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June 19, 2013, 2:24 p.m.
LINK: www.grantland.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   June 19, 2013

At Grantland, Bryan Curtis writes about the slow decline of The New York Times’ Sports of the Times column. But more than one column in one newspaper, Curtis is really writing about a broader shift in what content is valuable in an online age.

First, [Times sports editor Jason] Stallman surveyed his own stable of feature writers. “John Branch wrote a column when he was in Fresno,” he said. “Jeré Longman has written commentary and could be dynamite. But these are guys we have fallen in love with doing distinctive enterprise stories and other investigative types of work. We’re disinclined to put them in a box of just commentary.”

It shows how the MVP of the section is no longer the columnist but the longform writer. In olden times, Branch’s Pulitzer Prize winner “Snow Fall” would probably have been assigned at 1,200 words. “I don’t believe the hierarchy of the New York Times values sports,” said Roberts. “Or I don’t think they value it on a regular basis. I think they value the big, vigorous investigative approach to sports. But the everyday is an afterthought.” It was as if those elephantine features were a way to get the paper’s top editors to finally pay attention.

It really is remarkable, for those of us who grew up reading sports columnists in our local daily, how much the institution turned out to be an artifact of a temporary news ecosystem. The broad journalistic conceit of objectivity — which made the owner of forceful opinions stand out that much more. The general demotion of regular reporters’ individuality — which turned columnists, whether sports or metro or editorial, into stars. The ways in which newspapers’ organization around geography, particularly metro areas, pushed college and pro sports teams to the fore as subjects of coverage.

And, of course, the near monopoly that most U.S. newspapers had on opinionated voices in their cities — which made even the hackiest of sports columnists into giant personalities.

The rise of sports radio helped push back on that monopoly, but the Internet finished the job. I don’t believe there is a class of reporter that has seen its value fall in the past 10 years as much as the hack print sports columnist, who (at least in the major pro and college ranks) faces more competition than ever. (Rick Reilly used to be a god.) Grantland’s been running parodies of hack newspaper sports columns lately, and they’re uncomfortably dead on.

Stallman says there’s nothing wrong with a good column, obviously, but that investigative reporting, aggressive beat reporting, and long-form features are where the action’s at.

“Maybe through the Lance Armstrong saga, we’d like to have had a columnist laying in properly. But I look at it that we have Juliet Macur completely setting the agenda on the story, so I’d much rather have that than a columnist.”

One other line worth noting:

Stallman doesn’t believe “Sports of the Times” is anachronistic. Even with a paltry word limit in a web ocean of “longform”; even with its early print deadline while the rest of us work through the night.

Think about that: “a web ocean of ‘longform.'” Remember that whenever someone says that the web is all about short and quick and 140 characters. Who’d have thought five years ago that “there’s too much longform” would even be conceived of as a competitive factor for journalism online? (It’s noteworthy that Grantland was started within ESPN by Bill Simmons, whose shaggy 12,000-word epics are as responsible as any for shifting the center of what writing about sports looks like.)

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Last month, BuzzFeed’s executive editor for news Shani Hilton stopped by the Nieman Foundation, where the Nieman Fellows and I had the chance to ask her a few questions.

Hilton was just promoted to her current role this September, a position which makes her responsible for, among many other things, developing a set of newsroom standards for BuzzFeed’s ever growing staff. In addition to talking about that, we touched on hiring strategy, diversity, how you know when a new project isn’t working, international expansion, and more.

Our sister publication, Nieman Reports, has the highlights reel in text; for true devotees, the full audio of the interview is below.

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Earlier this year Spanish lawmakers passed a law requiring Google and other aggregators to pay local publishers for snippets or links to stories. As Europe continues to turn up the heat on Google, the company decided today to shut down Google News in Spain.

While it’s still uncertain how much companies like Google would have to pay every time an article appears, the penalty for not paying the fee is almost $750,000. That was apparently more than enough reason for Google to take its ball and go home. Richard Gingras, head of Google News writes:

This new legislation requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not. As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable. So it’s with real sadness that on 16 December (before the new law comes into effect in January) we’ll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain.

According to Mark Scott of The New York Times, Google plans to remove all Spanish publishers from its “global news aggregating products.” What effect Google’s decision will have on traffic for the Spanish news sites remains to be seen. As SEO consultant Adam Shrek’s recent analysis showed, the amount of traffic a site gets from Google News can vary.

All across Europe publishers have been demanding that Google start paying for content. Media companies in France, Spain, and Germany have led the fight, accusing the search company of becoming rich off copyrighted work from publishers. A similar law was passed in Germany, but rather than paying the fees outlined in the law Google gave publishers the choice to opt in to show up in search results. By opting in companies would waive their right to get paid. As Catherine Stupp wrote for the Lab earlier this month, there were immediate results:

To avoid paying the collection agency, VG Media, which represents the publishers that chose not to opt in, Google stopped showing snippets from their news articles on Oct. 23. Shortly after that, the publishers in VG Media gave Google a license to restore snippets to their search results — for free. Berlin-based Axel Springer, one of Europe’s largest publishers, announced on Nov. 5 that it had caved to Google’s pressure after traffic to its websites from Google dropped by 40 percent and from Google News by 80 percent when snippets were left out of search results.

