NowThis News drops the News from its name


This post is by Caroline O'Donovan from Nieman Journalism Lab


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Digiday has an update today on the relaunch over at NowThis, formerly NowThis News.
Now, even a minute can seem like an eternity. And so NowThis has largely moved to 15-second videos, and the anchor has been replaced by text on the screen. NowThis also has dropped the “News” from its brand to reflect a broadening of its coverage to include op-eds, science and viral content. [...] “We don’t want to box ourselves in,” Mills said. “We are still a news company, but the definition of news has changed so much, and it means different things to different people. Our hyperfocus is connecting to mobile and social. Capturing people’s interest on different social platforms — that is what’s most interesting to us.”

Digiday confirms some of what we reported a few months ago regarding changes at NowThis. Videos will be shorter — aimed at Vine and Instagram lengths of six to fifteen seconds — and focus on viral content, including science and op-eds. Digiday reports that the new strategy has led to increased reach, with a 75 percent audience increase on Facebook and a 1,300 percent increase in average monthly views. NowThis is still pushing their real-time newsroom for brands, though Mills said it can be challenging. In addition, there’s some skepticism about how much loyalty a publisher can engender when their identity is driven by form over content.
“NowThis has an interesting idea in terms of, we’re going to try a different format,” said Chia Chen, mobile practice lead at Digitas. “The reality is also the point of view you’re espousing in the content itself. It’s an interesting approach. If they had a distinct voice, that would make it even better.”
For what it’s worth, Jay Rosen agrees. But for those who’d hoped that NowThis News might be figuring out a new model for fitting TV news into the mobile/social reality — it wasn’t that long ago that people were labeling it a “CNN killer” — the shift to more familiar viral territory is a little disappointing.

Ken Doctor: Mind your own business, Facebook and Google


This post is by Ken Doctor from Nieman Journalism Lab


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No, Facebook and Google aren’t practicing mind control on us, are they? That’s just silly. Their business is the highly prosaic selling of advertising, less romantic than Mad Men, more lucrative than Midas. Mind control is just a side pursuit, one of those many auxiliary products in eternal beta, that might turn into something big. But mind control is on our minds. The two companies — which now control 49 percent of the $50 billion U.S. digital ad market and about 68 percent of the fastest-growing ad market, the $32 billion global mobile ad sector — both play mind games with their customers. How well do they do it? We don’t yet know. In the biggest case, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg could offer only the lamest of apologies — “This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you” — in trying to explain how Facebook had played mind games on 700,000 of its users in January 2012. The company disproportionately displaying positive or negative statuses for one week in its News Feed. Is this cluelessness, or just a symptom of unbridled, lean-back-and-play-with-them arrogance? Or both? (Excellent, thoughtful Jay Rosen parsing of Facebook’s “having all the power” and its implications, in Atlantic, here.) Yesterday, we learned, via Aarti Shahani of NPR, that Google’s “social newsroom” rejected going negative in its social selection of content about Brasil’s crushing World Cup loss to Germany Tuesday. “In Google Newsroom, Brazil Defeat Is Not A Headline,” reads the NPR story. It goes on to explain that a collection of “data scientists, translators, cultural experts and copywriters turn search results on the World Cup into viral factoids.” Well, not really the facts of the results, but a version of them meant to please readers and juice traffic. Factoid, rather than fact, perhaps. More in the pursuit of truthiness than truth. Let’s be clear and fair: A Google news search does pull up “crushing,” “stunning,” “ruthless,” and more in way of adjectives that describe the, uh, reality of the game. This Google unit, though, chose its own version of reality to present as fact(oid). Or didn’t, as Shahani reports:
After the dramatic defeat by Germany, the team also makes a revealing choice to not publish a single trend on Brazilian search terms. Copywriter Tessa Hewson says they’re just too negative. “We might try and wait until we can do a slightly more upbeat trend.” That puzzles me. Google has powerful data to see exactly what the audience wants, and produce news-on-demand. The entire world was searching for Neymar — Brazil’s superstar player who sat out after fracturing a vertebra. Google could have looked for related search terms, and created content for people to grieve or laugh. I ask the team why they wouldn’t use a negative headline. Many headlines are negative. “We’re also quite keen not to rub salt into the wounds,” producer Sam Clohesy says, “and a negative story about Brazil won’t necessarily get a lot of traction in social.”

Take a look at the picture of the four data scientists pictured in the NPR story. Younger, earnest, undoubtedly brilliant. They are sitting in what Google calls a “newsroom.” It’s not the data scientists’ fault. Some of my best friends are data scientists — but they don’t pretend to be journalists. Google, and many of its fellow travelers, hold on to this pretense that they are “doing news,” because they publish news, all or almost of all it written by practicing, standards-observed, non-mind-control-seeking journalists. Algorithms don’t make a newsroom. They may make a news product — some of which are highly useful to all of us — but they don’t operate newsrooms. Journalists do that. The best ones do that without fear or favor, and they certainly don’t do it with happy-face factory guidelines. Call it feeding the happy social network, if you’d like — which was Google’s justification for eschewing truthful headlines about Brazil’s humiliation — but don’t call it news or a News Feed, and please don’t say it came out of a “newsroom.” Words have meaning. Google and Facebook provide many services to us that we now consider essential, almost irreplaceable. Yet they seem to have no boundaries. Business sector boundaries are a blur, as digital eats everything, but more troubling are their ethical boundaries. How can companies that seem to offer so much good — for free — do bad things? Ironically, for companies so interested in knowing how their customers think moment by moment (so they can monetize that thinking), they are sometimes thoughtless about their own actions. One hundred years ago, the trust busters saw that too big is too bad for society and took steps to staunch runaway market dominance, steps that benefitted Americans for many decades. Today’s bigness seems so different than that of the early 1900s. Google, Facebook, and Comcast don’t seem to be in the same league as Standard Oil, American Tobacco, and the Northern Securities Company. Despite all the hardware they own, they seem to traffic largely in pixels and invisible packets. Outmoded antitrust laws and the accompanying regulatory apparatus, (FTC, FCC, and DOJ in the U.S., several E.U. entities in Europe) can’t keep pace, trying to apply old, sensible law to new sense-rattling innovation. Square peg, round hole; try it a thousand times, it won’t work. It’s not a fair contest; regulators are in a muddle (the Comcast/Time Warner Cable case is today’s best example), and meanwhile unbridled market power multiplies. That market power is a big concern, but the two recent mind games that have surfaced (are there more?) raise greater questions. As odious as the NSA’s spying on Americans (and everyone else) has been, the potential implications of mood control strategies could be far larger. Sensory manipulation is no longer sci-fi; Aldous Huxley’s soma is going digital. What was the Facebook experiment on us about: gauging the power of “emotional contagion through social networks.” Imagine the uproar if Fox News or MSNBC had done that, or politicians. I can almost hear the Facebook and Google replies before the question is asked: Who asked you to skew your mass-reaching content to produce cheerfulness? The people, as expressed through the social hive, did, they’d say. Google and Facebook as servers — and pushers. If “Facebook intentionally made thousands upon thousands of people sad,” as Slate’s Katy Waldman succintly put it in a smart column, some of us are just collateral damage. Our wondrous digital hive is alive and growing exponentially. That’s largely a good thing, maximizing the reach of our too-small brains. It’s not the hive that’s at issue here. It’s the big, monopolistic beekeepers who should give us pause. It’s the ad business that should be fair game for Google and Facebook. It’s enough of a challenge for everyone else, fair or not, if they just mind that.
Photo by Maigh used under a Creative Commons license.

The term “digital magazines” may sound kind of dumb, but First Look Media’s approach is not


This post is by Mathew Ingram from Video


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Some of the new-media digirati have been having fun at the expense of First Look Media founder Pierre Omidyar, because the new company persists in describing its new family of media sites — including the just-launched Intercept from Glenn Greenwald — as “digital magazines.” Not only does the idea of a magazine seem almost antiquated by now, but most of the examples of the digital version are bloated proprietary apps from old-media standards like Vanity Fair and Time.

But while the magazine metaphor doesn’t quite work, there is something to the approach that First Look seems to be taking, although it’s difficult to tell for sure because the new company has only launched one. But my sense is that by “magazine,” they just mean a discrete publication focused on one single topic or issue, run by journalists who have some passion for the issue. And that’s not dumb at all — in fact, just the opposite.

Take a look at The Intercept: as the new site describes it, the team of writers and editors devoted to the project (which includes Greenwald, former Washington Post writer Jeremy Scahill and film-maker Laura Poitras) will be focusing on security issues, and primarily — not surprisingly — on the ongoing revelations from NSA leaker Edward Snowden. If that’s a magazine, it’s more like a trade publication aimed at an audience interested in security and privacy.

Focusing on a specific audience

This kind of focus on a topic or vertical has already been shown to be a fairly smart strategy, by outlets as varied as The Atlantic, Wirecutter, Skift (which covers travel), and even some old-fashioned names like the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Atlantic, for example, didn’t just add coverage of cities to its existing site — it created a specific vertical called Atlantic Cities. And it did the same thing for real-time news aggregation with The Wire.

The magazine, which has been one of the most prominent success stories when it comes to an old media entity reinventing itself for the digital age, doubled down on this approach when it launched a new standalone site called Quartz, which focuses on real-time business news. According to a recent report from Quartz, it has been able to draw more than 5 million uniques in a little over a year.

Then there are the targeted verticals that have been created within existing media sites like the New York Times and Washington Post: the latter’s Wonkblog became such a successful empire within the newspaper that it gave founder Ezra Klein enough pull to cut his own deal with Vox Media. Andrew Ross Sorkin’s DealBook fills a similar type of niche at the NYT, as does the Bits blog to a lesser extent. Either one could arguably become a standalone site, much like All Things Digital (now Re/code) was for the Wall Street Journal.

