- 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?
- The newsonomics of 50/50 and the unchaining of the U.S. press
- How The New York Times made sense of the Sochi Olympics one frame at a time
- “Journalism is aggregation”
- Know your user: Learning how different journalists approach data with Census Reporter
- How some journalists are using anonymous secret-sharing apps
- Quartz increases newsletter readers by going simple
- 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”
- We need to talk: 26 awkward questions to ask news organizations about the move to digital
- Optimism is the only option: The Washington Post’s Marty Baron on the state of the news media
- This Week in Review: Local news innovation and Thunderdome, and Facebook’s brand clampdown
- Reinventing the story experience at SND Prototypes
- NYT Now, out today, mixes lots of good mobile-centric ideas with moments of caution
- The newsonomics of Digital First Media’s Thunderdome implosion (and coming sale)
- What’s New in Digital and Social Media Research: How editors see the news differently from readers, and the limits of filter bubbles
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. 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:
Six things to consider about the new Los Angeles Register
— 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. Veltman had used the technique previously at WNYC for a Valentine's Day sentiment matrix, and 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. The kind of stories they will feature will focus on current issues on topics such as how food is grown and processed, food smuggling, factory farm pollution, gluten-free products giving rise to infant celiac disease, and many more. 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." 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."
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"
— 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.
Asked last week whether he was buying the Star Tribune for business or altruistic reasons, Glen Taylor said a lot in a two-word answer: "50/50." News observers have parsed and poked at every recent big buy over the last year. Is _this_ the turnaround? Why are these billionaires buying? What do they see? What's the reason? Life — even business — is sometimes a little more nuanced. We race to make money, even when we seemingly have enough. We acknowledge our roles within our wider communities. 50/50 is a perfect way to capture the spirit of some of the new personalities and money entering news company ownership. Almost all of them have a sense that they are buying near a financial bottom. And of course, there's the ego-stroking that still comes with putting your name atop a masthead. Then there's the mix of civic and sometimes political motivations we see ushered in by these new owners. It's never quite a perfect 50/50 split, of course, and it varies with each of the new owners. 50/50, though, is an eloquently simple way to describe this new era of Bezoses, Buffetts, Henrys, and Taylors. Warren Buffett has been the most obscure in his motivations, but that's explained by his use of publicly traded Berkshire Hathaway as a buying vehicle. John Henry laid out civic motivations in a way we haven't heard from incumbent publishers in a long time, in his fall piece "Why I Bought the Globe." Now that new class of owners has unexpected company: Alice Rogoff. Rogoff (illuminating in-house bio here) shot to national prominence Tuesday. Her purchase of McClatchy's Anchorage Daily News for $34 million, and its planned merger with her six-year-old digital startup the Alaska Dispatch, re-electrified the local news debate. Another billionaire buying; another chain selling. Is it a _trend_? Are we seeing the deconsolidation of the U.S. press?
Our new Alaska tale can be read as a David taming a Goliath. The digital-only Alaska Dispatch, with a scrappy staff of less than 20 journalists, takes over the print incumbent, with the Daily News' publisher and editor retiring with the sale. (While the Dispatch is small, it's not a perfect David: Rogoff is a former chief financial officer of U.S. News and World Report, and her husband David Rubenstein has an estimated net worth of $3.1 billion.)
Online journalist cuffed in Alaska explains his biz model
Rogoff, 62, shares that sense of place, of legacy, and of impact with Glen Taylor. Last week, the group that bought the Star Tribune out of bankruptcy in 2009, announced it was agreeing in principle to sell to Taylor, best known for owning the Minnesota Timberwolves. Seventy-five percent of the ownership has been split among GE Capital and the local Wayzata Investment Partners, and they've been rewarded for their above-average stewardship of the Star Tribune ("The newsonomics of Pulitzers, paywalls and investing in the newsroom"). I estimate the sale price at about $100 million, built both on healthy profits of $20 million-plus and an ahead-of-the-curve community-reaching, ad-servicing, reader-paying strategy. We knew the current owners were involved for the short term; the news here is that ownership will stay local, have deeper pockets, and keep management in place. Glen Taylor is a 72-year-old Minnesota-bred billionaire who earned his way to his mini-Buffett empire of 50 or so companies through Taylor Corp., along with ownership in 30 other companies. He also has served as a moderate Republican state legislator from 1981 to 1990. He grew up reading newspapers and understands the value of a strong news organization in the life of a city (or two) and a state. "I'm interested in this one because it's a Minnesota paper," Taylor told the Star Tribune. "For the long run, if we can continue to have a news media that's consistent, fair, broad-based…I think it's in the interest of our state. I would be proud to be part of that." Taylor and his fellow new newspaper publishers share at least three qualities. The first is what gains the headlines: They're billionaires. They have enough money to buy a property worth a tenth or so what it would have gone for 15 years ago. Second, they have civic impulses, understanding that the world is about more than making money. Third, they are optimists, now apparently on the loose.
The newsonomics of Pulitzers, paywalls, and investing in the newsroom
Optimism is the only option: The Washington Post's Marty Baron on the state of the news media
Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron outlined his nine excellent reasons ("Optimism is the Only Option") to be optimistic about the news business, a seeming act of bravery in a trade that has long embraced cynicism is a professional religion. I've pointed to this emerging "outrageous optimism" as key driver of news business rebirth, and this week Capital New York's Joe Pompeo pointed to it in the air in the NYT Now launch. Watch out: It could be contagious. Let's be clear about this particular rush of money. What's most interesting about this spate of buys is that they are _local_. National news media is in a new go-go mode, with diverse investment capital announced in the last year alone. Read Marc Andreesen's well-noted manifesto and you can see the financial justification for everyone from Vox Media to ESPN and NBC Universal pouring millions in national/global news sites. Then there's Pierre Omidyar's First Look Media, still in embryonic stages. Its founder and funder is a 50/50 figure: clear about his pro-democracy reasons for building First Look, but also envisioning it at better than break-even — though that may take more than five years. For all of the moneyed individuals now investing in news, it's a melding of market discipline and civic value. The one thing Andreesen left out, as he prophesied hockey-stick-like growth for new media — "The big opportunity for the news industry in the next five to 10 years is to increase its market size 100×" — is local. In fact, almost all the movement of high-profile free agent journalists — the Ezra Kleins, Nate Silvers, Matt Yglesiases, and Kara Swishers — has been within the national news sphere. That 5,000-person increase in journalist hiring, noted in Pew's recent report? The great majority are national, especially in the wake of Patch's demise. The local digital opportunity is real, but it's a tough, years-long slog. It can never offer the sheer multiplying scale of a global audience or that hockey-stick dream return. It demands patience. It requires _at least_ a 50/50 approach to business and life. That's why these billionaire bets are timely: They bring money and time to the business of reviving a local American press. Will this go off the tracks in certain cities? Many will say we already have our proof in millionaire Papa Doug Manchester's tenure owning U-T San Diego (née the Union-Tribune) in San Diego. But then again, we've always had a wide spread of viewpoint and journalistic quality among the daily newsrooms spread across America. All else equal, though, local ownership is a good thing. That may be especially so in this age. Look at the broad history of chains sweeping up most of American's dailies in the '60s, '70s and '80s, and you can see all kinds of patterns. Great local papers were homogenized; wretched local papers were made much better, with some even made great. It depended on which chain owner you got in your city. Today, the financial pressure on the chains makes their own reinvestment in the print/digital future hard to pull off. So, local buyers, with deeper pockets and good intentions, can be a very good thing for the local news business and its readers. THE SLOW UNCHAINING OF U.S. DAILY JOURNALISM We're not seeing the end of newspaper chain journalism. But we clearly see a weakening of the links, especially in metro markets. (Consider this historical footnote: The Anchorage Daily News was McClatchy's first outside-of-California paper acquisition, the beginning of its chain growth.) Make no mistake: The rationale for chain ownership — those sometimes-real, sometimes-elusive synergies of multiple properties across broad geographies — still has some purpose. The new, post-bankruptcy GateHouse/New Media Investment Group, funded by Fortress Investment Group, is currently the most aggressive in rollup. (Here's a good explainer by the Boston Business Journal's Jon Chesto.) Even as some of the old chains sell, new chains are replacing them. Still, overall, we're seeing some significant unchaining of newspapers. Alice Rogoff's purchase in Anchorage is only the latest example. In the past year, we've seen the New York Times Co. complete the process of de-chaining itself, selling The Boston Globe to John Henry. A. H. Belo sold off its Riverside Press-Enterprise to Aaron Kushner's Freedom Communications (now more a multi-title local news company than a chain, as it launches the L.A. Register next week) and has placed its Providence Journal on the market. When the ProJo is sold, A. H. Belo will be back to being a Dallas-area company. Could McClatchy ultimately peel back to its own California roots, with its three Bees and two other properties? The company will take $24 million in post-tax gains from the Alaska sale, as it tries to thread its needle, balancing debt reduction and digital investment. It may seem far fetched to think of a smaller McClatchy today, but consider the massive change among McClatchy's newspaper brethren.
The newsonomics of outrageous confidence
The newsonomics of the print orphanage — Tribune's and Time Inc.'s
Knight Ridder, not long ago the No. 2 largest newspaper company in the company, sold itself to McClatchy eight years ago. Tribune, the No. 3, is about to spinoff ("The newsonomics of orphanage") its all its newspapers, with follow-on sales of individual papers the greatest likelihood. MediaNews is no longer with us, merged along with the Journal Register chain into Digital First Media, which itself ("The newsonomics of Digital First Media's Thunderdome implosion — and coming sale") looks to be splitting apart. Media General is no longer a newspaper company, selling its largest paper, in Tampa, to single owners for a bargain price and the rest to the newest contrarian chain in the business, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Media. The Washington Post has moved from a larger diversified company into the singularity of the Post itself. In the Twin Cities, the Cowles-owned paper Star Tribune went chain in 1996 when McClatchy bought it, and now has meandered its way back to individual ownership as Glen Taylor comes forward to buy the paper. Wow. It's dizzying change for what used to be a staid industry. Though it's not clearly moving in a straight line, the unwinding of the chains is real. The post WWII logic of buying and building holds far less logic financially. BEYOND BILLIONAIRE BINGO Billionaires can be good for the newspaper business. That's the good news. The bad news: There aren't that many to go around. We have a paltry 492 in the U.S., and they're unevenly distributed geographically. (A few of China's 152 have shown interest in U.S. media. And then there are the 111 in Russia, who may find America a more compelling investment environment in these post-Crimean invasion times.) Still, the 0.000001% are having an impact. It may soon have more. In L.A., Eli Broad is once again expressing interest in buying the L.A. Times — and returning it to local control. In San Diego, control — which has been local except for a brief Platinum Equity interim — looks like it is up for grabs again. Given the opportunity to rebut the notion of U-T San Diego is for sale, CEO John Lynch refused to do so. Of course, for readers in southern California and around the country, it depends on which billionaires or multi-millionaires (yes, you qualify too) you get. You want the ones, whether Republican or Democrat, who believe in a fair, straight-ahead news report.
The newsonomics of Digital First Media's Thunderdome implosion (and coming sale)
Consider last year's allergic reaction to the Koch Brothers' attempt to buy the Tribune newspapers. Through public protest and private pressure, the Tribune properties never made it to the offer sheet stage — but they'll come back on the market some time after the spinoff. Given the Kochs' great understanding of political influence, why wouldn't they buy newspapers as another lever of political persuasion? As news of the DFM shakeup reverberated around the country last week, smart observers noted that one of the purplest of purple states — Colorado — could see one billionaire newspaper owner, Philip Anschutz, consolidate the state's press. With its "stridently conservative" stance, those nine electoral votes in 2016 may swing in the balance. While the Roberts Supreme Court has widened the opening for wealthy campaign donations, owning a press still offers an old-fashioned means of influence.
