Saturday, November 1, 2008

Newspaper's fading election glory

A Pew Research study says that the internet has become the second-most cited source for election news after TV. Newspapers now hold the number three spot.

It's a pretty stark reminder, during this season of heightened interest in political news, just how far from their heyday newspapers have now fallen. No longer thought of as even the runner-up source of news, they're relegated to third place. I suppose it's better than the fate of radio, huh?

Friday, October 31, 2008

now read this: The Multi-Media Election

There's no better barometer for the changes afoot in media than looking at the technology that's driving this presidential election forward. Here's a very good overview of the massive shift in tech usage this election, from YouTube to social networks and all points in between:

But what’s of interest here is not how one media form compares to another — it’s how new media and old media are pushing and pulling both ways, vying for audience (power), learning from and reacting to the other.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

now read this: a crackerjack analysis of circulation declines

Recovering Journalist offers a depressing, but excellent analysis of circulation trends. Well worth a read (preferably with a lot of scotch at hand):

The declines over the past two years are disproportionately large compared to the seven- and 12-year spans–again, despite growing population and, until recently, a healthy economy. In other words, the circulation slide is worsening. It's hard to see, especially with the economy in the tank, any sort of moderation of the downward trend. And that, in turn, chases off advertisers and leads to even more budget-cutting pain.

Monday, October 27, 2008

now read this: Newspaper endorsements mapped

InfoChimps has a great visualization of the newspaper endorsements for the 2008 presidential election.

How low can it go? Newspaper circulation drops again

Another day, another doomsday for print news. The latest circulation numbers are out and they're nasty.

But, there's still hope. Newspapers stay strong in Japan, thanks to a 27 year long decline in birth rates! The number of young people in Japan hasn't been lower since 1908. So there's the new model: Kill the youth. I'm sure it's been floated in some board meeting by now.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Googling the election results

An update to my primary-season look at the way Google search volume closely mirrors national polling data is up now on the Huffington Post. And it ain't good news for McCain

Thursday, October 23, 2008

now read this: the Chicago Reader's legacy of (Police) brutality finally gets its day in the sun ... after firing the writer

A wonderful, if too brief, profile of ex-Chicago Reader author John Conroy, who doggedly pursued stories of police brutality in the city (over 100,000 words worth), until being laid off in December.

Although he would tell you he's only a "bit player," Conroy was probably as responsible as anyone for keeping the police torture issue in Chicago's consciousness during that time. He wrote about it and wrote about it, to the point that it probably wasn't good for his career

Monday, October 20, 2008

now read this: Nick Carr on the concentration of online readers

Nick Carr paints compelling a picture of the increasing concentration of people and voices into larger and larger websites:

Yes, we still journey out to the far reaches of the still-expanding info-universe, but for most of us, most of the time, the World Wide Web has become a small and comfortable place. Indeed, statistics indicate that web traffic is becoming more concentrated at the largest sites, even as the overall number of sites continues to increase, and one recent study found that as people's use of the web increases, they become "more likely to concentrate most of their online activities on a small set of core, anchoring Websites."


"Now Read This" is a collection of short links to other excellent thinkers on online journalism.

1000 ways to say this, but Microsoft chose "automatic censorship"

A pretty jaw-dropping title for a patent filing by Microsoft that's designed to create automatic, real-time filtering of "offensive" language in audio.

It's easy to see how this can cause a stink. It makes you wonder if they're giving any thought into how things will play when they name stuff like this. "Filtering" would raise few eyebrows. But "Censorship"? Come on.

Dig deep enough into the patent and you can see that its intent isn't to create FCC 2.0, but instead to allow parents to monitor the language their kids hear through multiplayer video games:

Humans are remarkably adept at identifying words and phrases that are considered unacceptable. However, for certain types of broadcasts, it would be preferable to employ a more automated approach that avoids the need to pay for or provide a human censor to monitor the broadcast, while still enabling the audio data to be censored at an appropriate level. For example, in massive multiplayer games, it would be impractical to employ a human censor to monitor the multitude of voice chat sessions that might be occurring at one time.

Still, the potential for abuse of something like this--after all, it's going to draw from a generated list of words/phrases to block--is pretty daunting. As is the inherent limitation of censuring language without context: After all, a similar filter on a Christian site changed the text in Olympian Tyson Gay's name to "Tyson Homosexual."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Googling the debate (again)

TechCrunch has a great look at the terms Googled during Tuesday's debate. Interesting that "Joe the plumber" was more of a steady burn instead of an individual spike, while Roe v. Wade went massive:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Slipping Backwards: The loss of two journalists of color at the Chicago Sun-Times reflects the growing whitewashing of the news

Teresa Puente's bad day started when she learned that Deborah Douglas, her colleague on the Chicago Sun-Times' editorial board, and the last African-American voice on the board, had been laid off. Her day got worse when she found out that Douglas wasn't the only one to get the boot: Puente herself was out too.

With that, the five-person board was down to three, all of them white, purporting to speak for a city of almost three million, 60 percent of them people of color.

Why the cuts? Because the Sun-Times has found itself caught in the slow and painful drip-drip-drip of a newspaper on life support. It laid off 20% of its newsroom in January. It got kicked off the New York Stock Exchange in June because its stock value had fallen below a dollar (that value is now less than a dime). In the name of "innovation" it has redesigned itself so many times it's hard to recognize one month to the next. Lately, the largest item on the cover has been for a promotional sweepstakes. It's become one of those papers.

It's also been, historically, the exact kind of paper that spoke to and for the marginalized communities in the city (excluding its brief dalliance as a NewsCorp property). All the gumshoe reporter, "sticking up for the little guy" newspaper cliches apply: That was the Sun-Times. And as that little guy became not so little anymore--as the minority population in the city became the majority--the Sun-Times labored (though some would say "lumbered") to keep up.

In July 2007, editor Cheryl Reed proudly announced that the paper was "returning to our liberal, working-class roots, a position that pits us squarely opposite the Chicago Tribune--that Republican, George Bush-touting paper over on moneyed Michigan Avenue." Perhaps it's overwrought sentiment (after all, until it sold the land to Donald Trump, the Sun-Times was across the street), but it was worth saying.

But it didn't last long. The layoffs this year cut two positions from the board. Reed herself quit the Sun-Times shortly afterward, and the eight-person board had been slashed to five. And now five becomes three.

The carving up of newsrooms is not a new story--it's become so commonplace that it was written into the storyline of the last season of The Wire--but it is a big story. The blog Paper Cuts carefully tracks and maps the layoffs, buyouts, and firings that have been eating away at traditional journalism. The latest count? 11,719 jobs lost this year alone. When it happens to the auto industry, it's big news. But when it happens to the news itself, who reports it?

"I believe newspapers should be reflections of the communities we live in and write about," Puente told me earlier today. "But that's being lost in all the layoffs--there's no thought to preserving diversity."

Rick Attig, who won a Pulitzer for his editorials at the Portland Oregonian, echoes Puente's concerns: "The cutbacks in this industry are likely to follow those in most every other business, based on seniority. And you know who generally has the seniority on newspaper editorial boards."

If you don't, just look at the new makeup of the Sun-Times.

And of course, you can read that and say, "Well thank god for the internet," and you wouldn't be wrong. Online, opinions are like assholes: everyone's got one. But, says Attig, "I'd argue that there still is a place, an important place, for editorial boards that provide well-reported, well-considered local opinion writing. There are precious few institutions left that speak with a clear, strong and independent voice about the issues of the day."

In Chicago, a city that's 36% African American and 26% Latino, those issues are a reflection of the people who live there. Who's going to voice their issues now? Put a mirror up the Sun-Times, and it no longer reflects back the diversity of the city it took its name from.

For Puente, it's not about her job. She teaches journalism at a college in Chicago and the Sun-Times gig was part-time (full disclosure: I teach in the same department). But it is about "ensuring that diverse viewpoints are at the table." There's no time more important than right now to make sure that newspapers reflect the changing world around them, she says. "Look at where our nation is now--about to elect the first African-American President of the United States--and what that means for how far we've come as a society. But newspapers? They're slipping backwards."

Cross-posted with the Huffington Post

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Facebook: over 10 billion served

Facebook just announced that they host over 10 billion photos now. Over 300,000 images are viewed every second.