TheIntercept

In a recent rundown of the new-media sites that he sees as the best in their class, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen listed The Atlantic for “taking a long-lived and respected brand and blowing it out worldwide,” along with several topic-focused sites including The Wirecutter and The Verge, which is a tech-focused site run by Vox Media. Former Gizmodo editor Brian Lam founded The Wirecutter as a recommendation site for all different kinds of products.

The personal franchise model

Jay Rosen, an NYU journalism professor who is also an advisor to First Look Media, pulled together his own list of what he calls “personal franchise model” sites, which includes DealBook, Grantland and Jessica Lessin’s new site The Information, which is focused on business news. As he points out, the model is not new: pioneering journalist I.F. Stone had a newsletter that used the same approach in the 1950s.

Andreessen also cited Anandtech — which focuses exclusively on security and software topics — as well as Search Engine Land from Danny Sullivan, which covers everything related to Google and search, and Politico (started by former Washington Post staffers). Although he didn’t mention it, Skift (which was founded by Rafat Ali, the founder of our former sister site paidContent) is pursuing much the same model aimed at reporting on and analyzing the travel industry.

Others who arguably fit the same model would be Mike Masnick’s TechDirt, which covers technology and related topics such as copyright, and Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo. Business Insider also fit the model, at least in its early days when it focused exclusively on business — although of late it has been expanding into various parts of pop culture (Andreessen said he is an investor in both Business Insider and Talking Points Memo).

One thing that’s particularly interesting about this model is that it makes it much easier to build a strong relationship with a reader community, which is one of the secrets to success for TPM and TechDirt — both of whom have a community-focused approach. Targeted a specific vertical makes it much easier to connect with a community that is passionate about the same thing, and that could be one of the biggest benefits for First Look as it expands.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Thinkstock / Igor Dmitriev

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Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture now has a name, $50M in funding and an interesting corporate structure


This post is by Mathew Ingram from paidContent


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Not surprisingly — since it involves a billionaire spending $250 million on a brand new media venture with NSA leak architect Glenn Greenwald at the helm — there has been intense speculation about every aspect of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s new entity since the news broke in October. On Thursday, the world got a small peek behind the curtain at some details about the venture.

The new entity is being called First Look Media, and it has received its first round of funding from Omidyar to the tune of $50 million, and is setting up offices in New York, Washington D.C. and San Francisco. The news came via a press release from Omidyar Group and a blog post from advisor Jay Rosen.

Two arms: One for profit and one non-profit

The new venture has an interesting structure, in that First Look Media will consist of two legal entities: one is a for-profit company whose goal will be to “develop new media technology,” and the other is a non-profit corporation that will pursue independent journalism. As Rosen describes it:

“The new company will consist of several legal entities. One is a technology company, a business run for profit, that will develop new media tools for First Look properties and other markets. Another is a 501(c)(3), a non-profit under U.S. law. Its mission will be to publish and support independent, public interest journalism.

The 501(c)(3) will house the journalism operation, which hasn’t given a name yet to its initial publication. It will have editorial independence. Profits earned by the technology company will be used to support the mission: independent public interest journalism.”

In some ways, this sounds a little like the corporate structure that supports The Guardian newspaper in Britain (please see disclosure below): parent company Guardian Media Group is a for-profit entity controlled by the Scott Trust, and it owns other assets such as the Auto Trader group of companies, whose profits help subsidize the Guardian‘s losses.

The first of several media offerings

Rosen also mentions Atavist, a publishing company that produces narrative non-fiction or long-form journalism, and is supported in part by the platform it created for that purpose, which is called Creativist.

“Another way to say it is: public service, mission-driven journalism, including investigative work, has always been subsidized by something: advertising, other kinds of news, donors to a non-profit (as with ProPublica) or a related and profitable business like the Bloomberg terminals that subsidize Bloomberg News. First Look Media is adding to the picture another possible source of support: profits from a company specifically focused on technology for producing, distributing and consuming news, views and information.”

Interestingly enough, both Omidyar’s statement and Rosen’s post refer to the media entity that Greenwald will presumably be working for as First Look Media’s “initial digital publication,” implying that there will be others.

First Look has also been the subject of some controversy over allegations that Greenwald essentially sold the NSA leaks he received from Edward Snowden to Omidyar as part of the creation of the new-media venture. Greenwald has responded to those allegations in a lengthy post arguing that what he has done is no different from what other media entities do with similar stories.

Disclosure: Guardian News & Media is an investor in the parent company of Gigaom. Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user George Kelly


    

More Details Emerge About Omidyar and Glenn Greenwald’s New Media Venture


This post is by Evan McMurry from Mediaite


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First Look Media (formerly NewCo), the new media venture founded by Pierre Omidyar, released details of its initial form on Thursday, including a new name, a significant infusion of capital, and a bipartite structure that funds its non-profit journalism component through a for-profit technology development company.

Omidyar, who will serve as a publisher, provided $50 million in funding to the fledgling enterprise, which he said in a press release represented 20% of his projected contribution. First Look Media will comprise at least two different entities, one a company focused on developing new media technology, and another the as-yet-unnamed journalism operation, which will be a 501 (c)(3) non-profit. Profits from the development side will be used to underwrite the journalism side, though the latter will maintain editorial independence.

RELATED: Jeremy Scahill Reveals New Details About Journalism Project with Glenn Greenwald

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, an advisor to the new venture, explained on his website PressThink how the business/non-profit combo is similar to yet distinct from other media enterprises like Poynter, ProPublica, and the Guardian, from which reporter Glenn Greenwald came:

The First Look set-up is different. Here the journalism operation is a non-profit, housed within a parent company, which may have other entities inside it. The entire operation is designed to support the mission of independent public service journalism, achieve sustainability and attract talent.

Another way to say it is: public service, mission-driven journalism, including investigative work, has always been subsidized by something: advertising, other kinds of news, donors to a non-profit (as with ProPublica) or a related and profitable business like the Bloomberg terminals that subsidize Bloomberg News. First Look Media is adding to the picture another possible source of support: profits from a company specifically focused on technology for producing, distributing and consuming news, views and information.

Omidyar was the founder of eBay, and became a billionaire upon its public offering, since which he has been in active in digital publishing and journalism. In addition to Greenwald, the new publication will feature Laura Poitras, former Nation reporters Jeremy Scahill and Liliana Segura, and former Washington Post journalist Dan Froomkin.

[h/t Omidyar Group / Press Think]

[Image via Bloomberg News / Landov]

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>> Follow Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) on Twitter

Understanding the billionaire media gambles


This post is by Martin Langeveld from Nieman Journalism Lab


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Our journalism business never ceases to provide surprises and fodder for speculation — that’s what makes this year-end round of prediction posts so much fun and, often, so far off base. For example, none of the Lab’s prognosticators a year ago predicted that one billionaire would toss $250 million into a business that has been dying for years, while another would pony up the same sum to launch an as-yet un-named and largely mysterious “new mass media organization.”

martin-langeveldSo the big question is what will these gentlemen bring to the table besides money — in particular, can they find business models around digital news that have so far eluded everyone else?

As the economy started pulling itself out of the doldrums a few years ago, some like the Lab’s Ken Doctor expected the newspaper industry to undergo broader consolidation — a “roll-up,” in Doctor’s words — of the kind long sought by MediaNews founder Dean Singleton and others. My question at the time was whether it would truly be a roll-up (a consolidation toward strength derived from national network efficiencies and opportunities, like the consolidations in the radio industry) or a mop-up — a sweeping-up of cheap, obsolete assets, with a strategy of squeezing the final years of cash flow out of them.

The expectation was that with easier credit, major newspaper groups might find the financial backing needed to merge, acquire, and swap assets in order to build stronger regional and national groups and to make the necessary R&D investments to build toward their digital future. But with cash still hard to come by, we’ve seen few steps of that kind.

Instead, most of the action in the newspaper business has come from billionaires and near-billionaires getting into the game. They’ve included legendary investor Warren Buffett (whose BH Media Group has picked up 28 local newspapers and about 40 other titles in 10 states for $344 million), money manager and Red Sox owner John Henry (who dropped $70 million on The Boston Globe), greeting-card magnate Aaron Kushner (Freedom Communications including The Orange County Register), and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos ($250 million for The Washington Post).

Are these investments roll-ups, mop-ups, or something else?

Buffett’s real strategy

I think Warren Buffett is really pursuing a mop-up strategy. He says otherwise, of course: “Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the special informational needs of that community will remain indispensable to a significant portion of its residents.” What else is he going to say? He may actually believe this, and believe that printed newspapers will remain viable for a long time, and may prefer to read news on paper like most people in his generation. But Buffett’s backup strategy is this: He is buying newspaper assets cheap and not investing much into them, in the expectation that even if they lose all value over the next 6 or 8 years, he will have made a decent return on his investment.

Interestingly, this is precisely the strategy that Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway followed in the 1930s through 1950s, under the control of the Chace family of Providence, before Buffett bought what was left of it beginning in 1962. At the time, he just needed a company — any company — that was publicly traded and easy to get control of to use as a vehicle for his investment strategy. The Chaces had seen the textile business move south; they mopped up in New England, buying mills and consolidating equipment to milk whatever cash could be extracted. (And as it happens, they lucked out more than the luckiest lottery winner, because they retained a minority share after Buffett’s arrival that’s now worth hundreds of millions.) After gaining control of the company in 1965, Buffett continued the textile sector mop-up, finally closing the last mill in 1969.

So here’s Prediction No. 1: Warren Buffett will continue buying newspapers wherever he can do so very cheaply. No grand strategy, no new business models for news will emerge from Omaha. Ultimately, these papers will be closed or sold. It’s a mop-up.

Philanthropic journalism

The other billionaire news tycoons, including eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, are obviously neither rollers-up nor moppers-up. They are motivated by something else. Undoubtedly, they’d love to make some money on their investments. But for most of them, what they are putting at risk is small potatoes compared to their net worth. (In Bezos’s case, his initial Post investment comes to less than 1 percent of his net worth. It’s like the rest of us buying a cheap used car. Conceivably, we might make a buck by selling it later on at a profit — but we really don’t care.)

