“News media are targeted but audiences are not”: Herbert Gans on multiperspectival journalism

Herbert Gans, a professor emeritus in Sociology at Columbia University, wrote perhaps the seminal book about news organizations. In Deciding What’s News: A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek and Time, first published in 1979, he provided one of the best accounts of how journalists actually do their work. In 2003, Gans published Democracy and the News, criticizing our current news outlets but offering hope that with some changes, we might improve both journalism and democracy along with it.

Journalism is not all he writes about, but when he does, it’s pretty powerful. Gans has inspired a new legion of would-be ethnographers to take up studying the news from inside newsrooms themselves, including myself and fellow Lab contributor C.W. Anderson. In Deciding What’s News, Gans made a powerful argument about the role of source power, audience power, and the need for efficiency as a motivating force driving the production of the news. But he also introduced an idea that he is revisiting today in an article in the journal Journalism. That idea is “multiperspectival journalism,” and I’ll let him define it below in his own words.

What follows is an interview I conducted with Gans. In addition to a discussion of multiperspectival journalism, it includes some of his ideas about how journalists could better serve as representatives for the people whom they cover, better reflecting the diversity of American experiences in their work.

NU: I’d like to begin by asking about what many people in the journalism world know you for: Deciding What’s News. In that work, you looked at CBS, NBC, Newsweek, and Time from a multi-year, ethnographic perspective. If you were to approach a restudy, what would you change — and what would you keep intact — from the original?

HG: I wish someone would do such a study, because both [network TV news and newsmagazines] now have smaller audiences and smaller budgets, but the network evening news has barely changed in format or content in the last 40 years, while the newsmagazines are changing drastically. I would want to study how they decide how and what to change — and what to keep — and what direct and indirect roles news organizations’ budgets and news audiences play in these changes and in the shape of national news generally.

NU: You defined “multiperspectival news” in 1979. And you bring it up again now. Could you explain it for us, and explain why you think it is still a relevant need? Is it more relevant today, given the challenges facing legacy news outlets?

HG: When I did my original research, national news was limited mostly to what I might now call monoperspectival news, sometimes also called stenographic news. I oversimplify somewhat here, but national news was dominated by journalists reporting what authoritative sources, especially top government officials, told them — or, when these disagreed, what “both sides” (usually Republican and Democratic) were claiming.

Multiperspectival news reporting is more diverse. It seeks news about other subjects that are newsworthy for the variety of audiences in the total news audience; it obtains news from many other sources, including ordinary citizens, and it reports a variety of political, ideological, and social viewpoints (or perspectives).

Here’s my favorite example. Poor audiences need business news like everyone else, but not about investing in the stock market or the latest newsworthy acts, legal or illegal, by corporate bigwigs. They need to know about the businesses in which they can afford to shop and the ones that will hire them, as well as the charitable and public agencies that can help them when they are jobless and in need.

Today, thanks to cable news and the Internet, the news is much more multiperspectival than it was in the past, but it reaches a far smaller news audience than traditional legacy news.

NU: You offer the following different perspectives that news could cover: national, less Washington-centered and more bottom-up news about ordinary people affected by the decisions and acts of politics; output news, or how policies (both public and private) affect people; representative news, or news about Americans in their great expanse of diversity writ large; and service news, or news that’s meaningfully relevant about how the government and other institutions can get things done.

Where would all of this news go? And who would you have writing it? Do you think newsrooms as they function today can shift to adapt to make these changes in perspective?

HG: When I published Deciding What’s News in 1979, I suggested increasing the number and variety of news media. Today, cable, the web, and other new technologies have made that happen, and we are at a stage in the innovation process in which further new journalistic formats and ideas are being tried out all the time. What can be monetized and what can be supplied free of charge remains to be seen, but if the needed monies and audiences are there, the journalists and the newsrooms will come to stay.

NU: You talk about the idea of journalists working more as representatives of people than they currently are, even though, of course, journalists are not elected. At the same time, journalists are, as you have argued, stuck in the box of their own worldviews, which often reflect their own social status and the ensuing beliefs about nation and society. How do we get around that?

