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Nov. 4, 2011, 9 a.m.

This Week in Review: Good news for paywalls, and Yahoo joins the personalized news app parade

Plus: Julian Assange faces extradition, public radio continues to struggle with political opinions, and the rest of the week’s journalism and tech news.

Should we rethink online paywalls?: It may not be grabbing as many headlines as it was a year ago, but the paid-content train keeps rollin’ along, with two more newspapers jumping on board this week: Britain’s The Independent is launching a metered paywall for readers outside the U.K. (powered by the Press+ system), and the Minneapolis Star Tribune is launching a metered model similar to that of The New York Times — 20 free pageviews a month, after which the paywall kicks in. Print subscribers will have unlimited access, and the Strib estimates that it’ll eventually get $3 million to $4 million in annual revenue from the plan.

On another paywall front, the Lab’s Justin Ellis reported that Google, which has been working with publishers on paid content online for a while, has been quietly experimenting with a survey-as-paywall, in which visitors are asked to answer a survey question in order to gain access to the site.

This week’s quarterly circulation numbers included some positive news about The New York Times’ paywall, as Ken Doctor noted at the Lab last week: The New York Times’ Sunday home delivery circulation actually went up, for the first time in five years. Poynter’s Rick Edmonds pointed out that this quarter’s numbers are the result of a formula in flux, but the good signs have people like NPR’s David Folkenflik rethinking the value of online news paywalls.

Not everyone’s high on paywalls, of course: After initially being surprised by the high numbers of subscribers to Newsday’s online edition, Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici found that the number paying for it on its own is still under 1,000. And GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram said that despite its initial success, the Times’ paywall is still a stopgap strategy — “an attempt to create the kind of artificial information scarcity that newspapers used to enjoy. And if that is all that newspapers are trying to do, the future looks pretty bleak indeed.”

Yahoo’s new personalized news app: Yahoo jumped into the tablet world this week, announcing the launch of several products for the iPad, including the social TV app IntoNow and Livestand, a “personalized living magazine” (yup, another one). The obvious point of comparison is Flipboard, and opinions were varied as to how well Livestand compares to Flipboard. Mashable’s Ben Parr was pretty impressed, though he noted that Livestand and Flipboard are gathering their content in different ways — Flipboard through your social feeds, and Livestand through its content partners.

Others weren’t quite so wowed. Kara Swisher of All Things Digital said Livestand shouldn’t be anything new for Flipboard users, and Wired’s Tim Carmody saw the difference between Flipboard and Livestand that Parr mentioned as a fundamental error by Yahoo. Flipboard is built for readers, to allow them to distill the good stuff from their social and RSS feeds, he said. But “Yahoo’s Livestand only solves problems for publishers and advertisers: how to display content and advertising to readers without having to have everyone write their own code from scratch.” The Lab’s Ken Doctor gave several useful areas in which to evaluate Livestand and the coming tablet aggregator wars.

Advertising is a big part of what’s new with Livestand: With it, they also unveiled Living Ads, which is the latest attempt to create a magazine-like ad on the tablet, using HTML5. As Adweek noted, the ads take up a third of the screen and are interactive, with animation and video available. These ads are pretty expensive, but Yahoo’s Blake Irving told Business Insider they get advertisers away from the CPM model, which he believes hasn’t served advertisers well.

Is Assange a step closer to the U.S.?: A week after WikiLeaks announced that it would temporarily shut down to raise money, the whistleblowing website got some more bad news when a British high court ruled that WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, can be extradited to Sweden on charges of sexual assault, rejecting an appeal of a ruling made earlier this year. Assange can still appeal to Britain’s Supreme Court.

Assange has opposed the extradition to Sweden because he contends that the rulers of that country are aligned against him, but the specter of another extradition is also looming: As Paul Sawers of The Next Web noted, Assange and his supporters are concerned that a move to Sweden would make it much easier for him to be sent to the United States, where the Obama administration and members of Congress have discussed prosecuting him for releasing sensitive information through WikiLeaks. Forbes’ Andy Greenberg argued, however, that Assange would be more likely to be sent to the U.S. from Britain than from Sweden.

