- Spark Camp offers a recipe for battling future-of-news conference fatigue
- In suburban D.C., a network of hyperlocal news sites expands and bets on local advertising
- Yes, the Vikings should have gone for it on 4th down, and a New York Times robot knows why
- Google News pushes into mobile with new redesign
- This Week in Review: Questions on journalists’ handling of NSA files, and the value of viral content
- The newsonomics of Scripps’ TV paywall and the Last Man Standing Theory of local media
- Where in the world is BuzzFeed? Building foreign news around themes rather than geography
- Freedom of the Press Foundation wants to help build secure communication tools for journalists
- The Information wants to be $39 a month
- The Guardian experiments with a robot-generated newspaper with The Long Good Read
- Jeff Israely: Redesigns are an ongoing process, not a single launch moment
- The New Haven Independent seeks to expand its hyperlocal mission to low-power radio
- This new blended reality: Rafat Ali says companies that see data as content are the future of media
- A crowdfunded Dutch site goes from concept to reality
- What’s New in Digital Scholarship: Gendered sourcing on Twitter and the allure of following the crowd
- Students: Spend the summer working with Nieman Lab via the Google Journalism Fellowship
- The newsonomics of the November shuffle, from Forbes to Freedom and Couric to Stelter
- The perils of (allegedly) being mean to advertisers
- OJR.org: Google’s punishment and the perils of blackhat SEO
- At The Miami Herald, maybe newsroom place still matters
- The New York Times moves away from its dual-reporting structure for video
- Q&A: The Guardian’s Gabriel Dance on new tools for story and cultivating interactive journalism
- This Week in Review: ‘Native ads’ in Politico’s Playbook, and Greenwald’s news org takes shape
- The big trend in indie hyperlocal: Strong women
- “The Only Metric That Matters”: Total Time Reading
- OJR’s not alone: An old Poynter website has become a spamblog too
- Third time’s the charm: Will the new Potluck app be the best commenting section in news?
- The newsonomics of The New York Times’ Paywalls 2.0
- Diffing The New York Times on thermal paper
- “Five Ways the Advertising Industry Is About to Transform”
Spark Camp is a future-of-news conference, _I guess_, if you want to be loose with that definition. But it's a different animal than ONA or SXSW or NICAR or ISOJ or any of the other big names in the space. It's a small, curated, topic-focused gathering that tries to build community as it builds content (I'm sure they'd hate that word in this context, but it fits). I've been to a couple, and we've hosted two here at the Nieman Foundation; we even published some of their work last fall. They're compelling events. Now, Spark Camp has published a new guide on how to run a good event called "Mastering the Art of Sparking Connections: How to Build an Event That Matters More." (PDF available too.) Lots of good ideas in there. There's also some info on how Spark Camp will be evolving:
We envision Spark Camp evolving into a next-generation collective — a pop-up think tank that fosters creative thinking and sparks real-world action. Starting in 2014, we’ll begin iterating new formats, such as one-day Spark Summits. We’ll also be collaborating with companies, foundations and nonprofits to host discussions on specialized topics, such as reinventing education, reimagining how cities work and the future of work. We’ll also look to extend the impact of Spark Camp itself, hosting more Camps and adding alumni gatherings and ongoing alumni services. As we expand, our mission will remain the same: cultivating multidisciplinary professional experiences that produce both deep personal enrichment and powerful outcomes.
When the Curbed network of websites — local outlets focused on dining, real estate, and fashion — was bought by Vox Media last month for around $20 or $30 million, Digiday's Josh Sternberg asked founder Lockhart Steele how a media company so laser-focused on local could grow to be a company of that value when, as we all know (or think we know), local doesn't pay. Said Steele: "Although we build audience locally, we monetize almost exclusively through national advertising. Eater publishes in 29 markets. But fundamentally, advertisers buy Eater, not Eater Detroit or Eater Miami. Whether we show that impression or takeover to readers in Los Angeles or in New York, most of our advertisers are agnostic about that." Building a scalable media business that generates revenue through local advertising has proven a challenge — just ask Patch. But there are still believers, like Scott Brodbeck. Brodbeck is a local news publisher in suburban Virginia. At a recent conference on hyperlocal marketing, Brodbeck discussed how he had turned hyperlocal news site ARLnow into a profitable business, allowing him to launch Reston Now, his third local news site, in October. There are, of course, quite a few independent local online publishers who've been able to build sustainable for-profit businesses covering a community — The Batavian, Berkeleyside, West Seattle Blog, and more. The membership list of LION (Local Independent Online News Publishers) includes more. But for the most part, those success stories have remained focused on a single community. Brodbeck wants to expand across the region. "If everybody's focused on the billion-dollar opportunity in local, they're going to be missing out on a lot of other opportunities, because this isn't a billion-dollar space. This is a $1 million space," he says. "If you can make a million dollars a year doing something in local, that's not bad." That's why Brodbeck is betting on a scalable local-local strategy — local audiences and local advertisers. "Everybody wants to be the next Foursquare or Instagram," he says. "Nobody wants to be the guy going to community council meetings and selling ads to Joe Smith."
Brodbeck, in the beginning, didn't want to be the guy going to city council meetings, either. He got his start in journalism working for local TV stations in the D.C. area, and says chasing fires was more his thing — but he quit when he felt the stations weren't pursuing digital enough. He started Arlington Now in his apartment, focusing on providing news that would be useful to his upper-middle-class suburban neighbors. The next step was finding local advertisers. "'If you build it, they will come' is definitely something that does not work," says Brodbeck. "You really need to be putting content out there that's quality, that people want to read." The site now turns a profit, enough to lead him to expand his project, first to Bethesda and then to Reston, where he's hired as editor Karen Goff — somewhat ironically, a former Patch employee. "Local publishing is unsexy," says Brodbeck. "There won't be another Patch. I think that lesson has been learned and people have realized that it's not something you can do on the national scale right off the bat."
Brodbeck on a panel at the Street Fight Summit in October. (He starts speaking at 5:00.)
Indeed, one of the central tenets of this success has been to focus on — and to expect — slow, incremental growth. "We are a very local site. Everything you need to know about our audience you can learn by reading the demographics of Arlington, Virginia," says Brodbeck of his flagship site. "You don't have to use an IP address to figure out where someone is. The fact of the matter is, by and large the only people are people who live in, are from, or work in Arlington, because that's the only thing we write about." When someone writes a comprehensive history of local online news, northern Virginia will play a significant role. As is also true in suburban New Jersey, another early hyperlocal hotbed, the demographics of the D.C. suburbs has made them alluring to those trying to build businesses. Old-timers will remember The Washington Post's LoudounExtra, which the paper launched in 2007 but ultimately deemed unsustainable after a mere two years. And the late TBD.com was also trying to cover local-level news at a metro-level scale. Brodbeck saw a digital news gap in Arlington and in other well-off suburban areas and said he was trying to avoid the lessons of something like Loudoun Extra: "the costs were too high and the area it covered was not so much a community as a collection of communities, thus reducing the potential for engagement." He's also chasing that tantalizing white whale of monetization — sponsored content. For Arlington Now, Brodbeck found revenue opportunities in convincing a local liquor store owner to write a sponsored column about beer, and a local accountant to write branded tips around tax season. A friend of his, Brodbeck learned at a dinner party, even bought a house through a real estate agent who wrote sponsored content for the site. (Arlington Now's "Pet of the Week" is sponsored by a local "gourmet dog bakery and boutique.") But finding the right partners and working with them on their brand is half the battle. "There might be places where a local car dealer might have an interesting column, might be a colorful guy and write about cars and be interesting. But we have larger car dealers in Arlington who go through agencies who don't want to do that. That's why attempts to nationalize hyperlocal doesn't really work." Sponsored isn't the majority of Brodbeck's ad revenue, but the payoff — beyond finding houses for his friends — has been clear. Reston Now is already featuring this type of advertising as well, a frequent sponsored real estate column.
"There's absolutely a time cost and that's something that scares a lot of people who are interested in scale away from local," he says. "It's a matter of finding a good fit with a good business, and also finding someone who is motivated to write something like that — has the time and ability to write publishable content. It's not a magic wand where you wave it and then everybody's doing sponsored content. You really have to approach it on a case-by-case basis to make it work." And of course, producing decent journalism doesn't hurt. Gawker has picked up Brodbeck's stories before, and he broke the story of a possible Marine Corps Marathon cancellation due to the government shutdown. "The Journatics of the world slurp content off the web and aggregate it," he says. "It's not compelling. It's not something that's going to get people to check back multiple times per day." For Brodbeck, being a local publisher is about pragmatism. If you provide useful content, people will want to read it, and if people are reading it, you'll be able, with a little patience, to find advertisers who want to reach those people. Considering that Reston Now already has almost 5,000 Facebook followers, it seems like he's on to something. I asked Brodbeck who he thought had the right idea in the local space, and he mentioned a few local news sites in the Nashville area. "You go on Brentwood Home Page — it might not look like the flashiest website in the world, but they're selling the shit out of it and their advertisers seem happy. That's really what it's all about. It's all an academic exercise unless you get support in the long run," he says. "This world is a better place when you have more locally focused news outlets that give neighbors a chance to know what's going on in their community and talk about it. My goal is to keep doing that, and I think there are going to be other entrepreneurs looking to do that. It'll come — it'll just be slow."
Second-guessing a play call is one of the great joys of being a football fan. Because you _know_ — sitting there on the couch, never having played a single minute of professional football — _you just know_ that you could run an offense made to score points. And yet, lacking the wisdom your keen football mind would provide, your team is facing the reality of an overtime tie with the Packers. Fortunately for you, @SuperFan99, The New York Times, of all people, has your back. Meet the 4th Down Bot. The 4th Down Bot performs realtime analysis of NFL teams' fourth-down plays and determines if the right call was made. "Right," in this case, is subjective. Judging by the ball's location, the distance required for a first down, and the time remaining, the bot examines historical data to figure out whether punting, kicking a field goal, or going for the first down makes the most sense. Here's a scenario from the Saints/Seahawks game in Week 13: With 2:14 remaining in the first half, the Saints had 4th and 2 on their own 30-yard line. Coach Sean Payton chose to trust the rocket leg of punter Thomas Morstead and kick it away. The Bot disagreed and said he should've gone for it. Why? Teams that go for it in that situation win about one percent more often than those who punt. Teams that go for it on fourth down in that position get the first 60 percent of the time, according to the Bot's data, and possessions are valuable! It should be pointed out that the Saints lost. The Bot does not gloat, but when it disagrees with a call, like the rest of us, it takes to Twitter:
The #Saints had a 4th and 2 on their own 30. They punted. I would have gone for it. http://t.co/2M4q5gSkek -- NYT 4th Down Bot (@NYT4thDownBot) December 3, 2013The bot is a collaboration between the Times and Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats, who originally built the code behind the bot for a 4th Down Calculator tool on his site. How exactly does it work? Here's an explanation from Burke and Kevin Quealy, a graphics editor at the Times:
NYT 4th Down Bot uses thousands of N.F.L. plays since 2000 to calculate the average number of points each situation is worth, a measure called expected points. (Expected points and its application to fourth downs is not new. It was created in 1971 by former N.F.L. quarterback Virgil Carter and Robert E. Machol and has been improved and refined in various ways since, notably with the book “The Hidden Game of Football” and David H. Romer's signature 2002 paper. NYT 4th Down Bot's model is similar to Mr. Romer’s, but has more seasons of data behind it.) With about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, NYT 4th Down Bot switches from maximizing points to maximizing win percentage. Win percentage measures how often teams who punted, attempted a field goal or went for a first down won the game.But the formula is only part of what makes the bot work. In order for the analysis to work in real time, the Times is pulling in live play-by-play data from SportsDirect. Plugging that into an API of Burke's historical fourth-down data, the Bot assesses whether the smart money is on punting, kicking a field goal, or going for it. The system is not without its problems. Sometimes the time and yardage scenario is too perplexing for the bot. (As with relationships on Facebook, sometimes the best you can say is: "It's complicated.") The bot will run through the rest of the NFL season, starting weekly with Thursday games (it dinged the Texans for cowardice last night) running through Monday Night Football. At the moment, the system is semi-automated, with a healthy dose of human oversight. Quealy told me they try to verify the down and distance data for plays in order to avoid errors. They don't want the bot to suggest going for it on 4th and 7 when your team actually gained 20 yards and a first down on the previous play. (That's easier when there's only one game on at a time, as there has been since the bot's debut. Sunday will change that.) When the system is fully automated, it will run analysis and tweet by itself. As for the look of the bot, which progressed from ASCII to 3D, that's the work of Shan Carter and Jennifer Daniel.
Burke's statistical model supports an idea known in the academic literature for more than a decade: Coaches keep it conservative. They're far more likely to punt than the model says they should. Burke, who has contributed writing and analysis to the Times' sports section for several years, said the data backs up many fans' instinct that coaches are too often wedded to old conventions. Despite the fact that today's players are bigger and quicker, and today's playbook is more expansive, coaches keep it simple. "What I think coaches are doing is overthinking the harm that _not_ converting will bring to their team and undervaluing what a successful conversion can bring," Burke said. (For example, Sean Payton, the Saints' coach, is considered a risk taker in the profession, having made the stunning decision to try a surprise onside kick in the Super Bowl. But the bot thinks even Payton should have gone for it on _23 occasions_ when he chose to punt so far this season. On average, the bot argues there should be around two fewer punts per team each week than there are.) Traditionally, Burke's type of analysis might have been turned into a feature story paired with a set of graphics. That's usually where someone like Quealy comes in. But Quealy told me they wanted to find a more practical, active use for the analysis. "Something like this seems like a cool idea and something that, like other infographics, we publish and it's done," he said. The Times is trying to strengthen its position in the business of data and analysis. After losing out on the bidding war for Nate Silver this past summer, the paper recently announced it was launching a new in-house startup "at the nexus of data and news." Quealy said the 4th Down Bot isn't part of any formal larger strategy — it's more of an experiment. Still, the ethos behind it seems to fit with the direction the Times wants to move towards; Quealy said the goal of the Bot is to "make something that is inherently useful." Burke added, "Information technology has let us do the analytics on your laptop that you used to need a timeshare on a university super computer to do." While the output of the 4th Down Bot lives on NYTimes.com, it's real use could shine through on Twitter, where it can spread quickly along with other social-heavy gameday updates like scores, snark, injury reports, and fantasy updates. Burke said he thinks the bot can catch on because of the intense interest that surrounds the NFL and the abundance of ways to experience games. Having near-instant fourth down analysis fits in well with a world that has become accustomed to NFL RedZone and constantly updated fantasy football stats. Both Burke and Quealy know the bot is bound to cause a fair amount of debate over its calls. In a way, the 4th Down Bot shares rhetorical DNA with sports radio hosts or columnists who delight in second guessing a coach. Of course, the bot's relying on data while the other two are often relying on their "gut." Still, Burke said the thing to keep in mind is that the bot's analysis is not definitive in any way. "The bot and the model are starting points for analysis," he said. "It's not meant to be the final arbiter of coaching decisions." We'll see if that line of argument holds up when some Times-reading NFL owner starts hearing about how many times his man on the sideline has screwed up.
For many people, Google News is the page of choice for a quick sweep of the headlines. Today, with an eye towards the increasing number of readers coming to Google News on mobile devices, Google released a new look for the more than 10 year old site. "Over that time period, consumption patterns have changed. What people expect from news has changed," says Mayuresh Saoji, product manager for Google News. The new web app, which uses the increasingly popular card navigation to chunk information, is focused on enhancing personalization while making the user experience consistent across platforms. For example, "gadgets" which previously existed only on the desktop version, like weather and Editor's Picks, will now appear on mobile. That said, while videos are available on the desktop version, for now they won't be on mobile. "We're still in two minds about whether to bring that to the smart phone. On the one hand, it is very bandwidth heavy, and if you're on the go, unless you have headphones, its going to be difficult to watch video, especially in a public place," Saoji says. "On the other hand, people are consuming news in this fashion." In addition, personalization will also be more consistent. While some of the options for users are merely surface level — for example, you can view content in a light or dark background — others have more weight. Users can decide if they want to see more densely packed headlines, or article cards with a more extensive preview of stories. The basic idea is to let readers decide "the amount of information at [their] fingertips," Saoji says. "It's all about giving people more choice and control," For publishers, Saoji says the app stays much the same, with the goal being to provide a diversity of sources and drive traffic to other news sites. "We hope that the one side effect of this is that people read more news," Saoji says.
