Joho the Blog » newspapers

September 10, 2013

Future of journalism

I’m at a Riptide forum at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the “digital disruption of the news.” The place is packed. Digital Riptide consists of 60 interviews. The panel discussion is with Tim Armstrong, AOL; Caroline Little, Newspaper Association of America; Arthur Sulzberger Jr., The New York Times. It’s moderated by Martin Nisenholtz.

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.

[I came in a few minutes late…]

Caroline Little: Audiences aren’t the problem. They’re growing. Revenue is the challenge.

Arthur Sulzberg: “We’re losing our first teeth and growing our new teeth. It’s painful. But what’s coming will be bigger” in reach and impact.

Q [Martin Nisenholtz]: Tim, you paid $315M for The Huffington Post. Jeff Bezos paid $250M for The Washington Post. Did Bezos get a better deal than you?

Tim Armstrong: No, Huffpo is worth more than people thought. It’s gone from 0 to 100M video views, for example. It’s got 100% digital DNA. I once owned a Boston newspaper, but saw Mosaic at MIT and knew I had to get out of that business. “I think I got a great deal with Huffpo and I think Jeff got a good deal on the WaPo, depending on what he does with it.”

Q: Caroline, you ran the WaPo digital division. Was it inevitable that they’d sell to Bezos or could they have done someting to change that future?

CL: It wasn’t inevitable. Now newspapers really have to understand their audiences. Taking it private will remove some pressure. The Grahams were trying to put the WaPo in the best possible place for the future, and that took courage.

Q: What is the nature of authority in a world where there are tens of thousands of verticalized publications on every conceivable topic?

AS: Authority is still about accuracy, breadth, calling out your own mistakes, and having experienced people on the ground, not parachuting them in. Few news organizations have bureaus around the world or even the country. The joy of the digital era is the speed and the reach, and the ability to take in points of view very quickly and bring them into a story line. It’s a remarkable opportunity. The downside is clear. Suddenly everyone is looking at the photo of the Boston bomber. Everyone knows it’s him. But it’s not. That kind of accuracy is critical. [I think AS thinks his characterization of authority bolsters the newspaper’s case, but I don’t think it does. I trust the specialized bloggers/sites on particular topics more than I trust the newspaper. E.g., I get far more in depth and more authoritative coverage of telecom policy from blogs and mailing lists than I do from the NYT. As for Reddit’s misidentification of the Boston bomber: Yes, it was a dreadful mistake. But it was done transparently in public and was immediately corrected. <cough>Judith Miller</cough>.]

Q: Tim, you were interviewed and spoke enthusiastically about Patch. Since then you’ve downsized it. What’s so hard about local journalism?

Tim: We rolled it out to 900 of the best GDP [I think] communities in the US. It was about the authoritative nature of local journalism. Patch’s expansion was rapid. This summer we realized there are 500 Patches that work, and 400 with traffic but we’re not part of that business model. Patch will continue to go one post-partnerships because there’s such an acute need for local info. We’ll probably do partnerships. AOL will own some, and traditional media companies will own some.

Caroline: 85% of all media coverage of stories starts with newspapers.

Q: There’s never been a large, truly international paper. What’s the model for going global with a US news brand?

AS: The International Herald Tribune is owned by the NYT. We’re re-branding it in October as the International NYT. This is just a step. We’re fixing things; e.g., we didn’t used to let you subscribe using Euro currency. But: I met with aa Chinese general. She began by talking in an angry way. We had just begun to charge for Web access, and every morning she’d go to the NYT site but it wouldn’t accept her credit card. We fixed it, but the point is that a Chinese general was going to the NYT site the first thing in the morning. What an opportunity!

Q: Young people don’t seem to be willing to pay for media on the Web. As they mature, will they be willing to pay to for a digital subscription to the NYT?

AS: More and more young people, and all people, are willing to pay for an experience they value on the Web. Thank you, Steve Jobs! But it’s not as if 14 yr olds were ever buying newspapers.

Q: Tim, you create some content, and you do deals to provide access to your audience. How do you decide what you’ll cover and what others will?

