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May 27, 2011, 10:30 a.m.

This Week in Review: Confounding censors with Twitter, and space for big and small media on the iPad

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

Censorship, the law, and Twitter: If we hadn’t already learned how social media are opening the traditional media’s gatekeeping role to the masses, we got a pretty good object lesson this week in Britain. Here’s what happened: To keep the British tabloids from digging into an alleged affair with a reality TV star, Manchester United soccer star Ryan Giggs took out a British court provision called a super-injunction that prohibits media from identifying him and reporting on both the story and the very fact that a super-injunction exists.

But the super-injunction was no match for Facebook, Twitter, and soccer forums, where thousands of people talked about Giggs and the affair in spite of (and because of) the order. Since then, a Scottish newspaper and a member of Parliament have both named Giggs, rendering the super-injunction essentially ineffective and causing quite a bit of handwringing over whether gag orders are a lost cause in the Twitter age, and whether or not that’s a good thing.

Giggs sued Twitter for the breach, and some members of Parliament started looking for ways to control the site. Prime Minister David Cameron said Twitter made Britain’s injunctions “unfair” and “unsustainable” for traditional media and urged Parliament to change them. Some people, including World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee and the Guardian’s Richard Hillgrove, said the problem lies with Twitter, not the law, with Hillgrove (rather absurdly) suggesting a delay mechanism to monitor posts before they go up: “Twitter and Facebook are not blank sheets of paper. They are media publishers like any other.”

Others faulted the law instead: At the Guardian, Dan Gillmor said it allows the wealthy to play by different rules, and the Telegraph’s Harry Mount said that thanks to the web, “a form of people power has been effectively absorbed into that new body of privacy law.” The Vancouver Sun’s Mario Canseco documented the failure of gag orders in the Internet age in Canada, and Mathew Ingram of GigaOM advised courts and governments to quit trying to enforce antiquated laws, saying they “may not like the implications of a totally distributed real-time information network, but they are going to have to start living with it sooner rather than later.”

Then, of course, there’s the question of whether the anonymous online super-injunction violators have any legal repercussions to worry about. As the New York Times noted, Twitter has been resistant to turning over its users’ identities in the past, though a Twitter official said this week it will hand over user info to the authorities if it’s legally required to. But even with Twitter’s compliance, there would still be hurdles to clear in identifying users, the Telegraph explained.

iPad channels for big and small media: Several big-media publications neared or hit iPad milestones this week: On stage at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, The Daily’s Greg Clayman said it’s nearing a million downloads since it was launched in January. Clayman wouldn’t say how many paid subscribers the News Corp. iPad-only publication has (a far more interesting figure in determining The Daily’s viability), but Adweek’s Lucia Moses said The Daily will announce its number of paid downloads — it only started charging in March — once it hits a “target level.”

Meanwhile, Wired and GQ were made available for in-app subscriptions through Apple App Store this week, after their owner, Condé Nast, became one of the first major publishers to strike a deal with Apple for in-app subscriptions earlier this month. Another major publication, Playboy, launched an iPad subscription outside the App Store, because it obviously has some difficulty complying with Apple’s “no nudity” policy.

Playboy’s app is essentially an iPad-optimized website, which might seem like a tempting option for publishers who don’t want to deal with Apple’s restrictions, but as Mashable and GigaOM explained, Playboy might be uniquely positioned to pull this off where others can’t. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram looked at those cases and weighed the pluses and minuses for publishers of getting into bed with Apple.

Of course, big publishers aren’t the only ones getting into the iPad game: At paidContent, Ashley Norris, CEO of a small publishing company that just released an iPad app, argued that indie publishers could play a key role in developing the tablet magazine. Flipboard is a pretty ideal model for those publishers: It’s valued at $200 million, and SiliconAngle’s Tom Foremski said it exemplifies the current en vogue tech-bubble business plan: “find free content and organize it into a useful interface.” That niche might not play as big of a part in the iPad market as we think, though: As Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman noted via ReadWriteWeb, news apps make up only 3% of all the apps in the App Store.

Driving more traffic from Facebook: Facebook has been working hard lately to cozy up to news organizations, and this week it provided some statistics that may have some of those organizations looking more closely at integrating Facebook into their sites. According to stats Search Engine Land got from Facebook (so grain of salt, etc.), the average media site integrated with Facebook has gotten a 300% jump in Facebook referral traffic, and ABC News, the Washington Post, and the Huffington Post have all reportedly doubled their traffic from Facebook since adding social plugins. Meanwhile, Fortune’s Peter Lauria talked to Facebook’s Vadim Lavrusik about the possibility of news orgs charging on Facebook using Facebook credits, like some Facebook games do now.

As it’s been known to do, Facebook played a big role in the aftermath of another natural disaster this week when a tornado hit Joplin, Missouri. The local newspaper, the Joplin Globe, told Poynter about how they set up a Facebook page to help people find family and friends in the tornado’s wake, and KOMU’s Jen Lee Reeves wrote about her station’s Facebook efforts at PBS MediaShift.

Elsewhere in social media and news, the New York Times experimented this week with a human-powered Twitter feed, as opposed to its usual mostly automatically driven style. The Times’ Liz Heron (and a couple of other newspaper social media editors) talked to Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman about their Twitter strategies, and Jessica Roy of 10,000 Words looked at how the experiment changed the Times’ Twitter feed. Heron also revealed the Times’ informal social media guidelines at the BBC’s Social Media Summit: “Use common sense and don’t be stupid.”

Reading roundup: Not a lot of big future-of-news stories this week, a several smaller things worth keeping an eye on:

— Google notified publishers late last week that it’s abandoning its project to scan and archive hundreds of years of old newspapers. The Atlantic’s Adam Clark Estes lamented the decision, and Paul Balcerak urged newspapers to pick up where Google left off.

— This week’s AOL/Huffington Post bits and pieces: Huffington Post Canada has been launched, AOL’s Daily Finance has been made over, and some HuffPo staff are reportedly leaving because they’re upset with how the AOL/HuffPo marriage has gone so far. Meanwhile, even though AOL’s content is free, CEO Tim Armstrong expressed his general belief in paid content online.

— Ben Huh of the Cheezburger network of comedy sites announced he’s working on what he’s calling the Moby Dick Project — an effort to reform the way news is presented and consumed online. ReadWriteWeb gave more details of the type of software he’s developing.

— A couple of addenda to last week’s linking discussion: Former Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Fry wrote about solving the workflow issue at newspapers, and at the Guardian, Dan Gillmor called out lazy linking — linking to a summary, rather than the original piece — in online aggregation.

— CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis made a case for news as conversation and the value of comments, and at 10,000 Words, Alex Schmidt wrote about the way poisonous online comments can affect reporters.

— Finally, Canadian media consultant Ken Goldstein issued a paper looking at decline circulation of newspapers in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. He included a possibly remarkably prescient 1964 quotation by media theorist Marshall McLuhan: “The classified ads (and stock-market quotations) are the bedrock of the press. Should an alternative source of easy access to such diverse daily information be found, the press will fold.”

POSTED     May 27, 2011, 10:30 a.m.
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