Joho the Blog » newspapers

June 10, 2009

[newmedia] Journalism panel

Dan Gillmor is not as pessimistic as many others about the future of journalism. We’re in a fertile period of innovation. But we need better audiences. Passive consumers need to be active readers, and this ought to be part of school curricula, starting in pre-school.

Jim VandeHri from Politico agrees with Dan that we’re going to end up with more and better journalism, although he has no idea what it’s going to look like and he thinks that newspapers are in much worse shape than most acknowledge.

Nick Wrenn from CNN says they use social media like Twitter both to engage the audience and as an early warning system.

David Kirkpatrick of Fortune (who’s writing a book about Facebook) is not so sure it’s a great time to go into journalism because the business model isn’t there. “I’m happy I’m getting out of it.” Yet the “number of kids who want to be journalists is astonishingly high.” He makes a few points. First, if Google gets better at its search, its ads become less relevant and valuable, and he thinks Bing is intended to force Google to get better at searching for that reason. Second, the number of minutes spent on Facebook has gone up hugely; it is uniquely influential as a media platform, both as a place where people create content and distribute others’ content.

Dan agrees that the business models aren’t there, but he’s jealous of his students because they get to invent their jobs and invent what journalism will be. Jim thinks that over time, there will be more organizations (like Politico) that can pay journalists. There will be lots of journalism, but just not dominated by the big papers and broadcasters. It’ll be non-profits, startups, etc. Politico makes money out of ads. Over the next six months, Politico will experiment with charging for some specialized content.

Q: Is it time to put the broadsheet out of its misery?
A: Dan: Print won’t shut down quickly because there’s still a whole lot of cash flow. And if you reset the debt via bankruptcies, there’s still profit to be had.
A: CNN: Newsrooms have to figure out how to deal with the changes. It’s amazing that newspapers still report on yesterday’s news.

Q: Who’s going to pay to gather dull but important information at the local level?
A: Dan: The newspapers aren’t gathering it now. No one is. We are going to lose eat-your-spinach journalism. Back when newspapers sent journalists to the boring meetings, the journalists were deterrents to bad behavior. Maybe we should hire circuit forensic accountants to work with journalists…
A: David: But now every member of the school board can be a broadcaster. So, the role of the community newspaper can be different. I am incredibly optimistic about the future of society in terms of info being distributed. But I’m not optimistic about the future of journalism.

[Tags: ]

2 Comments »

April 17, 2009

[ugc3] Final panel

I went first. I talked about exceptionalism, responding to Eli Noam’s challenge at the beginning of the conference that if we’re going to think the Net is going to bring about substantial changes, we have to be able to point to characteristics of it that are different from other technologies that also looked revolutionary but that turned out to be rather prosaic.


NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Len Downie was executive editor of Washington Post. He’s not going to propose any new form of delivery of the news. He’s not sure the old will die out completely. WaPo is reorganizing itself as a news operation and as a company. They have Facebook and iPhone apps, etc. When it comes to UGC, “this is not a zero sum game.” On WashingtonPost.com you find lots of user comments, participation in blogs, user photos and videos, crowd-sourcing. E.g., Amanda Michel’s “Off the Bus” crowd sourcing, which went through professional editors. (Amanda is now at ProPublica.) They hope the Net will help end the traditional alienation from their readers. And the Net has made their audience bigger than ever before.

The big problem is the loss of classified advertising. Hundreds of millions of dollars lost, hitting local newspapers especially hard. Also, display ads have been driven down. Local news stations are covering fewer stories. There’s less reporting. That’s the problem Len is going to examine in his new academic role at Arizon State.

There are some things the government could do, but not a “bail out,” Len says. Maybe newspapers will become 501C3′s. Maybe they’ll become LC3′s, so they could still be profitable and yet receive tax-exempt contributions. Maybe convert them into endowments, although Len says there isn’t enough money for that: You’d need a ginormous endowment to generate the requisite funds. There are more and more non-profit investigative reporting organizations. There’s a lot going on. It’s impossible to tell what’s going to happen.

Q: How much does investigative reporting cost?
A: At ProPublica, they do it in the best way, and it’s tens of thousands of dollars, mainly for the reporter’s time.