Those numbers are simply staggering. It makes you realize just how much of a walled garden Facebook is, since they're so invisible to general users. I see maybe a few hundred photos on Facebook when I log in.

We'll give the always brilliant Nick Carr the final word:

I did a quick scan of the 10 billion photos and found that 3 billion of them included an image of beer, in keg, can, bottle, or pitcher form, 1.5 billion included an image of a bra, and 675 million included both beer and a bra.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More on the NY Times API

Read Write Web has a great breakdown of why the API is important, both for hackers, but also for journalism itself:

Reporting is no longer a scarce commodity. It's hard for these huge news organizations to do it faster, cheaper or even as well as a whole web of new media producers around the world. They may be among the top sources for original content still today, but considering the direction technology is moving in - that's not a safe bet for the future.

One thing that big media still does have a particularly good share of, though, is information processing resources and archival content. The Times' campaign contribution API is a good example of this. The newspaper is far better prepared to organize that raw information, and perhaps offer complimentary content, than any individual blogger or small news publisher.

The hacker-journalist revolution just got a major boost

The New York Times announces access to their data through the Beta release of the New York Times developer's network.

I've given the Times plenty of lumps in the past, but this is incredible. One of the great values of journalism is its vast power to collect and interpret data. The New York Times has just opened that up to anyone that wants access to it.

It's a limited release right now--only access to their movie reviews and their campaign finance data--but it demonstrates the power of opening up data for anyone to use.

And it kicks hacker-journalism into high gear.

One step closer to nation-wide free wireless internet--but at the cost of speech itself?

The FCC has announced that they had finished a series of tests of a swatch of radio band that they're setting aside for a nation-wide, cost-free wireless internet service. Those tests concluded that that spectrum will not interfere with current mobile carriers signals (though ATT, T-Mobile, and all the rest are bitching already), which means that all systems are pretty much go for implementing this thing. Super geeky explanation here.

The idea behind it is that the government can use existing spectrum (spectrum opened up with the switchover to digital TV next year) to reach areas underserved by current internet carriers: rural America and underprivileged communities. In order to reach those places, the theory goes, you may as well open it up everywhere. And how.

If this plan goes through, and it doesn't get corrupted in the process (which, unfortunately, it probably will because that's how these things work), it means that in a couple years we will see an immediate and massive shift towards a ubiquitous hand-held, mobile internet. While that's the way things are moving anyway (the iPhone, Google's Android, and other bleeding-edge mobile devices are proving that), this will speed the adoption at a rate far faster than hundred-dollar service plans allow now.

Which means for publishers, the time is now to begin planning your mobile strategy in a way that is meaningful and useful. Because this will change everything. Again.

But--and there's always a but, isn't there--there's a problem:

Notably, both proposals stipulate that any free wireless offerings have mandatory content filters, preventing users from viewing any material that “would be harmful to teens and adolescents.”

Yep, we're right back to the Communications Decency Act of 96 again, as demonstrated by using "contemporary community standards" in order to define obscenity. It's a slippery slope that starts with pornographers and ends with medical information, novels, and all the other things that we, as a society, hold dear. It creates, once again, a tiered system of speech: one for the real world and one for the mobile web.

They give and they take away. A free national wireless internet is a goal that will help to transform our culture in ways that we can only begin to imagine. But at what price? Culture itself?

Monday, October 13, 2008

site news: subtle layout change, subtitle change

A quick update tonight: I've made the main text column wider than the scant 410 pixels it was before. I think it's an easier read and more conducive to art than previously designed. Also, I've changed the subtitle of the blog from the older "writing on editing, publishing, and the future of journalism" to the simpler "thoughts on the future of journalism." Of course, that includes plenty of thoughts on the present and even a little on the past too. Thanks for reading!

The hits keep coming: Newspaper's online revenue down

Just in case 11,000+ news jobs disappearing in the last year didn't perk you up, how about the news that online ad sales are down on news sites, after 17 quarters of growth.

That drop isn't symptomatic of Internet advertising overall, which grew last quarter by 7.6 percent. The problem is, of course, that newspapers aren't competing against only other newspapers (which is already a massively different equation than they're used to, when they could have a near-monopoly over ads in their local market) but against the entire Internet. And while people are certainly looking at news sites, they're looking other places as well. And advertising follows eyeballs (or so the theory goes, anyway).

But in the Times story today, another issue is raised: Newspapers' thirst to sell every possible space on their page, forcing them to rely on small money ad networks to fill a lot of the open space on their sites. These networks, which pay out about $1 per thousand views, may be stealing advertisers from news sites themselves, says Steve Stup from the Washington Post Interactive:

“It’s still a situation where if advertisers even perceive they can reach your audience, they might be inclined to go with a network, and that’s a concern I have with networks."

It's high school economics class: supply and demand. If you're filling your pages with endless numbers of cut-rate ads, how do you expect to sell the good stuff at a premium? Here's another ad-dude:

“That high level of unsold inventory often creates a real challenge in terms of sustaining pricing or growing pricing,” said John Frelinghuysen. “In most media, especially in television, the traditional model has been that you drive sellout, and that gives you the ability to drive pricing over time.”

Here's another case of newspaper moneymen putting the cart before the horse: They see the space, not the value. To them, the Internet is an infinite page with which to fill with advertising. But value doesn't scale like that: the more that's available, the less it's worth.

Why does that sound familiar? Because, perhaps, it's the exact same equation that got newspapers into the predicament they find themselves in in the first place. If you never learn from your mistakes, how can you not repeat them?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

checking in on journalism job losses: It's worse than you think

With news this last week of more layoffs at papers as far flung as Spokane Washington and Honolulu Hawaii, I thought I'd check in with Erica Smith's brutal Papercuts site, which tallies and maps the losses in the newspaper industry.

Kinda wish I hadn't done it so early on a Sunday morning, because now my day is shot: 11,683 jobs gone this year.

You look at a number like that, and you're not even sure how to process it. That's twice the population of Wasilla, Alaska. That's a whole lot of voices silenced, and a whole lot of papers left without enough of a staff to truly produce the news their communities need.

One really does have to wonder how the traditional news industry is going to make it out alive. With the economy destroyed, that's only going to speed the destruction (hell, even blog-based news sites are getting into the act now).

It's easy to look at an individual paper and say "You did this to yourselves." But to look at a total like that--a staggering number, impossible to truly process--and you realize the immensity of the changes that are afoot.

Happy Sunday folks.

PS. Feel like getting even more depressed? This entry about the Spokane layoffs, written by the person spearheading their multimedia journalism strategy, is a sad and intimate look at the gutting of a new media newsroom.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Memeorandum Colors: geeking out a way to show blog bias

In this brave new world of political blogs, it's a given that they have a slant--but it's not always clear what that slant is, at least when clicking on a link. Couldn't there be some way of figuring that out? OK, figuring it out in a way that isn't overwhelmingly time-consuming? Couldn't it be done algorithmically?

Waxy.org hacker-journalist Andy Baio and Delicious founder Joshua Schachter decided that the answer to those questions was yes and went on to create Memorandum Colors, a Firefox plugin that works with the political aggregation site Memorandum to display the political leanings of the sites it links to. And they make it look so easy:


If that's not enough for you, how about their ultra-detailed tech explanation:

Armed with the spreadsheet of over 50,000 blogger-to-article relationships, we needed to somehow find correlations in the data. We used a method called Singular Value Decomposition (SVD), a method to break down complex data in matrices to its component parts.

If that made sense beyond a conceptual level, then keep reading the rest of their deep background--it devolves into matrixy goodness quickly.

The script itself is cool, and I'd love to know if it could be ported over to something like Google News or even Drudge (be interesting to see if his links were ever blue). But as a proof-of-concept, it's brilliant and as the understanding of how to manipulate data points spreads to journalists, it's exciting to see what they come up with.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Facebook: a business model only a mother could love

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg spoke to the American Magazine Conference yesterday about the business model (or lack thereof) of Facebook. As one would expect, she led with her A game, detailing a joint promotion with MTV that had results that "were really positive," though the article doesn't say if she cited any numbers or talked any level of specifics (nor, if you read the description, does it sound like something that would scale up easily without creating massive amounts of spammy goodness in your Facebook feed).