SCRUTINY FOR THE GUARDIAN OVER LEAKS: The stories continue to spill out of Edward Snowden's documents from the U.S. National Security Agency — we've learned in the last two weeks that the NSA has been tracking cellphone locations worldwide, infecting computer networks with malicious software, getting into Internet companies' data by tapping into the Internet backbone, spying on the porn habits of Muslim "radicalizers," and trying to expand its power. The two biggest stories, however, have been about the journalists that have published the stories on the leaks. The first was regarding The Guardian, whose editor, Alan Rusbridger, was called in to testify to a Parliament committee about his paper's reporting on the leaks. The paper's staff could be charged with terrorism offenses related to their publication of the leaks. Rusbridger gave a vigorous defense of The Guardian's handling of the documents, saying that the paper has only published about 1% of Snowden's documents and that he doesn't expect to publish many more. He also detailed the efforts the British government has taken to intimidate the paper, including prior restraint on publication, the forced destruction of the paper's Snowden data, and calls from lawmakers to prosecute the paper. Not surprisingly, journalists from Britain and elsewhere rose up in Rusbridger's defense. Mike Masnick at Techdirt mocked some of the members of Parliament's questions, including one that asked, "Do you love this country?" Trinity Mirror journalist David Higgerson used that question to warn of the dangers of giving government even more control over the press. The Guardian's Roy Greenslade marveled at the fact that Rusbridger was even called to testify before Parliament, and from the U.S., Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein and USA Today's Rem Rieder both expressed alarm that The Guardian is facing scrutiny at a time when the true scrutiny should be on excessive government surveillance and secrecy. Rusbridger also made his own case before the hearing in an interview with The Washington Post. MONOPOLIZING THE SNOWDEN DOCUMENTS?: The second big story revolved around Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian journalist who is launching his own news organization with eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and others. The Rolling Stone's Janet Reitman wrote a long, rich profile of Greenwald and Snowden, and The Independent profiled his new colleague, Jeremy Scahill. NYU's Jay Rosen, and adviser to the new organization, talked to The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf about how it will manage reporting with an open perspective as opposed to traditional objectivity. Greenwald and Omidyar faced several criticisms of their possession of Snowden's documents. First, Greenwald refuted an accusation by a Wall Street Journal reporter that he failed to properly disclose the nature of his freelance relationship with the CBC. Then came a more substantial critique from Mark Ames at PandoDaily, that Greenwald and Omidyar's possession of the documents amounts to their privatization by a tech mogul who will be running a for-profit news organization. "Information of national importance, such as which major tech companies colluded with the US government to spy on private citizens, will be published at the discretion of the founder and largest shareholder of one of those companies," Ames wrote. In a lengthy response to Ames, Greenwald argued that no one has monopolized the documents and that the way he and the others with access to the documents have handled them has been the best of several options. PandoDaily's Paul Carr responded back to Greenwald, particularly his accusations about Ames and PandoDaily. The Berkman Center's David Weinberger also delved into the debate, concluding that the fact "THAT THE CHARGE THAT GLENN GREENWALD IS MONOPOLIZING OR PRIVATIZING THE SNOWDEN INFORMATION IS EVEN COMPREHENSIBLE TO US IS EVIDENCE OF JUST HOW THOROUGHLY THE WEB IS CHANGING OUR DEFAULTS AND OUR CONCEPTS." Also at PandoDaily, David Sirota looked at why The Washington Post's Barton Gellman has been received better for his reporting on the documents than Greenwald, and blogger Marcy Wheeler examined Bob Woodward's role in the monopolization debate. HOW MUCH VALUE DOES VIRAL CONTENT HAVE?: A number of different issues and stories converged into a wide-ranging discussion on the value of viral content over the past week or two. The first was Michael Wolff's column in USA Today criticizing the traffic-based business model of Business Insider and suggesting that the site's owner, Henry Blodget, sell before that model collapses. Blodget responded that the overpriced high-end digital ad market actually works in his site's favor, as more advertisers will gravitate to his low-cost model. Reuters' Felix Salmon, meanwhile, critiqued Wolff's numbers as "unreasonably bearish." At PandoDaily, Bryan Goldberg also criticized the effectiveness of a business model that relies on viral traffic (especially through social networks like Facebook), arguing that it doesn't mesh well with the precision of a well-planned advertising campaign. Likewise, Mathew Ingram of Gigaom said CHASING AFTER PAGEVIEWS IS A FOOL'S ERRAND WHEN THE VALUE OF PAGEVIEWS CONTINUES TO DROP. "THAT’S NOT JUST BECAUSE THERE ARE MORE AND MORE SITES DOING IT, BUT BECAUSE THE VALUE OF INCREMENTAL PAGEVIEWS IS SINKING INEXORABLY TOWARDS ZERO," he wrote. (Facebook also released a change to its News Feed that will make it more difficult for viral content to spread as quickly or ubiquitously there.) Blodget also defended Business Insider's infamous slideshows as a form of native digital storytelling, something PandoDaily's Hamish McKenzie balked at, though Ingram offered a defense of the humble slideshow. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal's Farhad Manjoo wrote a profile of Gawker's Neetzan Zimmerman, who generates an absurd amount of viral traffic there. (Later, Capital New York reported that Zimmerman is getting his own section of the Gawker website.) The Washington Post's Ezra Klein highlighted several lessons from Manjoo's piece, noting that it shows that garnering huge traffic via social media isn't a crapshoot, but a skill that can be mastered. PandoDaily's McKenzie also drew attention to the "mechanics" of viral content being used by Zimmerman and sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy, calling it "annoying as hell." At the Columbia Journalism Review, Ann Friedman offered some tips on doing viral content well within a journalistic context. In addition, several viral stories were revealed to be hoaxes last week, led by a Huffington Post column on poverty and a Thanksgiving airplane note-passing story. There was both hand-wringing and ambivalence over all the falsehood being passed around online. "If there’s a great reward, and little downside, to be had in publishing B.S., the Internet’s going to get more B.S.," wrote Slate's David Weigel, and The Guardian's Hadley Freeman saw it as indicative of the "immature overexcitement that engulfs some people" online. Vice's Harry Cheadle urged us all to be a little more skeptical, because the false information online isn't going away. On the Media's PJ Vogt, on the other hand, said he's starting to treat these viral stories as "pieces of culture rather than pieces of reporting." YAHOO BRINGS KATIE COURIC ABOARD: Yahoo announced this week that it's hiring Katie Couric as its "global anchor" — another big traditional media name jumping to an online-only organization, though not necessarily the poaching maneuver we've become used to. Couric, the former anchor at CBS News, has been working as a special correspondent for ABC and has a syndicated daytime talk show (which will continue, at least initially). Couric told The New York Times her new job hasn't been fully defined, but will involve shaping Yahoo's growing news operation and told Capital New York that she and Yahoo would be very flexible with the possibilities of her new position, though they'd bring a broadcast journalism sensibility to the web. All Things D's Kara Swisher said bringing a broadcast news heavyweight to the web is a flashy but risky move. The Washington Post's Andrea Peterson argued that Yahoo is bringing in Couric and former New York Times tech writer David Pogue because it's looking for established brands with a history of bringing in video audiences around which to anchor advertising, and the Lab's Ken Doctor saw the move as part of a broad set of experiments with the nature of the newscast on the web. A LEAVE OF ABSENCE FOR LARA LOGAN: CBS News completed its internal review of 60 Minutes' faulty October report on Benghazi (for which it offered a terse apology last month), and it resulted in the report's lead journalist, Lara Logan, and its producer, Max McClellan, taking leaves of absence. The Washington Post's Erik Wemple denounced the leaves of absence as "worthless" as a punishment, and Mother Jones' David Corn questioned why 60 Minutes' executives hung onto the story long after they had reason to believe it was false. The Christian Science Monitor's Peter Grier wondered whether Logan was being made a scapegoat for malfeasance higher up 60 Minutes' editorial ladder, and Mediaite defended Logan, arguing that CBS' action "sends a message that the idiom 'What have you done for me lately?' is not only true, it’s become CBS network policy." In a staff meeting, CBS News chairman Jeff Fager reportedly denied scapegoating Logan. Elsewhere, Newsweek's Jeff Stein called for more attention to the possible role Logan's husband, former intelligence agent Joseph Burkett, may have played in connecting her to the story, and the Columbia Journalism Review's Brendan Nyhan chastised 60 Minutes for its lackadaisical correction efforts. READING ROUNDUP: A few other stories that have sprung up this week and last: — The fallout from Bloomberg News' self-censorship of news about Chinese corruption continues: Chinese authorities conducted unannounced "inspections" of Bloomberg's Chinese bureaus, and one of Bloomberg's reporters in the U.K. was barred from attending a press conference with a Chinese leader there, to the disapproval of the British government. The New York Times looked more closely at Bloomberg's transition as a news organization and its dilemma in China, and meanwhile, a prominent Hong Kong journalist called for Bloomberg CEO Dan Doctoroff to resign his chairmanship of a prominent international press freedom dinner, while American journalists defended him. (Doctoroff ended up chairing the dinner.) — As The New York Times' David Carr reported, New York magazine will drop from weekly to bi-weekly print publication next year. Gawker's Hamilton Nolan called the print cutback "a process of right-sizing," though The Awl's Choire Sicha noted that New York still makes a lot of money off of print advertising. Harvard Business Review's Sarah Green said the reporting on the print cuts shouldn't characterize them as a failure, but simply an adaptation that's more good than bad. — The Beastie Boys fought a parody of their song "Girls" in a viral online ad by the toymaker Goldieblox, igniting a brief but intense debate on the correct application of fair use. Goldieblox filed a lawsuit defending its right to use the song, but took the video down a bit later with a conciliatory letter to the band. In the few days in between, the lines were drawn quickly and sharply. Arguing in favor of Goldieblox' use of the song: Tech entrepreneur Andy Baio, Techdirt's Mike Masnick, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Stanford's Julie Ahrens, and Gigaom's Mathew Ingram. Arguing against Goldieblox: The Columbia Journalism Review's Ryan Chittum (twice) and Reuters' Felix Salmon. — The U.S. Federal Trade Commission held a conference this week on native advertising, urging advertisers and publishers to more clearly mark native advertising as sponsored content and make it less deceptive. Ad Age, Forbes, and the Columbia Journalism Review have more detailed descriptions of the discussion at the conference. — Longtime New York Observer editor Peter Kaplan died at 59 this week, prompting remembrances of the man and the vanishing style of journalism he represented from many of those who knew him, including Gawker's Tom Scocca, Observer publisher Jared Kushner, BuzzFeed's Doree Shafrir, The New Yorker's Nathan Heller, and The Guardian's Michael Wolff. _Image of dengue virus by Sanofi Pasteur used under a Creative Commons license._
How much would you pay for online access to Ron Burgundy — or at least the Ron Burgundys of Cincinnati? In an industry-shaking move, E.W. Scripps' WCPO.TV — that's the website of Cincinnati's ABC affiliate — is putting up a paywall Jan. 1. While it may not quite be the first TV broadcaster in the U.S. with paid digital access, it is the first to _announce_ the move. With another station, a Press+ client, preparing to go paywall before the end of the month, this mini-revolution in local TV news may be starting small, but its ramifications could be profound: Local TV news — itself facing a transitional struggle because of digital disruption — is re-orienting itself for a battle with local newspaper news — and therein will lie lots of drama over the next few years. It was the news of a TV paywall — a hard paywall at that — that caught a few headlines two weeks ago when the news broke. But that isn't even the most intriguing thing about the WCPO push. Scripps is investing in content and in engagement in Cincinnati. In total, 30 people are being hired, "the vast majority" of them in editorial, with multimedia producers, community-oriented staff, and digital sales people filling out that number. How big an investment is that? WCPO, in the 34th largest U.S. market, started out with a newsroom of about 75. Adding more than 20 new people to focus on digital is a substantial increase. “That incremental staff produces content for the digital platforms, but when a reporter breaks a story exclusively (which is happening almost every day) that information/coverage/story makes its way to on-air, though it might be written or wrapped in a different way, appropriate for that medium,” says Adam Symson, Scripps’ chief digital office. “Our digital reporters often end up interviewed on set as part of the tell. Bottom line, they aren’t producing TV stories because they aren’t broadcast journalists, but expansion of coverage as a result of the strategy is absolutely positively impacting the depth and breadth of our on-air product every day.” What's behind Scripps' contrarian play, in an age of news cautiousness? "It's about winning digital," Symson says. "At the end of the day, there is room for one, two, or maybe three local dominant media brands. Winning the digital consumer will be the price of admission to being one of those winning brands." "Winning" is the optimistic spin on that strategy. The flip side to ponder: There just won't be enough advertising and subscription revenue to sustain any more than one to three significantly sized news staffs in many metro areas. Call this the Last Man Standing Theory of local media. It's painful to think about, but the last half-decade seems to have borne it out year after down year. What's the business strategy behind the investment? It's not just about new subscription revenue. Thinking about the numbers, it can't be. As a free TV station — TV wants to be free, right? — WCPO, unlike newspapers, has no legacy base of subscribers who can be upsold to all-access, digital + print subscriptions. Aggressive all-access pricing is what is behind most of the new half billion dollars in circulation revenue we've seen in the U.S.; broadcast can only dream about that. While The New York Times has built up a business on 727,000 digital-only subscribers ("The newsonomics of The New York Times' Paywalls 2.0″), the top regional dailies are _topping out_ under 50,000 for digital-only subscriptions; most newspapers struggle mightily to see five figures. So what might WCPO, without an existing paying audience, expect? Let's say it got 1 percent of its 400,000 monthly unique visitors to pay up. That would amount to about 4,000 paying customers. Let's say they pay $100 a year, on average. That's $400,000. Or, let's say 3 percent, or 12,000 — a highly optimistic number, I'd have to say, given the habits here. That would be $1.2 million. Five percent, or 20,000, would bring in $2 million a year. Compare that revenue to the $3 million or so in new costs of the WPCO expansion. Paywall revenue may not be the main play here. Consider two other kinds of revenue the initiative hopes to goose: * DIGITAL ADVERTISING: Scripps hired 100 digital-only ad reps across the company in 2013, "the vast majority" of them in TV rather than newspapers, and plans to hire more in 2014. (As a a whole, the company now has 229 jobs open.) That's a big part of the company's stated $22 million annual investment in digital. At WCPO, the expansion is a lot about better monetizing new digital customers. (It may want to start with making it's "Advertise with Us" page a tad friendlier.) * TV AUDIENCE: The expanded website and mobile products offer brand promotion for that legacy product on-air. Push up its ratings points some — WCPO is now in second place in the market to WKRC — and TV revenues will increase. So, the revenue strategy here is three-fold: more digital ads, higher TV ratings, and paywall revenue. We'd have to think this is a long-term strategy; Scripps execs like to talk about the company's innovative roots and point with pride to the WCPO push as the latest example of it. The WCPO test will likely not pay for itself within 18 to 24 months — but as a long-term investment, it could pay off, especially if the Last Man Standing Theory is true. If Scripps stays the course, and maybe continues to expand WCPO over time — and Gannett continues to chisel away at the city's remaining daily, The Enquirer — how will the two compare in audience and in digital revenue in, say, 2017? We can ask versions of that same question in many metro areas. What if broadcast builds digital slowly, and print continues to fade away? Or, to frame it a different way: If you're a company that owns both newspapers and TV stations, which seems better suited to be a base for the mainly digital age to come? Scripps seems to believe it is TV. Why? The legacy costs are smaller; while TV production has its own old-world cost structure, it doesn't compare to the Big Iron costs of presses, plants, and trucks required for print. And while print ad losses have made newspaper revenue growth largely a pipe dream since 2006, broadcast keeps managing to sustain itself. Odd-numbered years (non-election, non-Olympics) are always lower than even-numbered ones, and 2013 is no exception. So even with massive consolidation in the broadcast industry this year (Sinclair buying Allbritton, Tribune buying Local TV, Gannett buying Belo, among others), TV's prospects are arguably more manageable than print's. That realization can be seen in Scripps' own share price. It's up 95 percent year over year, largely on the basis of its broadcast fortunes — which now supply the great majority of the company's profits, though just a little more than half its revenues. That increase is surpassed only by Lee among publicly owned "newspaper" companies. The Cincinnati Enquirer, which pushed Scripps' own Cincinnati Post into oblivion in 2007, is, like most Gannett papers, cutting back, not adding to its content creation. August layoffs further reduced its staff, as bureaus were reduced, critics packed up their notebooks, and reporters were laid off. Gannett, like most owners of dailies, is retrenching to maintain profitability, as print advertising loss can only be evened out by increased subscriber pricing and cost cutting. Dailies, which had come to think of themselves as _monopoly_ dailies, may be the only big _print_ game left in Cincinnati and cities throughout the country. Those cities, though, often sport three to a half-dozen TV news outlets. What if one of those outlets decided to compete — digitally — with the local paper? That's one of the big questions we'll see answered as the battle moves forward in Cincinnati. Already, a top broadcaster may lead the local daily in a quarter to a third of the U.S.' top 50 markets. If broadcasters invest while newspaper companies disinvest, how much and how quickly could those numbers flip? Check out the latest (October) Nielsen numbers for a sense of the competitive urgency in the Cincinnati market. While Gannett's Cincinnati.com (which barely whispers the word "Enquirer" on its homepage) pulls in the most unique visitors, at 582,000 to Fox19′s 531,000 and WCPO's 391,000, the engagement numbers already tell a different story. WCPO averages 13 minutes per visitor per month, more than double Cincinnati.com's 6 minutes and a little less than twice Fox19′s. In the important engagement metrics, from total minutes to sessions per person to web pages per person, WCPO is a clear leader. Now, with a paywall and its attendant marketing only weeks away, how will those numbers change? Since most of the new editorial staff has already been hired (10 jobs now open), the results of Scripps' content investment have already borne fruit in traffic. Consequently, it's hard to know how much _more_ upside the company will gain. Conversely, the nature of WCPO's hard paywall could drive down engagement. Sure, lots of content — the kind of relatively commoditized breaking news, weather, traffic, and sports that are staples of TV news — will still be free. And yes, WCPO's Ron Burgundys should still be largely accessible for free. But readers will run into the hard paywall when they try to read the only-on-WCPO stories, the kinds of stories for which Adam Symson's research shows a hunger. Stories on education, religion, or health — you know, the kinds of stories that newspapers have long been known for. The new staff hired will focus much on that non-traditional TV coverage. Scripps may be grafting a newspaper model on a digital TV platform. If it is, is that old-fashioned or a brilliant streak of genius? It's a mind-bending set of media metaphors in search of the digital future. WCPO is going with a hard paywall rather than a meter. It's closer to many European "plus" paywall models, especially those popular at tabloid newspapers. Those papers, like local TV news, believe that when offering much of the same news as their competitors, it's better to keep that stuff free and segregate the proprietary stuff. While the meter is all the rage among U.S. newspapers, 2014 will tell us a lot about the success of these plus models in Europe and, maybe, newly in the U.S. In the meantime, WCPO will see how much the paywall limits the crucial sampling of digital content, key both to maintaining high digital traffic and improving subscription conversion. Scripps uses Digital Paymeter, developed by Syncronex and NewsCycle Solutions (formerly DTI) to power both its TV and newspaper sites; the newspaper sites use a meter, though one that is time-, rather than article-, based. Think of the WCPO test in part as R&D for the rest of the company. "Scripps is not a holding company," says Symson. "It is a consumer products business. You've got to get the the product right first." If it gets that product right — along with the paywall model and the pricing (which is still TBA, but likely below the $9.99/month threshold) — then Scripps can export the model to others of it 19 TV markets. Going into 2014, though, there's no timetable for doing so. Soon there will be other local TV experimentation to watch. As Press+ (which this week announced its 500th customer) launches its first local TV metered paywall, we'll see how that experiment progresses as well. The nuances of metered TV sites will be worth watching for newspaper sites as well. In Press+'s TV model, the _video_ meter is a clock — giving, for instance, 10 minutes of free viewing, before watchers hit warning and pay-up screens. The text-story meter is still article-based, so the TV model is a hybrid. The WCPO expansion raises many more questions for the news business. Among them: * HOW WILL THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN ON-AIR AND DIGITAL WORK WITH THE NEW STAFF? Broadcast has struggled with the same issues newspapers have in integrating or separating digital from the traditional product. Similarly, how well will the segmentation of video — given stations' traditional orientation to block-programmed TV — move forward? It's been painfully slow at many broadcasters. * WHERE DOES MOBILE FIT INTO THE PICTURE? Some broadcasters tell me that as much as 60 percent of their traffic is now mobile; that's well beyond the 35 percent commonly reported by newspaper sites. WCPO is in the newspaper range — 25 to 35 percent — and has readied a new set of apps as well as responsive design. Across the broadcast industry, work is being done at the company level and through industry consortia ("The newsonomics of breakthrough digital TV, from Aereo to Dyle and MundoFox to Google Fiber"), and TV too faces near-infinite opportunities and challenges in mobile. * HOW MUCH OF THE TV PAY EXPERIENCE WILL BE MASS AND HOW MUCH NICHE? WRAL's TechWire, built in association with paywall provider Cleeng, is approaching its first year of paid experience ("The newsonomics of influentials from D.C. to Singapore to Raleigh"). Constructed around a membership model, the site is growing and retaining its subscribers, and John Conway, general manager of WRAL.com, suggests that the station's investment, too, is a long-term one. At this point, it's all about finding ways to put more people into the top end of the audience funnel and improve the conversion rate; that's the nuts-and-bolts of the pay trade. Raleigh's WRAL is one of the strongest local broadcasters in the nation, but don't expect it to put up a full-site paywall any time soon. * IS MEMBERSHIP AN ANSWER HERE? Adam Symson isn't yet disclosing details of the WCPO subscription offer, but he uses the term "membership." That'a a term in wide and diverse usage in the digital sub trade, from WRAL to the Chicago Tribune. What might be part of a local TV membership bundle that could make you buy? _Photo of WCPO van by Travis Estell used under a Creative Commons license._
When BuzzFeed launched BuzzFeed World, an ambitious foreign news vertical, not everyone thought they were up to the task:
Future of foreign reporting RT @BuzzFeedBen: Strippers Celebrate Vladimir Putin’s Syrian Diplomacy Because Russia http://t.co/v5IhIHJJ4L… -- Evgeny Morozov (@evgenymorozov) September 19, 2013That link, which is broken, is supposed to take you to a story written by Max Seddon, BuzzFeed's foreign correspondent in the Ukraine. Seddon was hired by Miriam Elder, who herself spent seven years in Russia before making the move to New York to run BuzzFeed's world desk. I asked Elder how she would respond to naysayers like Morozov (who, to be fair, has many nays to say). "If that's what someone thinks our entire foreign coverage is, that just means they haven't been looking at what we've been producing," she says. "My approach to this is that there's room for sarcasm, there's room for humor, and there's room for incredibly serious and deeply reported stories as well. You don't have to choose one over the other." Elder wasn't always sure BuzzFeed's unique blend of what she calls "the fun side" and serious journalism was for her. But after over a decade as a foreign correspondent, she found herself increasingly concerned about the status of foreign reporting in the broader journalistic landscape. "Nobody wants to see these foreign desks closing; it was incredibly difficult for me, personally, in Moscow, going to the closing party for the Newsweek bureau or something. It's not something anybody wants to see, even though they're technically your competitors," says Elder. Enticed by what she describes as the intelligence, creativity, and ambition of the BuzzFeed environment, Elder agreed to move to New York to start building BuzzFeed World.
