's also spends no small amount of time thinking — and writing — about the future of publishing and the ways technology is transforming how we write and what we read. Given that he often finds himself shuttling between New York, Tokyo, and San Francisco, it makes sense that he would be working on a project that blends writing with a sense of place. Hi is a publishing system that asks writers to build stories in pieces over time, using a framework that pushes you from notebook-style sketches to fully-formed stories. The site was built specifically with smartphones in mind, pushing users to take advantage of the functionality in their hands — camera, GPS, maps — to jumpstart the writing process. As a site, Hi also blends elements of community through other users and outside readers, giving writers access to an eager and encouraging audience. Mod, who previously worked for Flipboard and launched his own publishing startups, cofounded Hi with Chris Palmieri. The site's been in beta for over eight months, but is now open to anyone. Mod coined the phrase "subcompact publishing" as a way to get at the smaller, stripped down, mobile-friendly online publications that are flowering in the media. Hi is one way of putting that idea into practice. While he never planned on being a Johnny Appleseed for digital publishing, Mod said the environment now for experimenting with writing and technology is better than it has ever been: "It feels like for the first time in years there's such a good energy out there around publishing startups and media startups." Mod and I talked about how Hi was developed, how to build tools to encourage a regular writing routine, and where online publishing is heading next. Here's a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
JUSTIN ELLIS: Explain to me where the idea for Hi came from. It sounds like it came out of a desire to find a better way of writing, and perhaps writing connected to place.
CRAIG MOD: It's sort of been a slow-burning project for a while. For years, really. I built the first prototype for it about four years ago, I think. And that was using Twitter. Twitter released the geo-API at the end of 2009, and the iPhone was a thing back then. We had the 3GS, and the camera was pretty good and it took pretty good photos. It just seemed like there was this confluence of technologies, really all spiraling around Twitter. And back then, Twitter was still a platform on which you could think about building things. Twitter still hadn't quite gone into that space of no more third-party apps.
I started thinking in the fall of 2009 that this was really interesting. You could place these markers, using a tweet, a piece of geo, and a photo if you want. Chris Palmieri and I had been working on this for years — Chris runs this design agency called AQ in Tokyo. So we sort of sat down and did a two-month, off-the-cuff knockout of a prototype. And it was pretty neat. You could sort of tweet out to our robot, and if it had geo data and a photo, the robot would suck it up, create an account for you, and start mapping out all the little moments you had as you thought they were good enough to capture and put into the system. It was really focused on maps. Then I got pulled into Silicon Valley and I just sort of disappeared for a few years working on stuff at Flipboard and then doing some other investments and advising and consulting work out there. But a little over a year ago, I had expected someone to have built something similar by that point. At the end of 2012 I was thinking: Why hasn't someone built this? There's a bunch of geo-storytelling things. There's a lot. A lot of people have worked on this problem. But as a writer — and as someone who understands technology, but mainly as a writer — I didn't feel compelled, or didn't feel any of the tools matched how I thought about travel and telling stories. Certainly it didn't match what I felt was a natural writing flow. App after app was coming out and nothing. So we resurrected the project and hired a couple of developers and started iterating on it. So, really, Hi is, if nothing else — it's getting away from theory. Because I think it's easy to be a "thinkfluencer" or whatever and just sit in your chair and type some things out, right? But I think it's really important to get in the muck and build tools too. Hi is just that. It's us getting our hands dirty and playing with the clay. It's hard to explain these things. You kinda go: Well, what is it? Well, it's sort of a thinking man's Instagram, or WordPress and Twitter had a lovechild, but kinda like Medium but not really like Medium. For us, we use it very differently than any of these other tools. To me there isn't really any overlap. But being able to explain that using the pancakes, and this idea of the full stack, I think finally helped us understand it too, what we were working on, what we had built. We have these smartphones, but are we really building with them in mind? Or are we saying, instead of looking at the processes of publishing and asking, "What part of that process can have an indigenous home on a smartphone?" rather than looking at the smartphone and saying "Oh, we can do all these neat things now, what kind of publishing tools should we build?" For me, it feels like a less nourishing way to approach the problem.
ELLIS: Tell me a little bit more about the creation of Hi, specifically about using it on mobile and making it seamless for the user by utilizing the tech we have in our devices. There had to be some challenges in doing that.
MOD: One of the great benefits of the web is everything can have a unique address that is accessible as a net connection, effectively. There's something incredible powerful about that. So, to build an iOS app-only, Android app-only ecosystem feels like, to me, you're leaving on the floor 80 percent of the magic of what the Internet brings to publishing. So one of the core precepts of this project was certainly to be very open on the web — accessible anywhere, from any device. When you start from that place, it just makes sense to first and foremost optimize for the web experience and then kind of work your way back.
One of the reasons I think Safari on the iPhone, the Chrome browser, any of these things, aren't as good as they could be for running applications is because five years ago, or whenever the App Store opened, we sort of abandoned the web in a way. Originally, Steve Jobs got up on stage and said anyone can write an app for this, it's called a web page. And we didn't really embrace that. Partially because Apple didn't really help us embrace it either. For the first time, we have in our pocket a camera and a GPS, with great net access. And this current crop of affordable (and increasingly more affordable) Android phones that are sort of trickling their way around the world. That points directly back to that same moment to me. So if you build something on the open web that takes advantage of HTML5, and all these Android phones are shipping with Chrome browsers that are HTML5 capable. Then you sort of for free get this incredible benefit of capturing an audience, or having the potential to capture an audience that's so much — to me — more interesting. But it's just really: Why not? We have enough photos of coffee in Brooklyn, right? You make an iOS app and you're going to get a lot of photos of coffee in Brooklyn. __TWEET So why not open it in a way that it is literally accessible to anyone with even the thinnest of 3G connections and a $100-or-less and increasingly cheaper smartphone?
ELLIS: One of the most interesting things to me in Hi is the iterative writing structure to encourage more writing. Why was that important to build in?
MOD: When we started, it was far more focused on the mapping piece. I remember one of the stakes in the ground that we had a year ago was "every page must have a map." You quickly realize that maps are not that interesting. It's this fallacy, that maps are inherently interesting objects. I love maps. I love old maps, I love printed maps, I love navigating cities with strange maps. I love all of that. But I think we tend to conflate maps as context vs. content. And a lot of products that use maps and feature maps treat it as content, and most of the time a map is not a very interesting thing. We just need it quickly, for a little bit of context, and then have it go away. The stages of the writing process were built into it, but over the last eight months, really the thing that's taking us by surprise is the engagement of the community. That pancake essay is all about community. That's curious, because that's the greatest benefit, I think, of having that is that you can be pulled along or pushed along. One of the hardest things online is developing an audience, or building an audience, or feeling like you are part of something. What we found on Hi is that people — and maybe we were just lucky with the crowd who were early adopters of it — they were just hunting sketches that people had posted, really saying "tell me more about this," and really encouraging things. Over the last eight months, seeing these sort of friendships blossom on top of this platform, and on top of the writing process, has been kind of the subtext to that, those relationships. You can look at a tool like Hi and go, "Well, why am I putting my writing into this other space that I don't own?" Whereas with WordPress you can download it, can host your own WordPress site, and yada, yada, yada. But one of the advantages of placing it into this pre-existing space is you get the community. So that's been fun. But the iterative component of the writing process, and also the flow of using the smartphone, that was really just coming from "how do we treat this, and what part of writing feels indigenous to a smartphone?" Obviously, the longform part doesn't feel super-indigenous to a smartphone. But looking at the capabilities of a smartphone, you're out — especially as a traveller — exploring a new city, and you notice things. I use little notepads. I use Simplenote to take a lot of notes. In a way, Hi is meant to be a networked, community-facing version of that. That first step of the writing process is taking place on the smartphone. And then you're able to go back on the desktop and draft as much as you want. I have drafts that have been sitting in my unpublished folder here for three, four months.
ELLIS: What about the community — is it important to find these smaller communities in publishing versus finding the mass audience?
MOD: I think it depends on the kind of writing that you're doing and what your goals as a writer are. As isolated as writers tend to be, there are so many workshopping groups. And I think there is a natural tendency as a writer to need to get out of your isolation chamber and get some feedback and have human contact and discuss things out in the open. So I think there's a tremendous benefit to that. But obviously not all kinds of writing should be done in this way, it goes without saying. But I think there are certain kinds that — why not do the experiment of trying them? And travel writing, I think, fits really naturally within this space. One of the things going on with Hi that we haven't really talked a lot about is the topics. Anybody can add a moment, they can invent a topic, they can add to existing topics — they can do whatever they want. Topics are meant to be a response to undiscoverability and impossibility to navigate — the nature of hashtags. Hashtags are a great idea that anybody can contribute to a shared space. But they have no hierarchy whatsoever, and they tend to not scale very well. And they tend to fall apart quickly. To get to the great stuff inside of a hashtag is almost impossible. Hashtags tend to be associated with shortform stuff. So Instagram is one of the canonical hashtag-owning services. Really quick, bite-sized nuggets of information.
But for me, one of the really interesting things about Hi — and I would love if people used Hi for this —is the idea of topics as a space around which an emerging news event can happen or can rally. A community can kind of coalesce. So if you have something like the Trayvon Martin protest that happened around the trial announcement. You know the protests are going on, but you don't have a sense of really what's happening. You can go on Twitter, search for the hashtag, can go on Instagram and look on the hashtag. But it's kind of a mess. For example, when something like an earthquake happens, I would love to see Hi used as a place to have a Sendai quake 2011 topic. Anybody can contribute to it, anyone can add photos or text. So that sense-making, the sensing component that happens on Twitter, that happens on Instagram, can be captured there. And that topic becomes a longterm full archive of all that sensing, filtered by photos, viewing the raw moments. To be able to come to that topic page and get, effectively, a New York Times homepage of citizen journalism, citizen meditation, on top of that event, I feel like that would be the greatest possible use for a tool like this. I feel like it would be a success if it was used in a way like that.
ELLIS: What happens next for Hi? What are your expectations, what do you want to do next? Are you building out users, or looking for additional funding?
MOD: The feature list of stuff to add and update is pretty endless. But like any good, creative project, I think you need to do stages of execution, and, similar to the writing process, you take a step back and think about what have you made so far. The thing I'm most excited about is taking a couple months to watch how things organically evolve. What we've built is fully-formed; all the loops in the system are closed in the sense of all the ways of having conversations. The ways of poking, the ways of following, of watching subscribers. If you don't have an account and you land on the site, anything you tap will allow you to easily create an account. So the full ecosystem is there. I'm just excited to see: Does the community stay as tight as it was over the last eight months? Does it get filled with spam? Is there another kind of writing that suddenly starts to flourish on here? Do we get picked up in a different country? Really, it's about entering a period of meditation — fixing things, cleaning things up, and just watching how the users play in the playground.
That's the claim of Pulitzer-winning critic Robin Givhan in a piece at New York:
These fashion guerillas hoisted their digital cameras, their iPhones, and their iPads aloft in order to capture the drama on the runway — and its environs — and transmit it directly to their followers. They live-blogged and they tweeted and they initiated a real-time conversation where once only silence existed. The first generation of bloggers, such as Bryan Yambao, Susanna Lau, Tavi Gevinson, and Scott Schuman were contrarians. In their words and images, there was an earnest and raw truth that did not exist in traditional outlets. They had unique points of view and savvy marketing strategies. They had a keen awareness of how technology could help them attract the attention of hundreds of thousands of like-minded fashion fans who had been shut out of the conversation… Slowly, the legacy media fought back. Editors went on the offensive. Glamour editor Cindi Leive, Lucky’s Eva Chen, Joe Zee (formerly of Elle), Nina Garcia of Marie Claire — the very people who once were envied for their front-row view of fashion week — were now tapping out quips and bon mots to all who would listen. Legacy editors began watching the runway from the backside of their iPhone cameras as they shared their up-close views with the virtual world. Critics, instead of reserving their droll commentary for post-show dinner patter, now spewed it fast and succinctly on Twitter.I note this not because fashion criticism is a particular interest of mine (just look at me!), but because it's an instance of a well worn cycle: Slow incumbents leave room for insurgent newcomers. Some insurgent newcomers get co-opted and join incumbents. Others lose interest. Incumbents learn from the newcomers, and the advantages of the new class get blunted. Reminds me a lot of what we saw with political blogging in the early-to-mid 2000s, for instance: Some got hired by Big Media, others got bored, others provided the roadmap for older outlets to start their own political blogs. And then the cycle repeats when a new wave comes along.
The Establishment…will not give up ground easily. And mostly, newcomers are drawn to fashion, not because they are determined to change it, but because they are mesmerized by it. They want to be the next Anna Wintour — not make her existence obsolete. They love fashion. And fashion loves them back. Then swallows them whole.
The Tow Center at the Columbia Journalism School is out with Act 1 of a new report that examines the ways TV news organizations and online media companies employ user-generated content. "Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User-Generated Content in TV News and Online" is a survey of over 1,000 hours of TV and more than 2,200 online pages from channels like Al Jazeera (Arabic and English), BBC World, CNN International, France 24, NHK World, and TeleSUR. While the report finds that UGC is used daily, there’s no consistent method of labeling material from the audience or crediting those individuals. And the reasons why news channels air user-generated content — and how they discover it — vary widely.
User-generated content is used when other pictures are not available, as the ongoing reliance on it to cover the Syrian conflict demonstrates. The way that UGC was integrated during coverage of the Glasgow helicopter crash and the razing of Lenin’s statue in Kiev during the Ukrainian protests suggests that UGC is often employed as a stopgap before news agency pic- tures emerge—interestingly, even if the professional ones are less dramatic. This was demonstrated during the coverage of Nelson Mandela’s death. The news organizations had so much material stockpiled from planning for the event that there was no need to seek out UGC. This, even though there were compelling pictures filmed by people on the streets of South Africa documenting the way the country was reacting to Mandela’s death. UGC also inspired stories that would otherwise have been ignored, as long as the pictures were compelling enough. Within our sample there were a handful of stories that were driven solely by the UGC that emerged. Some were kicker stories like one about a ship’s cook who was unexpect- edly found alive by a dive team sent to investigate a sunken ship. Others were shocking cases of police brutality captured through secret filming on camera phones.Researchers found that the majority of content came from Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, but that many outlets also rely on agencies like Storyful, the Eurovision Newsexchange, or Reuters to supply user-generated material as well. You can read the rest of this part of the report here; the full report comes out May 30.
