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April 20, 2012, 9:58 a.m.

This Week in Review: Digital journalism’s big Pulitzer win, and ebook concerns shift to Amazon

Plus: Google’s concern about the future of the open web, Facebook’s social news app push, and the rest of the week’s news in media and tech.

The Pulitzers and HuffPo’s arrival: The Pulitzer Prizes were awarded this week, accompanied as usual by tears and impromptu speeches in newsrooms around the country (documented well by Jeff Sonderman on Storify). On the meta-level, the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple criticized the awards’ secrecy, but Dean Starkman of the Columbia Journalism Review offered a defense of having such publicly celebrated industry awards in the first place, arguing that during an era when news organizations have become so adept at measuring journalism quantity, the Pulitzers are one of the few barometers left for journalism quality.

As for this year’s awards themselves, the American Journalism Review’s Rem Rieder pointed out that while the Pulitzers are usually dominated by a few heavy hitters, this year brought several feel-good stories. One of those was the Pulitzer won by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the once-great paper that has had an extremely rough last several years and was sold yet again for a bargain-basement price just a few weeks ago. Poynter’s Steve Myers reported on the award’s impact, which one reporter called “a wonderful burst of hope.”

Another remarkable Pulitzer winner was Sara Ganim of the Patriot News of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who at 24 became one of the youngest Pulitzer winners ever for her reporting on the Penn State sex abuse scandal. Poynter’s Mallary Tenore explained how she took the lead on the story at two different papers. Not all the news was heartwarming, though — there was no prize for editorial writing. Erik Wemple explained why (nothing personal!), but Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan loved the decision, calling editorials “a worthless anachronism in this modern media age.”

But the biggest theme in this year’s Pulitzers was the prominence of online journalism: The online-only Huffington Post and the very online-centric Politico both won prizes, which the Lab’s Adrienne LaFrance called a victory for their fast-paced, aggressive editorial models. Additionally, Twitter played a big role in the tornado coverage that earned Alabama’s Tuscaloosa News a Pulitzer, as Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman detailed.

Of those online-oriented Pulitzers, the Huffington Post’s drew the bulk of the attention. HuffPo’s Michael Calderone and Poynter’s Mallary Tenore both told the story behind HuffPo’s award-winning story, and in an AP story, Ken Doctor called it an arrival of sorts for HuffPo, while VentureBeat’s Jolie O’Dell called it a win for quality blogs everywhere. PaidContent’s Staci Kramer said HuffPo’s win shows the old guard has finally learned that the work, not the medium, is the message. Both GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and NYU prof Jay Rosen (in Calderone’s article) pointed out that this isn’t as much of a “new media vs. old media” win as people might think; traditional news orgs and digital outfits have been looking more and more alike for quite some time now.

There was also quite a bit of other talk about HuffPo’s model this week, though most of it wasn’t directly related to the Pulitzers. Media blogger Andrew Nusca expressed his frustration with the parade of “awful posts and shameless slideshows” that populates most of HuffPo and its competitors, and the Columbia Journalism Review published an in-depth story on how HuffPo developed its distinctive model and why it works. Meanwhile, the Lab’s Justin Ellis wrote on HuffPo’s refusal to employ false balance when covering climate change and Folio reported on its coming magazine iPad app.

Amazon under fire: A week after the U.S. Justice Department sued Apple and five major book publishers for antitrust violations (paidContent’s Laura Hazard Owen has a good description of what it means for readers), most of the attention shifted to the biggest ebook player not involved in the lawsuit: Amazon. The New York Times reported on a small publisher that has removed its titles from Amazon out of frustration that the retailer’s low prices were undercutting its own booksellers.

CNET’s Greg Sandoval talked to other small publishers who see Amazon as a much bigger threat than Apple, and at the Daily, Timothy Lee urged the U.S. government to change copyright law to allow Amazon’s competitors to convert Kindle books to be compatible with other devices. The New York Times’ David Carr gave the most ominous warning of Amazon’s below-cost ebook pricing’s effect on the publishing industry, saying that with the suit, “Now Amazon has the Justice Department as an ally to rebuild its monopoly and wipe out other players.”

Novelist Charlie Stross went into the economics of Amazon’s ebook strategy, comparing it to big-box retailers that wipe out mom-and-pop stores with their extremely low pricing: “Amazon has the potential to be like that predatory big box retailer on a global scale. And it’s well on the way to doing so in the ebook sector.” Forbes’ Tim Worstall pushed back against Stross’ characterization, arguing that Amazon doesn’t have a monopoly on the ebook market because it’s still extremely easy to put ebooks on a server, achieve some scale and contest Amazon’s dominance.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, for his part, released a letter to shareholders last Friday that asserted that “even well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation.” Techcrunch’s John Biggs said this philosophy makes sense in the world of networked information, but Wired’s Tim Carmody said Amazon is really trying to draw a contrast between its own infrastructure-based model and the product-based “gatekeeping” model of its chief competitor, Apple.

Google’s open web warning: A few nuggets regarding Google: In an interview with the Guardian, Google co-founder Sergey Brin warned of “very powerful forces” lining up against the open web around the world, referring both to oppressive governments like China and Iran and to Google’s competitors, like Facebook and Apple. Tech blogger John Gruber noted that Brin seems to be assuming that the open web is “only what Google can index and sell ads against,” and Wired’s Tim Carmody took that point deeper, arguing that Google is part of the continuum of control and closure of the Internet between governments and corporations, not separate from it.

Elsewhere, Ross Douthat of the New York Times used Google’s recently unveiled Project Glass, which would bring all the information of a smartphone in front of our eyes in the form of glasses, as a warning against the possibility of a sort of hyper-surveillance techno-tyranny. Web philosopher Stowe Boyd ripped Douthat’s assertion that Google’s glasses are a reflection of our growing loneliness. (Slate’s Eric Klinenberg wrote a more thorough takedown of the “we’re getting lonelier” hypothesis, targeting Atlantic’s recent article on Facebook.) And late last week, Google’s news products chief, Richard Gingras wrote at the Lab about the questions that will define the future of journalism.

Reading roundup: It’s been a fairly slow week, but there are still a few interesting items to keep an eye on:

— Facebook has begun testing “trending articles” as a way to get more people to use its social news apps, though ReadWriteWeb’s Jon Mitchell said those apps, and the “frictionless sharing” they depend on, aren’t working. Meanwhile, the Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal said it’s time to get past the Facebook mentality of social networking and figure out what’s next for the Internet.

— NYU prof Jay Rosen wrote about a fascinating question that’s been puzzling him for years — Why does the American public trust the press so much less than it used to? — positing a few possible explanations and asking for more ideas. You can also hear Rosen talking about the state of the media and the public in this Radio Open Source podcast.

— Two more intriguing entries on the ongoing series of posts on how people get their news, these from News.me: Digital media researcher danah boyd, who talked about young people’s news consumption, and former New York Times digital chief Martin Nisenholtz, who talked about the Times’ transition into a digital world.

— Finally, the Times’ Brian Stelter wrote a thoughtful piece on the fleeting nature of today’s information environment, and the ephemeral, hyperactive common conversation it gives us.

POSTED     April 20, 2012, 9:58 a.m.
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