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Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

This Week in Review: iPad news apps emerge, plagiarism on the web, and a first for citizen journalism

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

Building news apps for the iPad: The buzz from the tech crowd about Apple’s iPad has died down, but the iPad is beginning to get more interesting for the journalism world. That’s because we’re starting to see news organizations unveil their iPad or iPad-like apps: Wired showed off a tablet app — being developed with Adobe, which is having its own issues with the iPad — this week. And as this Advertising Age article points out, we’ve already seen what will likely end up being iPad apps for magazines like GQ, Esquire and Sports Illustrated (in the form of iPhone apps, in the former two cases).

We saw The New York Times’ iPad app, of course, at the iPad’s introduction last month. But this week, Gawker reported rumors of a battle within the Times over the app’s control and price: The print folks see it as another way to distribute the paper and want to charge up to $30 a month, while the digital side wants to price it at $10 a month. (Gawker also explained how this all relates to the Times Reader.) Color Apple-watcher John Gruber and former Salon editor Scott Rosenberg unimpressed.

The Lab has two thought-provoking posts on different aspects of the iPad: First, John-Henry Barac, who designed the iPhone app for The Guardian, has some fascinating thoughts about news design for the iPad. He sees the element of touch as being particularly important, describing it as a more focused, physically direct means of obtaining information. “I think you don’t want it to feel just like a great big PDF that you’re dragging around,” Barac says.

Second, former newspaper publisher Martin Langeveld examines the business impact of the iPad on publishers, concluding that the iPad will “bring an enormous increase in online shopping.” He has several practical tips for publishers on building strategies for the iPad era, focusing on creating new types of content for mobile devices and personalizing advertising to create new mobile-based revenue streams. As Ken Doctor put it, “The tablet is not a repurposing platform, to regain the old business. It’s a great, new opportunity to reinvent the business.”

Google backtracks on Buzz: Much of the talk online this week was once again about Buzz, Google’s new real-time social media platform. Since that talk didn’t have much to do with journalism, I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on it, but here’s the light-speed wrap-up to keep you up to speed: Buzz came out last week with a lot of problems — it was called awkward, confusing and, most commonly, an invasion of privacy.

Google quickly announced some changes based on that negative reaction, and acknowledged that it probably wasn’t tested enough before being released “in the wild.” Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, downplayed the privacy issue, saying Buzz had harmed no one. If you want the details, Silicon Alley Insider has a quick timeline of Google’s various responses.

One thoughtful take I want to highlight, particularly for those interested in theory: Software engineer Kevin Marks compares the theoretical structure of Buzz to that of Twitter, noting in particular that Buzz can’t match the subtle effectiveness of Twitter’s “overlapping publics,” thereby leaving Buzz conversations dominated by people we don’t necessarily want to hear.

Plagiarism’s online migration: For the second straight week, we saw a primarily web-based journalist resign after being caught plagiarizing: New York Times DealBook reporter Zachery Kouwe had plagiarized from The Wall Street Journal and Reuters and resigned after an internal investigation, a week after Daily Beast investigative reporter Gerald Posner’s plagiarism of the Miami Herald was uncovered.

I mention this not because two back-to-back cases of plagiarism are necessarily related to the future of journalism per se, but because a worthwhile conversation about ethics and plagiarism in the Internet journalism era has sprung up around Posner’s and Kouwe’s responses. Posner in particular blamed “the warp speed of the net,” and Kouwe referred to the speed with which he felt compelled to blog for the Times in his rationale.

The Columbia Journalism Review sees in all this the danger of increasing news productivity demands, not just in ethical lapses but in the lack of quality — “what’s not getting out because it doesn’t pass the time/productivity stress test.” After Posner’s resignation last week, True/Slant’s Michael Roston noted that you’ll seldom see plagiarizing bloggers because they “don’t need to” — the ethic of the link that reigns in the blogosphere makes it easy for bloggers to make points by openly building off of others’ work while giving appropriate credit. Finally, Poynter’s Kelly McBride offered some web-oriented tips for writers and editors on avoiding plagiarism.

A win for citizen journalism: We saw what may be a first in the journalism-prize world this week with the prestigious George Polk Awards, when the award in a new category, videography, went to an anonymously produced video of the death of a young Iranian woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, during protests last summer. The video went viral on the web, getting millions of views and helping spark worldwide support for the Iranian resistance movement.

Polk Awards curator John Darnton considered it a statement on the power of citizen journalism: “This award celebrates the fact that, in today’s world, a brave bystander with a cellphone camera can use video-sharing and social networking sites to deliver news,” he told The New York Times. NPR’s David Folkenflik still gave credit to professional journalists for verifying, curating and sifting through video like this and establishing its newsworthiness.

Former Wall Street Journal online reporter Jason Fry compared the Neda video to two other famous new videos shot by “ordinary citizens” — the Zapruder film and Rodney King video. The biggest difference in what the Neda videographer did, Fry argues, was not so much in the video’s shooting, but in its distribution: Both Zapruder and George Holliday needed gatekeepers to disseminate their videos, but Neda’s videographer needed none. That difference is a radical one, Fry says — it “changes not just how news is found and made, but how it is shared and therefore defined.”

Google opens Living Stories to the masses: Another quiet development that could prove big in the long run: Google News opened up the code to its Living Stories format to anyone on the web. The project was launched in December with The New York Times and The Washington Post, but this move will allow any news organization to incorporate Living Stories into its site.

Living Stories allows readers to follow a large story with lots of developments in one place, sort of like a “personalized RSS feed reader, but customized to pay attention to just that one story,” as ReadWriteWeb put it. We’ve been seeing calls, particularly in the last several months, for news organizations to make these “explainers” central to the way they communicate news, and this could be a key tool in making those types of pieces more accessible to news orgs everywhere. At O’Reilly Radar, Mac Slocum urges news sites’ developers to start incorporating Living Stories immediately.

Reading roundup: I’ve got four pieces that are well worth your time this week. First, in a lecture at USC, Columbia professor Michael Schudson offered a thorough historical case that journalism in many areas is getting better, not worse. This is not naive, Pollyanna-ish optimism; this is a sensible, studied survey of why the future of journalism is fundamentally a hopeful one.

Second, a French journalism site proposed a vision for a “Google newsroom” — a newsroom divided into halves focusing on creation and curation of journalism. It’s a great starting point for discussion about what the newsroom of the future should look like.

Third, speaking of curation, this Robin Good post has a pretty comprehensive look at what it looks like in journalism — Good calls curating journalists “newsmasters.” The post is a little unwieldy, but it offers a good overview of what news curation is all about.

Finally, Time foreign correspondent Jeff Israely gives 11 valuable lessons from a year working on an in-progress news startup in a post here at the Lab. It’s a must-read for anyone thinking about going into a new journalism venture — which, these days, might include a lot of ex-print journalists.

                                   
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Joseph Lichterman    July 22, 2014
The site known for social media and tech coverage has hired nearly 30 more editorial staffers since October and, like BuzzFeed before it, is expanding into more general interest news.