The facts of the present won't sit still for a portrait. They are constantly vibrating, full of clutter and confusion. —William Macneile Dixon
Every 45 years, roughly half of the medical knowledge about cirrhosis and hepatitis is disproven or becomes out of date. "This is about twice the half-life of the actual radioisotope samarium-151," writes Samuel Arbesman in his book, "The Half-Life of Facts." Arbesman's book argues that we can measure the obsolescence of knowledge and facts the same way we measure radioactive decay. "It turns out knowledge is a lot like radioactive atoms because it decays over time," he wrote in a Harvard Business Review article adapted from the book. "And when we're dealing with large amount of facts and information, we can actually predict how long it will take for it to spread or decay by applying the laws of mathematics." Researchers came up with the 45-year calculation for cirrhosis and hepatitis after studying medical journal articles and determining the rate at which findings faded away over time. We don't have the same calculations for news articles, but the recent launch of Vox.com provided an interesting bit of data. THE HALF-LIFE OF CARDSTACKS In their launch post, the site's cofounders described Vox as an effort to "build the vast repository of information that will make it possible for us to explain the news in real time." They want to provide a comprehensive place to read the latest news while also enabling people to understand the context thanks to explainers (formatted as card stacks) offering the necessary background. It's real-time news plus rapidly updated topic pages. It's also a huge challenge, due to the rapid decay of facts related to news stories and current events. To attain its goal, Vox has to create and maintain in close to real time stacks of cards about an ever-evolving and increasing set of topics related to public policy, politics, world events, and myriad other areas. Adding to the challenge is the reality that facts about these topics will change at any given moment due to a news event, or something more obscure, such as a government report or academic research paper. For example, soon after Vox's launch, a card about the crisis in Ukraine needed to be updated to reflect new facts. Since then, another card in that stack was updated "to reflect a UN draft report on election abuses in Crimea's referendum vote." In all, there have been five Ukraine cards updated and one added in about two weeks. A card stack about income inequality has been updated three times. (Not all those updates were a result of new facts coming to light, but they nevertheless required someone to make changes.) The gender wage gap card stack hasn't yet had any changes, but its final card is entitled "What else should I be reading about the wage gap?" That reading list will need to stay current in order to offer value. (There's also a joke to be made about the number of updates that a card stack about Congressional dysfunction will warrant — but I'll just note that so far it's been updated once.) As a point of comparison, I asked David Cohn, chief content officer of mobile news app Circa, how many times they've made new updates to their ever-evolving story about the missing Malaysian Airlines plane. Cohn said they've officially made more than 20 updates since the flight went missing on March 8. He added that the number of changes to the story would be even higher if you counted each tweak and addition. The faster a card stack is overcome by new facts, the more frequently the Vox team will need to make updates. The more card stacks they create, the more complicated it will be to keep all of them current. "We want them very basic," Klein told New York magazine when asked about the kind of topics they will tackle in card stacks. That means a lot of card stacks — and a lot of facts and knowledge to manage. As of this writing, there are 17 card stacks displayed on the Vox's "cards" page, though that's not the full count of what they've produced. Vox could easily get to 50 card stacks by the end of the month. And on and on and on… This is what it means to aspire to a "vast repository of information." It makes the 45-year half-life for cirrhosis research seem downright glacial. It's not hard to imagine a card stack having a half-life of 45 _hours_ due to new developments. Others may be current for weeks or even months. Then, suddenly, they'll need to be updated. Someone at Vox is going to need to know which card stacks to update when, and to deploy the right person(s) it quickly. Otherwise, they'll have out-of-date explainers. No one wants a vast repository of _old_ information. A MANAGING EDITOR FOR FACTS? This knowledge management challenge is arguably new to news writing. But it's familiar territory to librarians — a particular species whose ranks have been thinned out in newsrooms. "[I]n the 1970s librarians everywhere were coping with the very real implications of the exponential growth of knowledge: Their libraries were being inundated," writes Arbesman in his book. He continues:
They needed ways to figure out which volumes they could safely discard. If they knew the half-life of a book or article's time of obsolescence, it would go a long way to providing a means to avoid overloading a library's capacity. Knowing the half-lives of a library's volumes would give a librarian a handle on how long books should be kept before they are just taking up space on the shelves, without being useful.In the context of Vox, it's less about space constraints and knowing what to discard; it's about the challenge of unlimited topics and the rapid obsolescence of facts related to those topics. This presents an intriguing challenge: How can Vox keep all of its card stacks as up to date as possible with the least amount of time and effort? What triggers will they use to know which ones to update? Can they begin to predict the update patterns of card stacks in specific topic areas, much like the researchers did with cirrhosis? I asked Vox cofounder Melissa Bell about the challenge of keeping an ever-growing number of card stacks factually up to date. But this very challenge is one of the things keeping her too busy to talk right now. "Thank you so much for your interest in my site, and that's a great question, but the truth is: I am drowning right now," she wrote back. "I just don't have a spare second right now. (I need to get to work on making sure we're meeting that challenge!)" So, allow me to offer a couple of suggestions without the benefit of insider knowledge. (Which means my facts may soon be obsolete!) One option for Vox over time is to recruit and reward a Wikipedia-like retinue of volunteer editors who can demonstrate the relevant knowledge to own specific card stacks. To hear Klein talk, Wikipedia is in his sights. "I think it's weird that the news cedes so much ground to Wikipedia," he said in the interview with New York magazine. At Wikipedia, there are an average of 96 edits per minute to articles on the English site. In 2012, it had over 75,000 editors who made at least five contributions to the site in the span of a month. It's not hard to understand why news currently cedes the explainer market to Wikipedia. Explaining requires scale and speed to keep pace with the half-life of facts. The celebrated product folks at Vox Media have an opportunity (or perhaps an imperative) to create a system that helps deploy the right human resources to the right card stacks when needed, and to enable people to ignore the ones that can be left alone. Otherwise, it will be incredibly difficult to scale their explanatory efforts. Maybe that means a scheduling function for card stacks whereby the owner(s) is reminded that they haven't updated in _x_ days or weeks. Maybe it means notifications tied to Google Alerts or other sources as a way to nudge a certain card stack to the top of the pile, based on fact-based activity. One thing I hope happens is that they collect data about card changes — in order to get a sense of the half-life of card stacks and the facts therein. This would guide their efforts, but my admittedly selfish desire is to have better data about the half-life of facts related to newsworthy topics. How will marijuana legalization compare to income inequality? What about the Pope versus bitcoin? Global warming versus fracking? A final suggestion with no self-interest is that co-founders Melissa Bell, Ezra Klein, and Matthew Yglesias go looking for a research librarian/editor to become their managing editor for facts. After all, who better than a librarian to manage an ever-growing card catalogue?
SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — Carl Icahn is not pleased. On this Monday morning in early March the activist investor is taking to CNBC to respond to eBay after it rejected his bid to remove some members of its board. This is a big news event for Benzinga, a network of financial news and information sites, and a handful of staffers have crowded around the news desk to watch the interview unfold. "Good answer, good answer," Benzinga CEO and founder Jason Raznick says to nobody in particular as Icahn avoids a leading question from the anchor. Raznick started the company in his basement in 2010, and it's grown to include three separate platforms: Benzinga, a free site featuring news-you-can-use investment tips, both aggregated and original content; Benzinga Pro, a subscription service that has a constantly updated feed of financial news; and Marketfy, an online marketplace where investors can solicit products and trading advice from experts called "mavens." Within the first two minutes Icahn is on the air, a Benzinga Pro analyst, who sits before a bank of eight computer monitors, sends out four alerts to subscribers. That afternoon, a news story covering Icahn's comments was posted to Benzinga.com. "Anytime they do an interview [with Icahn] there could be something big," says Jake L'Ecuyer, who oversees Benzinga Pro. But unlike other media organizations covering the Icahn-eBay brouhaha and finance in general, Benzinga is not headquartered in a skyscraper high above Wall Street or Midtown Manhattan. Instead, Benzinga is run out of a squat one-story building in an office park just north of Detroit. It also maintains a small space in Chicago and a one-person office in Delaware. Raznick initially bootstrapped the company, later securing investments including a $1.5 million investment in 2011 from Lightbank, the venture fund started by the founders of Groupon. The company breaks even — or is slightly cash-flow positive — on a month-to-month basis, Raznick said. Benzinga is in the process of securing additional investors though Raznick said he could not disclose who he was meeting with since negotiations are ongoing. But attracting additional investment has not been a top priority for Benzinga since the company is able to support itself in its current iteration, said COO Fernando Prieto, who joined last November with a mandate to "put metrics and data in the company." "If you ask a venture capital fund, they would probably not want you to focus on profit and just to focus on growth, but I think there's a conflict of interest there because they have 20 companies in their portfolio," Prieto said. "If you go bust, another company may make up for you if they get extra return on their investment. But for us, having the option to raise more money or just keep doing what we're doing — you know, sign a few more deals and licensing deals, and then hire more people as soon as we can actually afford them — that gives us options." Benzinga has about 40 employees, in addition to a network of contributors, and it's looking to grow. Still, the company prides itself on its startup mentality. "You can eat what you kill here," Raznick told me. And despite its drab exterior, even Benzinga's spacious open-plan office and work culture look and feel like a stereotypical startup with brightly painted blue and orange walls and gaudy orange couches as well as ping pong, air hockey, and foosball tables. Recently, when I called the number listed on the Benzinga Pro website to inquire about a subscription, Raznick was the one to answer the phone. A native of metro Detroit, Raznick says he's committed to the area, and the company is now looking at moving into Detroit itself or to Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, which is about 40 miles west of Detroit. "We could be in Chicago or New York and recruiting would be a little easier, doing interviews would be easier, but we really want to impact the outcome here," Raznick said. In addition to looking to hire a number additional developers to continue to build out its products, Benzinga is also looking to expand its editorial staff by hiring up to 10 people this year, including an executive editor, Raznick said. (As a metro Detroit native myself, he even asked me several times if I knew anyone who may be interested in working for Benzinga.) Benzinga gets about 1 million unique visitors per month to its free site, Raznick said, but the company also has licensing deals for its content with CNN Money, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, and others. With all its partnerships, he says Benzinga content is seen by about 10 million users monthly. The content partnerships all link back to Benzinga's site — Prieto said he expects Benzinga's traffic to continue to grow as the company plans to ink more partnership deals.
"That gives us the ability to take that traffic, monetize it with advertising revenue or create free leads for Benzinga Pro or our Marketfy products," Prieto said, noting that they will use the products to promote one another. For instance, many of the Marketfy Mavens write columns on Benzinga.com that are available for free. The site was initially focused on covering only smaller companies with market caps of $300 million to $2 billion or so. But Benzinga has expanded its coverage to include investment tips and more as the sites it partnered with wanted additional content. "We're trying to bring that knowledge to the average investor," Raznick said. "It's not easy because people only have so much time in the day. So are people going to go read the Wall Street Journal and then come read Benzinga? How do we impact the people on the first 20 seconds of reading our articles or reading our data? That's what we have to think about.” The company also licenses use of its Benzinga Pro newswire, which it launched in 2011, to about 10 different brokerages including TD Ameritrade, Trade Station, and Lightspeed. Individuals can purchase a subscription to Benzinga Pro starting at $39 per month. That's a fraction of the $2,000 monthly price for a Bloomberg Terminal. But the company says it's not aiming to compete with financial data heavyweights like Bloomberg or Thomson Reuters. Raznick declined to offer concrete subscription data on Benzinga Pro, but said the number of subscriptions is "in the thousands." On an average day, about 2,000 updates are sent across Benzinga Pro's wire, but during earnings season that total can reach up to 10,000, said L'Ecuyer. Benzinga Pro includes some original reporting, but also focuses on press releases and alerts on events like earning reports and interviews like the one Icahn gave with CNBC. "You can get any of this information pretty much for free online if you dig enough, but the amount of time it would take you to build a Google News aggregator with alerts and all that and then a really well curated Twitter account and really solid set of chats, you're talking a couple years to do that because you have to vet everything," L'Ecuyer said. "It's a lot of wasted time, but we've already done that and put it in this feed." Benzinga Pro focuses on U.S. equities, and Prieto admits the company hasn't spent much time or resources doing additional development or marketing of Benzinga Pro, noting that "it's a good product, but it's kind of limited in terms of technology [and] needs to be improved dramatically.” "We need to pick our battles, and we are choosing to spend a lot of time on Marketfy," he said. Marketfy, meanwhile, launched in early 2013. Each Maven contracts with Benzinga to sell their product or service on the marketplace. The professional investors and their products are all approved by Benzinga in an attempt to give consumers confidence about the products. When it started there were about 45 mavens and 100 different products on Marketfy. Only recently has Marketfly began to add to the product, because Benzinga wanted to slowly develop without overloading it, Prieto said. "They take care of all the technology and administrative garbage," said Tim Melvin, a Marketfy Maven who focuses on value investing and offers several products on the platform. "I just do good research and focus good stocks”
The Knight Foundation is lending a helping hand to new tools and technology that could be useful to journalist. The latest round of the Knight Prototype Fund includes 17 projects that will each receive $35,000 to push ideas one step closer to a formal launch. Some of the prototype fund awardees may be familiar to journalists, including Tabula, an open source tool created by Mozilla OpenNews fellows that pulls data from PDFs. Others — like Project Fission, a newsroom tool for collecting information, or Capitol Hound, which would develop a searchable database of transcripts from the North Carolina legislature — have plenty of potential value for reporters. Each of the projects will go through a six-month training and prototyping program where they will learn about human-centered design in advance of a demo day. Below are the journalism-inclined projects. For the full list of winners go here.
