Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.
A heavyweight enters the tablet ring: Amazon became the latest company to jump into the tablet market this week, unveiling the Kindle Fire, a $199 tablet that will run on Google’s Android system. It’s a 7″ touch-screen tablet that’s essentially a knockoff of the BlackBerry Playbook — much smaller and, in the Fire’s case, much cheaper than Apple’s iPad. Amazon also revealed three new Kindle models ranging from $79 to $149, two of them touch-screen, as well as a new Kindle Fire-only web browser, Silk (more on that at the LA Times).
The two most comprehensive early looks at the Fire came from Wired’s Steven Levy and Bloomberg’s Brad Stone. Levy looked more at the device itself, describing it as a way for Amazon to spotlight its non-book media library and saying that the biggest challenge it presents is to Netflix. Stone looked more at the corporate strategy behind the Fire, noting that it “funnels users into Amazon’s meticulously constructed world of content, commerce, and cloud computing.” (Sounds like a certain other tablet we know.)
By the end of launch day, several tech sites like TechCrunch and ZDNet had already declared the Fire the winner of the hypercompetitive Android tablet market, and Ad Age said it would soon have tablet consumption taking off. The bigger question, then, was whether the Fire would present the first real threat to Apple’s iPad. The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal summed up the Fire’s challenge to the iPad — smaller, cheaper, and the first media experience as thoroughly integrated as Apple’s App Store. As the Atlantic’s Alesh Houdek put it, the Fire may do most everything tablet owners really want, only for a lot less than the iPad.
But ReadWriteWeb’s John Paul Titlow said the Fire can’t match up to the iPad, and the Guardian’s Dan Gillmor and paidContent’s Tom Krazit both said it’s not even directly competing with the iPad — it’s in a more utilitarian market, where the iPad is more about luxury. Mathew Ingram of GigaOM argued that to content producers, Amazon and Apple are going to look very similar: They both see their devices as ways to sell their own content, which puts them in competition with the content providers themselves.
The Fire also launched with a newsstand, with big magazine publishers Conde Nast, Hearst, and Meredith among the first to sign deals with Amazon, under similar terms to Apple’s 30-percent cut of revenue. (News Corp. also signed a deal to put Fox TV shows on the Fire.) The New York Observer’s Emily Witt noted that the Fire could be the mobile-content Apple competitor publishers have been looking for, and the Lab’s Martin Langeveld said the Fire will present a fresh disruption for content providers, furthering the growth of direct-to-consumer marketing and eliminating the need for third-party advertising. Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman posed several questions journalists should be asking about the Fire, looking at things like paid content, customer data, and app development.
Objections to ‘frictionless sharing’: Reactions continued to pour in about Facebook’s latest overhaul, announced late last week. Many of those concerns centered around the same theme: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s brave new world of ubiquitous, “frictionless” sharing. The New York Times’ Somini Sengupta and the LA Times’ Jessica Guynn gave us a picture of what this world might look like, and Slate’s Farhad Manjoo explained why sharing should still be a choice.
Needless to say, this brought up another round of complaints about privacy on Facebook: Tech pioneer Dave Winer said Facebook has crossed the privacy Rubicon by seeking out information about you to post to others, rather than just using information you’ve chosen to share. Entrepreneur Nik Cubrilovic pointed out that Facebook can track every page you visit even when you’re logged out. Jeff Sonderman of Poynter argued that this type of involuntary sharing should be a concern for every news organization that works with Facebook, and former New York Times developer Michael Donohoe said the Times refused to implement that kind of sharing via Facebook. There was one (non-Facebook) voice countering that the passive sharing isn’t that big of a deal: Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici.
A couple of deeper thoughts on the issue: The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal wrote on Facebook as “the Meaning Machine,” and media prof Mark Deuze argued that living our lives inside of a mediated environment (like Facebook encourages to) can actually help us to see ourselves as deeply connected to others, if we’re willing to let go of our self-absorption.