Q: In Germany they’re aggregating news and selling access [I got this wrong] …
A: I’d have to look at it.
Q: Isn’t that what AP does?
A: Don’t get me started. AP is supposed to be a collaborative. If we don’t all charge at the same time, we won’t be able to raise enough money. Alan Mutters [sp] suggests that we all decide on July 4 to start charging. The Obama admin is concerned about the future of news. They’re going to look at loosening anti-trust regs so newspapers can band together, but you don’t want to create another cartel like AP.

Q: If the NYT shut down its presses and went totally online, how would that affect their costs and prices?
A: The Times might save 40-50% of their costs, but it would take away 90% of their revenue. Kindle is great for books but not very good for newspapers. Looking forward to the big multimedia tablets.

Q: The NYT is doing well on the Web. But last year their Web revenue increased just 1%. What’s the future business model?
A: That’s what I’m trying to figure out.


Greg Lastowka (law prof, Rutgers) is going to talk about legal aspects of UGC. First question: What is UGC? It’s a fuzzy concept. “User” is an important term because of copyright. Copyright is not about monetizing the works of authors. Copyright is there to promote the progress of science and the useful arts. Our Constitutional mention is based on the earlier British Statute of Ann that took control away from publishers and gave it to authors, in order to promote education.

Greg predicts that copyright won’t change very much in the next ten years. Copyright law will probably ignore UGC and be large unaffected by it. UGC will be treated as a problem, it will change the rules somewhat (through litigation), but the fundamental shape of copyright law won’t change in response to UGC (says Greg). Ten years ago, he was more optimistic about it. He thought UGC was a huge social boon that was a very bad fit for copyright law, so copyright law would change to reflect that value. The Web was meeting the goals copyright law was established to meet.

Four changes to get copyright law to fit the Web: 1. Simplify the law. 2. People want credit for their work even when they’re happy to have it spread. People get copyright law mixed up with plagiarism. We should work the attribution right into it. 3. Reform terms of service and their enforcement. 4. Subsidize free access content. Copyright is a subsidy for authors.

Greg was arguing this ten years ago. Not much has changed, although there’s progress in open access to academic work. Why haven’t there been more changes? Maybe because our legislators don’t understand what’s happening. The better, sadder, answer is that Greg’s politics were naive. Copyright law today is realistically about protecting big money incumbents. Dan likes copyright and blockbuster movies, but thinks there should be an ecology that enables them and UGC. We’re unlikely to strike a new social contract that reflects the rights of amateur creators.

Q: To what extent is international trade motivating maintaining strict copyright?
A: Legislators certainly care about it.


Stefaan Verhuist (Markle Foundation) presents his model of UGC: Mediation 3.0. It has three new mediating functions that converge to create a new type of mediation. Those functions can be accelerated and made more valuable by making sure they are cheap, deep, and speed. The success depends on four challenges: the 4 Ps.

Setfaan draws a triangle: 1. Establish relations. 2. Provide a new kind of resource that has value for users and that may be created by the users. 3. Remix. Ensure a relation that creates a resource that may be remixed. Their convergence creates UGC. If you can provide resources that are cheap, deep (the value for its users, related perhaps to a geographical location), and speediness. But it can be hard to be cheap, deep and speedy; that’s the challenge.

The 4 Ps: Privacy (relationship), Property (remix), Public sphere obligations and responsibilities (resource), Push and pull (in the center of the triangle) of information. The push-pull presents the policy challenges.

[Posted without re-reading. Gotta run.]

[Tags: ]

Be the first to comment »

April 9, 2009

The future of the Boston Globe

The New York Times owns the Boston Globe and is asking the unions to come up with $20M in savings. According to a report on WBUR this morning, the Times isn’t even giving the unions enough time to go through their own legal processes for making such decisions. So, here are some possible outcomes:

The Globe folds.

The Globe is bought, presumably by someone with a drug problem.

The Globe becomes an insert in the New York Times. The insert covers not just local news but maintains some of the Globe’s identity, personality, and personalities. (Also, the comics.) If I were the NYT, I’d be running spreadsheets to see if folding the Globe into the NYT (quite literally) would increase local circulation and ads enough to make it worth the considerable operating expenses.