CAPITOL HOUND: Offering the public a searchable database of the transcripts of North Carolina legislative sessions, including an audio archive and alert system for General Assembly sessions and committee meetings. LOUDER: Testing the use of a crowdfunded advertising platform that allows users to donate small amounts to spread news and information that is important to them. MINEZY: Creating a tool to help journalists more easily find information in email archives received through Freedom of Information Act requests by analyzing data and highlighting important social relationships, dates and topics. MLRUN: Helping journalists create deeper stories through a user-friendly Web platform that helps analyze large data sets by discovering patterns in documents. NEWS ON DEMAND: Increasing the “quality time” people spend with news by building a system that provides news based on a reader’s available time and attention level. OPEN DATA PHILLY: Improving government transparency and citizen engagement by expanding OpenDataPhilly.org, which provides access to data related to the Philadelphia region. PRESSSECURE: Preserving privacy and freedom of expression by developing a secure media sharing and storage app for citizen journalists that will give them more control over their mobile content. PROJECT FISSION: Creating a newsroom tool that allows journalists to collect and explore small units of information that can be pulled together to create new story formats. TABULA: Improving an open-source tool that makes it easier for journalists to extract data from PDF documents. TIPSY: Making it easier for content providers to generate revenue by developing a new way to fund news sites through micropayments from readers. UNCOVERING COST, EXAMINING IMPACT: Developing a crowdsourcing tool to collect data from California residents about what they pay for common health care procedures and making the information available to journalists and the public through KQED, Southern California Public Radio and ClearHealthCosts.com. WHILECARD: Creating a tool that recognizes user preferences for news and information based on their activities (i.e. world and sports in the morning, and stocks and tech when working). WIREDCRAFT: Creating an open source tool that allows people to collaboratively edit and publish geographic data and related maps quickly and efficiently.
At Poynter, Rick Edmonds does us the favor of examining new numbers from the Newspaper Association of America on how newspapers performed financially in 2013. NAA's totals suggest "the best performance since 2006″ — which is still a revenue decline, of 2.6 percent year-over-year. The highlight is continued (relative) strength in circulation revenue, which was up 3.7 percent to $10.87 billion. (That total includes print subscriptions, single-copy sales, and digital paywalls.) That's the best spin. For the pessimist living in your cold, black heart: — PRINT ADVERTISING REVENUE CONTINUES ITS MASSIVE SLIDE, down another 8.6 percent in 2013 — another $1.6 billion gone missing. An annual decline in the high single digits has become the norm; you don't hear people talking about getting back to par, as you did three or four years ago. NAA's release notes that print advertising now "makes up less than half of total revenue," which is true. But that's not because of the strength of everything else; it's because print advertising is in a state of collapse that isn't going to stop anytime soon. — DIGITAL ADVERTISING — ONCE TOUTED AS THE SAVIOR OF THE BUSINESS — WAS UP A MEASLY 1.5 PERCENT. To put that in context, through Q3 2013, Nielsen estimated the online display ad market was up _32 percent_. The broader online advertising world keeps growing; newspapers' share of it keeps shrinking. (And much of that digital advertising number for newspaper still includes a lot of print advertising with a digital throw-in. Only 24 percent of what NAA counts as digital advertising is digital-only advertising.) — Those two numbers combined mean that, in 2014, American newspapers STILL GET 83 PERCENT OF THEIR ADVERTISING REVENUE FROM PRINT. I feel confident in saying that newspaper print advertising will decline again in 2014, most likely in the high single digits again. Digital advertising will continue to muddle along with a slight increase. The key question for 2014 is whether circulation revenue gains can continue. It's the only thing providing meaningful resistance to that ad decline. Industry-wide, there's probably some growth left, if only from more papers adding paywalls. Most American dailies still don't have them (roughly 900 out of 1,400), despite the boom of the past two or three years. Many of those are small or weak enough that a paywall might be a hard sell, but there are still some candidates out there, and one could expect a boost in circ revenues just from them. But for individual newspapers with existing paywalls, it's a very real question. Are the John Patons right that digital subscription revenue is a one-time gain, destined to plateau or even fall off? If that's true — and I think for many newspapers it is — you could easily see a bigger overall revenue decline in 2014 than in 2013. (Just to get my predictions for these numbers next year on the record: print advertising down 9 percent; digital advertising up 1 percent; circulation revenue up 2 percent; new/other revenue up 6 percent; overall revenue down 3.5 percent.)
Slate would like to make one thing _perfectly clear_: It's not a paywall! (Language around that issue's been a sore subject in the past.) Slate editor David Plotz:
First, let me say what it’s not. It’s not a paywall. Let me say that again: It’s not a paywall! We’re not asking you to pay for stories, and we’re not turning on a meter that stops you 10 stories into the month. Everything that’s free on Slate will remain free for all Slate readers. Instead, Slate Plus offers extras and opportunities, enhancements to the regular Slate experience.For $50 a year, Slate superfans will get some additional content, but the biggest pitch seems to be a general closeness to the brand. Pre-show parties at live events! Private Q&As! Ask Dana Stevens that question about the cat in _Inside Llewyn Davis_ that's been killing you for months! Help David Weigel decide who to profile next! It's a behind-the-scenes pitch that's reminiscent of some parts of Times Premier. In both cases, I'll be curious to see how much of an audience there is for that in-the-newsroom vibe, which has been talked about (mostly by journalists) as a premium upsell for years, but for which there haven't been a lot of successful models. Slate Plus also promises a better experience of current Slate content — paginated stories will default to a single page, podcasts will be available in ad-free versions, and the comments interface will be better. In a sense, that part is similar to The Dallas Morning News' "premium experience," which also promises the same content in a more easily digestible package. (I'd imagine it's also a sign paginated stories aren't going anywhere for the proles anytime soon.) In its combination of VIP club, improved experience, and keeping content free — and in its $50-a-year price tag — Slate Plus most closely resembles TPM Prime, the upsell at Talking Points Memo. In any event, I think the key value proposition for Slate Plus isn't single-page stories or a pre-show spritzer with Emily Bazelon — it's just the fact that it's an opportunity for people willing to pay to do so. There are Slate superfans whose relationship with the site stretches more than a decade. Slate's done a good job of pushing the personalities of its writers, which strengthens those reader–website connections. I suspect for many who sign up for Slate Plus, the decision will be less of a cost–benefit analysis and more of a "sure, they've given me a lot of good stuff over the years — I'll throw them some coin." Think of people who give to their local NPR station: It's not _really_ for the totebag. Historical note: Slate, back in the day, was an early mover on asking readers to pay for online news, putting up a 20-bucks-a-year paywall from 1998 to 1999. (Some late '90s Newsonomics for you: Monthly uniques dropped from 500,000 to 400,000 with the paywall, which got somewhere north of 20,000 takers.)
The idea came to Marten Blankesteijn as the team behind Blendle, a new Dutch newsreading platform that allows readers to pay by the article, was out for beers one Friday night: Readers should be refunded if they don't like an article for any reason. "When my co-founder first proposed the idea, I thought he was crazy," Alexander Klöpping, Blendle's co-founder told me. "After a half hour I started to understand and after an hour I thought, Yeah this really might be one of the most important parts of the product." Blendle takes content from 15 or so of the Netherlands' top newspaper and magazine publishers and allows users to buy stories individually, with just a click, no matter where they were originally published. The publishers set the price and take 70 percent of the revenue while Blendle takes the other 30 percent. But Blendle needed a way to convince readers that they weren't risking too much by, say, clicking on that overwrought trend piece about gezichtshaar. (That's Dutch for facial hair.) There will be a limit to how many times a user can get a refund based on a ratio of how many stories they actually pay for — so the more you spend, they more you can return. When a reader asks for a refund, Blendle always asks why they want their money back, a feature that Klöpping said has already shown some worthwhile insights. For instance, many readers thought they were paying too much for short articles. "That tells us maybe we should do something about the pricing," Klöpping said. Still, while Blendle thinks the return policy will increase engagement, many publishers remain skeptical. Blendle is still in beta, and Klöpping said it's too soon to tell if the policy was actually making a difference since it had changed how the refunds worked a number of times during the beta process. (Blendle is scheduled to go fully live a week from today, on April 28.) "We have some reservations toward that specific feature," said Han-Menno Depeweg, digital publisher of NRC Media, which publishes NRC Handelsblad, one of the Netherland's largest daily newspapers. "It's one thing to give readers' their money back if there are technical issues or something is wrong with the formatting, but it's another if they don't like the content," Depeweg told me. "As a publisher, we don't want to give back money." (Despite its reservations, NRC Media has decided to offer the refunds.) The publishers are also still figuring out what the proper price point is for an article. TMG Media, which publishes De Telegraaf, the largest newspaper in the Netherlands, is initially selling shorter articles for €0.10 ($0.14) and longer pieces for €0.25 ($0.35), said Bart Brouwers, the company's head of business development.
"All the publishers are in the same boat, and I have really no clue for what would be a reasonable price for an article," Brouwers said. "Could you ask more for a column or ask more for a feature story? And something that's exclusive for you? Does that have more value than other articles? That's part of the experiment."
With a population of only 16 million, the Netherlands is a small country, but according to the European Journalism Centre, a paid newspaper is read in about half of all Dutch households, though newspaper readership has declined in recent years. Since the bottom hasn't fallen out of the print newspaper business, publishers there have been slow to innovate in the digital space, said Klöpping. "In Holland, basically we had a situation where all newspapers were for a long time very comfortable doing their paper subscriptions," he said. "We have iPad apps where we can read the PDF per issue or get a subscription, but that's really it," Klöpping added, noting that the papers have free sites, but there is less online content and it is completely different than what you'd read in print. "There's no metered pay walls. There's nobody like the Guardian, putting it all online for free and making money from the advertising. That's just not going on in Holland. They now do feel the crunch of getting smaller circulation and they do feel the pressure to be a little bit more innovative." THE RACE TO MAKE DUTCH JOURNALISM MORE DIGITAL
As a result, there's been an explosion of attempts to innovate digitally in the Netherlands. Blendle is one of a handful of Dutch platforms — eLinea, MyJour, and Yournalist are among the others — that are attempting to bill themselves as a central place for users to read news from multiple publications. If Blendle is an iTunes for news, eLinea would be Spotify — users pay €9.99 ($13.80) per month for unlimited access to the the content it offers. Yournalist also follows the Spotify model, but it's still in development. MyJour, similar to Blendle in that you pay by the article, also recently introduced the ability to also return articles. Many within the Netherlands say Blendle is one of the most promising of the platforms as it's "technically, organizationally, and marketing wise the best at this moment," said Brouwers. He added that Klöpping, who regularly appears on Dutch television, has become the face of media entrepreneurship in the country.
Getting personal: A Dutch online news platform wants you to subscribe to individual journalists
Still, there's no guarantee that Blendle, or any of the other platforms, will be successful. TMG is participating with all of them as part of a yearlong experiment, Brouwers said. The publishers need to find other forums of revenue, and they've decided that it's worth seeing if any of the third-party news reading apps will take off. "We need those partners because they're more flexible than we are at the moment," Brouwers said. "They're more entrepreneurial than we are at the moment. What we see happening is that they are taking steps that we're not capable of at this moment, which is a shame. But still, it's the case, and that's why really we want to give it a chance. But still, we're not really certain if this is going to work either for us or for the resellers themselves." But they might not need the partners for long. A number of publishers are in the process of developing a platform called Newz that will act as a central clearinghouse for the news organizations to send their content to the third-party applications. Newz is six to nine months away from being completed, but it ultimately could pursue additional third-party applications to sell the content to or even become a consumer-facing product. Blendle is generating excitement in the Netherlands, however, and many are anxious to get access, said René van Zanten, director of Stimuleringsfonds voor de Pers, a government-funded body that provided Blendle with €200,000 in seed capital. Blendle has also received funding from private investors, and Blankesteijn and Klöpping "have put in a lot of money ourselves," Klöpping said. "Everyone is exchanging passwords to see what's going on," van Zanten said. Though his fund has also provided capital to other journalism startups, he said Blendle's model of paying by the article is more likely to work than a single flat fee because news organizations would rather readers pay for a subscription to their publication.
A Dutch crowdfunded news site has raised $1.3 million and hopes for a digital-native journalism
"For most of them that’s more than 10 euros a month," van Zanten said. "They think they will lose the subscriptions. It’s a very defensive point of view, but they’re not willing to go along with that, or they’ll only provide a few articles per day, but people will get tired of it and they’ll prefer something like Blendle where they can get anything they want.” One of the other features that sets Blendle apart, van Zanten noted, is its social focus. In addition to sharing articles on Twitter and Facebook, readers can see what stories their friends and other people they follow are reading. Klöpping says the group is focusing now on getting the platform off the ground in the Netherlands, but is already looking at other similar countries in Europe where they could expand. "What we're paying attention to is countries where they have newspapers that don't have a lot of content online for free," he said. On a recent trip to the United States, Klöpping also met with a number of news organizations to discuss possibly having their content be available to readers in the Netherlands via Blendle. He would not disclose who he met with, but said "you can guess the big names."
Photos courtesy Blendle.