As I touched on a bit earlier, there’s also the question of what news organizations should do with Facebook: Gawker’s Ryan Tate explained why many media companies are so eager to be part of Facebook’s plans (huge audiences, huge amounts of data), and Facebook’s Vadim Lavrusik explained at the Lab and at the Online News Association conference how journalists can take advantage of these changes. But Jeff Sonderman was a bit more skeptical, urging news organizations to weigh the costs as well as the benefits, and Mathew Ingram of GigaOM said news orgs shouldn’t consider a Facebook app particularly innovative, as it’s still bound to someone else’s platform.
Finally, these changes probably aren’t good news for Google and its own network Google+, as Facebook begins collecting loads of valuable personal data that Google can’t touch, Mathew Ingram explained. Twitter does its own thing (real-time news) too well to be too worried, Ingram said, but The New York Times’ Nick Bilton wrote that Twitter isn’t user-friendly enough to be for everyone, as Facebook is.
Media trust and the new local news: The Pew Research Center released two surveys over the past week or so: The first was the latest in a regular series of looks at the American public’s views of the press, and results weren’t pretty. The press hit record lows in the public’s mind in terms of fairness, accuracy, bias, morality, professionalism, and impact on democracy. (Poynter has a good, quick summary.)
Reuters’ Jack Shafer noted that many of the poll respondents get most of their news from TV, which he said isn’t a particularly substantive media diet. “The media assessments of the TV-favoring Pew respondents are about as valuable as the restaurant advice of that guy who has eaten 25,000 Big Macs,” he wrote. One other nugget: Journalism professor Alfred Hermida pointed out that many people who use social media say they get the same news there as on traditional news.
The second study examined the platforms on which people get their local news. There were a few different takeaways from this one: The New York Times focused on the fact that a broad range of platforms have joined TV as predominant local news sources, while the LA Times and Poynter’s Rick Edmonds centered on the paradox that many people were very dependent on their local newspaper but still wouldn’t care much if it were gone.
O’Reilly Radar’s Alex Howard had a fine analysis of the study, using it as a jumping-off point for a piece on the Internet as the future of local news. Other notes from the data: Broadcasting & Cable looked at the areas where local TV did well, Poynter’s Julie Moos noticed that many people follow local news even when nothing big is going on, and paidContent focused on the role of mobile media in local news consumption.
More over-aggregation accusations: The business news site Business Insider announced some happy news late last week: that it had recently raised $7 million in funding. But that announcement prompted a wave of criticism about the ethics of their aggregation efforts. Reuters’ Ryan McCarthy laid out the basic accusation: Business Insider, he said, routinely lifts large chunks of stories from other outlets while only providing scant attribution or links. Others, like former Business Insider employee Ben Popper of BetaBeat, echoed the complaint. So did Instapaper founder Marco Arment, who noted how little traffic he gets from Business Insider republishing his stories.
Business Insider’s Henry Blodget responded twice to Arment, the second time in a massively long, detailed post essentially blaming the aggregation problems on some weird content management system glitches. Based on that post, Reuters’ Felix Salmon said Business Insider still falls on the wrong side of “over-aggregation,” drawing a distinction between human-edited and automatically driven aggregation pages.
Reading roundup: Other stuff to keep an eye on this week:
— Google launched Google News Standout, which allows news organizations to flag their top work. The Lab’s Megan Garber examined the way it rewards generosity, and Wired’s Tim Carmody looked at the increasing integration between Google News and Google+.
— This Week in Patch: Patch’s local site editors are reportedly being asked to drum up sales leads, and the Batavian’s Howard Owens said if you’re going to work that hard on local news, you might as well start your own site. Patch President Warren Webster pushed back against the criticism.
— The Financial Times said its web-based app has been a higher seller than the Apple App Store version, and ReadWriteWeb called it a big early victory for HTML5-based app developers in their battle against Apple.
— An update on News Corp.’s daily tablet publication, The Daily: It has about 120,000 weekly readers, well below Rupert Murdoch’s targets for it.
— Finally, a trio of super helpful/valuable posts for journalists: Journalism professor Paul Bradshaw wrote on what should make up journalists’ network infrastructure online, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s Jon Whiten gave a guide to making longform writing work online, and Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman urged news organizations to start building apps that solve problems.