Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.
The New York Post’s iPad block: News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch has developed a reputation for draconian policies toward paid content and the web, and he furthered that pattern this week when News Corp.’s New York Post blocked access to its website from the iPad’s Safari browser in an effort to sell more of its iPad apps. A subscription to the app runs $6.99 per month; access to the website would be free.
The reaction on the web was overwhelmingly negative: Tech pioneer Dave Winer accused the Post of “breaking the web,” paidContent’s Staci Kramer called it “one of the most poorly conceived paywall efforts I’ve come across,” and business journalist Adam Tinworth called the move “dictatorial.” As Kramer and Examiner.com’s Michael Santo noted, the Post left plenty of workarounds for users who don’t want to pay up, through alternative browsers like Skyfire. Kramer and Engadget’s Dana Wollman also suspected that Murdoch is attempting to recreate the Post as an app-based tabloid like his other major effort, The Daily. (Both are skeptical about the prospects of that plan.)
News Corp. does have some good news on the iPad front this week, though: The Post and The Daily are the two highest-grossing publishing apps on the iPad, ranking well ahead of the next-most-lucrative apps — two comic-book apps and Conde Nast’s New Yorker and Wired.
Poynter’s Regina McCombs talked to three other iPad app publishers — CNN, the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record, and Better Homes & Gardens — about how they put their apps together. And the Columbia Journalism Review’s Zachary Sniderman compared the iPad’s adoption process to that of print periodicals before it: The iPad’s sales, he said, “mirror a long trend of historical adoption rates and cultural attitudes: initial enthusiasm for a new platform, slow adoption, and then gradually increasing sales as the population gets habituated to using the new technology.”
A fresh round of news innovation: This week was a big one in news innovation, as the Knight Foundation (one of the Lab’s funders) announced the 16 winners of the last round of its five-year Knight News Challenge competition. The Lab’s Joshua Benton gave a good annotated roundup of the winning entries, which will get a total of $4.7 million: There are a few names many people will recognize, including former New York Times/ProPublica project DocumentCloud, the AP’s (and the Lab’s) Jonathan Stray, and the crisis text-mapping service Ushahidi.
I would expect profiles of several of the winning projects over the next week or so, and the Lab’s Justin Ellis provided the first with a look at the Chicago Tribune’s PANDA, which aims to help newsrooms analyze data more easily. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram noticed the data journalism theme running through the winning entries, and elsewhere, the Daily Dot’s Nicholas White opined on the importance of data in journalism.
Benton’s post also included a glance at what’s next for the News Challenge, as well as highlights of what has and hasn’t gone well over the News Challenge’s short history from a recently released internal review. Some of the main challenges: Underestimated difficulty of citizen journalism and news game projects, problems with accurate cost budgeting, and a slow timetable. Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman also looked back at some of the lessons learned from the News Challenge.
The Knight Foundation also announced a three-year, $3.76 million investment in MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media, which named Berkman Center researcher Ethan Zuckerman its new director. The Lab’s Andrew Phelps talked to Zuckerman about where the center is headed, and Zuckerman looked at his goals in a post of his own. Mathew Ingram wondered whether the center can help with the ongoing reinvention of local journalism.
Two legal wins for aggregators: Rulings were handed down this week in two cases that probably only media-law nerds have following, but both have big implications for online news aggregation and link journalism. In the first case, a federal court ruled that a financial site can publish analysts’ stock tips immediately, a blow to a legal principle called the “hot news doctrine” that protects certain facts (“hot news”) from being republished for a short period of time. (Here’s a great explainer of the case from last year.)
This was one of those rulings where everyone declares victory: The court actually upheld the validity of the hot news doctrine in the Internet/aggregation era, but said it didn’t apply in this case — the analysts are newsmakers and the website is the news breaker, the judge wrote. As Dealbook noted, the lawyer for Google and Twitter (who filed anti-hot news doctrine briefs) called it “a great decision for the free flow of information in the new media age,” while the pro-hot news AP called it “a victory for the news media and the public.” But as paidContent’s Joe Mullin argued, it looks as though this decision will ultimately weaken the hot news doctrine.
In the other case, the copyright enforcement firm Righthaven had its lawsuit on behalf of the Las Vegas Review-Journal dismissed. Righthaven had sued a message-board user for reposting a 19-paragraph Review-Journal editorial, but the judge ruled that the posting was protected under fair use because the editorial only contained five paragraphs of purely original opinions and because it was posted for noncommercial reasons.
A renewed debate over anonymity: There have been a handful of streams of discussion regarding anonymity online over the past few weeks that converged a bit this week, and I thought it might be helpful to summarize a couple of them briefly for you. Two weeks ago, a supposed lesbian blogger in Syria was unmasked as a middle-aged American grad student, prompting thoughtful responses from people like the Berkman Center’s Ethan Zuckerman and on the role of participatory media and the Guardian’s Dan Gillmor and the Berkman Center’s Jillian York on the continued need for anonymity.
And last week, a couple photographed kissing in the streets amid riots in Vancouver was identified online and making the mainstream-media rounds within days, prompting questions about the end of anonymity by writers like the New York Times’ Brian Stelter and Salon’s Drew Grant. Meanwhile, former NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard decried anonymous online commenting, calling it “faux democracy” and urging news organizations to require commenters to use their real names.
GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram drew on several of those developments to echo Gillmor’s and York’s defenses of anonymity, arguing that it’s been a key part of healthy democracy, allowing people to speak to the powerful without fear of reprisal. (The AP’s Jonathan Stray called it “the digital analog of right to free assembly.”) “We shouldn’t toss that kind of principle aside so lightly just because we want to cut down on irritating comments from readers, or stop the occasional blogger from pretending to be someone they are not,” Ingram wrote.
Reading roundup: Here’s what else happened at the intersection of journalism and technology this week:
— Outgoing New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, who’s done a fair amount of Twitter-tweaking over the past month or so, gave an interview to Reuters in which he said the idea that he’s opposed to social media is a misconception. But sociologist Zeynep Tufekci took issue with his idea that social media use leads to less time with “real-life” friends, and when Keller asked for evidence, she let him have it. The Knight Digital Media Center’s Amy Gahran also defended social media’s usefulness to journalists with some new Pew data.
— This Week in AOL: Two more former employees gave their own horror stories about working there — one a writer, the other from sales. AOL CEO Tim Armstrong also said he’s considering paid content as part of the company’s continued revamp, the Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum pondered the AOL Way and the journalistic “hamster wheel,” and Poynter’s Steve Myers said comparisons between the Huffington Post and the New York Times are unfounded.
— Finally, the interesting pieces on the FCC’s recent report on the future of local news continue to trickle out. Here’s a pointed analysis by the folks at Free Press and a two-part Columbia Journalism Review interview with the report’s lead writer, Steven Waldman.