The newsonomics of the Kochs rising — and uprising
To be sure, relying on billionaires to save the local day would be silly. We've seen all kinds of efforts — from tenacious, high-achieving, nonprofit startups to would-be for-profit digital chains, as well as financial strategizing around "low-profit" local news corps. All have their place in the renaissance. This year, though, it is the boys (and girls) with the big bucks who are making headlines.
The newsonomics of the for-profit move in local online news
Big events — Super Bowls, the Oscars, the Olympics — are when media companies want to make sure their interactive features shine the brightest. The Olympics, in particular, are an interesting case because they last over the course of two weeks rather than one night, which means newsrooms need a continuous coverage plan in place for interactives. At The New York Times, the graphics team put together an entirely new system and set of workflows to create interactive features, including videos, photo composites, and more to cover the Sochi Winter Olympics. At Knight Lab, Times graphics editors Wilson Andrews and Larry Buchanan explain how the planning paid off in covering the events live:
The group was divided into five three-person teams of visual journalists. Each team was assigned to an event to cover and began with an intense research and pre-reporting process in the weeks before the games. Andrews, whose team focused on figure skating, said that each journalist aimed to be as educated with their designated sport as possible before the event. They contacted sources (usually experts or ex-Olympians) with whom they would speak right before and immediately after the event so that each composite would be accompanied by thorough reporting and analysis right away. During the events themselves, members of the team in Sochi would shoot the event and run the images through a Photoshop script they’d written prior to the games, said Larry Buchanan, a Times graphics editor. The script detected the differences between images and created a composite that was “80 percent” there, Buchanan said. They also built a variety of modules beforehand to create composites, diptychs, or finisher’s graphics depending on the sport. One of the reasons the team was able to get the graphics up so quickly is because their system allowed them to work as a singular unit.Here's an example of one of those composites — cooler, bigger version here:
At The Washington Post, Joel Achenbach briefly realizes it's turtles all the way down:
Interviewing is a craft. An interview is not quite the same thing as a conversation. There’s an attempt in an interview to extract useful information, and this is a unilateral endeavor. I’m the one asking the questions here. If the source, for some reason, perhaps after an hour of badgering, asks me a question — for example, “When is this story going to run?” — I will answer in a barely audible whisper, “And you are who, exactly?” But now I’m wondering if what I consider “reporting” is just a form of aggregating, of skimming, of lifting the best parts of a scientist’s work and repurposing it for my own interests. These scientists have spent many, many years doing research, much of it at the very edge of the knowable, where finding a new piece of solid data is a laborious process that may require long nights at the computer or the laboratory bench, or mulling a bust of Galileo, and this work has to be slotted among other obligations, including grant applications, peer-reviewing papers, teaching, advising graduate students, holding office hours, serving on faculty committees and schmoozing at the faculty club. And here I am calling up and saying: “Give me the fruit of your mental labors.” Asking for the ripest fruit, as it were. Asking not just for information but for wisdom. Give it to me! For free. And they did, because they always do, because we have a system of sorts.You can find a younger, shaggier-haired version of me making this same argument — that gathering and reassembling the intellectual work of others is core to the journalistic program and has been forever — four years ago at Harvard Law School. (Also, see this 2009 piece and the comments.) Unfortunately, Achenbach then backs off this revelation by arguing that (a) he knows some stuff too, damn it, which makes it different (I guess aggregators don't know anything?) and (b) that learning things by making a digital telephone call somehow exists on a whole other plane of existence from learning things by using a digital research tool. It's the old Puritan idea of the cleansing power of labor — that when things become easier, they lose their worth. Oh, well.
About a year and a half ago, a team of developers and journalists won $450,000 from Knight to redesign Census.IRE.org, now known as Census Reporter. The funding for that project expires this spring, after extensive user interviews and demos. It's interesting to look at what nearly half a million dollars and a year can do to the accessibility of a data set to a journalist. Understanding how people think differently about quantitative information can be a serious challenge — and it's a useful example to any number of editorial projects that could benefit from structured thinking about user needs before planning get too far down the road. With a wide diversity of possible users in mind, project lead Joe Germuska, of Northwestern's Knight Lab, hired Sarah Schnadt, an information architect with a background in the arts, as a community liaison and designer on the project. "In a way, I feel like I'm an outside eye on this project. All the challenges are new to me," she says. "When I look at the interface, I just want it to make sense — I haven't been using census data for the last ten years." To get a sense of just how much has changed, take a look at the results for a search for our hometown of Cambridge on the Census.IRE.org site: And compare it to how basic census data for Cambridge looks on the new site: There are two primary ways to access data in Census Reporter. For a journalist seeking to understand the narrative of a location, the place page is the best entrance. It'll automatically generate a map, basic profile information, and charts on the most commonly used census data — population, gender, income, race, and so on. The charts are interactive — hover over a bar on a graph and you'll see useful contextual information for data points. They're also responsive for mobile.
On @CensusReporter, wide column charts flip to horizontal bars on a phone. Same data, different view. This is nice. #NICAR14 -- Chris Amico (@eyeseast) February 28, 2014The place profiles, says Schnadt, are great for answering the question, "What can I find out about the place that is my beat?" But other journalists are looking for a more quick and dirty service — they want to get in, find the tables they're looking for, and download them quickly in the format of their choosing. "More statistically oriented journalists talked about not knowing if they have the right data set until they've downloaded," says Schnadt. "They download one and see, and then download another and see. It takes five different downloads to even see if maybe three of those tables _might_ be the ones they want to combine together to get at maybe two numbers that they want for a story. We know from those kinds of conversations that we're making a process much easier." Schnadt also wanted to make it easier for reporters to understand how the tables correspond to what they're looking for. "There are 1,500 tables but only 60 questions that are asked. It can get kind of overwhelming," she says. To figure out how best to surface the most important information, Schnadt analyzed census-based stories to try to figure out which queries matched the most frequently used data points. In addition, Census Reporter has built some static resources around explaining census terms. The core challenge of the Census Reporter project was to figure out how build an interface that would be as helpful to newcomers as to developers and trained data reporters. To get a sense of users' needs, Schnadt administered a survey in which she "tried to identify the level of detail in which a journalist is using the data — how they think, what kind of background they have, what kind of newsroom they're working in, and a little context into how they're using the data," she says.
This process produced user profiles that went beyond the basic expert-beginner dichotomy. In between the end points of "narrative thinker" and "app developer," there were roles like graphics journalists, who typically want to work with raw data via tools like ArcGIS or Tableau and are often the most technically skilled person in the newsroom — but who may not always have a set of skills or needs that perfectly aligns with the "journo nerds" — journalists learning to become developers. "The thing that's hard is building for all of them at the same time, because they have very different needs," says Schnadt. "If we can make the process of getting at this data a pleasure and also make the tool seem very useful, than we can also serve this broader goal of encouraging more journalists to use data in interesting and creative ways in their stories." As development of Census Reporter reaches its conclusion, there are a few final steps for the team. By June, they say publishers will be able to embed their charts, and they'll be using elasticsearch to make the full text of the database easily searchable. They'll also be taking steps to make the source code for the project convenient for other developers. (Those features will be the handiwork of front-end developer Ryan Pitts and back-end developer Ian Dees.) The biggest challenge, however, is preparing to move the project into "life support mode" — one that falls to Germuska, as well as project board members Pitts and John Keefe. The primary issue there is updating with new data as it's released, but they're also interested in continue to develop new features. Some, like adding deeper economic and social context to the place page charts with more specific data, could potentially be good projects for journo-nerd students, like those Germuska has met through his work at Knight Lab. Other projects, like comparative place pages that allow users to look at two locations side by side, could be good candidates for Knight Prototype Fund grants, Germuska says. The team is working on basic design sketches that could help guide future Census Reporter code contributors. Even so, not every feature can get built — for example, providing year-over-year historical context proved to be too complicated, because of the way that data is gathered and shared. "After spending a year and a half on this, I have so much sympathy for the Census Bureau," Germuska says. "Our problem is a lot easier, because we're able to draw circles around what we do and don't do. I would love to see better government data provision, and I hope it keeps getting better, and I'll share my opinion and experience with anyone that wants to know — but I have a lot of sympathy." The goal for Census Reporter was not only to make census data available, but to build a tool that makes it easier for reporters to understand what census data can tell them. Census Reporter looks at only a single body of data, but census numbers have long served as a way for reporters to grow their skills obtaining and understanding data. "I think there is a certain kind of literacy that can be acquired," says Schnadt. "Having that particular cognitive syntactical skill set is so valuable, as we have access to larger and larger data sets. The site could be very hopeful to lots of people outside the journalism world as well."
Photo of an "enumerator" administering the 1940 Census by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Gwyneth Paltrow's divorce from rock star husband Chris Martin is not an event with great civic impact. But it's big news to the many writers whose salaries depend on highly trafficked stories about celebrities, as well as to the massive audience that loves to read them. What's interesting, however, is that while the couple's uncoupling was officially announced on Paltrow's personal website, rumors of trouble in the water started circulating weeks before. In February, Gawker's Lacey Donohue reported on its Hollywood vertical Defamer that a user on the anonymous app Whisper was accusing Paltrow of cheating on her husband. Neetzan Zimmerman, who left Gawker to become Whisper's editorial director, says he was confident that the poster was a person with close ties to Paltrow. But whether or not the rumor was true, there's something to what one Gawker reader wrote in the comments: Gossip mongering in anonymous social networks isn't the future of journalism, but it sure seems to be part of it. Journalism has long debated the merits of anonymous sourcing — witness the latest hubbub at The New York Times — but at least in those cases the reporter (and hopefully the editor) know the identity of the speaker. Apps like Whisper take the blind item to a whole new level of blindness. It makes sense that anonymous apps, whose purported purpose is to give users a place to share their innermost feelings and frustrations, could have a second life in the news business. Right now, the two apps leading in that space are Whisper, which has been around about a year and half and boasts a staff of 30, and newcomer Secret. Neither app has released its number of active users, but at this point, Whisper's seems much larger, with 3.5 billion views a month. The biggest difference between the two is that, on Whisper, everyone can see all posted content. On Secret, each user sees only one feed, which is personalized based on contacts from their cell phone. These differences may seem minor, but in practice, they make information gathering on the two platforms fundamentally different. Journalists are already finding a variety of ways to take advantage. WHISPER, BUZZFEED, AND MINING THE INTERNET FOR SENTIMENT At Whisper, 90 percent of the employees are developers. "Before they brought me on, they didn't have anyone looking at the actual posts," says Zimmerman. "They were working on product all the time." When Zimmerman left Gawker, few in the media world knew what Whisper was, and fewer understood why an anonymous messaging app required an editor. But Zimmerman has high hopes both for what Whisper can deliver to publishers and for the app as a news product itself.
Zimmerman sees Whisper as an almost unending generator of fresh content. Users type messages, add an image, and share them publicly, with no author name or handle attached. Other users can then reply to the content or message them directly. The subject matter is overwhelmingly personal, even intimate. "It seems a shame that content should get lost and decay, when it could be exported to live on a publisher's website," Zimmerman says. Whisper recently announced a content partnership with BuzzFeed and is also already collaborating on posts with The Huffington Post. Zimmerman says more partnership announcements are forthcoming, some of which will be made on BuzzFeed. He's already begun using their website to demonstrate some of what is possible for storytelling with Whisper. In a post titled 5 Things Whisper Can Tell Us About America's Top Party Schools, Zimmerman surfaces trends around colleges and drinking discovered by analyzing Whisper's raw data, which is organized by tags and location. There's something contradictory in an anonymous app called Whisper that ultimately wants to publish the juiciest tidbits its users create for the enjoyment of a mass audience. But Zimmerman says users are aware that, at the end of the day, what they post to Whisper is public. "At this point, we have publishers coming in and already sifting through the content for their own purposes, without our involvement," he says. "All we're trying to do is make that process easier for them."
