Virtual Worlds Show Promise for Newspaper Communities

In my previous post, I talked about the browser-based virtual environment Metaplace, which I think may provide a way to boost interaction with our community on newspaper website Mediafin. To test how well virtual worlds could be used to build a community, I undertook some experiments in organizing "conferences" in worlds like Metaplace and Second Life. And the results turned out to be quite promising.

A pipeline for new formats

How can we at newspaper websites experiment with new media without upsetting the community or -- possibly even more -- our colleagues? Virtual environments are not yet universally accepted as useful for newspaper communities, so the question of how to introduce community and colleagues to these spaces is especially pertinent.

To avoid too much controversy or possible embarrassing failures, I use my personal blog, MixedRealities, to test ideas before bringing them to the Mediafin newspaper sites. My blog deals with the intersection of virtual worlds, business and philosophy and is not linked with the newspaper sites.

If experiments on that blog work out well, I often introduce them on the newspaper site's financial blog. If things really succeed, we can promote them more heavily on the site and in the print newspaper.

Second Life Experiments

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A blog often fosters community. Even a small personal blog can attract people with similar interests, who can leave comments or contact the author via Twitter, Facebook or email.

A month ago, I decided to invite people interested in business, philosophy and virtual worlds to a series of informal, small-scale, salon-like meetings in the virtual world Second Life.

A friend and I built a virtual headquarters, where avatars can meet at a small square featuring a steam-punk coffee apparatus and also a cinema.

During those first meetings in Second Life, we watched short videos featuring, for instance, Clay Shirky speaking about Twitter, Facebook and cell phones. We discussed the video, and I posted about the meetings on my blog.

It is crucial to see virtual environments as being part of vast online social networks. I started a Facebook group to promote my "virtual salon," and I send my invites out to other Second Life communities that share similar interests like Metanomics.

Social Change in Iran

Now something interesting happened. At the time, the political crisis in Iran was escalating. Although one might think that politics would spill over into the virtual world, the political scene in Second Life remained very quiet. I contacted some well-connected people to find out why and whether anything was happening behind the scenes, but without much result.

So I decided to organize my bi-weekly meeting about social media and social change around the Iran situation. More than 20 avatars showed up. They provided me with lots of information about not only Iran activism in Second Life, but also about the more general scene of political activism in Second Life.

The lesson I learned is applicable outside of Second Life, too. Journalists are often too dependent on press conferences organized by organizations, institutions and companies.

There is an alternative: Rather than waiting for a press conference, convene a meeting where you invite experts relevant for your beat. Do this on a regular basis. Think of it almost as a reverse press conference. If it is too impractical to do this at a physical location, telepresence techniques could provide a solution. Not very long ago telepresence technology such as videoconferencing was very expensive, but these days there are many cheap or even free alternatives. Second Life is just one of many possibilities.

Experiments in Metaplace

Recently I organized my bi-weekly meeting in another virtual world: Metaplace. For people used to "real 3D" environments such as Second Life or World of Warcraft, Metaplace is a bit of a disappointment, because it is not 3D -- but it is pretty immersive, so let's say that it is 2.5D.

Metaplace has some interesting features that set it apart from most other virtual worlds. It is browser-based, meaning that your community members don't have to download anything to participate. You can either provide a straightforward web address for your world or you can embed your world into your blog.

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The result is that entering Metaplace gives the impression of just visiting another website rather than opening a new application. Indeed, it is as easy as surfing the web (though it does require registration). But visitors are pleasantly surprised when they find that it's still a real immersive environment.

For example, MixedRealities' Metaplace space can be reached on http://www.metaplace.com/mixedrealities, or you can find it embedded in a blog post.

Both Second Life and Metaplace make it possible to integrate video, images and text. Metaplace seems to be easier for accomplishing this -- after all, it is situated on the web. Metaplace is much younger than Second Life and the platform is developing fast, although some very interesting features, such as the combination of voice communication (for panel members) and text backchat (for the audience), are still lacking.

One could consider Metaplace a graphical chat room with the possibility of easy integration of websites, videos, images and whiteboards.

What's in my world

I constructed my "world" in Metaplace as a blogroll or a library that resembled a virtual garden. In the main conference area people can access my blog, other blogs and my FriendFeed, as well as a video about the history of blogging and another video featuring Howard Rheingold explaining what he's learning from his journalism students.

And nearby are a series of videos about business models and virtual communities, the subject of the last meeting. Further down the garden path, people find small collections about new media literacies and about the Obama administration and social media/virtual worlds.

But why put those videos and sites in Metaplace when I could just as easily make a list and throw that on my blog? I think there are some good reasons:

  • The social aspect. As in a library, people discover sites and videos together with other people and they can have a synchronous conversation about what they see.
  • This is especially evident immediately before and after meetings. There is a kind of "virtual water cooler" phenomenon. Some people arrive early, wander around and start browsing the available resources. Others hang around afterward to chat and discover the mini-libraries.
  • The fact that the objects are perceived as objects in a garden makes those experiences different from the classic reading experience. I think that people tend to remember better what they experience by walking around in a 2.5D or 3D environment than what they read on a screen or in print.