THIS WEEK'S ESSENTIAL READS: If you're pressed for time, the key pieces this week were The New York Times' Margaret Sullivan on the value of the Pulitzers, sociology professor Zeynep Tufekci on the role of the Internet in protests and government in Turkey and elsewhere, and journalism professor Duy Linh Tu's video report on the state of news video.DO THE PULITZERS STILL MATTER?: The Pulitzer Prizes were awarded this week, and they were accompanied by a bit more drama than usual. The big headline was The Guardian and The Washington Post's shared public service award for their reporting on U.S. National Security Agency surveillance through documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Snowden called the awards "a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government," and Barton Gellman, who led the Post's coverage, praised executive editor Martin Baron's leadership. Coming into this week's announcement, questions about the Pulitzers had centered on whether the board would award a prize to such a politically controversial story, an issue explored by Agence France-Presse and Poynter's Roy Harris Jr. Afterward, NYU's Jay Rosen remarked on the distinctly international and networked nature of the Snowden story, which allowed it to make a judiciously organized global impact. "In its entirety the Snowden story _system_ is a hard thing to hang a prize on. But we know what some of its principles are," he wrote. The other major story arising from this year's prizes came from the conflict between the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News over who should get credit for their collaborative project on medical benefits for coal miners with black lung. After CPI's Chris Hamby was awarded the investigative reporting Pulitzer for the story, ABC News president Ben Sherwood sent a letter to CPI executive director Bill Buzenberg asking the organization to share its Pulitzer with ABC News. Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler denied ABC's request, and a nasty back-and-forth between ABC and CPI ensued in which Buzenberg contended that Hamby in fact saved ABC from its "serious factual inaccuracies" and "a continued lack of understanding of basic, key concepts." Hamby, meanwhile, jumped to BuzzFeed to join the growing investigative desk there. The Pulitzer board also made news by giving no award in the feature writing category. Poynter's Roy Peter Clark posited a few theories of why no award might have been given, including judging fatigue and genre confusion. At the Columbia Journalism Review, Bill Grueskin explained why The New York Times' celebrated "Dasani" feature might have been shut out of the feature writing category, while Ryan Chittum defended the story. Times public editor (and former Pulitzer board member) Margaret Sullivan made the case for the prizes' continued relevance, arguing that WHILE THEY DO LEAD TO TOO-LONG PRIZE-BAIT STORIES, "THE PULITZERS ENCOURAGE JOURNALISTS AND NEWS ORGANIZATIONS TO STRIVE TO DO THEIR BEST; THE PRIZES PROVIDE A BENCHMARK, A FOCAL POINT AND AN INSPIRATION FOR OUTSTANDING WORK." FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver looked at the data and concluded that Pulitzer-winning newspapers continue to have more readers than non-winners, but Pulitzers aren't necessarily helping them retain readers.
VOX AND THE INTERCEPT DEFLECT CRITICISM: After the mixed initial reviews for the new explanatory journalism site Vox last week, co-founders Ezra Klein and Melissa Bell talked to New York magazine and The Guardian, respectively, about some of the early criticism. Salon's Elias Isquith looked at Vox's (and fellow journalism upstart FiveThirtyEight's) conflicted relationship with journalistic objectivity, and The Economist juxtaposed Vox's explanatory aims with Klein's initial piece explaining that simply adding information doesn't actually help people's political understanding, praising Klein for having "THE AUDACITY TO LAUNCH A NEW PUBLICATION PRESUMABLY MEANT TO SHORE UP AMERICAN DEMOCRACY THROUGH ACCESS TO BETTER INFORMATION WITH A LENGTHY MEDITATION ON THE POINTLESSNESS OF DOING JUST THAT." Another new news site, First Look Media's The Intercept, also came under fire this week from Pando Daily for its silence, going almost 10 days without publishing an article. New Intercept editor-in-chief John Cook responded by explaining that he's been working to get the site prepared to be a "full-bore news operation" rather than one solely devoted to a single (very important) story. He also answered questions from readers about the site's future in the post's comments section; Nieman Lab and Gigaom's Mathew Ingram collected some of the highlights. Each of those three organizations — Vox, FiveThirtyEight, First Look — has been criticized for its lack of diversity, and at the Columbia Journalism Review, Ann Friedman highlighted 16 women whose digital startups deserve the kind of praise those three have gotten. Digiday's Lucia Moses wondered why these new ventures have been getting so much blowback, and at The Guardian, Emily Bell said that while we haven't figured out a sustainable model for journalism to replace the traditional one, First Look has been thoughtful in considering what a new news organization should look like.
A NEW DAILY PAPER IN L.A.: Freedom Communications, owners of the Orange County Register in southern California, launched the Los Angeles Register this week. The new daily newspaper, which has a newsroom staff of about 40, is the latest of the substantial investment that publisher Aaron Kushner has poured into the Register since buying Freedom in 2012. The Associated Press' Ryan Nakashima detailed Kushner's print-centric strategy behind the new Register.
Kushner described the new paper's political perspective to Southern California Public Radio as "very much pro-business, right of center." LA Observed's Kevin Roderick said the paper may be able to scoop up enough conservative readers looking to pay for a new local newspaper to make the venture worth it, though they won't have much institutional reputation to rest on. The Lab's Ken Doctor analyzed the business side of the launch, noting that the new Register may be more about staking out some turf in the not-fully-tapped L.A. market than producing a large-scale rival to the Los Angeles Times. "YES, PRINT ADVERTISING IS IN DECLINE — BUT IF YOU CAN BE ONE OF THE LAST TWO BIG PRINT PUBLISHERS IN THAT BIG A MARKET, THERE’S A LOT OF BUSINESS," he wrote.
Six things to consider about the new Los Angeles Register
TWITTER BRINGS ITS DATA SALES IN-HOUSE: Twitter bought the social data company Gnip this week, bringing in-house one of only a few companies that had access to Twitter's "firehose" of complete tweet data to repackage and resell it to other clients. As ReadWrite's Selena Larson pointed out, Twitter is cutting out the middleman and selling its data directly. Quartz's Leo Mirani noted that Gnip is bringing in a declining share of Twitter's revenue, but said Twitter's had a history of buying successful partners, and Gnip gives Twitter a chance to grow its data-licensing business. Likewise, Mike Isaac of Recode said the Gnip purchase is a sign that Twitter is finally starting to take its data licensing seriously as a revenue stream. Fortune's Erin Griffith predicted that the deal might lead to less openness in the social data business: Gnip also provides data for several other social networks, which might now cut it off, and Twitter may now cut off Gnip's competitors from its own data.
READING ROUNDUP: A few other stories to check out this week:
— The Chicago Sun-Times announced that it's temporarily killing comments with plans to build a new commenting system, and Digiday's Ricardo Bilton wrote about other news organizations' moves away from comment sections. The Lab's Joshua Benton noted that the reason may not just be low-quality comments, but that in a news organization built around social sharing, asking readers to comment may simply be too much. Gigaom's Mathew Ingram argued that rather than kill comments or outsource the conversation to social media, news organizations should try to improve them. Doctoral student Jeff Swift gave some tips on what makes comment sections work. — A new report found that 44 percent of Twitter accounts have never sent a tweet. Gigaom's Mathew Ingram said Twitter needs to find out how to make itself more accessible for a broader set of users, though Forbes' Mark Rogowsky said the problem isn't a low ratio of active users (which he said shouldn't be considered low at all), but Twitter's continued attempts to ape Facebook.
Some news orgs are killing comments, but not just because their commenters are terrible at being humans
— Finally, there were several longer pieces worth reading this week: Journalism professor Nikki Usher's report on changing newsroom spaces for changing forms of digital journalism, sociology professor Zeynep Tufekci's piece on the protests in Turkey and the ambiguous role of the Internet in politics and activism, Ken Doctor's analysis at the Lab from late last week on billionaire newspaper owners and the unchaining of U.S. journalism, and a Tow Center video report led by Duy Linh Tu on the state of news video.
The newsonomics of 50/50 and the unchaining of the U.S. press
The New York Times is betting there is an overlap between Starbucks customers and Times readers. The paper is partnering with Starbucks to help boost the fortunes of the newly launched NYT Now app.
Anyone who is a member of the My Starbucks Rewards program is eligible to get 12 weeks of free access to the app. The promotion makes a lot of sense given the fact that NYT Now is the Times attempt at targeting mobile-centric users. My Starbucks Rewards encourages coffee lovers to pay for their drinks and gain rewards through using an app on their phone. The overall goal of the collaboration seems to be to push more people to give NYT Now a try, whether they're existing Times susbcribers or new readers. From Mobile Marketer:
NYT Now, out today, mixes lots of good mobile-centric ideas with moments of caution
Starbucks is promoting the partnership through an email blast that was sent to all My Starbucks Rewards members. When consumers click through on the email, they are prompted to either sign-in to their New York Times account or create an account. After logging in, consumers type in a 20-digit unique code that is in the email to begin their free trial of NYT Now.This is not the first time the Times has thought coffee and news would make for a good combination. In February 2013 the Times and Starbucks started offering readers free nytimes.com stories to people using Starbucks wifi network.
At the 2014 OpenNews code convening, two developers — WNYC's Noah Veltman and Al Jazeera's Michael Keller — got together to iterate on a preexisting tool from The New York Times. FourScore helps developers easily build audience sentiment maps — think of it as a crowdsourced, less snarky version of New York magazine's Approval Matrix. WNYC had used the technique previously for a Valentine's Day sentiment matrix, and Veltman thought it would be useful if the code was open source. In a post at Source, Veltman and Keller describe the importance of making code for projects like this not just open to other developers, but also useful to them.
It was the night of January 22. Kyiv Post editor Christopher J. Miller was out on the Maidan, Kiev's main square and its center of protest. As he interviewed a bystander, a bullet ricocheted off a building and struck the man in the chin. The man was lucky and wasn't seriously injured. Three protestors died in January, and by the time of the now-infamous sniper shootings on Feb. 20, 105 Ukrainians had died. By February 22, the government had fallen and President Viktor Yanukovych, charged with mass murder, fled to Vladimir Putin's Russia. The streets of Kiev were a risky place to be. But the Kyiv Post was there, as it had been for the preceding 18 years. "On February 20, the sniper assassinations happened about breakfast time," says Brian Bonner, the Post's editor-in-chief. "We had several people on the streets soon after, but not at the moment of the shootings. We had numerous reporters counting bodies as hotels, post office, and the street became makeshift morgues. Our staff wore helmets, bulletproof vests, and gas masks, if they so chose. Many did not…Our journalists had to run from riot police when they were on the charge and avoid government-hired thugs (the titushki) who were roaming streets beating people up." (The best of Kyiv Post Maidan video coverage is here). "The combination of heavy staff presence and on-the-scene reporting are why we were hours ahead of the wires and everyone else that day. Then our website crashed and didn't come up for more than 10 hours. A big disaster for Ukraine followed by little disaster for KP." That day, in a nutshell, describes the highs and lows of Kyiv Post. Through its years, the Kyiv Post has operated on a shoestring and a half, and yet it makes a remarkable journalistic difference. It now survives on a monthly budget of no more than $60,000 a month, supporting an editorial staff of 16 and another 14 in all the other aspects of the business, a majority of whom are pictured here. (Bonner is sixth from left, in the back row.) The staff is mainly Ukrainian and includes four expats, all American, in editorial; CEO Jakub Parusinski is Polish. Its story is inspirational, and a good gut check for Western journalists feeling sorry for their own travails. As Pulitzer-winning journalist Jacqui Banaszynski, who has visited Ukraine three times to work with the Post's journalists in the last four years, puts it: "Most of this staff work one or two other jobs. They don't have law, or tradition, or money on their side. They don't even have language on their side. Most speak Ukrainian and Russian as their first language, and now they have to navigate the world of English. And [Bonner] has them going after the toughest stories about government and corruption. "We have beers at night and they groan and complain, like journalists everywhere, but they showed up every day," says Banaszynski, who holds the Knight Chair in Journalism at the University of Missouri. "I wish I could migrate or beam that commitment back here, where we shrug and say 'life is hard' and we have so much going for us. Over there, I work with these people who have nothing but heart and talent." The heart and talent both show on the pages of the Post. "Kyiv Post Exclusives" show a spate of well-reported, well-written, connecting-the-dots pieces. The site includes a fair amount of video as well, now especially, documenting the current crisis. Peruse the weekly covers of the print paper to get a deeper sense of the coverage. Despite intensifying pressures to take sides as the protests grew, Bonner says the Post has resisted those, and had been able to maintain reporting contacts within the government that got overthrown. Today, much of the journalism world in Ukraine is upheaval. Owned largely by half dozen or so oligarchs, much of the press self-censored, Bonner says. Now, as society has re-opened, the Ukrainian-language press itself is in reformation. Throughout this crisis, and for all those preceding, the Kyiv Post has been at ground zero. In the early years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and since, there have been relatively few non-Ukrainian journalists who've spent much time in Kiev and beyond. The journalists came in 1991 — and then left. They came for the Orange Revolution in 2004 — and then left. They've come in and out for the six months of protest and revolt in the Maidan, the murder of protestors, the fleeing of President Yanukovich, and the Russian seizure of Crimea. Now they're poised watching eastward, as Russia moves on both sides of its border with Ukraine. The Kyiv Post's profile has been growing dramatically. On the day of Russia's invasion of Crimea, it saw 470,000 pageviews. Two weeks ago, on the day of the Crimean referendum, 232,000 unique visitors came to the site.