For BuzzFeed, that means a couple of things. Right now, only the Whisper staff has the capacity to search all of the data at once; their partnership means BuzzFeed has access to that feature. "It's hard to find things as a user," says BuzzFeed's Summer Anne Burton. Now, when a member of her staff finds something interesting on Whisper, they can call the company and ask them to search for similar content — for example, 21 Things All Cat Owners Secretly Think Sometimes. (I said interesting, not earth-shattering.) For the time being, BuzzFeed won't be using Whisper to report news. "We are thinking about it in terms of entertaining, BuzzTeam, basically fun list-type posts, not breaking news," says Burton. (For those unfamiliar with what BuzzFeed calls its BuzzTeam: "BuzzTeam makes entertainment and experiments with formats — that can include storytelling, lists, quizzes, games, and whatever is next." That's as distinct from its more traditional news operation.) "I've been trying to think of an analogy for what's similar to what we're doing, and what it reminds me of is embarrassing stories submitted by our readers." Of course, words like "submitted" and "public" can mean different things to different people. BuzzFeed was a prominent case study of those gaps in perception recently when it was criticized by some for republishing sensitive, personal tweets about sexual assault — even though BuzzFeed's reporter reached out to most of the tweets' authors before publishing. Whisper, like Twitter, is public, but amplifying that content still has impact for the reader. Burton says she would be certain to get in contact with Whisper users via direct message before republishing similar content. There are a few different ways BuzzFeed is using Whisper to generate stories. For example, the app has a comment feature that Burton says some users have started using like a message board. When someone asked, What's the weirdest food combination you've ever tried? BuzzFeed turned it into a list, 25 Weird Food Combinations You Might Just Have to Try. Another feature allows users to upload original images, which can have an almost newsworthy value — consider Katie Notopoulos' post, Heartbreaking Military Confessions of Whisper. Geotagging shows that some of these posts are actually being made in places where the U.S. military is active.
"On Whisper, we have people, service members based in Afghanistan, in places Google Maps won't go, talking about things in their daily lives — their difficulties, their regrets, things they could never divulge to their commanding officer," says Zimmerman. "So they turn to Whisper." For now, Whisper, with its massive flow of emotionally charged content, is more useful for what the non-news producers at BuzzFeed are trying to do — build traffic by capturing "authentic emotion." But, Burton adds, "I don't think it's out of the question that someday there will be some really interesting news that will break on Whisper, or that some source will be whispering about secret important things." SECRET, GAWKER, AND LEVERAGING GOSSIP INTO NEWS Compared to Whisper, Secret is nascent — "not even 60 days old," according to Sarahjane Sacchetti, who handles marketing for Secret. But despite its relative newness, one thing is clear: Secret is not interested in the publishing game. "We're absolutely not looking at partnering with any sort of media company to be a platform for the content our users create," says Secret cofounder David Byttow. "We're much more about facilitating the conversation — not so much the secret itself, but what comes out of it." On the surface, the two companies seem similar — because Secret is newer, it makes sense that they want to define themselves in opposition. "I would say ultimately, Whisper is a media company, and Secret is a communication company," says Byttow.
But that hasn't stopped tech reporters from taking advantage of the app for what it is. For Secret to be interesting, you have to have friends who are using it — or at least, you have to have saved the phone numbers of people who are using it in your contacts. For the time being, that means the majority of people actively engaging with each other on the app are in the tech industry, largely in the Bay Area and New York City. As has been well documented, that's led to quite a lot of industry gossip, some of it not exactly harmless. For reporters like Nitasha Tiku of Gawker's Valleywag, that makes Secret pretty irresistible. "The camera roll on my iPhone used to be all screenshots of Instagram comments," she says. "Now it's all screenshots of Secret." Gawker has yet to break any news on Secret, though they have used posts to provide context and to fan flames. Tiku says users have openly stated their intent to use the app to mislead reporters, and indeed, within the first ten days, false rumors of Valley acquisitions were both ignited and summarily squelched. Still, gossip does have its place in the overall journalistic spectrum, especially at Gawker, where Nick Denton has always worn the gossip label with pride. "I don't have a negative connotation attached to gossip, particularly when it comes to the tech industry, because anything that's not a regurgitated press release, they'll dismiss as gossip," says Tiku. "A lot of times it's just what they don't want talked about." Says Tiku's fellow Valleywag reporter Sam Biddle: "I'm still figuring out ways to use it as a deeper tool, but it's good for testing the waters. If you see multiple posts about the same person, the same company, expressing the same sentiment, it's not just one anonymous voice in the void. It starts to have a little more weight." For now, potential is all Secret has; users have even taken to joking about the app's failure to predict major news in the tech sector. But even if it's not breaking news, Secret can give reporters a sense of broader trends in the culture. "It helps give you the texture of how people feel," says Tiku. Jenna Wortham, a tech reporter for The New York Times who has written about Secret, agrees. Nothing she's seen on the app has radically altered her thinking about tech figures or companies, but she says "I do think it gives insight into what a community is thinking about." Both Tiku and Biddle say they've started saving more phone numbers than they used to in hopes of expanding their networks — an unusual case of a new platform providing unexpected support for an old one. But if the app fails to hold Silicon Valley's notoriously fleeting attention and the technorati move their anonymous chatter elsewhere, the reporters will move on, too. "I would pay for Secret right now — I might not in a few months," says Tiku. What Secret will look like in a few months is an unknown, including to its founders, who say they're focusing on product and the short game for the time being. But at Whisper, Zimmerman has big plans. "My intention will be to possibly set up a news unit at Whisper, which will be doing both investigative reporting, where they will be going out and finding a lead and then bringing them back to Whisper, but also mining existing content for potential stories," he says. In addition, he wants to make Whisper's API available to publishers, so they can analyze the data and create their own trend pieces. He's also asked the engineers to create a feature that pushes out an alert every time a user uploads an original photo. Whether or not Whisper would charge media companies for these services Zimmerman didn't know, saying matters of monetization are left to the business side of the team. Anonymous sharing online is nothing new. Tiku points to Fucked Company as a predecessor to this idea; Reddit and 4chan are also, in their own ways, points of comparison. For BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, and their ilk, Whisper is just another way to feed a voracious appetite for user generated content. For Gawker, Secret is a more ephemeral, third-party Kinja. But clearly, these apps are tapping into a desire for places to share private knowledge that might have value to the public — even if that value doesn't move beyond mere titillation. Says Wortham: "The idea will stick around, even if the companies don't."
Photo by Anthony Gattine used under a Creative Commons license.
For all its attention to mobile, Quartz has also been trying to use email as a way to deliver news to its growing audience. But the staff decided that its email newsletter subscription rate was not climbing as fast as they liked. They simplified the signup process for the email and have seen the daily subscriber rate for the newsletter double since February. But what was complicating the signup process before? Connecting the newsletter signup to Quartz's reader registration system:
When we launched Quartz in 2012, we wanted to build an account framework that could handle all our future aspirations—personalization, geolocation, read-it-later, offline mode, annotations, user settings, and a variety of email subscriptions. We tossed out a lot of ideas, some of which we planned to pursue immediately and others we said we’d do later. As we set out to build the account system, it only made sense to make creating an account a requirement for email signup. If we were going to eventually build in other functionality centered around a specific user, it made sense to have everything tied together, right? THIS IS PROBABLY THE WAY MOST PEOPLE GET TO SUCH A PROBLEM: PLANNING SO MUCH FOR WHAT YOU MIGHT WANT TO BUILD DOWN THE LINE THAT YOU INSTEAD MAKE THE USER EXPERIENCE LESS APPEALING FOR THE FUNCTIONALITY YOU HAVE AVAILABLE RIGHT NOW. In reality, requiring accounts just slowed down the Daily Brief signup process for a lot of people, frustrated others, and turned many off from signing up entirely.
It's remarkable, I think, how much mainstream-media attention the departures of Nate Silver from The New York Times and Ezra Klein from The Washington Post have gotten over the past few months. I've admired the work of both men enormously, and I look forward to reading their new sites for years to come. But I think the chatter has been so loud in part because it fit into the preconceived narrative that Newspaper People Are Dumb And Internet People _Get It_. That narrative's been right plenty of times over the past decade — but it's also a little too pat for my liking, a default frame for every question. Last night, the Klein & Co. project Vox launched — more about that to come — and in The New York Times Klein was quoted as saying unflattering things about the Post (which were later amended to be unflattering things about newspapers as a whole). At ISOJ this weekend, Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron gave a speech about the state of news today, which we covered elsewhere. But he also, in the Q&A that followed, talked a bit about how the Klein departure went down from his perspective. I thought it was worth presenting that perspective. This sort of he-said-he-said shade-throwing is kind of boring, in the end — more about internal politics and personalities than ideas. Today we have a really interesting new news startup, embedded at maybe the smartest online news company, one that I've always hoped would move beyond sports/tech/games and into more traditional news. And we have one of America's great newspapers, adding net staff for the first time in _years_, trying new things, and with a close to ideal ownership situation. It's good all around! So maybe a little less trash talk? Until then, let me ironically contribute to the chatter by sharing Baron's comments:
I have great admiration for Ezra and I wish him well. And as I said, I think this is a sign of health in our industry that there is capital for people to embark on entrepreneurial ventures. He obviously had the entrepreneurial itch and decided to attend to that itch. He's been able to find financing, and good for him. As I said, I think the availability of financing is a healthy aspect of our industry. That said, I think people have been left with the impression with the coverage that somehow he was trying to do this within the umbrella of The Washington Post, and that's just simply not the case. WHAT EZRA SAID WHEN HE CAME TO SENIOR EXECUTIVES AT THE POST — AND I WAS THE FIRST ONE HE CAME TO, AS FAR AS I KNOW — WAS THAT HE WANTED TO CREATE AN ENTIRELY NEW NEWS ORGANIZATION, SOMETHING ENTIRELY SEPARATE FROM THE POST. AND THAT HE WOULD BE IN CHARGE OF IT — HE WOULD BE THE PRESIDENT, THE CEO, THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, HE WOULD SELECT THE TECHNOLOGY, HE WOULD SELECT THE ADVERTISING CHIEF — PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING. AND IT WOULD EXIST OUTSIDE THE FRAMEWORK OF THE WASHINGTON POST. It was not a request for more financing for his venture within the Post called Wonkblog, which we had financed to the tune of millions of dollars over many years — we had grown it. I don't know how well people knew Ezra before he worked at The Washington Post, but I know that after he worked at The Washington Post, they knew him quite well. It was a great platform for him, and he was great for us as well. But this was something that he — he had said that, you know, Wonkblog had grown about as much as it could — maybe it could have a few more people — but what he had in mind was a separate news organization. And what he really wanted to know — what he wanted to know was whether Jeff Bezos would be willing to finance that. And that's fine, and we obviously ran that up the pole. But I don't have a venture capital fund available to me. I've looked all around — I've looked in the files. I DON'T HAVE A VENTURE CAPITAL FUND. AND OUR PUBLISHER, I DON'T BELIEVE, HAS A VENTURE CAPITAL FUND EITHER. THE COMPANY IS OWNED 100 PERCENT BY JEFF BEZOS, SO ANY DECISION TO FUND A NEW VENTURE WOULD BE HIS TO MAKE. And, as it turned out, the amount of money that apparently was being sought, you know, was somewhere roughly equivalent to 10 percent of our newsroom budget. And, you know, I think it's safe to say that I would not have been too happy if 10 percent of my newsroom budget had been earmarked for [this project].Here's audio, if you want to check my transcribing skills, and the full Q&A starts around 5 hours and 56 minutes into this day-long ISOJ video.