That out of the way, there wasn't much left for Sandberg to spin:

"We need to find a new model and new metrics," she added.

Which is really about as sad a way of saying "nothing's quite working" as I can imagine.

It's a problem that's plagued social networks from the start: You get a ton of users, but there's no real way of flipping them into dollars. Traditional advertising gets no traction, and attempts at sticking advertising too completely into people's social space--attempts like Facebook's own aborted Beacon--have pushed far too hard on the creep-meter.

It's the age old Silicon Valley conundrum: All dolled up with nowhere to go, and no business plan to guide you. One imagines that the current economy isn't going to help them out much either. Facebook is already on tap to lose $150 million this year (and that's old numbers now). What does next year hold?

I suppose, ultimately, it doesn't matter when your valuation is $15 billion, and Microsoft has your back (they awkwardly integrated Microsoft web search into the site just this week), but still--do you think Facebook execs occasionally wake up at night with cold sweats, worrying that perhaps they've built their house upon rapidly disappearing sand?

Nah, me neither.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Googling the VP debates

The official Google blog has a fascinating look at people's searches during last Thursday's Vice Presidential debates. Wouldn't you know that "maverick" pops up higher than anything:

Happy Monday: the end of daily newspapers

If your week isn't starting off just peachy enough, try and get through this essay about the very-real situation facing daily newspapers in these last months of 2008 and the start of 2009. From the growing trend of changing the size and shape of the paper to cut costs, to the brutal effect that the credit crisis is going to have on the industry, it's the kind of gloves-off, unvarnished truth that too few people are writing:

The fundamental structural shifts in the industry's business model are too profound. Newspapers that emerge from this crucible will be leaner, less frequent and Web-centric–and they may not even be available in print. Some will survive, but some won't.

Now back to work, you!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Why is it that many publishers still don't understand what spreads video?

Rolling Stone, in conjunction with their cover story on John McCain has created a great video hitting the highlights of the story, Five Myths about John McCain. It's clearly the kind of video that, in this politically charged time, would be passed around the web, viewed by hundreds of thousands of people. That's the gold standard, in fact, that most online publishers want: a video that goes viral.

But too often those same publishers don't understand what sends a video viral in the first place: The ability to embed it other places. Years after YouTube took off, this simple setting still mystifies most publishers making the transition from print to online. Instead, they cling to the concept that people need to come to their websites in order to consume the video they created, thusly exposing them to the lame advertisement they have placed next to the video player. But it doesn't work that way anymore (in fact, it probably never did).

Now, it makes more sense to spread your video far and wide, while branding it in a way that will make people realize that you've got good things to offer, and they'll seek you out later. In fact, if you watch the Rolling Stone video, you'll see that they do exactly that: bumpers at the front and end of the video that clearly call out Rolling Stone, plus continually referring to the cover story of the magazine throughout.

In fact, it's that last point that makes it even more mystifying why this thing isn't embeddable: It's an effective ad for the magazine. I haven't bought a copy of Rolling Stone since my subscription expired in middle school, yet I'm thinking about buying this issue because of the video. Embed it. Spread it. It will only help.

Just look at the recent success of Hulu.com, the first video site sponsored by the major studios to see any success. A big reason for that success? Embedding. Studios used to be so afraid of sending their content off-site that they'd lock it away behind firewalls and streams. Hulu allows me to embed any of the content they have, including this piece, available almost immediately after it aired last night:



That's how you spread a video.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

An (ugh) Creative Loafing insider's perspective

This is a pretty honest assessment of Creative Loafing's chances of survival and strategies moving forward after their announcement of going into bankruptcy protection on Monday. The short? It ain't good.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Chicago Reader deathwatch part 1000

Fitting perhaps that on the day that the Chicago Tribune redesign went live, the year-old owners of the Reader, Chicago's long-running alternative weekly paper, announced they were filing for bankruptcy protection.

Now the sale of the Reader is a topic I've covered extensively here, so there's a lot of backstory to catch up on. The short of it (for those not willing to follow those half-dozen links) is that the once-profitable paper was at the center of a converging media landscape that had the Tribune's Red Eye commuter paper on one track, Time Out Chicago on another, and Craigslist on a third. There was no real expectation of survival--the paper's prime had long passed it by--and the owners sold the paper to the Tampa, Florida based publishers Creative Loafing who still, just over a year since I first learned their name, causes a cringe in me every time I hear it.

Now bankruptcy protection is different than bankruptcy itself (yes, by all of one word) as Creative Loafing (ugh) owner Ben Eason is quick to point out to the Chicago Reader's own Michael Miner. "This isn't a failing company," he says, spinning in the manner most media CEOs have become quite accustomed to. If you don't believe him, he's got a few more for you: "This is a profitable business." No? How about "The company has a good cash flow. It has a good market position. Online revenues more than doubled in the last year." In other words, filing for bankruptcy protection is, like, the bestest, most awesomest thing ever!

So why, in the face of all this good news, is it happening? That one's easy! Let's take the Internet for 1000, Alex: Creative Loafing (ugh) finds themselves "caught squarely by this challenging economy between old media and new media." If that sounds familiar, that's because a little over a year ago Eason was touting (ugh) Creative Loafing's actions in "pioneering the opportunities offered by convergent print, web, and new media applications." Seems like that didn't work out quite the way he planned, huh?

But the future is bright! Just ask Eason! On an internal memo leaked on Miner's blog, he explains "Bottom line is that once this Company becomes a digital company. The money will follow our transformation." As proof, he touts that last year alone "our online business grew from roughly $200,000 in revenue to a run rate of $1,200,000 currently." That the declining print side of the Chicago Reader alone makes many times that seems to be omitted from the memo, though he does admit that the Reader and the Washington City Pages (originally a Reader property) make up half the profits of the company. Which is all well and good except that it's going to be a hell of a lot easier to become the defacto "going out" website in Sarasota than it is going to be in an oversaturated local web market like Chicago which hosts any number of homegrown alternatives to the Reader's tired website. The Reader stopped being the only game in town decades ago; online it's barely even an also-ran.

But dispite the tough times, Eason is promising no liquidation and no layoffs, and really why not believe the guy? It's not like credit isn't easy to come by right now--the banks are just giving money away, aren't they? Oh wait... What's that? Biggest stock market crash ever? Oops.

Update: As pointed out in the comments, I apparently had Craigslist on the brain when I called (ugh) Creative Loafing's Ben Eason "Craig" accidentally. I've made the change.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

MEGO site update: moved to Disqus commenting system

In order to begin to centralize the comment management of the various sites I oversee, I've moved the comments for MEGO over to Disqus, a distributed commenting system. Old comments should be in place but starting with this post we should be running on a new system

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Chicago Tribune redesign announcement makes me hesitant to truly believe "it's a whole new day"

To much fanfare this week, the Chicago Tribune has announced their redesign/reimagining. I will hold off on an actual look at the redesign until next week when it goes live (but I will say that this prototype didn't make the cut, thank god).

Today, though, I want to give a couple tips on how not to present your content in a way that makes you seem old and out of touch with "the kids." To do so, I will use the Chicago Tribune's redesign announcement, where they proclaim that "it's a whole new day" at the Tribune Towers (a better slogan that the one that currently greets employees as the head to work at the tower every day: "Change is Inevitable").

Tip One: You should have your announcement not exist completely within the context of an embedded web video that won't load on a mobile phone. The kids these days like their phones. I was forwarded the link while I was away from the Internet for a day, but did have access through my phone. But the video wouldn't play--in fact, the page just returned a big blank box where a nice graphic could have gone. So I just stared at a big blank box for an entire day, wondering what it could possibly hold. Speaking of that big blank box...

Tip Two: a 320x240 video is really, really tiny nowadays. On YouTube, their videos run native at 480x360. On Vimeo, I can embed a video many times that size. In HD even. But nope, for the Tribune to make their big announcement--the complete redesign of their flagship paper--a postage stamp-sized video was good enough. Look how silly it looks, swimming in that sea of white:



But pay no attention: It's a whole new day at the Tribune. They swear! Sure, they may not have a site that works a damn on a mobile phone, and yeah, they clearly don't totally understand that web videos can be bigger than the 2002 standard size, but hey. It's new! And it's a day! And they have a section called Play! With the exclamation point! Yay!