Building a foreign desk from scratch is no small task — you have to think about issues like ensuring your correspondents' safety and getting them health insurance in other countries, things BuzzFeed is committing to providing its reporters. Elder says she's both sought and received advice from industry old-timers who appreciate that someone, at least, has the cash on hand to be sending reporters abroad. Says Elder, "I don't see it, at this point, of a challenge between traditional versus new; it's just putting together a desk is not an easy thing." Elder embarked on that task by selecting reporters based on which regions BuzzFeed's editors wanted to cover. She hired Mike Giglio, based in Istanbul, to cover the Syria conflict; Sheera Frenkel to report on the Middle East and northern Africa from Cairo; Max Seddon, currently in the Ukraine, to cover Russia and Rosie Gray to cover foreign policy from D.C. Elder's next hire was Lester Feder. But unlike the other correspondents, Feder didn't have a journalistic focus tied to the region that he lived in; the next step wasn't filling in a few more of the blank spots on the globe. Feder's focus is on LGBT issues. "It wasn't the sort of thing where he'd show up in Bangkok or Phnom Penh and be like, This is what the gay scene is like here. It was more focusing on legislative initiatives, interesting activist groups you hadn't heard of, focusing on the role of third-gender issues in these countries," says Elder. "He just went so deep into it, it was so impressive, and it was a beat we knew we wanted to keep, so we brought him on full staff." For BuzzFeed, Feder is based out of D.C.; he takes reporting trips once a month or so. Recently, in addition to reporting on major headlines from Washington, he's reported stories from Montenegro, Kiev, and Cambodia.
Why build a beat around a theme rather than a geographic region? "The idea behind it is kind of, how can you get people really interested in international news?" says Elder. "It's something that I think a lot of editors ask themselves quite often. I started thinking, you know, if someone is really interested in LGBT rights in the U.S., they're probably going to be interested in LGBT rights in Russia, in Uganda, in China. It's this way to explain the world through a thematic vector." Elder started thinking about other interest areas that could entice readers to get more excited about news around the world, and decided on women's issues as the next subject to tackle from the global perspective. After a search, she settled on Jina Moore, a reporter usually based in Africa — Nairobi, at the moment — to fill the role of roving women's issues correspondent. "She's so impressive, and has so many ideas, everything from incredible reporting ideas to ideas about how to structure news — she thinks really conceptually about these things," Elder says. "It just ended up being a perfect fit." With the hiring of everyone from a news director to a Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter, BuzzFeed has been trying to make it clear that its dedication to journalism is the real thing — but even so, the idea of paying for two reporters to jet around the world chasing stories seems a world away from BuzzFeed's GIFs-and-cats origins. "It's expensive, but it's not like we say, Okay Lester, get on a plane, fly first class, and stay at the Ritz," Elder says. "It's about having low overhead. The lower the overhead, the more money for the travel budget. But that's one of the advantages — we have the money right now to be able to fund these sorts of things." BuzzFeed does, indeed, "have the money" — it raised another $19 million round of venture capital in January, and founder Jonah Peretti reported recently that the site is profitable. But why spend it on traveling reporters with global beats? Elder says that by using hot topic interest areas as a lens through which to view world news, she's taking advantage of a new behavior that, in some ways, is a direct product of the Internet; she calls it cross border identification.
@versharma @BuzzFeed & a Global LGBT issues correspondent. Attracting new readers by turning issues w scant attention into beats. Smart. -- Deepa Fernandes (@deepaKPCC) November 21, 2013"If there's a kid who's sitting in Russia, and he spends all his time online, he tends to be quite liberal, he listens to this kind of music, he does this, that, or the other — a lot of times he can have more in common with a random kid who's doing the same thing in Beijing or Oslo or wherever than he does with the guy living down the street from him. The world is being organized in different ways," Elder says. In addition, the roving reporters' topic focus can line up better with the heavily verticalized form BuzzFeed's content takes. A newspaper's foreign correspondent might cover a country's politics one day, its industry the next, and local culture the next. BuzzFeed doesn't have a newspaper's instinct to be all-inclusive; it picks its spots, and a thematic focus fits in well with that. A topic focus can also make it easier to build source relationships with activists, says Elder. "It almost makes it easier to get stories because…the global activist community, government officials, whomever, knows who to reach out to," she says. "For activists around the world to have that one person they know that they can come to with their stories, their scoops, with whatever efforts they're working on, it's helpful to have one person that can draw on this entire global activist community."
Elder points to Feder's coverage of the World Congress of Families, a conservative, anti-gay group, as an example of the site's ability to cover both sides of the issue. "He has really good relationships with them," Elder says. "They know his coverage tends to focus on the LGBT side." That said, BuzzFeed hired both Moore and Feder in hopes of tapping into the high levels of enthusiasm and attention that go hand-in-hand with activism. Recently, BuzzFeed has met with criticism regarding the nature of some of its hiring — and firing — in the editorial department. The company hired Isaac Fitzgerald a few weeks ago as editor of its book section, at which time Fitzgerald shared with the world his stance against publishing negative reviews. "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all," he told Poynter. Then, Mark "Copyranter" Duffy spoke out about his firing from BuzzFeed, which, he argued, occurred because the typical tone of his posts — "hating is what I do, and have always done," he writes — conflicted with BuzzFeed's strict "no haters" policy. The big picture here is that, from a business perspective, BuzzFeed believes it's best off if the majority of its content has a positive tone or connects with the perspectives of its audience. "We're coming from a place where LBGT rights and women's rights…it's not like there's a pro and a con side, really," Elder says. Elder would like to hire more issues-based, global reporters — perhaps one focused on global corruption — but for the rest of 2013, she's focused on hiring a national security reporter in D.C. and a deputy foreign editor to be based out of BuzzFeed's new bureau in London. (BuzzFeed also has a bureau in Australia, as well as content made in New York for audiences in Paris and Brazil, all of which functions separately from the foreign desk.) After that, she'd like to dispatch correspondents to Latin America and Asia, especially China. Overall, BuzzFeed's foreign story mix seems to continue to match the site's broader combination of "fun" and news. When Ukraine surprised its neighbors by signing an agreement with Russia, thereby backing away from an agreement with the EU, Max Seddon tackled the national reaction in two ways. First, he scanned the Internet for how people were reacting — mostly humorously — online; then, he hit the streets. "The Internet is infinite," Elder says. "We can put whatever stories we want up there." _Image by pink hats, red shoes used under a Creative Commons license. _
The Freedom of the Press Foundation launched a crowd-funding campaign to support secure communication tools for journalists this morning. In its first year, the foundation has raised more than $480,000 to support investigative journalism projects "focused on transparency and accountability." This new campaign, which will last two months, is aimed at making communication technology more accessible to journalists by open sourcing tools for encryption in newsrooms, including:
— THE TOR PROJECT, the organization conducting extensive research and building technology solutions, including the Tor Browser Bundle, used by journalists around the world to anonymize their web browsing habits and physical location. The Tor Project is passionate about bringing technology, training, and greater awareness in digital security for journalists around the world. — TAILS, a ground-breaking operating system that can be started on almost any computer from a DVD or USB stick and never touches your hard drive. Tails provides a platform to solve many surveillance problems by "doing the right thing" out of the box by default—from browsing the web anonymously, to using state-of-the-art cryptographic tools to encrypt files, email, and instant message. — REDPHONE AND TEXTSECURE, the encrypted phone and texting apps created by renowned security expert Moxie Marlinspike and his project Open WhisperSystems. Both RedPhone and TextSecure are designed to implement end-to-end encryption, while simultaneously making those advancements as invisible and effortless as possible for the user. — LEAP ENCRYPTION ACCESS PROJECT, a new non-profit founded by long-time experts in the field of communications security, focuses on adapting encryption technology to make it easy to use and widely available. They have created an open source email system that automatically handles key management, decryption, and encryption, along with server software that allows any provider to offer email service that is compatible with the application.
You might have heard that paying for good reporting and quality journalism is not easy. Today many pixels were spilled over Jessica Lessin's new attempt to do just that. This morning, she launched a long-awaited tech news site called The Information, which will be available to subscribers only for the cost of $39 a month or $399 a year. Jokes of all stripes were made about the wisdom of such an enterprise.
Information wants to be free, but The Information wants to be $39 a month. https://t.co/RhEhg55Gvy -- Nick Turner (@SFNick) December 4, 2013
I’m pleased to announce my new subscription-only news site, “The Veblen Good,” special introductory rate only $945/mo! -- Rusty Foster (@rustyk5) December 4, 2013
CYBER WEDNESDAY DEAL: Pay me $199 per year and I will tell you what they're writing about on @theinformation -- Nicholas Carlson (@nichcarlson) December 4, 2013Carlson, for his part, went on to write that, though he believes Lessin's project will most likely end in profit, he himself had no qualms about republishing the work of her reporters and making it freely available to readers via Business Insider. Not everyone found this sentiment charming. Meanwhile, across the Internet, another fight about journalism, capitalism, and the right to information. Writes The New Inquiry's Mal Harris:
Taking money from JSTOR and publishing their sponsored content is fucked you guys @Awl -- Mal Harris (@BigMeanInternet) December 4, 2013Which led Awl editor Choire Sicha to respond:
@BigMeanInternet Oh okay we'll go back to liquor companies and enormous multinational corporation money, so much more ethical. -- Choire (@Choire) December 4, 2013
@BigMeanInternet Or we could have a BAKE SALE, that'll solve capitalism -- Choire (@Choire) December 4, 2013The ensuing debate focused on the ethics of JSTOR, a company that charges for access to scholarly papers, with Harris arguing that putting academic output behind a paywall is inherently unethical (therefore making it unethical for The Awl to accept money from them) and Sicha arguing that it was universities that "enclose" academic work (and therefore not his problem). Overall, another day in the how-to-pay-for-news debate.
The Guardian is experimenting in the craft newspaper business and getting some help from robots. That may sound odd, given that the company prints a daily paper read throughout Britain. A paper staffed by humans. But the company is tinkering with something smaller and more algorithm-driven. The Guardian has partnered with The Newspaper Club, a company that produces small-run DIY newspapers, to print The Long Good Read, a weekly print product that collects a handful of The Guardian's best longform stories from the previous seven days. The Newspaper Club runs off a limited number of copies, which are then distributed at another Guardian experiment: a coffee shop in East London. That's where, on Monday mornings, you'll find a 24-page tabloid with a simple layout available for free. On the surface, The Long Good Read has the appeal of being a kind of analog Instapaper for all things Guardian. But the interesting thing is how paper is produced: robots. Okay, _algorithms_ if you want to be technical — algorithms and programs that both select the paper's stories and lay them out on the page. Jemima Kiss, head of technology for The Guardian, said The Long Good Read is another attempt at finding ways to give stories new life beyond the day they're published: "It's just a way of reusing that content in a more imaginative way and not getting too hung up on the fact it's a newspaper." The Long Good Read began life several years ago as a digital-only experiment from former Guardian developer Dan Catt. The idea was to harvest the paper's feature pieces and longer stories into a stream of articles best meant for RSS or a read-it-later queue. These were the stories that lent themselves to dedicated reading time, that quiet moment after work or a lazy Saturday morning. That, Kiss said, also fits the description of print: "It's part of a noble heritage: people wanting something to read when they're drinking their coffee or tea." Catt built an algorithm that scans The Guardian's API, stripping away blog posts, multimedia, and other pieces in favor of articles over a certain length. Here's a good explanation:
We plundered those tools for data and wrote our own little "robot" (a bunch of algorithms) to surface what we hoped would be good, interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes long articles. Just before I throw together a new issue of this paper I can head off to our dashboard that presents me with about 30 "top" articles, about 1% of all articles originally published by the Guardian.The robot does the legwork, leaving an editor to pick and choose what stories work for the edition before handing the process off to a different robot. In this case, it's The Newspaper Club's ARTHR tool, a layout program that lets people feed in content from different sources, either links or individual text and images. Tom Taylor, head of engineering for The Newspaper Club, said they use a semi-automated version of ARTHR for The Long Good Read, which allows an editor to enter story links and lets the program develop the layout on its own. It's a human-robot workflow that makes putting together a customized newspaper a quick process. The Long Good Read is sent to the printer on Friday and delivered fresh on Monday, Taylor said. "It becomes possible to make a paper in an hour that you can put in a coffee shop and have 500 copies," Taylor said.