Because Metaplace is part of the web and so easy to access (something crucial for big newspaper communities), I am considering my virtual "garden office" there more and more to be a part of my blog. I will give my Metaplace world a permanent embedded place on my blog, so people will have easy access to a graphical chat room/library, which can later be linked with other such worlds which share the same interests.

Next steps

The logical next step is to try out Metaplace on our financial blog for the newspaper. There are some issues to be dealt with. For now, my (rather cheap) subscription allows only a concurrency of 50 avatars, which is too low; our weekly text chat sessions on the financial blog get about 300-350 participants.

I think it is feasible to have a world allowing higher peak concurrency, but it would be nice to have that offering in a simple commercial package. All being said, Metaplace is still young and founder Raph Koster and his team work incredibly hard and fast at improving the site. Often it is just a matter of suggesting changes and indeed, things get changed!

I'd love to hear your take on "reverse press briefings" in physical, web and virtual locations and on using virtual environments such as Metaplace in blogs! Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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Revamped Journalist’s Role More About Mindset Than Multimedia Tricks

With a new Web 2.0 service apparently springing up every week, it can be bewildering for a journalist trying to remain relevant in a digital age. Too often, new technology is seen as a burden that adds to an already packed workday. But while many journalists want to embrace new ways of reaching audiences, they flounder when it comes to knowing what to do -- thinking of new media as something they can do "in addition to" traditional journalism, rather than as something that should transform the way journalism is done.

This came up during a panel at the Canadian Association of Journalists annual conference discussing the future of journalism, where I talked about the need to adopt a multimedia mindset and change the way we think about journalism, explaining our approach at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism.

During the Q&A part, a beat reporter spoke with clear angst about the increasing pressure she was facing. During the course of an average workday, she wrote two or three stories. In the past, she had tried her hand at blogging, video, Twitter and other multimedia efforts. What she wanted to know was: In addition to her existing job writing straight news stories, what was the one thing she should be doing?

Judging from the reaction in the room, this was a question on the mind of more than one journalist. But I am afraid that my answer may have disappointed. Instead of conjuring the magical one thing she should add to her journalistic bag of tricks, I suggested that this was the wrong question.

The question assumes that journalists can carry on with business as usual, and simply add an additional task to what they do. If only it were that simple. But there is no one digital trick to be added to a reporter's notebook. Rather, the social, cultural and economic changes brought about by the emergence of new digital forms of communication require a rethink in the mindset and culture of journalism.

Veteran journalist reborn

My answer to the beat reporter was that she should reassess what she does to figure out how she can best serve the audience. It could be that writing two or three stories a day is the answer. Or blogging may provide a way to develop a closer relationship with that audience. The digital revolution is less about adding multimedia tricks than it is about reinventing the role of the journalist.

Take BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, for example. I worked with Cellan-Jones at the BBC when he was a business TV correspondent. He has been with the BBC for 25 years but, over the past few years, he has been reborn as something more -- a journalist. Cellan-Jones no longer sees himself as just a TV reporter, but rather as a journalist with audiences on TV, radio and online.

Speaking on a panel organized by The Guardian's MediaTalk podcast, he described the impact of the reorganization of BBC News as a multimedia news operation, rather than in silos of TV, radio and online:

It has forced me to reinvent myself. I spent most of my career as a daily TV journalist serving big audiences on lunchtime news bulletins and having very little engagement with the audience. I've got a much more rewarding job now serving audiences online, on radio, on TV, at the same time, and having far more engagement through all these social networking tools.

Cellan-Jones now contributes to the BBC's technology blog and has experimented with mobile blogging. On Twitter, he has more than 10,000 followers and engages with them on anything from the latest hype in technology to his passion for cricket. And, of course, he reports for TV and radio. For him, the Internet is not an add-on to his broadcast job. Rather, he has reinvented his job to take account of the shifts in journalism and, as a result, has found it a far more fulfilling profession.

Beyond fortress journalism

The basic qualities of a good journalist -- curiosity, passion, accuracy, serving the public interest -- still matter. To thrive today, journalists need to figure out how they can best apply those qualities in a multimedia, networked news environment. This requires journalists to look beyond the walls of their institutional practices, beyond what the BBC's Peter Horrocks labeled "fortress journalism" in a chapter for a book by the BBC College of Journalism entitled The Future of Journalism, available online for free as a PDF file.

Horrocks led the integration of the BBC's TV, radio and online news into one multimedia newsroom from 2005-2009. In his chapter, he outlined his vision of the role of the journalist:

Journalists will need changed culture, changed organization and an improved understanding of the modern tools of journalism -- audience insights, blogging, Twitter, multimedia production. It sounds like being pretty challenging. It's certainly more complex than the old fortress world -- of riding out to fight the enemy to the death every day. But I suspect that the public may well appreciate a journalism that puts serving their information needs at its heart, rather than one which is about organizing the world in the way that journalists prefer.

Wholesale rethinking on this scale is much harder than adding a new skill to an existing arsenal of journalistic weapons. It involves breaking down the mental walls of silo journalism that have developed over decades. But it can be done, and should be done, to deliver a journalism that serves the public in a digital age.