You know that time you said, "What I'd like is a social network centered around the New York Times"

... remember that?

Maybe it was a long time ago?

Perhaps you'd drunk a lot of wine?

Or you might have been doing air quotes under the table when you said "like"?

No?

Well, someone must have said it because the Times announced TimesPeople this week.

So what, exactly, is a social network built around the New York Times--besides a colossally strange idea? Well...

It's not a social network like Facebook or MySpace — you won't have Times friends, and it won't get you Times dates.


Which is too bad, because the ability to accumulate friends and get dates is pretty much the entire driving force of most successful social networks.

But no! Instead:

Instead, you'll assemble a network of Times readers. Then you'll be able to share interesting things on NYTimes.com with others in the network.


Because, apparently, sharing via a social bookmarking site like Delicious, sharing straight links with your friends on Facebook, or doing social recommending on Digg didn't quite cut the mustard for the needs of New York Times audiences.

Look, I get it: technology is neat. It's technically a very cool idea that you can sift through a paper as dense as the Times in a social way. But is there really a need to do that?

It feels to me like a misunderstanding on how people are consuming news online: People read widely. They share links already, via e-mail, blogs, and the other sites I mentioned above (and another bakers dozen of sites I didn't mention). News is spreading virally more and more. And friends are trusted sources at a time that the media is becoming less trusted on a daily basis.

But nobody reads one source--even a "paper of record," like the Times. People, especially the kind of news junkies that TimesPeople would want to attract, read dozens of news and opinion sites, increasing their touch even further with aggregator sites tossed into the mix as well.

So why then would anyone take part in social news sharing that locks you into a single site both in terms of content, but also in terms of access?

If I want to share a Times story using TimesPeople, I can only do it with other TimesPeople users. That's a pretty limited scope. But beyond that, if I have a nice network of TimesPeople users and I want to share with them a related story from another site, I'm SOL on that as well.

It's such an outmoded way of thinking--the site-as-an-island mentality of the 90s--that I've literally combed the 41-point FAQ a few times over to make sure I'm not missing something. But as best I can tell, I'm not. That's it: a lockbox for your Times links, accessible from nowhere but the Times and sharable with nobody but other people on the Times site (though they do allow a feed out to Facebook, another walled garden. Have fun with that. I'll stick with Google Reader and Delicious.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

journalists talking about the web framework Django



Sure, it's an hour long and, yes, it's very "inside baseball" (it is, after all a panel at a web framework conference), but isn't it refreshing to hear journalists talking about creating things again?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

mind suitably blown

It takes a while to get to the good stuff, but when she shows you how thin this thing is, you realize that there maybe is a future for this type of reader after all.



Now if they could just figure out how to get rid of that annoying flash between pages.

Friday, September 5, 2008

the kids are alright

I'm writing this post about a half hour before the last class of my first week of teaching. Unless this last class--only 10 students enrolled, thank god--proves me wrong, I have not had a single killer in any class. It's always my unreasonable fear before walking into a classroom, that it will be filled with killers. Once again, I'm proven wrong on that front.

But something else has been proven wrong as well: The idea that people, especially teenagers, no longer give a shit about journalism. If the swelling enrollment of my department is at all representational, I can tell you they care--a lot. There are over 250 students enrolled in the Intro to Journalism class--so many students, in fact, that they have to offer 12 sections. Almost 800 students in the entire department. It's the largest department in our school (the Media Arts college) after the Film Department, and it's been growing for years now.

And I asked the kids in my intro class this week why they wanted to get into journalism, and you know what? It's the same reasons I did and you did and we all were pulled into this calling. They still believe in a just society, in an informed populace, and in speaking truth to power. And sure, they may not (yet) understand that the Nancy Graces of the world aren't truly committing acts of journalism, and they don't have a real grasp (yet) of the myriad of changes that will directly affect their livelihoods the same way they've affected ours. But they have a passion and the excitement for this work that reminds me of, well, me way back when.

So yes, journalism is at a crossroads right now and many of us are having to face some of the harsh realities of that crossroads. But in the long run, if the kids I've met this week have any say in the matter, journalism will be just fine.
When was the last time you heard someone say that?

the words most spoken

I'm beginning to realize that, if they needed to, the New York Times could probably cut back to just being an infographic producer and I would engage with their output at the same level as I'm doing now. Who needs a crossword when you have this:

NY Times Infographic on the words spoken at both the DNC and RNC.

Monday, September 1, 2008

MySpace Muckraking

Yesterday, when rumors began to swirl that all may not be as it seems with GOP VP pick Sarah Palin's family, I said the first thing I'd do if I was investigating the story was to find the MySpace and Facebook pages of daughter Bristol's friends. While you can scrub your family's past to a certain degree, the social graph is too deep to clean completely. If there were secrets to be found, they'd be lurking in teenage exhibitionism. All it would take is someone to look.

Well, someone(s) did.

If you expect it to help clear things up, it only makes things more confusing. But it does show the power of an individual blogger to do an end-run around much larger news organizations and discover some hidden truths about a family that gets more complicated by the day.

Four years ago, that wouldn't have been possible. Four years ago, it wouldn't have even been thinkable.

But today, it's clear that a run for higher office holds any number of web 2.0 pitfalls--including your kid's boyfriends sister's MySpace page. And that you're facing not just oppositional researchers and well-funded news organizations, but also anyone who wants to ask why.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mozilla debuts a mashup engine for the rest of us

The trick with mashing up with the web is that it's actually not very easy or very intuitive. That's why people like Adrian Holovaty are so brilliant: they make it look so easy.

The lack of ease-of-use has, however, created a gulf between those that get it (those fluent in dozens of different APIs) and the rest of us. Well Mozilla (that's the Firefox people) just built a bridge across that gulf:


Ubiquity for Firefox from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

Will this do to the programmable web what Blogger and Wordpress did to publishing--finally democratize it and make it ubiquitous? Clearly, when you name a piece of software "Ubiquity" you hope the answer is a resounding YES.

Monday, August 11, 2008

nicely done: NY Times Medal Count

The team that churns out the NYTimes interactive graphics, always a good crew, did a fantastic job with a visual representation of Olympic medal counts among nations from the 1890s to today. As with much of their best work, I'm sure it's pretty great on hallucinogens too.

PS. Back from a very chaotic summer. Finally planted in once place for the long haul. More soon, promise.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

and one news site to rule them all

Jeff Jarvis makes a very compelling argument that newspapers need to get out of both the paper industry, but also the website industry as well. Let them do what they do best--news--the argument goes, and leave the hosting and the technology up to the company that does that best: Google.

There's fault in the argument for sure--most notably, it creates a massive monopoly on Google's part; secondly it still doesn't address the redundancy factor completely--but it's an interesting, innovative take on the whole problem.

Much of the argument is built on the backbone of Googler Bob Wyman, who explains it most effectively:

An online paper isn’t much more than a complicated Blogger.com. If Google can provide free hosting to the “citizen journalists” who are making life difficult for the newspapers, Google should be able to host the newspapers for free as well. The newspapers would certainly generate more revenue than cat pictures! The idea would be to have each “newsroom” focus on whatever it does best and then link them all together into a larger whole which is greater than the sum of the parts. Google has search engines, alert systems, video serving, annotations, database services, AppEngine, more scalability than you can imagine, etc…. Ideally, every newsroom would be able to think of Google, and all its capabilities, as their own. It just doesn’t make sense for hundreds or thousands of newspapers to try to craft their own versions of all this stuff.

Yowza is right.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Zell does the love/hate thing yet again

Just when you're convinced that Tribune Corp owner Sam Zell is both (1) nuts and (2) a total douchebag when does things like try to sell Chicago's Tribune Tower, he says something like this:

I think that because newspapers have historically been monopolies, I think they've been insulated from reality.

And then you don't know what to think. Because it's true--the local news monopolies are very much to blame for the situation newspapers now find themselves in.