The Associated Press looked at whether WikiLeaks could survive Assange’s extradition — its answer: probably not — and Swedish columnist Karin Olsson wrote in the Guardian that Assange has lost all of his intriguing man-of-mystery status in her country. But Australian journalist Matt da Silva urged people not to let up in their support of Assange, praising him as a crusader against government’s efforts to manage and control the media.

Reconciling journalism and political views: What started a couple of weeks ago as yet another public radio conundrum regarding its employees and political opinions morphed into an interesting discussion about journalism and transparency. Two public radio employees, Lisa Simeone of Soundprint and Caitlin Curran of WYNC’s The Takeaway, were fired after taking part in Occupy Wall Street protests. Curran told her story at Gawker, and Brooke Gladstone, host of the NPR show On the Media, discussed NPR’s policy in a live chat.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf argued that WNYC was wrong to fire Curran, pointing out that several NPR reporters have made essentially the same point she did in her protest sign, and have been praised for it. He and the Guardian’s Dan Gillmor also made the case for doing away with the philosophy of viewlessness in the American press. As Gillmor put it, telling journalists they can’t even hint at what they believe “puts a barrier between them and their audiences — a serious problem given that news and journalism are evolving from a lecture into a conversation.” Though he wasn’t discussing the public radio firings, Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan did provide a counterargument, defending journalistic facelessness and an institutional writing style.

And as if on cue, former New York Sun editor Ira Stoll launched News Transparency, a site that lets people know about journalists’ backgrounds as a kind of imposed transparency from the outside, as Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman put it.

The Verge takes off: A new tech blog to watch: The sports blog network SB Nation launched a tech blog called The Verge this week, under the leadership of several former Engadget staffers. As part of the launch, SB Nation and The Verge will both fall under a new parent media called Vox Media. The site got some initial rave reviews over its updating story streams, something that SB Nation has been using for a while.

Business Insider has an interview with the folks behind the site, and the Lab’s Justin Ellis talked about where SB Nation/Vox will go from here. The Lab’s Joshua Benton also pulled three lessons for news orgs out of the site’s development, emphasizing bold, tablet-style design, structured data, and community.

Reading roundup: Tons of stuff going on this week. Here’s the TL;DR version of the rest:

— Google began giving journalists photos next to their stories in Google News — but only if they have a Google+ account. Alex Howard was OK with it, but Columbia’s Emily Bell wasn’t, calling it coercion and saying it only helped Google, not journalism.

— The St. Petersburg Times, the newspaper owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute, announced it will change its name to the Tampa Bay Times on Jan. 1, broadening its geographic focus. Poynter rounded up some of the reaction on social media and compared the decision to other recent newspaper name changes.

— Your weekly News Corp. phone hacking update: New documents released by a committee of Britain’s Parliament revealed that a company attorney warned of a culture of hacking back in 2008. Here’s the summary from News Corp.’s own Wall Street Journal and a blow-by-blow from the Guardian.

— As GigaOM’s Colleen Taylor reported, Twitter has quietly unveiled new Top News and Top People search functions. Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman looked at the effect it will have on publishers.

— Media analyst Frederic Filloux examined the sad state of web news design, and Amy Gahran of the Knight Digital Media Center said all the ugliness could help push users to the mobile web.

— The Guardian launched n0tice, their open community news platform. The Lab’s Megan Garber took a look at the new site, and The Next Web’s Martin Bryant examined it as a possible replacement for local newspapers.

— Finally, here’s hoping this inspiring Lab post by Jacob Harris will forever put an end to the insipid question, “Will X save journalism?”

Wall photo by Darwin Bell, Assange drawing by Robert Cadena, and faceless man by Pierangelo Rosati all used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Nov. 4, 2011, 9 a.m.
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