Alfred Hermida is an online news pioneer and journalism educator. He is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, the University of British Columbia, where he leads the integrated journalism program. He was a founding news editor of the BBC News website. He blogs at Reportr.net.

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How PR People Can Tactfully Locate, Pitch Influential Bloggers

Many PR agencies are hesitant to issue any guarantees on whether a particular piece of content or advertisement will "go viral," leading millions of users to toss it around through their various social media platforms. One way that they try to achieve this is by approaching the people often most responsible for the viral spread of content online -- big-name bloggers and popular social media users.

A recent piece in the New York Times detailed how PR agencies in Silicon Valley get their clients' news in front of the key influencers who drive stories within the entire blogosphere. In one scene in the article, a publicist named Brooke Hammerling discusses how she plans to get placements for a particular client:

Instead, she decides that she will 'whisper in the ears' of Silicon Valley's Who's Who -- the entrepreneurs behind tech's hottest startups, including Jay Adelson, the chief executive of Digg; Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter; and Jason Calacanis, the founder of Mahalo.

But how do these PR professionals identify the Who's Who in their clients' niches? And once they've identified them, how do they approach them for coverage? With nearly every major and minor industry spending more money on social media strategies, publicity professionals are scrambling to locate and develop relationships with those who they think will have the most influence in a particular field. But in a world with millions of active blogs, Twitter accounts, and social news users, how do they break through the noise to identify and persuade the key players?

Finding the big names

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Jonathan Trenn, president of Abraham Harrison, a digital marketing company in the DC area, said that if he's starting from scratch with a client he'll use free tools like blog search engine Technorati to locate the bloggers he wants to contact. Specifically, he searches for the tags that the bloggers use with their posts, because this is an indicator of whether the person writes regularly on a particular subject.

"It'll give you a list of blogs to look at," he told me. "You basically start clicking through, and it's essential that you read the blog and get to know it a bit, maybe start categorizing it or put it in a database. But essentially you want to get to know what they are about, see if they're updated frequently."

Technorati and other search tools allow him to then rank the blogs by authority. He said he begins with focusing on the most influential blogs. But he hastened to add that this is only a starting point, and that he can then begin clicking through these blogs' blogrolls or even approach the bloggers directly to ask them for more recommendations.

"Late last year I was doing some work with a company called ooVoo," he said. "They're a competitor to Skype, only they use video. They can have six screens at once...We came up with the idea of having a 'political day.' We reached out to prominent political bloggers to essentially hold their own chats for a day, or a series of days. With that I wanted to make it diverse, from political philosophy to demographic, so I reached out to different types of blogs. I asked them who else I should contact. We had 15 to 18 bloggers -- left, center, right, African American, Latino, what have you -- and they each had their own sessions."

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Adam Ritchie, who works in brand promotion in Boston, takes a slightly different approach in deciding whom to target. He begins by identifying the competitors and other players in his clients' industries -- meaning people such as CEOs and publicity spokespersons. He then runs their names through news and blog searches to find which journalists and bloggers are already writing about them.

"So what you get from this is a list of outlets and actual articles; the writers who are writing them who are your most relevant targets because they're already engaged in writing about that space," he told me. "And by doing this you've already answered the question, 'Why would you care?' If you're starting a hardware store in DC, you would look at who's writing about Home Depot and Lowe's, because whoever is writing about them is writing about hardware."

When approaching bloggers, he said that he typically starts with blogs run by traditional media outlets, because these are "written by trained, seasoned reporters who usually know how to work the communications path" and who are "paid to produce good content." He then focuses on what he calls the "indie bloggers," whom he rates by quality of writing, frequency of updates, and how entrenched they are in other social media like Twitter and Facebook.

"For me, it's completely qualitative," he explained. "I want to see what they're writing about, rather than which of them has the biggest reach in terms of eyeballs. Which of them would tell the most robust stories about this piece of news? And that's what I care about the most. Because if it's really good, then the bigger ones will pick it up."

The New PR model

Ritchie explained that in the old PR world, the agency would simply place the news in traditional outlets and be done with it. But with the new model, once you've placed the story, you've opened a new phase of work -- and that's when the social media part begins. You then take that news story from a trusted outlet and begin trying to spread it into the blogosphere and social news sites, drawing more eyeballs to it than the publication's typical audience.

But how do they approach these bloggers and social media users? Almost everyone I spoke to for this piece immediately agreed that most bloggers think very differently than traditional journalists; they tend to shy away from the old methods that PR people have in the past used to engage reporters. Ritchie said that he hasn't sent out a press release in years, going so far as to say, "I don't believe in press releases."

"A lot of blogs will pick up a press release, and it's true that press releases have found new life among indie bloggers that are hungry for content," he said. "But quality writers for quality blogs aren't going to regurgitate a press release, and you're not winning in the long run by sending the press release to small and independent bloggers because you're not building personal relationships by carpet bombing them. We want to be on a personal basis with them, and sending them a press release isn't going to accomplish much for the next time you want to approach them."

Ritchie said that he sends a personal note with a "buffet of options" for the blogger -- whether it's a YouTube clip, a mainstream press article, or even an original scoop -- so that he or she can choose how to engage the story.

