“Locally-grown” news gets a boost

It’s easy to spend a lot of time focusing on what’s wrong with the way newspapers and other media outlets are dealing with the Web, because let’s face it, there’s plenty of material (a great recent post along those lines is this one from Lectroid.net). But I think it’s worth noting some of the positive things that are going on, and some of the interesting experiments in doing things differently. One that I came across recently is Georgia-based journalism professor Leonard Witt’s “representative journalism” or RepJ project. I found out about it because Witt just recently received a grant of $1.5-million from the Harnisch Foundation to set up a Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University. In his description of Representative Journalism, Witt says:

As mass journalism markets unbundle and become niche markets, news operations, if they are to survive, will have to join the niche movement rather than fight it. Rather than think in terms of a circulation of, let’s say, 100,000, they should think in terms of 100 niche markets of 1,000 each and form membership communities around those niches.

The centerpiece for each membership community will be the news and information tailored to each community’s needs, with a reporter and editing support devoted specifically to each community of 1,000. Online social networking, interactivity, face-to-face events will all be used to build group cohesion.

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab)

meshU rock stars, and a 4th mesh keynote

Last year, we launched a new mesh event called meshU — a one-day series of speakers and workshops for developers, designers, project managers and anyone who builds online properties (or wants to) — and we got a great response to it from the Web community. We’re doing it again this year, and we think we’ve got a fantastic lineup of speakers, including some real rock stars in the design, development and project management areas. So if that kind of thing is up your alley, you should probably drop what you’re doing and go register now (and while you’re at it, check out the great new website for meshU designed by the amazing and talented Jeff Sarmiento). meshU is April 6th at the MaRS Centre.

Here are some of the highlights:

Ryan Singer of 37signals on Value Judgments in Interface Design

Bruce Philp of GWP Brand Engineering on Ten Keys to a Branded User Experience

Chris Wanstrath of Github on Building a Business With Open Source

Ilya Grigorik of AideRSS on Event-Driven Architectures

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Paying for the news: A link-a-thon

If you’re not interested in the debate over micropayments and whether that will help save the newspaper industry, you’re probably not going to be interested in this post. If you are interested — as I am — you can find plenty of food for discussion in the links that follow. As more than one person has pointed out (including Clay Shirky), this isn’t really a new debate, but it has taken on an increasing urgency. My own view is that micropayments are not the solution, and that newspapers have to try harder to create value around their content, rather than trying to get people to pay for the news. But I am trying my best to keep an open mind (Note: newer links are at the bottom).

— Stephen Brill’s plan to save the New York Times with micropayments:
http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=45&aid=158210

— Walter Isaacson writes in Time about a payment scheme for news
http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1877191,00.html

— David Carr of the NYT proposes (or wishes for) an “iTunes for news”

— a response to the “iTunes for news” idea:
http://www.thebigmoney.com/articles/impressions/2009/02/09/micro-economics

— Clay Shirky on why micropayment schemes don’t work
http://www.shirky.com/writings/fame_vs_fortune.html

— a more recent, and better, update from Shirky:
http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/02/why-small-payments-wont-save-publishers/

Continue reading “Paying for the news: A link-a-thon”

The NYT and “real-time news”

On Saturday, the “public editor” of the New York Times, Clark Hoyt, published a long discussion of a story the newspaper had recently reported, and how problematic it was for the Times, and titled his column “Reporting in Real Time.” The original story was about how New York Governor David Paterson had decided not to appoint Caroline Kennedy (who later withdrew from the race) to the Senate because of concerns about a tax issue and an incident involving a nanny with an expired visa. But as the story evolved, it appeared that the Times had been played by an anonymous source within the Governor’s office who wanted to slam Kennedy (as described in this NYT followup).

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The NYT API: Newspaper as platform

There’s been a lot of chatter about the newspaper industry in recent weeks — about whether newspaper companies should find something like iTunes, or use micropayments as a way to charge people for the news, or sue Google, or all of the above — and how journalism is at risk because newspapers are dying. But there’s been very little discussion about something that has the potential to fundamentally change the way that newspapers function (or at least one newspaper in particular), and that is the release of the New York Times’ open API for news stories. The Times has talked about this project since last year sometime, and it has finally happened; as developer Derek Gottfrid describes on the Open blog, programmers and developers can now easily access 2.8 million news articles going back to 1981 (although they are only free back to 1987) and sort them based on 28 different tags, keywords and fields.

It’s possible that this kind of thing escapes the notice of traditional journalists because it involves programming, and terms like API (which stands for “application programming interface”), and is therefore not really journalism-related or even media-related, and can be understood only by nerds and geeks. But if there’s one thing that people like Adrian Holovaty (lead developer of Django and founder of Everyblock) have shown us, it is that broadly speaking, content — including the news — is just data, and if it is properly parsed and indexed it can become something quite incredible: a kind of proto-journalism, that can be formed and shaped in dozens or even hundreds of different ways.

(read the rest of this post at GigaOm)

Please pay us for our news — please?

As the financial pressures on newspapers continue to increase, the chorus of voices calling out for a new kind of payment scheme grow louder and louder. Some, like New York Times writer David Carr, have argued that newspapers should be able to concoct some form of “iTunes for news” that would allow them to pool their resources and charge users for their content (provided they get a waiver from the anti-trust authorities, of course). Others — including Carr’s boss Bill Keller, in a recent interview — have mused aloud about whether they couldn’t just re-erect the old pay wall and convince some people to pay for the news that way.

The latest voices to add themselves to this chorus are Stu Bykofsky of the Philadelphia Daily News and veteran journalist and author Walter Isaacson, writing in Time magazine. Bykofsky wrote a piece that managed to hit pretty much every highlight (or lowlight) of the crotchety old newspaperman genre: bloggers can’t replace journalists, every other outlet copies the news from newspapers, and if it wasn’t for the darn Internet we would all be a lot better off. Isaacson is less crotchety, but still thinks that advertising isn’t a suitable business model (even though it has been the driving force behind the newspaper business for half a century or so) He and Bykofsky both think maybe micro-payments are the way to go (and the latter recommends a few lawsuits aimed at Google, just for good measure).

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Google is not your sugar daddy

Variations on the “Google should pay me for X” theme have been around for some time now, and the precipitous decline of content-related industries — among them book publishing, newspaper printing and music distribution, to name just a few — has only accelerated the number and frequency of these complaints. Everyone from the World Association of Newspapers to the American Authors Association seems convinced that the Internet owes them a living, and that Google (being synonymous with the Internet the way it is for so many) is the best one to settle the bill, especially since it has billions of dollars just lying around, like Scrooge McDuck. Let’s call this the “Google as sugar daddy” argument.

But why should Google pay? The main reason seems to be: Because it can. Any additional rationale comes off as an afterthought, and one that in most cases, doesn’t hold water.

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Newspaper cutbacks: The good news?

At the risk of being burned at the stake by my fellow journalists, I wanted to pass along a thought that occurred to me recently about the wave of layoffs and mass firings that has been rolling through newsrooms across North America — namely, what if this is actually a good thing? Please, hear me out before you arrive at my doorstep with pitchforks and torches.

In order to agree with me, you would have to admit that there are a lot of newspapers (and I know of many personally) that haven’t been moving quite as quickly as they might towards an online future. To a large extent, these papers have been insulated from the need to change by a healthy cash balance, a lock on local advertising markets, a magnanimous owner, a sense of entitlement, etc. (feel free to pick more than one).

What better way to force some change than by administering a large but hopefully non-lethal shock to the system?

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab)