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March 20, 2012, 7:30 a.m.
LINK: www.nytimes.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   March 20, 2012

Quentin Hardy has a good story in The New York Times about how Google Maps’ new fees for heavy users (previously covered here) are pushing some sites toward other, often open-source solutions.

The story doesn’t get into the news organization angle (news orgs love maps), but ProPublica released SimpleTiles, its mapping library, last month. And Andy Hull at the New America Foundation detailed the stack of technologies they use to build maps for Slate.

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LINK: www.indystar.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   March 31, 2015

Indiana’s passed a bill that many say allows state-sanctioned discrimination by businesses against gays and lesbians, and it’s led to a huge backlash. The state’s dominant paper, The Indianapolis Star wanted to take a strong stand on the matter, so it pulled out perhaps the biggest weapon a newspaper has — a front-page editorial:

The move worked, getting the Star’s position a huge amount of attention — many times more than a standard editorial would have. (I must have seen that image of today’s front page at least 30 times in my Twitter stream last night; the editorial has been shared on Facebook more than 18,000 times.)

If you’re going to do a blowout presentation in print, you’d want to do the same online, right? After all, a huge part of the discussion around the subject is happening far outside the Star’s print circulation area. Not really:

The blow-out print presentation got slotted into a standard Gannett-made template. That included a hard-to-read headline on mobile, with Gannett-standard cluttered presentation and location-seeking modal:

As the @MayorEmanuel-creating Dan Sinker put it:

The followup discussion to that tweet includes some back and forth about some flexibility in the Gannett CMS that the Star apparently didn’t take advantage of.

Still, it’s remarkable that, in 2015, a story that got so much thought and attention for print apparently didn’t get much for online.

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LINK: nieman.harvard.edu  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   March 25, 2015

I’m very happy to pass along a bit of Nieman news: The Knight Foundation has awarded a grant of $223,000 to the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard (of which this website is a part) to support the Knight Visiting Nieman Fellowships, which bring journalists, technologists, academics and other news innovators to campus to work on projects that can advance the field. Here’s a brief piece by Nieman Foundation curator Ann Marie Lipinski outlining the thinking behind the program.

(If you’re a regular Nieman Lab reader, you may remember Jack Riley’s piece earlier this month that looked in depth at the potential of the Apple Watch and other smartwatches for news. Jack did that research and wrote that piece during his time as a visiting fellow in February. The same is true of Amy Webb’s piece on rethinking journalism education in the new issue of Nieman Reports.)

This funding will support a minimum of five Knight Visiting Nieman Fellows a year, who will work on their projects here for terms no longer than 12 weeks. If you’ve got an idea for a project, I’d encourage you to apply — applications for the next cycle will open up this summer.

The full press release is below. Knight has also been a funder of other projects here, including Nieman Lab, which is why you see our regular disclosure noting the funding relationship whenever we write about Knight’s activities, which touch many, many corners of the journalism innovation world.

Knight Visiting Nieman Fellowships: New program at Harvard University will advance journalism innovation

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — March 25, 2015 — To help news innovators advance quality journalism by incorporating new practices and technology into their work, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced $223,000 in support to the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard for a new program, the Knight Visiting Nieman Fellowships.

The program will bring journalists, technologists, academics and other news innovators to Harvard to develop projects to advance journalism. Each year, Nieman will select a minimum of five fellows. Lessons learned from the projects, developed during short, intense stays lasting no longer than 12 weeks, will be widely shared.

The visiting fellowships were first introduced as an experiment in 2012. With Knight support they are now an integral part of the Nieman program. Visiting fellows will work with traditional Nieman Fellows, who spend a full academic year at Harvard. They also have access to the extensive intellectual resources at Harvard and MIT, and throughout Cambridge, including local scholars, research centers and libraries.

“In the short time we have been working with visiting fellows, the impact on their work and ours has been significant. Over time, we expect this program to help journalism and journalists in increasingly important ways,” said Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation.

“Journalism is so challenged in the digital age, it will take many great minds — including creative people from other fields — to help lead quality journalism to its best possible future,” said Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at Knight Foundation. “Congratulations to Nieman for building innovation into the nation’s oldest and most distinguished journalism program.”

Visiting fellows come from the United States and abroad to work on research, programming, design, financial strategies and other projects. Eligible candidates include journalists, publishers, programmers, designers, developers, media analysts, academics and others with an idea to enhance quality, build new tools or business models or design programs to improve journalism.