HG: I find the idea of journalists as representatives intriguing, in part because the U.S. is an upscale democracy, the politics of which is dominated by corporate campaign funders and the upper-middle-income population that votes and participates more actively than the rest.

As a result, U.S. politics does a poor job of representing the remainder of the citizenry, especially those earning below the median income and various numerical minorities.

Journalists are not elected officials and they cannot be political representatives or advocates but they can represent people in a variety of other ways, for example by turning their experiences and problems into news, and by asking politicians and other authoritative sources questions to which unrepresented and poorly represented citizens need answers.

Journalists can also pay more attention to (now) poorly represented political and other ideas.

I think j-schools and news organizations can either recruit journalists who can get journalists unstuck from their own boxes or teach them to do so. Moreover, multiperspectival news — and representative journalism — would require a greater diversity of journalists, especially those coming from and familiar with the lives of poorly represented citizens and ideas.

NU: Today, the idea of “who is a journalist” has changed since your book in 1979. Who do you see as today’s journalists?

HG: I don’t think professional journalists have changed all that much since the book came out, other than that they are more educated and professionally better trained. Newsrooms have changed, as have all other workplaces, but I don’t see a big difference in today’s news judgments. Even the inverted pyramid has not yet been torn down.

True, there are amateurs who supply photos, videos, and even news stories to supplement what is gathered by professional journalists — but the latter still provide most of the actually-consumed news. It’s just that much of the news and opinion we once told each other face to face and in small groups is now visible to so many other people in the web’s so-called social media. However, even if it is visible does not necessarily mean that it is seen. One must always remember that ordinary people do not pay the same kind of attention to news as do journalists and media researchers, whether it is Facebook’s personal news or the TV networks’ professional news.

NU: You speak about citizen news, which would help people be more educated politically. Where do changes such as the citizen journalism movement and hyperlocal news fit into this vision of citizen news?

HG: Journalists need to pay more attention to what citizens are doing politically, and what their elected representatives do and don’t do for them. Conversely, elected representatives should know more about their constituents, especially the silent ones.

Reporting more such citizen news would incorporate the citizenry a little more into the political process, and would also offer citizens seeking to be more active examples of citizen activity. Since such news will probably always be of lower priority to professional journalists, help from the citizen journalism movement and supporters of local news would be desirable.

NU: One thing you alluded to in 1979 and bring forth more clearly now is the idea of targeted news. In 1979, you talked about having a two-tier system of a general news audience (first-tier) and then more specific (second-tier) audiences that were more homogeneous. I see this idea as taking shape in your current idea of targeted news coverage — what some would call niche content. Can you explain a little bit about the relationship between the general news audience and this targeted audience? Is there enough overlap to create a common conversation?

HG: News media are targeted but audiences are not. There are news media which seek to communicate with a particular audience, which may be targeted by gender, education, race, etc., and there are other news media — most, in fact — which try to attract everyone. However, audiences head for where they want to go, and many people turn to both general and targeted media. But I wouldn’t imagine much overlap or a common conversation. I am not even sure that many people converse very often about what’s in the news media, other than journalists and media researchers.

NU: All of this is going to take a lot of money, and you acknowledge that some of your calls for changes are not particularly practical. For example, you talked about having a national endowment for the news. Why is it, do you think, that the idea hasn’t been taken up? How could such an idea exist absent from the debates over public media funding?

HG: I didn’t try to be realistic or practical then, nor am I trying now, though I hope some of my ideas and proposals catch on. Even so, when I proposed the national endowment for news, its purpose was to fund some of these proposals on an experimental basis, not to provide general public media funding.

However, some public subsidy of the news media may become necessary in this day and age, and I am sorry that it seems to scare too many professional journalists. I think most of their fears are groundless but in any case, we should be discussing safeguards against possible threats to press freedom from government funders instead of scaring ourselves about what government might do to censor or chill journalists. Politicians and others making money or otherwise benefitting from fear are already scaring us too much about too many things.

Global engagement: Google, the International Press Institute and the expansion of news innovation

It’s not an overstatement to say there is a cottage industry of journalism startups in this country. (If there weren’t, we’d be short a good chunk of coverage here at the Lab.) So when news comes down that Google is partnering with the Knight Foundation to fund innovation in news in the U.S., it’s familiar — we know the landscape and can start preparing for the influx of data viz applications.