The Newspaper Club started four years ago as a kind of bespoke printing business. It's a story about technology — the ARHTR tool, which simplifies the layout process for people who may not be familiar with Adobe InDesign — but also about the printing itself. The Newspaper Club specializes in smaller runs of newspapers (as few as one to five copies) using digital printing and traditional printing. The key, Taylor says, is bundling together groups of orders to help keep the costs low and allow people to print as few editions as they want. In the beginning, the minimum amount of newspapers they could run was 1,000 copies, but thanks to changes in printing tech and growth in business, that number has slowly slid to 300, to 50, and now as low as a single paper. "It's like the miniaturization of the engine, taking it down from a factory-sized thing to inside a car, to a motorbike. It changes what's possible to do with an engine," Taylor told me. The Newspaper Club is part boutique, part newspaper collaborative, doing work for individuals (newspaper-themed weddings, perhaps?), photographers, or the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Some U.S. newspaper owners have tried to increase their commercial printing business, increasingly by printing their competitor's papers. But Newspaper Club thinks smaller, and more personal, than the weekly coupon circular and hardware catalog. "We're straddling two worlds: the nostalgia for print and those beautiful machines, the rudiments of it all and the slightly more weird media future that is going on," Taylor said. "It's not as simple as 'The Internet will replace print.' The future is way more complicated than that." While technology has upended the traditional newspaper model, Taylor said it's changed the economics in the favor of letting print lovers experiment with the medium. Things like The Newspaper Club aren't meant to replace the traditional daily, but instead to see how the form can be customized and personalized, Taylor said. The appetite for reading longer, more in-depth articles exists, as well as the desire to get away from the screens we surround ourselves with, Taylor said. "I have no particular nostalgia for print. But I see it being very useful for certain things," he said. "It does things you can't do with a tablet or a screen." At the moment, The Guardian is planning a limited run of The Long Good Read before figuring out whether to continue the project; there's no contract term between the two companies. Kiss said the paper fit in well with The Guardian's other experiment, the coffee shop, which was also meant to be a different (real-life) venue for news and conversations. It all fits into The Guardian's larger mission of open journalism and engaging with the public. "It's not a new revenue stream — it's much more experimental than that," said Kiss. "It's to see what happens. I think media organizations need to be more lightfooted in what they experiment with." For a company that has pushed itself to expand digitally around the globe, a move into print could seem like a backwards move. But print, like other technologies, has its own assortment of benefits and drawbacks, Kiss said. What The Long Good Read does is take some of the features of customization and story curation — attributes we would think of as webby — and push them into print. What's important is giving people as many options for reading as possible, she said: "It's not the medium that's in trouble; it's the business model." _Photos from The Newspaper Club used under a Creative Commons license._
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jeff Israely, a former Time magazine foreign correspondent in Europe, has launched a news startup called Worldcrunch. For the past three years, he's been describing and commenting on the process here at Nieman Lab. Read his past installments here.I'd been holding off on writing about the redesign of our website until it was all finished. Of course, the first and last lesson of the process is that _your redesign won't ever be done_. It's not just the always-in-beta credo; it's also the less glamorous bugs and surprise hiccups across infinite browsers, devices, screen sizes — and coming down to the wire, that great idea you must finally put aside. The little compromises destined to be pushed live — but then again… By now, though, we're done waiting for it to be done. Call it Worldcrunch 1.9874, damn proud to show it off, with ice creams all around, to our extra-talented crew from Zagreb: designer Dario Krznar, our CTO Ivan Majstorovic, and Garrett Goodman, our now-London-based dude-of-all-trades who coordinated the project. _How could we have waited so long?_ is the overriding sensation we have, which is also a reminder of all the reasons _not_ to redesign your site. For two years, we were quite satisfied with our face unto the world. The design was clean and smart and adapted to both the quality and quantity of the journalism we were producing. It's not that we didn't notice all the new bells, whistles, and more fundamental innovations sprouting around us. But for a lean news startup, a website redesign usually seems like a luxury you can't afford. In fact, as with other things, the decision snuck up on us. There had been no ongoing debate between my business partner Irene and me, nor any real pressing demand from readers or investors. The priority over the previous year on the design and development front had been to build for mobile (web and apps), which for us was a major accomplishment in itself. Indeed, in retrospect, if we had been both wiser and richer, we would have followed Dario's advice and redesigned the whole damn thing together back then. (More on that below.) But the path is the path, and hindsight is 20/20 on the Internet too. This latest twist in the path started with me waking up one morning and mumbling in my head: _A map, A MAP!_ I'd been thinking for a while that we needed to do a better job showing how far and wide all of our coverage reached, and let our readers explore in a more fun and interactive way. Creating a map entry-point to our stories, in itself, was going to be a big addition. We talked to Dario, who explained how it could be integrated with our existing site, but also noted (again) that it would be a good opportunity for a full overhaul. Irene and I sat on it for a few days, discussed what it could allow us to do on the editorial and business fronts, weighed the cost and the time required. Then, on a subsequent call with Dario to discuss the map, Irene — who ultimately has the last word on anything that involves writing a check — said the words: _"We need a new design."_ That was that. You don't redesign just for the sake of redesigning. You're not a car owner tired of your old model and itching for a trade-in. You're more a taxi driver deciding if it's time to buy a new cab. Can an upgrade to a minivan help you cash in on airport fares? Do rising fuel prices mean it's time to ditch the gas guzzler? It is, in other words, a business decision. From the editorial side, we were doing more content in different ways that our old site could no longer adequately accommodate. On the marketing side, we were moving into the paid/premium space and needed to show partners, customers, distributors, and paying customers that we have a big league product. So with the question of _if_ answered, it was time for the _what_. One of my favorite expressions to throw around when I'm pretending to be tech savvy is UX: user experience. I learned it fairly early (for me) and understood it rather well (for me). But I still wince a bit when a truly tech savvy person tells me "I _use_ your site." To an old-school editor, probably to an art director too, it sounds a bit off. The editor imagines that people are _reading_? Sure — well, sometimes, at least. The art director wonders what people are _seeing_ in the product? But people do plenty of other things on your site: Browse. Click. Scroll. Leave. (Forget.) Rediscover. Re-enter. Browse again. Click. Glance. Look closer. Read. Keep reading. Share. Follow. Leave. Come back. Sign up. Explore. Click. Read. Pay. Share. Stay awhile. Yes, please _use_ us, and use us well! To try to make that happen, the possibilities were endless and targets were moving. Still, some basic goals seemed pretty clear: We had to think at least as hard about the article page as the homepage; our design had to be responsive to properly shine on all those devices and screen sizes; the site needed an overall new look and feel that felt fresh but not too far from the identity we had worked hard to establish. I won't go into detail about the choices we made, but the homepage layout is built around cards. We also wanted to be able to group stories together in dossiers or instant special reports, and have the article page extend below with infinite scroll of additional story cards. The maps that got all of this started would be a signpost and a central part of the personality and branding of our site, but we'd allow readers to ignore them if they're not interested. This was perhaps the most ambitious part of the design, and we're still working to refine and expand what we can do with it. The responsive design extended to the browser for tablets, but we decided against adapting it for phones and apps, as our HTML5 mobile app was barely a year old. This was one of the compromises that we felt we had to make. In the post-Snow Fall world, the temptation can be to design something that blows people's minds. The risk, particularly for a small company like ours, is that it can swallow you whole. You start to produce the content to serve the container. Ideally, instead, the design should work in symbiosis with the journalism: Your site must be one you can feed every day with the stories that you're meant to cover, while still having the elasticity to allow you (and push you!) to do new things and grow. There's no doubt that thinking about web design forces you to think harder about web journalism. I saw this BuzzFeed piece a couple of weeks ago, which was another example of how the ABC's of good journalism and storytelling can find brand new life online. No GIFs, no lists, no kittens, nothing like the investment required for Snow Fall: Instead, it's a direct but different way to cover a war with great reporting, finely crafted words, and powerful photography. Still, at the same time I could also see the struggle with this new form, integrating the visual and text into a seamless scrolling narrative. There was the overriding goal of telling the story, but also the need to describe details in the photos that were distinct from the narrative. How does the main text cohabitate with the captions? One set of passages was slightly larger than the other, but sometimes it wasn't clear what was what. It's a design challenge. (Could a hover for the captions work? Or a different shade of text?) But there are also potential editorial solutions. (Weave the details from the photos into the main narrative?) Or a bit of both. We began our redesign with another one of those web startup calls to arms: to make our new website future-proof. That's a false concept. Finding design solutions that are replicable for different kinds of content means a better experience for the user, and less work for all down the line. But constant tweaks and occasional overhauls are inevitable, as the interaction between web publisher and web user — like the news itself — continues to change every day. Journalists, in other words, must make thinking about UX part of their daily M.O. _Photo by Robyn Lee used under a Creative Commons license._
The New Haven Independent, which launched eight years ago amid the first wave of online-only community news sites, may soon expand into radio. The nonprofit Independent is one of three groups asking the FCC for a low-power FM (LPFM) license in New Haven, Conn. If successful, editor and founder Paul Bass says that “New Haven Independent Radio” could make its debut at 103.5 FM in about a year. “It would be a fun thing if we get it. I’m told it’s very hard,” Bass says. “We’re by no means talking as if we’re going to get this license. We thought it would be worth a shot.” He envisions a mix of news from the Independent and La Voz Hispana de Connecticut, the Independent’s content partner (and landlord), as well as music, public affairs, and shows produced by local nonprofit organizations. The station would be on the air at least 16 hours a day. The three New Haven applications are part of the FCC’s great LPFM land rush. Legislation signed by President Barack Obama in 2011 eased restrictions on low-power stations, and the FCC is expected to approve about 1,000 applications sometime in 2014. More than 2,800 applications were received by the deadline last month, according to the website Radio World. (Thanks to Aaron Read of Rhode Island Public Radio for tipping me off about the Independent’s application.) According to the Prometheus Radio Project, a longtime advocate of expanded community radio, “the over 800 low-power stations currently on the air are run by nonprofits, colleges, churches and emergency responders.” For years, the radio industry and (believe it or not) NPR fought the expansion of LPFM, arguing that new stations would interfere with established broadcast frequencies — a concern that advocates say is unwarranted. Like all LPFM stations, New Haven Independent Radio’s broadcast footprint wouldn’t extend much beyond the city limits, although it would stream online as well — which could be significant, Bass says, given predictions that most cars will have streaming Internet radio within a few years. INSPIRED BY HAVERHILL Bass says he got the idea from WHAV Radio in Haverhill, Mass., a nonprofit online community station (it also has a weak AM signal) whose volunteer general manager, Tim Coco, is seeking to expand with an LPFM license of his own. (I wrote about Coco’s radio ambitions last summer.) Coco, who runs an advertising agency and is a local politico of some note, is also among a group of residents working to launch a cooperatively owned community news site to be called Haverhill Matters, under the auspices of the Banyan Project. “I’m happy I provided some inspiration,” Coco told me by email. “I believe the more local voices, the better for the community.” Although Bass, if he is successful, may be the first hyperlocal news-site operator to start an independent radio station, the connection between the two media is a natural one. For instance, Howard Owens, publisher of The Batavian, a for-profit site that covers Genesee County in western New York, has partnered since 2009 with WBTA, an AM station with a strong community presence. An even more ambitious project is under way in the heart of the country, as the St. Louis Beacon news site is merging with St. Louis Public Radio. Donna Halper, a longtime radio consultant and historian who is an associate professor of communication at Lesley University, says a multiplatform presence of the sort Bass envisions is crucial at a time when the audience has become fragmented. “These days, it’s a multimedia world, and even a low-power FM station can get people talking" about your work, she says. “In this kind of environment, the more platforms you are on, the more you have top-of-the-mind awareness.” On the other hand, industry observer Scott Fybush, who writes about radio for his own eponymous website, warns that Bass may not quite realize what he is getting into. “Twenty-four hours a day of radio is an unforgiving taskmaster,” Fybush said in an email. “There are lots of applicants in this LPFM window who have what appear to be noble ideas, but keeping a station going with engaging programming day in and day out isn’t easy to do.” THREE-WAY CONTEST But that’s getting ahead of things, because first Bass has to win the three-way contest for the New Haven license. And that is by no means assured. (Bass’s application was filed by the Online Journalism Project, the nonprofit entity that acts as the Independent’s publisher of record.) According to documents on file with the FCC, the other two applicants are a Spanish-language organization and a Christian broadcaster called Alma Radio. Even though LPFM is intended to encourage localism, Alma proposes to broadcast nationally syndicated religious programs, including “Focus on the Family,” hosted by the controversial evangelical leader James Dobson. Alma Radio’s oversight board, according to a “Purposes and Objectives” document it included with its application, is “composed of members who believe and have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Although Bass says his ideas for the station are still evolving, he included a detailed proposal with his FCC application, with such diverse offerings as a morning news program; a daily “La Voz Latino Community Hour”; a collaboration with The Inner-City News, a local African-American publication; community theater; and a two-hour evening program to be called “Joe Ugly Presents Local Hip Hop.” (Joe Ugly is the nom de rap of a New Haven music impresario who runs an Internet radio station called Ugly Radio.) One of the New Haven Independent’s funders has already put up $3,000, which paid for legal and engineering services. If Bass wins the license, he estimates it would cost $30,000 to build the station and $60,000 to $70,000 to pay a full-time employee to run it — a substantial amount over the approximately $500,000 a year the Independent now receives in donations, foundation grants, and corporate sponsorships. The opportunity is clear enough. Done right, it would enable Bass to bring New Haven Independent journalism, with its hyperlocal emphasis on neighborhoods, schools, and city politics, to a new audience — and to entice that audience, in turn, into sampling the Independent. The danger, of course, is that the radio project would drain resources and attention away from the Independent itself, diluting its mission with a gamble on a new platform that may or may not succeed. Bass’s answer to that challenge is simple and direct: “We have to make sure it doesn’t.”
Dan Kennedy is an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University and a panelist on Beat the Press, a weekly media program on WGBH-TV Boston. His blog, Media Nation, is online at dankennedy.net. His most recent book, _The Wired City: Reimagining Journalism and Civic Life in the Post-Newspaper Age_ (University of Massachusetts Press, 2013), tracks the rise of online community news projects, including the New Haven Independent and The Batavian._Photo by pyrosapian used under a Creative Commons license._
Don't miss this insightful post by Skift founder Rafat Ali just because it was published on LinkedIn (where Ali has over 13,000 followers). He highlights a group of companies that he thinks illustrate a new business model, one that turns data and data literacy into a revenue stream. Some examples of media entities already leading in this area, according to Ali, include Bloomberg and FiveThirtyEight.
These companies are also riding a few other intersecting megatrends enabled by digital: — The blurring of personal and professional lives of users, because of ever-accessible digital devices, pervasive connectivity, and always-on social media mean users want more and more information, when they want it, and in more atomized ways than their predecessors. — Millennials raised on intuitive, open-web services -- media among them -- demand more from the business information companies they rely on for their professional lives. If everyone's coming in as an informed user driven by web-research, how should mediata companies service this generation of users? — The rise of the prosumer, or to use a more lay term, the rise of fanboy. If everyone's an expert, what does it do the the potential userbase these companies can build? Mediata companies are rethinking the traditional userbase and casting a wider net, and going beyond industry-defined silos, to build a larger brand. — The traditional silos in almost all industries are collapsing because of digital -media, tech and finance are best examples of it -- and that creates opportunities for new ways to look at industries, and build new digital-native information brands. — The ubiquity of embed code -- YouTube’s under-appreciated contribution in making it mainstream -- and widgets as a precursor to it means any kind of media, including data and its visualization finally gets unlocked from its proprietary containers, and can freely flow in any kind of environment.We talked with Ali back in May about how Skift fits into this data-journalism-hybrid model.
Back in April, we told you about De Correspondent, a new Dutch news site backed by a remarkable $1.3 million in crowdfunding. Jay Rosen declared it the most interesting startup he'd read about this year:
That's it. I'm declaring De Correspondent the most interesting journalism start-up I have read about in 2013. http://t.co/LSPpQrkAem -- Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) April 8, 2013With the benefit of a few more months' experience, De Correspondent publisher Ernst-Jan Pfauth wrote up some of what they've learned so far. (The total raised eventually reached $1.7 million.)
By now, we have a staff of 7 full-time and 19 freelance writers, a website that adjusts itself to every reading device, and almost 24.000 subscribers who have a year-long subscription of 80 dollars (60 euros). To put that in perspective: with The Netherlands having only 16,8 million citizens, this would be the equivalent of 450,000 subscribers for an American publication. We have a physical home in the offices of a former Shell laboratory on the shores of the river IJ, in Amsterdam… Therefore, De Correspondent aims for its authors to report on themes that transcend classic beats: themes like energy, privacy, or the economy of the future, to name a few. This reporting takes place in their own ‘gardens’ — sections of the site they can call their own, and in which they can build a relationship with readers who choose to ‘follow’ them. The main goal of this approach is to establish a lasting and meaningful relationship with our readers. Conceived of as ‘members’ rather than ‘subscribers,’ readers are asked to contribute their expertise on specific topics. While vigilant about its editorial independence, De Correspondent believes that a unidirectional, one-to-many relationship between a news medium and its readership is wholly of the past, and that active audience involvement is crucial for maintaining a healthy, thriving platform.Also, this is interesting from a how-to-push-sharing-on-a-paywalled-site perspective:
Apart from promoting some of our articles in Facebook posts, we don’t advertise. We think our readers are our best ambassadors; therefore they can share as many of our articles as they want. When they share an article, a notification bar tells their friends and followers: ‘This article has been shared with you by …’, followed by the member’s name. This strategy seems to work for now, since the ‘New visitors’ and ‘New members’ graphs show similar patterns. Moreover, we can tell that a lot of new readers sign up right after they’ve read an article. Our most popular article (203,676 unique visitors) inspired at least 147 readers to sign up right away.
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 the Press, 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. Roughly once a month, JR managing editor John Wihbey will sum up for us what's new and fresh.In terms of empirical research that can inform media practice, it's worth reviewing some important posts already published this month at the Lab. Among the works discussed: a Berkman Center for Internet & Society report on the technical limitations of how we measure online activity and a thoughtful warning about many forms of web-generated data we take for granted; an NPR Digital Services analysis of their own Local Stories Project's social media data, making a case that "serious" stories are as shareable as "fun" ones; a deep dive into the cognitive science behind news engagement on social media from Sonya Song, Knight-Mozilla Fellow at The Boston Globe; a Foundation Center report highlighting the rise of philanthropic money in media generally and the sharp increases in mobile and applications/tools investments; and a Pew/Knight report examining the demographics of Twitter news consumers (the same survey data that was based on continues to yield new Pew analyses, including on news use across all social platforms). The academic journal world also produced some noteworthy articles this month, including: "NEWS SOURCING AND GENDER ON TWITTER": From Washington and Lee University, published in Journalism. By Claudette G. Artwick. The study analyzes 2,731 tweets from journalists (26 men, 25 women) at 51 different newspapers during 2011. The problems in this area are persistent and well-documented, and Artwick reviews the prior literature on gender imbalances in news stories. In her sample, she finds sources named in about 19 percent of tweets (507 sources quoted overall). Just 11 percent of those quoted were women, thus "women's voices were relatively silent in the quotes on these reporters' Twitter streams." Further, at larger papers, "LESS THAN 8 PERCENT OF FEMALE REPORTERS' QUOTES FEATURED WOMEN, AND MALE REPORTERS QUOTED NO WOMEN AT ALL." Female reporters at larger news outlets quoted fewer women within the sample, compared to their counterparts at smaller newspapers. Through the use of "@" mentions, however, reporters were "engaging with a more diverse community": Nearly four of every 10 "@" mentions were women. Artwick concludes: "Reshaping the old rules and hegemonic structures that dominate story content and push-through onto Twitter may be needed to make way for the diversity of voices that can better serve democracy." "THE INTERNET AND AMERICAN POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS": From George Washington University, published in The Forum. By David Karpf. (Pre-print open version here.) Part of a growing cohort of academics pioneering the subfield of online politics, Karpf provides a short, useful summary of the state of research in this area. For journalists, the works cited page alone is a valuable who's who — fill up that contact list for campaigns 2014 and 2016 — but the narrative also underscores some basic truths: The web has not changed many forms of participatory inequality; polarizing candidates frequently win the small donations race; the "culture of testing" and analytics are changing how campaigns allocate resources; liberals and conservatives typically use technology differently for campaigns. One striking insight: "WE ARE POTENTIALLY MOVING FROM SWING STATES TO SWING INDIVIDUALS, employing savvy marketing professionals to attract these persuadables and mobilize these supporters with little semblance of the slow, messy deliberative practices enshrined in our democratic theories." But definitive answers remain elusive on many other fronts. "There is still, frankly, a _lot_ that we do not know," Karpf writes. For more insights in this area, see Kathleen Hall Jamieson's response, "Messaging, Micro-Targeting and New Media Technologies." In related research, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and Cristian Vaccari examine social media data relating to the 2010 U.S. congressional elections. Their study, "Do People 'Like' Politicians on Facebook? Not Really. Large-Scale Direct Candidate-to-Voter Online Communication as an Outlier Phenomenon," published in the International Journal of Communication, furnishes some cautionary