Here are 25 awkward questions (and one counter-question) that I wish media reporters/critics would routinely ask of editors and mainstream news organizations, each year. These might be uncomfortable, if truthfully and publicly answered, but even if you "no comment" your way out of that query, the questions might actually help spur newsroom leadership to focus on what really matters. In no particular order of importance, here is a starter kit of questions:
1 What percentage of your digital audience is accessing your brand/journalism only on mobile phones? (Not to be confused with tablets — and don't settle for a "We have so many millions of digital visitors each month" answer.) What was that number a year ago? 2 Approximately how many journalists are there in your newsroom globally, from the top editor to the full-time-equivalent temp? Of those, how many are part of a dedicated mobile team? And, in that mobile team, how many are focused on phone products and not the tablet? 3 Approximately how many developers (front-end and back-end) does your news organization have? Of those, how many are dedicated to mobile? Can you break down that developer number by phone vs. tablet? 4 For newsrooms with pay models (hard walls, subscriptions, or meters), what percentage of your total unique visitors last month were paying customers? 5 For newsrooms that bundle print+digital subscriptions (almost all mainstream newsrooms these days), can you tell what percentage of your print subscribers have even registered on your website or mobile app so they can access digital content for free as part of their print subscription? 6 How many paying subscribers (digital-only or print-bundled) actually visit your site or mobile products each day? What do they represent of your daily average digital readers? 7 Who formally owns the goal of increasing the number of visits from readers who already pay but don't come to your digital offerings more than once or twice a month? 8 What has been the change in pageviews per visit on your website year-over-year? What is that number now? 9 What percentage of your total advertising revenue is now digital? Of that, what percentage is coming from phones (again, not tablets)? If you can answer this, then compare that percentage against your answer to No. 1. 10 When was the last time your news organization came up with an advertising innovation that has been sold more than five times to customers in the past 12 months? What was it and can you point to specific use cases? 11 Is there an advertising innovation team in your news organization? Who are its members and how does it work? 12 What is your average advertising sell-through of ads that you sell directly for your website? What is that sell-through for your mobile phone offering? (Particularly for those that have just started digital paywalls.) 13 What percentage of your print ad sizes are also available in your tablet edition? 14 What is your digital subscriber churn rate? Is your new acquisition of paying customers ahead of the churn? And by approximately how much? 15 Can you list the five most important, written, newsroom-wide performance measures on which news staff is evaluated annually? 16 How is the performance of your standards/public editor/ombudsman, if you have one, actually measured? 17 How many people from the newsroom are listed on the publication's masthead, especially at print publications? Of those, how many are women? How many are non-white? 18 Assuming most of your masthead people are likely to have been journalists for at least 15 to 20 years, if not more, how many of them have spent at least three to five years in pure digital roles, either in your newsroom or outside it? 19 Of the top operational newsroom editors and managers of your homepage, mobile, video, graphics, and visuals teams, how many are on your masthead? 20 What percentage of your total monthly digital audiences (unique visitors) are from outside your primary home country/market? 21 What percentage of your total paying customers in digital are from outside your primary home country/market? 22 Who owns the daily decisions on what content is free or behind the wall on your products? (This applies even for so-called "hard" walls.) Do these owners have any goals for paid customer acquisition? 23 Where did your last five U.S. newsroom departures go? Where did your last five U.S. newsroom hires come from? 24 Of your masthead editors, how many have accompanied your ad team on a sales/ad relationship building call in the past six months? 25 What percentage of your digital audience comes — and goes away — between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m.? What time is your first major morning news meeting?Happy answering. Unless, of course, you want to pose your own question: Isn't it time Corporate stops asking such awkward questions in the first place?
Raju Narisetti is senior vice president of strategy at News Corp. He has previously served as managing editor of The Wall Street Digital Network, deputy managing editor of the Journal, editor of WSJ Europe, managing editor of The Washington Post; and founding editor of India's Mint newspaper.
EDITOR'S NOTE: At this weekend's International Symposium on Online Journalism in Austin, the Saturday afternoon keynote was Marty Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post and one of the country's most prominent newspaper editors in earlier roles at The Boston Globe and The Miami Herald. The Post has, like all American newspapers, had a rough decade or so, but its purchase last August by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos opened up a new sense of optimism about its future. In recent weeks, much of the talk about the Post has centered on the defection of Ezra Klein and a handful of other staffers to start Vox, which launched last night to much interest. But despite the outsized chatter that move prompted, Baron told the ISOJ audience he's optimistic about the future of the Post and the broader news world. Here are his prepared remarks. (We added all the links you'll see, for clarity and context.) He started off by noting that ISOJ honcho (and friend-of-the-Lab) Rosental Alves had asked him for a title for his talk, and he'd offered up "The untold story: Why we should be optimistic about journalism."I knew that title would be a bit of a risk. Our profession and our business face many problems, many pressures. Optimism is not always easy to find, and sometimes it's perilous to admit, especially when you're in the middle of the turmoil, as I have been for 14 years as the editor in chief of a newspaper. When I mentioned the title to the head of another news organization, he looked shocked. He then handed me his card: "Send me your speech," he said. "I've got to read that." He then asked me to define what I meant when I said something was good for journalism: Did I mean it was good for the customer? Did I mean it was good for journalists looking for jobs? Did I mean it was good for existing journalistic institutions like his or mine? I responded that the third one — journalistic institutions — was not relevant. That would have to sort itself out on its own, and it largely depended on what these institutions do on their own behalf. I'll just note here, because I can't help myself, that I volunteered the title to this speech well before Internet pioneer Marc Andreesen wrote his now much-cited blog post on how bullish he is about the news business — and before others chimed in with similar thoughts. There may be reason for me to feel particularly optimistic this year. I've been, as I said, a top editor for 14 years. And this year is, I'm fairly sure, the first year I haven't had to cut the budget and to reduce staff. So it's a good feeling — but, I recognize, not one that's universally shared by my colleagues at other news organizations. So I don't want to be Pollyanish, and I don't think I am.
I sounded a similar optimistic tone in a speech to New England editors a year and a half ago, well before I could ever have anticipated the turn of events at The Washington Post. Truth is, I could never have anticipated what has happened at the Post — Don Graham selling us, Jeff Bezos buying. OK, so I'm going to try a device with these remarks that seems popular these days — a list, or listicle as it's come to be known. This is more list than listicle. So what follows are 9 reasons to be optimistic about journalism. 1. LET'S START WITH THE BASICS. WE'VE SURVIVED. WE'RE STILL HERE. Real journalists doing real journalism. Not too long ago, people said The New York Times would go bankrupt. It didn't. A few years back, The Boston Globe was threatened with a shutdown (and a gleeful critic advised me, its editor at the time, to practice saying "Would you like fries with that?") The Globe survived to do outstanding work. About 25 years ago, I was at the Los Angeles Times as a senior editor. Ted Turner, founder of CNN, had come to visit — and I was among those invited to a nice lunch. He returned our hospitality with a warning, more accurately a prediction: In 10 years, he said, the Los Angeles Times would be out of business. That would be due, he said, to 24-hour cable news. The L.A. Times has had its struggles, but it's still very much in business — doing very good work — and its struggles today have had little, if anything, to do with CNN or 24-hour cable news. They're due to the Internet, which has put pressure on a wide range of industries, not just ours. So, the point is, we as an industry and a profession are more resilient than people give us credit for. More resilient than even we give ourselves credit for. 2. NEW OWNERS ARE BRINGING NEEDED NEW CAPITAL AND A RANGE OF DISPARATE IDEAS, RETHINKING BUSINESS MODELS.
Don Graham on the sale of The Washington Post, Jeff Bezos, and the pace of newsroom innovation
The newsonomics of Jeff Bezos buying The Washington Post
The newsonomics of John Henry buying The Boston Globe
The newsonomics of the Orange County Register's (new, newer, newest) plan
Our new owner at the Post, Jeff Bezos, is among them — investing $250 million in cash in the purchase of the Post and investing millions more into initiatives aimed at growth and digital transformation. Red Sox owner John Henry has acquired The Boston Globe and is obviously rethinking its business model. At the Orange County Register, Aaron Kushner is trying a wholly different approach, emphasizing print and betting that a substantial investment in reporting resources will give the industry the jolt it needs. Warren Buffett and his people are bringing their own ideas about local journalism to newspapers in smaller communities. Minnesota billionaire Glen Taylor has offered to buy the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. We'll see what he has in mind. You don't have to believe in any one of these approaches to recognize that we're in a period of tremendous experimentation with the business models of legacy media organizations. Not all of these will work. My wager is that something will, and then others will follow. The variety of approaches is a big plus. We now have a living laboratory of business model experimentation. And the good thing is that some of these new owners have long-term perspectives. The payoff on experimentation doesn't have to be immediate. That's the case at The Washington Post, where our owner has spoken of giving us "runway" for experimentation. We will try a lot of things, and we'll have time to see if they work. 3. I JUST SPOKE ABOUT LEGACY JOURNALISM ORGANIZATIONS. AS IMPORTANT IS THE BLOSSOMING OF NEW JOURNALISTIC ORGANIZATIONS. Some of these have been the creations of people who left legacy organizations to create ventures of their own, staffed solely by web-savvy, digital-era journalists. We recently experienced that at the Post with some staffers going off to form their own venture, funded by Vox Media. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have seen similar departures.
It looks like another sports team owner is about to buy another newspaper
Capital is now available for journalism entrepreneurship. It doesn't make my life any easier when people leave, but overall it is healthy for journalism. Media pundits have a habit of viewing these spinoffs as a sign of dysfunction in businesses like ours, a sign of the failings of legacy institutions like mine. In fact, these spinoffs are a sign of health in the industry, just as the availability of capital for entrepreneurial spinoffs in Silicon Valley or here in Austin is a sign of health. Not all of these ventures will succeed — saying you're the "next big thing" and hiring a bunch of people is the easy part. Nor, by the way, are legacy media organizations ordained to fail. (The Atlantic, an old media organization once known for its magazine, has become a vibrant online venture.) But the new competition will translate into enormous innovation — and, I might add, a bounty of jobs. New journalism nonprofits also add to the mix. Some are national in orientation, some regional, some investigative. Wealthy philanthropists are willing to fund them, and they have filled in some of the reporting gaps as traditional organizations have retrenched. Evan Smith and The Texas Tribune have certainly done that here, and I'm not just saying that because he's about to grill me. _[Smith conducted the Q&A after Barons speech. —Ed.]_ The overall journalism ecosystem is more varied than before. Today's journalistic organizations have more distinct personalities. They have disparate approaches to informing readers. There is far less uniformity. Our field is more colorful. We are in an era of journalistic entrepreneurship, and journalists will have to be entrepreneurial — building entirely new companies, working within new entrepreneurial ventures, or behaving as internal entrepreneurs to transform organizations that have stood for decades. That leads to No. 4: 4. NEW FORMS OF STORYTELLING HAVE EMERGED, AND THEY HAVE PROVED PARTICULARLY EFFECTIVE AT CONNECTING WITH READERS. They can vary from listicles to data visualization that helps readers process a mass of information as never before. In many instances, the storytelling combines a variety of techniques. New article formats have been developed that ease readers into supporting material, or supplemental material, when they wish to know more. Interactive graphics, videos, and other devices are presented contextually, integrated into stories in appropriate spots. The reader experience is enhanced. Readers are more engaged. And in the end, readers will be more satisfied. 5. THE PRESSURES ON OUR INDUSTRY HAVE FORCED US TO PAY KEEN ATTENTION TO OUR CUSTOMERS — READERS, VIEWERS, LISTENERS. We always talked about this. We didn't always practice it. We often imagined that what we ourselves wanted to do was what our customers wanted from us. At the very least, we said it was good for them. Maybe it was. But the fact is, customers were not always consuming what we were feeding them. In some instances, we just assumed they were. We assume that print readership equaled readership of our stories. But, if you ever sat in a coffee shop and watched people back then flip through a newspaper, you might have watched in dismay as they flipped right past your story. Now we can be sure that if our journalism doesn't connect with readers, viewers, and listeners, someone else will emerge to do it better. There is only one guarantee left in our business, and that is competition. Intense competition. 6. THE CURRENT CONDITIONS IN OUR INDUSTRY ARE OPENING UP A VAST ARRAY OF NEW OPPORTUNITIES. Every year, I am asked by summer interns about job prospects. And I say that, when you look at media defined broadly, we're seeing an explosion of opportunities.