Here’s why they do it: These folks are motivated by pretty much the same philanthropic impulse that motivated many newspaper barons during much of the 20th century. The barons’ business model was that if merchants wanted to get their messages out, newspaper advertising was pretty much the only game in town. As a bonus, people were willing to pay for single copies or home delivery, which covered all the printing and distribution costs. Profit margins ranged as high as 50 percent. News was at the heart of the “product” (you were not supposed to call it that in the newsroom), but news didn’t pay for itself. News was a gift to the community, a bit of philanthropy on the part of the news barons, just like the museums, libraries, opera houses, and schools built and endowed by others in the moneyed class. The quality of one’s newsroom was a way to flaunt wealth and demonstrate generosity while also enriching the community.

We’re now seeing a 21st-century version of that same philanthropic motivation, probably coupled with some hubris — the kind that says, “Even though nobody else has found a way to make this business work, I can, because I’ve started and fixed a lot of other businesses.”

It’s hard to find a parallel to this phenomenon in other legacy businesses that got disrupted. No tycoons that I know of got into the horse-drawn carriage business, the typewriter business, or the photographic film business once those businesses started their slide. The closest parallel I can think of is railroads.

Railroads were historically prone to boom and bust cycles and wild speculation, and were all pretty much on the ropes in the 1970s due to disruption by cars, trucks, and airplanes. Since then, the industry has done pretty well (on the freight side) and attracted various well-heeled investors, including Buffett (BNSF), Phil Anschutz (Union Pacific), Forrest Mars (Tongue River Railroad), PayPal founder Elon Musk (Hyperloop proposal), Bill Ackman (Canadian Pacific). But it’s not a real parallel, since the railroad business model didn’t really need total reinvention.

Mostly, the media investments by tycoons other than Buffett spring simply from what they see as an interesting, potentially lucrative and very public entrepreneurial challenge, at which they think they can succeed — even if they have no idea, initially, what the solution may be. Basically, they think, if newspapers were a license to print money for 100 years, and if there’s still a huge appetite out there for news, there has to be a way to do that digitally, even if nobody has really been able to figure one out in the last two decades.

And so, Prediction No. 2: We will continue to see some laudable investments in journalism by very wealthy people — but in the near term, we will not see real, transformative business models coming from them. Instead, these investments are laudable simply because, following that philanthropic impulse, they generally add more journalists, improve the product, and make communities happy to have a good newspaper. We’ll probably see some more super-rich people jumping into the game, perhaps acquiring the papers like the Worcester Telegram & Gazette (being split from the Globe by John Henry), and the Providence Journal (being jettisoned by A. H. Belo).

The Omidyar thing

Finally, we come to the mystery that is Pierre Omidyar’s $250 million gamble and his hiring of Glenn Greenwald (effectively acquiring the motherlode of Edward Snowden secrets), along with Laura Poitras and Jay Rosen. Of all the current big-money players, I think Omidyar may have the best prospects.

Thus, Prediction No. 3: Even though nothing much has leaked out about what shape this venture is going to take, I’m predicting that what we’re going to see is a global news system (not a just a website), combining the best features of The Texas Tribune, GlobalPost, and the investigative news networks. There will be news digests if you just want to know what’s going on; there will be personalized news streams if you have a set of niche interests; there will be longform journalism, great photography, and video. The idea will be to build a global community around news that matters. There may be spinoffs like books and events. It will be a for-profit venture, but like Google, Facebook, Twitter, et al, it will not unveil any real revenue strategy for several years. The focus will be to build an audience first.

The best parallel to the “Omidyar thing” is probably Ted Turner’s launch of CNN in 1980 (which only cost the equivalent of around $70 million in today’s moolah, giving an idea of the magnitude of Omidyar’s gamble). CNN was a brand new model, it was global, it was disruptive, and it hired great people. It took five full years to become profitable. So give Pierre a chance — this may take a while.

Martin Langeveld spent 30 years in the newspaper business, 13 of them as publisher at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass., the Transcript in North Adams, Mass., and the Reformer in Brattleboro, Vermont.

The rise of the fluid beat structure


This post is by Adrienne LaFrance from Nieman Journalism Lab


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A favorite editor of mine used to say that you can tell a news organization’s values by what it chooses not to cover.

I always liked that, especially as it applies to news judgment in a content-choked digital world. We have access to oceans of information online. For any news organization to produce meaningful journalism, it must figure out how to elevate its work above the rest of the riffraff retweeting the same things, broadcasting the same livestreams, and quoting the same press releases.

LaFranceMug_250This sort of differentiation has everything to do with clearly defined values. Not the Journalism 101 stuff like your newsroom’s commitment to accuracy and fairness — the trickier existential question of what makes your newsroom yours and how your reporters demonstrate your organization’s values through their work. I think a lot of newsrooms assume they have an answer to these questions when they actually don’t. (A good place to start if you’re not sure which camp you’re in: “What does my newsroom do better than any other newsroom?”)

In 2014, I believe we’ll see more news organizations experiment with fluid beat structures. Reporters will organize their coverage around sets of evolving ideas rather than fixed places or topics. (Quartz is the go-to example of a site that’s rethinking traditional beats along these lines. More on that in a minute.) Fluid beats will help organizations reach niche and sometimes overlapping audiences that aren’t necessarily linked by the kinds of geographic or demographic ties that once defined a pre-Internet daily’s audience. Social distribution will continue to play a major role for newsrooms cultivating and interacting with these new and engaged audiences.

Now that we all have publishing power, the mechanisms by which we share information are increasingly dictated by networked structures rather than institutional ones. And now that publishing has changed, production — including beat reporting — shouldn’t just mirror institutional structures of the past either.

Designing beats around abstract ideas is a departure for beat reporters who are accustomed to focusing on specialized topics or specific regions. C.W. Anderson explained in a piece for the Lab a year ago that journalism’s old-school beat structure amounts to “institutional homophily,” which is “just a fancy way of saying that organizations charged with interacting with large bureaucracies often become bureaucracies themselves, because it makes the interaction easier.”

Covering a bureaucracy by turning into one? Zzzzz. No wonder so many people skip all those very serious and very important public affairs stories city hall reporters write. But part of why some of those kinds of stories can seem boring today is because they’re framed in ways that made sense for newspapers 20 years ago but have become antiquated today. I’m not advocating for doing away with shoe-leather city hall reporters. I was one; I loved that beat. But I also think news organizations hoping to captivate curious and globally-minded readers need to restructure beats to reflect all of the boundaries — geographic, temporal, spatial — that have evaporated in the past 20 years of journalism.

Creating a fluid beat structure doesn’t mean you’re ignoring influential bureaucracies. It just means you’re rethinking the flow of information in a way that reflects new behaviors. Today we navigate linked networks of continuous news and information rather than diving into and out of closed systems.

Ideas and the battle for what’s real

So how do we create beats that reflect this new reality? Ideas-based beats are a way for reporters to be human-centric rather than newsroom- or bureaucracy-centric.

Here’s how Anderson, Emily Bell, and Clay Shirky put it in their 2012 paper about post-industrial journalism: “What a journalist did in the industrial age was defined by the product: a headline writer, a reporter, a desk editor, a columnist, an editor. As deadlines melt, and we are in an age where the story as the ‘atomic value of news’ is in question, what journalists do all day is more defined by the requirements of the unfolding events and the audiences consuming them.” We look for credible sources who can tell us not just what happened but what’s real, an idea that calls to mind something MIT’s Judith Donath said to me in a conversation a while back: “One of the things we see a lot now is sort of like constant war between authenticity and co-opting the appearance of authenticity…We live in a world that operates in information. You’re not out foraging for berries. You’re foraging for what is actually real, what’s authentic.”

So when readers follow individual journalists from one brand to the next — the Nate Silvers and Glenn Greenwalds of the world, for instance — it’s often because those individuals produce compelling work backed by clear value systems. This doesn’t necessarily mean strong opinions, but it must at least entail basic ideas that frame the journalist’s work. This kind of framing is essential in a more fluid and abstract beat structure.

In other words, a reporter ought to have to have an explicitly defined driving principle for each iteration of her beat — a premise to clarify the decision to cover any given story in the first place and help determine whom to interview and what questions to ask. Every beat reporter should be able to easily answer the question: “Why is this the idea at the center of your reporting?” Or, in Quartz’s parlance: “Why are you obsessed with this?”

At Quartz, reporters have “obsessions” that change over time rather than fixed beats. The site’s global news editor, Gideon Lichfield, characterized the approach succinctly in a blog post last year: “Beats provide an institutional structure. Obsessions are a more human one.” Quartz’s approach to obsessions hasn’t resulted in coverage that amounts to a new or different kind of journalism, but the strategy clearly influences how Quartz works. Its morning newsletter is the perfect example of how Quartz prioritizes being human over being institutional — Quartz tells you what news you missed while you were sleeping, and what you should look for in the day to come. The more bureaucratic Washington Post, for example, has an email that spits out headlines organized by sections of the paper.

So what might a fluid beat structure actually look like in practice?

Let’s say my beat is “transparency.” That’s pretty abstract and unwieldy by itself. So to make sense of it, my premise — this driving principle, this value system that informs all of my journalistic work about transparency — might be something like: The public has a right to scrutinize influential gatekeepers who handle public money, personal data, and access to pivotal information. My job would be to track how that premise holds up in the real world, the extent to which there are exceptions, where and why it gets murky, and so on.

Would I naturally gravitate toward the same topics and places in my coverage the way old-school beat reporters do? Sure. I’d probably still cover some of the same kinds of stories you might find in politics or business sections. But I would organize my reporting around a compelling idea rather than trying to extract compelling ideas from distinct places or things.

This new structure better lends itself to high-impact reporting. A reporter who covers “transparency” instead of just “media” or just “campaign finance,” for example, is poised to find connections and patterns that exist in the world but otherwise aren’t typically reported — or even identified. That reporter is then well positioned to be a trusted guide on any number of stories related to transparency issues.