Staff photographer Anastasia Vlasova in Kherson Oblast, the southern state now bordering Russian-occupied Crimea.In digital audience overall, Bonner says, the Post is up to 17.4 million pageviews this year (through April 15). That compares to 9.5 million for all of 2013. Twitter followers now number 36,900. The Post is English-only (after trying and closing Ukrainian-language products in 2010-11), both a weekly newspaper and a constantly updated website. That website has served as a great web and mobile check-in point throughout the crisis, its value augmented by the aggregation of Ukraine coverage that Bonner added in 2008. "We want to create a one-stop shop for English-language news about Ukraine and give people links they want to go to," says Bonner. "Yes, people can Google it themselves, but it will take them all day and night. We're doing it, so they don't have to." Most aggregation is in the form of linking out; budget cutbacks forced cancellation of the Reuters and AP wires. Both because of its original reporting and its aggregation, the site is well used by the steady stream of global journalist visitors trying to get quickly up to speed on who's who and what's what and has been well-cited in its coverage as well. (Multiple New York Times citations here.) Banaszynski first met Brian Bonner in 1984 at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, where I served as managing editor from 1986-97. Bonner joined her enterprise team there eight years later. "He was a rough-and-gruff cops reporter," she recalls. "He'd play poker with the cops on Friday night and hold them accountable on Saturday." She recalls a walking tour of Kiev. She'd ask about the opera house, always a fixture in that part of the world, and Bonner would say, "I've never been." Then, he'd point up to "the 24th floor of a building and say, 'There are guys up there who are funded by this group and in the pocket of these guys, and here are five ways they they are corrupt.' It was a tour of business and government corruption." Those gumshoe talents and ability to navigate both non-American cultures and the digital world have put him in a unique position to influence the news culture of Ukraine. But the Kyiv Post's trials and tribulations parallel those of Ukraine itself. Bonner, now 54, first came to the Post in the summer of 1999, worked there briefly and then did NGO work before returning to the Pioneer Press 2002-07. In 2008, he returned to the Post as editor-in-chief. He's twice left the paper, once over the killing of a story (a decision quickly reversed when his staff supported him) and once laid off by budget constraint. In his tenure, ownership has passed from the founder to a new high-profile owner. Lucrative offers to buy it — and kill it — have been rebuffed. Once-growing ad revenues have been curtailed by Ukraine's political and economic upheaval. "It's been nonstop," he says. "Every day could be your last." In revenue performance, the Post has seen its ups and downs, but it hasn't seen the ups for awhile. "The business model" has a whole other meaning when you're trying to keep alive a scrappy independent news business amid revolt, corruption, and economic downturn. Yet Bonner is on the web, in his scarce free time, trying to figure out the best way forward. Take digital subscriptions. The Kyiv Post digital access system went up a year ago. Bonner is experimenting with differing approaches to what's free and what's paid. As the Euromaidan movement begain last fall, the Post dropped its paywall entirely, as it has done intermittently when things have gone from simmering to hot. It's a tough choice for a site that wants to maintain open information access and yet needs funds to survive. Clearly, the paywall has had a dampening effect on traffic at times. Much better would be finding an underwriter, either corporate or foundation, to keep the site widely accessible. Currently, the Post counts more than 1,600 paying digital subscribers, at prices that have been raised to $50 a year or $20 a month. Eighty-five percent of the digital audience is abroad, a third coming from the U.S., with Canada, U.K, and Germany the next three top audiences. Its weekly print press run is now set at 11,000, down from 25,000 in Ukraine's best economic times. Subscribers pay the equivalent of about $60 a year. Sixty percent of the copies go to corporate subscribers; companies buy 20 to 100 copies that are delivered each Friday. Thirty percent are distributed, free, at restaurants, hotels, and key government centers. Ten percent move at kiosks, which sell the Post for one euro. Those print readers are Ukrainians, and print ads still account for 80 to 90 percent of revenue. Advertising is down as Ukraine's economy has fallen into a deep funk (see Marketplace report here), but conferences and special print supplements have helped offset some of that, bringing in 10 to 20 percent of revenue. Bonner has had to cut staff and wire services to make ends meet. He's also developing the sort of hybrid for-profit/nonprofit model we see examples of in the U.S. Working with several European investigative reporting funders, the Post took in nearly $40,000 in grants and gifts. That paid for two temporary investigative reporting positions, plus small amounts for servers, travel, and other IT needs. Says Bonner: "That money got spent quickly — we have a large list of needs." The Post has gone through four CEOs in the six years he has been editor-in-chief. At its high point, it was running on $80,000 a month, but the continued upheavals from 2009 on have eaten away at revenues. American Jed Sunden founded the Post in 1995 and built it into a large, diversified media company in the 2000s. He sold it off four years ago, as Ukraine’s economy crumbled. Current owner Mohammad Zahoor bought the paper and runs as an enterprise that is usually unprofitable and requires subsidies.
He's a larger-than-life character, an oligarch with an unusual pedigree: a Pakistan-born U.K. citizen, and a billionaire who made his fortune in Ukrainian steel production. He travels in high London society; his current quest is to make his wife Kamaliya, a former Mrs. World, the next Lady Gaga (Der Spiegel cruises London with Zahoor). The Zahoors both had twin daughters last year and starred in Fox U.K.'s "Meet the Russians" reality show. (You thought that billionaires buying into the press was just a U.S. phenomenon?) The necessity of balancing the budget has retarded the Post's digital progress. Consequently, high on Bonner's roadmap for the site: improving its technology, at no-to-low cost. Among the issues: The site crashes too frequently at times of high recent usage. Its digital pay system is part of the Post's content management system, and lacks flexibility. Its commenting system is ailing. It lacks a good database of subscribers/registrants. Its internal search is poor. There has to be a few Western technologists who could lend a pro bono hand or two to an important media outlet in a threatened democracy. Ukraine is a tough place to make sense of. It's changed a great deal in its 23 years of independence, and yet in many ways it hasn't. There's official society, and then there's how things really work. The black market is a major competitor for mainstream business. Oligarchs dominate real power. I had the chance to visit Ukraine in 2002 on a family genealogy quest and could only get a small glimpse of the way things worked. Alex, our combination guide/translator/bodyguard/driver, could well explain the nuances of Ukrainian society — if you probed enough. It took probing, though. Asked about the origins of the Doctor surname, which goes back at least four centuries in western Ukraine, he drew a deep breath. "Of course, it describes a doctor, or a learned person, someone well educated," he offered. Is that the likely derivation? I asked. He paused, and after hesitating offered the alternative definition: "Or, it could come from the transitive verb 'diocht.'" What does "diocht" mean, I asked? "It means to grease a wagon wheel. So Doctor" — or Diochter, in one of many transliterations from the various official languages of Ukraine over time, including Ukrainian, Polish, and Russian — "is one who greases wagon wheels." (I've come to prize both Doctor derivations, the latter indicative of the quest to find ways to fund the news business.) Alex didn't know how I might take that instantaneous lowering of status, from learned one to wheel greaser, but then that's the whole point. Never state a singular opinion — which may get you in trouble with someone in authority — if you can state a couple of them and allow room to maneuver. That's a hell of a backdrop for running an independent news site, but that's the territory the Kyiv Post must navigate.
The newsonomics of 50/50 and the unchaining of the U.S. press
Photo of a photographer shooting the Euromaidan protests in December by Teteria Sonnna used under a Creative Commons license.
The last time a daily paper launched in L.A. was back in the Carter administration. The Valley Green Sheet, a green newsprinted shopper that would get thrown on my doorstep a few times a week, morphed into a daily between 1976 and 1980, becoming the Los Angeles Daily News, now a part of Digital First Media's Los Angeles Newspaper Group. Many newspapers have come and gone in L.A.'s history, but today the city is abuzz with Aaron Kushner and Eric Spitz's new show. The back-to-the-future headline, after its fall announcement: PRINT NEWSPAPER DEBUTS TODAY ("The newsonomics of the Orange County Register's new, newer, newest strategy"). It costs $1.50 a day or $2 on Sunday and is available at 5,500 convenience and grocery stories; no home delivery yet, but it could be in place by May. If the Register were a football team, Coach Kushner's strategy would clearly be to flood the zone. That's what all the moves — from Orange County to Long Beach to Riverside and now L.A. — tell us. Let's consider six things about the new Los Angeles Register. 1. IT'S FAR MORE FUN BEING THE INSURGENT THAN THE INCUMBENT. It's a pirate move, and it's pure Kushner, going big and bold and loud back into the marketplace. Newspapers have sometimes seemed almost agoraphobic in the wake of digital disruption. The Register wants to put itself in the center of a marketplace. 2. IF YOU'RE THE PIRATE, PAINT YOUR OWN PICTURE OF THE COMPETITION. Kushner has gotten his reasons to take on the Los Angeles Times down to two sentences: "We are very much pro-business, right of center. The L.A. Times sits on the other side." He is painting the Times as a lumbering lefty paper, more interested in the world _outside_ L.A. — "The L.A. Times is a wonderful national newspaper" — than in being a local news medium. Of course, the Times has been a great newspaper in part by knowing that its longtime readers care about the wider world. And, like all ambitious metros, it's turned itself in pretzels trying to figure how to do that and still be local too. If you're the insurgent, though, you don't care about the nuance — you just paint the portrait. Kushner's adoption of the libertarian mantle is a curious one. The Hoiles family, long-time owners and builders of the O.C. Register, were among the leading libertarian voices of their times. Kushner, though, didn't make much of a point of his politics in the early O.C. Register expansion. In L.A., it seems, it makes a good talking point. 3. HOW LOCAL IS LOCAL? Los Angeles County includes 88 city jurisdictions. It is a famously balkanized place; grow up west or east, and you might never set foot in the opposite end of the sprawling city in an entire lifetime. In that regard, it's even less a singular place than Orange County, itself diverse. There, the new Kushner-Spitz Register came out brawling, promising local above all else. Handsome, new colorful sections rolled off the presses, and a near-doubling of newsroom staff filled their pages — fulfilling that promise to a great extent. Then, as the Register assessed its finances and its expansionist desires, those new sections were significantly scaled back (and some staff laid off). In L.A., the new Register, with an unstated press run, will be a single edition. So, yes, it's local — as local as one edition can be for the entire county. Then there will be _monthly_ community sections. How _local_ will L.A. Register readers find the new paper? Today's first Local section is an uncertain metro assemblage, fronted by Kareem Abdul Jabbar's picks of his favorite movies about L.A. and an interview with restauranteur Wolfgang Puck. 4. IT'S A CONSOLIDATION PLAY.
The newsonomics of the Orange County Register's (new, newer, newest) plan
DFM's Thunderdome may be closing its doors, but the trend toward centralizing content production and editing is a fundamental feature of the L.A. Register launch. Its sports section can share the Dodgers, Angels, Clippers, Kings, and college coverage across the board, maximizing the investment in beat reporters and columnists. Ditto for features, business, and nation/world. Then the central creation hub — working itself to the bone, I hear — puts all the pieces together. Residents of Santa Ana may get different local sports than Santa Monica, but on the whole, there's great cost savings in producing multiple print editions. Tribune and Gannett, among others, are doing the same thing, but at newspapers in different cities; the Register is doing it across the L.A. area. In addition, the L.A. Register reporting staff isn't new; they're O.C. staffers now working out of mobile offices in L.A. So, overall, the high-profile invasion is smartly built on a lower-cost strategy. 5. IT'S MORE A PRINT PLAY THAN A DIGITAL ONE. Register president Eric Spitz is quite outspoken about what he considers the industry's abdication from newsprint. He's also deeply skeptical that newspaper companies can grab much of the now-$40-billion-plus U.S. digital ad business — given the economies of scale that Google, Facebook, and others have amassed. So that means the L.A. Register play is mainly print, scrapping for a still-substantial — if still declining annually, somewhere in the high single digits — share of print ad spend in the nation's second-largest market. (Today's e-edition is chockful of ads, many O.C.-based and at low rates, we'd presume.) LosAngelesRegister.com will be a hard-paywalled site, like its OCRegister.com parent, though it should be noted that the O.C. site is significantly more porous than it used to be. Kushner denies a change in paywall strategy, but it seems like a more metered approach is being tried. L.A. Register debut pricing is the same kind of one-price-for-print-and-digital deal as in Orange County, starting in L.A. at $20 every four weeks. Don't expect much in the way of digital subscriptions. 6. IT'S AS MUCH ABOUT STAKING OUT TURF AS SELLING NEWSPAPERS. I don't expect the L.A. Register to sell more than low five digits of new papers for a while. Kushner talks about a 10-year plan — but seriously, how many humans are going to be buying daily print newspapers in 2024? This move is calculated to produce a lot of buzz and some incremental sales. In the last generation's newspaper wars (Newsday's move into New York, the Twin Cities, Dallas vs. Fort Worth), insurgent papers moving into the other guy's turf were priced at 25 cents or so. The L.A. Register is six times that price, but at that level, the Register makes some money on every copy sold — and it can then extend its ad rate base for its windows/shutters/carpets medium-sized retailers. More importantly, in the still volatile L.A. newspaper landscape, the L.A. move aims to position Freedom Communications one of the last two last print survivors in the Southland.
The newsonomics of Digital First Media's Thunderdome implosion (and coming sale)
How big a market are we talking about? Fifteen million people live in the L.A., Orange, and Riverside counties; Freedom bought the Riverside Press-Enterprise just last fall. Yes, print advertising is in decline — but if you can be one of the last two big print publishers in that big a market, there's a lot of business. Finally, who knows what comes next in the L.A. Times saga? The spinoff ("The newsonomics of the print orphanage, Tribune's and Time Inc.'s") of the Times will come soon, and its future ownership and direction remain unclear. Aaron Kushner, ever aggressive, says he still wants to buy the Times, if not all of Tribune. Many will scoff: "Where is he going to get the money?" Yet, deploying the L.A. Register, modest as its sales may be, may convince financiers that a combined Times/Register could be a horse worth backing.
The newsonomics of the print orphanage — Tribune's and Time Inc.'s
The Association of Independents in Radio released a review of their Localore project, an initiative meant to provide support for local public media producers working on entrepreneurial projects. The report, called What's Outside, looks at the impact of the project — including digital, broadcast, and in-person impressions — and provides insights for producers, station leaders and the public media system as a whole. AIR executive director Sue Schardt highlights the diversity and innovation inherent to the Localore project in her introduction. She also argues for systemwide changes in the public media network:
AIR's Localore is putting down roots and trying to build a more networked public media
The legacy model is one built around national programming, principally _Morning Edition_ and _All Things Considered_, which serves the core audience of listeners. The legacy value proposition for stations is built around serving as amplifiers of these anchor programs. As stations and the networks continue to strengthen and build on this important core capacity, a new and distinct opportunity emerges for stations to position themselves strongly as community hubs.Schardt also gave advice for blending traditional reporting with digital outreach for maximum impact:
Before taking on digital production, however, stations would do well to become more technologically self-sufficient. This doesn't necessarily mean having the capacity to build and code a complex new property. it does mean having the know-how to, for example, quickly respond when Twitter changes its API. We found that working with lightweight, readily available platforms beats building proprietary distribution formats, but that expertise is still needed.
At Digiday, Ricardo Bilton has a piece on a few news orgs' moves away from comment sections. The Chicago Sun-Times is temporarily killing them off (and yet: "we are working on development of a new commenting system"). Vox launched without comments (though some sort of system is in the works). I feel like "some news orgs are abandoning comments" is a story that could have been written on any weekday since 1999, but there really is a larger trend at work here around social sharing serving as (a) the place where your readers can sound off, but (b) a way to do it away from your site and (c) a way to do it that actually drives more traffic to your content. (I've considered visually demoting comments on Nieman Lab, if only because a typical story of ours might get 300 tweets, 150 Facebook shares, and one comment. But I haven't seriously considered killing them off entirely.) But I wanted to point out that killing or demoting comments can be reasonably done for reasons other than the retrograde "our readers say a bunch of dumb stuff that riles people up." Note this discussion on Twitter between Chris Littmann, deputy social media editor for Sporting News, and Jamie Mottram, content director for the USA TODAY Sports Media Group. Both Sporting News and the USA Today social sports site For The Win recently killed comments.