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Christine Perkett, president and founder of PerkettPR, said that bloggers often differ from journalists in that they aren't writing about these subjects as a full-time job, meaning they will approach the story differently than would a reporter.

"I think for a lot of the niche bloggers, it's like a second job for them so they don't have as much time as a reporter would have to dedicate to that kind of approach," she explained. "They don't really regurgitate press releases, and I would say for the most part the consumer bloggers and niche bloggers have been really great; they give their opinion on the news, and that's really what they do. I think they do write up their own take on it, but they don't necessarily need an interview to go along with that, or they're satisfied talking to the PR person."

So while she might try to get an interview with a client's CEO for a regular reporter, many bloggers aren't really interested in that sort of thing. So she said it's better to hand them something that's easy for them to splice into a post, like a link to an already-written article that they can summarize and offer their own take.

One thing that PR professionals have found within social media is a tendency for badly run campaigns to backfire. If a journalist receives a bad pitch or poorly targeted press release, he'll often just ignore it. But it's not uncommon for a blogger to publish the press release or email on his blog, ridiculing the person or agency that sent it to him. But Perkett told me she thinks this is a good thing.

"They've got to be more careful," she said,"but you know what? It's OK, because it's making the PR industry better. Maybe bloggers are beating us into being a better industry, because one of the traditional problems with PR agencies, and especially large PR agencies, is the whole smile-and-dial thing. Not really researching or paying attention to what writers are writing, or what bloggers are blogging, and just using the same pitch over and over. It takes time to do it the right way, and that doesn't make a lot of money for the large firms. That's unfortunate, but we're being forced to change and I think it's making us better."

Simon Owens is a former newspaper journalist and an associate editor for MediaShift. You can read more of his writing at his blog or contact him at simon[.]bloggasm [at] gmail.com.

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Changing the Law to Save Newspapers: Some Modest Proposals

As newsroom staffs continue to shrink and newspapers go out of business at an alarming rate, the difficulty newspapers have experienced in gaining economic traction online has been blamed on blogs and websites that link to content on newspaper sites. According to some, this kind of "free riding" is responsible at least in part for the distress in which newspapers find themselves. A number of proposals have surfaced, in the U.S. and abroad, to change the law to "even the playing field" between new media and old.

Outlaw Linking

It is perhaps ironic that one of the proposals to change the law to benefit newspapers comes from a judge who happens to blog. Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is also a professor at the University of Chicago Law School and a brilliant and prolific scholar. When Judge Posner speaks, people listen. And recently, when Judge Posner spoke, or rather, blogged, on the subject of the future of newspapers and what should be done about it, people not only listened, they talked back -- loudly.

In a June 23 blog post entitled "The Future of Newspapers," Judge Posner looked at the state of the newspaper business. True to his membership in the law and economics school of legal thought, he focused on the economic factors behind the current distress, suggesting that competition from free online news outlets is forcing newspapers into a spiral of decline. Newspapers are slashing staff to cut costs in response to shrinking advertising revenues, thereby damaging the quality of their content and further depressing demand.

Judge Posner suggested that the solution to the problem as he outlined it may be to change copyright law to prohibit linking to or paraphrasing newspaper content:

Expanding copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder's consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder's consent, might be necessary to keep free riding on content financed by online newspapers from so impairing the incentive to create costly newsgathering operations that news services like Reuters and the Associated Press would become the only professional, non-governmental sources of news and opinion.

Those are the last sentences in the post, and Judge Posner doesn't elaborate further on the issues that his suggestion poses. As commentator Eric Schonfeld noted, Judge Posner's post does not address the issue of "fair use" or the related First Amendment issues that would be implicated by such an expansion. Although the doctrine of fair use is embodied in the federal copyright statute, it is well recognized that free speech limitations on state regulation underpin the doctrine. See, for example, Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539 (1985). It is not clear how much, if at all, the statutory definition of fair use could be trimmed without running afoul of the First Amendment.

Schonfeld describes Judge Posner's suggestion as "misguided," and other online commentators have piled on, variously characterizing it as bizarre, extreme, unpragmatic and just plain bad.

At the moment, Judge Posner's suggestion is merely that -- a suggestion. But at least one proposal has made it into legislative form.

Let Them Become Non-Profits

In May, Senator John Kerry convened a hearing on the future of journalism before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet.

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Among other presenters, Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor in chief of the Huffington Post, defended her enterprise and news aggregators generally. She argued that restricting access to content is the wrong approach for traditional news outlets and that news aggregators are not the sole cause of newspapers' economic problems. Her solution is new revenue models.

"The great upheaval the news industry is going through is the result of a perfect storm of transformative technology, the advent of Craigslist, generational shifts in the way people find and consume news, and the dire impact the economic crisis has had on advertising," she testified at the conference. "And there is no question that, as the industry moves forward and we figure out the new rules of the road, there will be -- and needs to be -- a great deal of experimentation with new revenue models."

Among the topics of discussion was a proposal by Sen. Ben Cardin for legislation that would allow newspapers to transition to non-profit entities, thereby qualifying them for exemption from certain taxes. The catch is that, as non-profits, newspapers would have to refrain from endorsing political candidates. His proposal is pending as S. 673 (111th Cong., 1st Sess. 2009); it has been referred to a committee and no further action has been taken on the bill since its introduction in March.