TA: Our theory is that people care about a limited amount of things. As they get older, they spend more time with things that matter. We want to be the most human-based company in terms of what people care about. E.g., we’re running TechCrunch Disrupt now. 3,000 people. Just about all the major figures in the tech space. This is an influencer space that we have a major major major amount of mindshare in. The second generation of our strategy is to build out massive content partnerships. And a giant B2B strategy; we service about 40K other publishers with video, ads and content-sharing. Our content theory: let’s invest in the most important areas of journalism and content, build B2B, and have relationships with people in the most important areas of their lives. HuffPo is an influencer. It’s a global info source. It’s a trusted brand. E.g., see our coverage of the selection of the new Pope.

Q&A

Q: Will reporters inevitably have less time to research a story?

AS: The pace has certainly picked up. But we’re still engaged in long form journalism. E.g., Snowfall.

TA: 30-40% of the traffic is on mobiles. Mobile adds consumption, typically about 30%. This changes how news works: If you don’t have a brand like the NYT, you’ll mix low appeal with high appeal

CL: Newsrooms are smaller, but they’d send 15 people to cover the Olympics. Do you really need that? Many newspapers now are investing in longer-form reporting.

Q: What makes global journalism work? The size of the city?

CL: Trust and authenticity. People still trust newspapers.

Q: What do you look for in journalists’ skills?

AS: We didn’t focus fast enough on hiring engineers to build systems and tools.

Q: TV broadcasters are using time efficiently. E.g., Netflix released an entire series at once. How are you experimenting with how to bundle and release investigative reporting?

AS: We’re always experimenting. E.g., We printed Snowfall as a full section, but the experience on the Web was so immensely powerful because of the video, the sound, etc.

TA: We look at how you disrupt readers’ behavior. I always say you can’t beat ESPN Sports Center by being 5% better. You have to be 75% better. Also you need distribution partnerships; that disrupts when your content is released.

Q: [couldn’t hear]

TA: If you look at how people use phones and tablets, the fact is that the average TV is 22 mins of content and 8 mins of commercial. When you watch how people use content, you’ll see trusted brands and faster content. [I had trouble hearing this.] People want to be told what they want to see. The future will be very curated and disruptively time-based.

Q: How do you view social media? Does the capacity to share overcome the limitations of 140 characters?

CL: I think Twitter is like a caption to a photograph. If it’s engaging, you’ll go find more about it.

AS: Twitter is a powerful tool, both in and out.

TA: Twitter is best known for short content, but they’re going to be changing that.

CL: Twitter is great for sources.

AS: This isn’t new. People said you can’t trust what people would say over a telephone wire. Telegrams were thought by some to be the death of newspapers. Twitter is a tool that we’re all getting better and better at using.

Q: From Twitter: How do you choose your political angle?

TA: We have a news chooser that lets you customize the news. HuffPo started more with a political angle. Now there are lots of forums set up for people with different political views. But we [AOL? HuffPo?] have our own voice.

AS: The Net is bringing us back to the written word. Radio, TV, telephone all took us away from that. We’re learning that using any single method will fail.

Q: Tim, you said “not just everyone can be a journalist.” How about bloggers who steal content?

TA: Anyone can be a journalist if they want to be. But consumers are smart. They know who’s stealing information and who isn’t. What you see happening in the blogging community are people taking advantage of situations to be disruptive to gain audience. I would not undercut the ability of people building blogs on specific topics disrupting newspapers.

Q: 5B people may be coming on line in the next decades. How does that change the target audience for online journalism?

The possibilities of our growth and the value of the quality of the info we can provide are immense.

TA: As the developing world comes online, they’ll come online with higher bandwidth.

1 Comment »

February 20, 2013

How many birds are killed by cats? How many people subscribe to the Boston Globe online?

How many birds do domestic cats in the United States kill every year? You win if your answer is within an order of magnitude in either direction. However, you don’t actually win anything.

The answer comes from the journal Nature Communications as reported here

To reveal the answer, select the black box. (This assumes you don’t have black set as your selection color.)

“We estimate that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals annually.”

And now for extra credit, within an order of magnitude, how many people subscribe to the online version of the Boston Globe? Hint: It costs $3.99/week. Hint: Greater Boston’s population is about 4M. Hint: This quarter, online subscriptions rose 8%. (The answer comes from an article at BizOnline.)