evidence about quality engagement with voters. "SOCIAL RECOMMENDATION, SOURCE CREDIBILITY, AND RECENCY: EFFECTS OF NEWS CUES IN A SOCIAL BOOKMARKING WEBSITE": From Elon University, published in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. By Qian Xu. Xu looks at how different aspects of Digg (the old, pre-relaunch Digg) influenced perceptions of credibility related to media content. The study explores the consequences of the "bandwagon effect" — whereby attention to content frequently clustered around certain items — by performing an experiment on 146 undergraduates. It's a small sample, but it underscores some important ideas. Variables included number of diggs, source credibility, and recency of content. The results are perhaps predictable: PEOPLE NOT ONLY TEND TO GO WITH THE CROWD, BUT THEY TEND TO THINK THE CROWD MUST BE WISE IN ITS JUDGMENT. "Social recommendation, in the form of the number of diggs, was found to have major influences on a variety of outcomes, such as attention and click likelihood toward the feed, evaluation of news credibility and newsworthiness, as well as news sharing behavioral intention," Xu writes. But the big theoretical takeaway relates to how news organizations need to rethink their approach: "The determining role of social recommendation might present a big challenge for news organizations relying heavily on traditional editorial selection. WHETHER THE NEWS WAS PUBLISHED BY A HIGHLY CREDIBLE SOURCE MIGHT NO LONGER MATTER IN INDIVIDUALS' SELECTIVE EXPOSURE TO NEWS. Individuals may rely more on social means of information searching and filtering rather than resorting to experts for suggestions." "THE LIKE ECONOMY: SOCIAL BUTTONS AND THE DATA-INTENSIVE WEB": From the University of Amsterdam, published in New Media & Society. By Carolin Gerlitz and Anne Helmond. This think piece analyzes Facebook's attempts to create a "more social experience of the Web" and, among other things, its use of like and share buttons that distribute engagement outside the platform and across the web. Gerlitz and Helmond explore "how the launch of social buttons has reintroduced the role of users in organising web content and the fabric of the web — and how the infrastructure of the Open Graph is turning user affects and engagement into both data and objects of exchange." Their discussion looks at how subtle technical shifts are changing whole paradigms and conceptions of digital life and commerce. But the paper is not without some tough critiques, particularly given Facebook's refusal to include a "Dislike" social button option or other ways of registering negative sentiment and data: "[T]HE LIKE ECONOMY IS FACILITATING A WEB OF POSITIVE SENTIMENT IN WHICH USERS ARE CONSTANTLY PROMPTED TO LIKE, ENJOY, RECOMMEND AND BUY AS OPPOSED TO DISCUSS OR CRITIQUE — making all forms of engagement more comparable but also more sellable to webmasters, brands and advertisers. While Social Plugins allow materialising and measure positive affect, critique and discontent with external web content remain largely intensive and non-measurable." However, as the scholars note, this is all growing more complicated: "The absence of negative affects has until the autumn of 2012 marked the limits of Facebook's understanding of sociality. The introduction of new activity apps, however, has complicated the affective space of Facebook, allowing for differentiated and even negative activities in relation to web objects, such as to hate, disagree and criticise — while the action 'dislike' remains blocked." Overall, the paper looks at precisely how Facebook's general filtering of the web is being constructed and the implicit values embedded in the decisions of its developers. "BLACK BOXES AS CAPACITIES FOR AND CONSTRAINTS ON ACTION: ELECTORAL POLITICS, JOURNALISM, AND DEVICES OF REPRESENTATION": From the College of Staten Island and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, published in Qualitative Sociology. By C.W. Anderson and Daniel Kreiss. This paper blends in-the-field ethnographic work with bleeding-edge academic theory. Anderson and Kreiss take as their case studies two experiences: One involves the making of voter maps for internal use within the Obama 2008 campaign; the other involves Philadelphia-based newsrooms and their difficult experiences with the quirks of content management systems. In the past, social scientists could look at major societal shifts through much more obvious and observable macro technological advances — the rise of assembly lines, cars, highways, suburbs, computers. Now, many of the important trends are micro. Thus, these researchers explore how Actor-Network Theory (ANT) might help us get a better sense of what's really going on — HOW TECHNOLOGIES ARE SHAPED BY PEOPLE, AND SHAPE WHAT PEOPLE DO. This theory highlights how technology is itself an actor and helps shape knowledge and builds communities with common understandings. It requires research of the tech-human interaction at a granular level. At any rate, in both cases studied certain technological forms — the voter map and the news content system — grow up to embody assumptions about what is important and how information should be understood: Which people should be targeted, and which ignored? What stories should be told, and who should control that agenda? These questions are often decided in subtle ways by the technical organization of information. Anderson and Kreiss conclude that "to understand power and reform social institutions, and even uproot them, requires attention not just to theories of participation, deliberation, and the public sphere, but the socio-technical engineering of democratic publics and the cultural presuppositions that guide it." "DIGITAL ACTIVISM AND NON-VIOLENT CONFLICT": From the Digital Activism Research Project (University of Washington.) By Frank Edwards, Philip N. Howard, and Mary Joyce. The researches look at hundreds of instances of digital activism over two decades, categorizing practices and outcomes. Their evidence dispels some myths: "Frequent news stories about cyberterrorists, cybercrime, and hackers make digital activism seem like a pretty dark art, whereas close comparative analysis of campaign strategies, successes, and failures reveals that persuasion features more highly than violence." Yes, Facebook and Twitter are common tools, but in different regions of the world other social and communications technologies are also deployed frequently. E-petitions are most common in North America, while microblogging is most common in South America and Asia. Edwards, Howard, and Joyce add some nuance to debates in this area: "No single digital tool in this study had a clear relationship with campaign success. This is consistent with received wisdom. EXPERIENCED ACTIVISTS WILL TELL YOU THAT USING FACEBOOK OR TWITTER OR AN E-PETITION WILL NOT GUARANTEE SUCCESS. Now there is data to demonstrate that using these tools does not even make success more likely, when that is the only factor being analyzed." Finally, the evidence "challenges cyber-pessimist hypotheses about repressive governments becoming more savvy about digital activism, and thus better able to defeat digital campaigns. This study suggests that there is not a clear change in the rate of campaign success or failure between 2010 and 2012." "REMOTE SHOPPING ADVICE: ENHANCING IN-STORE SHOPPING WITH SOCIAL TECHNOLOGIES": From Microsoft Research. By Meredith Ringel Morris, Kori Inkpen, and Gina Venolia. This useful paper that might be explored by journalists looking for the latest angle on holiday shopping. The study's data were generated by a field experiment and survey of 200 shoppers, focusing on their experience with advice from networks while browsing for items. Shoppers took pictures and used text messages, Facebook and Mechanical Turk to get feedback about clothing choices. They not only found friends' advice useful but also valued feedback from anonymous crowdsourcing. The findings "indicate that seeking INPUT FROM REMOTE PEOPLE WHILE SHOPPING IS A RELATIVELY COMMONPLACE OCCURRENCE, but that most people currently rely on simple voice or text-based interactions to accomplish this," the researchers write. "Our experiment demonstrated that users found value in using richer media (photos) as well as using emerging social platforms (social networking sites and crowd labor markets) to meet these needs, and that such platforms' performance characteristics (particularly Mechanical Turk) were generally suitable for such interactions. Based on these findings, we suspect that consumers would find value in a smartphone app designed specifically to support seeking remote shopping advice." Morris, Inkpen and Venolia ultimately offer some thoughts about what the next generation of shopping advice systems might look like. (Although not mentioned, it also suggests a possible avenue for media looking to provide more direct, targeted value to consumers, and generate revenue, in an evolving social media ecosystem.) "THE FREELANCE TRANSLATION MACHINE: ALGORITHMIC CULTURE AND THE INVISIBLE INDUSTRY": From McGill University, published in New Media & Society. By Scott Kushner. A super-deep meditation on HOW LANGUAGE TRANSLATION OPERATES WITHIN INTERNET-ENABLE MARKETPLACES at sites such as ProZ.com (based in Syracuse, N.Y.), the study contemplates how the rise of algorithms and globalization are affecting our ideas about work and culture. French philosophy is invoked as Kushner takes a sweeping theoretical look at the future of labor: "The freelancers who become ProZ.com users can instrumentalize the interface even as it instrumentalizes them: by internalizing the logics of entrepreneurialism and learning to operate the ProZ.com interface, they 'introduce economy' (Foucault, 1991: 92) into their operations, increasing productivity to the benefit of the industry and extracting some degree of compensation. Those who produce quality translations, receive high ratings, develop relationships with outsourcers and come to attract new clients will easily justify next year's US$129 membership fee." In all this, we get a glimpse of the global labor future — and see how the human mind and the computer will be increasingly intertwined in the performance of tasks. _Photo by Anna Creech used under a Creative Commons license._
Hey students: Want to spend next summer working with Nieman Lab? I'm very happy to say that we will again be one of the host organizations for the Google Journalism Fellowships. Here's Google's description:
In an effort to help develop the next crop of reporters working to keep the world informed, educated and entertained, we have created the Google Journalism Fellowship. As a company dedicated to making the world’s information easily accessible, Google recognizes that behind many blue links is a journalist and that quality journalism is a key ingredient of a vibrant and functioning society. The program is aimed at UNDERGRADUATE, GRADUATE AND JOURNALISM STUDENTS interested in using technology to tell stories in new and dynamic ways. The Fellows will get the opportunity to spend the summer contributing to a variety of organizations -- from those that are steeped in investigative journalism to those working for press freedom around the world and to those that are helping the industry figure out its future in the digital age. There will be a focus on data driven journalism, online free expression and rethinking the business of journalism. The 10-week long Fellowship will open with a week at Google followed by nine weeks at one of the participating organizations.It's a chance to come spend time in Cambridge working with us as we research and report on the future of news — writing stories, working on projects, and generally trying to learn more about where the news ecosystem is headed. Last summer, we were very happy to have Sarah Darville and Linda Kinstler here as our fellows. (Sarah's now at Chalkbeat New York, née Gotham Schools; Linda's at The New Republic. You can see the stories Sarah wrote for us here and Linda's here.) We're one of 10 journalism institutions that will be hosting Google Journalism Fellows this year, up from eight last year. The other nine are pretty great, too: the CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING, the COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTERS & EDITORS, PEW RESEARCH CENTER’S JOURNALISM PROJECT, POYNTER, PRI.ORG, PROPUBLICA, the SUNLIGHT FOUNDATION, and THE TEXAS TRIBUNE. The way it works is that you pick one specific host organization to apply to — so if, say, investigative reporting was your main interest, you might pick CIR, IRE, or ProPublica. In your application, you can also choose to allow the seven other host organizations to consider at your application if your first choice doesn't select you. (Some real talk, though: We get enough applications — over 2,000 last year between all the organizations! — that logistically, it's unlikely that you'll be considered by a host other than the one you select as your top choice. So pick well!) There's a stipend: $8,000 for the 10 weeks (which starts June 9), plus a travel budget of $1,000. And note this eligibility requirement from Google: "[W]e are only accepting students based in the United States and eligible to work in the U.S., if your host organization is located in the U.S. (e.g. U.S. citizens, U.S. permanent residents, and individuals with a current U.S. student visa)." You can read an FAQ about the new program (including eligibility info), learn about all the host institutions, and apply. THE APPLICATION DEADLINE IS JANUARY 31. (One last nomenclature-related thing: Even though this uses the word "fellowship" in its title and is based at the Nieman Foundation, note that it's quite different than our traditional _Nieman_ Fellowships, which allow working journalists to come spend a year taking classes and working on a course of study at Harvard. _This_ is an opportunity for a student to come work with Nieman Lab staff for the summer, reporting on the future of journalism. Apologies in advance to anyone confused by the terminology.)
Ah, the pre-Thanksgiving bounty. Those of us who try to chronicle the business end of the news business have seen our plates overflowing lately. Not since the Bezos blitz of August have we seen so many announcements, shuffles, offers to sell, and big-name moves in a single month. These shuffles tell us lots about the evolution of both value and values going into 2014. Lots of media to pick apart: Wishbones, drumsticks, and carcasses to be cleaned, gravy to be separated. Let's carve: The Forbeses, The Blodgets, And Other Digital Builders May Sense A Top. As Forbes Media put itself on the block last week, it did so as a digital media company, not a magazine brand. Why aim at something like a 5x multiple of earnings — if you can even _find_ a "magazine" buyer — when you might be able to get twice that amount selling on your digital cred. Lots of good digital numbers tossed around: 25 percent digital ad growth, 55 percent digital revenues overall. Not highlighted: The familiar print struggles, as ad revenue is down 7.5 percent to $165.7 million through September, with ad pages down a percent. Forbes, forsaking its traditional business roots, has been a poster child for how to digitize a legacy company. Take a look at its home page, and you see how it has floated far away from its Fortune and Bloomberg Businessweek competitors, populizing, optimizing, nativizing, and rightsizing its content creation. Inevitably, in such transitions, something's gained — a doubling of unique visitors in three years — and something's lost, in this case the upmarket nature of its old magazine audience. Despite its great digital growth, it's still sub-scale compared to many of the companies it now competes more directly with — not to mention the truly big guns like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft, and Twitter. So maybe the end of 2013 — with the Dow over 16,000 and the shine not yet wiped off of Forbes' remake under CEO Mike Perlis — offers a great time to sell. Sell the story (digital audience and revenue growth, a leader in "Brand Voice" content marketing) and let the next guys deal with the next era. Elevation Partners, which bought in seven years ago and now controls a large minority stake of Forbes, probably won't get its investment back out, but its calculation may be a good one for Thanksgiving movie viewing: _As Good As It Gets_. Similarly, I'd have to agree with Michael Wolff that Henry Blodget — the banned-for-life Wall Street trader turned publisher who recently told the FT's tripe-eating Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, "I mean, first of all, I feel like an absolute moron for missing the top [of the market]" back in the dot-com days — may sense the same thing. Whether or not he is yet shopping Business Insider for $100 million, as Wolff surmises, he's built a Forbes Media-like digital company, adept at creating and replicating newsy content. BI recently got a new infusion of needed cash from investors, and Blodget immediately pooh-poohed Wolff's advice to sell. Yet the construction of such efficient content sites has its limits, and Henry's got to be driven by his previous market experience. These are businesses that have built value quickly on the explosive growth of pageviews. Though both Forbes and BI have branched out from display ads into events and other businesses, their fortunes lie greatly with ad monetization. As we'll see below from Yahoo's own ad math, that's problematic for 2014-2015 growth. The problem for both companies: The companies who may be the only potential buyers — the Yahoos, AOLs, or Voxes — can calculate fairly exactly what the digital audiences of page-spinners like Forbes or BI are really worth with their own state-of-the-art ad stacks applied. Those calculations would likely lead to significantly less than the desired $400-500 million price tag of Forbes or a possible $100 million for BI. Will Alden be next? As Digital First Media improves its own balance sheet — putting up paywalls to goose circulation revenue, outsourcing printing, and centralizing national content creation — when will Alden Global Capital, the company's prime driver, decide its time to cash out its investments? Like Elevation Partners, it won't walk away a big winner — but walking sooner than later may be its best move. As Katie Couric Comes To Yahoo, She Should Bring Sarah Palin. Let's remember when Katie went viral — it was with her dance partner Sarah Palin, drawing millions of pageviews as a mesmerized electorate marveled at the candidate's view of Russia. Couric will do an interview program for Yahoo, and it will be those interviews — separately judged and shared — that I think will bring the greatest value to Marissa Mayer's new-look Yahoo. After all, appointment viewing is more about Walking Dead and Breaking Bad these days than the network news, or even Katie's own disappointing talk show. As announced by Yahoo, Couric has been described as a new "global anchor." For Yahoo, being number one in online news "viewership" just hasn't (yet, at least) paid off sufficiently. Yahoo's like the most popular kid in a high school class who nonetheless struggles to pull together all the right application elements to get into a really good college. We'll have to wait and see how Mayer further defines the new company. The shorthand of being a "content origination" company doesn't do much; besides, why would that description be useful given the eternal business struggles of all the companies that _do_ originate content? Yahoo was down seven percent in display ad revenues in the last quarter, though the number of ads sold dropped only one percentage point. That's the basic math that defines the mighty struggle of most companies other than Google and Facebook to grow digital revenue: _Downward pricing pressures are overwhelming._ Though a big name in the old world, Couric is just one more puzzle piece in the Rubik's Cube — inevitably, there are many more dead-ends than successes — of re-imagining digital news programs. At Yahoo, it's Megan Liberman, ex- of the Times, assembling the parts, part Bai, part Pogue, part Couric — just as her former employer goes to the Times Minute, with its new thrice-daily one-minute video news update and names a new managing editor for video, Bruce Headlam. Place Yahoo's "re-imagining" of digital video news among many others, from The Wall Street Journal's early video news moves to Newsy's pioneering multi-source programming to Oslo-based VGTV's audacious move beyond print to the boundary-breaking (news/social/talk show) HuffPost Live ("The newsonomics of leapfrog news video"). The experimentation will only grow, and be bolstered by more big names, in 2014. The reasons are clear: 45 percent of U.S. adults report watching digital news video, and video advertising continues to sell out — the only category of digital advertising that has more demand than supply. Yahoo doesn't break out its video revenue, but we know that overall U.S. video advertising grew 24 percent in the first half of the year, to $1.3 billion. These video-forward moves are driven by demand-side economics. Brian Stelter's Profile Could Grow (or Fade) As He Enters CNN. Stelter has been the best bridge between the old business of TV and the new emerging business of video, with all its fuzzy-patterns transition. As the phenom, hired at age 21 by The New York Times, moves to CNN, he brings his unusually intelligent, perceptive, and deeply reported work with him. We have to wonder about the fit, though. He moved the Times measurably forward in the media/tech world in which it both excels and lags. Though it's the announced plan, it's hard to see him stepping into the dated media container of Howie Kurtz's Reliable Sources show, old media doing old media, even though he'll undoubtedly bring new edge to it. I like the idea of him doing a Morgan Spurlock-like show, one with attitude, authentic reporting, and a modern graphical sense — almost weblike _on TV_ — of how to tell a story. The problem is that there are so many CNNs. For every stretch of defining intelligence from the Fareed Zakarias, there's another of numbing, talk-down-to-me bleating out of The Situation Room, leading to such gaffes as Wolf Blitzer announcing the segment on the Kennedy Assassination: "I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington. The assassination of President Kennedy begins right now." As many of the non-TV-based giants, Yahoo and the Times among them, go deeper into video, the next remaking of CNN itself continues apace under Jeff Zucker. Everything from storytelling modes to business models are up in the air, as the reality of smartphone- and tablet-delivered video sinks in across the news industry. Aaron Kushner Emerges With A Small SoCal Duopoly — And A Deeper Question About His Contrarian Strategy. Kushner's Freedom Corp. wired its $27.2 million to A.H. Belo Corp. Thursday. It wasn't that the acquisition of the Riverside Press-Enterprise took that long to close, only six weeks after the agreement was announced. What was unusual was the public commentary on the delays, as Belo put out releases both giving Freedom more time to complete the deal and to announce very clearly its alternatives and ability to extract a non-refundable million dollars if the deal went south. That's just the _public_ tip of discussion. Behind the scenes, people in the news industry — some rooting for the contrarian publisher who has smartly promoted a $10-12 million investment ("The newsonomics of Aaron Kushner's virtuous circles") in the Orange County Register's staff and product; others deep doubters — are linking the delay in the Riverside buy to Kushner's ability to stay the course in Orange County. Kushner has been quite clear in saying that his investment will take a good three to five years to pay off, rebuilding the readership and advertising base of a paper that had been drained by cutting and then bankruptcy. So the question: Does he really have the financial wherewithal, or access to it, to advance his strategy? Completing the cash deal _seemed_ to be the holdup. "We have no inability to stay the course," he told me, three days after the deal closed. "We're on the offensive." How well is that offensive going? Kushner says that the investment in the Register products and the rationalizing of reader pricing has led to a 16 percent increase in circulation revenue year over year. That number doesn't significantly count the impact of a unique paywall put up in April. While those dollars may be good, an improvement on what was a substandard base, the Register is still, like its peers, down in advertising. Figure mid-single digits of down in print, and down in digital ads. One issue with latter: The Register's hard paywall has caused a 40 percent loss in pageviews, traffic that Kushner says is beginning to come back. Those numbers tell you one thing: Even if successful, the Register's approach will take years. That again raises the question of wherewithal. As the new year rolls in, we'll see how much of the Register investment philosophy is — and can be — applied to the Press-Enterprise. While the Register sees the L.A. Times — and its pointed reporting on the Register's Belo delay, and three lawsuits in which it is involved — as the sour grapes of a big competitor, the hint of question about the future of the Register will hang in the air for awhile. Southern California — which has the twin distinctions of being both the region having the most dailies with paywalls and with the most to have emerged from bankruptcy — remains ripe for a rollup, a cost-saving consolidation. When other SoCal properties — Digital First Media's numerous MediaNews dailies and/or the Times itself, as it's spun out or directly sold off by the Tribune Company — are put on the market, the acquisitive capacity of the new Freedom will arise, fairly or otherwise, as a question mark. Jay Rosen's Arrival At Pierre Omidyar's "Newco" Provides Bedrock. It's a good problem to have: What do you do with a possible fund of $250 million to build a new news company in 2014? That number, offered up by Pierre Omidyar as the reservoir of financial capacity for his new Glenn Greenwald+ news company, deservedly won headlines. While the site may not need to show profit any time soon, it needs to prove itself a credible news source — and that money can't buy. So Jay Rosen's decision to get aboard the new enterprise, actively advising it on navigating the editorial waters, is great news. I've known Jay for 20 years now, and you couldn't ask for a clearer thinker on what journalism needs to do in the digital age. The business issues of establishing credibility for personal-branded journalism site are still profound, but Rosen offers a fundamental belief in the power of honest, fact-based journalism to do good. His joining of Omidyar parallels former academic Clark Gilbert's move from Harvard to Salt Lake City, as he's driven one new model after another, many based on his teachings over the years, at Deseret News. Everyone into the swim. _Photo by Chris Hsia used under a Creative Commons license._
With America's favorite shopping holiday just a few days away, two tales from journalists who claim to have failed in their enterprises because of their refusal to play nice with advertisers. One comes from Mark Duffy, also known as the Copyranter, who left a copywriter job to join BuzzFeed, only to be fired from the media startup last month. Yesterday, he published one last rant, via Gawker, titled "TOP 10 BEST EVER WTF OMG REASONS BUZZFEED FIRED ME, LOL!"