But what about guiding news experiments on a global scale? This one’s not so easy. “In a lot of parts of the world we’re still dealing with traditional media: radio, TV, and the newspaper,” said Alison Bethel McKenzie, director of the International Press Institute.

To put it politely, we have what could be called first world problems for news innovation.

As part of its broader journalism innovation effort Google is planning to invest in digital news, training, and sustainability planning for organizations in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Europe. Google is collaborating with the International Press Institute to award the $2.7 million in grants.

But from talking with Bethel McKenzie, it’s clear the new media landscape, at least in the parts of the world this money is directed at, is different from the west. The basic infrastructure of online journalism — a reliable network, regular online access, or basic press freedoms — are nowhere near universal. And when you want to innovate, it can be hard to start off on shaky building blocks.

“When we deal with the west, we know that Europe and the United States have higher readerships of news online,” she said. “It’s not the same in west and east Africa.”

The three areas IPI is focusing on are news platforms, new media training initiatives, and new business models for news. These categories reflect the universal issues that journalism is facing — but in the case of the IPI News Innovation grants, they’re looking for people with proven track records, not just pitches. Under the new platforms category, they specifically say they’re looking for tested systems. “We want to empower people who are really doing work on the behalf of journalists or for journalists,” she said.

In grant making, you always want to put your money where you can get the most value out of it, but in this case the institute clearly wants to make more of an investment than an educated bet. Bethel McKenzie said money could go to help burgeoning online media expand their reporting or help companies that provide services to journalists refine their products. The goal here is for grant winners in these countries to act as the catalyst for more transformation in the news business. “We have to deal in the traditional and have one foot in new technology,” she said.

But this is where IPI plays the part not just of grant facilitator, but also a kind of ambassador for journalism. Knight acts as an effective conduit for news innovation in the U.S. because it has connections reaching from newsrooms to nonprofits and up the pipeline to D.C. The International Press Institute’s portfolio is somewhat similar, except they often have to act as a more vocal advocate for freedom of the press overseas. Their job, as Bethel McKenzie explains it, will be not just to dispense the grants but also try and provide cover for the grantees with governments and other institutions that are wary of new media, if not an open Internet.

Looking at the recent uprisings in places like Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, among the common factors is government officials attempting to suppress the media as well as the Internet. (We also know thanks to our friends over at the Berkman Center, that Internet censorship is not precluded to countries facing anti-government unrest.) All of which further shows the need for new media organizations to be well equipped to not only face transformations in journalism, but also society.

“What we’re hoping to do is to bring the part of the world that is skeptical about people being able to voice their views and opinions, we want to bring them the idea that all voices should be heard and all voices have something to contribute, whether you believe they’re negative or positive,” Bethel McKenzie said.

Slip and slide: Newspaper industry increases production of scary charts

You may have come across the chart-making work of blogger Michael DeGusta last month, when he recrunched some numbers on the music business that illustrated that industry’s financial decline. And now he’s cast his axis-loving eyes upon the newspaper business and, in particular, the Newspaper Association of America’s release last week of 2010 advertising revenue numbers.

The result is what you see above, which (a) gathers together NAA ad revenue totals since 1980, (b) adjusts for inflation, putting it all in 2011 dollars, and (c) adjusts for population growth, making the dollar figures per capita. So each point in the chart indicates how much ad money the newspaper industry made from the average resident of the United States per year.

(And, to repeat, everything in this chart and this post covers only advertising revenue, not overall revenue — so circulation money isn’t included. Although that hasn’t exactly been a great multidecade success story, either.)

If you’re an optimist about the industry’s financial future, then you can take comfort in that little turn toward horizontal at chart’s end — the sort you see at the bottom of a park slide and associate with childhood and grassy lawns and safe landings. If you’re me, you think about how you’re sitting on the ground, your pants are all dirty, and it’s gonna be really hard to get back up the slide now that someone’s taken away the stairs. Two quick observations from the chart:

While it’s easy to blame the Internet for newspapers’ ills, note that overall ad revenue per capita had been stagnant (with exceptions for the broader business cycle) for decades. Newspapers were making roughly the same revenue per capita in 1980 as they were in 1993 or 2001 — all before the precipitous decline of the past few years.