Considering Greenwald’s role in the new news organization Pierre Omidyar is founding, it makes sense that Omidyar also tapped NYU media thinker Jay Rosen for the $250-million-backed venture. Rosen has long advocated that journalists be upfront about some of their perspectives and values. He has also written in detail about we might reinvent beats for the networked world. The two ideas go hand-in-hand and in many ways reflect how Greenwald already operates as a journalist. I expect this new company to shake up conventions about how beats are designed and in turn how newsrooms are organized — beyond what Quartz has done — when it launches in 2014.

Once you get used to the idea of dreaming up abstract beats, it’s hard to stop. Imagine a news organization where reporters have beats like longevity, the changing oceans, preservation, the future, representation, global borders, worst-case scenarios, authenticity, etc., etc., etc. I asked my friend Mimi Schiffman, a videographer at CNN.com, what beat she’d choose along these line and she had an answer right away: “invisible fences,” an exploration of the boundaries in life that separate us and make life harder or easier for different groups of people.

Just imagine having a beat not tethered to a physical place or set topic, but an abstract and ever-changing linked set of ideas that you get to explore in real-time with other curious people.

The options are endless. And that’s kind of the point.

Adrienne LaFrance, a former staff writer for Nieman Lab, is a reporter and writer based in Washington, D.C.

The newsonomics of the November shuffle, from Forbes to Freedom and Couric to Stelter


This post is by Ken Doctor from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




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.

This Week in Review: ‘Native ads’ in Politico’s Playbook, and Greenwald’s news org takes shape


This post is by Mark Coddington from Nieman Journalism Lab


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politico-playbookExpansion 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.

jay-rosenA 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 newly laid brick wall

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.

Jay Rosen, the view from nowhere, and “arrogance born of monopoly”


This post is by Caroline O'Donovan from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




When talking about objectivity in the age of digital journalism, Jay Rosen’s view from nowhere theory is one of the most frequently cited perspectives on the topic.

Yesterday, in a blog post that used the Old and New Testaments as a framework for discussing the age of mass media and the age that preceded it, Rosen argued that objectivity conservatives might be coming around to the age of the blogger.

A kind of new testament fundamentalism common in journalism from the 1970s to the 1990s held form through the early years of blogging in this century. It felt scorn for the more opinionated style and ridiculed its followers as “echo chambers.” It defined itself as “the traditional” and dismissed everyone else as marginal. This was arrogance born of monopoly.

But then new testament journalists started blogging themselves and more recently they have taken to social media with genuine enthusiasm. Today they are not as confident that they have all the answers. They know that their business model is broken. They can see the advantages in personal voice and persuasive power that accrues to the Glenn Greenwalds and other practitioners of the personal franchise model in news. They understand that the people formerly known as the audience want to participate more in the news and that the insiders are less trusted than ever.

The next step, Rosen says, is building news organizations that make an attempt to combine both types of journalism.

What we know (and don’t) about eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s ambitious new media startup


This post is by Laura Hazard Owen from paidContent


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This week, it leaked that star Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, who broke the news on the NSA scandals, is leaving the paper for what he described as “a once-in-a-career dream journalistic opportunity that no journalist could possibly decline.” It was soon revealed that the backer of that opportunity is billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

So what’s the new venture going to look like? Here’s what we know so far:

It’s totally digital, no print component, NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen reported.

Omidyar is willing to pump a lot — like, a LOT — of money into it. Omidyar was one of the people approached about buying the Washington Post this summer. Rosen: ”I asked how large a commitment he was prepared to make [to the new site] in dollars. For starters: the $250 million it would have taken to buy the Washington Post.”

Also on board so far: Filmmaker Laura Poitras and The Nation journalist Jeremy Scahill. Scahill and Poitras “had already been in discussions with Greenwald about starting a venture together when Omidyar approached with a similar vision for a new media outlet,” Michael Calderone reported at the Huffington Post. Poitras worked with Greenwald and Edward Snowden on the NSA reporting and Scahill has covered national security issues for The Nation; his second book and documentary, Dirty Wars, were released this year.

The site won’t just focus on surveillance and security, though: It will be a general news site. “[The] endeavor will be independent of my other organizations, and…will cover general interest news, with a core mission around supporting and empowering independent journalists across many sectors and beats,” Omidyar wrote on his website. “The team will build a media platform that elevates and supports these journalists and allows them to pursue the truth in their fields. This doesn’t just mean investigative reporting, but all news.” Glenn Greenwald also told BuzzFeed that the new site “will have sports and entertainment and features. I’m working on the whole thing but the political journalism unit is my focus.”

Omidyar, Rosen reported, “believes that if independent, ferocious, investigative journalism isn’t brought to the attention of general audiences it can never have the effect that actually creates a check on power,” so the site “will have to serve the interest of all kinds of news consumers. It cannot be a niche product. It will have to cover sports, business, entertainment, technology: everything that users demand.”

And a few things we don’t know:

The site’s name, though apparently it has one already.

The site’s business model (beyond Omidyar’s millions). Rosen reported that “all proceeds from NewCo will be reinvested in the journalism.” CJR’s Ryan Chittum notes, ”If that’s the case, it will be a sort of quasi-nonprofit: able to sell ads and otherwise act like a publishing company but paying little to no taxes.” We don’t know, though, if the site will take ads.

Omidyar’s not a stranger to news ventures. He founded the Hawaiian local news site Honolulu Civil Beat in 2010. It initially cost a whopping $19.99 per month but cut its price to $9.99 per month about a year later, in response to the fact that the Honolulu Star Advertiser added a $9.95-per-month paywall to its own site. The Huffington Post also partnered with Honolulu Civil Beat to launch Huffington Post Hawaii this fall.

Honolulu Civil Beat has always been ad-free. In 2011, president Randy Ching wrote, “We don’t worry about upsetting advertisers — because we don’t have any.” It seems likely that Omidyar also would not want to worry about appeasing advertisers with his new venture, but the site could have trouble gaining traction behind a paywall. So perhaps the entire thing will be free, and free of advertising. We’ll have to wait and see.



    


The Dallas Morning News, looking for critics to boost its arts coverage, turns to local professors


This post is by Caroline O'Donovan from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




The Dallas Morning News has been without a full-time staff art critic since 2006, so when it was announced last week that a professor from the University of Texas system had been hired to fill that position, people were excited — both because, hey, more critics are better than fewer critics, and because it seemed to point toward a new model for cooperation between academia and news organizations.

According to UT Dallas, Rick Brettell is one of the most popular educators on campus — no small feat at an institution more known for its science and technology strengths. Brettell, a former director of the Dallas Museum of Art, will remain a professor and academic chair in his department at UT Dallas; through the collaboration, he will allot 20 hours a week to work for The Dallas Morning News. “Getting 20 hours of Rick Brettell, in my opinion,” says editor Bob Mong, “is like getting 60 hours from some other people.” Of course, it still means considerable savings for the paper, which Mong says was otherwise planning on hiring a full time critic.

This isn’t the Morning News’ first joint hire with the UT system. In the spring, they reached an agreement with Mark Lamster, a professor at UT Arlington, who is now the paper’s architecture critic. That arrangement, Mong says, is a slightly different one than the deal with Brettell; it was borne out of a relationship with the architecture department at UT Arlington, which the paper had given a donation to in honor of David Dillon, critic for the Morning News from 1984 to 2006.

In both cases, however, the paper strengthened its arts coverage through partnerships with local institutions, saving itself some money by cashing in on available local talent. It’s not a perfect analogy, but Mong compared these hires to the relationships that The New Yorker has with writers like Steve Coll and Nick Lemann, the current and former deans of Columbia’s journalism school, who’ve managed to balance their journalistic and academic lives.

“I think it’s a good deal for our readers, and it’s also a good deal for us,” Mong says.

Mong says the Morning News would be interested in pursuing similar partnerships with local academics and experts in other fields as well; he’d especially like to hire a medical doctor to write on health issues. “In several fields, there are terrific people who don’t get much exposure,” he said, “and if we can encourage them to write for us — this is mostly on a freelance basis, but it could turn into something more.”

The benefits here are obvious: Readers get better coverage — both more of it and higher quality — and the paper saves money by not having to hire a professional journalist. It’s the kind of small-bore savings that media bigwigs are talking about when they say improving the health of the news industry will require a lot of small moves at least as much as a few big ones.

“We have a strong staff. It’s smaller than it was 10 years ago, but it’s a big staff and we can do what we need to do,” says Mong. “The question is, how do you rebuild in some areas where you’re not as strong? We hadn’t had an architecture critic. We had not had somebody doing art full time in an area that has many fine museums and a lot of collectors and interest in the field. It’s important to the creative class that lives here.”

And the idea that local universities — already in the knowledge-spreading business — should take a bigger role in meeting the information needs of communities has been around for years, perhaps most notably put forward by the Downie-Schudson report in 2009. Journalism schools are becoming teaching hospitals and producing news for local communities; in fields like economics and political science, academics are producing news that reaches audiences, whether as independent online publishers or under the rubric traditional news organizations.

But just as clear as the benefits is one big question: If journalism relies more on partnerships with public institutions to subsidize its reporting, are we squeezing out the professional journalists?

While the upsurge in online work from niche experts has been a boon, it’s easy to see why some non-academic critics would worry about their status as independent voices attached only to their news organization.

When I asked Mong if he was worried that this sort of partnership was helping to push out the professional critic, he replied: “I don’t know that we are or not. I just look for the best person I can get.”

Photo of Rick Brettell courtesy UT Dallas.

Journalism has become unstuck in time


This post is by C.W. Anderson from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Listen: Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time.

—Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

For this month’s issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, Jay Rosen has written the kind of incisive, wonderful essay that demands a response. Not the “Hey, you’re wrong!” response, but the “And another thing!” response. While Rosen’s essay, which revisits his 1999 book What are Journalists For?, answers the question of journalism’s purpose with reference to geography and place, I want to add a third leg to the journalism-space relationship. That leg is time.