Don't judge job prospects solely by what's happening at legacy institutions. New career possibilities have opened up, and young people coming into journalism need to see them and embrace them. By the way, many of those new opportunities do exist within legacy organizations. Their process of digital transformation requires talent with a different set of skills and a more contemporary sensibility about how to connect with readers, viewers, and listeners. These legacy institutions still need strong traditional reporting and writing skills. But while those skills are necessary, they are not sufficient. New recruits need technical skills — perhaps in coding, perhaps in video. More important, they also need an instinctive, or highly developed, sense of how the public is receiving and processing information today. This year in The Washington Post newsroom, we are hiring three dozen people, all with the goal of digital transformation. And we are doing exciting things. Lost in all the focus on change is that some of the most transformative developments in media are taking place at some of the industry's oldest institutions. 7. WE ARE NOW SEEING A WHOLE NEW GENERATION OF JOURNALISTS ENTER OUR FIELD. This is hugely encouraging. They come with the skills required, with the right sensibilities. They can think well, write well. They're bright, they're energetic, they're enthusiastic. They love what journalism can do. They understand its vital role in society. And they appreciate that there are new, highly effective ways to tell stories that need to be part of our daily toolbox. These young journalists are true digital natives. And it shows. Journalists of a previous generation can learn new digital skills. They can adapt. They can work hard and diligently at telling stories in new ways. And they can be really good at it. But digital is not their native language. It's like those who immigrate to this country as an adult. They can speak perfect, even elegant, English. And yet their accents are unlikely to disappear. These new journalists enter the field without an accent that hints of foreignness to the new medium. Their familiarity with the digital idiom is complete and natural. 8. PERHAPS MOST IMPORTANT: AMID ALL THE TURMOIL IN OUR FIELD, AMID THE PERSISTENT AND PERVASIVE ANXIETY AMONG JOURNALISTS, WE'RE DOING STRONG AND IMPORTANT WORK. We're continuing to fulfill the journalistic mission. I'll talk about papers other than my own and other than the biggest ones. Over the past year or so, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel disclosed a breakdown in the blood-screening system for newborns, causing delays of days or weeks in treating ailments that require immediate attention. The Sacramento Bee reported on a Las Vegas psychiatric hospital that over 5 years discharged 1,500 patients by putting them on Greyhound buses out of Nevada and bound for other states, where they had no housing, no plans for treatment, and, in some cases, knew no one. Some were violent offenders who went on to commit crimes, including one murder. The Boston Globe reported on an abusive system in which the owner of the city's largest taxi fleet subjected hundreds of drivers to a system of continuous exploitation. Amid all the anxiety in our field, we should not forget the enormous amount of pioneering and profoundly difficult journalism that is produced. Now, I want to make clear, to repeat, that I'm not a Pollyanna. I recently heard the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, describe himself as a "dissatisfied optimist." That describes me, too. I fully recognize that we face enormous challenges. To name just a few:
There are serious, unresolved questions about how investigative reporting will be funded, particularly at the local and state level. There are too few journalists providing the most basic coverage of state and local government, as well as their congressional delegations, not to mention serving as diligent watchdogs of politicians and policy-makers and the people in the private sector who exercise influence over them. Digging takes time and money and, often, expensive lawyers. Understanding of world affairs is weakened when American coverage comes from too few media outlets and too few reporters on the ground. There is no assurance that thoughtful, quality, in-depth journalism — which takes a lot of time — will not give way to gimmicks and click bait that lead only to a lot of social sharing. The business models are unsettled, and digital ad rates are declining, as our product inventory — page views — keeps growing. In short, we have not found the answer, or answers, and we don't know for sure if there are conclusive answers to be had anytime soon. But in our business, pessimism too often seems to prevail. Today's experimentation will involve failure. It requires us to try and then try again. People need to realize that. And those of us who are experimenting need not be embarrassed by it. All of you who are entering the profession, or hope to stay in it, need to be smart about this. Do not look at our field through the wrong end of the telescope. Look into the distance and see the genuine opportunities ahead of us. And that leads me to my final reason for being optimistic about journalism, No. 9: 9. THERE IS NO ACCEPTABLE ALTERNATIVE TO OPTIMISM. We cannot be successful if we are not optimistic, if we do not recognize opportunities and seize on them. If we are not optimistic, why work to succeed? What use would it be? And if you are not working to succeed, no matter the obstacles, you are not working as you should. So if we hope for a better future, we must be confident that it is within reach, even if it is not within easy reach. And we must keep trying. I believe there are, in fact, ample reasons to be optimistic. I've cited some of them for you here today. I'm encouraged. I'm excited. But I also choose to be optimistic because only as an optimist can I envision a route to success. Only through optimism can I have faith that our important journalistic mission will be sustained. That conviction is what carries me to work every day, and what drives me from one day to the next.
Photo of Baron speaking at ISOJ by Bryan Winter/Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas used under a Creative Commons license.
THIS WEEK'S ESSENTIAL READS: If you're short on time, the key pieces this week are Ken Doctor's analysis of Project Thunderdome's shutdown, Joshua Benton's review of the new NYT Now, and Alex Howard's interview with The New York Times' Aron Pilhofer about data journalism.THUNDERDOME AND THE LONG, HARD ROAD FOR LOCAL NEWS: The newspaper chain Digital First Media shut down its ambitious Project Thunderdome this week, a stinging reminder of the difficulties in large-scale digital media innovation within local newspapers. Thunderdome, which was launched three years ago as a digitally savvy centralized news production site for Digital First's 75 papers, was shut down as part of larger cuts at the company, with about 50 Thunderdome employees laid off. Digital First CEO John Paton said some of what Thunderdome did would be discontinued, and some would be distributed among Digital First's papers. Poynter's Jill Geisler gave a sense of the mood in the newsroom, and one of Thunderdome's journalists, Steve Buttry, said the project didn't fail because "you can’t fail unless you were given a chance to succeed." USA Today's Rem Rieder focused on the schadenfreude that others in the news industry were reportedly feeling over Thunderdome's demise, based on their perception of Paton as a digital-media showman with more brash style than actual solutions. But the Lab's Ken Doctor, in the most thorough analysis of the shutdown, argued that while Thunderdome's demise is a bitter pill for Paton, his overall transformation efforts at Digital First have been impressive: "Paton parlayed a small hand on a way-down-on-the-food-chain (Journal Register Co.) into a major U.S. digital news company." Likewise, Gigaom's Mathew Ingram saw the shutdown not as a failure, but simply as an indication of how tough it is to reinvent a newspaper company, and J-Source's Melanie Coulson praised Digital First for its digital experimentation and called for more. A few observers tried to pinpoint exactly what sunk Thunderdome. Rick Edmonds of Poynter highlighted the chain's outdated technology with which the project had to work, exemplified by its widely varying and clunky set of content management systems. Media analyst Alan Mutter focused on Digital First's owners, the hedge fund investors of Alden Capital Investors. "THE OBJECTIVES OF THE DIGITAL FIRST INVESTORS WERE THE ANTITHESIS OF THE PATIENCE — AND MULTIMILLION-DOLLAR COMMITMENT — REQUIRED IN THE SLOG TO IDENTIFY SUCCESSFUL INTERACTIVE PUBLISHING MODELS," Mutter wrote. Journalism professor Dan Kennedy made a similar point while looking at Digital First's New Haven Register, wondering if local journalism can really be reinvented by a company owned by a hedge fund. FACEBOOK CHOKES OFF BRANDS' REACH: The tech world has been talking for a couple of weeks about reports that Facebook is cutting the amount of reach brands can get with their posts, forcing them to pay if they want to reach more than just a small percentage of their fans. One company, the food delivery service Eat24, complained about the change in an post announcing it planned to delete its Facebook page. Facebook responded with a retort of its own saying that it's not showing its readers content that they've shown they don't care about, though Recode's Mike Isaac said Eat24 has a valid point, and The New York Times' Vindu Goel said its concerns are quietly being echoed by many other, larger companies. Gigaom's Mathew Ingram said the change reinforces the distinction between Twitter's flood of information and Facebook's carefully controlled stream, and the notion that Facebook isn't the kind of social network we've assumed it was: "IT IS NOT AN OPEN PLATFORM IN WHICH CONTENT SPREADS ACCORDING TO ITS OWN WHIMS: LIKE A NEWSPAPER, FACEBOOK CONTROLS WHAT YOU SEE AND WHEN." At Recode, marketing executive Michael Lazerow defended Facebook, arguing that companies are naive to expect free distribution from Facebook forever, and they need to respond by making their posts more relevant and spreadable. On the other side, Dijit Media president Jeremy Toeman argued that when Facebook users like a page, they expect to get that page's updates. He urged Facebook to disclose to users that they won't see every update when they like a page and to give them an option to subscribe to all of a page's updates. NYT NOW LAUNCHES: NYT Now, The New York Times' much anticipated (or at least much promoted) news digest and aggregation app, launched this week. The Lab's Ken Doctor analyzed the Times' business strategy behind the app, looking at who's going to subscribe at an $8-a-month rate. The Atlantic's Robinson Meyer expressed his excitement at the idea that NYT Now is trying to reward regular readers with a single, contained news package rather than a stream of news to dip in and out of. The Lab's Joshua Benton gave the app a mostly positive review, noting that its stories (and story selection) closely resemble the Times' main product, but its aggregation and voice are a new arena for the paper. "HERE’S HOPING THAT THE DNA OF NYT NOW CAN SPREAD BACK INTO THE CORE APPS AND THAT IT CAN PUSH HARDER AT BRINGING AN EXPERIMENTAL EDGE TO SHARING GREAT TIMES CONTENT WITH THE WORLD," he wrote. Poynter's Sam Kirkland also noted that NYT Now isn't emphasizing breaking news and suggested that readers will switch back and forth between NYT Now and the main app. READING ROUNDUP: A few other stories to catch up on during a relatively slow week: — The mobile analytics company Flurry published a set of data on use of apps vs. mobile browsers, concluding that the former have left the latter in the dust. Poynter's Sam Kirkland said the mobile web is still very much alive for news, while BuzzFeed's Charlie Warzel said the data help explain Facebook's recent purchase of WhatsApp. — Local billionaire Glen Taylor signed a letter of intent on a cash offer to buy the Minneapolis Star Tribune from the two investment firms that currently own most of the paper's shares. Fellow Minnesotan David Carr of The New York Times reflected on the Star Tribune that was and its prospects with Taylor in charge. — A few fantastic pieces on data journalism: The Tow Center for Digital Journalism conducted illuminating interviews with The New York Times' Aron Pilhofer and NPR's Jeremy Bowers. And at Source, Jeremy Merrill and Sisi Wei offered a very useful guide to getting a job in journalism and coding.
