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May 6, 2011, 10:30 a.m.

This Week in Review: Talking Bin Laden on Twitter, journos’ online freedom, and Apple gets a taker

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

Twitter as breaking-news system: This week’s big news is obvious: American forces killed Osama bin Laden on Monday (Sunday for most Westerners) in a raid of his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. But you already knew that, and how exactly you found out is the first angle I want to look at. The news blew up on Twitter and Facebook late Sunday night after the White House announced President Obama would be addressing the nation. The ensuing frenzy set a record for the highest volume of sustained activity on Twitter, with an average of 3,000 tweets per second for about three hours. While most Americans first got the news from TV, about a fifth of young people found out online.solis

That led to another round of celebration of Twitter as the emerging source for big breaking news — Business Insider’s Matt Rosoff called the story Twitter’s CNN moment and said Twitter was “faster, more accurate, and more entertaining than any other news source out there.” Brian Solis, a digital analyst at Altimeter Group, described Twitter as “a perfect beast for committing acts of journalism,” and University of British Columbia j-prof Alfred Hermida said it’s becoming routine to see Twitter as the first option for breaking news coverage.

Others pushed back against that praise: Advertising Age’s Simon Dumenco argued that everyone on Twitter was still waiting for confirmation from government officials and the mainstream media, and Dan Mitchell of SF Weekly said that most of the people tweeting the news were from traditional media anyway. The American Journalism Review’s Rem Rieder said the aide who broke the story on Twitter wasn’t doing journalism, but just passing on a rumor. And Engadget vet Joshua Topolsky said the Twitter buzz probably says more about our need to tell others we got to the news first than it does about Twitter.

Several folks staked out a spot between the two positions. TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld said Twitter doesn’t supplant traditional media, but it does amplify it and drive people to it. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram advised us to think about it not in terms of competition between old and new media, but as part of a news ecosystem: “it’s not really about Twitter or Facebook; it’s about the power of the network.” Elsewhere, media analyst Dan Gillmor compared this story to how the 9/11 news broke, GigaOM’s Stacey Higginbotham classified the seven stages of breaking news on Twitter, and Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan looked at the way Google responded to the story.

Three other mini-stories within the digital aspect of the Bin Laden story: First, regarding traditional media outlets’ online efforts, former Guardian digital chief Emily Bell wrote a fantastic piece about how live news coverage is the great challenge of our time for news orgs, the Online Journalism Review’s Robert Niles critiqued the performance of mobile news sites, and the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones ripped some news iPad apps for being slow with the story.

Second, there was plenty of discussion about the remarkable story of Pakistani programmer Sohaib Athar, who live-tweeted the raid without knowing it. Poynter’s Steve Myers went meta with the account of how we found out about him, revealing some interesting examples of how information travels through a network like Twitter. He then defended Athar as a citizen journalist.

And third, The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle explained how a quotation got misattributed to Martin Luther King Jr. and then went viral, and Frederic Lardinois of NewsGrange mused about the difficulty of social media corrections.

Osama and the Times’ pay wall: While we’ve been focusing on the digital media side of things so far, Bin Laden’s death was the type of massive story that traditional news organizations go into overdrive on, too. Poynter and the Columbia Journalism Review have great looks at how news orgs played the story in print and online, and we got some behind-the-scenes glimpses at how the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, CNN, and other mainstream journalists put together reports on such quick deadlines.

The Times made an interesting decision in the wake of the story not to lift its pay wall/gate/fence for news on Bin Laden’s death, even though it had previously expressed a willingness to allow free access for big stories. The Lab’s Megan Garber asked a number of questions about that issue — who makes that decision? and if this isn’t a huge story, what is? — and noted that the fact that it was the beginning of the month and many users’ meters had just been reset played into the decision.

Meanwhile, James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times criticized the cheerleading tone of TV news’ coverage, and Slate’s Jack Shafer called out some of the inaccuracies in news stories on Bin Laden’s death.