That revenue stagnation happened in a context of real GDP-per-capita growth (see slide 6), which is why the newspaper business’ share of overall advertising revenue in the United States has been declining since at least the 1940s (see slide 5).

That red online slice doesn’t look to be growing at a rate that’ll comfort the entire industry, does it? Compare DeGusta’s analogous chart for the music industry, where at least the digital-revenue slice seems to be at least adding something substantial to the mix, even as music’s non-digital numbers are tumbling even faster than newspapers’.

NAA’s numbers showed a 10.9 percent increase in online ad revenue from 2009 to 2010. But that means that 2010 online ad revenue was still below 2007 levels.

Or: After a decade of worrying about the Internet, after the collapse of its print advertising base, still only 12 percent of newspaper ad revenue came from online. (And, of course, a much tinier slice of circulation revenue.)

Or, perhaps most galling of all: Even after a decade-plus of eBay and Craigslist and Match.com and the rest, online revenue is barely half as big as classified ad revenue, the one line item most folks gave up for dead years ago.

Compare those depressing numbers with those of another industry undergoing digital disruption: the book industry. New numbers from the Association of American Publishers reported that ebook net sales jumped by 115 percent in January, year over year from 2010. At $69.9 million, January ebook net sales were greater than adult hardcovers ($49.1 million) and approaching adult paperbacks ($83.6 million). Newspapers just don’t have any new digital revenue streams producing in the ballpark of that rate of growth — in part because their monopoly power has been disrupted more than that of their peer industries.

Links on Twitter: NYT journos in Libya to be released, holes in a paywall, taking down a botnet

Microsoft takes down a botnet, reducing worldwide spam by 39% (via @jacqui) http://nie.mn/gHLBl6 »

Want to hear and/or heckle folks from the Lab at #ONA11? Here are our sessions http://nie.mn/hwuDnp »

.@craignewmark on how technology can be a force for good http://nie.mn/dKD6NJ »

The MIT Media Lab’s individually customizable new logo has 40,000 permutations http://nie.mn/erpFpe »

.@lavrusik: Readers who come through social "are far different in their behaviors" than those who come from search http://nie.mn/gEji8x »

LAT creates an online community centered around public records (via @romenesko) http://nie.mn/eQ96Bo »

Recommended: @BGrueskin, former head of WSJ Online, shares his thoughts on the NYT pay scheme http://nie.mn/eCypfX »

RT @palafo: @NiemanLab No jumping required. It is not a wall. We just ask that people use the designated entrances like @nytimes on Twitter. »

The NYT’s Paul Krugman tells his readers how to jump the NYT paywall http://nie.mn/ehrNAm »

NYT expects that paywall jumpers will be "a small, small number of people" http://nie.mn/fmiL4Y »

RT @PDColford: Great news! RT @NYTPRGUY: Missing NYT reporters found and to be released on Friday, NYT reports. »

Popular on Twitter: More TimesWall reax, Libya will free NYT reporters, an army of journos to cover a royal wedding

  • Libyan government: NYT journalists will be released
  • Grueskin: The NYTimes.com pay scheme has a great big hole
  • The NYT’s Paul Krugman tells his readers how to jump the NYT paywall
  • CNN will have roughly 400 journos assigned to the royal wedding
  • Steve Yelvington talks NYT paywall
  • A NYT paywall workaround has already sprung up
  • FYI: The #ONA11 Student Newsroom application closes next Wednesday
  • What the NYT paywall looks like to Canadians
  • Libya says it will free the NYT’s four journalists
  • Paywall, paywall, and some other stuff: the week in review
  • This Week in Review: The Times’ pay plan unveiled, a SXSW primer, and a closer look at NPR’s foes

    Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

    First reactions to The Times’ paid-content plans: Yesterday The New York Times rolled out the online paid-content plans they’ve been talking about for a little more than a year. You get 20 articles a month for free (besides the ones you get to through Google and social media), and after that it’s going to cost you anywhere from $15 to $35 per four weeks, depending on what devices you want to access it on. Print subscribers will get it all for free. (Yup, as the Lab’s Josh Benton and Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici pointed out, that means there are print plans with online access that are cheaper than the online-only ones.) Subscriptions will sold, among other places, in Apple’s iTunes store. Here’s The Times’ letter to readers and news article, as well as the Lab’s glimpse at the paywall and a good paidContent FAQ.

