Muck Rack Daily Brings You Some–But Not All–of the News That’s Fit to Tweet

Yet another news aggregator? Yup. And this one is even more meta than most: Muck Rack Daily is a news service dedicated to telling you what journalists are saying, via Twitter, about the news.

And yes, that sounds even more indulgent and navel-gazing than most media about media. There’s a logic here, though: Twitter is great because it’s immediate and unfiltered (when it’s working). But there’s a value in a service that pauses and sifts, too.

In this case, that work is done by Steve McGookin, a veteran of the Financial Times (and Forbes, for a minute or two, where I worked with him), who sorts through journalists’ tweets and lets you know what they’re talking about and what they’re saying.

Straightforward stuff, but it’s something that isn’t being done yet. Most aggregators either rely on crowdsourcing/algorithms to cull stories, which is interesting but crude, or they don’t do any sorting at all. And because McGookin is doing actual editorial work, via super-concise summaries, it’s much more useful than the “bunch of tweets = a newspaper” model that paper.li is pushing. (No annoying spam, either.)

Muck Rack Daily is a spinoff of Muckrack, one of the umpteenth Twitter-related sites generated by the guys at Sawhorse Media. Sawhorse co-founder Gregory Galant says the main Muckrack site, which simply tracks individual journalists’ Twitter acccounts, is generating 100,000 uniques a month. But this new site may ultimately be much more useful, and popular.

Anatomy of a Failed Start-Up: Why NewsLabs Didn’t Make It (And Why I May Not Have Helped)

When we last heard from Paul Biggar, back in March, he planned to help save journalism and make money along the way: His NewsLabs, later renamed NewsTilt, was going to provide a new digital platform for reporters.

It didn’t last long. In June, Biggar and co-founder Nathan Chong shut down their company, which hatched at Y Combinator, and returned their remaining cash to their investors.

Now Biggar is working for Mozilla, but he’s found the time to pen a 7,459-word autopsy of his former company. Say this for Biggar: He gets the importance of a good lede. Here’s his first graph:

Following the launch, everything started going to shit, and a huge number of challenges to the success of the company had arisen. The biggest of these were the lack of traction from launch, that we had lost the faith of our journalists, and because there were communication issues between Nathan (my co-founder) and I. This combination also killed our motivation.

Concise, right? Still, Biggar’s candor and self-reflection make the rest of the piece well worth your time, and he plans to post the whole thing on his personal blog shortly. You should read it there.

Not to get too meta, but I make a brief appearance in Biggar’s history. He thinks  the post I wrote up about his company ultimately hurt it. In his words:

Lesson: Be very careful how you are presented to the press

When I gave my demo day speech to investors, I explained that there were tons of customers out there; in 2008-2009, 30000 journalist had been laid off. When I gave an interview to AllThingsD a few minutes later, Peter Kafka focused heavily on the unemployed part of this. I didn’t quite realise the problem–it seemed like a minor detail that he was focusing on a bit heavily–until potential customers kept asking “what about solutions for journalists not laid off”. Even though our product was for all journalists, it had effectively been maligned by what I thought was a minor detail.

This also led to people thinking we were going to take advantage of them, and that we were just another content mill like Demand Media. Even when we made it clear that we were only making money if they did–taking a 20% cut–this kept coming up, even with journalists who we had signed up and were using our service.

As Biggar notes, he didn’t have a problem with my post at first. Here’s the subject line of the email he sent me after my story ran: “great interview!” And as he lays out in great detail, his start-up had many more problems than bad (or even neutral) press.

But it’s perfectly reasonable for people not to like the way I’ve written about them or their company. I work hard to be accurate and fair, but my story ultimately reflects my point of view, and not my subject’s. And sometimes there’s a very big gap between the two.

I do think that the video interviews I do, lousy quality and all, give my subjects the best chance at expressing themselves, since I don’t really edit them. You get to say whatever you want to say, and MediaMemo readers get to hear it.

And in case that doesn’t do the trick, people I write about always have the ability to get their point across, at length, in the comments section below each post.

I wish more people took advantage of it, so consider this an invitation/reminder to Biggar and everyone else I’ve written about, and everyone I will write about: If you don’t like something I’ve written (or even if you do), pipe up! You’ve got an open forum here.

Want to Make Google News Smarter–Or Dumber? Give It a Shot.

Traditional publishers gripe that they don’t get enough love and respect from Google, and they want the search engine to favor their stuff above upstarts and aggregators. A new overhaul from Google News won’t give them that, but it does allow users to favor the MSM–or anyone else they want to: Google is giving users the ability to promote sources they’d like to see in the results and demote unworthy ones.