Past participants include:

— Paul Salopek, Nieman’s inaugural visiting fellow, who used his time at Harvard to plan his epic seven-year Out of Eden reporting walk around the globe to trace the path of human migration and use storytelling and technology to test a new form of “slow journalism.”

— Hong Qu, chief technology officer for Fusion, who developed his Keepr application to help journalists and other users better follow stories on Twitter and sort fact from rumor. Keepr was put to the test in April 2013 during the Boston Marathon bombings when Hong used his algorithm to identify reliable information as events unfolded.

— David Smydra from Google News, who formed a small working group with Nieman Fellows for feedback as he developed a structured data format for future news events.

— Allissa Richardson, an assistant professor of journalism at Bowie State University in Maryland, who developed a mobile journalism massive open online course (MOOC) on how to report news using only tablets, MP3 players or smartphones.

— Jack Riley, the London-based head of audience development for The Huffington Post UK, who researched the future impact of smartwatches and wearable devices on journalism.

Support for the fellowships program is part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to encourage change in journalism education and advance excellence in journalism. In addition to previous support to the Nieman Journalism Lab, Knight’s many investments include: the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education and the Knight-Vice Innovators Fund, and recent grants to Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, City University of New York, Florida International University, Stanford University and the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

About the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard educates leaders in journalism and elevates the standards of the profession through special programs that convene scholars and experts in all fields. More than 1,400 accomplished and promising journalists from 93 countries have been awarded Nieman Fellowships since 1938. The foundation’s other initiatives include Nieman Reports, a quarterly print and online magazine that covers thought leadership in journalism; the Nieman Journalism Lab, a website that reports on the future of news, innovation and best practices; and Nieman Storyboard, a website that showcases exceptional narrative journalism and explores the future of nonfiction storytelling. Learn more at nieman.harvard.edu.

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LINK: vimeo.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   March 24, 2015

Last night’s news about news orgs publishing directly to Facebook wasn’t a surprise, exactly — we’ve known this was in the works for months — but it’s been a good excuse to think about the permeable boundaries of modern digital media. Yes, you have a website, but it’s less a freestanding entity than a hub in a network, one that includes social networks, search engines, ad networks, APIs, and (oh yeah) the audience — itself a loosely joined compendium of individuals each with their own habits, desires, and behaviors. No news organization is an island, and navigating that mesh of relationships with skill and equilibrium is key to whatever future news is able to create for itself.

nytrnd_logoJust as that discussion was ramping up, this video from last month’s FutureEverything conference was posted online. It’s a talk by Alexis Lloyd and Matt Boggie of The New York Times’ R&D Lab, and it hits on a lot of the same themes — a vision of a news outlet that isn’t self-segregated from the rest of the world. Here’s the summary:

From New York Times R&D Labs, Alexis Lloyd and Matt Boggie talk about our possible media futures, following the early days of the web — where growth was propelled forward by those making their own spaces online — to the present, where social platforms are starting to close down, tightening the possibilities whilst our dependency on them is increasing. Explaining how internet users are in fact participatory creators, not just consumers, Alexis and Matt ask where playing with news media can allow for a new means of expression and commentary by audiences.

A good companion piece to that video is this other one of an Alexis Lloyd talk at The New School’s Journalism+Design program a couple weeks ago: “an overview of a bunch of our recent projects and then took a deeper dive into some of the design values and research that form the conceptual foundations for those projects.”

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LINK: www.nytimes.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   March 23, 2015

This valuable story in The New York Times would appear to indicate the platformization of news has reached a new level:

In recent months, Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site.

Such a plan would represent a leap of faith for news organizations accustomed to keeping their readers within their own ecosystems, as well as accumulating valuable data on them. Facebook has been trying to allay their fears, according to several of the people briefed on the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were bound by nondisclosure agreements.

Facebook intends to begin testing the new format in the next several months, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. The initial partners are expected to be The New York Times, BuzzFeed and National Geographic, although others may be added since discussions are continuing. The Times and Facebook are moving closer to a firm deal, one person said.

To make the proposal more appealing to publishers, Facebook has discussed ways for publishers to make money from advertising that would run alongside the content.

You may remember the late David Carr breaking this back in October. Why would Facebook want to do this? The article advances this theory:

Facebook has said publicly that it wants to make the experience of consuming content online more seamless. News articles on Facebook are currently linked to the publisher’s own website, and open in a web browser, typically taking about eight seconds to load. Facebook thinks that this is too much time, especially on a mobile device, and that when it comes to catching the roving eyeballs of readers, milliseconds matter.