Change Copyright, Tax and Antitrust Laws

A proposal by a pair of Washington attorneys to address the problems of newspapers would go further than either the Posner or Cardin proposals, at least in terms of scope. Bruce W. Sanford and Bruce D. Brown echoed Judge Posner's concern about the survival of traditional journalism in a May article in the Washington Post. In Laws That Could Save Journalism, they opined that unless Congress makes changes in public policy "we will soon find ourselves with the remnants of a broken industry incapable of providing the knowledge necessary to manage life in a complex world." To fairly place that statement and their proposals in context, it should be noted that both attorneys are former journalists with extensive experience representing traditional media clients, and Sanford is counsel to the Society of Professional Journalists.

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Sanford and Brown also propose a change in copyright law, to prohibit "the taking of entire web pages by search engines." Like Judge Posner, they don't elaborate on that point, but presumably they are referring to the fact that when search engines "crawl" websites, they copy entire web pages to their servers in order to index the contents and provide results in response to web searches.

Search engine crawling and copying can, in most cases, be inhibited by deploying a "robots.txt" file on the content owner's server containing directions as to what may be crawled and copied. Most search engines respect the directions set forth in a robots.txt file.

Two federal district courts have held that a content owner's failure to deploy such a file gives rise to an "implied license," effectively permitting the owner's content to be crawled, copied and cached without giving rise to a claim of copyright infringement. But protecting content by the deployment of a robots.txt file is a double-edged sword, as online users are less likely to find newspaper content that is not indexed by search engines, as Sanford and Brown point out.

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Echoing some of the proposals outlined at the Kerry hearings, Sanford and Brown also propose that regulatory restrictions on the ownership of media outlets be eliminated, that federal tax policy be changed to favor newspapers, and that antitrust law be changed to permit traditional news outlets to adopt collective pricing policies. But perhaps their most interesting suggestion is that the "hot news" doctrine recognized under New York law be "federalized," that is, enacted by Congress as a federal law applicable nationwide. As we discussed in a prior post, under the "hot news" doctrine, uses of news content that are not protected under federal copyright law can be challenged under the state law of unfair competition, and the Associated Press has been successful in using the doctrine to challenge the use of its content by competitors. Federalizing the doctrine would make it easier for other traditional publishers to similarly challenge the use of their original content in circumstances not covered by the New York law.

No doubt anticipating criticism for proposing laws that would favor traditional publishers, Sanford and Brown point to a precedent: Online publishers were favored in 1996 with the enactment of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which exempts online providers from defamation and other liability from content posted by third parties. The protection that Section 230 provides to online providers has generally protected them from costly judgments based on content that they have not originated.

Mandate the Automated Content Access Protocol

In July, European publishers issued a call for legal assistance in the form of the Hamburg Declaration. The document calls for "strongly urgent improvements in the protection of intellectual property on the Internet." While the Declaration itself is short on specifics, the press release accompanying the Declaration referenced the Automated Content Access Protocol, a proposed industry standard that would enable content owners to specify to search engines through metadata embedded in the content not only how their content could be crawled and copied, but also how it could be displayed in search engine results. The proposed standard has been criticized as a "robots.txt on illegal steroids." The Declaration calls up EU regulators to "back it up," i.e., mandate search engines to implement the standard.

Conclusion

As the debate rages over both the root causes of traditional journalism's economic troubles and possible legal solutions, the online world marches on. It is impossible to say whether any of these proposals for legal change will make it to the statute books. And even more impossible to predict is whether any of these potential laws will have an effect on the upheaval caused from the shift of content from traditional to online forms.

Jeffrey D. Neuburger is a partner in the New York office of Proskauer Rose LLP, and co-chair of the Technology, Media and Communications Practice Group. His practice focuses on technology and media-related business transactions and counseling of clients in the utilization of new media. He is an adjunct professor at Fordham University School of Law teaching E-Commerce Law and the co-author of two books, "Doing Business on the Internet" and "Emerging Technologies and the Law." He also co-writes the New Media & Technology Law Blog.

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Personal Branding Becomes a Necessity in Digital Age

In 2007, Atlantic Media’s director of digital strategy Scott Karp was named one of the 40 most influential people in publishing by Folio magazine. But Folio wasn’t honoring Karp for his work at Atlantic, which publishes the Atlantic Monthly magazine, but was instead fawning over the work Karp did at his personal blog, Publishing 2.0, which covered how technology is changing the publishing business.

Karp is a great example of someone who worked at a company but also developed his own personal brand, something that’s been in vogue since Tom Peters famously touted The Brand Called You at Fast Company magazine. With blogging, Twitter and social networks as springboards, personal branding has spread like wildfire through media and technology companies, allowing people like Matt Cutts (Google), Robert Scoble (Microsoft, PodTech, Fast Company) Xeni Jardin (Wired, NPR) and Scott Monty (Ford) to expand their influence.

Karp says he built his brand at Publishing 2.0, using it as a soapbox of ideas and a forum to discuss them through comments.