900 newspaper jobs lost THIS WEEK

Over at Recovering Journalist, Mark Potts breaks down a horrendous week in the newspaper industry, with 900 job cuts announced (and there's still a day and a half left in the week). In addition to documenting exactly where the cuts are coming from, Potts also brings the pain to management. After starting a paragraph with "Newspapers brought these problems on themselves," he continues:

The ways in which newspaper managements have screwed up over the past decade or so to lead to this state of affairs are manifold and simply put:

* Failing to understand the power and impact of the Internet.
* Failing to be creative about business models to fully monetize Internet content.
* Failing to be creative about working with advertisers to find new online ad models.
* Failing to take seriously powerful new competitors like Craigslist, Monster and Google.
* Failing to provide readers with enough relevant, compelling, can't-get-it-anywhere-else content–especially local coverage.
* Failing to understand that 20 percent profit margins aren't a divine right.
* Failing to move quickly enough to rein in costs and find efficiencies throughout the business.
* Failing to move quickly enough, generally.

The whole thing's a smart, angry read.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

a newspaperman argues that the paper needs to be taken out of news

Newspaper columnist Leonard Pitts nails a column to the door of the industry in his column today:

We still tend to regard our websites as ancillary to our primary mission of producing newspapers. But I submit that our primary mission is to report and comment upon the news and that it is the newspaper itself that has become ancillary.

It's well worth a full and complete read.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

someone needs to steal his caps lock button

This little nugget is an all-Tribune memo sent out by the new "innovation chief" of the Tribune corp, Lee Abrams. It's a barely intelligible list of fifteen ways newspapers can save themselves. Some of them are decent ideas, but they're delivered with such shockingly tactless douchebaggery that you want to do the opposite just to spite him.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008

APpalling

At the start of the weekend, the Associated Press sent seven takedown notices to the Drudge Retort, a progressive spin on Drudge's link journalism format (as one can guess from the name, it started as a direct response, but has since turned into more of a straight user-submitted link site). The notices covered seven perceived copyright violations. So what were the infractions?

None of the six entries challenged by AP, which include two that I posted myself, contains the full text of an AP story or anything close to it. They reproduce short excerpts of the articles -- ranging in length from 33 to 79 words -- and five of the six have a user-created headline.

As one might expect, blogs have been exploding about this all weekend.

The oddest thing to me is that there are much more egregious examples of copyright violation than those on the Drudge Retort, which links back to the original story after a short headline or couple dozen word excerpt. Why this one? And why now?

Well given the events over the weekend, the AP has begun to retreat from their position, promising to review their policies towards blogs.

“We don’t want to cast a pall over the blogosphere by being heavy-handed, so we have to figure out a better and more positive way to do this,” Mr. Kennedy said.

That said, the takedowns were not taken back--the request still stands.

If the AP gets serious and continues to pursue this tactic, it's going to find itself in a similar situation as the record industry does now--making criminals out of the very people who care most about their product. That's not a good way to go. It may save things in the short term, but it's a death sentence in the long run.

The pushback has already begun, with prominent tech journalism site TechCrunch promoting a boycott:

Here’s our new policy on A.P. stories: they don’t exist. We don’t see them, we don’t quote them, we don’t link to them. They’re banned until they abandon this new strategy, and I encourage others to do the same until they back down from these ridiculous attempts to stop the spread of information around the Internet.

The thing that traditional journalism still doesn't get is that they're no longer the only game in town. A site like TechCrunch only helps the AP, pointing back to stories they wrote and sending eyeballs their way. But a site like TechCrunch doesn't need the AP. There's no longer a news vacuum that can only be filled by wire services--the news can be told without them.

Which isn't to say that the AP doesn't offer critical services--with newspapers shrinking everywhere, the AP stands as one of the few services capable of continuing to run foreign bureaus; with a renewed focus on local news at many newspapers (for better or for worse), the AP is one of the last remaining eyes able to investigate at a national level. These and many other things are important. Of course, the AP's main reason for existing--to be a way for newspapers to share stories--is obviously built on a now-unworkable model. And that's, ultimately, what this whole dustup is about: The AP needs to realize that it's living in a new world, a word where it's still needed, but in a very different way that it's accustomed.

And pissing off the very people that are changing the way news is consumed is probably the worst move they could make right now.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

fallen soldier

Spending 12 years doing anything is hard, but spending 12 years reading magazines and writing about them intelligently is a feat worthly of Sisyphus. Well that's exactly the feat that the Washington Post's Peter Carlson has pulled off in his always-engaging column "The Magazine Reader." Unfortunately, Carlson has penned his last column, choosing to take the Washington Post's buyout offer in order to explore other arenas, "such as sloth and gin" (nobel pursuits both). Carlson's departure is a sad statement on both the state of newspapers and magazines (because, one would imagine, if they still felt vital, he'd have kept the beat going), and one worth noting here.

Monday, June 9, 2008

“It’s a strategy, basically, of gradually closing down"

The New York Times has an article about the changes at Tribune Co., that might be most notable for how adeptly the they're able to cover the implosion of the newspaper industry without actually putting themselves in too. It takes a fair amount of gymnastics, but the result is a story about newspapers in a newspaper that never actually acknowledges that that it too is in trouble. What other industry would present information that way? None I can think of.

Anyway, what's going to be cut? How about an order of the usual?

Mr. Zell and Mr. Michaels did not address what content would be cut, but Mr. Zell has said before that he disagrees with the heavy allocation of resources to national and international news. Many newspapers have concluded that when a mouse click can collect news of Washington or Baghdad or Beijing from a multitude of sources, local news is their only real hold on readers.

Yes, you read that right: Bring the old "hyperlocal" dog back onto the track for one last race. I'm sure it's still a good idea, right? Oh wait...

P.S. Sorry for the absence, I've been transitioning from one thing to the next. I expect regularly-scheduled updates to continue from here on out.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

death of a model

Over the last few years, as newspapers have announced layoffs and closures, one model that's been continually held up as a possible way forward in the future is that of non-profit ownership. The news is a public good, the argument goes, and so it shouldn't be held against the profit motive. Even more, in this time of flux in the industry, removing a publication from the demands of the bottom line allows it more flexibility to innovate and expriment.

The big example that's always held up is the St. Petersburg Times, which is owned by the Poynter Institute, a non-profit dedicated to "everything you need to be a better journalist."

Of course, step one of that "everything" is probably a job. well...

The St. Petersburg Times is offering an enhanced retirement option to some staffers to reduce its payroll and, depending on response, could resort to layoffs later this year. The Poynter-owned newspaper also is imposing a one-year wage freeze for remaining employees.

Oops.

Friday, May 23, 2008

nice use of Google Maps to illustrate journalism's depressing present

From the blog Papercuts, which charts the layoffs in the newspaper industry. The count for 2008 alone? 2170+ layoffs. And it's only May:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

YouTube's Citizen News channel puts the final piece into the user-generated news puzzle

The amateur video news space is about to get rather interesting. Yesterday YouTube announced the creation of a Citizen News channel, complete with a newly-created news manager position (announced in spectacularly cheesy fashion in the video that concludes this entry) and the horrendous graphic design that YouTube is famous for.

While non-professional video reports are certainly nothing new, they haven't caught on with the same level of popularity that blogging has. Part of that is that the technology is just now catching up--until recently, it's been a lot easier to write than it has been to shoot, edit, and upload your video--but the other part is that there hasn't been a central repository for these types of reports. Because video isn't easily searchable (yet), if you were doing video news reports and hosting them on your own server, they were essentially invisible to the Internet.

Currently, your best bet for finding relevant video isn't Google (despite their much-touted Universal Search algorithms). It's YouTube. For example, here's two searches for video on the Zimbabwe elections:





The Google search feels like searching for a needle in a haystack, while the YouTube search clearly gives you some stuff you'll want to look at (considering that Google owns YouTube, it's a bit of a headscratcher why it isn't better integrated, but that's a different post).

So if you're looking for video, you're probably going to end up on YouTube, not Google. That's because, for better or worse, YouTube has become the central repository that video has been waiting for. This is, of course, nothing new. YouTube has been the defacto source for video on the web for years now and it's dominance is only getting larger.