    Now for the reaction and analysis: If you only have time for a few pieces, make them Ken Doctor, Steve Outing, and Felix Salmon. If you want a quick sampler platter of opinions, you can’t do any better than the Lab’s roundup of 11 experts’ thoughts.

    There was no consensus of initial opinion about the plan; many supporters spoke up quickly, including The Times’ own media critic, David Carr, and The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz. Poynter newspaper analyst Rick Edmonds broke down the ways it met all the initial criteria of a sound paywall plan, and British j-prof Paul Bradshaw called it “the most mature, intelligent, and commercially sensible paywall model yet,” praising its respect for distribution and online engagement. At the Columbia Journalism Review, Ryan Chittum said it looked good, and Lauren Kirchner issued a rejoinder to the “information wants to be free” crowd.

    The Times’ detractors were quick to speak up, too. Media analyst Steve Outing laid out most of the basic objections: The prices are too high, people will turn away when they hit the 20-article limit, and the differentiation by device doesn’t make sense. (TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld harped on the latter point, too.) Reuters’ Felix Salmon chimed in by saying that the price point is high enough that a lot of regular readers won’t subscribe (meaning the plan won’t bring in much revenue anyway), and that the Times is discouraging use of its iPad.

    At BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow said most users will find the metering system frustrating, leading them to find other ways to read The Times or just not read it at all. Techdirt’s Mike Masnick made a similar point, adding that The Times isn’t adding any value with the plan. That was tech pioneer Dave Winer’s main beef: “They’re not offering anything to readers other than the Times’ survival, and they’re not even explicit about that.”

    Plenty of commentary didn’t fall into either the “pro” or “con” camp, of course. Here at the Lab, Ken Doctor provided the definitive economic analysis of the plan, breaking down the seven tests it must pass to be successful. Then there was the issue of getting around the paywall (or, as Doctor more accurately called it, the fence): Business Insider told us how to do it via Google, and TechCrunch pontificated on the social media loophole that will develop in addition to the current Google one. Media consultant Steve Yelvington downplayed that factor: “It’s not supposed to be a bank vault, people. It’s a polite request for payment.”

    Another obvious next question is whether this could be applied to other news organizations. Meranda Watling of 10,000 Words compared the plan with those of The Wall Street Journal and Newsday, but Amy Gahran of the Knight Digital Media Center gave other newspapers a stern “don’t try this at home.”

    Breaking down an old debate at SXSW: Just as they do every March, geeks descended on Austin, Texas, last weekend for the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, and as usual, there was plenty of journalism-related stuff to chew on, even for those of us who didn’t attend. The session that seemed to get the most traction online was NYU professor Jay Rosen’s psychological analysis of the tension between bloggers and journalists — which is perhaps a bit surprising for a battle that Rosen himself declared “over” six years ago.

    Rosen’s whole talk is worth a read, but here’s the gist of it: For journalists, bloggers are the idealized face of all the ideological and professional stresses they deal with, and for bloggers, the conflict helps keep them on the “outside” of the system, allowing them to maintain their innocence and rhetorical power. Snarkmarket’s Matt Thompson and Tim Carmody liveblogged their analysis of the talk, and The Guardian summarized it. Michele McLellan of the Knight Digital Media Center ripped blogger-hating journalists for fighting an outdated war, but Melissa Bell of the Washington Post called Rosen’s characterization of objectivity misleading.

    There were plenty of other panels worth reading about, too, including NYU prof Clay Shirky’s timely talk on social media and revolution, in which he said that governments routinely overestimate our access to information and underestimate our access to each other. (The Guardian had a short summary, and Poynter’s Julie Moos put together a blow-by-blow in Storify.)