The main problem journalism hopes to solve, Rosen argues, is the problem of what he calls “the awayness of things” — the fact that, in modern society, meaningful news occurs outside our immediate social circle. Things happen, and we don’t always know about them just by talking to the unpaid, amateur information sharers (friends, family, neighbors, etc) that float in and out of our lives. To solve this problem, journalism relies on the journalist, who, in Rosen’s words, tells us with authority “I’m here, you’re not, let me tell you about.”

The problem of journalism is thus a problem of space, and it is a problem deeply connected to the founding of the American nation. As Rosen writes:

In this sense, the American republic incorporated journalism from the beginning because it assumed a common identity over the 13 original states. There had never been a republic attempted over such an “extent of territory” (that was the phrase then). One of the answers the founders gave to doubters was that the press would freely circulate across the new nation, from center to margin and back, and thereby solve an unprecedented problem in awayness.

One of the current dilemmas of 21st-century journalism, then, is that a great many more people are “there” than used to be the case. They might be activists, ordinary citizens, part-time bloggers, and so on. And a lot of arguments have taken place trying to figure out which of these present-people count as actual journalists.

In grounding the problem of journalism in questions of space, Rosen is re-articulating a noble tradition within the study of communication more generally. Participants in this tradition are a motley lot, running the gamut from classical scholars like Eric Havelock, Jesuit philosophers like Walter Ong, sober economists like Harold Innis, print historian Elizabeth Eisenstein, the guru of the electronic age Marshall McLuhan, and James W. Carey, a mentor to both Rosen and me. Each of these thinkers, despite their other differences, was concerned with the relationship between space, technology, communication, and, as we will see, time.

The basic argument made by Carey, Ong, Innis, McLuhan, Eisenstein, Havelock, and Rosen can be oversimplified as follows: Changes in technology are related to (though they do not always cause) changes in how society relates to space and how it relates to time.

In his seminal essay on the telegraph, Carey gives us an example from the world of finance. The arrival of the telegraph, he argues, deeply wounded financial arbitrage and created futures trading. Why? Well, it was harder to make money buying corn for a low price in Illinois and selling it for a high price in Iowa when, after the emergence of the telegraph, everyone knew the price of corn in both places almost simultaneously. What they didn’t know, though, was what the price of corn would be three months from now. Thus, a financial system of arbitrage was gradually overtaken by a system based around the trading of futures.

Leave aside, for a moment, the questionable history and underlying technological determinism of the argument and treat Carey’s analysis as a useful thought experiment. Extending from this example, the problem of journalism thus becomes a problem of space, as Rosen argues. How do technological changes affect presence in particular places? What does it mean that so many people are “there” these days? And so forth.

But the problem of journalism is also, as Harold Innis put it, “a problem of time.” Think about how we get our news today: We dive in and out of Twitter, with its short bursts of immediate information. We click over to a rapidly updating New York Times Lede blog post, with its rolling updates and on the ground reports, complete with YouTube videos and embedded tweets. Eventually, that blog post becomes a full-fledged article, usually written by someone else. And finally, at another end of the spectrum, we peruse infographics that can sum up decades of data into a single image. All of these are journalism, in some fashion. But the kind of journalisms they are — what they are for — is arguably very different. They each deal with the problem of context in different ways.

In short, technology has created a modern situation where we occupy multiple time regimes simultaneously, and journalism is not free from the dilemmas posed becoming “unstuck in time.” While information optimists might argue that this explosion of time regimes is an unalloyed net benefit — people get to consume the news they want, when they want it! — information pessimists like Nicholas Carr argue that we’ve entered a darker future in which we’ve lost the ability to concentrate on anything more than the immediate present. (This is related to the arguments of another member of the communication school I discussed above, Neil Postman.) Optimism or pessimism aside, what’s clear is that our experience of time, particularly our experience of time as filtered through the media of journalism, has shifted radically over the past few decades.

In response to the question “What is journalism for?” Rosen provides an insightful answer: Journalism exists to solve the problem of “awayness.” But we can ask a second question: How does journalism solve the problem of “It happened far away, and also at another time”? When is news no longer what’s new but what matters?  And how do differences in the way journalism answers that question affect the ways we, as members of different communities and different publics, grapple with what it means to be effective citizens in a democracy?

Photo of the Vienna Clock Museum’s Augustinian Friar’s Astrological Clock Curious Expeditions used under a Creative Commons license.

The difference between a tablespoon and an ocean: An academic blog finds a home at The Washington Post


This post is by Caroline O'Donovan from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




The Washington Post is in content-acquisition mode. Yesterday The Monkey Cage — a much admired group blog run by political science professors interested in connecting their field’s work to the broader political discussion — announced it would be moving to the Post. Here’s site editor and George Washington University associate professor John Sides:

After 5+ years of writing and growing as an independent blog, we think that the Post offers a tremendous opportunity both to increase and broaden our audience and to improve our content.  We think that it will be a great place to continue the blog’s mission of publicizing political science research and providing informed commentary on politics and current events.

The list of independent blogs that have been acquired or leased by Big Media continues to grow: Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight going first to The New York Times and then ESPN; the Freakonomics guys also joining the Times and then going solo again; Ezra Klein bringing his style of wonkbloggery to the Post in 2009; the peripatetic wandering of Andrew Sullivan and Matthew Yglesias from website to website as contracts expire.

For The Monkey Cage — produced by a group of academics and until now not a revenue-generating enterprise — its three-year deal isn’t a perfect analog to what Jack Shafer has termed the Marquee Brothers. But it nonetheless fits into a broader trend: large news organizations realizing the value in sometimes obtaining talent (and brand and audience) from the outside, not just developing it within.

Bird’s eye view

Sides told me that a number of publications had made offers for The Monkey Cage, but that they’d continued shopping around until finding the right fit. “At the end of the day,” he said, “we felt that, when you operate as a niche blog, as an academic blog, we felt like there was so much more room for growth if we could affiliate with a publication that had a really rich history of political news coverage, and had a commitment to a sort of data driven, wonky style of blogging.” Sides felt that at the Post, the original direction of The Monkey Cage would be allowed to go on in much the same way, while being able to rely on the editorial resources that would grow and improve their content.

“As academics, being lively and interesting isn’t exactly our strong suit sometimes,” he said. “The Post is there not to provide any sort of editorial oversight in a real day-to-day, hands-on, editing-every-post kind of way, but really to be there as a resource for us to learn more at the outset about how to write for a digital audience.”

Melissa Bell, director of platforms for The Post, said via email that striking the right balance between “editorial oversight” and the “freedom to innovate” is something they’ve had plenty of practice with on their other online brands, citing Klein’s Wonkblog as a prime example. Still, some — including Jay Rosen — expressed initial concerns over whether The Monkey Cage will continue on with its criticism of how the media covers politics, both at the Post and elsewhere. Sides said that Post editor Marty Baron was clear in negotiations that writing about the Post was fine. (In fact, one of The Monkey Cage’s contributors was beefing with Ezra Klein even as the deal was signed.)

“There’s no real stricture being placed on us,” says Sides. “Everyone’s a big boy and big girl. We can have differences of opinion and still work.”

Sides says Klein’s site-within-a-site is probably the most similar to what the Post Monkey Cage will look like. Wonkblog is a little more policy-oriented than Monkey Cage aspires to be; they might cover environment or education using research and data from economics or criminology or sociology, whereas The Monkey Cage is about “understanding political process and institutions that give rise to these policies.” Sides also compared his work to The Fix, a Post blog which he sees as being aimed at political junkies with “nimble intelligence,” who want the news on a “day-to-day if not hour-to-hour basis.”

The Monkey Cage, meanwhile, usually publishes two to four posts a day, and Sides doesn’t see that number increasing much. “There’s no way we could have that metabolism,” he says. “I think the nature of academics is to fly at a somewhat higher altitude and look at more big-picture kinds of trends or influences and try to describe what is generally true — what do we know from having studied phenomena over a period of time.”

Don’t quit your day job

Expect The Monkey Cage’s content to stay largely the same. (In a comment on the announcement post, Sides notes that content that’s of interest only specifically to political science academics — like complaints of how boring polisci conferences can be — would likely be cut back.) But the business model will change, in part because there really hasn’t been one up to this point.

Loyal readers can take a breath: Monkey Cage content will be excluded from the Post’s paywall for a year. Says Sides: “The year outside the paywall is just sort of a way to transition from having no such structure to having one, and hopefully that will make the transition for our current readers a relatively easy one.”

Ads will become a part of the blog for the first time. “To me it was neither here nor there, that there are ads on the site. It doesn’t effect what we’re saying or writing, and obviously all of that work is not handled by us,” says Sides. Revenue produced by the site will be split in some fashion between the Post and The Monkey Cage’s contributors. But of course, as full time professors, most of those individuals have lots of other responsibilities on their hands. “We’re not being hired — I won’t draw a salary from The Post,” says Sides. “We’re all going to keep our day jobs, as it were.”

For the Post, the deal means new content for minimal extra staff hours while building out its “smart analysis brand.” The Monkey Cage, in return, is looking at pageviews at levels it’s never seen before. “It’s the difference between a tablespoon and an ocean,” says Sides. “I’m not sure we’re headed for a life of luxury and riches, but that’s not why we’re doing this in the first place. We’re doing it because we like to write this way and we think it’s important to communicate what we know to a broader audience.”

Looking outside the newsroom

The inherent obstacles to bringing that kind of academic work to a substantial audience is what motivated the foundation of The Monkey Cage. “We write poorly; we write methodologies that are only accessible to specialists; we hide our research behind paywalls,” says Sides, speaking of the academy. “I feel like one of the things The Monkey Cage has tried to do was emulate some of the academic blogs that were trying to break down those barriers, and it’s pleasing to think that news organizations are starting to see that academics can write in ways that are engaging enough to warrant not just an occasional link, but a degree of sponsorship and institutional support.”