But as one of the article’s coauthors acknowledges, speed and seamlessness are hardly the driving factors here. The real issue is this: Facebook has far better data about individual users than any publisher has, and it wants to keep its users on Facebook. At one level, that data edge should enable it to charge higher rates to advertisers. But on another, Facebook’s audience is — by nature of its including a nontrivial share of all humanity — the definition of an undifferentiated, programmatic ad base, and premium publishers like (say) The New York Times should be able to outstrip it on a CPM basis.

Facebook controls a huge share of the traffic publishers get — 40 percent or more in many cases. Combine that with the appification of people’s online life — the retreat from the open web toward a few social-media icons on your phone’s home screen — and you start to get at the motivations here. Facebook has fallen into the role of audience gatekeeper for many publishers, and it’s offering (!) to optimize that relationship. Or at least not to screw it up:

And if Facebook pushes beyond the experimental stage and makes content hosted on the site commonplace, those who do not participate in the program could lose substantial traffic — a factor that has played into the thinking of some publishers. Their articles might load more slowly than their competitors’, and over time readers might avoid those sites.

And just as Facebook has changed its news feed to automatically play videos hosted directly on the site, giving them an advantage compared with videos hosted on YouTube, it could change the feed to give priority to articles hosted directly on its site.

I’ll have more to say about this later this week, but in general, the idea of distributed content argues that publishers should be more comfortable putting their content on platforms they don’t control. But Facebook isn’t just another platform. It’s dominant in a way no other platform is, which makes it understandable that publishers might be weighing the cost-benefit — or control-benefit — analysis differently than it does for, oh, WhatsApp or Snapchat.

The game for traditional publishers now is all about short-term/long-term tradeoffs. Of course, in the long run, you want to control the customer and advertiser relationships. But today, in 2015, Facebook controls a large share of your audience and has user data you have no hope of matching. Is it worth the tradeoff to get extra Facebook dollars today in exchange for a little of your independence tomorrow? I suspect it might be, in the narrow short term, a net positive for some publishers, especially those with no hope of charging for their content. But it’s also the sort of decision that one might look back on in a few years as the moment you got swindled.

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LINK: melodykramer.github.io  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   March 19, 2015

It’s easy to caricature the platform divide as an age one for news: Young people read on their phones, the middle-aged read on their laptops, and the elderly read in print or watch TV news. But of course, the reality is more complicated than that. Millennials are more likely to pay for news in print than in digital; Americans 65-plus have higher smartphone and tablet adoption rates than you might think. And the intersection of technological and demographic trends guarantee there will only be more older people interacting with more digital news in the future.

It’s in that context that Melody Kramer — ex-public radio digital person, incoming Visiting Nieman Fellow — continues her admirable series of posts on breaking out of the news-nerd bubble and talking to real people about how they consume journalism. One recent post was about her neighbor Betty:

Today I walked to my friend Betty’s apartment to drop off some spaghetti and meatballs. Betty is 89 and lives just up the street. She doesn’t drive much anymore, though she still volunteers (at the White House, of all places.)

After we drank tea, I watched Betty read articles on her iPad. Her Internet was really slow. She kept accidentally clicking on the ads, or on parts of the story that she didn’t mean to click on. And she was getting a bit frustrated and worried — that by clicking on something, she was going to install malware or not be able to return to her story.

There are 13 million people between the ages of 75 and 84 in the US. There are 5 million between the ages of 85 and 94. (census) That population will grow. At some point, it will be composed of digital natives but that’s a while away. In the interim, are there better ways to design websites for this population? Are there better ways to design the news for them? Of course.

She proposed some ideas, and the post got some traction on Hacker News, where many said Betty and her generational peers were hardly the only ones who find navigating news sites treacherous. And one reader named Daniel Davis decided to go a step further and actually build a site called NewsForBetty.com, which aims for simple navigation and an aversion to user error. As Mel wrote in an update:

Last night, I went over to Betty’s, and told her about all of this. First she said, “Does that mean I went viral?” Then we went to the site together. She loved it! She found it intuitive! She knew exactly what to do, without asking me — and she couldn’t get lost on a homepage. Click a story, read a story, go back, do it again. That’s it! It’s now a bookmark on her iPad screen. Thank you so much Daniel!

#newsforbetty

A photo posted by melodykramer (@melodykramer) on

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