FTW cut comments in Dec. http://t.co/3A5SuHKfJ8 No regrets. RT @NiemanLab: Sun-Times temporarily closing comments http://t.co/OLhnNLGKmo -- Jamie Mottram (@JamieMottram) April 15, 2014
@JamieMottram @NiemanLab We did the same a few months ago. Zero regrets here, too. -- Chris Littmann (@chrislittmann) April 15, 2014
@WillBrinson @JamieMottram From our end, was essentially that the audience is so diffuse the conversations were never productive. -- Chris Littmann (@chrislittmann) April 15, 2014
@WillBrinson @JamieMottram And beyond that, we weren't exactly a high-volume comment site. Most commenting was on Twitter. -- Chris Littmann (@chrislittmann) April 15, 2014
@WillBrinson @chrislittmann We cut them b/c they didn't add value & actually had a negative impact (via distracting from reading + sharing). -- Jamie Mottram (@JamieMottram) April 15, 2014
@WillBrinson @chrislittmann @JamieMottram …Downside: I no longer know how I can make $87/hour just by using a computer a few hours a day. -- Mike Foss (@themikefoss) April 15, 2014For me, that's a better reason to kill comments: _You can only have so many things you ask your reader to do._ I'll leave it to the marketers among us to talk about the all-important CTA — the call to action — but in general, the online business folks say that it's best to have one single thing that you're asking your user to do. If that thing is "share this on social media," a comment box can be a distraction. Does anybody have any good data on this — whether sharing (or some other desired behavior) increases when comments or other less-desired end-of-article options are stripped away?
EDITOR'S NOTE: Dozens of leaders of online news organizations — for- and nonprofit — gathered recently in Austin to talk money. Here, Jake Batsell, the gathering's organizer, distills what they discussed.Reprogramming your thermostat every time the seasons change can be a maddening exercise. But that humdrum annoyance created a market opportunity for Nest Labs, whose $249 self-programming thermostat allows users to more easily manage their personal comfort. What can the news business learn from the Nest thermostat? It solves a problem, and people are willing to pay for it. News sites should similarly aim to fill a need for — and, better yet, delight — their audiences, argues Michael Maness, the Knight Foundation's vice president of journalism and media innovation. Nest was one of the examples Maness cited during his provocative keynote talk, "Does Anyone Need It?" (slides/video), at the Digital News Revenue Summit earlier this month at the University of Texas at Austin. The one-day summit, part of my activities as a Knight-funded Texas Tribune fellow, brought together more than 90 participants from 27 countries on the day before the always-stellar International Symposium on Online Journalism. The goal of the revenue summit — which I organized with my fellow Tribune fellow (and newly promoted publisher) Tim Griggs — was to discuss, debate and brainstorm ways to fund digital news. Tim set the ground rules in his opening remarks: We would not be discussing well-worn journalism conference topics, like The New York Times' Snow Fall or Twitter's role in the Arab Spring. The #newsrev summit had a singular focus: how to pay for journalism in an era when news consumers have infinite choices. SUBSIDIZING NEWS THROUGH CORPORATE SPONSORSHIPS
An increasingly popular way to subsidize journalism is by courting corporate sponsors looking to reach an influential audience. As Nieman Lab has noted, the nonprofit Texas Tribune is a national leader in this area — last year, the Tribune generated more than $2 million through corporate underwriting and sponsored events. At the summit, I moderated a panel that took a deeper look at the evolution of the Tribune's business model (slides/video), with practical tips from the Tribune managers who specialize in revenue streams including sponsorships, events, philanthropic donations, membership and crowdfunding. Since its launch in 2009, the Tribune has significantly diversified its sources of revenue, becoming less dependent on donations from foundations and individuals while generating more cash from sponsors, members and supplementary streams including syndication and a Kickstarter campaign. Given the growing scrutiny surrounding the role of corporations, foundations and wealthy individuals in funding nonprofit news, I was a bit surprised that the panel drew only one question regarding the ethics of sponsorships. Tom Laskawy, executive director of the Food & Environment Reporting Network, said that for his national, subject-specific news organization, "corporate sponsorships have appeared to be a deeply problematic thing to move into." He asked Tribune panelists how they address the potential church/state conflict between sponsors' business interests and the site's editorial independence. April Hinkle, the Tribune's chief revenue officer and former publisher of Texas Monthly magazine, replied that the church/state divide has been a constant presence throughout her career. "There has always been that line, and no matter what, we will not cross it," Hinkle said, adding that sponsors do not control the content of Tribune events or news coverage. (The Tribune recently expanded its disclosures of donors and corporate sponsors.) THE CHANGING REVENUE MIX Advertising still dominates the overall U.S. media landscape, accounting for 69 percent of an estimated $65 billion in total news revenue, according to the Pew Research Center's Jesse Holcomb, whose summit presentation (slides/video) was packed with nuggets from Pew's State of the News Media 2014 report. But as Holcomb explained, audience revenue and non-traditional sources represent a growing share of the news revenue pie. Nonprofit news outlets, a "growing but fragile" part of the U.S. media ecosystem, are clamoring for more time and resources to devote to business development, Holcomb said. Meanwhile, for-profit digital news startups attracted an eye-popping $300 million last year in venture capital, although their long-term sustainability — and venture capital's staying power as a revenue stream for news — is far from proven.
What makes the Texas Tribune's event business so successful?
Lara Setrakian and Kristin Nolan, fellows at Columbia University's Tow Center for Digital Journalism, outlined early findings from their year-long Single-Subject News Project (slides/video). Most of the nearly 20 niche news sites participating in the Tow fellows' study are seeking to establish diverse revenue streams, Setrakian and Nolan said. But the revenue combinations differ wildly as each site concocts its own individual mix of subscriptions, foundation funding, "freemium" paywalls, events, merchandising and the like. PHILANTHROPY: STILL A "BRIDGE TO THE FUTURE" After spending all day exploring ways that both nonprofit and for-profit news outlets can generate more of their own revenue, the summit's final panel (video) focused on the continued importance of philanthropic backing for important, public-interest news projects that are unlikely to be supported by sponsorships or subscriptions. Seen Hau Tham, senior executive producer for KiniTV, an online television venture in Malaysia, said her for-profit social enterprise relies on philanthropic grants to "give us the opportunity to experiment into something that is risky, that we don't know for sure that it could make money, but it's very essential." For example, she said, grants are enabling KiniTV to distribute online television reports to reach rural Malaysians who don't read the newspaper. Indeed, for all the day's emphasis on self-generated income, panelists concurred that philanthropic donations remain critical to the survival of public-interest journalism. "The fact is, there's not a business model — definitely for nonprofits — without donations," said Brant Houston, board chair of the Investigative News Network and Knight chair of investigative journalism at the University of Illinois. "Philanthropy is our bridge to the future right now. So please don't pull the bridge up yet." The most fascinating part of the day may have been the late-afternoon working groups, when international attendees raised issues that even news nerds like me had never envisioned. If your news site is published in different languages, should you charge differently for content in each language? How do you respond when a militant group offers to "sponsor" your news organization? So, what's next? My final fellowship report, to be released later this year, will distill best practices in the business of digital news that I've encountered at the Tribune and its peers across the country. In the meantime, all slides and video from the Digital News Revenue Summit can be accessed via the #newsrev landing page on my fellowship blog, NewsBiz.
Lara Setrakian: Single-story sites like Syria Deeply have lessons to offer the rest of the news business
A public radio app that aggregates user-generated content, a food education night with a tasting menu, and a WordPress tool that helps track the influence of stories. Those are just a few of the projects receiving funding from the INNovation Fund, a collaboration between Knight Foundation and the Investigative News Network to support make nonprofit and public media more sustainable.
Eight projects will receive a total of $236,280 in funding for ideas designed to improve technology, diversify revenue streams, or develop new audiences. Most of the projects received $35,000 or less. The winners include Chalkbeat, InvestigateWest, the Food & Environment Reporting Network, the Iowa Center for Public Interest Journalism, Public Herald, San Francisco Public Press, WXXI Public Radio, and Southern California Public Radio. (The full list of winners is below.) According to Kevin Davis, CEO and executive director of INN, the fund received 118 applications. Knight launched the fund with $1 million to support projects over a two year period, with three more rounds of funding. As is the case with most Knight projects, the winners will have to share their work and any code with the public. (This is a good place to note that Knight is also a funder of Nieman Lab.) Davis said the purpose of the fund is to give smaller outlets the ability to experiment with ideas they would not otherwise have the time or resources to pursue. "One of the underlying assumptions here is, no matter how small or large your nonprofit, there isn't $25,000 or $35,000 lying around for an experiment," Davis said. Because the funding amounts are relatively modest, the judges were looking for projects that expand on existing work rather than building from scratch. "The organizations we ended up funding clearly have been working on some of these concepts for a while and were looking for an opportunity to experiment and ways to invest," Davis said.
Knight Foundation launches $1 million fund to help nonprofit news get closer to sustainability
That includes MORI, a tool developed by Chalkbeat to measure the influence and reach of their stories. The $28,280 in funding they'll receive will go towards building a new feature that will help Chalkbeat target specific audiences for their work. The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism will use its $25,000 in funding to launch a weekly radio program and a series of public forums based around the center's reporting. Covering topics like farm safety, migrant labor, and meth addiction, the Center will create 13 23-minute shows that will air on commercial radio stations. Overall the projects echo some of the ideas and experiments seen elsewhere in the journalism world, like event programming, native advertising, and cross-media collaboration. Seattle-based InvestigateWest plans to use its $15,000 in funding to partner with public radio station KUOW on radio series grounded in the site's investigative reporting. Jason Alcorn, associate director of InvestigateWest, said the site regularly collaborates with other local news outlets like King 5, The News Tribune, and KUOW. Alcorn said the funding will be used to figure out the right format for the program and to perform some market research. Ideally, the program would combine the investigative work and data-backed analysis of InvestigateWest with the audio-friendly narrative storytelling of KUOW, Alcorn said. The plan is to find underwriting specific to the program, along with individual support from KUOW members and revenue from events tied to the show. "The idea is its revenue positive and self-sustaining going forward, Alcorn said. The Food & Environment Reporting Network will use its $35,000 in funding to launch an series of events called FERN Talks & Eats, that combines live stories about food with dishes prepared by a chef. Tom Laskawy, cofounder and executive director of FERN, said over email: "Our primary hope is that the event is an entertaining and delicious experience attractive to a paying audience as well as to corporate sponsors. The ultimate goal is to repeat and replicate our initial event in different cities and generate an on-going revenue stream." Southern California Public Radio, which is receiving $35,000 in funding, is developing a native advertising program for its desktop and mobile products. According to their application, they plan to run a pilot program for "native underwriting" over the course of six months. "Usually the focus is on innovation in the newsroom and around the editorial product," said Alex Schaffert-Callaghan, digital media director for SCPR. "But now the time has come and we have to stop complaining about the lack of new revenue and innovate." Schaffert-Callaghan said their goal is to create native underwriting that is on par with commercial media companies, but meets the ethical and journalistic standards of public radio. That means crafting a design and messaging that draws clear lines between sponsored underwriting and editorial content. For a project to be successful, it'll need to have a system in place that makes creating native underwriting an easy process but also has support from the sales team and the newsroom. "We have every incentive to do this well, because anything less would hurt our brand. And frankly, we can't afford that," she said. One thing all of the projects share is a focus on growing audience, either for the purpose of raising revenue or simply to attract a larger readership. Davis said the idea of user acquisition, and devising strategies for growing an audience, is a relatively new concept for parts of the news business, and one that's especially important for nonprofits, many of which have small audiences. "If your mission is to inform the public, you have to experiment with different media and partners to reach those folks," Davis said. "It's about informing them where they are, not bringing them to where you are." Knight Foundation has long been in the business of supporting media, especially the growing sector of nonprofit online news, and its efforts of late in the local space have focused on helping media organizations reach a level of financial stability outside of foundation support. Davis said the winning projects, and those to come in subsequent rounds, need to be able to show they can live on without continued support of grant funding. The point of the the INNovation fund is to move organizations along the chain towards sustainability, not to experiment just for the sake of experimenting. "If the projects themselves don't have an expectation of breaking even then we have a hard time looking at them as helping sustainability," Davis said.
The newsonomics of measuring the real impact of news
CHALKBEAT AWARD: $28,280 TWITTER: @chalkbeat DESCRIPTION: Chalkbeat has developed a tool called MORI (Measures of Our Reporting’s Influence), a WordPress plug-in developed last year and launched this past February. This project will add a new feature to MORI to help Chalkbeat plan their stories for maximum impact, and then track the influence they have in the real world. It is a CRM (constituent relationship management) tool linking MORI’s database of metadata on individual stories’ target audiences, types and topics to Chalkbeat’s efforts to distribute stories to readers or groups of readers directly and through the network of distribution partners in each bureau. It will streamline their systems for getting stories directly into the hands of people most likely to be interested in them. The goals of this project are to boost the ability to attract paid sponsorships, increasing their appeal to national/local sponsors, and helping to retain and grow philanthropic revenue.
FOOD & ENVIRONMENT REPORTING NETWORK AWARD: $35,000 TWITTER: @fernnews DESCRIPTION: FERN project is an event called “FERN Talks & Eats.” It will feature up to three FERN reporters live on stage, sharing and presenting dramatic episodes about food and food issues, working with a stage director to craft a dynamic, engaging and entertaining experience that draws a wide audience. This will be paired with a high profile chef who will interpret the foods at the center of each story, producing various dishes for participants to eat. FERN plans to present the first event in New York in late 2014. They will charge a minimum of $60 per person and accommodate up to 250 guests, with additional revenue from corporate sponsors. This will lay the groundwork for future similar events in NY and other communities. FERN has done this once before on a smaller scale. Its success is why they feel they can produce a larger prototype event to eventually become a series of events in other communities, and which will increase audience and revenue.