28,000

By the way, I occasionally like to acknowledge that the “order of magnitude puzzle” was invented by my famous friend Paul English.

10 Comments »

April 2, 2012

Times cuts down on free access

Why? Does the Times have research that shows that when someone is denied access to her eleventh NYT article, she’s going to cave in and buy a subscription for $195/year? Because my informal market research — I sat myself in an airless room, asked myself some questions, and rewarded myself with m&m’s — indicates that I will just get more annoyed at the NYTimes, and regret its insistence on losing its place in our culture.

PS: No, I don’t know how to save the newspaper industry.

3 Comments »

December 23, 2011

[2b2k] Is HuffPo killing the news?

Mathew Ingram has a provocative post at Gigaom defending HuffingtonPost and its ilk from the charge that they over-aggregate news to the point of thievery. I’m not completely convinced by Mathew’s argument, but that’s because I’m not completely convinced by any argument about this.

It’s a very confusing issue if you think of it from the point of view of who owns what. So, take the best of cases, in which HuffPo aggregates from several sources and attributes the reportage appropriately. It’s important to take a best case since we’ll all agree that if HuffPo lifts an article en toto without attribution, it’s simple plagiarism. But that doesn’t tell us if the best cases are also plagiarisms. To make it juicier, assume that in one of these best cases, HuffPo relies heavily on one particular source article. It’s still not a slam dunk case of theft because in this example HuffPo is doing what we teach every school child to do: If you use a source, attribute it.

But, HuffPo isn’t a schoolchild. It’s a business. It’s making money from those aggregations. Ok, but we are fine in general with people selling works that aggregate and attribute. Non-fiction publishing houses that routinely sell books that have lots of footnotes are not thieves. And, as Mathew points out, HuffPo (in its best cases) is adding value to the sources it aggregates.

But, HuffPo’s policy even in its best case can enable it to serve as a substitute for the newspapers it’s aggregating. It thus may be harming the sources its using.

And here we get to what I think is the most important question. If you think about the issue in terms of theft, you’re thrown into a moral morass where the metaphors don’t work reliably. Worse, you may well mix in legal considerations that are not only hard to apply, but that we may not want to apply given the new-ness (itself arguable) of the situation.

But, I find that I am somewhat less conflicted about this if I think about it terms of what direction we’d like to nudge our world. For example, when it comes to copyright I find it helpful to keep in mind that a world full of music and musicians is better than a world in which music is rationed. When it comes to news aggregation, many of us will agree that a world in which news is aggregated and linked widely through the ecosystem is better than one in which you—yes, you, since a rule against HuffPo aggregating sources wouldn’t apply just to HuffPo— have to refrain from citing a source for fear that you’ll cross some arbitrary limit. We are a healthier society if we are aggregating, re-aggregating, contextualizing, re-using, evaluating, and linking to as many sources as we want.

Now, beginning by thinking where we want the world to be —which, by the way, is what this country’s Founders did when they put copyright into the Constitution in the first place: “to promote the progress of science and useful arts”—is useful but limited, because to get the desired situation in which we can aggregate with abandon, we need the original journalistic sources to survive. If HuffPo and its ilk genuinely are substituting for newspapers economically, then it seems we can’t get to where we want without limiting the right to aggregate.

And that’s why I’m conflicted. I don’t believe that even if all rights to aggregate were removed (which no one is proposing), newspapers would bounce back. At this point, I’d guess that the Net generation is primarily interested in news mainly insofar as its woven together and woven into the larger fabric. Traditional reportage is becoming valued more as an ingredient than a finished product. It’s the aggregators—the HuffingtonPosts of the world, but also the millions of bloggers, tweeters and retweeters, Facebook likers and Google plus-ers, redditors and slashdotters, BoingBoings and Ars Technicas— who are spreading the news by adding value to it. News now only moves if we’re interested enough in it to pass it along. So, I don’t know how to solve journalism’s deep problems with its business models, but I can’t imagine that limiting the circulation of ideas will help, since in this case, the circulatory flow is what’s keeping the heart beating.

 


[A few minutes later] Mathew has also posted what reads like a companion piece, about how Amazon’s Kindle Singles are supporting journalism.

