Pole vault over the paywall?

25 01 2010

Turns out, there could well be a chink in the paywall of nytimesonline.com.

In fact, it may not be a wall at all, and may not address the  issue  of news aggregators linking to content generated by newspapers.

Of course, The Times wants to encourage links to its online content, perhaps particularly so once The Times asks us to pay for that content upon reaching a certain number of visits to its site. Naturally, those includes links from bloggers and on Facebook and Twitter and other social media. And if you follow such a link, it won’t count in your “metered” number of visits.

Q. What about posting articles to Facebook and other social media? Would friends without a subscription then not be able to view an article that I think is relevant for them? — Julie, Pinole CA
A. Yes, they could continue to view articles. If you are coming to NYTimes.com from another Web site and it brings you to our site to view an article, you will have access to that article and it will not count toward your allotment of free ones.
But as Jay Rosen points out,

Google News is surely “another Web site,” therefore all articles found that way will be free and accessible. … No matter how often Google News is used to get to the Times, if you come back by that route you will never be charged.

Which means that for those people who get their news from the web itself, using search, aggregators, social media and blogs to find the stuff they want, the stuff they find from the New York Times will always be available, free of charge.  That looks a lot less like a pay wall to me. It isn’t a metered system if I can access the Times via the link economy without limit.  This scrambles a lot of what’s been written on the subject.
This whole paid content issue gets more complicated the further one gets into it. That’s obviated by the fact that the big brains in the business have yet to solve it. But we’ve got to try something. If it turns out the NYT system fails to provide significant revenue for news gathering, let’s tinker some more. The decline of journalism is too urgent to cling to unproven hopes of an new model emerging or to stand on the sidelines naysaying all efforts to make the Fourth Estate viable again.




NYT appears close to move to paid content

18 01 2010

New York magazine reports that the decision is imminent. Unclear whether the Times would go with a metered model or a two-tiered scheme like the Wall Street Journal, in which some parts are free but others require a subscription. The Times tried and abandoned the latter course a few years ago, with its unsuccessful offer of paid “premium” content.

So what has changed? The timing now may have to do with technology, the magazine reports.

(Apple’s tablet computer is rumored to launch on January 27, and sources speculate that Sulzberger will strike a content partnership for the new device, which could dovetail with the paid strategy.)





Pew study: Traditional media still rules

12 01 2010

I find this unsurprising, and not good news for the old media. They may still rule, but the kingdom of news lies in tatters.

” … A new study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which takes a close look at the news ecosystem of one city, suggests that while the news landscape has rapidly expanded, most of what the public learns is still overwhelmingly driven by traditional media—particularly newspapers.

“The study, which examined all the outlets that produced local news in Baltimore, Md., for one week, surveyed their output and then did a closer examination of six major narratives during the week, finds that much of the “news” people receive contains no original reporting. Fully eight out of ten stories studied simply repeated or repackaged previously published information.

And of the stories that did contain new information nearly all, 95%, came from traditional media—most of them newspapers. These stories then tended to set the narrative agenda for most other media outlets.”

So what we define as news still comes largely from the same old outlets. Those outlets’ resources are vastly depleted. Hence, we learn far less than we once did.

News consumers starve but lose interest in this paltry gruel. They grow lethargic. So far, they have few sources for a more nutritious diet to energize them. Will a new supply come forward before the population dies off?





Kinsley: Verbosity killing newspapers

7 01 2010

I was on my way out of newspapers when “context” was on its way in. Don’t just tell readers what happened, tell them what it means. The original movement surely intended journalists to show how events would affect the readers’ everyday lives. But few journalists understood their readers enough to interpret the impact on those lives, and they soon perverted the concept to report on the only impact they really cared about: politics.

Thus, the principal impacts of healthcare reform are not take-home pay for wage earners, security for people changing jobs, or assurance for those with a history of illness (the dreaded “pre-existing condition”). No, in journalists’ minds, the major impacts are the 2010 elections and the daily or hourly approval ratings of the president and the major parties.

But as Michael Kinsley notes in the Atlantic, this trend also brought about newspaper prose that is more tortuous, bloviated, and overstated. News via the Internet, which already has many reader advantages, is cleaner, pithier, and more inviting.

But providing “context,” as it was known, has become an invitation to hype. In this case, it’s the lowest form of hype—it’s horse-race hype—which actually diminishes a story rather than enhancing it. Surely if this event is such a big, big deal—“sweeping” and “defining” its way into our awareness—then its effect on the next election is one of the less important things about it.

Most grievous, in my opinion, is campaign coverage that, rather than informing the electorate about candidates’ positions, their feasibility and practical implications, consists almost entirely of who’s up and who’s down starting years from election day. All media are guilty of this, but newspapers cannot make the claim that they lack the space for such coverage. They are devoting thousands of words to political horse-race speculation rather than exposition of what it all really means for our lives.

And over the years, the public has responded with a massive “Who cares!”

Thus the only people still reading newspapers are political junkies, and because those readers are the ones closest to reporters’ and editors’ social circles, the newspaper people can’t understand their withering circulation.