Photo illustration of the Burning Man thunderdome by Homies in Heaven>, photo illustration of a Facebook dislike by Owen W. Brown, and photo of the Minnesota Timberwolves playing by Doug Wallick all used under a Creative Commons license.
How can media companies re-invent the story? Specifically, how can the designers, coders, and other product-minded people help make storytelling a richer experience through technology? This is the question teams of journalist tried to answer at SND Prototypes, an event that was part of the Society for News Design's World's Best competition for digital design. Journalists from Vox Media, The Boston Globe, USA Today, BuzzFeed, and CNN Digital were among the participants who worked on projects designed to improve mobile reading, build forms for context in stories, and track social conversations around the news. Here's a sampling of the projects. There's also more background and discussion as well as working prototypes and code: Skim: A tool that could make longform stories easier to browse by using summary cards to split the story into chunks or a system of anchors that delivers readers to key parts of a story. Backstory: This team wanted to find a method for explaining how new stories relate to other narratives or older information. Here's how they approached it:
After our initial group discussions, we arrived at a design solution that enables users to consume video content at their own pace in a full screen gallery-like display without sacrificing the narrative. Text and graphic elements can be placed on an overlay atop the video so the user can get a quick-hit of content without necessarily having to watch each video segment.
If you've got an iPhone or an iPod touch, NYT Now is out now and a free download. The new app from The New York Times promises to offer a subset of the Times' content to a mobile-focused audience that gets its news on the go and wants a lower price point. It's the most interesting mobile app from a traditional news company in years.
Ken Doctor ran through the business implications of NYT Now for us last week, but now that I've gotten a chance to play around with it, I wanted to throw in my two cents on the ideas behind it — the design, the user experience, and the ways in which it strays from (and remains tied to) the Times' other digital properties. Nota bene: This is Day One, of course — anything here could change or look different in the light of further use. THE STORY SELECTION LOOKS VERY SIMILAR TO NYTIMES.COM. If you were hoping for a radically different presentation of individual Times stories in this mobile-optimized context, you're not getting it. And if you were hoping that NYT Now would rethink the idea of a digital front page — pulling together different bundles of Times content for a different target audience — that doesn't look to be in the cards, either. At this writing, the top eight Times stories in NYT Now are the same top eight stories on the desktop version of NYTimes.com. The headlines are identical or very nearly identical to the ones appearing on the web. (Headline in NYT Now: "Obama Claims Victory in Push for Health Insurance." Headline on the story page on NYTimes.com: "Obama Claims Victory in Push for Insurance.") NYT Now stories do seem to use different lead art in a healthy number of cases, often elevating a photo that appears lower in the story on desktop to top billing in the app. But it's pretty darned similar. (UPDATE: I should note that I don't cover here NYT Now's morning and evening briefings, which are rollup summaries of top headlines and intel. You can see an example here. I really like the idea — scratches the same itch as the thousand morning roundup emails started by news orgs in the past year or two — but for some reason, I couldn't get the briefings to show up in my app. Still haven't seen one in the wild. But they _are_ a significant differentiator from the web Times.) THERE'S A LAYER OF MOBILE OPTIMIZATION FOR TIMES STORIES. But it's a pretty thin layer. The main difference in how those stories are presented is in the bullet points broken out underneath each headline. They're more self-contained than the brief story summaries on NYTimes.com. For example, for this story ("Abbas Takes Defiant Step, and Mideast Talks Falter"), the NYTimes.com summary text is:
The newsonomics of NYT Now
An effort by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to join 15 international agencies threatened to derail the Mideast peace talks as a planned visit by Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday was canceled.In NYT Now:
* President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority signs papers to join 15 international agencies. * Secretary of State John Kerry responds by canceling a trip to the region.Or on this story ("To Protect Foreigners, Afghanistan Shuts Down Their Hangouts"):
After a wave of violence in the Afghan capital, several restaurants and guesthouses popular with foreigners were ordered closed until after elections on Saturday.In NYT Now:
* The government orders more than a dozen restaurants and guesthouses closed until after elections Saturday. * Foreigners have been victims of a wave of violence in the capital.Minor changes, oriented around chunking up the content. Sentences are shorter, more declarative, and bulleted from scannability. I like it, but it only goes so far. The taglines attached to stories seem to have a little more voice than you might expect from the Times. This Charles Keating obit, for instance, earns a "BANKING SCOUNDREL" tag, which is rather on-the-nose. And smaller stories sometimes get a different treatment in the stream, with a nice simple sentence rather than a formal newspaper headline. In general, as one might expect or fear from a mobile experience (depends on your perspective!), the story presentation in NYT Now is more stripped down than on the web. This story on a laptop has four photos, a five-minute embedded video, and a link to an interactive. In NYT Now, it just has one photo. Even the mobile web version of the story comes with all those bells and whistles. (Also, no comments on NYT Now— you can't read 'em and you can't write 'em.) But the biggest consistency is that stories appear in fundamentally unchanged form across all these platforms. This very fine Middle East story is the same 29 paragraphs and 1,437 words whether you're at your desk or scrolling through NYT Now. That's about 40 inches, if you still think in newsprint, and it's pretty long for a phone. I hope in the coming months we'll see experimentation in summarizing, bulleting, or just plain shortening Times stories in the app — offering the full article if desired, but also giving something that lies between a headline/summary and the full experience. I also expect the breaking news/updating experience will evolve with time. This story is listed in the app as an update of this one, which is good — but there's no way for me to know what exactly has been changed without rereading the whole thing and trying to suss out what seems new and what seems familiar. (This is admittedly an edge case, but granular in-story updates are the _raison d'être_ for Circa.) THE AGGREGATION/CURATION IS WELL DONE. The second tab of the app, one swipe or tap away, is Our Picks, where NYT Now editors pick the best of the web. They do it well! NYT Now is willing to link out even when there's a competing Times story on the same subject; for instance, it links to Greg Kot's Chicago Tribune obit for Frankie Knuckles rather than the Times' own. Among the sites linked at this writing: Wired, National Geographic, Yahoo Tech, The Atlantic, Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, Time, and Esquire. There's even one Our Picks link to an old New York Times story. (_Aggregator, curate thyself._) In all, it's a nice mix of newsy and feature-y, and the link text is freeform. It feels a bit like a news nerd's Tumblr, and it's an interesting contrast to the more straight-arrow collection of the Times' own content. I hope that NYT Now editors bring a little bit more of that Our Picks DNA one tab over to the Times stories and let their presentation (and content mix) loosen up a bit. THREE MISCELLANEOUS THOUGHTS NYT NOW MAKES STORIES SEEM SHORTER THAN THEY ACTUALLY ARE. I have no idea whether this is a bug or a deviously clever feature, but when you load a Times story, initially only a portion of the top of the story is fully loaded into the viewport. That makes the scrollbar nice and long, which makes it seem like there's only another screenful or so of story to read. It's only as you scroll further than the rest of the story is added to the viewport and that scrollbar shrinks down to the appropriate size. If it's intentional, it's a very subtle way of saying _Don't worry, this story isn't that long_. (UPDATE: As I suspected/feared, this appears to be the result of a bug in iOS 7, not a design choice. Still, it's kind of interesting to think of design cues to make longer pieces feel more inviting and manageable. I think there's a real sense in which ambitious, snowfallish designs for longform alert the reader the exact opposite: _Watch out, this will take a while_.) SAVED ARTICLES GET A LOT OF REAL ESTATE. One of the app's three tabs is reserved for Times articles saved by the user. (Only Times articles, not Our Picks.) I was surprised to see it get that much prominence; it's not a feature I've ever felt like using. Of course, the Times has far more data on user behavior than "Josh isn't that into it," so it would appear they're expecting a quick-skim experience to pair well with a save-for-later experience: a quick scroll on the morning commute, say, and saving longer pieces for the evening or weekend. That makes sense, even if for me that instinct was long ago given over to Instapaper and Twitter favs. (It's also important because NYT Now has no search function and stories disappear from it all the time.) IT'S NOT ALWAYS CLEAR WHAT'S BEEN UPDATED. I don't just mean within a story — also within the mix of stories. Our Picks is in reverse chronological order, freshest stuff at the top, so it's easy to see what's new. But the Times stories are positioned in an editorially derived order, laid out like a front page with only one dimension, up and down. That means sometimes new stories are added to the mix several screens down into the stream. You see a blue dot that indicates "New Stuff!," but once you go to find out what's new, you have to scroll and look around for a bit to find out the new story's down in the sixth position in the stream. It's awkward. CAN IT ATTRACT A NEW PAYING AUDIENCE? There's an awful lot to like about NYT Now. There are a number of elements that the core Times iPhone app would benefit from stealing: embracing the long scroll; giving more visual oomph to tempt readers to each story; experimenting (however meekly) in summarization for mobile; bringing in aggregation with a bit of voice. NYT Now makes the core app's completist ethos feel a bit like, say, the completism of a Phish fan who needs every bootleg of every show: admirable, in a way, but also a bit nutty. Just as the MP3 let us sell our CDs and Spotify let us stop managing our iTunes catalogs, mobile devices have traded "all the news" for "the right news at the right time." Much of the evolution of the Times' apps over the past few years has been toward content parity — to ensure that every bit of content the Times produces was accessible in the native apps. (It's easy to forget the iPad app once contained only an "Editor's Choice" selection of articles.) That evolution was important from an infrastructural point of view and in elevating online content culturally within the organization. But it also meant the core apps ended up feeling a little overstuffed. The Times produces hundreds of pieces of content in a typical day — articles, blog posts, slideshows, videos, interactives. Putting the right ones in front of the right users is going to be a key part of the way forward. The audience that has NYTimes.com bookmarked in its desktop web browser is quite different from the ones that it's trying to attract with NYT Now; it's disappointing that the content mix appears to be nearly identical. I've said before that I think the Times' recommendation engine should be a big part of that; it's disappointing that there's no sign of personalization in NYT Now. (Imagine a recommendations engine that could tell the NYT Now reader _specific desirable stories_ she's missing out on by not upgrading to the full digital subscription.) Even though I'm a full digital subscriber, I expect I'll be using the NYT Now app more than the core iPhone app. The presentation is better, the aggregation adds real value, and the surface-level content is almost identical. It's also an escape from Apple's Newsstand ghetto. (But I also expect I'll still read 20× more Times stories each week via Twitter.) As much as I like individual elements of NYT Now, I'm not anticipating big subscriber numbers. A digital subscription to the Times runs $15 every four weeks; NYT Now costs $8. I have to think the population of people for whom $15 is too pricey but $8 is just right is pretty small. Getting people to pay for digital content is hard, but the big challenge is getting someone from $0 to $0.01 — the act of commitment to payment. I don't expect NYT Now to be able to do that for hundreds of thousands of users. (Happy to be wrong! The Times has far better behavioral data than I do about what their users want or choose.) But even if NYT Now isn't the success the Times' original paywall was, it should prove a valuable lesson in building for a mobile audience — which is, increasingly, just _the audience_. Here's hoping that the DNA of NYT Now can spread back into the core apps and that it can push harder at bringing an experimental edge to sharing great Times content with the world.