“My blog became resume, business card, references, network all in one,” Karp told me. “I would go to conferences, meet people, and find they already ‘knew’ me through my blog — an odd but useful form of micro-celebrity.”

Through his blog, Karp met fellow blogger Robert Young, who ended up co-founding Publish2 with Karp, a startup that helps journalists share ideas and links.

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At a time when people jump from job to job (or get laid off from job after job), personal branding is becoming more than just a hobby — it’s a necessity. Matt Cutts, who heads the web spam team at Google and runs a popular personal blog, has become much more than a faceless programmer at the technology giant.

“When you’re considering switching jobs, even a personal website with a small portfolio of sample work can be invaluable,” Cutts said. “People will search for you online, so it’s important to take part in that conversation, and having your own website can be a great way to put your best foot forward.”

Dan Schawbel, author of “Me 2.0” and publisher of the Personal Branding Blog thinks that good companies and publishers will give workers the freedom to create personal brands.

“I read a survey last year that showed that college graduates would spend an average of 1.6 years at their first position, after college, before moving on,” he said. “That number is going to shrink in the future, so companies should focus on results and let their employees own their brand. Smart companies will look at employees as their greatest asset and by allowing them to engage in social media, they will be that much stronger.”

Balancing Personal with Corporate Brands

Personal branding in the media obviously predates the digital age, with newspaper columnists going on TV and TV anchors writing books. But now, there’s a chance for many more reporters, editors, marketers and salespeople to use simple digital tools to create their own following online. And the media companies that encourage that — without too many restrictions — will end up reaping the benefits.

One of the more tech-enlightened newspaper editors, John Robinson of the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record, says that when a columnist or blogger builds a “tribe” of followers, it helps the paper.

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“Newspapers should encourage columnists and bloggers to build their own brands online,” he told me. “Trust and integrity are two of the coins of the online realm, in my opinion. We know now that it’s no longer good enough to tell people that Joe the columnist is trustworthy. People will determine whether Joe is trustworthy by what he says, what he does, who he associates with, how he talks with others, who he links to, what he links to and who he’s friends with and follows. People develop that sense of Joe over a period of time watching him and talking with him.”

Jeremy Zawodny was a prominent engineer at Yahoo (now working at Craigslist), but built his own personal brand on an independent blog that gained notoriety — and also caused trouble within Yahoo.

“When I got started it was a rocky road,” Zawodny told me. “Several years ago, having a public blog on which I wrote about my employer (Yahoo at the time) rubbed some people inside the company the wrong way. That led to a fair amount of criticism and backlash. In the end, after several uncomfortable meetings and discussions and some careful wording on sensitive topics, everyone agreed that it was a positive thing in the long run. One thing that fell out of that was a set of company guidelines so that others would not have to navigate the minefield that I did.”

Scott Monty, who leads social media efforts for Ford Motor Co. and has a successful blog and Twitter feed (more than 26,000 followers), says people should be careful not to overshadow their brands.

“If you’re employed by a notable brand, it should always be brand first, self second,” Monty told me. “Your personal brand will benefit from the halo effect of your company’s brand. If you want to promote your own brand, you should should either (a) go into business for yourself, or (b) figure out a way to do it separate from your company.”

Kathlyn Clore is associate editor for the European Journalism Centre and described herself to me as “20something journalist” who has a personal blog. She said she has limited what she writes about reporting work she has done, and is wary about blogging taking away from work.

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“The biggest issue for me has been colleagues asking suspicious questions about work-related goals and intentions when they saw me begin blogging about professional topics in January of this year,” she said. “It probably raises the most eyebrows if I’m seen to be dedicating time to my own site/brand/portfolio of work when perhaps I could have been doing something for the journalism centre for which I do most of my work. I’m sure that’s true for others.”

Keeping Talent On Board

Even at a time when people are less likely to quit due to the economy, companies are better off keeping their talented workers happy rather than upsetting them with limits. Branding expert Schawbel notes that some media companies are better than others when it comes to tolerating personal branding.

“Media companies such as Fast Company have completely ripped apart their old website and turned it into a community, while other companies, such as the Wall Street Journal have placed their employees in chains,” he said. “For instance, [the Journal’s] social media policy states that ‘business and pleasure should not be mixed on services like Twitter.'”

Tom Regan was a longtime editor at the Christian Science Monitor, but now is a Monitor columnist and freelancer due to an editor who didn’t give him enough room to be creative. He says that smart companies that give people space to be themselves have a better change of keeping them on board.

“If a writer believes they are building something up, and the company has nurtured it, then I don’t think most people would go,” Regan told me. “It’s when they feel that they don’t have that environment that they say, ‘The hell with this, I’m going to do this on my own.'”

Publish2’s Karp told me that media companies need to value personal branding above all else.

“In a digital media world where corporate industrial assets like printing presses, delivery trucks, etc. are declining in value, people — reporters, editors, bloggers — are the greatest asset that publications have,” he said. “They should actively cultivate that asset by helping personal brands flourish…You could define social media as the shift from publication brands to personal brands, as media shifts to the social web. At some point a publication brand without personal brands will have very little value to the people who consume that brand.”