But finding actual user-generated reporting on YouTube (or anywhere else on the web, for that matter) has been difficult up until now. Having a single channel for all these reports (which, of course, are embedded elsewhere on the web as well), simplifies the hunt for relevant content significantly. It also creates an object lesson for even more creators to follow suit. Which, if the entire history of YouTube is any indication, they will by the millions. And then things get interesting.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

for an industry that purports to have their hand on the pulse, newspapers sure are slow

A hot new innovation in news from the LA TImes today:

"Today, we are also creating a fully integrated department in editorial that will serve our site and our newspaper, combining our print photo, Web photo and video operations into one new department: Visual Journalism," said LA Times editor Russ Stanton in a memo to staff.

You read that right: at the LA TImes, people that use cameras are all going to work together. How many meetings were held to make this decision? How many back-and-forths? And how many compromises were made to finally make it happen? Probably more than you'd think.

But the real question is this: How was it that web photography and print photography became separate departments in the first place? Did someone seriously not imagine that their goals were the same? That somehow photography for the web was inherently different than photography for print--so different that a church/state wall needed to be erected? That's like keeping your right shoes in a different closet than your left shoes.

The scariest part of the whole story? This:

[This] very significant change at the Los Angeles Times will certainly be emulated at an increasing number of newspapers

Yep--keeping the camera-users separate is industry standard. And people wonder why newspapers are doing so badly.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

mobile ubiquitousness is changing the landscape for polling

A terribly boring, but very interesting YouTube video is making the rounds--it's an interview with Jeff Jones of the Gallup polling organization, talking about their experiments this year with polling mobile-phone only households in their presidential polls. Before now, it's never been done--mobiles were invisible to pollsters. It's a small sample (they're trying it in just four states), but it's significant:

While the inclusion of cell phone only households makes little difference in the Clinton-McCain contest, it benefits Obama by a net four points: Without cell phone interviews, and weighted using Gallup's usual likely voter model, McCain would get 49% to Obama's 46% (clarification: this result combines six Gallup/USAToday surveys conducted so far during 2008). With the cell-phone interviews included, the result is Obama 48%, McCain 47%.

If you want to watch the whole video (trust me, you don't), here:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The wisdom of crowds

Here are two national presidential primary polling graphs. Both show the same basic scale, and both tell the same basic story: A Clinton lead throughout 2007, followed by a sudden jump in Obama support in January, and a lead maintained by him from there on:



Simple, right? Various polling data usually reflects each other, in part because it attempts to choose a random sample of people to use as a predictor. But these two polls aren't equal. In fact, the one on the bottom isn't a poll at all: It's a graph of Google searches for "Obama" and "Clinton."

Fascinating, isn't it? They're so similar--they show the same ebb and flow in 2008, with a wide Obama margin in February, when he was winning all those states, and then a compression again once Ohio and Pennsylvania came in, followed finally by a widening gulf again once the North Carolina blowout and Indiana squeaker happened.

Yet one is reflective of expensive and extensive polling (it is, in fact, an average of numerous national polls)--a reflection of stated support for a candidate--and the other is simply a record of who searched for their names--positively, negatively, actively, or passively. And yet they mirror each other. So what's the point of dropping millions into polling then?

When people talk about "the wisdom of crowds" this is what they're talking about. Because here's nothing but crowdsourced data, yet it's a perfect reflector of the national attitude. If it holds up, it's bad news for John McCain.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

CNN plays dress-up

Have you paid close attention to CNN.com lately? Noticed any strange icons lurking next to a headline, perhaps?


See it yet?

Down there, next to "Nude model tells why she bared all" (classy, by the way), on the other side of the video camera icon, it's a ... T-shirt?

Yes, someone down in Atlanta thought that the true way to appeal to the youths was to start competing with Threadless for the hipster T-shirt demographic. And really, who wouldn't want to be seen at the show wearing this:


While most of the shirts currently available skew towards the "nude model" demographic (fully three of the ones currently available involve being drunk or hungover at work), it's the more serious ones that truly make you scratch your head. Like, who's walking around with this on:


I mean, that doesn't even make sense.

While CNN offers an extensive FAQ on their shirts (though, oddly, "Why on earth did you think this was a good idea" isn't one of the questions), they don't give any insight as to the seemingly random selection of headlines. Though it's interesting that they've built a scarcity logic into the designs--they're only available while the headline remains on CNN's front page.

Anyone care to wager on how long this feature will stick around? And what they'll replace it with? My money's on phat pants.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Is twitter breaking news faster than news organizations?

That's the question posed by none other than Reuters this week:
At about 1:37 pm, software developer Dave Winer asked the Twitterverse: “Explosion in Falls Church, VA?” (Perhaps not coincidentally, Winer is a well-known blogger and podcasting evangelist). A flurry of posts, or “tweets,” followed, as users reported rumbles as far away as Alexandria.

The mainstream media entered the fray at 2:33 pm, with radio station WTOP reporting ground rumblings throughout Northern Virginia, citing a possible earthquake

That's almost an hour between the initial post and an actual news report--a pretty staggering example.

It also, however, lays bare the big problem with Twitter right now: There's no discovery mechanism built into it, so how the hell do you find this stuff in any way but after the fact? After all, if a tree falls in the forest (or an earthquake happens in Virginia), and nobody's there to hear it, does it make a sound? Of course it does, the same as these earthquake tweets, but unless you're friends with someone who's there when news hits, you'd never know.

It's all well and good to champion the curiously useful technology that Twitter offers, but it's not going to truly break through until there's a mechanism in place for discovering important tweets or newsbreaking users. Currently the only way to do something like that (through a third-party Twitter search) keeps far too much noise in to get the actual signal through.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

replacing pundits with people

Watching returns from the North Carolina and Indiana primaries come in last night, during the pause in counting in Indiana that seemed nearly endless, I tried something new: I set up a Twitter search (using Summize, since Twitter inexplicably doesn't have its own search function) for the word "Obama."

What poured into my screen changed the way I took in the news of the evening: a near-constant stream of opinion, news links, straight reports (I saw the switch from a 20,000 vote spread to a 16,000 vote spread on Twitter before it was on the New York Times). Even this morning, during the time it has taken me to write this post, 31 more Tweets have come in covering topics from Obama's letter to Superdelegates to personal notes about how people feel about Obama today.

It offers a unique glimpse at the public psyche, rolled out in real time and filled with the kind of cacophony of voices that allow you to know it's truly real. It's an interesting alternative to the canned pundits trotted out by the networks, and the me-too political bloggers offering increasingly homogenized opinion.

Twitter is, of course, not a replacement for longer-form news, but it's one of those unique, couldn't-have-done-it-before additions to the ever-growing definition of news.

Monday, April 28, 2008

a case of the mondays

Here are some numbers that aren't nice to wake up to:
Print circulation continues on its steep downward slide, the Audit Bureau of Circulations revealed this morning in releasing the latest numbers for some of the country's largest dailies in the six-month period ending March 31, 2008. When a full analysis appears it is expected to find, according to sources, the biggest dip yet, about 3.5% daily and 4.5 for Sunday.

Break the numbers down and they don't look much better. A selection:

The New York Times lost more than 150,000 copies on Sunday. Circulation on that day fell a whopping 9.2% to 1,476,400. The paper's daily circulation declined 3.8% to 1,077,256.

In Los Angeles, the Times lost more than 40,000 daily copies. Daily circulation there was down 5.1% to 773,884. Sunday declined 6.0% to 1,101,981.

Daily and Sunday circulation at the Chicago Tribune both dropped 4.4% to 541,663 and 898,703, respectively.

The Miami Herald reported daily circulation lost more than 11% with 240,223 copies while Sunday dropped 9% to 311,245.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

it's important to remember: what we do is still a threat

With so much depressing news about the slipping influence of journalism, it's important to realize that what we do is still threatening to many. Stephan Bevan's first-person report of being arrested and held in Zimbabwe for "practicing journalism" is a good reminder that what we do is still important:
I had been there for only an hour when there was an urgent knock on the door. It was one of the staff. "The police are here. You should leave - you can go through the gate in the garden." I grabbed my laptop and backpack and headed towards the garden. But I had taken only a few steps when, from behind me, someone barked: "Where are you going? Stay where you are."

Suddenly, there were police everywhere, some carrying guns. I was surrounded.

