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Aug. 5, 2011, 10 a.m.

This Week in Review: Getting it right on Twitter, analytics and the newsroom, and AOL’s tablet daily

Plus the week’s required reading: the luxuries of print, a case for newspaper destabilization, and more.

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

How right do we need to be on Twitter?: It’s not particularly uncommon for false information to spread on Twitter under the guise of breaking news, and that’s what happened late last week, when several journalists spread the rumor that CNN’s Piers Morgan had been suspended from his show as part of the fallout from News Corp.’s phone hacking scandal. That turned out to be untrue. The misinformation, however, led to the most interesting discussion on Twitter and accuracy we’ve seen in a while.

It started with Reuters’ Felix Salmon, one of those who tweeted the Morgan rumor, defending the practice of quickly tweeting breaking news (false news, in some cases) and then quickly correcting it. “Twitter is more like a newsroom than a newspaper: it’s where you see news take shape. Rumors appear and die; stories come into focus; people talk about what’s true and what’s false,” he wrote. While news organizations’ official accounts should stick to confirmed reports, individual reporters should be able to tweet unconfirmed information, Salmon argued, as long as they attribute it properly and correct it quickly.

Several writers objected to this line of reasoning: Fishbowl NY’s Chris O’Shea said Salmon should be committed to tweeting true information because the fact that he’s seen as a credible news source is the reason people follow him on Twitter in the first place. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Dean Starkman countered that Twitter is much closer to publishing than a newsroom meeting: “The reason people feel a bit of embarrassment after making a mistake on Twitter is precisely because it’s so public.” And Rem Rieder of the American Journalism Review said Salmon’s strategy constitutes a reckless disregard for reporters’ individual brand and reputation.

Others were more sympathetic to Salmon’s point. Mathew Ingram of GigaOM pushed back against Rieder, arguing that news is a process, not just the publication of a finished product, and Twitter is part of that process. Salmon’s colleague at Reuters, Anthony DeRosa, who also tweeted the Morgan rumor, agreed with Salmon that Twitter is a newsroom, but vowed to be more careful to tweet verified information. The Journal Register Company’s Steve Buttry, meanwhile, said that the dichotomy between being first and being right is a false one for journalists — and that journalists should strive to be both.

A new tool for the new newsroom: Chartbeat, which does real-time analytics for websites, launched a news-oriented version of its tool, Newsbeat, last week. Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman put together a good overview of the service, which offers clients more detail about traffic trends and sources than Chartbeat does. In an interview with GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, Chartbeat’s Tony Haile answered the objection that this type of data will just lead to a “tyranny of the popular,” arguing that the service may instead show journalists how they’re underestimating their audiences, or how they can repackage news stories to make them more understandable to readers.

]The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal provided an example from his own experience, noting that Chartbeat has shown that a surprising number of offbeat long-form stories on TheAtlantic.com generate big traffic. Newsbeat, he said, could help the mass of news sources fighting for attention online find their individual sweet spots. “I love analytics because I owe them my ability to write weird stories on the Internet,” he said.

At Wired, Tim Carmody emphasized the real-time nature of the information Newsbeat tracks, noting that the need for that kind of information is growing as news organizations are increasingly editing and publishing in real time, too. Here at the Lab, Megan Garber was intrigued by the fact that Newsbeat offers individualized dashboards for each writer and editor’s content. The feature, she reasoned, demonstrates the increased encouragement of entrepreneurialism within the modern newsroom: “Increasingly, the gates of production are swinging open to journalists throughout, if not fully across, the newsroom. That’s a good thing. It’s also a big thing. And Newsbeat is reflecting it.”

A truly daily tablet publication: Seems almost every other week we have a new entry into the tablet news market; this week it’s AOL, which launched its daily tablet magazine, Editions, this week. All Things Digital and Poynter have good overviews of what the new publication is: Notably, it’s delivered to your tablet just once a day (at the time of your choosing), with a set ending page, and without any throughout-the-day updates. It’s big on personalization, tailoring news to each user a bit like Pandora, and it also includes some local news and, as Poynter noted, primarily aims to recreate the print experience (it has a fake mailing label, even!).

To the people behind Editions, its lack of updates and finite, print-like interface are assets: As one of them told The New York Times, “For a lot of people, [continual updating] becomes oppressive. This is not tapping you on the shoulder all the time.” But at TechCrunch (which is also owned by AOL), Erick Schonfeld was skeptical, asserting that if he feels like he’s getting day-old news on Editions, he’ll just stick to the web. “News apps need to be as current as the Web. Those are just table stakes,” he wrote. Mashable’s Lauren Indvik, on the other hand, was rather impressed, saying that the finite-ness of the magazine provides a nice contrast to the unruliness of the web.

The scandal goes stateside: A couple of updates on the News Corp. phone hacking scandal: The story is beginning to migrate across the Atlantic, as attention begins to shift toward several accusations of spying made years ago against News Corp. holdings in the United States. Nick Davies, the Guardian reporter who broke this story open earlier this summer, was reportedly in the States this week investigating News Corp.

At New York magazine, Frank Rich urged Americans to look more closely into Murdoch’s behavior here: “We’ve become so inured to Murdoch tactics over the years — and so many people in public life have been frightened, silenced, co-opted, or even seduced by them — that we have minimized his impact exactly the way his publicists hoped we would, downgrading News Corp. misbehavior merely to tabloid vulgarity and right-wing attack-dog politics.”

Two other notes: The News Corp.-owned Wall Street Journal is surveying subscribers about its image in light of the phone hacking scandal, and the American Journalism Review’s John Morton said that for all his faults, Rupert Murdoch’s heart is in newspapers, something he appreciates.

Reading roundup: Several things journalists and educators might find useful this week:

— Some smaller papers in the Lee Enterprises chain are going to be trying out metered-model online pay plans, which include a small charge for the website even for print subscribers. Poynter’s Rick Edmonds explained why. And at the Lab, Ken Doctor looked at how the economics of circulation and advertising are moving online.

— There are still a few places where print is still king — among the wealthy, for instance, as data from this Ad Age survey show.

— A few great how-to’s and suggestions: Journalism.co.uk’s SEO primer for journalists; Florida j-prof Mindy McAdams’ six proposals for journalism education; and a quick guide to data journalism from the Guardian.

— Finally, media analyst Alan Mutter made a strong case for why newspapers’ business model will never stabilize and urged them to begin “intelligently, and speedily, de-stabilizing their enterprises.” It’s a case that’s been made many times before, but one that probably needs to be heard again.

Twitter image by Andreas Eldh used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Aug. 5, 2011, 10 a.m.
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