Today, we'll hear official word of the demise of Project Thunderdome, one of the news industry's highest-profile experiments in centralized, digital-first, mobile-friendly, new-news-partner content creation. Digital First Media CEO John Paton first announced the creation of what became a 50-plus person, New York City-based operation three years ago. In the closing, and in other cuts at Digital First Media, we see the impact of unending high-single-digit loss in print advertising. The ongoing devastation in print is overwhelming even DFM's relatively faster pace of digital innovation. The move also signals the fatigue of majority DFM owner Alden Global Capital — and that it is readying its newspaper properties for sale. They're not yet on the market, but expect regional auctions of DFM properties (with clusters around the Los Angeles area, the Bay Area, New England, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico and Pennsylvania) — unless Alden can find a single buyer, which is unlikely. Closing Thunderdome is just part of a major north-of-$100-million cost cutting initiative that is putting the best glow on some tough financials. The reason for the sale: Despite CEO John Paton's aggressive remaking of the company, Alden's investments in cheap newspaper company shares ("The Demise of Lean Dean Singleton's Departure and the Rise of Private Equity") haven't worked out the way private equity bets are supposed to. The current incarnation of Digital First Media was formed on Dec. 31, with the formal merger of large newspaper companies MediaNews and Journal Register; DFM had been managing both since 2011. And while its name might not be as well known as a Tribune or a New York Times Co., Digital First is a big player. Ask how big, and it won't emphasize the number of dailies that it owns (75), but rather its digital position: "800 multi-platform products reach 67 million Americans each month across 18 states." Some of the biggest impacts from this change will be felt in southern California — already facing an uncertain ownership situation at the Los Angeles Times, questions about sustainability at the Orange County Register (soon to be joined by a Los Angeles Register), potential changes further down I-5 (more on that below), and now DFM's papers facing question marks. The idea of Thunderdome was to use DFM's scale to provide its many local properties with a deeper, richer product than they could produce on their own. Thunderdome produced national-ready topical sections on core topics that could also be localized, which some of the bigger DFM properties (San Jose Mercury News, The Denver Post) have done more of than smaller-staffed dailies. Thunderdome only had time to roll out about eight of its topical sections, less than halfway through its original plan. Those — national/world news, health, tech, travel, food, pets, baseball — are in place at DFM's 75 sites.
That big idea — using a centralized national news desk to create digital content for all properties within a chain — is shared by Gannett, Tribune, and others. Let local do local, the thought goes, and cut headcount costs by centralizing whatever can be centralized. Thunderdome's intent, though, was to do that with a twist. The team, led by Robyn Tomlin, looked beyond traditional wire sources. Thunderdome's optimistic mandate (the Thunderdome blog here):
The newsonomics of big and little, from NBC News and GlobalPost to Thunderdome
Thunderdome is Digital First Media's solution to providing content, support and coordination to its network of more than 100 local newsrooms, each with their own distinct communities and stories. Think of it as the wire service local newsrooms wish they had. Based on the strength of this network, Thunderdome is able to leverage the most-engaging news reports of the day — produced by DFM journalists and through a growing portfolio of media partners — for publication and distribution on all platforms."Those media partners have included numerous authoritative, but non-traditional news sources:
BUSINESS: The Street, Mashable HEALTH: Kaiser Health News, U.S. News (rankings and ratings of local doctors, hospitals), WebMD WORLD: GlobalPost, Worldcrunch NATION AND POLITICS: Stateline (Pew), Center for Public Integrity, Center for Investigative Reporting, ProPublica TECHNOLOGY: Mashable, Find the Best HOME AND GARDEN: BobVila.com EDUCATION: U.S. News (school rankings) AUTOS: Find the Best, U.S. News (auto reviews) ENTERTAINMENT: HitFixIn its short life, Thunderdome showed promise, with multimedia and data-rich specials, including Firearms in the Family, Decoding the Kennedy Assassination and an interactive March Madness Bracket Advisor. A four-minute best-of video now will serve as an historic marker of Thunderdome, an experiment short-circuited, another case of digital journalism interruptus.
Jim Brady ("What’s Project Thunderdome, you ask? Inside Jim Brady’s new job at Journal Register Company") has been a prime architect of Project Thunderdome, most recently as editor-in-chief of DFM.
What's Project Thunderdome, you ask? Inside Jim Brady's new job at Journal Register Company
Brady's own career trajectory tells us a lot about the travails of digital innovation in the newspaper industry. A sports guy who, as an early editor of washingtonpost.com, helped make the Post a clear leader in web news, Brady decamped after a major management shuffle at the Post. He moved over to TBD, the Allbritton D.C. local news startup that aimed to create a new model of TV-partnered, blog-driven, visually strong local news. Its rise seemed meteoric, and so did its fall, as advertising didn't meet expectations and disagreements between Brady and CEO Robert Allbritton torpedoed the project ("The newsonomics of TBD"). Now, Brady's bid to once again reshape digital news is on hold. Thunderdome wasn't universally received well within the company. Talk to the locals and you heard grumbles. Traffic to the new Thunderdome sections didn't impress them. They didn't like national imposition on local news judgment. That grumbling, however right or wrong, isn't surprising: For 20 years, national news chains have bobbed and weaved through different ideas about national news centralization — first in print and then in digital. Only more recently, as the financial vise has tightened further, has accepting such centralization been seen as an inevitabilty. (Consider Gannett's recent efforts to print sections of USA Today in some of its local dailies.) If it's inevitable, the big question is execution: How good a product are you giving the readers, and is it better than what individual papers can do? With Thunderdome folding, the creation and production of national content will presumably fall back to the papers — though don't expect new resources to be added back, even though some were cut in the move to Thunderdome.
The Newsonomics of TBD
What will happen to all the new sections and the content partnerships that have powered them? It's unclear. Thunderdome's staff, in New York and elsewhere, numbered in the low 50s, and almost all their positions will be eliminated in coming weeks and months. Thunderdome's attracted some impressive talent over the years (including, for a time, former Nieman Lab staffer Adrienne LaFrance), including data people as well as video, visuals, and page creation staffers. (Both Jim Brady and Robyn Tomlin announced their own departures when the announcement became official.) Whatever the merits of the new Thunderdome sections — my own sense is that they show a good diversity of content and could have evolved well in their presentation — it's clear that Thunderdome's elimination is driven by cost-cutting. One DFM project, Project Catalyst, has swallowed another, Thunderdome. Catalyst is aimed at taking more than $100 million out of the company's costs, a number a little greater than Tribune's much publicized $100 million cut ordered by CEO Peter Liguori last fall. Recent DFM cuts in Philadelphia and the Bay Area, eliminating dozens of jobs across all divisions, are part of that process. Catalyst is led by Steve Rossi, a former Knight Ridder COO, who recently moved into that same position for DFM. Thunderdome's demise, in least in the short term, helps DFM achieve its Catalyst goals, saving about $5 million a year. The end of Thunderdome has got to be a bitter pill to swallow for CEO John Paton, who declined to comment to me on its termination. Thunderdome has been a keystone of his argument for faster change in the news industry. The end of Thunderdome is likely to bring a smile or smirk to some of Paton's detractors in the industry. Some think he's too much of a showman, and some question his numbers. Paton loves to tweak his fellow newspaper execs, and we can expect a fair amount of publisher schadenfreude at the latest development. As recently as January, at the Online Publishers Association meeting in Miami, he told his audience this about other newspaper CEOs:
Why does Project Thunderdome have to be in New York City?
Good morning. It's a very strange thing for me to be preaching to the converted as I am doing here today. I am used to rooms full of print journalists and newspaper executives searching for any flaw in my pro-digital speech. Many of them usually hoping that the Internet isn't going to get to their town and they won't have to change what they do. But perhaps — as the digital leaders of your own companies — you will recognize some of the same issues we face. You will certainly recognize them if you are from an old-line legacy business — newspapers, radio, or television — and your corporate leadership believes they have a digital strategy because they stuck the suffix ".com" behind the brand name. Or created a digital division, put you in charge, and then gave you the equivalent of peanuts to run it.Undoubtedly, though, Paton's been right on the need for faster transformation. His early presentations showing newspapers' disproportionate press-and-trucks cost structure were clear-eyed. His investments in marketing service leader AdTaxi, in video, in blogging, and now in mobile stand out. The many efforts of the company, detailed in the Lab's Encyclo entry, to break out of the newspaper mold are impressive. He says his company's operating profit is up 40.8 percent from 2009 to 2012. Paton parlayed a small hand on a way-down-on-the-food-chain (Journal Register Co.) into a major U.S. digital news company. Readers have seen the major changes wrought at the JRC papers, which Paton had run the longest (since the beginning of 2010), though fewer at the bigger metro-oriented MediaNews papers he later took over. Changing the MediaNews metros has been a tougher nut to crack. Where DFM goes from here is increasingly unclear. How much can now be invested in digital growth, and how much more cost cutting will its owners require? How soon will papers be put on the market, and how quickly will new owners appear?
The newsonomics of the death and life of California news
The newsonomics of the print orphanage — Tribune's and Time Inc.'s
One unsettled geography looking for answers to those questions is southern California. In the region stretching from Ventura County, north of L.A., down south to San Diego, live 22 million people. Every one of the metro dailies in the region has seen new ownership in the last seven years; at least four bankruptcies have ruptured a once-vital newspapering region ("The newsonomics of the death and life of California news"). Today, the Los Angeles Times is set to become part of the newly spun-off Tribune Publishing, just as the Aaron Kushner's Orange County Register moves 50 staffers into the county, publishing a seven-day L.A. Register April 16, after buying and beginning to regionalize the Riverside Press-Enterprise last fall. And don't forget the Koch Brothers-buying-the-L.A. Times intrigue of last summer. And if Alden puts DFM's Los Angeles News Group on the market soon, it may not be the only property for sale. In San Diego, word on the business street, now rebounding among a number of daily publishers around the country, is that the ownership of the San Diego Union-Tribune, now renamed U-T San Diego, wants out. That's right: Rumor has it that flamboyant owner Papa Doug Manchester (good David Carr rundown on the "pro-business" Manchester era) wants to sell. His sometimes-CEO John Lynch has been assigned the task of finding a buyer, that rumor says. Lynch has previously talked publicly about wanting to _buy_ more papers. 2014 is sure to bring more churn to the newspaper industry — and it's looking like southern California could end up being the epicenter of all that change.
The newsonomics of the Kochs: The impact on the L.A. news landscape
Photo illustration of a different thunderdome — at Burning Man 2010 — by Mayhem Chaos used under a Creative Commons license.
EDITOR'S NOTE: There’s a lot of interesting academic research going on in digital media — but who has time to sift through all those journals and papers? Our friends at Journalist's Resource, that's who. JR is a project of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and they spend their time examining the new academic literature in media, social science, and other fields, summarizing the high points and giving you a point of entry. Here, John Wihbey sums up the top papers in digital media and journalism this month.
Recent weeks have brought a deluge of new findings about the digital media space, crowned by the Pew Research Journalism Project's 2014 State of the News Media report. (Here's the Nieman Lab summary.)