4 Comments »

February 10, 2011

[2b2k] Jay Rosen on Huffington’s path to somewhere

Jay Rosen wonders if there’s any room in AOL’s buyout of HuffingtonPost for “ideological innovation.” He suggests a four-part policy for AOL’s media:

1. Pluralism. Many points of view.

2. Transparency. All contributors explain where they are coming from.

3. “The view from somewhere.” Media sites will be upfront about their general stand point.

4. “Non-negotiables.” Accuracy, fairness, a fact-checking form for every article, etc.

It may look like #1 and #3 conflict. But, as I understand Jay’s point, pluralism applies to AOL, while having a standpoint would apply to sites like HuffPo and to individual topical sub-sites within HuffPo. (Note that pluralism is very different from balance.)

I like this a lot (surprise surprise!), but I wonder about the right level at which to apply the pluralism criterion. If AOL and other media conglomerates follow Jay’s advice, we will have a bunch of pluralistic hens, with one large, ferociously dedicated Fox in the henhouse.

In any case, I hope AOL listens to Jay. And I hope HuffPo stays ideologically committed, stops running the stupid gossip and pin-up articles, and gets off Obama’s back. But that’s just me.

2 Comments »

July 22, 2009

My PDF talk on facts ‘n’ transparency

Link. (The video embeds my slides, but (1) they get more and more out of order in this YouTube; they were in the right order when I actually presented them. 2. My font got lost somewhere in the translations, and so there’s a fair bit of mis-sizing, text overflows, etc.) (I posted about one of the ideas in the talk (transparency as the new objectivity) here.)

[Tags: ]

1 Comment »

July 5, 2009

News is a network

Jeff Jarvis has a terrific, provocative post about the narcissism of newspapers in which he discusses a number of myths. The discussion afterwards is also really inte)resting. Here’s the comment I posted there (with a minor edit or two, all of which can really be reduced to the title of this post:

Terrific post and discussion. Thanks, Jeff.

May I add one more, related, myth to your collection, Jeff? Here goes: That it’s possible to cover the day’s events.

This is just a different way of putting your formulation “One man’s [sic] noise is another man’s news.” But I think it’s worth calling out since the promise of sufficiency is a big part of traditional newspapers’ promise of value to us: “Read us once in the morning, and after going through our pages, you will know everything you need to know.” (Do radio stations still make the ridicule-worthy “Give us 8 minutes and we’ll give you the world?” claim.) Yeah, no newspaper would ever maintain that claim seriously if challenged — they know better than their readers (or at least they used to) what they’re leaving out — but it’s at the base of the idea that reading a paper is a civic duty. The paper doesn’t give us everything but it gives us enough that reading one every day makes us well-informed citizens.

The notion that newspapers give you your daily requirement of global news — which works out to wondering, along with Howard, if there is such a thing as “news” — seems to me to be as vulnerable as the old idea of objectivity. Like objectivity: (1) It’s presented as one of the basic reasons to read a newspaper; (2) it hides the fact that it’s based on cultural values; and (3) it doesn’t scale well in the age of the Net.

Ultimately, this myth is enabled – as so many of the myths of news and knowledge are — by paper. Take away the paper and the newspaper doesn’t become a paperless newspaper. It becomes a network. That’s what’s happening now, IMO. From object to network … and networks are far far harder to “monetize” (giving myself a yech here) than objects.

(By the way, this is what I was trying to ask in the question I horribly botched at PDF. Sigh.)

[Tags: ]

4 Comments »

June 12, 2009

Newsy is meta-newsy

Newsy, a project in collaboration with Univ. of Missouri’s Journalism School, pulls together a half-dozen media reports on a topic, stringing them together with their own reporter-at-a-desk commentary. The sources include mainstream news and less mainstream news. For example, here’s Newsy’s meta-coverage of China’s new Net blockage:

Newsy is a manual curation and production project. At least during this beta phase, it seems to be doing one or two a day, which means they may have more luck getting their stories embedded elsewhere than in drawing a regular crowd to their own site. In fact, the site has announced a syndication deal with Mediacom to provide stories for mid-Missouri cable tv subscribers. (The project is also probably a Fair Use lawsuit magnet, unfortunately.)

[Tags: ]

Comments Off on Newsy is meta-newsy

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: ]

Comments Off on [ugc3] Final panel

Next Page »