Advice on Personal Branding

Here’s a roundup of advice for people who want to create a personal brand online:

“Grab a domain name and work on burnishing your personal reputation online. It’s definitely not the case that everyone needs a blog, but having one place that acts as a face to the world can really help. There’s room for a resume/CV, but also for some writing samples that show off your abilities.” — Matt Cutts, Google (from his Letter to a young journalist post)

“The importance of building your brand online today is an opportunity to survive this print industry crash, and protect yourself by having an asset you can leverage to get your next writing job, whether you want to be a freelance writer or work as an employee. Personal branding has become mandatory recently, not just something to do to get ahead.” — Dan Schawbel, Personal Branding blog

“In the future, personal brands will be everything. As newspapers and media companies get smaller and break apart, journalists will be known as much by their personal/professional brand as by the company they work for. Many will be their own company. The quicker you establish a digital brand — I recommend shooting for integrity, trust and authority — the better.” — John Robinson, Greensboro News & Record

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“The microphone is always on. Remember that whatever you do, it reflects on you and your company, if you connect those elements of your life. And in this era, you need to be very careful, as search engines can log all sorts of things. Remember: Whatever happens in Vegas…stays on Google.” — Scott Monty, Ford Motor Co.

“I would go so far as to say that journalists without personal brands, like journalists without digital and web skills, are going to be less and less employable. If you want to be a cog in the machine, it’s probably not a good idea to be a journalist in a social media world.” — Scott Karp, Publish2

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What do you think about personal branding? Should companies and publishers be more supportive of workers who create their own brands online? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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The New (Lower) Cost of News

What does journalism cost? That’s a question that’s being batted around a lot lately as the economic case for and against traditional newsrooms gets made in the press, on the web, and certainly across well-polished boardroom tables.

In an article on J-Source, Kirk LaPointe, managing editor of the Vancouver Sun, argued that when the cost of news is sliced and diced a lot of pricey items like infrastructure, IT, HR, salespeoples’ salaries, legal fees, marketing, etc. aren’t tossed into the mix.

He’s right, running a regular old-school newsroom is expensive and goes far beyond journalists’ pay envelopes. The Globe and Mail’s cleaning staff wages, for example, are probably the same as the salaries of everybody at This Magazine, twice over.

Spelling Out the Low End

But, to me, LaPointe isn’t making a case for how expensive news gathering must be. He’s just itemizing the upper limit. So, to balance that model out, let’s examine the low end: Rabble.ca.

I’m on the board of Rabble and get to see the balance sheets, which I will share with you now. Last year Rabble ran its entire national news operation on a budget of $203,140.41. That’s all in: salaries, travel, marketing, IT, redesign — the whole frugal ball of wax.

The nine folks who get paid most often get paid for just one day of work per week. They all get the same salary, from editor to podcast network producer to publisher. And, they all work a ridiculous number of volunteer hours and, more often, days per week. Many more folks across Canada volunteer serious time each week posting to blogs, consulting, doing graphic design or the hundreds of other tasks that make an online news site tick, day after day, year after year.

All that effort doesn’t get counted in the balance sheet. If it did, it would be under the tab marked “Gift Economy” or perhaps the one marked “Cognitive Surplus.” Neither of those categories, I’d wager, appear on the spreadsheet LaPointe used to calculate the costs of doing the news business in the old school way.

It is clear that the model outlined by LaPointe is failing and is not sustainable — for all sorts of reasons, only some of which reside with the newsrooms themselves. A centralized, non-virtual newsroom with infrastructure, delivery and production costs isn’t cutting it in many markets. It just can’t generate the kinds of return on investment shareholders want to see these days.

It’s also clear that the Rabble.ca model isn’t sustainable, or, at least, fair and scalable. Staff and volunteers contribute willingly to the gift economy that makes rabble run. But, that is a fragile well to drink from for a sustained period, especially during an economic drought. And, while we have depended upon the kindness of non-strangers, the gift/reward ratio needs to tilt a little more in their favor.

Finding the Sweet Spot

So, there are sustainability issues on both ends of the economic scale: traditional newsrooms at one extreme, Rabble-style models at the other. But I’d argue the sweet spot, that marvellous, magical mix of altruism, recognition, ego-satisfaction and cash-for-effort that can sustain a news venture is much closer to the Rabble side of the spectrum.

So, if you want to find a model for a workable future news organization, it’s probably in our neck of the woods. And, I think it’s going to be far easier for Rabble and its supporters (and future supporters) to slide Rabble up the scale a bit towards the sweet spot than it will be for newspapers with all their baggage to become frictionless enough to slide down.

I don’t argue with LaPointe’s view of the true cost of traditional newsrooms. But, there is a big difference between what news has cost and what news has to cost.

And, biased though I am, I think Rabble and other news organizations that depend on the power of the crowd and the gifts of the like-minded and which have harnessed and focused the renewable energy of concerned citizens are closer to a modern media model than anything else I’ve seen. I think we need to think about news the way some of us have come to think about produce.

We should grow our own and think local. We should cover ourselves, take civic responsibility to inform ourselves and our neighbors and not depend on large, expensive and unwieldy newsrooms to do it for us. Many of them have clanked and bellowed ungently into their good nights.

