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Dec. 3, 2010, 10 a.m.

This Week in Review: Making sense of WikiLeaks, a Daily tablet paper, and Gawker leaves blogging behind

[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]

We’re covering two weeks instead of the usual one in this review, so there’s a ton to pack in here. I’ll try to zip through it a little more quickly than usual.

What to make of WikiLeaks: WikiLeaks made its third big document drop since this summer this week, releasing about 250,000 confidential diplomatic cables. Here’s coverage by The New York TimesThe GuardianDer Spiegel, and a roundup by The Columbia Journalism Review. Time talked to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange about the leak, and Forbes published an interview and long piece about Assange’s next target — corporate America.

As for the leak itself, The Guardian detailed the documents’ path from the alleged leaker, U.S. soldier Bradley Manning, to Assange, to a Guardian reporter. Yahoo’s Michael Calderone looked at The Times’ editorial process with the cables, including the revelation that they got them from The Guardian, not WikiLeaks. The Wall Street Journal and CNN both declined to sign agreements with WikiLeaks to see the documents in advance, and The Journal examined news orgs’ decisions on whether or not to publish. The Times explained its own publishing decision, then (quite eloquently) responded to readers’ objections.

The reaction against WikiLeaks was quicker and harsher than those following each of its last two leaks. Before the documents were released, its site was the victim of a denial of service attack, the U.S. and British governments issued pre-emptive condemnations, and senators called for WikiLeaks to be prosecuted. After the release, the Obama administration said it was indeed pursuing a criminal investigation, Interpol revealed it has put out a call for Assange’s arrest (ostensibly for his rape accusations), and Amazon booted WikiLeaks from its servers under pressure from U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman.

WikiLeaks’ actions left many journalists and media observers divided: An Economist blogger accused WikiLeaks of degenerating into gossip, and Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger called them enemies of the American people. Assange and WikiLeaks had their defenders, too: Slate’s Jack Shafer praised them for puncturing “the prerogative of secrecy,” and another Economist blogger made a similar argument. The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins noted that “the job of the media is not to protect power from embarrassment.” Meanwhile, Northeastern j-prof Dan Kennedy wrestled with the balance between transparency and secrecy.

Others’ primary concern was not value judgments, but classification. Is WikiLeaks espionage? Journalism? Radically open government? Or, as Lab contributor C.W. Anderson argued, is it a facilitator of real-time history documentation? NYU j-prof Jay Rosen hashed out his thoughts on WikiLeaks as a stateless news organization on video, concluding, “The watchdog press died, and what we have is WikiLeaks instead.” Paul Balcerak wondered why WikiLeaks gets so much more attention than the press’s own reporting.

If you really want to spend the weekend pondering the meaning of WikiLeaks, it’s best to start with two posts: Some incisive questions by Salon’s Dan Gillmor, and a brilliant post by Aaron Bady sifting through Assange’s own words to determine his motivations behind WikiLeaks’ radical transparency.

Rupert’s big tablet splash: We’ve heard bits and pieces about Rupert Murdoch’s planned tablet-based national news publication, but we got the first substantive report on the subject two weeks ago from Women’s Wear Daily. Among the key details: It’s going by The Daily, it has a staff of 100, it’ll cost 99 cents a week, and it’ll come out once a day. The New York Observer gave us some more information about the publication’s design (it’s text-first and will be published overnight, but apparently looks pretty cool). Other tidbits: John Gruber at Daring Fireball heard that it’ll pioneer a new app subscription API from Apple, and New York’s Gabriel Snyder said it will have a centrist editorial outlook.

The reasons why this project is getting so much pre-launch attention seem pretty readily evident: Murdoch, original tablet news org, iPad news subscriptions, you know the rest. As The Columbia Journalism Review noted, what’s new about this publication is that it won’t even have a website. The initial response from the media-watching world was predominantly negative, with skepticism coming from The New York Times’ David Carr, Gawker’s Ryan Tate, Scott Rosenberg, Sam Diaz of ZDNet, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, Fast Company’s Kit Eaton, The Guardian’s Emily Bell, and paidContent’s Andrew Wallenstein.

Many of those critics made similar points, so here’s a roundup of the main ones: 1) It’s trying to impose slow print-think onto the speed-oriented world of mobile media (this is Rosenberg’s main point); 2) The fact that it won’t have inbound or outbound links means it can’t share in the virality that makes news on the Web work; 3) The folks on board don’t exactly seem like the tech revolutionaries they might need to be (Wallenstein’s main point); and 4) How many people are actually going to pay for this, and can it really cover The Daily’s costs? (Carr’s main objection)

Several of those people also noted a few factors in Murdoch’s favor: Carr argued that people will be more likely to pay for news in an app world than on the web, and both Tate and Eaton noted that Apple’s Steve Jobs (who is reported to be tied to the project) is a pretty powerful guy with a history of success in ventures like these. We got a few good suggestions for Murdoch’s project, too: TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld said to make it local, real-time, and social; Frederic Filloux wanted it speedy, simple, beyond Apple, and with adjustable pricing; and at paidContent, Nic Newman wanted to see a mixture of free and paid content.