Nate Silver may not be an academic, but his application of hard analysis to issues usually covered in fuzzier tones is an obvious parallel to what The Monkey Cage tries to do. Sides says he’s pleased by the comparison, which he calls “apt,” but not just for himself and fellow contributors.

“I think one of the things that Nate Silver has done that has been a real service to social science and political science is that political phenomena can be understood by using quantitative information,” he says. “It’s not a substitute for the kind of granular detail and knowledge that you can get as a reporter on the ground who’s in conversation with decision makers, in campaigns or on the Hill. I don’t think those things are opposite. But there’s a way that they can complement each other.”

Of course, Silver recently made headlines with the announcement that he would be leaving the Times, which raises questions about the sustainability and longevity of expert-driven, independent blog brands. If The Monkey Cage hits it big, it’ll be an interesting renewal negotiation in three years. But for now, The Post is satisfied and says they’d definitely consider pursuing more partnerships like this one.

“Expert blogs have matured into high quality news sites for readers,” says the Post’s Bell. “It’s in line what we’ve always done in journalism: seek out the best reporters wherever they may be and try and hire them. It just so happens that a lot of great writers happen to be online these days.”

Image by Ery: The Shots used through a Creative Commons license.

The newsonomics of Jeff Bezos buying The Washington Post


This post is by Ken Doctor from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




washingtonpostccIt is a thunderbolt. If not tossed down from Mt. Olympus, it is thrown from Mt. Amazon, not far from Washington’s beatific Olympic Mountains.

Jeff Bezos’s surprise buying of the Washington Post whipsaws media, and a media-watching world, intrigued by Red Sox owner John Henry’s winning of the Boston Globe auction, announced Saturday (“The newsonomics of John Henry buying the Boston Globe”). It compounds the curiosity of Warren Buffett becoming a small city newspaper magnate last year. It builds the suspicion that the few remaining people with the stomach to run daily newspapers have bank accounts with at least nine zeros after a non-zero numeral of some kind.

It proves, yet again, that truth can trump fiction. Web historians: remember the 2004 Googlezon video, EPIC 2014, that postulated a Google/Amazon takeover of the news, and other, worlds?

Forgetting memories of the Bancrofts, the Ridders, the Cowles, the Bonfils and the Binghams, the world expected the Graham family — heirs to the fabled Watergate profile in courage — to last as owners of the Washington Post forever. Instead, it will last 80 years. For $250 million — the price named by CEO Don Graham when he decided to abandon ship — the Graham family turns over its publishing assets and fades into history among those other clans, leaving the Sulzbergers, almost alone among America’s newspaper elite, to go forward in that tradition.

Why sell? Why now?

There are two fairly simple answers.

For the Post, quite specifically, its Kaplan genie ran out of Post subsidy wishes. As other newspaper companies turned south, with the one-two punches of digital ad and reader disruption and then the Great Recession, Kaplan — the Post Company’s separate education business — offset lost Post profits. Then, with government pressure on the excesses of the digital education business, Kaplan lost its mojo, its revenues and, in 2012, its profits.

For Post execs, it was time to face the financial music. The tune they heard was off-key. It’s a reckoning I now hear widely across the newspaper industry, from the U.S. to middle Europe: the next five years may be as tough a digital transformation as the last. Yes, the positive of digital/All Access reader (circulation) revenue is great, a ray of hope. Marketing services and events businesses are offering new revenue streams unthought of three years ago. Yet, the accelerating print ad decline, coupled with tepid (if any) digital ad revenue growth, casts a dark cloud over the next several years.

The meager profits (5-10% in many cases) of daily newspaper companies are fading from solid black to gray, in danger of turning red, or in the case of the Washington Post publishing division, staying in the red.

So, if you are Donald Graham, facing these realities, it was time to look into the family mirror. For lack of either financial wherewithal or willingness or familial stomach, the Graham family dynasty ended, and quickly. It was the annual Sun Valley Allen & Co confab that provided a useful setting for getting the deal done; who says conferences are a waste of time?

Enter the White Knight, Jeff Bezos. And what prince doesn’t carry baggage. (Let’s peek into the bag, below.)

The stunning sale raises a Sunday Post full of questions. Let’s take on, quickly, the first nine:

Why not Mark Zuckerberg?

After all, Don Graham is on the Facebook board, got his famous private tour of the social mothership and has worked closely on social initiatives with the company. (Great WSJ piece and headline: “When Zuckerberg Met Graham: A Facebook Love Story“)

Zuckerberg, alas, is an almost purely digital guy, while Jeff Bezos is known as a voracious reader of news. Amazon was of course founded on books, another classical text medium.

Why are these billionaires buying into the press?

First of all, because they can. For post-WW 2 decades, the press was a tight fraternity. Family-owned and then chain-owned newspapers dealt with each other; when newspapers changed hands, they were handed to those within the circle of trust. Brokers knew who in the circle were buying and who were selling. Auctions were rare. Prices were high at multiples (the multiplier of annual earnings) twice to thrice what we see today. After Lee Enterprises overpaid for Pulitzer Inc. (2005) and McClatchy almost choked on its purchase of Knight Ridder (2006), newspaper owners have largely tipped on one side of the transaction boat: sellers, not buyers.

Combine that aversion to buying with a devaluation of newspaper currency — they are worth about a tenth of what they were in 2000, or in the case of the Globe, 4% (adjusted for inflation) of what the Times Company paid for it 20 years ago . All kinds of new would-be owners have come out of the woodwork. The Manchesters, Kushners, Lorings, Buffetts, Henrys and Bezos, just to name a few, share some common traits, though — quite importantly — in different quantities.

What drives them?

It comes down to three factors:

  • Financial bet: They believe they are buying toward a bottom of the newspaper market. Of course, Sam Zell and Brian Tierney are among those who believed the same thing and were overwhelmed by tsunamis of debt. But, wait, maybe this is close to the bottom; sometimes bottom-buyers are right. Now, in 2013, how many real estate buyers are kicking themselves for not buying a year ago?
  • Civic values: News media are a fairly integral part of any democracy and that belief is shared, if unevenly, among the rich.
  • Ego: Or vanity, or arrogance, more pejoratively. Or extreme self-confidence, more favorably. To place a bet in the tens of millions on a property in a distressed industry, believing you can turn around what most others failed to turn around, you better have high self-esteem.

It’s a mix of those three that defines these new owners. You can play the parlor game of how the chemistry works within any one of them.

Are newspapers any longer creatures of the market?

When former Star Tribune Publisher Joel Kramer started up MinnPost in 2007, he explained that newspapers were no longer “creatures of the market.” He meant that what came to be known as the “advertising subsidy” (Good Jay Rosen explainer) was going away and that huge ad volumes that paid for huge newsrooms would be obsolete. Flash forward, and that’s become painfully omnipresent, with significant new cutbacks coming this very week throughout Gannett.

So this new private ownership takes newspaper companies out of the glare of public company profit pressure and scrutiny. The Globe and the Post will be just the latest to move from publicly traded companies into private hands, following the Orange County Register, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Journal Register Co, and MediaNews Co, among others.

It’s a logical move. In an environment of multiple hazards, only a long-term view, and investment that may mean diminishing profits in the short term, may get these companies to the other side. The legal, fiduciary responsibility of maximizing return for investors can be counter-productive to long-term viability. The painful alternative for the Grahams, for instance: deeper cutting of the newsroom, which, under Bezos, may be averted.

In a strong sense, it’s full-circle. Newspapers started as mass vehicles under strong, private ownership. Then they enjoyed the fruits of the public markets from the ’70s on. Private to public, and now back to private.

Isn’t this trend of super-wealthy ownership bad for the press?

Not necessarily. Take the long-standing argument about chain newspaper ownership vs. family ownership. The truth: some chains produced the best journalism in the country — and the worst. The same has been true among the family-owned. For every Doug Manchester turning the local daily into a personal platform, there may be an Aaron Kushner gung-ho on product and content.

The good news: We’re going to have far less uniformity in the daily press, as we leave the chain days. The bad news: The lows will be lower.

So what is in White Knight Bezos’ bag of tricks?

This may be the most fascinating question of all. Bezos’ Amazon has widely distinguished itself in two major ways, both of which may portend good things for the new Post.

Number one, he’s built — and continues to build — the company with a long-term perspective. He has long frustrated investors impatient with losses and meager profits, as revenues are plowed back into growing the business. That’s a long-term perspective the newspaper business needs more of.

Number two, he has focused obsessively on customer experience. Amazon is the gold standard of utility on the web. Know an industry that could use a revolutionary thought or two about how to present and deliver news on the tablet and smartphone? If Bezos can apply the same focus to the Post that he has to Amazon, we could see a new leader emerge in the industry. Historically, the early WashingtonPost.com was an early leader, and can be again. WaPo Labs has created an array of innovative products, but none has reached scale-changing heights.

Two things Bezos knows: scale and data. Expect him to concentrate on those values at the Post, as he reviews such recent initiatives as the Post’s new paywall.

Isn’t there a big downside to the owner of Amazon owning the Post?

Certainly. Ask anyone in Seattle about Jeff Bezos’ willingness to throw around his Amazonian weight. Though the sales tax issue seems largely resolved (with Amazon jujitsuing a seeming loss into a win, “The Newsonomics of Amazon vs. Main Street“), many big political issues related to the company remain. Privacy is a top one. Amazon needs more friends in D.C., and it’s hard to imagine what’s better than owning the editorial page of the Washington Post in that quest.

In the abstract, it’s much better to have newspaper owners who don’t have major stakes in powerful, non-newspaper companies. Those days are apparently drawing to a close. Cave, lector.

Isn’t the Post special?