Bearak told me later that there were more than 40 police. One, Jasper Musademba, had threatened to shoot him if he left the hotel room. While they were busy with Bearak, I asked one of the staff to alert the British embassy. Meanwhile, across the city, the feared secret service, the CIO, were raiding the opposition Movement for Democratic Change's centre of operations. President Mugabe's regime was tightening its grip and we were like flies caught in its web.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

building a newsroom from scratch

A fascinating article by Chicagoan Geoff Dougherty documents how he's been building the Chi-Town Daily News from nothing. It's a case study in how new news organizations will be built now--volunteers trained and tightly orchestrated through virtual means:
To my ongoing dismay, the Daily News doesn't have a helicopter. Or a cops reporter, or staff photographers. We're a two-year-old, nonprofit, online newspaper with an annual budget of less than $200,000 and an office full of thrift-store desks.

But we do have a network of three dozen citizen journalists spread throughout the city, and some powerful software that enables us to keep track of where they live and what they're interested in covering. That system allowed us to find a citizen journalist who lived near the building collapse and get him to the scene -- within minutes.

Welcome to the new frontier. I've made the point a number of times recently that truly successful online journalism is currently at the point that newspapers were at in the old west: one-person shows, deeply (and sometimes troublesomely) tied into the community. Transitioning an already-established paper to the medium is still difficult (hence all the job hemorrhaging) but a venture like the Daily News can start small and build organically in ways that big news organizations simply can't do.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Roll your own front-page-only newspaper

The brains at 37Signals document a way of leveraging the newly-opened Newseum's collection of 600 daily newspaper front pages into a customized PDF of the front pages of the day's papers of your choosing. It's a brilliant use (abuse?) of the technology behind the Newseum's collection, as well as yet another way of thinking about how we can access the news in this day and age.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Vanity Fair's Greenwash

Folio's Frank Locantore points out that Vanity Fair's latest "Green" issue fails to put its money where it's mouth is by printing on recycled paper:
Stories explaining what the Bush Administration should, or shouldn't, do; how mountain top coal mining is destroying communities and natural environs; oil drilling in the Artic; the necessity to act quickly in order to prevent climate change—all are important messages.

But where is the introspection and leadership? Who within CN and VF are pointing out that they themselves should be making an effort to reduce climate change, solid waste, deforestation and water and air pollution?

Magazine ad pages down, down, down

I've had a few conversations with people over the last few months that focus around the concept that magazines are weathering the digital storm better than newspapers, due to the niche-based business that magazines cultivate with their audience vs. the masses-based model of a daily newspaper. I've always found it odd that people would argue that point with me, seeing as how my very experience contradicts the point, but they do articulate it nonetheless.

Well, a report that some of the most profitable magazines out there took a punch to the gut on ad sales in the first quarter should do a good job of adding some sobering facts to the discussion.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Torch vs. Twitter

Twitter proved itself to be quite useful today, as Mindy McAdams points out, by giving on-the-spot updates of the position of the Olympic Torch and the protests surrounding it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Hail Brittanica

Leave it to media as old as the Encyclopedia Brittanica to host a very interesting and very current debate about the future necessity and future viability of newspapers. They're adding new voices every day this week, but so far you can tune in and hear Nicholas Carr saying:
But while it’s true that the reduction in production and distribution costs is bringing us many more options, it would be a mistake to leap to the conclusion that nothing will be sacrificed in the process. More choices don’t necessarily mean better choices. Many cultural goods remain expensive to create or require the painstaking work of talented professionals, and it’s worth considering how the changing economics of media will affect them. Will these goods be able to find a large enough paying audience to underwrite their existence, or will they end up being crowded out of the marketplace by the proliferation of free, easily accessible products? Even though the Internet can in theory accommodate a nearly infinite variety of information goods, that doesn’t mean that the market will be able to support all of them.

Or Clay Shirky demanding:

What journalism needs now is not nostalgia but experimentation. It’s time to get on with the essential task of trying everything we can think of to create effective new models of reporting, ones that take the existing capabilities of the Internet for granted.

Jay Rosen offers:

I think it’s possible we will lose some of the public goods that newspapers under the old subsidy system were able to bring forward. People ask me about this all the time. (Because I’m a press critic, a scholar in journalism, and I write a blog about these issues.) When I tell them there’s no answer at the moment a strange look comes across their faces. A social problem with no answer? Is that even allowed?

So far the most controversial is Jon Talton's critical take:,

The notion that hundreds of part-time gadflies, blowhards, tub-thumpers, students and well-meaning good-government types can replace real journalism is silly. Much of the corporate media has embraced this fad for a simple reason: it costs less to have a housewife blog from the city council meeting for free.

But all of it is worth a read. Nice to see a very old dog learn some new tricks.

A lamp post plea

Monday, April 7, 2008

Mapping the news



Above is a map I built with Yahoo Pipes that takes news feeds (for this sample it's the International and US news feeds from Google News), scrapes the feeds for geographic information and plots that information on a map. As a result, it creates on-the-fly a map of the world's news.

It's not right all of the time (and when it's wrong, it's pretty comical, like the story on Princess Di's death which has hopped from Alaska to South America to the middle of the ocean during my time in building the system). But it's a powerful proof-of-concept that took a matter of minutes to build instead of a matter of days.

This type of dynamic geospatial presentation used to be the domain of programmers and computer scientists, most of whom didn't care enough about the news to try it. But now, with tools that can be quickly learned, it's possible to create sophisticated new ways of interpreting and presenting news.

These type of free tools allow the creation of a class of hacker-journalists, people able to leverage technology to help tell stories people need to hear. As people write about the downfall of traditional journalism, due to the destruction of newspapers, they tend to overlook the new types of journalists that are only beginning to emerge.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger

The New York Times plays the nattering-old-man card today with a guffaw-inducing story "exposing" the darker side of blogging: In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop

It is, of course, a ridiculous premise: that blogging creates an environment so competitive for a scoop that bloggers are dropping like flies from the stress of it all.

It's ridiculous because you need to consider the source: One of the leading news organizations in the world. Are the editors and the writers of the New York Times punch out calmly at 5:00, ready to head home and take it easy? Of course not. News is a stressful business. The pressures of deadlines and the competition that results from the need to get the story right and get the story fast are enormous. They are not a new phenomenon. And job stress certainly isn't unique to blogging. But the Times sure isn't going to tell you that. Instead, they're going to offer a much more newsprint-friendly story:

Drop a blog, save a life.

Marc Andreesen of Netscape and Ning fame offers up a few new hot scoops for the Times:

Future New York Times headline submissions from yours truly:

Blogging Causes Herpes

Bloggers Shorter than Normal People

Want To Contract Malaria? Try Blogging

Bloggers Have Bad Breath

Leprosy and Blogging May Be Connected

Hitler Probably Blogged

Now Bloggers Aren't Even Wearing Pajamas

Blogging Fad Almost Over

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Times' cynical crowdsourcing attempt

When the Clinton's finally released their tax returns from the last seven years yesterday, the New York Times was quick to toss a analysis up on their website and their (generally pretty great) political blog, The Caucus. The report (both the original and the updated version now available) ended with this line:

More on this to come, as we examine the documents. In the meantime, dig in and let us know what you find

That call to the audience to help sift through the documents is a classic example of crowdsourcing, utilizing the power of the masses to achieve a result that would have been difficult without them. In this case, it would be possible to utilize the millions of eyeballs reading the times to nearly instantaneously read and analyze the hundreds of pages of tax returns There are many examples of news organizations (and others) trying things like this.

The Times echoed the call again this morning in the very first sentence of The Caucus's "early word" first-post-of-the-day entry:

As news organizations (and you) pore over the Clinton tax returns,

The "you" there is a link back to the original piece, and the original problem: There's no actual place to report your findings. Sure, you can post your findings in the comments section but then they're lost amid the typical sniping and posturing that goes on there. And does the Times really have someone checking in there for useful information? Doubtful. Instead, it's a cynical attempt to look savvy, but to pretty much ignore the many possibilities that are created when you open up to the crowd.

So how should they have done it?

Well a good page can be taken from WNYC's use of the crowd in analyzing Clinton's White House schedules. While they too simply had people post to the comments, they gave direction and organization (pick your birthday and look at the corresponding date in her schedule) and as a result got some usable information that stood out from the comment noise.