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LINK: www.adamsherk.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   December 9, 2014

There’s Google and then there’s Google News. One tries to soak up the entire Internet, the other a curated selection of news sites. It’s easy to confuse the two, since you’ll often get “Google News” results at the top of a standard Google search page even if you never go near the url news.google.com. But they’re distinct parts of Googleland.

Google and publishers have a fraught relationship, and plenty have given thought to what it would be like to pull out of one or both Google corpora. (Axel Springer found out.) But how important is each to your overall search traffic? Is it your site’s presence in Google that’s driving it, or its presence in Google News?

That’s the question asked in this interesting piece by SEO consultant Adam Sherk. He used a tool to try to determine how much of 80 news sites’ search traffic came from general search and how much came from Google News. The answer: It depends.

On the high end, you had Reuters and the Christian Science Monitor, which each get more than 40 percent of their search traffic from Google News — either from the Google News site itself or a search onebox. (Update: Sherk now says oneboxes aren’t included here, which means the real impact of Google News is understated here.)

adam-sherk-google-news-top

At the very bottom? BuzzFeed, with less than 1 percent coming from Google News.

adam-sherk-google-news-bottom

It’s hard to generalize too much from the data. The Christian Science Monitor, despite its somewhat old-fashioned reputation, is actually something of a SEO powerhouse, quite good at staying on top of Google Trends and posting webby copy that matches what people are searching for in the moment. It makes sense that Reuters, as a wire service, would do well for in-the-moment news searches. And that BuzzFeed’s search traffic comes overwhelmingly from the non-news side of Google makes sense, given its abundance of evergreen listicles.

But you also have sites like Mashable (4%) and Business Insider (5%) in the low-from-Google-News category, and Bloomberg Businessweek (29%) and Newsweek (19%) on the high-from-Google-News end — each of which is the opposite of what I would have expected. So it’s more complicated than it might seem. But the broad majority of sites seem to be in that 5 to 25 percent range — meaning Google News makes up a significant but not overwhelming part of most sites’ search traffic.

Check out Sherk’s post to see data on 80 major news sites — both raw totals and the News/non-News split.

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Recent media news headlines have briefly sucked the digital discourse around new and legacy media back into the reductive binary of pro- and anti-Internet.

While asking whether the Internet helps or hurts journalism is about as useful as asking if technology is good or bad, the Pew Research Internet Project does have a study out today that comes down pretty clearly on one side.

The survey of 1,066 internet users shows that 87% of online adults say the internet and cell phones have improved their ability to learn new things, including 53% who say it has improved this “a lot.” Internet users under age 50, those in higher income households, and those with higher educational attainment are especially likely to say the internet and cell phones help them “a lot” when it comes to learning new things.

Asked if they enjoy having so much information at their fingertips or if they feel overloaded, 72% of internet users report they like having so much information, while just 26% say they feel overloaded.

[…]

News: Substantial majorities also feel better informed about national news (75%), international news (74%), and pop culture (72%) because of these tools.

Not only do individual Americans feel more personally informed because of the Internet, but a majority also believe that society at large is better informed. Interestingly, survey respondents generally felt that the Internet improved their knowledge of distant topics — pop stars and international news — more than it increased their understanding of things like local news or civic issues. 60 percent of those surveyed said they felt better informed about local news after the Internet, while 74 percent and 75 percent felt mobile phones and the Internet made them better informed about international and national news, respectively.

Media news tends to focus on the national narrative — BuzzFeed versus The New York Times versus whoever’s spending millions of dollars to build a huge new website this week. But despite efforts of programs like the Knight Foundation’s Community Information Challenge, the tougher nut to crack for the Internet seems to be disseminating information on a more granular level.

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A new report out today from the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project takes a look at how partnerships work in journalism by way of five case studies. Rick Edmonds and Amy Mitchell write about collaborations between Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress; I-News Network, Rocky Mountain PBS, and KUSA-TV; five Texas newspapers; The Lens and WWNO Public Radio; and The Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald. It’s worth noting that these examples include both nonprofit and commercial partnerships.

The report finds that, broadly, the majority of these partnerships are born out of economic necessity, and that, despite their increasing prevalence, they can be difficult to manage successfully. Interestingly, the authors say that many of these collaborations are easier to execute in legacy media — namely print and broadcast — than digitally, because of technological barriers such as incompatible content management systems.

Also of interest is the observation that few of the partnerships are financial in nature. For the most part, the goal is to work more efficiently, reach a broader audience, and tell a better story, rather than for one side or the other to increase revenue. For example, the Texas Front-Page Exchange has been sharing content gratis for five years now. From the report:

What stood in the way of this sort of cooperation for decades was industry prosperity, big newsroom budgets and a tradition whose definition of quality began with running only the work of your own staff along with wire stories.

But particularly after papers scaled back any statewide circulation ambitions as hard times set in, there came to be very little competition for audience among the five.

Other editors share Mong’s view that the cooperation, while not central to editorial strategy, is a distinct plus. Nancy Barnes came to the Chronicle in October 2013 after years at the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and began as a skeptic. “I was surprised—giving away all that content for free? But in fact these are all very distinct markets. The exchange helps us avoid redundant effort. It seems a very innovative solution.”

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