Well, it is, in several ways. Thirty years ago, it was on a par with The New York Times. The Times opted to go national, while the Post opted to emphasize regional. Who made the better bet is still to be seen. The Times, of course, sees a huge, potential global upside, but the Post has long dominated audience in its highly affluent region, first in print and then digitally. While the Post has a large non-local audience — national politics and government is in its very DNA — it hasn’t well-monetized that crowd. Look for Bezos to take a fresh approach to local, national and topical segmentation.

Does the sale price tell us something about the new valuation of the metro press?

I doubt it. Bezos agreed to Graham’s asking price of a quarter of a billion. That seems rich for a paper and publishing assets that are unprofitable, losing somewhere between $10 million and $50 million in 2012, depending how you account for pension expenses. Yet, that’s one percent of his $25 billion net worth. (Americans, on average, donate 4.7% of their income annually.) So, he’ll hardly know it’s gone. The low Globe price — which, recall, was semi-artificially heightened when the New York Times Company opted to keep its Globe pension obligations — is much closer to the mark. That’s about three times annual earnings.

In the end, it may have been that outsized regional reach, the closeness of the Graham/Bezos relationship, a little DC real estate and the special glow of Post brand that sealed the deal and the price.

So, what about the Sulzbergers and the Times?

How lonely is it as one of the few remaining family-controlled big newspaper companies? The Times is clearly doing better than it was four years ago when it was forced to sell part of its building and take a usurious loan from Carlos Slim (whose wealth is 3X times Bezos’). Debt is done; cash is up. Yet, it faces all the same news company issues that the Post faces. Does it have the financial wherewithal, willingness and stomach to push into another tough half-decade. If not, look for another billionaire to expand his news interests: Michael Bloomberg.

Image by Max Borge used under a Creative Commons license.

This Week in Review: Snowden’s flight continues, and the Tribune Co. cuts and runs from print


This post is by Mark Coddington from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Snowden’s defenders and detractors: U.S. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden’s attempts to find safe harbor have stretched into their fifth week, with three Latin American countries — Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia — formally offering him asylum. Despite some conflicting reports, Snowden hasn’t yet picked Venezuela, though The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists he leaked to, suspects he will. Hilary Sargent has a good summary of Snowden’s options at this point, and the Russian TV network RT has some useful running updates on the situation.

Two news organizations — Der Spiegel and The Guardian — published parts of interviews with Snowden from just before he revealed himself as the NSA leaker. The free speech site Cryptome has the fullest version of Der Spiegel’s interview, while GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram noted that Snowden told The Guardian the NSA has direct access to tech companies’ servers, something those companies have denied. (Days later, Greenwald reported that Microsoft has worked closely with the government to give it access.) Snowden also gave another interview to Greenwald in which he denied giving documents to Russia and China.

In The Washington Post, Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg defended Snowden’s decision to flee the U.S., arguing that the way the government treats these cases has changed substantially since Ellsberg decided in 1971 to stay and stand trial in the U.S. Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan echoed the point, saying Snowden doesn’t owe anything to the moralists who would have him turn himself in. (Reuters’ Jack Shafer did advise future leakers not to go solo as Snowden did, however.)

Snowden enjoyed support from other corners as well: A new poll showed that a majority of Americans see him as a whistleblower rather than a traitor, while NYU’s Jay Rosen chronicled the gains in public knowledge that have come out of the aftermath of Snowden’s leak. Snowden’s personal story isn’t as important as that of his revelations, Rosen said, but it is relevant. And the Boston Review’s Archon Fung argued that the Snowden affair is an indictment not of Snowden himself, but of broken governmental institutions and a compliant American press.

There was one very prominent critic of Snowden’s (and Greenwald’s, and WikiLeaks’): The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus, who wrote a column questioning whether WikiLeaks was the organization directing Snowden to get documents from the NSA, connecting Snowden with journalists, and generally masterminding the entire affair. Greenwald fired back with a list of inaccuracies in the story, then questioned why a correction hadn’t been posted after Pincus had privately acknowledged the errors to him. Talking to The Post’s Erik Wemple, Pincus conceded a few points but defended a few others, and The Post finally corrected the column Wednesday, though Mathew Ingram chastised the paper for how long it took.

broken-tribune

Running away from print, toward TV: After months of speculation about Tribune Co. selling off its newspapers, the company announced this week it will split the papers off into a separate company. Tribune’s eight newspapers, led by the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and Baltimore Sun, will become Tribune Publishing Co., with its broadcasting assets, including its 42 local TV stations and the cable channel WGN America, remaining part of Tribune proper.

The Chicago Tribune has the basics of the split, while The New York Times put the move into context, explaining that it’s meant to avoid some taxes and it’s part of a larger quarantining of print by major media companies, such as News Corp. and Time Warner. Meanwhile, the people everyone’s talking about as a potential buyer for Tribune Co.’s newspapers, the Koch brothers, said a bid was “possible.”

Here at the Lab, Ken Doctor wrote a strong analysis of the move: Tribune Co., he said, still plans to sell the papers, and will keep all of its reliably profitable assets under Tribune Co. flag. The main goal: ”make sure the newspaper assets don’t muddy the big broadcast play, and set the clock to do that. Chart the path. Buy some time. Hope for the best.” It’s the same strategy laid out by industry analyst Alan Mutter, who explained why media companies are cutting and running on print. As Doctor put it, “Metro newspaper companies are finding they are no longer creatures of the market.”

The other side of this retreat is a move deeper into TV, as both Tribune and Gannett have recently bought substantial local TV properties. Poynter’s Rick Edmonds gave some good background on the newfound attractiveness of TV stations. The New York Times’ Brian Stelter explained why swing-state stations — with their political advertising prowess — have become especially hot properties, and The Times’ David Carr issued a caution about their cost-cutting and revenue-declining downsides.

Mutter was similarly wary: In a pair of posts, he laid out the reason for the TV grab (it’s simply been a more reliably profitable business than print) and warned that as smart TV and multiplatform viewing rise, the local TV industry could collapse as newspapers did.

apple-ibooks-education

A collusion ruling on ebooks: A U.S. federal judge ruled this week that Apple colluded with five publishing giants to raise ebook prices as a way to break up Amazon’s dominance in that market. Reuters and The New York Times have good explanations of the case and its possible fallout, while paidContent Laura Hazard Owen has a shorter primer, including a note that consumers aren’t likely to see any change in ebook prices.

Jon Brodkin of Ars Technica wrote a more thorough explanation of the judge’s rationale in his ruling: The central aspect was a clause in Apple’s contracts with publishers that didn’t allow them to sell ebooks for a cheaper price than Apple’s, forcing Amazon to raise its prices and the publishers to adopt a different selling model (the agency model). John Gruber at Daring Fireball also pointed out that Steve Jobs’ 2010 statement to All Things D’s Kara Swisher was cited by the judge as a key piece of evidence of Apple’s intentions.

The Wall Street Journal’s Jacob Gershman outlined the road ahead for Apple after the decision, and All Things D’s John Paczkowski talked to legal scholars about why Apple’s appeal will be difficult. Still, several others said that the villain in this case may not have been Apple, but the publishers. Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici talked to a legal expert who argued that it was the publishers who were conspiring to raise prices even further, with Apple successfully getting them to institute price caps.

At The Guardian, Dan Gillmor detailed how publishers’ greed had led him to give up on ebooks, also noting that the publishers put themselves at Apple and Amazon’s mercy with their obsession with digital rights management. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram expanded on that point, arguing that their insistence on DRM has ultimately hurt them. “How much larger could the ebook market potentially be if publishers hadn’t built those DRM walls around their content and given Amazon and Apple the only keys to unlock them?” he wrote.

cnnlogoCNN and tabloid journalism: Between Egypt and Syria and Moscow and Austin, there’s been no shortage of news going on over the past few weeks. But CNN has been rather conspicuous in its singular focus on the trial of George Zimmerman, the man charged with murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year. The coverage has earned plenty of eye-rolling on Twitter and elsewhere, but Reuters’ Jack Shafer defended it, arguing that news orgs have been appeasing the public’s appetite for sensationalist crime stories for at least a century, and besides, that CNN’s trial coverage is actually pretty educational.

One of CNN’s most regular critics, NYU’s Jay Rosen, announced that he was done scrutinizing the network, saying that no one in journalism cares that CNN is now essentially tabloid TV, and by now, neither does he. Several people seconded his points: At Gawker, former CNN executive Sid Bedingfield argued that CNN has lapsed into a “Team Zimmerman vs. Team Trayvon” entertainment-TV approach, rather than anything resembling responsible journalism. Joshua Keating of Foreign Policy said CNN shouldn’t be thinking of foreign stories as eat-your-vegetables material. And The New Republic’s Laura Bennett said it’s not just that they’re doing tabloid journalism, but that they’re not even making it interesting.

Inside Cable News, however, urged Rosen not to give up on CNN yet, calling the Zimmerman trial an outlier. And Adweek’s Sam Thielman wrote a rosy report about the optimism at CNN regarding the financial fruit borne from the network’s shift from the political to the personal — which is more or less why Rosen is giving on CNN in the first place.

Reading roundup: Several other stories to watch this week:

— The trial of WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning continued this week as the defense finished its case, and one defense witness drew particular attention: Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler, who testified that the news media had generally portrayed WikiLeaks as a legitimate journalistic organization before Manning’s leaks were published, when that image flipped to an enemy of the state. You can read Benkler’s testimony in two posts (starting on page 15 of the first). Both Mathew Ingram of GigaOM and Jeff Jarvis of The Guardian wrote on Benkler’s testimony about the importance of determining who is considered a journalist.

— A couple of developments this week in response to the tape released last week in which News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch acknowledged knowing of journalists’ bribes to public officials: Police want the tape as part of their investigation into the bribes, and he will testify again to a parliamentary committee about the phone-hacking scandal.

— In the midst of its political unrest, Egypt’s new leaders are targeting the news media in their efforts to suppress dissent, shutting down TV stations and arresting journalists. They also kicked Al Jazeera out of a press conference, as other journalists from Al Jazeera resigned in protest of biased coverage in Egypt.