INVESTIGATEWEST AWARD: $15,000 TWITTER: @invw DESCRIPTION: This grant will support a collaborative project with Seattle NPR affiliate KUOW to launch a new branded radio series, coupling IW’s investigative know-how with KUOW’s audience reach. This series will allow listeners to look forward to broadcasts, find related material online, and support the series financially. Investigate West will provide the foundation of a story through data analysis, public records and traditional reporting, and KUOW will add the narrative storytelling to make for must-listen radio. The unbundled pieces will air during drive time. Both organizations will benefit from opportunities to increase audience engagement generated: in-studio interviews, public conversations with sources and experts, a podcast, and documentary photography exhibitions. While an ambitious project, both organizations expect to create several paths to sustainability and ultimately cover 100% of total operating costs going forward.
IOWA CENTER FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS JOURNALISM AWARD: $25,000 TWITTER: @iowawatch DESCRIPTION: The Iowa Center will develop a statewide audience engagement program that takes its reporting to new audiences via two methods: a weekly statewide radio program, and IowaWatch-based public forums in cities where the program is aired. The goal is to expand audience and reach more potential personal and corporate funders through donations, underwriting and advertising than is now done through heavy reliance on newspapers. IowaWatch will hire a consultant who is an experienced broadcaster with a deep background in, and connections to, Iowa media. He will also act as producer and host of the radio programs. Commercial radio stations will be selected based on their location, signal strength, and commitment to community-based programming and service. Ten stations are targeted for placement of a 23-minute program, with plans for 13 shows in the first and second phases of the project. These airings will be followed up with community forums in those areas where the issue is resonating. Video will also be created. Topics to be covered will include farm safety, working conditions for seasonal migrant farm workers, meth addiction among mothers, and narrowing the opportunity gaps that exist among white, black and Latino residents. Many of these topics are critical during upcoming political campaigns. Staffing for the project will include student journalists.
PUBLIC HERALD AWARD: $35,000 TWITTER: @publicherald DESCRIPTION: Public Herald will undertake a screening and discussion tour of its investigative documentary ‘Triple Divide’ through several key areas where hydrofracking is proposed across the US – Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, New Mexico, California, Michigan and key areas in between where onshore unconventional oil and gas development via fracking is being planned or is in initial stages. Triple Divide, narrated by actor Mark Ruffalo, is the result of an 18-month investigation into negative impacts from fracking in Pennsylvania since 2008 and how those impacts are handled by regulators and industry. These tours have increased Public Herald’s member base by over 220% in just 11 months. Each event will consist of a screening of the film and discussion with local groups, elected officials, media and the public. Also, each community will be introduced to Public Herald’s new open source #Fileroom project, making otherwise invisible data about citizen reports of fracking impacts available to the public as digital files organized by state, country and township. They also plan to cross the nation in a zero emissions vehicle and share the experience as a test drive and rolling review on their website. Each forum will also provide information on Public Herald membership to attendees. It includes monthly updates and exclusive benefits.
SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC PRESS AWARD: $35,000 TWITTER: @sfpublicpress DESCRIPTION: SF Public Press plans to launch a street mobilization program to increase visibility of the organization, expand audience and grow readers who are most likely to become paid member-subscribers. They will deploy a crew of 4 street hawker-canvassers to participate in and track public-facing activities, including: selling the quarterly ad-free paper for $1/copy; offering free papers in exchange for signing up for the weekly email newsletter; surveying people about their interest in supporting public media; and soliciting donations. Hawkers will be equipped with I-pad Minis to demonstrate the news site and to gather email addresses, collect responses and process donations. This program will enhance their upcoming Pedal-Powered News initiative, an effort to expand distribution and increase engagement using bicycles to deliver the newspaper to nearly 100 retail locations and community centers and to members’ homes across San Francisco. This is hopefully to be funded by a Kickstarter campaign being launched this month, with matching funds from the Knight Foundation. Ultimate goals of the street hawker program are projected to be an increase in the newsletter mailing list to 4,000 (currently 1,400); income from newspaper sales to double the current six-month sales income; and growing six-month paid revenue from memberships by 75%. Very ambitious, but because of the density in San Francisco which is conducive to grassroots marketing and numerous community events and seasonal public gatherings, SF Public Press is in a good position to succeed.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PUBLIC RADIO AWARD: $35,000 TWITTER: @KPCC DESCRIPTION: SCPR hopes to solve the riddle of native advertising for nonprofit news organizations. They will create, within the legal limitations placed on public media, a scalable native underwriting convention that delivers value to both audience and the underwriter. The end framework would preserve public media’s common mission and values, while driving digital revenue growth. The grant will enable SCPR to contract with a strategist for six months to design and implement a pilot native underwriting campaign. Sponsored content will appear in contextually relevant placements across SCPR’s digital products for both listeners and readers on mobile/desktop platforms. They will commit to beginning one sold campaign before the conclusion of the pilot program, although it may last longer. SCPR feels that offering sponsored content packages to SCPR’s funders is the logical next step for monetizing its digital products, while keeping pace with private-market competitors. An outside digital marketing firm will work with SCPR staff and also a native sales consultant to develop the campaign, which will be with one sponsor. Key concepts will include taking care that sponsor content is distinctly different visually from editorial content and that it is clearly identified as sponsor messaging. In details of design and execution, SCPR intends to follow the most explicit precedents set by other news organizations, including clear sponsorship marks in the URL, header and footer, overall design aesthetic, and body copy.
WXXI AWARD: $28,000 TWITTER: @WXXIrochester DESCRIPTION: This grant will help develop and roll out a mobile app to encourage and streamline aggregation of user-generated content. The goal is to broaden audience engagement, primarily with younger, mobile and under-represented community members. The initial phase will focus on adolescents. The app will be available in English and Spanish, and its design will emphasize visual and intuitive prompts, accessibility and whole platform will bridge smartphone, SMS and web platforms. A consortium of community media and educational partners will collaborate to promote the technology, encourage participation and exchange and collaborate on the resulting content. These partners include the legacy African-American community station in Rochester, Hacks and Hackers, a local college’s department of adolescent education, and the journalism school at Rochester Institute of Technology. A pool of shared content would be available to support broadcast content including news coverage, informing community discussions within under-represented audiences, and in existing WXXI outreach programming, including a voter empowerment and information initiative, a media literacy program for ages 12-24, and a community engagement project around accessibility issues. A media campaign to build awareness will be rolled out online and via broadcast and social media around a working theme of “Share Your Story.” Working with Action for a Better Community, a local Rochester nonprofit assisting low-income families, the project will help partners provide informational events to: neighborhood meetings in low-income areas; inner city neighborhood centers and YMCAs; refugee community groups and support agencies; agencies that comprise the Center for Community Health; and the Al Sigl Community of Agencies which promotes inclusion for the disabled. There will also be a mobile kiosk presence in public markets and the new bus interchange. RIT students will build their own content using the app to share and also engage in hands-on demonstrations to support capacity among the focus demographic.
John Cook, editor in chief of The Intercept, responded to a Pando Daily piece that posited the site had suddenly gone silent after its launch in February. Cook writes that the magazine will continue to publish NSA stories, but will otherwise hold back on publishing until they resolve "questions about the site’s broader focus, operational strategy, structure, and design." In a very Denton-esque maneuver, Cook then opened the comments to readers, saying he'd be available all afternoon to answer questions about plans for the digital magazine.
i run a web site ama https://t.co/W0elAavozA -- John Cook (@johnjcook) April 14, 2014Regarding their publishing schedule and content formats, he writes:
We will be publishing a wide variety of stories — short, fast posts to keep the site alive to the news and lengthy reported narratives to devote attention to stories that need to be told, and all manner of story in between. And we will definitely be working with filmmakers — already are, in fact — to find ways to tell these stories beyond just blocks of text.On who he's looking to hire:
Not white. Not male. Fast. Interested in reporting as a live, iterative process that plays out on the internet as well as one where you go away for six weeks and come back with 4,000 words. Eager to make a name for themselves. Beat-wise, intelligence and national security are obviously important to us at the initial stages, but I’m more interested in good capable people who can apply their skills to all manner of stories than subject-area experts.On tone:
Long term, I want the site to be identified more by the posture that Glenn, Laura, and Jeremy exemplify — aggressive, honest, impolite when necessary, and unburdened by the institutional norms that govern the behavior of so many reporters at major establishment news organizations — than any menu of beats or subject areas.On coverage:
We will definitely have international coverage. Not so sure about bureaus in the short term.On user experience and commenting:
It’s a high priority, but it’s not likely to be the first thing to get changed. We really want a good commenting system and we’re working on it. But the first-order priority is getting the site design where it needs to be and getting the editorial structure in place to be a rolling, live operation. But yes, comments are desperately in need of improvement.On matters of church and state:
My position is that we have publicly been guaranteed complete editorial independence (https://firstlook.org/about/). Any interference in our editorial work would be an abrogation of that agreement. I have every expectation that it will be honored. Our credibility comes from the work we have done and will do, not from our financial backer.
Columbia's Tow Center has a new report out today on how publishers are actually dealing with video. Many newsrooms have made video a major focus and are pinning their hopes for revenue on the medium. Columbia assistant professor Duy Linh Tu led a cross-country investigation into how newsrooms, broken down into categories of newspapers, digital-native properties, and longform filmmakers, are actually dealing with video content. His team compiled the results into Video Now, a structured interactive website with lots of video features. Here's a sample of testimony from journalists at The Seattle Times:
ERIC ULKEN: We haven't figure out the business model, so it’s sort of a chicken or egg problem. On the one hand, advertising will tell us, “Well, we need more volume in order to make this an effective advertising product." And on the news gathering side, it’s "Well, if you could show us that this is actually producing some revenue, we would assign it some more manpower to it."
DANNY GAWLOWSKI: For news situations, if it's something that's important today, we try to use mobile as much as we can, and shoot it on mobile, upload it directly from your mobile device, publish it immediately. It gives us the advantage of speed. We put the ability to publish breaking news right at the reporter level, right at the photographer level, and so that we can concentrate our editing resources on longer-term, more thoughtful packages.The digital investigation focuses on Mashable, NPR, and NowThis News. Here's Mashable's Bianca Consunji on metrics for video:
We’re trying to work on videos that will give us at least 20,000 views. Anything less than that, with our limited resources, just isn't worth it anymore. If, let's say, 100,000 people will watch a cute viral video featuring a Muppet and a cat, maybe 20,000 will watch the video that we did on 3D gun printing.The report wraps with a good set of recommendations. Sports videos and explainers did well across newsrooms, they found, and evergreen video content with a long tail is always helpful. Social video should be about audience not gimmicks, and short videos tend to get the most viewers. Video ads should be better, and newsrooms can't expect to depend on preroll CPMs entirely. Finally, the report advises that breaking news reporters doing short, mobile clips should be separate from those producing elegant, sophisticated, in-depth video content.
What are the biggest legal issues affecting online news organizations, large and small? One group that has a unique perspective on that question is Harvard's Digital Media Law Project, which for more than four years has run the Online Media Legal Network, which provides pro bono or low-cost legal services to digital publishers. In a new report out today, DMLP's Jeff Hermes and Andy Sellars look at the 500-plus cases they've handled and try to determine some trends in the legal questions they're being asked — around issues like contract negotiations, corporate law issues, intellectual property, other types of litigation, risk management, and news gathering. Here's a summary of some of their main findings:
Those who have sought help from the OMLN overwhelmingly create their own original content, rather than aggregate the content of others. Many also provide support services to other journalists, platforms for users to talk to one another, or tools to access primary source information. While some clients report on niche issues, many more are focused on reporting news of general interest, either to the public at large or local audiences. Non-proﬁt clients show a greater focus on reporting on social issues such as health and education than for-proﬁt or individual clients. OMLN clients show significant evidence of forward planning. They are more often proactive than reactive to legal issues, frequently seeking assistance with intellectual property, content liability, and corporate questions before crises occur. Individual clients not employed by an organization, and those clients who reported on businesses or to consumer audiences, sought help defending against legal threats more often than other clients. This indicates a particular need for greater litigation assistance among these categories. The advice sought by OMLN clients with regard to intellectual property matters shows a near-perfect balance between protecting their own content and using the content of others
The Deseret News is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but you might not detect its Mormon roots from looking at the outlet's national site — officially came out of beta yesterday — which focuses on the self-proclaimed values of family and faith. Even in its faith section, which includes stories as wide ranging as a preview of a new PBS documentary on the history of the Jews and a piece on the Hindu holiday of Holi, there's very little explicit coverage of Mormonism.
And that's on purpose, says Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media CEO Clark Gilbert. "The national edition is deliberately targeting values across all faith practices in the country," he told me. Fifty-six percent of Americans are "Like-Minded Believers, who value faith, family, caring for others, and share a concern for the decline in moral values," according to an internal Deseret Media Companies study. That's the audience Deseret News is aiming to capitalize on with its expansion of coverage. Gilbert said Deseret's coverage, both local and national, is built on six tenets that it says matter to that readership — family, faith, education, care for the poor, values in media, and financial responsibility. "We heard a lot of people saying, 'We read The New York Times and we watch Sean Hannity, and we hate them both,'" Gilbert said of how Deseret News approached the development of its national content. "They said, 'We admire the rigor of The New York Times, but we don't hear any of our values reflected there. Somehow we hear some of our values in Sean Hannity, but it feels angry and polemic. They were mashing together what the market wasn’t providing, which was a thoughtful news source that was journalistic and rigorous and accurate but was asking questions that really resonated to things that mattered to their family." By staying away from an explicit focus on its own religion, Gilbert said Deseret News hopes to create a broad dedicated readership. "This is a huge audience, but the second you go denominational, they fragment," he said. "Mormons read Mormon content, Catholics read Catholic content, Baptists read Baptist content." With all the challenges facing locally based news organizations, it's a natural move to try to find a local beat that can attract national interest. The Boston Globe, for example, plans to launch a site focused on Catholic coverage. And, as Gilbert mentioned to me several times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have long been read outside of Washington and New York because of their coverage of politics and finance. Gilbert, a former Harvard Business School professor, is known for his work around Christensenian disruption theory; you can see him talking about his work at an event here at the Nieman Foundation last year:
In this case, Deseret News is building on an existing print product. In 2011, it launched a weekly national print edition, and its success — with subscribers in all 50 states — hastened the launch of the standalone national website. Deseret News' national print edition has about 75,000 print subscribers, with 15,000 of those added in the past year, according to Gilbert. It also syndicates its content to more than 400 different publications around the United States, Gilbert said. The growth has been received well by advertisers, and Deseret has been able to staff up to launch the nationally focused site.