Even better would be to create a structure less anarchic than the randomness of comments. Why not build a simple database organized by year and page number that people could enter their findings into? It could even be dynamically linked to and from the corresponding pages in the PDF files the Times provides. That database would then be open to the public, but also could be used by reporters in their work--the very reporters who could then offer qualitative analysis of the raw data instead of having to create it themselves.

Instead, the reporters are left to do the heavy lifting themselves and the audience is once again left on the sidelines, another missed opportunity for something greater.

As one news chain spirals into bankruptcy, the big question is "Who's Next?"

According to a report published today, the Journal-Register Company--one of those third-tier media empires you've never heard of but turns out owns over 300 papers--has brought on an investment bank as it considers filing for Chapter 11.

If the company were to seek bankruptcy protection, as analysts said was possible, it would be a first in recent memory for a publicly traded newspaper company, John Morton, a longtime newspaper analyst, said.

The holdings of the Journal-Register comprise "Greater Philadelphia, Michigan, Connecticut, Greater Cleveland and the mid-Hudson region of New York," and many of their titles seem to be the kind of ad circulars and free shoppers (personal favorite: The Penny Stretcher) that you would expect to be taking a beating in the 21st Century. But they also hold a cubic ton of tiny local papers, the exact kind that the "hyperlocal" argument says should be able to be leveraged to great advantage in the "competitive news environment" we find ourselves in now.

Now I have no doubt, just looking at the Journal-Register Company's website itself, that they weren't leveraging those assets very well online (a quick check at a random title confirms it, though I do appreciate the lead story: "Local canoe challenge will be tribute to legendary canoeist"), but the real question is can it be possible for any company like the Journal-Register to turn their ship around at this point? How can you innovate 300+ papers at the same time, without going under in the process?

I guess the real argument is simply this one: You're going under anyway, why not give it a try?

It's probably too late for the Journal-Register, but the next mid-tier chain should start trying to answer that question before it's too late for them too.

Friday, April 4, 2008

How does a news camera change your interaction with the world around you?


Let's ease back into the post-vacation postings with a story about how news can change a community--though not always for the better.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Stop the Presses

I will be offline for the next two weeks, driving around the Southwestern states. Sorry, but My Eyes Glaze Over won't be updating during that time.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

your depressing journalism link of the weekend

The storied Medill School of Journalism--one of the top J-Schools in the country--is considering dropping "journalism" from its name. The worst of the new options?

The Medill School of Audience and Consumer Information

Ouch.

Friday, March 14, 2008

the Washington Post rethinks editing

A memo leaked out of the Washington Post today has them rethinking how their editing process works, and makes some attempts to retool it towards a more immediate web-based workflow:

Currently, stories in the A section are routinely changed by a half-dozen different editors (an audit by Don Podesta for this project found fingerprints of 12 different editors on one single inside piece). Under the new model, many stories will be handled under a "two touch" rule; they will have a first editor and a second editor.

Unbelievable, really, that a story would get looked at by 12 different editors. The levels of inefficiency in the old system are pretty stunning. It's good to see some people are beginning to rethink a system that sounds like a complete headache for everyone involved.

the web reorders news presentation

Scott Karp makes a good argument today that the traditional newspaper editorial presentation--what is most important--breaks down on the web:
Organizing news by importance as the default makes sense when you’re only delivering the news once a day (and the “default” is all you get). But when news publishing is continuous, it’s not the best way to server frequent news consumers.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cuban to newspapers: cut out the blogging

Zilliionare Mark Cuban (he of "The Benefactor" TV show fame... or not so much) has some very good observations about newspapers adopting blogging on their websites--namely, they shouldn't.

Or, more accurately, they shouldn't call it blogging. Which seems like splitting hairs, but he puts it pretty plainly and makes a good point in the process:

Never, ever, ever consider something that any literate human being with Internet access can create in under 5 minutes to be a product or service that can in any way differentiate your business.

There's a world of difference between the New York Times' blog The Caucus and the millionth political blog out there, so why should they be labeled the same thing. Ultimately, with so many different uses for a blog engine, "blogging" is a term that's rapidly losing its meaning--I always saw it as a stopgap term to help people that didn't see it for what it was: publishing.
Cuban again:

Do everything possible to brand the product or service in a manner that segregates it from the masses. Perception is reality. If you can leverage your existing brand to create the perception that yours is different from the masses in some meaningful way, then you must do everything you can to do so.
...
When readers actually read the [NY TImes] blog, they will see that its of a higher quality than say, Blogmaverick.com. It may well be that some do. The marketing reality however is that there is a significant risk that they will not. That rather than assigning the brand equity of the NY Times to the blogs hosted, they will take the alternative path of assigning their perception of what a blog is to the NY Times, there by having a negative impact on the brand equity of the NY Times. That's an enormous risk for any mainstream brand to take.

Yowza is right. He goes on to suggest a simple fix for the problem, rebranding it "real time reporting," and emphasizing the expertise behind the writing.

Not a half-bad plan. Which is why no newspaper will ever implement it, to afraid that people "won't think we're blogging."

YouTube makes a play to become the web's video standard

A good argument could be made that it's already the defacto standard for video on the web, but YouTube's announcement of it's new API (that's application programming interface for those not down with the lingo) opens up the site to a whole new level of interaction that will, eventually, spread free video far and wide over the web.

The big deal is that it's now possible to set up fully-functional video upload capabilities to your own website (currently through getting your geek on, but give plugin developers another week and mere mortals will be able to integrate it as well) instead of having to link people back out to YouTube. The whole thing is driven and hosted by YouTube's computing cloud, so your own servers aren't taxed in the slightest. Once videos are up, you can have them auto-tagged with your site name (or anything else you want), so that they can be grouped easily into your own categories.

For publishers looking to integrate a robust video platform into their site, the options just became quite simple. It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out.

More at ReadWriteWeb.

Super nerdtacular video link GO:



PS. It would appear as if YouTube co-founder Steve Chen has a poster of... well... himself, in his office.

Your depressing newspaper news of the day

Editor and Publisher charts the plummeting circulation over the last four years at major daily newspapers. The numbers are a serious kick in the sack:

USA Today -- 2,293,137 -- 46,141 -- 2.1%
The Wall Street Journal -- 2,011,882 -- (-79,180) -- (-3.8%)
The New York Times -- 1,037,828 -- (-80,737) -- (-7.2%)
Los Angeles Times* -- 794,705 -- (-201,133) -- (-20.2%)
New York Daily News -- 681,415 -- (-47,709) -- (-6.5%)

New York Post -- 667,119 -- 14,693 -- 2.3%
The Washington Post -- 635,087 -- (-97,785) -- (-13.3%)
Chicago Tribune -- 559,404 -- (-54,105) -- (-8.8%)
Houston Chronicle* -- 502,631 -- (-50,387) -- (-9.1%)
Newsday -- 387,503 -- NA

The Arizona Republic*, Phoenix -- 385,214 -- (-47,070) -- (-10.9%)
The Dallas Morning News -- 373,586 -- NA
San Francisco Chronicle -- 365,234 -- (-147,406) -- (-28.8%)
The Boston Globe -- 360,695 -- (-89,843) -- (-19.9%)
The Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J. -- 353,003 -- (-55,669) -- (-13.6%)

The Philadelphia Inquirer -- 338,049 -- (-38,444) -- (-10.2%)
Star Tribune*, Minneapolis -- 341,645 -- (-38,709) -- (-10.2%)
The Plain Dealer*, Cleveland -- 332,894 -- (-32,394) -- (-8.9%)
Detroit Free Press -- 320,125 -- (-32,589) -- (-9.2%)
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- 318,350 -- (-64,071) -- (-16.8%)

Yes, you're seeing that San Francisco Chronicle number correctly: almost 30%. The chaos at the LA Times didn't help the paper either: down just over 20%. Ditto the Boston Globe. Even the venerable New York Times--the very definition of the new "brand" centered newspaper concept--dropped over 7%.

According to the story, the overall decline among all dailies was 1.4 million copies a day. Oof.

On the upside, everyone needs to dissect exactly what it was that USA Today did and the New York Post did to actually grow their circulation over the same period. Unfortunately, my guess is that what they did wasn't probably the kind of journalism that a person feels good about the next morning.

via Romanesko