— A Gallup poll found that despite the continued growth of the Internet as a news source, TV still serves as Americans’ top source of news. PaidContent’s Mathew Ingram had more details on the poll and especially the diminishing role of print it revealed.

— Finally, a few in-depth looks at several aspects of the state of journalism: The J-Lab published a wide-ranging report on local public broadcasting, the Lab ran a case study from Dan Kennedy in locally owned for-profit community journalism, and The Atlantic’s Riva Gold wrote a incisive analysis on the financial factors contributing to the recent decline in newsroom diversity.

Photo of Snowden protester by Steve Rhodes used under a Creative Commons license.

NYU Media Critic ‘Retires’ From Critiquing CNN: They’re ‘Brain Dead And Proud Of It’


This post is by Andrew Kirell from Mediaite


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Noted TV critic Jay Rosen has given up on critiquing CNN.

In a lengthy blog post Tuesday morning, the New York University journalism professor explained his decision to “retire” from criticizing the cable news outlet, citing his belief that most other critics simply “don’t care” that CNN has turned into “tabloid TV.”

“As of today, I have retired from criticism of CNN for falling short of some sort of journalistic standard that news providers should maintain,” he began. “That activity no longer makes sense. Let someone else receive the ‘ratings, you idiot’ replies on Twitter. I’m done. I’m pretty sure you don’t care about this announcement, either. Which nicely illustrates why I’m done.”

Rosen goes after his colleagues in the media criticism business who ignore “journalistic standards” in favor of “ratings, so shut up” arguments praising CNN’s decision to go near wall-to-wall coverage of the George Zimmerman murder trial. Ultimately, this futile debate and several other factors led to Rosen’s bowing-out of the CNN criticism game:

1. Jon Stewart does it better.

2. CNN makes $600 million a year for Time Warner, but if you challenge one of their ratings-driven decisions the main thing you hear back is: hey, they have a huge business problem on their hands. What can you say to that?

3. The other thing I hear back ad nauseum is: “Jay, watch CNN International, so much better.” Uh… okay. I don’t have CNN International in my cable package, but I do know how to change the channel. So thanks!

“What I was trying to accomplish by criticizing CNN has been overridden by Jeff Zucker,” Rosen continued. “CNN’s problems were well stated a few years ago by a competitor, Phil Griffin, head of MSNBC, who asked: ‘What do they stand for?’ That is the million dollar question. The answer CNN people had always given was pretty simple: breaking news!”

But now, Rosen said, CNN has made it clear that they stand for:

The same thing Entertainment Tonight stands for! Television that occupies your attention, not for a purpose but merely for a while. Another answer might be “drama without dramatists,” meaning: drama where the plots and characters are provided by the people unlucky enough to be caught up in tabloid-ish or flashpoint events. Trials are ideal for that, but so is the poop ship. Criticism of these tactics actually tells Zucker that he is on the right track. Now the ratings are up relative to his competitors, and nothing ends the conversation like an uptick in the numbers. Unless it’s bringing back Crossfire, which is like saying, CNN: brain dead and proud of it.

CNN no longer holds itself to a “higher standard,” Rosen lamented, followed by his conclusion: “I’m saying farewell. I used to say: I criticize because I care. But I no longer do.”

Read the full piece here.

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All journalism is advocacy (or it isn’t)


This post is by Jeff Jarvis from BuzzMachine


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Jay Rosen wrote an insightful post forking the practice of journalism into “politics: none” (that is, traditional American journalism: objective, it thinks) and “politics: some” (that is, the kind just practised by Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian). Jay catalogs the presumptions and advantages of each. As both he and The New York Times’ Margaret Sullivan observe, Edward Snowden took his leaks to Greenwald and the Guardian because they exemplify “politics: some.”

I want to take this farther and argue first that what Greenwald and the Guardian were practising was less politics than advocacy, and second that all journalism is advocacy (or is it journalism?).

To the first point: Greenwald and the Guardian were not bolstering their own politics in the NSA story. To the contrary, Greenwald and the Guardian both identify politically as liberal — the Guardian’s mission is to be nothing less than “the world’s leading liberal voice” — yet they attacked programs run and justified by a liberal American administration and no doubt caused that administration discomfort or worse. In so doing, Greenwald and the Guardian exhibited the highest value of journalism: intellectual honesty. That does not mean they were unbiased. It means they were willing to do damage to their political side in the name of truth. Greenwald and the Guardian were practising advocacy not for politics — not for their team — but for principles: protection of privacy, government transparency and accountability, the balance of powers, and the public’s right to know.

Now to my second point: Seen this way, isn’t all journalism properly advocacy? And isn’t advocacy on behalf of principles and the public the true test of journalism? The choices we make about what to cover and how we cover it and what the public needs to know are acts of advocacy on the public’s behalf. Don’t we believe that we act in their interest? As James Carey said: “The god term of journalism — the be-all and end-all, the term without which the enterprise fails to make sense, is the public.”

When the Washington Post — whose former editor famously refused to vote to uphold his vision of Jay’s “politics: none” ethic — chooses to report on government secrecy or on abuse of veterans at a government hospital or, of course, on presidential malfeasance and coverups, it is, of course, advocating. When an editor assigns reporters to expose a consumer scam or Wall Street fraud or misappropriation of government funds, that’s advocacy. When a newspaper takes on the cause of the poor, the disadvantaged, the abused, the forgotten, or just the little guy against The Man, that’s advocacy. When health reporters tell you how to avoid cancer or even lose weight, that’s advocacy on your behalf. I might even argue that a critic reviewing a movie to save you from wasting your money on a turkey could be advocacy (though we don’t necessarily need critics for that anymore).

But what about a TV station sending a crew or a helicopter to give us video of the fire du jour, a tragic accident with no lesson to be learned? Is that advocacy? No. When a TV network — not to pick on TV — devotes hours and hours to the salacious details of, say, the Jodi Arias crime, which affects none of our lives, is that advocacy? No. When an online site collects pictures of cute cats, is that advocacy? Hardly. When a newspaper devotes resources to covering football games, is that advocacy? No. Is any of that journalism? Under the test I put forth here, no.

So what is it then, the stuff we call journalism that doesn’t advocate for people or principles, that doesn’t serve the public need? At worst, it’s exploitation — audience- or sales- or click- or ratings-bait — at best it’s entertainment. The first is pejorative, the second need not be, as entertainment — whether a journalistic narrative or a book or a show or movie — can still inform and enlighten. But if it doesn’t carry information that people can use to better organize their lives or their society, I’d say it fails the journalism test.

Journalism-as-advocacy has been bundled with journalism-as-entertainment for economic reasons: Entertainment can draw people to a media entity and help subsidize the cost of its journalism. But it was a mistake to then put an umbrella over it all: If a newspaper creates journalism then everything its journalists create in that newspaper is journalism, right? No. The corollary: People who are not journalists can do journalism. It’s a function of the value delivered, not the job title. (I’ll write another post later looking a pricing paradox embedded in this split.)

Why does what seems like definitional hair-splitting matter? Because when a whistleblower knocks on your door, you must decide not whose side you’re on but whom and what principles you serve. This is a way to recast the specific argument journalists are having now about whether Snowden is a hero or a traitor. Wrong question. As a journalistic organization, the Guardian had to ask whether the public had a right to the information Snowden carried, no matter which side it benefitted (so long as the public’s interests — in terms of security — were not harmed).

The next issue for the Guardian was whether and how it adds journalistic value. That is, of course, another journalistic test. Edward Snowden, like Wikileaks, delivered a bunch of raw and secret documents. In both cases, news organization added value by (1) using judgment to redact what could be harmful, (2) bringing audience to the revelation, and most important, (3) adding reporting to this raw information to verify and explain.

Based on his Q&A with the Guardian audience, I’d say that Snowden is proving to be big on rhetoric and perhaps guts but less so on specifics. I still am not clear how much direct operational knowledge he has or whether he — like Bradley Manning — simply had access to documents. So more reporting was and still is necessary. This Associated Press story is a good example of taking time to add reporting, context, and explanation to Snowden’s still-unclear and still-debated documents.

Both these organizations made their decisions about what to reveal and what to report based on their belief that we have a right and need to know. That’s journalism. That’s advocacy.

“The consensus among the experts” never said the NYT’s paywall was foolhardy


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Jay Rosen writes about how history of the The New York Times’ paywall is being reshaped after the fact. His argument is with a quote from NYT Co. CEO Mark Thompson, speaking at Columbia’s business school graduation, about the paywall’s reception two years ago:

The consensus among the experts was that it wouldn’t work, was foolhardy in fact and not needed. People just weren’t prepared to pay for high quality content on the internet and, besides, wasn’t digital advertising enough — wouldn’t it grow until, just as with print advertising in the golden age of physical newspapers, it alone was enough to support America’s newsrooms?

Here’s Jay:

The part I put in bold is bad information. In my view it should not have been passed along by Mark Thompson to the graduates of one of the world’s leading business schools.

Jay’s post is a useful corrective. Lots of Nieman Lab material (and me) quoted in there.

“The consensus among the experts” never said the NYT’s paywall was foolhardy


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Jay Rosen writes about how history of the The New York Times’ paywall is being reshaped after the fact. His argument is with a quote from NYT Co. CEO Mark Thompson, speaking at Columbia’s business school graduation, about the paywall’s reception two years ago:

The consensus among the experts was that it wouldn’t work, was foolhardy in fact and not needed. People just weren’t prepared to pay for high quality content on the internet and, besides, wasn’t digital advertising enough — wouldn’t it grow until, just as with print advertising in the golden age of physical newspapers, it alone was enough to support America’s newsrooms?

Here’s Jay:

The part I put in bold is bad information. In my view it should not have been passed along by Mark Thompson to the graduates of one of the world’s leading business schools.

Jay’s post is a useful corrective. Lots of Nieman Lab material (and me) quoted in there.