Ben Smith made me delete a post I did on Axe Body Spray's ads, titled, "The Objectification Of Women By Axe Continues Unabated in 2013″ (it was initially called something to the effect of "Axe Body Spray Continues its Contribution to Rape Culture," but I quickly softened it). Get this: he made me delete it one month after it was posted, due to apparent pressure from Axe's owner Unilever. How that's for editorial integrity? Ben Smith also questioned other posts I did knocking major advertisers' ads (he kept repeating the phrase "punching down"), including the pathetically pandering, irresponsible Nike "Fat Boy" commercial. I of course understand that websites like BuzzFeed need lots of advertising dollars to operate, and that no media outlets—including the one you're reading this on—are immune to advertiser pressure. I understand that my posts may have pissed advertisers off. I also understand—very clearly—the job I was hired to do because I invented it. I had a longstanding blog that clearly outlined what BuzzFeed was getting into. Turns out Ben Smith didn't want what he asked for, and I guess I was too gullible to think it could be any other way.In a level headed response, Ben Smith says he has "never based a decision about reporting on an advertiser's needs" and illustrates some of the editorial conflicts he and Duffy had. Then, today, we had Mathew Ingram's account of what happened to NSFW Corp., as told through the eyes of Paul Carr.
Carr also admitted that his attitude towards his existing investors — such as his former boss Michael Arrington’s CrunchFund and Zappos’ founder Tony Hsieh’s VegasTech Fund, two of the company’s earliest backers — probably didn’t help increase his company’s lifespan either. As he described it during a discussion of Glenn Greenwald’s new venture, and whether the former Guardian writer would be comfortable reporting on his benefactor, eBay billionaire Omidyar, Carr said: “You only have to look at NSFW and see that we have been relentless in attacking CrunchFund for its bullshit hypocrisy in investing in NSA-backed [actually CIA-backed] startups, and we have been relentless in mocking the stuff Tony Hsieh is doing in Vegas… of course it has [had an impact on financing], it’s probably the main reason we couldn’t raise any more. It’s the reason why Vegas Tech Fund didn’t invest in the latest round or the round before, and it’s why Mike Arrington hasn’t talked to me in a long time.” For Carr, whose aggressiveness towards colleagues, friends and pretty much everyone else has achieved almost legendary status in the media community, this kind of attitude may have doomed NSFW Corp. as a financial entity, but it was required in order for the venture to have any kind of journalistic credibility at all. “I’ve never been one to hide behind saying ‘Oh, he’s an investor, I’d better be nice,’” Carr said. “Who cares? We’re f***ing journalists. I’d rather be poor and credible than have $250 million and have to say bullshit like ‘I can’t comment.’”Enjoy your holiday!
I hope you've been following the saga of OJR.org, the former home of the Online Journalism Review. In brief: When USC allowed the domain name to expire, an Australian company named Oneflare snagged the domain name and proceeded to create a fake version of the "Online Journalism Review" — adding USC and USC Annenberg logos to make it seem legit, stealing dozens or hundreds of archival OJR stories to give it heft, and generally being scummy enough to act as if it was still the legendary site that's been around since the late 1990s. After my first story, Oneflare did its best to take down the legally actionable parts of its scheme — removing the logos, deleting the archives — but still carried on as the "Online Journal Review," featuring links back to the main Oneflare website. This is a common if scuzzy search engine optimization strategy: Use sites with high PageRank sites (those Google considers highly legit) to generate links to your company's website, passing some of the Google juice earned over 15 years of publishing to the new venture. After my second story, Oneflare removed all the content from OJR.org; it's currently a blank site. Thanks to a little birdie, we know now that there have been consequences for Oneflare's actions. This thread in Google's Webmaster Central forums tells the tale of someone named "hubfub" who has recently felt the wrath of Google's punishment for SEO bad behavior. His post from Sunday (U.S. time, Monday in Australia):
My website received a sitewide manual action for unnatural inbound links back in July. We were able to get this revoked in August by removing about 50% of the links and disavowing the rest. We recently hired a new SEO agency to work for us and last week they advised us to buy an high PR expired domain and put a "quality blog" on there and use it to make a link to our website. They told us that this was 100% whitehat (obviously it's not as we are now aware). _["Whitehat" = legitimate search engine optimization; "blackhat" = scammy stuff that Google will punish if it finds out about. —Ed.]_ I think this blog triggered our domain for another manual review and we were hit again with another sitewide manual action. I was surprised because other than buying that expired domain, we hadn't done any other spammy link building since the last manual action was revoked. However after looking into webmaster tools and going to recent links I noticed that there were tons of spammy links that were built 3-6 months ago that were recently being indexed by Google. My question is, does the the new indexation of the bad links that were built ages ago still get counted when Google is considering whether or not to take manual action? Obviously we've taken down the new blog that was built but what else can we do to get the second manual action revoked?A Google "manual action" means that the search giant detected sketchy SEO behavior and decided to dock the site:
While Google relies on algorithms to evaluate and constantly improve search quality, we're also willing to take manual action on sites that use spammy techniques, such as demoting them or even removing them from our search results altogether.So who is the "hubfub" facing this punishment? Well, @hubfub on Twitter is Adam Dong, the CTO of Oneflare. And later on in that thread, Mister Hubfub notes that Oneflare.com.au is the website he's worried about protecting. Dong also tweeted a plea for help at two of Google's chief SEO staffers Sunday, too:
@JohnMu @mattcutts We got a 2nd manual action, yes, some new bad links but mainly there's problems with old links being indexed. Any advice? -- Adam Dong (@hubfub) November 25, 2013(Full disclosure: After I saw that Oneflare's spammed-up OJR post were still showing up as legitimate news articles in Google News, I contacted someone I know at Google to make sure they knew about it — so it's entirely possible I triggered the manual review.) Dong said in that thread that this is the message he got from Google:
Unnatural links to your site Google has detected a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to pages on this site. These may be the result of buying links that pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.In other words: Google saw what they were doing with OJR, caught them, and punished them by demoting them in search results. (One way to see this: search for _one flare_ with a space. At this writing, nine of the top 10 sites in the results are _about_ Oneflare. But none of them are the Oneflare site itself. In fact, the Nieman Lab tag page for Oneflare ranked higher than Oneflare itself. The Oneflare homepage hasn't been removed entirely from search, though; it's still the top result for a search on "oneflare" itself.) Dong's fellow webmasters, posting in that Google discussion thread, didn't seem to have much sympathy for his plight. Here's a sampling:
lol another fraud "whitehat" SEO strikes again… Feel free to name the Expert who suggested this amazing strategy so we can all point and laugh and try to protect other honest businesses from their flimflam. For any website it would be borderline suicidal, for one with a recent Manual Action for unnatural links… Just… wow… I'm suspicious of that claim. He's been buying links off of warrior forum. "Penguin proof" links. Methinks he probably knows what he did and if he doesn't, then he should probably quit the IM [Internet marketing] industry and go bag groceries…The Warrior Forum referenced is this site, which serves as a sort of back-alley hangout for blackhat SEO types. User hubfub has posted there 29 times (sample: "Hi there, I recently purchased a bunch of expired domains and set up new blogs on them"). And on a number of occasions, he appears to have bought backlinks from higher-value websites to send more juice Oneflare's way. (Click to enlarge.) In other words, it's hard for Oneflare to play the innocent here. Its CTO was already busy buying up fake links in the dark corners of the web more than a year ago. It's apparently been caught by Google this year for bad dealings and punished — only to get back at it again. They had this coming. (The only area where Oneflare really _was_ unlucky was in picking a website that I happened to care about.) The SEO damage may be bad enough that Oneflare could be looking to change domains entirely. A few hours ago, user hubfub posted again:
Hi there, I have a question relating to redirecting, for example abc.com to abc.co.uk abc.com has a ton of crappy links and obviously I do not want to 301 or 302 this to abc.co.uk as i do NOT want the link juice or pagerank to pass. However we do still have a lot of users that would organically type in abc.comNo idea if this is the plan, but Dong also owns oneflare._net_. If you enjoy irony, you'll appreciate that Dong wrote a piece last month for the Sydney Morning Herald. The headline? "FIVE SIMPLE TIPS FOR A GOOD SEO STRATEGY: WHAT'S THE BEST WAY TO GET YOUR WEB SITE TO THE TOP OF INTERNET SEARCH LISTS?" One of his pieces of wisdom: "External links are important for SEO because as far as a search engine is concerned, these are considered an endorsement of your site, increasing your ranking power and making your site more visible." I imagine Tip #6 wasn't "Do enough bad stuff for Google to drop the hammer on you." One of my favorite stories from the earlier days of the web is the tale of _nigritude ultramarine_. Every so often, SEO types hold a contest to see who can build up the most SEO juice around a particular phrase in a given period of time — to see who can earn the top search result when someone looks up those words. It's best if that phrase doesn't already exist anywhere on the web, so a nonsense phrase like _nigritude ultramarine_ works well. In 2004, that magic phrase was announced, and everyone had a couple of months to start gaming search engines. Lots of competitors tried lots of tricks. A search for "nigritude ultramarine" returned zero results before the contest; it returned more than 200,000 afterward. But, in the end, the winner wasn't an SEO consultant; it was Anil Dash, the popular blogger, who wrote a single post with that phrase as its title and simply asked his fans to link to it. "I'd rather see a real blog win than any of the fake sites that show up on that search result right now," he wrote. While SEO types were polluting the web with links, Dash took the prize with a single post — because he'd built up credibility through writing good content for years, and because he had actual human readers who were willing to support his efforts. I always thought of that win as a triumph for real humanity on the web. What's the best way to get ranked high in Google? _Write good content. Be good enough that real humans like you._ As Dash told Wired back in 2004 after his victory:
"A lot of people are trying to increase their page rank unethically," said Dash. "I think if we show them (that) the best thing you can do is to write really good material, then hopefully, they'll spend their time doing that (instead of) spending time coming up with ways to graffiti other people's pages."
When The Miami Herald left its home on Biscayne Bay, many in the newsroom were wistful. The newsroom had been right in the heart of downtown and home to memories and legends. Two movies had been shot in the building: _Absence of Malice_, with a young Sally Field and a hunky Paul Newman, featuring real scenes of the newsroom, and _The Mean Season_, with Kurt Russell and the tale of a reporter who became the story while covering a serial killer. And in an odd but appropriate juxtaposition to these bustling portraits of the busy newsroom, a recent episode of Burn Notice featured the old building burning down. Downtown, sometimes the news even came to the Herald building. In 2005, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Arthur Teele, shot himself in the Herald lobby. And perhaps you’ll remember the face-eating zombie case last year, captured on video by the Herald’s own surveillance cameras. But today, the newsroom sits all the way out in Doral, a city 12 miles from downtown Miami — about an hour away in traffic. That distance has led some to wonder how much, beyond nostalgia, if the newspaper was missing out on the advantages of being at the center of news. The jury is out. But my conversations about the new workflows there have belied easy assumptions about the presumed mobility of digital journalists on the go enabled with new technology. I visited the newsroom two weeks ago and talked about these issues with journalists for my research as a Tow Fellow at Columbia's Tow Center for Digital Journalism. On one hand, head photo editor Roman Lyskowski says the move “does not affect what I do or what other journalists do.” But other reporters noted a distinct difference on their daily workflow. Being out in the burbs makes them feel far away from where the news is happening. One metro reporter told me: “Going anywhere during the day is completely out of the way — it will take hours to go to a meeting, and you can’t just drop in on a meeting.” He continued: “You are just stuck downtown and you can’t come back if you want to. You can’t get that more casual interaction or run in to someone or have coffee.” Several county government offices are in Doral, including the county police and election board. But as another metro reporter complained, “There’s nothing that I cover that’s out here. I cover the city of Miami.” One reporter who was covering an election recount noted that she couldn’t get from the recount to a press conference with one of the candidates because it was simply too far, and that she had to be prepared to have someone else on standby should anything happen — a difficulty when resources are slim. Journalists consistently told me that they didn’t particularly love the idea of being mobile. Writing in a Starbucks day after day wasn’t fun, and writing from home meant missing out on casual interaction with sources and fellow journalists. For all we've heard about the promise of mobile journalism, it hasn't proved as freeing as one might think, at least not at The Miami Herald. Journalists really like being in a newsroom — and that's a problem when your location is physically distant from most from the places you might be reporting from. Courts reporter Jay Weaver acknowledged that in a digital world, buildings didn’t mean much from a technical standpoint. "In this day and age, though, it is all digitally-driven. You don’t need a building…The newsroom can be anywhere." At the same time, he placed a significant importance on being in the newsroom:
I like coming to the newsroom. You can exchange ideas more freely; there's a value to that. You can’t just work from your house…If you aren't coming to the newsroom, if you just work from your house, that’s like being a foreign correspondent, or equivalent to being in New York or something.A fair number of reporters I spoke with shared his view. Other journalists talked about the difficulty of being on the road. Reporter Chuck Rabin said “I could be mobile…It sounds easy: You can just jump in your car and file from the front seat. But it's not as easy as you think. I _can_ file from my phone, but it’s just not as convenient as actually being in the newsroom.” And neighbors reporter Christina Veiga, who has always filed her work as a mobile journalist, says it's still "a pain working out of a coffee shop. You can do a lot working from the office…and downtown, you could just run to stuff.” Why does this matter? In the age when technology has supposedly reduced the importance of place and where reporters can be working anywhere at any time, reporters at The Miami Herald argue that the location of the newsroom still matters. Geographical proximity to what they cover matters. And this is because they actually use the newsroom — it's not just some building now rendered unimportant by the rise of mobile devices. Rather, the ease of production for journalists may still be improved by having a set place to work. There is some intangible quality about being able to talk to the person across your cube or nag your editor or ask a colleague a question by the coffee pot. Working from your phone may facilitate live reporting of breaking news, but one wonders whether that outweighs the drawbacks of a decentralized newsroom. In some of the newsrooms I have visited, like the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, mobile reporting was more developed. Reporters liked it — the transportation reporter defined his identity as a backpack journalist. Yet in Miami, the physical dislocation of space from the center of the city has meant a rethinking of what it means to be inside a newsroom. And as newsrooms think about relocation and digital-first initiatives, it’s worth considering whether mobile is for everyone and what gets lost in the digital diaspora of the journalist away from the newsroom. _Photo of the former Miami Herald building by Phillip Pessar used under a Creative Commons license._
The Times' own Christine Haughney has the news:
Bruce Headlam, editor of the media desk at The New York Times since 2008, has been named managing editor of video content development. He will succeed Richard L. Berke, who recently left The Times to join Politico… In Mr. Headlam’s new role, he will report directly to Ms. Abramson. The move also marks a change to the video desk’s organizational structure. Rebecca Howard, the general manager of video production, who previously reported to Ms. Abramson and Denise F. Warren, the executive vice president for digital products and services, will now report just to Ms. Warren.Headlam will be familiar to anyone who saw _Page One_, and his departure adds to the recent turnover on the Times' media desk, with Brian Stelter having just left for CNN and Ravi Somaiya joining the team. But the interesting part here is the shift away from Howard being part of both the editorial and business-side infrastructure of the Times. We interviewed Howard about her role back in May:
My role is really unique for the company, not only because video is a relatively new initiative, but it also reports up through the business side as well as the editorial side. So I like to tell people I’m from the Land of the Dual Report. It’s not really anything that’s been done here before. Usually it’s church and state between editorial and the business side, so my role is quite unique for The New York Times. And other probably similar publishers. It’s pretty interesting in that regard… I think as far as my duties and obligations and responsibilities, it’s really important that we’re remaining true to the editorial strength of The New York Times and feeling the need to continue to monetize and figure out new ways to monetize video and to grow video. Those two things really need to be and in hand. You have to protect the editorial voice as you figure out new ways to monetize. I think having someone who is overseeing both is actually really important in this case.In Joe Hagan's August piece on the Times under CEO Mark Thompson, he cited Howard's arrival as a dual-report as a jarring event in the newsroom:
And in February, it was Thompson who hired a general manager of video production, Rebecca Howard of AOL and the Huffington Post, to oversee the new video push. Though she was billed as part of a “video-journalism” effort, Howard is a business executive with an office in the editorial suites. When it was announced that the video unit would be reporting to the corporate side of the paper, “Jill [Abramson] was clearly shaken by it,” says a person who was in meetings with her.These sorts of dual-report positions have become increasingly common at many newspaper companies; I remember all the way back to 2009 when the idea of broaching the business/news wall was still new at respectable dailies.
Gabriel Dance thinks a lot about tools. Specifically, what tools does he have at his disposal, and what tools can he and others on the Guardian U.S. interactive team build to help them better tell a story? Dance, the interactive editor for The Guardian U.S., spent a good chunk of the last several months working on NSA Files: Decoded, a multimedia examination of all the information revealed so far about how the U.S. government conducts surveillance on people in America and abroad. In trying to provide context around the story, Dance and his team used a blend of data visualizations, videos, social media integration, documents, and animated GIFs. Dance doesn't see it as a collection of bells and whistles, but as a way to take advantage of the tools the web provides to help make stories more engaging. "I'm not above the idea of saying the Internet is a competitive place — there's a lot of cats and babies on the Internet," Dance said. "It's our challenge to engage our readers in a way that captivates them. And the idea I can captivate them while telling them this incredible story, there's no reason I shouldn't be able to captivate them with such an insanely interesting story." Dance has been building these type of stories for a while, having worked at places like The New York Times and The Daily. Recently we spoke about how the Guardian U.S. built NSA Files: Decoded, as well as the state of online storytelling and how to create a culture of interactive journalism inside a news organization. And yes, we talked about that Times story with the avalanche. Here's an edited transcript of our conversation.
JUSTIN ELLIS: Give me a sense of how you guys went about building the NSA Files: Decoded and how you got involved with the story.
GABRIEL DANCE: As soon as the story broke on June 5, with the Verizon story, and then the 7th, 8th, and 9th followed up with some pretty major revelations. We also knew they were extremely complicated. Some of these things were technically complicated — computers and hacking and Internet taps. Some of these things were legally complicated, like the FISA courts and the Patriot Act. So immediately we knew that not only was there an opportunity, but there was a need. I have a good idea of how it works in some other newsrooms, but there's not any sort of editorial or reporting divide between my team and the rest of the newsroom. I know at The New York Times it works very similarly, same at The Washington Post. The people on my team, I call them "interactive journalists." But I'm looking forward to the day we can drop some of the prefixes and leave it as "reporter" or "journalist." But the simple answer is, I can go to someone on my team, give them a topic, and ask them to report on that topic and the process is very similar to how that might work with a more traditional print reporter. They go out, they explore it, they see what information is available. They schedule some interviews, they gather data, and they come back and we work on what form it might take. Are we producing articles with strictly text? No. But I think what we are producing is much closer to what you saw in Decoded, which is what I guess I'd call web-first journalism. When people talk about this as new and different, it only really is if you're looking at the old things as the status quo. The way I see it, the web has evolved and changed the way we have the ability to tell stories. What we're doing is simply adapting to all these new ways we have to tell stories. A comparison I like to draw a lot is photographers. Nobody ever questions whether a photojournalist is a journalist. I don't see anyone asking if Tyler Hicks is a journalist. This bizarre notion that because we're doing this — what is, because of technology and the Internet, a new form of storytelling — there's this natural, human trait to be defensive of what it was before. So I really look forward to the day where the types of people we have in our newsrooms, and the roles they play, aren't defined by the medium in which they present their work.
ELLIS: For the NSA Files, what's interesting to me is the combination of text, interactive, and video. You've got this whole cast of people talking directly to readers. How did you decide on that?
DANCE: That fundamentally goes back to the goal of this project as a whole. I know we'll get to the point where we'll discuss this and Snow Fall and things like that, but NSA Files Decoded is explanatory reporting. The goal of NSA Files Decoded is to engage and interact with our readers while making a very complicated series of stories accessible and relatable.