    There were also a couple of panels on the value of gaming, particularly in news, as well as sessions on building trust online, using social media to evade censorship, the future of public media, iPad news apps, and SEO tips from Google and Bing. Poynter’s Steve Myers pulled together a dozen journalists for an overview of the conference in terms of building community, and an Economist blogger tied this year’s SXSW to last year’s with a sharp post questioning the story as the basic unit of journalism.

    A critical eye on NPR’s antagonists: The damage to NPR from James O’Keefe’s hidden-camera exposé was already done last week, but the scrutiny of the tape itself didn’t begin in earnest until the weekend — kicked off by, of all places, Glenn Beck’s website, The Blaze. (Time’s James Poniewozik’s breakdown is also worth a read.) The site’s skepticism of the video’s editing was picked up by NPR media reporter David Folkenflik, who examined the issue in a broadcast report. NPR’s spokeswoman called the video “inappropriately edited,” but said the executive in the tape had still made “egregious statements.”

    Whatever O’Keefe’s ethics, Poynter’s Steve Myers said, there’s plenty he understands about today’s media environment that we can learn from: Investigative journalism is in demand, raw media communicates “reality,” and soundbites and reducing opponents’ logic to absurdities trump context in the online media world.

    Meanwhile, the House of Representatives voted yesterday to cut off NPR’s federal funding, which outraged public-media advocates like Free Press. The change in leadership at NPR prompted others to look at the health and direction of the organization overall: The New York Times’ David Carr examined NPR’s success in light of the public-funding argument, and Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore laid out the four biggest challenges for NPR’s next CEO. The Lab’s Nikki Usher looked overseas for public media comparisons, and the Columbia Journalism Review talked to Jonathan Holmes of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation about the public media situation there.

    A snapshot of the state of journalism: Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released its annual State of the Media report this week, summarizing last year as a good one for journalism. The big headline that most media outlets took away from the study was that for the first time, online news consumption has surpassed newspaper use. There were plenty of other nuggets from the study, though, covering a variety of news media.

    The study outlined the state of the newspaper industry, touching on all the major themes from circulation to advertising to digital paid-content efforts. One of the authors of that part of the study, Poynter’s Rick Edmonds, summarized the trends he found interesting.

    It also included a look at the economics of startup community journalism, with discussion of nonprofits, ad-based sites, and the Patch model. (Author Michele McLellan summarized her main points here.) The researchers also reported on a survey on mobile news use, and Amy Gahran of the Knight Digital Media Center and Damon Kiesow of Poynter highlighted some of the opportunities for news organizations in its results.

    A couple of other tidbits from the study: Search Engine Land’s Vanessa Fox focused on revenue from advertising, subscriptions, and mobile apps, and j-prof Alfred Hermida pointed out the difference between the news agendas of Twitter, blogs and the mainstream media.

    Twitter tells developers to hold off: Twitter made waves in the tech world late last week when they posted a note telling developers not to develop any more Twitter clients, saying they’d like to do it themselves, ostensibly for consistency’s sake. (Mashable has a great explanation of the issue.) Most of the initial reaction was not enthusiastic: Salon’s Dan Gillmor said the note was a reminder that we need other options for our online platforms that aren’t controlled by a single company, and Dave Winer said it reinforces the fact the open web is the best place to develop.

    Mathew Ingram of GigaOM and developer Fred Oliveira both urged Twitter to rethink its decision, noting that third-party apps like Tweetdeck and Tweetie spurred much of Twitter’s initial growth. And ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick saw this as a hint at where Twitter is headed culturally: “If you thought Twitter was a place for outlaws, for free thinkers, for innovators – you need to tuck in your shirt, cut your hair and get a clue.”

    Others, however, defended Twitter: Social media marketer Jesse Stay said he wishes Twitter had done this a while ago, and developer Rob Diana argued that Twitter has finally given developers a solid sense of direction while still giving them some freedom.

    Reading roundup: A few notes to digest while your bracket goes up in flames:

    — The big news story of the past week has been the earthquake, tsunami and their aftermath in Japan. There wasn’t a whole lot written about it from a media perspective, but there were a couple of insightful posts. Doc Searls looked at coverage and concluded that the web is subsuming TV and radio, and Jeff Jarvis asked for separate Twitter hashtags for breaking news event witnesses.