Clay Christensen on the news industry: "We didn’t quite understand…how quickly things fall off the cliff"
Founded in 1850, the Deseret News — Deseret was the original proposed name for an outsized version of what eventually became the state of Utah — still publishes daily in Salt Lake City. Mirroring industrywide trends, Deseret's print display ad revenue fell 30 percent between 2008 and 2010. Print classified revenue plummeted 70 percent. Deseret News slashed costs by 42 percent, and in August 2010, it laid off 85 staffers. It also launched a new organization, Deseret Digital Media to grow the company's websites. Deseret's network includes a number of local Salt Lake City radio and TV outlets — including long-time digital classifieds superstar KSL.com — as well as Mormon-focused sites, including the independent Mormon Times, the LDS Church's official news site and an online Mormon book store. Gilbert wrote about the evolution of Deseret Digital Media in an article in Harvard Business Review. Here at the Lab, Jonathan Stray got into elements of the national strategy — including the launch of a family-friendly movie guide — back in 2012.
Focus and web-only content: How the Deseret News supports a local newsroom with a national strategy
The standalone national site, with its trendy rectangle-heavy design, launched in beta in February and was formally launched Sunday with a ten-part series on the role of the Ten Commandments in modern life. The rollout of the site and the feature was timed for Passover, which starts Monday at sundown, and Holy Week, which culminates with Easter on April 20. The site will feature original content, cross-posted on the Deseret News local site, but it will also feature plenty of aggregated content as well. "It's almost like The Atlantic Wire or RealClearReligion, but with our brand voice," Gilbert said. Despite the conservative editorial leanings of the main newspaper, Gilbert said the national site would not take political stances. For instance, Last month, the site published a story on a Pew Research Center study that showed an increase in acceptance of same-sex marriage by black Protestants. Compare that with the front-page editorial the Deseret News ran with the headline "Judicial tyranny" after a federal judge struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage last year. Part of that national move is partnerships. In February, Deseret News partnered with The Atlantic to produce a series, published on both publication's websites, about the role of fathers in American society. The seemingly unlikely partnership between Deseret News and the Washington-based monthly received a fair amount of press coverage when it was announced, and Gilbert said it was "absolutely the case" that Deseret News will continue to partner with other outlets. He said he was in discussions with two organizations about partnerships, but said nothing was finalized. "We're a serious news organization and we want to partner with people who want to do great work," Gilbert said.
The plague of uniform rectangles with text overlays spreads further, risks becoming news-web-wide contagion
Photo of an old-fashioned Deseret News delivery cart by Edgar Zuniga Jr. used under a Creative Commons license.
Our friend Nikki Usher is out with a new report today at the Tow Center (pdf here) on the role of physical space in newspapers making the transition from print to digital. With shrinking staffs, a desire for cultural change, and a reduced role for printing plants, lots of newsrooms have moved in recent years. What difference can a change of scenery make?
As newsrooms shed their old, industrial pasts through optioning real estate, then perhaps the future for post-industrial journalism is quite bright. But if these moves are about nothing more than downsizing and loss, then we ought to be deeply concerned about the viability for quality news in the digital age, particularly from metropolitan newsrooms. The task of this paper is to explore how physical change might make a difference to the future of journalism. The goal here is to help those inside and close to the industry understand the transition newspapers are making away from their manufacturing roots and into their post-industrial present. The relationship between physical and digital space, and what it means to journalists and their work, should help us learn more about what is happening inside journalism — and hopefully offer some insights into opportunities and blind spots.Nikki's paper builds on a number of pieces about newsroom space that have run here at Nieman Lab (one, two, three). Among the questions she addresses in the paper: — Can a move to a new physical space help to update newsroom culture? Can it serve as a digital do-over? — Does moving to a post-industrial space — abandoning the presses out in the suburbs, say — communicate something about the nature of the newspaper to readers, advertisers, and citizens? — How can the physical organization of newsroom space be optimized for breaking news online? — How important is physical space when everyone has a laptop and a smartphone, anyway? From Nikki's conclusion:
Newsroom moves matter. Journalists are storytellers and they have always crafted their own myths about the profession. If the message now for metropolitan newsrooms is digital innovation, then it may be necessary to create a very explicit break with the past. New stories need to be created to establish a new narrative about the purpose and mission of journalism. One facet of cultural change began when online journalists were integrated into the main newsroom as equal partners. This was a story of physical space just as it was one of cultural change. [...] It's easy to get wistful about the decline of newspapers. And indeed, the loss of large newspaper buildings and their imprint on their respective cities is sad to those who have sentimental attachments to old journalism. The symbolism of these moves is incredibly meaningful to both reporters and the public. For this reason, newspapers need to tell their own stories of change. They must be able to create a tale that downsizing space is not downsizing the news.
THIS WEEK'S ESSENTIAL READS: If you've only got a minute or two, this week's essential reads are Felix Salmon on the boom in wonk journalism, David Carr with big questions for Comcast and Time Warner Cable about their merger, and Washington Post editor Marty Baron's reasons for optimism about the future of journalism.VOX, TECH, AND WONK JOURNALISM: Former Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein launched his explanatory journalism site, Vox, this week, cautioning in an introductory note with co-editors Melissa Bell and Matt Yglesias that it's still quite unfinished. The Washington Post profiled Klein's new boss, Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff, but most of the focus was on Vox's distinctive tech. The New York Times centered on Vox Media's internally built content management system, Chorus, which was a key tool in recruiting Klein. Ad Age looked at Vox's "card stacks," the system the site is using to break their explainers into digestible chunks for readers. That includes cards to note how card stacks have been altered for corrections or changing events, as Poynter reported. Initial reviews were curious but critical. The Columbia Journalism Review's Greg Marx saw Vox as a welcome test of Klein's argument that what news needs are more clear and helpful entry points for complex, ongoing stories. Mathew Ingram of Gigaom liked Vox's clear purpose and "cards" organization format, but expressed concern that it's going to have to compete with Wikipedia and lacks a personal orientation. The Wire's Allie Jones said many of the initial cards "don't seem to provide any information that you can't get on Wikipedia or About.com." PandoDaily's Nathaniel Mott was also skeptical, referring to the cards as "glorified slideshows" and describing the style as "BuzzFeed written by a college professor."
Vox's launch also reignited the discussion about Klein's departure from the Post after his proposal for an explanatory journalism site there was turned down. The Times article on Vox quoted Klein as saying he was "badly held back" by the technology and the culture at the Post, though it later edited it to refer to newspapers in general, not just the Post. At a conference last weekend, Post editor Marty Baron said Klein had proposed an entirely new news organization separate from the Post, rather than an expansion of his Wonkblog. Mathew Ingram said Baron's justification makes decent financial sense, but starting sites like Vox are precisely the bets the Post should be taking in an attempt to survive the disruption of news. Similarly, Reuters' Felix Salmon said Klein made the right decision by going with a nimbler company and voiced his doubt that the Post is the best place to develop the wonky journalism that's so popular right now. "In general, the bigger and more entrenched the media company you’re part of, the harder it is to get stuff done," he wrote. In another piece for Politico, Salmon explained why analytical journalism like Klein's and Nate Silver's is experiencing a boom, and Laurie Penny of the New Statesman questioned why white men like Klein and Silver are being feted as the future of journalism: "THESE, IT TURNS OUT, ARE THE KIND OF 'OUTSIDERS' THE OLD GUARD CAN COPE WITH: OUTSIDERS WHO LOOK ALMOST EXACTLY LIKE THEM, EXCEPT YOUNGER AND COOLER."
Marty Baron on Ezra Klein's departure: "The company is owned 100 percent by Jeff Bezos, so any decision to fund a new venture would be his to make"
COMCAST AND THE COMPETITION: Comcast and Time Warner Cable started down the regulatory road toward their proposed merger this week, appearing before a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that was mostly skeptical about the value for consumers of a merger of the nation's two largest cable TV and broadband providers. The New York Times' David Carr asked several critical questions about the merger heading into the committee hearing, noting at one point that because of its size in the broadband market, a combined Comcast/Time Warner "may have an effective veto over the programming and technological innovations of others." The two companies also made the case for their merger this week in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission, arguing that they've been diligent about trying to improve their service and that they're trying to defend themselves against the competition of streaming video services like Netflix, Roku, and Apple TV. Variety and Ars Technica gave closer looks at their arguments. Several other writers picked those arguments apart, particularly Comcast's claim to be one of many little guys in a giant pool of competitors. The Verge's Adi Robertson, Recode's Amy Schatz, and Techdirt's Mike Masnick all dissected Comcast's list of competitors, noting that many of those competitors rely on Comcast and Time Warner for distribution of their online streaming services, and that cable providers rarely compete directly with each other because they've largely divvied up various geographical areas among themselves. Gigaom's Stacey Higginbotham also had some critical questions for regulators to ask, and the Daily Dot's Andrew Couts poked holes in Comcast's avowed embrace of net neutrality. More than 50 groups sent a letter to the FCC objecting to the merger, and some conservative groups have joined the fight against it as well, though as BuzzFeed's Peter Lauria explained, no major TV content providers have opposed the deal. As the Sunlight Foundation's Palmer Gibbs noted, however, Comcast and Time Warner have been very politically active, with their employees giving millions of dollars to many of the key political figures in the upcoming regulation decisions.
HEARTBLEED'S QUIET LEAK: Experts discovered a security bug this week, called Heartbleed, which has quietly left a great deal of the web's encrypted information open to hackers for two years. The best explainers on Heartbleed are by Vox's Timothy B. Lee, Gigaom's Mathew Ingram, and NPR's Jeremy Bowers, but here's the very quick summary: Heartbleed is an opening in the popular OpenSSL encryption software that could let hackers into information on servers that isn't even part of the server's initially encrypted information. Other than changing passwords once a site has patched the leak, there's not much users can do to protect themselves at this point — most of the work is on web companies' ends. At Source, Mike Tigas gave some valuable tips to newsrooms on dealing with the bug on their sites. We don't know who, if anyone, has taken advantage of Heartbleed — as Charlie Warzel of BuzzFeed noted, the most likely culprit may be the U.S. National Security Agency. The New Yorker's Rusty Foster went deeper into the roots of the bug, noting that it's partly a function of an OpenSSL that's run by a small group of volunteers and relies on an old and more vulnerable programming language (C). "IF OPEN-SOURCE SOFTWARE IS AT THE HEART OF THE INTERNET, THEN WE MIGHT NEED TO EXAMINE IT FROM TIME TO TIME TO MAKE SURE IT’S NOT BLEEDING," he wrote. Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times also addressed the difficulty of keeping the web's security up to speed with its growth.
READING ROUNDUP: Several interesting conversations popped up around journalism and tech this week. Here are a few worth following: — Tech entrepreneur Chris Dixon lamented the dominance of apps over the mobile web, arguing that apps are governed by a rich-get-richer dynamic and subject to the whims of the keepers of the app stores. Tech blogger John Gruber disagreed, saying that whether we're talking about apps or the mobile web, it's all the web. Venture capitalist Fred Wilson said the shift to apps has led to less risk-taking in tech entrepreneurship, and blogger Ben Thompson argued that the web still matters for writing. Gigaom's Mathew Ingram summed up the discussion and emphasized the importance of links. — Poynter's Howard Finberg and Lauren Klinger released a report comparing the views of journalists, journalism educators, and students about which skills are important in journalism, finding that educators view technical skills — especially multimedia — as much more important than professionals do. Meanwhile, journalism professor Mindy McAdams took a couple of looks at what multimedia journalism skills mean today and what skills are necessary for journalism students to learn. — Twitter introduced new profiles this week that emphasize photos and look a lot like Facebook's. PandoDaily's Nathaniel Mott said the changes are a good thing, as they "showcase a Twitter willing to move beyond its simple, what-you-see-is-what-you-get roots in order to create a more approachable service."
— Finally, several great reads to look at this weekend: Poynter's Roy Peter Clark on what it takes to create a new mode of journalism and whether data journalism qualifies, Adrienne LaFrance on rethinking online news archives, News Corp.'s Raju Narisetti with 26 key questions to ask about news organizations' move to digital, and Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron on reasons to be optimistic about the future of journalism.
We need to talk: 26 awkward questions to ask news organizations about the move to digital
Yes, you need to reset all your passwords. But what are the specific impacts for journalists regarding the Heartbleed security breach announced yesterday? For Source (and also the ProPublica Nerd Blog), Mike Tigas has a breakdown.
If your websites have SSL enabled (when users log in, for example), or if you use VPN software to secure your network, or if you run your own mail servers, your newsroom might be affected by Heartbleed. Heartbleed can affect anything that uses OpenSSL version 1.0.1 or greater. This includes most open-source webservers (Apache, nginx, lighttpd), and can include email servers, instant message services (ejabberd, etc), and VPN servers (openvpn). Privacy software like Tor and SecureDrop are also vulnerable and have since released updates. Many popular server operating systems are affected and have released patches that fix the bug, including Linux distributions like Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, Red Hat Enterprise and Arch Linux. [...] If you get a version between 1.0.1 and 1.0.1f, you may be vulnerable. Some Linux distributions include a hotfix for this bug while keeping the same version number, so you should double-check the operating system’s website for more information.Tigas' post has specific next-steps for those who may be vulnerable. In addition, ONA's Jen Mizgata suggests journalists whose hackles are raised by the bug consider attending their security summit this month in Indianapolis.