Giving reporters social media leeway: We saw a case study in contrasting newsroom social media policies, starting when Bloomberg’ guidelines were leaked to eMedia Vitals last week. It encouraged reporters to use Twitter, with several restrictions listed under one strong caveat: “Ask questions first. Tweet later.”

A couple of days later, John Paton of the Journal Register Co. posted his own company’s social media policy. It was blank — implying that the company doesn’t put any explicit restrictions on what or how employees can post. Techdirt’s Mike Masnick praised Paton’s philosophy: “These things are developing quickly, and for people to find out how to use these tools most efficiently and effectively, they need to feel free to experiment and do whatever needs to be done.”

That prompted GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram to give his own social media advice for journalists, telling them to talk to people, link, retweet, reply when spoken to, admit when they’re wrong and be human — but not too human. Michele McLellan of the Knight Digital Media Center, meanwhile, defined online engagement in terms of outreach, conversation, and collaboration.

Publishers begin to jump in with Apple: A couple of big media-on-iPad developments this week: Time Inc. reached a deal with Apple to allow magazine subscribers to get iPad apps for free, and Hearst became one of the first major publishers to agree to offer subscriptions within iPad (which means Apple’s getting that 30 percent cut), though Advertising Age’s Nat Ives wondered if Condé Nast will beat Hearst to the punch.

The British newspaper the Telegraph also launched an iPad edition, and the Guardian’s Stuart Dredge noted that both the Telegraph and Hearst are asking customers to share their personal data with them (Apple already gets customer data), and the Telegraph is giving an incentive to them to do so. Meanwhile, the company Yudu has launched some sort of service that will somehow allow publishers to evade Apple’s 30 percent in-app subscription cut and apparently got Apple’s approval. (As you can tell, details are sketchy at this point.)

Elsewhere in news on the iPad, News Corp. said it’s lost $10 million on The Daily this quarter, which has reportedly gotten 800,000 downloads. Former Marketwatch CEO Larry Kramer said The Daily is gradually getting better, though.

Pardon AOL’s dust: Arianna Huffington keeps on cleaning house at AOL, with a handful of new changes each week. This week: AOL News was folded into the Huffington Post, and Patch announced they’re launching Patch Latino sites in California and unveiled the hyperlocal blogging network for which it’s been recruiting volunteers for the past couple of weeks. Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici reported that AOL is continuing to pour millions of dollars into Patch and expects to lose money on the site this year. Even if Patch works journalistically, Mathew Ingram said, that doesn’t mean it’ll make any business sense.

The Next Web’s Alex Wilhelm warned of the homogenization threatened by the AOL content empire and NPR’s On the Media debated whether the Huffington Post is good for journalism. Amid the hand-wringing, Lauren Rabaino of 10,000 pointed out five good things Patch sites are doing, including transparency and accountability by editors.

Reading roundup: Believe it or not, people in media circles talked about things this week that didn’t have to do with Osama bin Laden, the iPad, or AOL. Here are a few of them:

— Marco Arment’s post last week about his successful experiments in charging for Instapaper turned into an interesting discussion about creating a freemium or “business class” for news. Here are takes from Frederic Filloux, Oliver Reichenstein, and Mathew Ingram.

— Another noteworthy conversation that sprung week: Scott Rosenberg, Dave Winer, and Amy Gahran on why journalists should be wary of Facebook — because eventually, as Rosenberg said, “it’s not the public sphere, not in the way the Internet itself is. It’s just a company.”

The Wall Street Journal became the latest news org to launch a platform modeled after the WikiLeaks anonymous leaking concept, with SafeHouse. The Atlantic has plenty of details, and Gawker noted a huge loophole in SafeHouse’s terms of service.

— Finally, two useful sets of tips: One from Poynter’s Julie Moos about news blogging from filling in for Jim Romenesko for a week, and the other from TBD’s Steve Buttry on possible revenue streams for newspapers.

POSTED     May 6, 2011, 10:30 a.m.
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