    — A few leftover AOL/Huffington Post items: GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram looked at why AOL is desperate for some successful content initiatives, Arianna Huffington talked SEO, TechCrunch broke down the journalism/churnalism tension at AOL, and The New York Times’ Bill Keller issued a non-apology followup to his Huffington-bashing essay last week.

    — A couple of stray items from the commenting discussion of the last couple of weeks: Via O’Reilly Radar, statistics showing the integration of Facebook Comments led to fewer comments at TechCrunch, and a defense of anonymous commenting from Paul O’Flaherty.

    — Finally, the Lab has the transcript of an interesting talk Northwestern prof Pablo Boczkowski gave about the gap between what news consumers want and what they get, with a thoughtful response from the Lab’s Josh Benton. Enjoy.

    Here’s what the New York Times paywall looks like (to Canadians)

    As Ken Doctor wrote earlier today, a big part of the success or failure of the new New York Times paywall will be based on how it treats those who bump up against it. Will it be a public-radio pledge-drive soft sell, gently noting how nice it would feel to support quality journalism? Will readers on their 21st article of the month be confronted by an image of Sulzberger & Keller looking dejected over the tightfistedness of the clicker in question? What kind of pitch would work best when someone is at the moment of pay-or-no-pay truth?

    We in the United States aren’t scheduled to see the Times’ approach to that moment until March 28. But with a little technical finagling, I can report that the box above is how the Times is choosing to deal with that fateful moment.

    From my office in Cambridge, I created a new dummy nytimes.com account (pierretrudeaujustwatchme@gmail.com, an homage) and logged onto a Canadian proxy — a server that allows you to appear to a website to be coming from somewhere you aren’t. In this case, Toronto.

    Then I went a-click-click-clickin’ all over nytimes.com, hoping to run into the 20 article limit. When I hit No. 20, this popped up in the lower-left corner of my browser window:

    Fair warning! (The “Why is there a limit? link goes to Arthur Sulzberger’s letter to readers.)

    One more click to one more story and up came the image you see above.

    Thank you for visiting NYTimes.com

    We hope you’ve enjoyed your 20 free articles this month.

    As you may already know, we are now charging for unlimited access to our content. You can come back next month for another 20 free articles or choose unlimited access with a Digital Subscription and continue to enjoy the world’s best journalism, anytime, anywhere and on any device. Subscribing is quick and easy.


    I’ll leave it up to the marketing experts and the consumer psychologists to say whether or not that’s an effective pitch, but it seems pretty good to me: no giant animated wagging finger, no background audio murmuring “Pay, freeloader, pay!” In any event, I assume part of the next 11 days will be spent testing out a variety of pitches; after all, this sort of call-to-action is pretty much what A/B testing is designed for.

    Interestingly, that appeal doesn’t appear on a page by itself; it appears overlaid on top of the actual article you were trying to read:

    (Click here for the full image.)

    It’s a neat mix of code: links within the article and sidebar are no longer clickable behind the overlay, but the top nav bars (the Home Page/Today’s Paper top one and the World/U.S./N.Y./Region one) both remain clickable — a subtle suggestion to keep exploring even if this particular alley’s proved a dead end.

    And not that we need more evidence that this paywall is going to be awfully permeable — but I do note that if you view the page’s HTML source, the entire text of the story is still there, even if you’re on Story No. 7,423 of the month. (At least I think — I didn’t check that high. I clicked on another 10-20 stories and always got the same message you see above.)

    If you go ahead and try to buy a digital subscription, you’re offered an introductory deal which I’d have to guess is a preview of the intro deal Americans have been promised for March 28:

    99 cents a week for the first four weeks, then $3.75 a week after, which matches the $15/four weeks advertised price. (That’s all in American greenbacks, not loonies.) The payment form only has space for credit card info, but the fine print at the bottom references PayPal — perhaps that’ll arrive with the American paywall.

    In all, it looks like a perfectly functioning paywall, with lots of holes — social media, search, the View Source command in your browser — predrilled. Now, we wait to see whether in holding back some readers, it lets in some revenue.