New technology, new money, new newsrooms, old questions: The State of the News Media in 2014
The American Press Institute also issued an important new report, "The Personal News Cycle," which finds that demographics matter less in terms of news-seeking and "that some long-held beliefs about people relying on just a few primary sources for news are now obsolete." (See the Lab's writeup.) Columbia Journalism School's Tow Center for Digital Journalism also released a new report by Nicholas Diakopoulos, "Algorithmic Accountability Reporting: On the Investigation of Black Boxes," as well as findings from Anna Hiatt's "Future of Digital Longform Project." But the insights don't end there. From gatekeeping debates to filter bubbles to viral content, answers are flowing in from many corners of the research world, as you'll see below. "Shares, Pins, and Tweets: News Readership From Daily Papers to Social Media": From Duke University, published in Journalism Studies. By Marco Toledo Bastos. Drawing two weeks of data from The New York Times' and The Guardian's APIs, as well as the APIs of various social media platforms, Bastos set out to answer an important question: How much overlap is there between what editors choose to focus on and what social media users grab on to? This revitalizes an old debate over editorial judgment, gatekeeping, and norms of "newsworthiness." The author looks about 16,000 articles on the news sites from late 2012; he also analyzes article links circulated on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Delicious, and StumbleUpon. Some raw data findings relating to links posted on social media prove interesting: Times articles earned an average of 39 retweets on Twitter and 445 shares on Facebook, while Guardian articles saw an average of 50 retweets and 190 Facebook shares. Bastos concludes: "THE RESULTS SHOW THAT SOCIAL MEDIA USERS EXPRESS A PREFERENCE FOR A SUBSET OF CONTENT AND INFORMATION THAT IS AT ODDS WITH THE DECISIONS OF NEWSPAPER EDITORS REGARDING WHICH TOPIC TO EMPHASIZE." Social media users tend to favor hard news over soft news, especially on Twitter. Only a quarter of the Times sports articles studied, for example, ever showed up on Twitter or Facebook. Likewise, news editors' preferences for more articles about the economy do not track with social media user's apparent preferences. Further, Bastos says, "although most news sections are uniformly and symmetrically distributed across newspapers and social networking sites, we found remarkable differences on the number of news items about arts, science, technology, and opinion pieces, which are on average more frequent on social networking sites than on newspapers." The variation may be partly explained by the more urban, educated and youthful characteristics of social media users, the study notes. "Ideological Segregation and the Effects of Social Media on News Consumption": From Carnegie Mellon University and Microsoft Research. By Seth Flaxman, Sharad Goel, and Justin M. Rao. A noteworthy contribution to the "filter bubble" debate, the research — one of the "largest studies of online news consumption to date" — suggests that OVERALL IDEOLOGICAL SEGREGATION BECAUSE OF ONLINE MEDIA CHANNELS AND PERSONALIZATION IS RATHER LIMITED. Flaxman, Goel, and Rao analyze a dataset of the nearly complete (and anonymized) web browsing habits of 1.2 million Internet users over a three month period, some 2.3 billion pageviews. The researchers use machine learning tools to assess ideology of the persons studied, looking at county-level voting patterns and demographics. For descriptive news articles accessed through social media, the level of ideological segregation is "marginally higher" than for those read by visiting a news site directly. The pattern is "more pronounced" for opinion pieces, and there is a higher degree of segregation in web search, roughly the "ideological distance between the centrist Yahoo! News and the left leaning Huffington Post (or equivalently, CNN and the right-leaning National Review)." Flaxman, Goel, and Rao conclude that a "relatively small amount of online news consumption is driven by the polarizing social and search channels, and opinion pieces which are typically the focus of laboratory studies constitute just 6% of articles relating to world or national news…[W]e find that individuals typically consume descriptive reporting, and do so by directly visiting a handful of their preferred news outlets." Thus, while it is true social channels and search lead to segregation and filter bubbles, people are not primarily getting their news through those channels, and the "overall impact of these factors appears to be limited at this time." _Related:_ For a more precise, quantitative sense of how much Google actually filters results, see "Personalization of Web Search," a 2013 paper by a team at Northeastern University. That study finds that on average "11.7% of search results show differences due to personalization." "Can Cascades be Predicted?": From Facebook, Stanford University, and Cornell University. By Justin Cheng, Lada A. Adamic, P. Alex Dow, Jon Kleinberg, and Jure Leskovec. A group of in-house data scientists at Facebook and select academic partners are increasingly sharing publicly some insights from the holy grail of network data. Hence this paper, which looks at how information cascades unfold and whether they can be predicted. It analyzes about 151,000 photos uploaded to Facebook and shared 9.2 million times over in June 2013. The network scientists try to figure out if it is possible to predict a viral cascade (multiple generations of peer-to-peer sharing, originating from a single "seed" or node). They work backwards, doing detective work to try to pick out viral signatures. Tentative findings include: Viral cascades typically start fast; early reproduction speed, the initial velocity across the network, seems to be a key marker. Further, as the photo spreads, it begins to matter less (the variable diminishes in importance) who spread it originally, and the actual kind of content matters less — though captions do seem to matter. Having a broader first generation of resharers also counts, too. Because the researchers could see the same photos being uploaded by different persons, they also noted that the first times the photo was uploaded, it was more likely to go viral compared to the later instances of uploading. _Related:_ Another hugely important paper in this area is "The Structural Virality of Online Diffusion," by Sharad Goel, Jake Hofman, and Duncan Watts of Microsoft Research and Ashton Anderson of Stanford. They analyze a billion links (news, images, videos, petitions) shared on Twitter. One of out every 3,000 links produced a "large event," or a sharing phenomenon that reached 100 additional persons beyond the seed node; but truly viral events (many multiple generations of sharing, several thousand adoptions at least) occured only about once in a million instances. The researchers finally define what it is to be a viral event: There is an average of at least 10 nodes between any points on the entire network graph, suggesting the content has genuinely travelled far by virtue of grassroots peer-to-peer sharing, not just a big broadcast. "Social, Search and Direct: Pathways to Digital News": From the Pew Research Journalism Project. By Amy Mitchell, Mark Jurkowitz, and Kenneth Olmstead. A hugely insightful new report, the data that Mitchell, Jurkowitz, and Olmstead analyze suggest that those accessing media through social media channels do not spend much time with news content, and news is consumed mostly "incidentally" on social platforms. Some of their salient conclusions are: "among users coming to these news sites through a desktop or laptop computer, direct visitors spend, on average, 4 minutes and 36 seconds per visit. THAT IS ROUGHLY THREE TIMES AS LONG AS THOSE WHO WIND UP ON A NEWS MEDIA WEBSITE THROUGH A SEARCH ENGINE (1 MINUTE 42 SECONDS) OR FROM FACEBOOK (1 MINUTE 41 SECONDS). Direct visitors also view roughly five times as many pages per month (24.8 on average) as those coming via Facebook referrals (4.2 pages) or through search engines (4.9 pages). And they visit a site three times as often (10.9) as Facebook and search visitors." Pew breaks out some of the other top insights here.
The unfaithful audience: How topics, devices, and urgency affect the way we get our news
_Related:_ This all feeds into a larger recent conversation also joined by Chartbeat's Tony Haile and others at Upworthy about the relative importance of social sharing and the need to measure quality engagement in new ways, perhaps through "attention minutes." Meanwhile, a new report covering January 2014 by analytics platform Parse.ly suggests that Facebook is becoming an increasingly big part of driving traffic to news sites (26 percent in that period), while Google's share of referrals to news sites is dropping (38 percent). "Sourcing the Arab Spring: A Case Study of Andy Carvin's Sources on Twitter During the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions": From University of British Columbia and University of Minnesota, published in Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. By Alfred Hermida, Seth C. Lewis, and Rodrigo Zamith. The study looks at the mix of sources Andy Carvin used during his social media-focused reporting for NPR. Hermida, Lewis and Zamith examine the mix of "elite" sources and "alternative voices" in a dataset of 60,000 tweets during 2010-11; they plug this data into a wider debate over how the new network ecosystem is changing the mix of media voices and sources. The researchers conclude that "nonaffiliated activists accounted for the greatest single share of tweet mentions, overall (35.3%) and for Egypt (37.5%)." However, "IN THE OVERALL POPULATION OF INDIVIDUAL SOURCES, MAINSTREAM MEDIA EMPLOYEES ACCOUNTED FOR THE LARGEST GROUP BY FAR (26.7%)." This general mix of evidence, the study concludes, suggests of a "new paradigm of sourcing at play." OTHER NOTEWORTHY PAPERS IN BRIEF "Networked Press Freedom and Social Media: Tracing Historical and Contemporary Forces in Press-Public Relations": From the Annenberg School, USC, published in Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. By Mike Ananny. Ananny argues that the contemporary social media policies of some news organizations still fit into an age-old "defensive" and "conservative" pattern of distancing media members and institutions from their audiences and mitigating risks. The audience is seen in utilitarian terms — as a way of generating traffic or merely producing more efficient sourcing. Thus, old gatekeeping customs emerge in new clothes. "Twitter in Politics: A Comprehensive Literature Review": From the University of Bamburg (Germany). By Andreas Jungherr. This giant literature review — 115 studies, from around the globe, across many election cycles — finds that research typically falls into one of three categories: "the use of Twitter by politicians and campaigners, the use of Twitter by publics in election and issue campaigns and the use of Twitter by various users to comment on mediated campaign events — such as televised debates, party conventions or election day coverage." Jungherr concludes that despite the somewhat haphazard and emerging nature of the field, there are some "stable findings" being arrived at. For example, "CANDIDATES BELONGING TO OPPOSITION PARTIES TAKE MORE FREQUENTLY TO TWITTER THAN CANDIDATES FROM PARTIES IN GOVERNMENT." "Seeking and Sharing Health Information Online: Comparing Search Engines and Social Media": From Microsoft Research. By Munmun De Choudhury, Meredith Ringel Morris, and Ryen W. White. This study examines what kinds/amounts of health information people publicly disclose on Twitter (and compares and contrasts with search engine use for health-related inquiries). It turns out people share a lot of health information publicly on Twitter, although "high-stigma" conditions are not as frequently shared. Based on this evidence, the researchers hypothesize some needed digital innovations: "New kinds of health information search systems may be built that support standing queries over search and/or social media to keep users apprised of new developments related to different common health concerns , since seeking new research about conditions and diversity of health content were the goals of many respondents." Also see a related Microsoft Research/Carnegie Mellon/University of Washington/MIT paper "Is There Anyone Out There? Unpacking Q-and-A Hashtags on Twitter." "Network Issue Agendas on Twitter During the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election": From the University of Alabama, University of Texas at Austin, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, published in the Journal of Communication. By Chris J. Vargo, Lei Guo, Maxwell McCombs, and Donald L. Shaw. This "Big Data" study (38 million tweets analyzed) looks at how Republicans and Democrats operated differently on Twitter and how they responded to different forms of media — both "vertical," or traditional media, and "horizontal," or niche forms of media that target like-minded communities. The researchers conclude that "ALTHOUGH VERTICAL MEDIA COULD BEST PREDICT OBAMA SUPPORTERS' BEHAVIORS ON TWITTER, THE REPUBLICAN HORIZONTAL MEDIA OFFERED THE GREATEST PREDICTOR POWER IN EXPLAINING ROMNEY SUPPORTERS' NETWORK AGENDA." "Political performance, boundary spaces, and active spectatorship: Media production at the 2012 Democratic National Convention": From the University of North Carolina, published in Journalism. By Daniel Kreiss, Laura Meadows, and John Remensperger. An ethnographic look at the 2012 DNC and media produced there, this paper provides some interesting insights into how conventions — now so ritualized and scripted that journalists find them impossible to cover — can actually empower attendees as "active spectators." Social media at a convention now allow non-elite participants opportunities for "public critique and accountability over both political and journalistic actors." "Siren songs or path to salvation? Interpreting the visions of Web technology at a UK regional newspaper in crisis, 2006–2011″: From Bournemouth University (U.K.), published in Convergence. By Phil MacGregor. This five-year case study on Britain's Northern Echo newspaper shows how technological adoption in a media organization is not "unidirectional": rather, it is "neither smooth nor uniform and is marked by uncertainty as to which of several actions is rational. Doubt is spread throughout the hierarchy." The observations will be familiar to many in news organizations, but for scholars it's another good data point showing a complex transition to the web.
You won't believe Upworthy's new way of measuring audience engagement until you read it
Photo by Anna Creech used under a Creative Commons license.