And, as an auxiliary idea, I wonder if people would be willing to pay for online access to the Globe if it did two things: 1. Continue to provide free access to individual articles, for we need to be able to link to them both to keep the Globe relevant and to grow our culture. 2. Enhance the current Globe site so that it has more of the unitary newspaper feel. That is, let us have more of a sense that we’re reading an object that has a start and a finish, so that we’re tempted to sit down with it once a day and go through it. Let us turn pages until we’re done. (Of course, the pages would be full of links.) Provide us with all the electronic reading tools we could ever want, but tempt us to treat it as a whole through which we take a walk every day. And charge us $100/ year for the privilege. Since we’d be able to get at any of the individual articles for free, the Globe would be charging us for the online equivalent of curling up with the paper in the morning.

I acknowledge that that may be the stupidest idea since unsliced bread, and perhaps it is merely an old fogey desire. But, heck, it’s not like I’m writing for a responsible newspaper!

[Tags: ]

2 Comments »

March 19, 2009

Transparency and noir journalism

David Eaves makes a crucial point in a post inspired by Clay Shirky‘s and Steven Johnson‘s recent brilliant postings about the future of journalism. Pardon me if I rephrase David’s point, and possibly shade it a little differently.

The mythic figure of the journalist is still that of the young Woodward and Bernstein. They are detectives in a noir world where everyone — and, most important, every institution — has a secret. The journalist is the lone truth teller, forcing the secrets out into the light. The institutions keep as much secret as they can because they have selfish interests to protect. The journalist, on the other hand, has no interests other than the truth. Thus he (and in the myth, the journalist is a man) is committed to and guided by objectivity: seeing things as they are, untainted by self-interest.

That’s a valuable myth so long as institutions are built on the assumption of secrecy. But imagine a world of perfect institutional transparency. If all is light, the noir journalist is a peeping tom at a nudist colony.

Now, we are not going to have a world of perfect transparency. But the defaults may be flipping from need-to-know to need-to-hide. Customers, clients and citizens already casually betray most of what institutions used to keep hidden, from the real-world mileage of cars to the spread of protests in totalitarian countries. Laws and norms are changing, bringing institutions to disclose more on their own.

Will this bring about a fundamental change in the practice of journalism? By itself, probably not. Much of traditional journalism already assumes transparency in business, government, and, yes, sports. Greater transparency will give current journalists more to report on. But there will always be people and institutions with dark secrets, so we will always need noir journalists.

But it’s certainly not yet settled what the new mythic journalist will be like or how we will support our old noir types.

[Tags: ]

6 Comments »

March 14, 2009

Shirky’s classic post on the fate of newspapers

This post by Clay Shirky will be at the center of future discussions about the newspaper revolution. It is itself a pivot point. And it’s beautifully written, with a pause-worthy insight in every paragraph.

[Tags: ]

4 Comments »

March 4, 2009

Three from the Boston Globe: Conflict, amusement, and maddening missing of the point

Part One

The big page two story of today’s Boston Globe is an article by Lori Montgomery of the Washington Post. It begins:

Two of the administration’s top economic officials defended President Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget plan yesterday, arguing that the proposal would finance a historic investment in critical economic priorities while restoring balance to a tax code tipped in favor of the wealthy.

The first nine paragraphs are about the fierce conflict. Only in paragraph ten do we get the most important news:

Despite those and a few other contentious issues, Obama’s budget request was generally well-received yesterday, as lawmakers took their first opportunity to comment on an agenda that many have described as the most ambitious and transformative since the dawn of the Reagan era. Democratic budget leaders said they are likely to endorse most of Obama’s proposals sometime in April in the form of a nonbinding budget resolution.

If it bleeds, it leads. Sigh.

 


Part Two

Because I generally disagree on policy with the Globe’s conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby, I try to give him the benefit of the doubt in his reasoning. But this morning, he’s driven me officially nuts. Well done, sir!

Jacoby devotes his column to the philosopher Peter Singer. First, he lauds Singer for “his commitment to charity.” But the bulk of the column is given over to Singer’s controversial — too mild a word — argument for permitting infanticide under careful legal conditions.