So when you're doing explanatory reporting, obviously the goal is to explain a rather complicated or in-depth process to our readers in a way they can understand. So what better way, when we were conceiving of this, then to have them be able to hear the words exactly from the experts? More to that point, I had this vision of this stark page where the interviews are being done, but give credit to Bob Sacha, the freelance videographer who we hired to work with us. Bob and I were talking, I was explaining to Bob the concept and he said "why don't we sit right behind the camera and have them speak directly into the camera?" As soon as he said that, it was perfect. We want them to talk directly to our readers, because we wanted this to be like an intimate conversation between our readers and the experts. I have themes I've had all throughout my work, and one of those themes is transparency. So this idea that you're not just getting a quote in a story, you're not getting part of a quote: You're getting the actual expert answering a question relevant to the thing. It kind of removes us from the process in a way where we're still doing our job of facilitating journalism, but we allow this really interesting, intimate connection between the reader and the content. And that's actually one place in Decoded we really have tried — and why I call my team an interactive team and not a graphics team or visualization team — to engage and involve the reader in the storytelling in a way that makes them feel as if they, themselves, are part of the story.
ELLIS: With shooting all the videos and building the project, how much time went into making this interactive?
DANCE: There are a lot of subtleties that go into it. One of which is the idea that content gathering and production went on at the same time. But the interviews were somewhat difficult to schedule and took a while. I would say there were three full-time people, including me, on this for two full months. Then, in the middle of the project we had a little bit of turnover in my team. I hired two people, Kenan Davis and Ken Powell, and they jumped in. It's difficult to estimate how much time they spent, but maybe we'll say they spent three weeks to a month each on it. It was the full team, for a month, and three of us for another month. It was a lot. It's a fair question. But it's such a difficult question to answer. Some people write me and say, "How many hours does it take to build this?" And it's like, I don't know. If we sat down with the exact idea that we wanted and all the functionality, everything, in line…who knows? Potentially you could build that in a couple weeks. But these things are a constant evolution. It probably took over a month before we even had any kind of working prototype with actual content in it. Until you put actual content in it, it's really hard for other people to understand what you're getting at. It's the subtleties, because the time also includes a lot of discussion, changing course, seeing what works, seeing what doesn't work.
ELLIS: What are some of the challenges you had, specifically on the layout or bringing everything together? There are a lot of moving parts there.
DANCE: One of the most difficult things was the initial planning for it. I sat down with a couple other people and made an outline of the entire project. This was an outline of the story, not an outline of what copy we were going to write or what video we were going to do or what interactives. Then I went through the outline of the story and I started to say, "Okay, what's the best way to tell this bit of this story?" And the "best way" is flexible term — that could mean most engaging, that could mean most illuminating. There's a lot of different things "best" could be. There was this whole planning process because we wanted everything to work in concert. The challenge is none of those things can be done outside the concept of the entire story. That's why, fundamentally, starting from the story and then deciding which parts are best for which mediums was both very challenging and, I think, in the end extremely rewarding and part of the reason why I think Decoded did so well.
But some of the other challenges — all the interview clips you see are one-shot takes. We did do two-camera interviews, but we never once used the second camera. And we never used any jump cuts. Every single quote is a full-on quote. That's why some of the quotes, they stumble a little, or they say "um." But it would have broken with our paradigm of speaking directly to the reader to have cuts in it. For every single bit of it, I could go through and say the challenges of all these things working in concert to tell a larger narrative. And I think that's actually what distinguishes Decoded. What I told somebody the other day was: This is a web-only project, wherein we're using all the Internet mediums available. GIFs, video, interactives, maps — all of that, hopefully seamlessly throughout. That's where I think the difference between it and any other projects lie. This piece was designed to be read, or consumed, as a whole. You can't take the writing out of it and have it work the same. You can't take the videos out of it and have it work. You can't take out the graphics and have it work. It's meant to be consumed as an entire project, with all these different parts being seen, seamlessly, to one another. It's actually a giant fucking metaphor for what we were talking about before with journalism. It's all journalism. It's just being told in different methods.
ELLIS: How do you think about keeping people's attention in a story like this? What have you been able to learn about the ways people engage with interactives like Decoded?
DANCE: I think with Decoded we're definitely trying to evolve the method of storytelling on the web. It's a total package. Some of the other things we do are different ways to tell individual stories. I'll just speak to Decoded, because I do see it as a culmination of a lot of what we've been working to. But, I'm just gonna address some of this Snow Fall stuff, OK?
ELLIS: Please do.
DANCE: _It just has to get out the way._ I thought [former Times Design Director Khoi Vinhs] post was poorly argued. Let me rip off a few ways this is different from Snow Fall. Snow Fall is over 15,000 words; ours is barely over 4,000. Let me be really clear: I think Snow Fall was an amazing advancement of multimedia storytelling. On the other hand, it didn't have any interactive graphics in it. Their interactive team is fucking outstanding — so it's only because they haven't decided to do this yet. But it still remains a huge difference. Essentially what they had were words with videos, and these videos had amazing renderings, obviously, of avalanches. They're infographic videos, I guess you could say. Like I said, we're an interactive team, so we're trying to engage our audience. So that absolutely goes into our thinking of how we did this. We knew the words had to be concise, brief, and clear. I'd say the fundamental difference between Decoded and Snow Fall, is that we're doing explanatory reporting and they were doing feature reporting. That doesn't mean one is better or worse, at all. Both are critically important, but they're extremely different types of reporting. You wouldn't compare somebody's article about the health care rollout and the website failures with a feature story about the pitfalls of maybe one family's plight in a state without Medicaid. But I do recognize captivating people means something different with the new technologies of the web. That means allowing people to engage with it; that means allowing them to connect it to their social network. It means making it seamless, and having videos automatically play. Some people hated that. But imagine how annoying our piece would have been if you had to click play on each one of those things? So this idea of having videos automatically play when they're centered in your window, and all those things, those are all to engage the reader, to keep their attention. To bring them further into the story. It seems like a lot of people feel like you're selling out when you say, "I want to entertain and engage and inform and interact with our readers." That's our goal. I haven't checked the stats, but just over the first two days there was over 10,000 people spending more than 30 minutes on the site. That kind of blows my mind. Those aren't people I know, even. My mom loves me and I don't think she's spending 30 minutes going through this. Honestly, it's because of these interactives and these different mediums. If this was all just copy, they'd probably do what I do, which is either print it off or Read It Later or something. Or if the whole thing was a video, I have no idea what it would have been. None of these things are easy. People want a template for them. There is no template yet.
ELLIS: You guys are still a relatively new entrant here in the U.S., and you don't have the print legacy that the Times or the Post or the Journal does. How can these type or projects create more awareness of what the Guardian does?
DANCE: One of the main differences between what we're able to do, and, say, Snow Fall, or Sharks and Minnows, is they do have to design a project with the idea that this is running in a newspaper. By definition, they're creating something for two mediums. We don't have to do that at all. Which is really a fantastic freedom and independence to have. Now, obviously, the entire Guardian doesn't have that. There's a very healthy newspaper in London. But in the United States, we're a web-only publication. I don't have to worry about speaking with a copy editor about what the print product's gonna look like, because there won't be a print product.
We have this enormous hunger for information about the United States from international people. So we have this really cool opportunity to explain stories from the United States in a way that is accessible to internationals and to American citizens themselves. In our interactives, we try to express that as creatively as we can. Whether that's with a gay rights visualization that looks like a huge multi-colored rainbow, or a choose your election game where people are holding balloons. Or it's a spin the debate, where you can reorder people's words. We're taking these really different, creative approaches because we're quite aware of the media landscape and where other people fit into it. So we're trying to create this niche, that I think fits with the Guardian brand. It's news, but you know you're going to get a breath-of-fresh-air kind of thing. It's also creative. Oftentimes, there's entertainment and it's fun. But it's also, fundamentally, extremely well reported, extremely thorough, and accurate storytelling.
ELLIS: One question that comes up with interactives is how to make them a part of everyday storytelling. Is it having people who see things both ways, interactive journalists like those on your team?
DANCE: Working with more traditional reporters is fundamental to creating interactive projects. That's true here at The Guardian, that's true when I was at the Times — I think it's true, period. But the answer to your question is tools. I created a lot of tools when I was at The New York Times, some of which they still use, some of which they don't. Tools can be extremely helpful; you see them at the Times, the Guardian. I think Quartz does a fabulous job of doing same-day news-relevant charts. Quartz has obviously made the decision that they're not going to be creating, for the most part, interactive charts and elements and things like that. We can turn around quick charts and quick data, and quick contextual elements. But we can't make them into these really whiz-bang interesting interactive social hook-ins. That just takes time. The second part of that is something Amanda Cox speaks a lot about, which is the idea that you don't have templates for stories. John Branch writes 16,000 words on Snow Fall, or Ewen MacAskill writes 4,000 words on the NSA — that's not a template. I don't see people saying "where's the template for longform investigative?" You know what I mean? This idea there's going to be a template that does interactive longform web journalism? I don't know if that's ever going to be the case. Now there's certainly best practices that are being developed, and things you see people like The Verge, and ESPN, and The New York Times, and The Guardian, which are templates that really highlight visual journalism, that have huge images and huge videos. Again, I would just say where's the templates for any longform writing? It doesn't exist because each story needs to be told on its own terms.
EXPANSION AND QUESTIONS FOR PLAYBOOK: Capital New York, the politics- and media-heavy news site bought earlier this fall by Politico owner Robert Allbritton, announced it would relaunch after Thanksgiving with a subscription service and a new Capital Playbook daily briefing, which aims to be to New York what Politico's influential Playbook is to Washington. Politico's Mike Allen, who writes Playbook, will co-write the new Capital Playbook. The Washington Post's Erik Wemple said it makes sense to expand Allen's brand, but wondered if he can be spread too thin. The New York Times is also trying to build on the Playbook model, announcing the launch of its own daily tip sheet of Washington news. As The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone reported, The Times is describing something that will rely more on its reporters' observations, as opposed to Allen's aggregation-heavy style. Meanwhile, Wemple highlighted a significant problem with Allen's Playbook — namely, that he gives his advertisers sympathetic coverage even in non-ad items and tends to ignore negative news about them. Wemple found patterns of fawning coverage of advertisers such as Goldman Sachs, BP, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Andrew Sullivan registered his alarm, writing that Wemple's piece "reads like a meticulously researched tale of at least the appearance of blatant corruption." Likewise, Jonathan Chait of New York magazine wrote that the scandal is that Playbook as a whole is so anodyne and establishmentarian that the kind of corruption Wemple described isn't even necessary. "THE BEHAVIOR WEMPLE DOCUMENTS WOULD ORDINARILY AMOUNT TO A SCANDAL AND A LIKELY FIRING OFFENSE, EXCEPT THAT IT SEEMS TO BE ALLEN’S ESSENTIAL JOB DESCRIPTION," he said. And the Columbia Journalism Review's Ryan Chittum said Allen is taking Washington access journalism to a new level, adding money to the access that journalists often get in exchange for friendly coverage. A BIG PICKUP FOR GREENWALD AND OMIDYAR: The net of personal information and communications swept up by the U.S. National Security Agency, at least as the public is able to see it, continues to widen each week. The Guardian reported that the NSA has access to personal information of U.K. citizens, thanks to a 2007 agreement with British intelligence authorities. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that the U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing its criminal cases where evidence was used from its warrantless surveillance program. A group of news organizations backed a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against the NSA surveillance, filing a brief arguing that such tactics put confidential sources and therefore accountability journalism at risk. Elsewhere, Bob Woodward said he wished Edward Snowden, who leaked these documents, would have come to him, as he would have convinced Snowden to remain anonymous and give him time to present the information "in a coherent way." His Washington Post colleague Barton Gellman, one of the people Snowden did leak to, fired back at Woodward. There were also a couple of engaging longform pieces published on the NSA leaks — one by Gawker's Adrian Chen on 1970s NSA whistleblower Perry Fellwock and another by BuzzFeed's Natasha Vargas-Cooper on David Miranda, the partner of former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald who was detained in the U.K. for possessing Snowden documents. Greenwald's inchoate news organization with eBay founder Pierre Omidyar gained a high-profile (at least in the meta-journalism world) member when NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen announced he had signed on as a paid adviser who will establish a "learning culture" within the organization and communicate its journalism philosophy to the public. The new organization will offer an opportunity to put the principles he's been expressing over the past decade to the test, he said. CNET's Edward Moyer pulled together a summary of everyone else on board at Greenwald/Omidyar venture so far. French media executive Frederic Filloux offered a list of suggestions for the new organization, encouraging it to embrace an endowment funding model, paid online subscriptions, and a niche print product. A PAYWALL HOLDOUT JUMPS ON BOARD: Digital First Media, one of the nation's largest newspaper chains and perhaps its most prominent holdout on online paywalls — although it had inherited some of MediaNews Group's — announced it would be expanding its digital subscription plan to all of its 75 daily papers. Digital subscriptions "don’t transform anything; they tweak. At best, they are a short-term tactic," said Digital First CEO John Paton. "But it’s a tactic that will help us now." Industry analyst Ken Doctor marveled at how thoroughly and quickly Paton and the newspaper industry have flipped on paywalls, estimating that 41 percent of the U.S.' daily papers now have online pay plans. Mathew Ingram of Gigaom, a longtime paywall detractor, saw the move as an alarming indicator of the revenue problems of traditional media but applauded Paton for calling a digital subscription plan a short-term solution rather than a monumental development. Another paywall critic, Digital First's own Steve Buttry, collected some conversation about the decision and stated that while he doesn't agree with this approach, he has full confidence in overall direction of the company. On the other side, the Columbia Journalism Review's Ryan Chittum applauded Paton for "putting pragmatism over ideology" and saw his decision as part of an ongoing vindication of the paywall as a significant part of newspapers' future, lamenting that newspapers bought into the ideology of free content for so long. "THE PAYWALL ARGUMENT HAS ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT APPLYING A TOURNIQUET IN THE SHORT TERM TO GIVE PAPERS TIME TO FIGURE OUT THE INEVITABLE TRANSITION TO ALL-DIGITAL," he wrote. Elsewhere in paywalls, Doctor detailed The New York Times' plans to move its pioneering paywall forward. READING ROUNDUP: Not many big stories this week, but a few smaller ones floating around: — Bloomberg laid off journalists from a variety of departments this week, particularly in its arts and culture coverage. It also let go Mike Forsythe, who co-wrote an article that had reportedly been suppressed for political reasons and who had been suspended last week. Reuters' Jack Shafer examined the Forsythe case, and his colleague Felix Salmon explained what's going on behind the larger cuts. Peter Lauria of BuzzFeed looked at the implications for Bloomberg TV. — Snapchat, a mobile messaging service built around ephemeral messages, was reported last week to have turned down a $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook, leading to some commentary this week on just how valuable (or not) the company is. The Wall Street Journal's Farhad Manjoo chastised Silicon Valley for its obsession with youth as an indicator of value or future trends in tech, though Mathew Ingram of Gigaom disputed that argument. BuzzFeed's Peter Lauria questioned just how widely used Snapchat is. — The New York Times announced a slew of changes in its Washington bureau, including the launch of a daily political tip sheet (mentioned above) and a political data journalism initiative to succeed the now-departed Five Thirty Eight. The New Republic's Marc Tracy analyzed the news of the data journalism project — the Times sees its main advantage in its strong graphics department — and Henry Farrell of The Monkey Cage welcomed its arrival. — Finally, former newspaper editor John L. Robinson and journalist Kevin Anderson wrote a couple of quick but thoughtful posts on changing news coverage to fit people's everyday lives rather than officials and organizations.
Over at Street Fight, Tom Grubisich hits on a trend I'd noticed but hadn't been smart enough to write about: the disproportionate representation of women in the leadership of hyperlocal indie media. (Disproportionate to Big Media leadership, I should say — not particularly disproportionate to the actual population.)
Of the 12 top revenue-producing community news sites, eight have a female editor-publisher-owner, based primarily on my calculations from the authoritative Michele’s List — compiled by journalist and community news researcher Michele McLellan — as well as my own research. There is just one site in the list’s top revenue bracket of $501,000-$1 million — St. Louis Beacon — and it is headed by two women: Editor and co-founder Margie Freivogel and General Manager Nicole Holloway… Another number: Six women editors-publishers now sit on the 13-member board of the Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers, the major association representing “indies"… Crucially, none of these women had to make their case in corporate board rooms, which are overwhelmingly male-dominated. These women just rolled up their entrepreneurial sleeves and went to work. But their success wasn’t, and isn’t, guaranteed. The odds against the small businesses owner — male or female — being successful are considerably longer than a blackjack player’s chances in Las Vegas. So what do women bring to the community news space to produce so many winners?
That's the claim of this piece by Medium product scientist Pete Davies, which goes into why they prefer to push past vanity metrics that create giant PR-friendly numbers.
We’ve crossed a point at which the availability of data has exceeded what’s required for quality metrics. Most data scientists that I meet tell me that they’re gathering way more data than they can ever hope to use. And yet, in many cases, they still don’t have useful metrics… I think of competing for users’ attention as a zero-sum game. Thanks to hardware innovation, there is barely a moment left in the waking day that hasn’t been claimed by (in no particular order) books, social networks, TV, and games. It’s amazing that we have time for our jobs and families. We measure every user interaction with every post. Most of this is done by periodically recording scroll positions. We pipe this data into our data warehouse, where offline processing aggregates the time spent reading (or our best guess of it): we infer when a reader started reading, when they paused, and when they stopped altogether. The methodology allows us to correct for periods of inactivity (such as having a post open in a different tab, walking the dog, or checking your phone).
Maybe you saw my two stories this week on the fate of OJR.org, previously the website of the once-essential Online Journalism Review, which was turned into a spamblog by Marcus Lim, CEO of an Australian startup called Oneflare — one that initially fraudulently tried to appear it was still the old OJR, a product of USC Annenberg. (Since those articles, OJR.org has been blanked entirely. Sometimes sunlight really is the best cure!) Well, kudos to Rhonda Roland Shearer at the website iMediaEthics, who found that another old journalism website, PoynterOnline.org, has met the same fate. Except in this case, it's been a spamblog for years without anyone noticing, with someone named Evgeniy Varlashov apparently to blame. Check out all the details on her post. (PoynterOnline.org was an alternate URL for Poynter's website for much of the 2000s; they consolidated on Poynter.org around 2008.) Shearer notes that PoynterOnline.org claims to have "won more than 100 awards in the past five years alone." I'd also note that the language PoynterOnline.org uses to make that claim are straight lifted from Computerworld's about page. And I'd also note that, unlike OJR.org, PoynterOnline.org is also running Google ads, so there's likely a small-but-nonzero amount of money being generated off Poynter's reputation here. People: Don't let your domains expire. In this case, unlike OJR's, the decision was likely made on purpose — Poynter switched from PoynterOnline.org to just Poynter.org a few years ago. But particularly when you have a brand to protect embedded in that URL, it's totally worth the 10 bucks a year to just keep renewing and autoforwarding. If you're thinking about giving up a domain, ask yourself the question: _Will I be okay with this domain becoming a spamblog in a few weeks?_ If the answer's no, pay up.