Designing apps for tablets and mobile media: Murdoch isn’t the only one with a big new tablet app to unveil: Yahoo’s Joe Pompeo summarized two others — mini-magazines called Nomad Editions and a new iPad magazine by Virgin called Project. Of those, Project, announced Tuesday, got a bit more attention. PaidContent had some details about its video cover and “living magazine” mindset, and All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka pointed out the magazine’s rather intimidating instruction page, though David Carr told NPR it’s still pretty magazine-like.

Also in the process of launching: Next Issue Media, a joint venture by several magazine magnates, will launch its digital newsstand early next year and gave some details to MediaWeek, and Swedish publisher Bonnier, whose Mag+ everyone loved, is expanding into News+. Meanwhile, the Financial Times’ iPad app is doing well, but The Guardian’s Dan Sabbagh remained skeptical that most newspapers’ iPad apps will be able to stand out among the sea of more enjoyable apps.

A couple more smart thoughts on mobile media: PaidContent founder Rafat Ali talked about designing for touchscreens, and Poynter’s Damon Kiesow argued that smartphones are fundamentally a mobile device, while the iPad is a leisure device, so their apps can’t be imposed onto each other: “To fully serve and engage an audience, an app needs to target one distinctive strength — either location or leisure — and make the content and experience fit that use.”

Gawker grows beyond the blog: In advance of its coming overhaul early next year, Gawker head Nick Denton wrote a manifesto explaining why the network of sites is going beyond the blog format (his post at the previous link is in the sites’ new design). Denton said he’s discovered the new formula for online media success: Not so much Gawker’s former trademark snarky meta-analysis, but a few huge juicy scoops accompanied by a steady stream of aggregation, all with a visual bent. He extended the model to include advertising and branding as well.

Reuters’ Felix Salmon responded with a meticulous analysis of Gawker’s new direction, noting that while Denton was the first person to make blogging into “a large-scale commercial venture,” he’s now aggressively dumping blogging’s defining reverse-chronological format. Ron Mwangaguhunga of eMedia Vitals compared Gawker’s new model with a TV business model, and Anil Dash said that while Gawker is still a blog, it’s borrowing Twitter’s design that emphasizes both content and the stream of news. “By allowing that flow to continue regardless of which particular piece of embedded content has caught your eye, Gawker and Twitter are just showing the vibrancy and resilience of the format.” Terry Heaton didn’t like the change, arguing that it’s a statement that Denton doesn’t trust his readers enough to find their way to the best material.

Why Twitter matters: Speaking of Twitter, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger offered a stirring defense of Twitter’s meaning for journalism as part of a lecture on the state of the Fourth Estate. His list of 15 reasons Twitter matters covers most everything: Reporting, conversation, aggregation, search, marketing, authority, writing. Likewise, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram argued that Twitter’s real cultural power “could well be that it is the simplest, the easiest and arguably one of the most efficient forms of mass publishing — or at least micro-publishing — ever invented.”

Later, Ingram took Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s apparently off-the-cuff statement that Twitter could develop a news network as an opportunity to think about how news orgs could filter Twitter into a usable crowdsourced newswire. And MediaBistro talked with Canada’s National Post to get a sense of how one major newspaper uses Twitter.

Business-model developments and discussion: A few notes on the ever-evolving paid-content front: At least two more news organizations are using the Press+ system of Steve Brill’s Journalism Online for their online revenue goals — ProPublica, which is using it to solicit donations online, and Oklahoma State’s Daily O’Collegian, which will charge outside-the-area readers. Over at The Guardian, Cory Doctorow examined The Times of London’s paywall numbers, and CrunchGear’s Devin Coldewey thought out loud about a possible online paid-content system.

Meanwhile, British journalist Kevin Anderson wrote a post arguing that value-added journalism has to be developed with specific revenue streams in mind. Howard Owens of The Batavian countered that would-be entrepreneurial journalists need to focus more on basic local events journalism than “adding value” or analytical journalism, and TBD’s Steve Buttry tried to bring the two perspectives together.

Reading roundup: Here’s what else you should see this week, in the quickest-hit form I can give it to you:

— A British court upheld a stipulation that news organizations can charge paid online news monitoring agencies for using their content. The Telegraph, TechCrunch Europe, and the Press Gazette explain why it’s bad news for aggregators.

— No less an authority than World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee joined the chorus of people extolling the value of data journalism during a panel. A somewhat related debate broke out when Mark Luckie opined on the myths about digital journalism skills. Journalist Andy Boyle disputed Luckie’s claims about what new-media skills journalists need (and don’t need) to know, and j-prof Mindy McAdams and journalist Brian Manzullo chimed in. Anthony DeBarros and Robert Hernandez turned the discussion toward data journalism, with Hernandez asserting that programming doesn’t replace the story. That got Michelle Minkoff kind of riled up.

— The New York Times ran an article looking at the ways technology is creating increased distractions for young people, which was met by smart rebuttals by Duke prof Cathy Davidson and the Lab’s own Megan Garber.

— Also at the Lab: USC prof Henry Jenkins on his concept of “spreadable” media.

— Mashable’s Vadim Lavrusik wrote a great roundup of what’s going on at the intersection of investigative journalism and social media.

— Finally, if you’re looking for a single document to answer the question, “How should newspapers adapt to this new media environment?” you can’t do much better than John Paton’s presentation on how he’s turned around the Journal Register Co. It’s brilliant.

POSTED     Dec. 3, 2010, 10 a.m.
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