Google (GOOG) won’t let users completely excise sources from their feed, though. Ben Ling, director of product management for search properties, says you’ll still get news from a particular source if they’re the ones breaking news. So if you think the New York Times is a liberal fish-wrapper, or the Wall Street Journal is a propaganda tool for our corporate overlords, you’re still going to have live with them, sometimes. Don’t worry! It’s not that bad.

On the other hand, anyone savvy and/or motivated enough to spend time customizing the Google News page may not use Google News that much at all. Hardcore newshounds are probably glued to RSS feeds, and/or Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Still, worth playing with. The video below explains how to customize your page. and notes other new Google News features, including the obligatory social media links. Google calls it the biggest overhaul of the site since its launch in 2002. Search Engine Land gave its readers a preview of the overhaul last month.

YouTube’s Secret "News Experiment" Explained! (Warning: Not Really That Secret)

Is YouTube getting into the local news business? No, not really.

But! SF Weekly has a weird, confusing tale about YouTube’s sort of secretive effort to launch a “local news experiment” in San Francisco. You can read the whole thing here, but the gist is that staffers at the Google (GOOG) site have tapped local bloggers, reporters, etc., to gauge their interest in a project whereby “citizen videographers–anyone with a video-capable phone or camera, really”–help cover local news.

Since the YouTube folks have been vague about what they’re up to and have told potential participants to “be discreet about who you speak with about it,” the whole thing sounds vaguely ominous/exciting.

The reality, alas, is fairly dull.

It’s this: YouTube is working with a San Francisco TV station to a launch a new iteration of its YouTube Direct platform, a person familiar with the plans tells me.

YouTube Direct is supposed to help publishers gather and distribute video from amateur contributors, essentially by plugging YouTube into their sites. The program has had a bit of a success when big media organizations like NPR or ABC’s “Good Morning America” have used it.

But local news outlets, which could theoretically really use help from both YouTube and their own readers/watchers, haven’t done much with it. So the idea is to use the San Francisco version as a showcase, and YouTube staffers are trying to pre-seed the effort by rounding up local contributors.

All pretty straightforward stuff. So why the sort-of cloak-and-dagger routine? Got me. I’m told that Google and the local station are planning on making an announcement about the launch next week. But really, this seems like something you just announce and then do. Simple, right?

Here, for the record, is YouTube’s official comment on the matter:

We launched YouTube Direct in November, and it’s been a great way for news organizations to easily leverage citizen reporting on YouTube. We’re currently experimenting with new ways to make the platform more useful, and we’ll have more to announce on that front soon.

All righty! I’ve already run the best “Mr. Show” local news clip. But here’s a worthy contender:

Exclusive: PaidContent Founder Ali to Depart Pioneering Digital News Site

PaidContent’s Rafat Ali, who turned a one-man Web site into a must-read hub for digital media news, is leaving the company he founded eight years ago.

Sources said Ali has told co-workers he will leave the company in early July, which will be two years after he sold ContentNext, PaidContent’s parent company, to the London-based Guardian Media group.

That deal was potentially worth up to $30 million, based on various earn-out goals. But Ali and his investors took home only a portion of that. My best guess is something closer to $12 million.

Ali didn’t tell staff what he intends to do next, sources said, but he recently moved from Los Angeles to New York.

It is not clear who will take over leadership at the sites; the main one had 137,000 unique monthly visitors in April, up from 63,000 in July of 2009, according to comScore (SCOR).

UPDATE: The Guardian confirmed the move, as did Ali in a paidContent post, both of which are below:

Guardian Statement on Rafat’s Departure

Dear Readers,

Our founder, a digital warrior and friend to many of you, Rafat Ali, is stepping down after eight years building and growing ContentNext. As many of you know, Guardian News & Media acquired ContentNext, and Rafat has decided this is a good time for him to take a break and think about the next chapter. This is the statement the Guardian released today.

Caroline Little
CEO, ContentNext
CEO, Guardian North America

Guardian News & Media and ContentNext today announced that ContentNext Founder and Editor Rafat Ali will be leaving the company at the beginning of July. Rafat Ali started paidContent as a blog in 2002, and later added three other sites, paidContent.uk, mocoNews and contentSutra, before the business was purchased by Guardian News & Media in 2008. ContentNext now has some 600,000 unique users and its websites, with their blend of news and analysis, are a must read for senior executives in the media, entertainment, publishing, advertising, mobile, marketing and technology sectors.

Tim Brooks, Managing Director of Guardian News & Media, said: “As anyone who follows the company and reads our sites knows, Rafat has done an amazing job of building ContentNext from the ground up and we wish him every success in the future.”