Actually, I’ve misspoken. Jacoby doesn’t mention Singer’s argument. He only gives the conclusion. Jacoby’s own conclusion is that Singer’s stance shows what happens “if morality is merely a matter of opinion and preference — if there is no overarching ethical code that supersedes any value system we can contrive for ourselves…”

In fact, Singer’s most objectionable conclusions come from rigorously applying standards of morality against opinion and preference. For example, if we say it’s our superior intelligence that gives us certain rights, then we should be willing to accord those rights to other creatures that turn out to have the same intelligence, even in preference to humans who lack that intelligence by accidents of birth or personal history. Or, as Singer says in the conclusion of the brief column in Foreign Policy that Jacoby cites:

…a new ethic will … recognize that the concept of a person is distinct from that of a member of the species Homo sapiens, and that it is personhood, not species membership, that is most significant in determining when it is wrong to end a life. We will understand that even if the life of a human organism begins at conception, the life of a person—that is, at a minimum, a being with some level of self-awareness—does not begin so early. And we will respect the right of autonomous, competent people to choose when to live and when to die.

There are lots of ways to argue with Singer’s conclusions. (I found him so convincing on animal rights in the 1970s that I’ve been a vegetarian ever since. I find him less convincing on infanticide.) But saying that Singer is merely expressing personal opinion is not to argue with him at all. In short, Jacoby is merely expressing his own opinions and preferences, and thus is guilty of exactly what he criticizes Singer for.

 


Part Three

The headline over the continuation of an article from the front page says:

Amid Maine’s extremes, teams of dogs and humans vie

It’s mildly disappointing to learn that the article is about dog sled racing in Maine, rather than about a dogs vs. humans sports event. [Tags: ]

4 Comments »

January 16, 2009

Ethanz: Are print ads crazy?

Ethan, in a long, careful, and superb speculative piece, wonders if newspapers have been propped up by the fact that advertisers couldn’t tell just how over-priced the ad space in newspapers has been:

Basically, there are two ways to explain the disparity in online and offline ad cost. One is to argue that paper ads are, for some combination of reasons, ten to a hundred times more effective than online ads. The other is to argue that advertisers are better at pricing online ads than offline ads.

So, if we lose the irrational pricing of offline ads, how are newspapers going to support expensive, investigative journalism? Or, as Ethan puts it.

What if the model that brought us Upton Sinclair and Woodward and Bernstein – impression advertising – can’t bring us into the future because it’s based on uneven distribution of information and bad math?

And Ethan’s answer is: We don’t know yet.

Great, provocative piece.

[Tags: ]

4 Comments »

December 18, 2008

Media Re:Public from Berkman

The Berkman Center’s Media Re:Public project assessing the state of the media (old school and citizen/participatory) is now out. (The papers are here.)

The report points to six issues, which I’m paraphrasing rather crudely:

1. Traditional media are scaling back their reporting because they’re going broke.

2. Their webby equivalents are not replacing all their functions.

3. Online news sources are not uniformly reliable, and not everyone knows that.

4. Not everyone is online anyway.

5. Some of the functions not being replaced online are really important, but we don’t yet have good business models for them.

6. We don’t have good data about what’s really going on.

This status report tries to bring some empiricism to the cheerleading (guilt as charged). It also pairs up nicely with a 2005 report about a Berkman conference that brought bloggers and mainstream journalists together for 1.5 days of frank discussions.

[Tags: ]

Be the first to comment »

December 6, 2008

NY Times evolves lungs and stubby legs

NYTimes.com has come a looong way.

At first, all the links on the site pointed to more of its own content, except for ads, as if the NYT was the only place ever worth reading. Then the NYT took a big step backwards with the Times Select program, locking its most valuable content behind a pay wall. But the Times saw that, although they were making money, they were losing influence. So, they came up with Times Topics as a place where we could point our links, enabling the NYT to climb up the Google rankings. And they unlocked their oldest archives, which is a great social boon.

And now they’ve started Times Extra: Articles on the NYTimes.com site now are suffixed with links out to other newspapers and blogs that talk about the same topic. So, at the end of an article on, say, Obama’s economic pledge, there may be a link to a Washington Post story, a post at Crooks and Liars, and maybe even a comment section.

Consider how unlikely such a thing would have seemed ten or even give years ago. Well done, NYT

[Tags: ]

7 Comments »

January 22, 2008

The NYTimesoverse

The New York Times has proclaimed Twitter a phenomenon in a piece redolent with all the smug, self-referential authority it can muster. Journalists are using it! One twittered something that made it into the NY Times! Twitter therefore matters!


Why is journalistic innovation happening last at the newspapers? [Tags: ]

3 Comments »

« Previous Page