To understand what Potluck's new iOS app will mean, you have to understand where Josh Miller thinks he went wrong with the first two tries. Though the products have different names, Miller says the new app is really his third stab at the same idea — trying to build a platform that can improve the digital engagement and conversation space. The first attempt was Branch, a company he cofounded with Hursh Agrawal and Cemre Güngör, and that was supported financially and otherwise by everyone from Jonah Peretti to Lerer Ventures to the founders of Twitter. "Our original hunch with Branch was, well, people aren't tweeting and they aren't blogging, even though they have opinions. Why is that?"
But what Branch actually ended up being was a way for publishers to curate digital expert panels. "A lot of people loved it, but the people that loved it were the people who were already used to creating content," says Miller. It's been used by everyone from The Atlantic to The New York Times to Al Jazeera, but Miller's original goal eluded him. While Branch is still active, Miller says they've stopped designing new features for it in order to focus on Take Two. "Branch was a dynamic where, if a Branch took off, it was all over the place — Twitter, Mediagazer, Hacker News — everybody knew about it. But if you looked at the number of people that used it everyday and were addicted to it, there was a very small number," Miller says. "Potluck is the opposite. Potluck, you've probably never seen on Twitter, but there's a significant community of people coming back four to eight times a day." Potluck, the frequently used analogy goes, was supposed to feel like a dinner party, a place where you could have intimate, interesting conversations with the people you know and people you might like to know. But there was a problem. "We said, 'This is going to be a great dinner party!' And nobody showed up. Nobody brought food. It's like, there's nothing here," says Miller. "Our goal with these snacks is that we think there's a huge demand for a mobile application where you don't have to wait for anything to load, where the content is easily digestible, where you can very quickly learn about what's going on in the world while you're taking a bathroom break or in line at the grocery store." "Snacks" are what Miller hopes will be the core attraction of the new app, Take Three: news stories condensed into three, swipeable cards. "Most people, when they're on their phone, which they increasingly are, they really just want these quick hits. They don't want a thousand words, or even 500 words. That's what we see the snacks being. You get a title, we'll give you three slides and then, if you find it interesting enough that you want to read deeper, we'll link you to a third party that we think does a good job of giving you more information," says Miller. Although Potluck's editors will be creating these content snacks in the beginning, Miller says he'd be open to outside publishers — and users — contributing as soon as possible. "We don't consider ourselves a media company. We don't want to consider ourselves a publisher," says Miller. "We just think that's very important for us to establish content in the community we want early on." Commenting, the bet goes, will be better if there's something built in to comment on. What Potluck wants is to be the best commenting platform, the "best content and conversation experience" available in a native iOS app today. For Miller, that meant building an intimacy that the original Branch lacked. "Everybody is going to see the same content. What our editors create is what everybody in the app is going to read. But the conversation thread you see is only going to have your friends, and friends-of-friends," he says. "It would be like if tomorrow Facebook said, 'We're launching a new iOS app and it's called The News. And in The News, you only post links and articles and you talk to your Facebook friends about the news.' It's that, but with a smaller graph." Miller believes his credentials as a platform builder, plus his experience with Branch, make his team uniquely poised for success in the "fuzzy area" between content creators and tech startups. If media companies are already willing to farm out comments to third parties like Disqus, Miller believes Potluck has an opportunity to become the platform that's "owning the engagement." "Most publishers, when they created a native app, not a lot of people downloaded them. So they said, 'We'll just create a nice mobile web view, so at least when it's shared on Twitter and Facebook it will look good.' That's them thinking like a media company," says Miller. "Products-focused companies will always be best at building those products, and content-focused companies are always going to be focused on creating the best content." As far as media tech companies go, Miller singled out BuzzFeed, Gawker, and (sister company) Medium as well as messaging apps like MessageMe, GroupMe and Kik. But the company that comes closest to swimming in the same waters as the new Potluck app is Circa, which also uses a card metaphor to tell news stories in a mobile context. Says Miller: "We're similar in the sense that we both don't want you to have to wait for a URL to load, and we think you need bite-size chunks at a time. In that sense, we're both on the same page — but we still think content should be shorter." In other words, Miller believes that the audience looking for news that's longer than a tweet but shorter than an article is being underserved. "There's a little pie of people who are interested in reading a New York Times article on the shutdown," he says. "We think there's a much, much larger pie that is interested in the government shutdown but doesn't find any of those articles that approachable." Ultimately, he wants Potluck to offer just enough information to generate conversation. BUT CAN IT SCALE? Miller does have some plans for monetizing Take Three, although he readily admits that most of them are half-baked. Indeed, his suggestion that at some point premium Potluck content — industry-specific news, for example — might only be available to subscribers seems rather unlikely when you remember that we're ultimately talking about three to five sentences, based on things reported elsewhere. That said, he did point out that, once upon a time, nobody thought people would pay 99 cents for iTunes music files when they could be downloading the same music for free. "The reason people started doing it was, it was the fastest way to do it, it was easy, it was intuitive," he says. "If Potluck is the quickest, easiest, fastest way to consume content, maybe there's an opportunity to do something similar to what Apple did."
But clearly, with its focus on content, advertising is the most likely route to revenue for the new app, although Miller says they have no immediate plans to hire a sales team. But Miller's not interested in banner ads. "You can imagine a world in which the top card is The New York Times with three slides on the government shutdown and the next is GE on why their new jet is going to be amazing," he says. Although they have no plans to create video content, Miller said he hopes swiping cards, which he claims is "by and large, the most fun, addictive, mobile interaction," will ultimately generate price points comparable to preroll ads for video content. Says Miller: "I think it would be really interesting to say, 'Hey Nike, make a snack about your new shoes and why they're so awesome and we'll put it in the stack with anyone that follows ESPN.'" Potluck's core challenge will probably still be getting people to use it. While there are undoubtedly users looking for a more intimate, faster, mobile platform for engagement, the barriers to conversion from Facebook, Twitter, or your social network of choice still seem high. Plus, call me an optimist, but Miller seems to be depending rather heavily on the assumption that New York Times content is too highbrow for most consumers. That said, if neverending Internet chatter is to be believed, comments are something we still haven't fixed. If Potluck manages to not only solve that problem, but do it in the mobile space, Miller might be on to something. As he says himself, if you don't think "conversation as the core of content" is the next big thing, just look at how hard Nick Denton is focused on Kinja. "Nobody wants to talk about news on Instagram. Nobody wants to learn about the government shutdown on Snapchat, because that's where you're trading selfies with your girlfriend or posting photos of the sunset," Miler says. "I think the big play for publishers, or a tech company, is to try and become the place where you talk about this stuff. Whether it's Potluck or Gawker or Curbed or Vox or whatever — or maybe it's going to Facebook if they do a standalone app, or Twitter — I think there's going to be a single platform where people talk about this stuff."
Listen to Mark Thompson and you hear echoes of early 2011. "We have the theory. We've done the research. We've done the modeling," the New York Times Co. CEO told me last week. "Then there's reality." __TWEET Thompson, as intense and self-assured as many Timespeople often describe, punches at the air to make that last point. The new reality he is outlining will roll into existence in the second quarter of 2014. The Times will furiously break new company (and industry) ground with at least three new Paywalls 2.0 paid digital products and, at some point, a new "premium" tier. __TWEET Within the Times building, teams of editorial, business and tech staff are shaping those new products. If it succeeds, the Pied Piper of the paywall revolution — having led the march that more than 40 percent of the U.S. newspaper industry is now following — will be leading a merrier band toward more new revenue. For the Times, the new products are biggest initiative since the January 2011 launch of the metered pay system itself. Their success will determine how much gas there may be in what we can call the revolution of rising reader revenue. The Times leads the industry with 56 percent of its revenue coming from readers — but it needs more. Its three-year-old initiative has been a success, running at a rate of $150 million in new digital reader revenue annually. It has signed up 727,000 digital-only subscribers. It has transitioned its print subscribers to an all-access model — and gotten an astounding number to link their print subscriptions to digital accounts. But it needs more. Both print and digital advertising revenue are still shrinking, and a turnaround in either over the next two years is more a hope than a certainty. That's the driver behind Paywalls 2.0. Can it extend the lessons of the first revolution in reader revenue — proving out the theory, research, and modeling that say there really is a consumer appetite for new paid digital news and features products? It's important to contrast late 2013 with early 2011. Walk the corridors of the Times building and talk to staff today and you'll sense a budding confidence — a quality I believe is fundamental to the industry's rebuilding ("The newsonomics of outrageous confidence"). No one has any illusion that the Times' future is assured, and the recent defections of Brian Stelter, Nate Silver, and David Pogue and others have sent a bit of a chill through the place. But Times staffers know that their finances are a lot less shaky since the tenuous days of the Carlos Slim loan — and that a lot of people value what they do every day. The all-access digital pay strategy has not just brought in cash: It's served as a statement that millions of readers value the Times enough to pay a fair amount of money for it. It shows people care. I asked Paul Smurl, who led the development of the paid digital business as general manager of core digital products, why the new paid products won't be introduced until the middle of 2014 when it was clear the all-you-can-eat subscription model had begun to plateau by the middle of 2013. (For that 727,000 total at the end of September, the Times showed just a four-percent increase since the end of June.) Smurl answered in three words: _It is complicated._ The Times has both a big news business to protect and lots of data to test. In fact, it's been busy preparing for Paywalls 2.0 for a while now. Smurl says the company has tested "a hundred different products and price points." Qualitative studies, quantitative studies — and, of course, financial modeling. That modeling is aimed at one goal: maximize Times EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. In other words, don't just increase revenues: Increase _profits_. That makes fundamental sense for a company that eked out a $12.9 million net operating gain in the last quarter. In part, that means creating products that generate lots of new customers but don't significantly cannibalize that new hard-earned customer base. So what's come out of that process? Three new niche products, to start: * FOOD & DINING: Sam Sifton, a former Times restaurant reviewer and national editor, is heading up this project. Expect lots of video and how-tos. This product will grow out of the Times' well-read Dining section. The big question won't be interest; it will be what kind of product might the Times create that consumers will value enough to pay for separately. Food and dining is a big, free world, with television content hugely popular. Recipes won't be enough — nor will thoughtful and entertaining commentary. What might help would be third-party content, a partnership with a food outlet that has affinity with the Times, or functionality that extends the experience. How about some kind of special deal with OpenTable that gives subscribers some kind of preference or deal, for instance? Michael Zimbalist's R&D staff demoed "Julia" for me last week. Julia (check out the demo here) is a magical Internet tablet, using gestural and voice interfaces to use tablet-like content and then see ingredients displayed on the countertop. The R&D Lab describes Julia as "an experiment to think about how usage data and sensor data could be tied into a feedback loop between a publisher and its users to improve future offerings." Julia may not be ready for prime time — or kitchens may not be ready for it — by mid-2014, but it's the kind of _wow_ that could get people to buy, much as the new Mayday feature on the Kindle Fire HDX is doing. Sometimes you sell the steak, and sometimes you sell the sizzle. What will be the Times' sizzle here and in the other products? * NEED TO KNOW: Cliff Levy, a much decorated Times editor, is at work on this smartphone-first (tablet-second, web-third) product. It's intended as a first briefing on the world: Put down that Facebook and smell the globe. Thompson talks about it setting a news agenda, with an "American voice" and a witty, engaging tone that Levy has surfaced in the Times' NYC Metro coverage. One big key for this product: aggregation. Ah, _aggregation_. It sounds so easy, but legacy news companies — and you can't get more legacy than The New York Times — have had such a hard time of it. BuzzFeed has been all the buzz among European newspaper companies, for instance. "What do you think of BuzzFeed?" is usually one of the first five questions I'm asked by those publishers. They're _fascinated_ by it. Then I ask: Are you doing any aggregation? "No" is the usual answer. Maybe the Times can crack the code here. After all, it has some of the best editors in the world, and aggregation is in a sense just great editing — with all the web as your raw copy. * OPINION: Andy Rosenthal, the Times' editorial page editor since 2007, heads up this one. We know less about this one, other than it will probably have a tough road to get people paying. Consider it a counterpoint to the Guardian's Comment is Free. There is so much free opinion on the web, some of it actually good, that this product may have the toughest go of it. How will the Times' voices rise to must-pay levels? Mark Thompson emphasizes the common threads among these products: "They are all an expression of classic journalism. There's no dumbing down. Each has its own voice." And: "Each will express the mother brand." __TWEET That combination of characteristics is a tall order. My bet is that the Times will be fortunate if one of the three new products generates substantial profits. Two would be a big win, and three would tell us that the Times has arrived at a new level of _data-mastering strategery_. Perhaps as interesting as the three new products will be the as-yet unnamed (and unscheduled) "premium" tier for subscribers. __TWEET The Times is figuring out what fits in that tier. Events (TimesTalks and its separate growing conference roster) will be part of it. Its ebook singles business, partnered with Byliner, will likely be part of it. Then there's the possibility of commercial discount and loyalty programs, plus the other kinds of perks the Chicago Tribune is testing out with Trib Nation "membership." The idea: Give brand-loyal subscribers more and charge them more. In part, they pay more to get more; in part, they pay because they like the idea of being "premium" or VIP. The Financial Times, adding its well followed Lex column, e-paper access, and letter from the editor to its premium offer, has gotten a whopping 33 percent of new digital subscribers to take "premium." They pay $2.49 a week more for the privilege. That's a lot more for about zero in extra cost. Premium or VIP subs are one innovation any self-respecting quality publisher should be thinking about for 2014. What you won't see as part of "premium" is the word "membership." The Times has looked at a membership program, and backed away: The relationship just doesn't feel right to the paper. It may well may be right about that. The Times isn't our kissing cousin; it's more like our brainy, sometimes-know-it-all uncle, respected but not exactly cuddly. Membership implies some closeness, and the Times likes — for good reasons and other reasons — to maintain its distance. We may prefer to keep our distance — getting the news, but sometimes disagreeing with its news judgment and editorials — and the Times is more comfortable that way too. As the Times moves toward its ambitious 2Q goals, it does so on a base of quite a bit of learning, an education that's useful to everyone in the publishing industry now peddling digital content: * TAKE DOWN THE FENCES. "Everyone wants unlimited content," says Smurl, underlining one of the lessons of Paywalls 1.0. The Times learned that lesson painfully with Times Select, which limited access in confusing ways — but it learned it well. All-access means use on all your digital toys, and all the content. Perhaps that thinking is most useful to the many European publishers who continue to offer freemium products, offering access to some stories for free and charging for others. * "FREE" HAS A NEW PARTNER. "People are settling into a consumer mindset," Smurl adds. That mean seem like nothing novel now, but consider how much our thinking has changed in four years. It's not just all-access newspaper subscriptions that affirm the point: Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora, and more prove out the point across news and entertainment media. * PEOPLE SAY THEY WILL PAY — AND DO. Early on, 40 to 50 percent of Times readers told the company they'd pay a dollar a month or more for good content. Now, Smurl estimates that number would be 60 percent or more. That's a big confidence booster as the new products are readied. * EXPECT $9.99 OR LESS AS A MONTHLY PRICE FOR THE NEW PRODUCTS. Part of the appeal of the new product is passion or utility, but part of it is also price — less than the cheapest digital subscription of $15 per four weeks, which is what a majority of the Times digital subs take. * THE TIMES HAS DIGITALLY LINKED CLOSE TO 90 PERCENT OF ITS PRINT SUBSCRIBERS. That's a hugely important number. It means the Times can have a largely singular view of its whole audience and what it reads and spends. The number stood at about 40 percent before the pay system went into place, and for most newspaper companies, it's been a struggle to reach 50 percent or more. The lesson: Do everything you can do to build the database; it's a starting point for the next business models. * THE REST OF THE GLOBE MAY WELL BE THE TIMES' _LONG-TERM_ BIG OPPORTUNITY. Ten percent of its digital subs come from outside the U.S., where 95 percent of the world's population lives. Thirty-five percent of its unique visitors are driven from the wider world, though a smaller share of the pageviews. The Times has abandoned its Portuguese-language planned product in Brazil and its China site is in play with the Chinese government. It is the English-language offering that Mark Thompson says will drive the Times' business forward. * YOUTH, OR MAYBE SLIGHTLY LOWER MIDDLE AGE, WILL BE SERVED, DIGITALLY. The average age of the Times print reader: 52. The average of age of the digital reader: 47. __TWEET
Noah Feehan, a "Maker" at The New York Times R&D Lab, wanted to create a physical artifact that marked all the changes in Times headlines, in real time. So he built Diff,
a small device that monitors the internal events stream of The New York Times and prints out a summary each time an active headline is changed. As it runs, it generates a long stream of changes printed on thermal paper: text that was removed from a headline is rendered as inverted, while additions to a headline are underlined… Of course, we were aware of and inspired by the excellent NewsDiffs project, which provides a more complete and persistent summary of changes to entire articles across several different websites. Our objective in making Diff was as much rooted in the notion of “fixing” an evanescent resource in a place and time (as NewsDiffs does) as it was a reaction to the emerging shape of “internet things” whose purpose is to transpose or transform the properties of network space onto physical space, and vice versa.Diff found that headlines get changed roughly every five to seven minutes, unless big news was breaking. Okay, here's a Nieman Lab hook:
We’ve only just begun exploring the full potential of the data source for this project, which is exciting in its own right: it’s basically a near-real-time, highly-detailed stream of every event that our publishing framework sees, from the first words typed into our CMS, to an article’s publishing in its own section, to its promotion to the front page. I unplugged Diff after a week or so of printing, and have saved the 300-odd feet of generated text for some future application. Expect to see more stream-processing tools, internet-things and interaction experiments here soon!Feehan's built a lot of nifty things in his young career, but for me it'll be hard for him to top Steak Filter, in which he made a video of a steak cooking _by sending the video signal through the steak as it cooked_. (More cooked = less moisture = degraded signal. Now _that's_ exploring meatspace.) (This is what eventually happens to the signal.)
That's according to Bob Lord, global CEO of AOL Networks, writing for HBR. All five make sense, but let me highlight two of particular interest to publishers:
1. AUTOMATION WILL TAKE HOLD. As automated, or programmatic, advertising technologies replace unwieldy manual media planning and buying processes that eat up too much time and overlook critical consumer data, more (human) resources can be directed toward the creative side of the house, and toward engaging and effective advertising that drives commerce, for example, native advertising, sponsorships, take-overs and other strategic initiatives. Automation is a win for web publishers as well. Programmatic advertising does not mean publishers need to put their inventory up to the highest bidder. It simply means they can make it accessible via a technology platform that makes it easier for buyers to access it while still setting premium pricing. Programmatic advertising is about automation, not auctions. Bottom line: sophisticated technologies will serve to complement and enhance the creative talents of humans by freeing up their time that has — to a great degree — been occupied by rote tasks such as completing insertion orders for ad buys. Projections put about 22% of all digital media being automated next year — up from just 4% in 2010.
4. PREMIUM ADVERTISING WILL GET MORE PREMIUM. 2014 will be the year when immersive advertising experiences that tie directly to a transaction will begin to flourish on the Web. As automation kicks in and time is given back to agencies and marketers to be more creative, we will see an industry call for more premium opportunities that goes beyond banners and gets much more sophisticated and customizable. Whether it’s a new live advertising execution (think Oreos response during the 2013 Super Bowl blackout) or a commerce campaign that drives sales through location based content, digital advertising will be remarkable, unique and experience-based.