Ernie Sander, who has been the managing editor at ContentNext for the past 18 months, will assume a wider strategic role. Co-editor Staci Kramer, Rafat’s first hire at the company, will continue to be a thought leader on and off the site.

On to Life 2.0

In the end, all things do come to an end. The good and bad part is, it is never a definite marker, but all part of a process. And so it has been for me. After pouring exactly eight years of my life and a lifetime into this, I am leaving ContentNext and paidContent in early July. I will continue to advise the company for the rest of the year.

For most of you who know me, this isn’t coming as a huge surprise. I have been wrestling with this for months now, and the two-year mark under the Guardian and the eight-year mark since I launched the first site, seems appropriate enough as a closure point.

The last two years under Guardian have been illuminating, to say the least. Being part of a big company brings its own level of complexities; during a huge financial crisis, it makes for a roller-coaster ride. The high of the sale dissipated quickly, and pulling back and hunkering down isn’t fun, much less entrepreneurial. To Guardian’s credit, amidst the mothership’s own perfect storm, they stood by us, and we have survived, though much smaller.

I am leaving the company while the editorial is still at the peak of its reputation, even though we are half the team we used to be. It really is a miracle. And the edit leadership under our ME Ernie Sander and my longtime partner-in-crime and co-editor Staci D. Kramer gets the full credit for it, as do our scrappy group of talented journalists. The business side is a rebuild-in-process that I hope Guardian continues to support in kind and spirit.

paidContent and the company has given me a lot: it saved my life, literally (subject of a book someday); it gave me an existence, purpose and sustenance, in that order. It gave me way more chances in life than I probably deserved. I burned the candle on both ends, and then in the middle. And to think that I entered this country little over a decade ago, and in that time, got a degree, worked at two dotcoms, started one, sold it, lived in Bloomington, Ind., NYC, London, Los Angeles and back in NYC, and am now moving on to the next phase of my career. Next phase of my life.

As for my future, the honest answer is, I am in the middle of figuring it out. The good part is I have lots of choices; the bad part is that I have lots of choices. Very likely it will be another startup, in a larger media and marketing space. But in the immediate future, you will see my head pop up in places like Iceland, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Socotra Island (Google it!) and other parts of Central Asia. That’s the head-clearing trip of a lifetime, for the summer months after I finish here.

At the end, I really have to thank my family, friends, colleagues and readers, who cared enough to care. You all gave me and a bunch of us outliers a chance to do something magical for a long time. Please continue reading and supporting paidContent and ContentNext; I merely started the story.

Finally, here’s a video BoomTown’s Kara Swisher did with Ali in 2007 at ContentNext’s then-office in Santa Monica, Calif., and another in Manhattan right after the sale to Guardian Media:

Rupert Murdoch Still Needs Allies for His Digital News Crusade

Within the next two weeks or so, we’re supposed to hear about Rupert Murdoch’s digital news subscription service–the one he has been trying to put together for many months.

One problem: That service is supposed to feature content from publications other than those owned by Murdoch. And sources familiar with News Corp.’s plans tell me Murdoch has yet to sign partners on to the venture.

News Corp. officials do say Murdoch is hopeful about bringing on Gannett (GCI), the publisher behind USA Today and 82 smaller papers. A person familiar with talks between the companies described them as “late stage.” A spokeswoman for News Corp. (NWS), which owns this Web site, declined to comment; Gannett officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.

And it’s possible that Murdoch’s lieutenants, led by digital boss Jon Miller, have other deals in the works that they’re close to closing.

That’s certainly what Murdoch hinted at in the prepared remarks he delivered at the start of his May 4 earnings call:

Today, we are in final discussions with a number of publishers, device makers and technology companies…and we will soon develop an innovative subscription model that will deliver digital content to consumers…wherever and whenever they want it.

Later, in response to a reporter’s question about the subscription plan, Murdoch went further, announcing that his company would be “giving a press conference in about three to four weeks which we hope will have some important announcements in.”

But that would be a more effective press conference if Murdoch could announce that he has convinced other big publishers to embrace his model. Right now, at least, he can’t say that.

This might seem like a classic example of Murdoch going off script during an earnings call, which happens with some frequency. But in this case, News Corp. officials have been working on a similar timetable behind the scenes. For instance, I’m told that they have been casting about for a public relations agency to help promote the plan and have been telling prospective candidates about their proposed schedule.

So it seems that Murdoch may have been intentionally placing his cart pre-horse in hopes that doing so would speed negotiations along. Can’t wait to see if he’s right.