That doesn’t mean we should undervalue, or ignore the experience and expertise that goes into longer form, longer-to-do investigative journalism. Far from it. Part of the additional funding news sites like Rabble need should be earmarked to hire shop-worn journalists to do what they do best. But, there is a lot of day-to-day journalism we can all participate in.

This is the media age of the small and agile. We’re cheap, but, goddammit, we’re worth it.

Wayne MacPhail is director, emerging-media at rabble.ca. He has been a print and online journalist for 25 years and was managing editor of Hamilton Magazine and was a reporter and editor at The Hamilton Spectator until he founded Southam InfoLab, a national future information products facility for Southam Inc. in 1991.

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This article was originally published on J-Source. J-Source and MediaShift have a content-sharing arrangement to broaden the audience of both sites.

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MediaShift Looking for Editor, Salesperson, Marketer, Correspondents

I want to update readers on some contract job openings here at PBS MediaShift. Even with the harsh economic downturn (and maybe because of it), I feel like the time is right to actually expand what we’re doing here rather than pull back. These kinds of lulls often create openings to make something new or build upon what you’ve got.

So I’m going to be hiring a few contract workers over the next few weeks to help bring in more sponsorships, underwriting and foundation grants both for MediaShift and for a new undisclosed project that I believe will be a great complement to MediaShift and Idea Lab. The job descriptions are below. Before I post these to other sites online, I wanted to give MediaShift readers and community members a chance to apply first.

Also, beyond these contract jobs, I am also looking for some correspondents on MediaShift. Those are detailed below the jobs. If you are interested in any of these positions, please use the Contact Form to get in touch with me directly, and include your resume, links to previous work and an explanation of why you would be perfect for the job.

Associate Editor

This part-time job will include the following duties:

> Copy-editing and direction on blog posts submitted by a team of MediaShift and Idea Lab writers. This means making sure they get copy in on time, reworking the copy, and helping craft the direction of their work.

> Writing a monthly blog post on MediaShift on a subject within the realm of the blog but of which you are more interested or experienced in covering. That could mean social networking, online video, Twitter or any area you feel comfortable covering. Your posts would combine opinion, informed commentary and some reporting, when necessary.

> Other editorial duties as needed on the blog, including monitoring and picking featured comments, coming up with story ideas, and helping research stories.

The following experience will be needed to do this job:

> Writing and/or producing a blog or website.

> Working on deadline.

> Editing other people’s work.

> Working with other people and enforcing deadlines.

We estimate the job should take up about 20 to 25 hours each week. The pay for this job is $350 per week. We are hoping to hire someone for this position in the next few weeks. It would be ideal work for someone who already has other part-time or freelance work.

Salesperson

This part-time job will include the following duties:

> Helping formulate a strategy for selling underwriting, sponsorships and getting grants for MediaShift and another new site to be launched in 2010.

> Sales calls to universities, foundations and media and technology companies to sell MediaShift site, 5Across video show and 4MR audio podcast inventory.

> Coordinating sales with executive editor and PBS liaisons.

The following experience will be needed to do this job:

> Sales for online websites or blogs, preferably those that cover the media industry or journalism fields.

> Knowledge of media business, particularly media foundations, educational institutions, research firms, and media and tech companies.

> Deep list of contacts at media companies, journalism schools, and technology companies interested in new media.

The pay for this job is $1,000 per month plus 15% commission on all sales. We are hoping to hire someone for this position in the next few weeks. It would be ideal work for someone who already has other part-time or freelance work.

Marketing Manager

This part-time job will include the following duties:

> Helping formulate a strategy for promoting and marketing the MediaShift and Idea Lab sites.

> Helping to boost traffic and awareness of sites, as well as 5Across video show and 4MR audio podcast.

> Creating banner and text ads, as well as ads placed on Facebook.

> Tracking success of various ad and promotional campaigns on social media.

> Working with other promotional people at MediaShift and PBS.

The following experience will be needed to do this job:

> Promotion or marketing for online websites or blogs, preferably those that cover the media industry or journalism fields

> Knowledge of MediaShift and Idea Lab sites, authors and subject matter.

> Intimate knowledge of social media and Twitter as marketing tools.

> Ability to “think outside the box” to spread the word about the site in underground campaigns.

The pay for this job is $1,000 per month and would take about 10 to 15 hours per week. We are hoping to hire someone for this position in the next few weeks. It would be ideal work for someone who already has other part-time or freelance work.

Correspondents

We have a great group of writers at MediaShift, including academics, editors and students. I am currently looking for correspondents to cover the following subjects or geographical areas:

> Free speech

> Middle East (outside of Israel), Asia, South America, Africa, Europe

> radio/TV/broadcast

> politics

> book publishing

> magazines

> film industry

These are unpaid correspondent positions, and we expect you to write pieces that are 750 to 1,000 words, once or twice per month. They do provide good exposure for your work on other sites or blogs. Your reports can include thought pieces, reporting, Q&As, video or audio.

If you are interested in writing for MediaShift in another niche or category, or as a guest blogger, let me know via the Contact Form. Be sure to include links to your resume, examples of past work, and explain why you would fit well for these positions.

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