Finally, a meaningful interactive tool for local news sites

4 01 2010

The Manchester, CT, Journal Inquirer pilots a cool tool for reporting problems to local officials and holding them accountable for fixing them.

Public officials get to talk back. The tool can also be used with businesses, non-profits, and even private citizens.

AND, the use of the tool, called SeeClickFix, also is drawing more readers to the news site’s paid content.

Seems to me that the tool will require heavy monitoring to prevent abuse, and using it beyond issues that are the responsibility of local government raises some real liability concerns. But this appears t0 be something of a breakthrough toward realizing the promise of interactivity for real civic engagement — a significant advancement beyond the message boards, forums, and the usually inane comment sections trailing stories.





More freelancers, more ethics problems

3 01 2010

The New York Times’ public editor, Clark Hoyt, reports that the newspaper’s increasing use of freelancers has given it ethics headaches.

These cases illustrate how hard it is for The Times to ensure that freelancers, who contribute a substantial portion of the paper’s content, abide by ethics guidelines that editors believe are self-evident and essential to the paper’s credibility but that writers sometimes don’t think about, or don’t think apply to their circumstances, or believe are unfair or unrealistic.

Hoyt quotes Virginia Postrel, a former Times columnist, as saying:

[She] thinks the paper’s rules are unfair to writers and are themselves “borderline unethical.” The paper wants to treat freelancers like staffers without the same pay or benefits, and without paying for their research, Postrel said. She said The Times operates under “the false assumption” that companies pay fees to professors or authors to influence their writing rather than to learn from them.

But Postrel, on her own blog, says that’s not all she told Clark. She includes an e-mail she sent him, which states:

I strongly believe that the Times is using its market power to freeload on the human capital–including both personal reputations and the expensive process of learning things–of its freelancers, which is one reason it is so happy to have so many professors on board, (something that will end if you seriously start enforcing the prohibition against earning any money from anybody who might conceivably be a source for any theoretical future article). But, hey, you can always dig up some more 24 year olds.

It’s just another band on the newspapers’ death spiral. Loss of readership causes cost cutting, which causes quality problems, including ethical issues, which causes credibility problem, which causes more loss of readership ….





Thomas Frank: Political diversity won’t save newspapers

16 12 2009

Thomas Frank, author of “What’s the Matter with Kansas” and the Wall Street Journal’s one liberal columnist, challenges the Washington Post’s notion that adding more conservatives would stave off the newspaper’s rapid demise. He makes the case that the two biggest journalistic failures of recent years can hardly be blamed for lack of conservative ideology in the newsroom.

Craziest of all, though, is the prospect of the Post ditching its decades-long pursuit of the grail of objectivity . . . because it got scooped on the Acorn story. If that is all it takes to reduce the Washington Post’s vaunted editorial philosophy to ashes, what is the newspaper industry planning to do to atone for its far more consequential failures?

Remember, this disastrous decade saw two of them: First, the news media’s failure to look critically at the Bush administration’s rationale for the Iraq War; and then, the business press’s failure to understand the depth of the subprime mortgage problem and to anticipate its massive consequences.

… The problem, in each of these massive failures, wasn’t really ideological at all. The people who got it right, in both cases, were the ones willing to hold power accountable, to directly challenge the conventional wisdom.

What the Post seems to be after is the opposite: A form of journalism that offends nobody, that comes crawling to the powerful, that mirrors the partisan breakdown of the population as a whole. If that’s the future of journalism, we can be certain that ever more catastrophic failures await.





Miami Herald jangles online tin cup

15 12 2009

The Herald’ online edition appeals to the angels of our better nature, or our guilt.

Beginning Tuesday, The Miami Herald will accept voluntary contributions via its website. At the end of each online story, readers will find an option for making a contribution to support its news coverage delivered via the Internet.

I guess it’s worth a try. It doesn’t hurt to ask. It seems incongruous, though, for a for-profit organization to solicit gratuities.

H/T Matt Frederick





Editor & Publisher magazine goes under

10 12 2009

Sad, sad news. After 125 years as a watchdog of the newspaper industry, E&P is closing shop. Over the last decade, it has been an excellent chronicler of the death spiral of journalism as we once knew it. It has encouraged the transition to the Internet and criticized newspapers’ stodgy approach to it.

Most notably, E&P held newspapers accountable for their role in the run-up to the Iraq War, parroting the administration line without examination.

In a bad sign, five years ago E&P switched from weekly to monthly publication. Its own death now signals a final lap around the drain for the traditional media.

UPDATE: The Columbia Journalism Review has an interview with E&P editor Greg Mitchell here.

“We made a lot of friends and a lot of enemies, I suppose, because we really were an independent voice, and often a very critical voice. I don’t think there are too many trade publications that were as independent and critical as we are, and we made some people angry because of that. We were calling for more Web focus way before it was fashionable; we were critical of many moves the industry was making and not making, covering the warts of the industry, trying to push them to make changes—and at the same time, standing up for the First Amendment, standing up for ethics, standing up for reporters’ rights.”





God, I miss that …

4 12 2009

A Eulogy for Old-School Newsrooms