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Sept. 6, 2013, 1:28 p.m.

New York Times Company CEO Mark Thompson was back in his native U.K. today to give an address at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, which is celebrating an anniversary of its fellowship program. Here’s the full text (pdf) of his prepared remarks. Here are a few of the items I thought were most worth highlighting:

Classified evaporation

One statistic that is still startling even if, by now, it’s hardly surprising: In 2000, The New York Times generated $204 million in help-wanted advertising. In 2012? $13 million, a decline of 94 percent.

Nothing Compares 2 Times

Thompson shares a bit more about the Times’ project-in-progress Need 2 Know. (I sincerely hope that that his prepared remarks are mistaken and it’s actually “Need To Know” — or else he’s been listening to a lot of Prince slow jams.)

One of the new ideas is a project with the working title of Need 2 Know. Though it will be available on all digital platforms, we’re developing it for mobile, and particularly smart-phone first, and it’s intended to offer users the perfect briefing not just on the news that’s already happened but on the events and stories up ahead that our editors have already got their eye on, and to it with its own voice and its own flavour. If you’ve caught the ‘New York Today’ feature in the Metro section of our website, you’ll have an idea of what that flavour could be.

I do like the idea of more and better summarization products — but I wonder how easy they’ll be to monetize. (A roundup of news links, service-y news-you-can-use, and some editorial flavor can be great — but it’s also not that hard to duplicate.)

Passing the controls overseas

Control of NYTimes.com and related digital products will no longer rest solely in midtown Manhattan:

Our newsrooms around the world are already working far more closely together than before and editorial control of the global edition of the Web site will be handed over, for the first time, to Jill and Andy’s teams in London, Paris and Hong Kong.

Aiming high with video

Some interesting details on video strategy: Thompson doesn’t seem to be a huge fan of the two-journalists-talking-about-a-story model for newspaper video:

Newsroom or studio-based video talk — which The Times has experimented with over the years and which both the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post are spending heavily on at the moment — can work well when there’s a big and real-time event to talk about. I thought that The Times’s video coverage of last autumn’s election, combining news feeds of some of the key moments with cogent analysis, worked very well — and it certainly drove impressions. But, as the twenty-four hour TV news teams discovered many years ago, there’s nothing quite as dull as journalists talking to each other on video when nothing is happening.

He promotes high-end productions like Op-Docs — which would seem to indicate the Times will treat video like text and keep aiming at the high end of the market, leaving the HuffPost Lives of the world to generate thousands of hours of cheap-to-produce talk-show-style video a year.

Also: “We are currently leaving money on the table because we don’t yet have enough video-advertising opportunities to sell.”

Play on

Interesting: The Times will expand into “smart games, building out from our crossword franchise and its remarkable success as an independent digital subscription play.”

We’re not Twitter

Here’s Thompson on the Times’ differentiation from Twitter as a news provider:

Once, and not so long ago, different papers, TV channels and news websites competed for who was going to be first with the really big breaking story. Now we know in advance where that story’s almost certainly going to appear first – Twitter and sites like it. They usually beat us all.

And yet the problem with Twitter is you don’t just get the news, you get everything else as well: uncorroborated but potentially precious eye-witness testimony and citizen journalism, but also rumour, speculation, disinformation, propaganda, lies and general nuttiness. Just a few years ago, it was sometimes suggested that the world’s professional journalists might well soon be replaced by a kind of Wikipedia of news, reported and curated by a global army of publicly spirited amateurs. But quite apart from issues of political and cultural bias and objectivity, it turns out that what we face in a major unfolding hard news story is a vast, roiling sea of actuality, with fresh breakers crashing in every few seconds and with both truth and narrative often fiendishly hard to pick out.

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LINK: launch.blendle.nl  ➚   |   Posted by: Joseph Lichterman   |   October 26, 2014

The New York Times Company and German publisher Axel Springer are collectively investing €3 million ($3.7 million) in Blendle, a Dutch news startup where readers pay by the article, Blendle announced Sunday.

Blendle said it will use the Series A funding to expand to additional European countries beyond the Netherlands over the next two years. In an email, Blendle cofounder Alexander Klöpping wouldn’t elaborate on the company’s expansion plans, saying it “all depends on in which countries publishers are most excited.”

Klöpping declined to say how much each company was investing, only that the total was €3 million. Axel Springer, which is making the investment through its venture arm Axel Springer Digital Ventures, also wouldn’t say how much it’s investing. The Times didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Blendle launched publicly in May, and the site has more than 130,000 registered users. Publishers set the prices for how much each of their articles cost, and keep 70 percent of the revenue generated from those stories. Blendle takes the other 30 percent.

Below is Blendle’s full press release announcing the investments:

Dutch start-up Blendle receives 3 Mio. EUR in a Series A financing round from The New York Times Company and Axel Springer Digital Ventures to help the company accelerate its international growth plans.

Blendle operates a digital kiosk (blendle.nl) selling individual articles from newspapers and magazines to internet users. The company was founded in 2013 by two 27-year-old former journalists, Alexander Klöpping and Marten Blankesteijn, and launched its service in the Netherlands five months ago.

On Blendle people can discover and read articles from practically all Dutch newspapers and magazines, only paying for the individual articles they read. On average an article costs 20 cent on Blendle. The pricing per article is set by the publishers and revenues are split 70:30 between the publisher and Blendle.

Today Blendle has more than 130,000 registered users and plans to use the funds to roll-out its service to several European countries within the next two years.

“We are truly honored that two of the world’s most influential publishers show so much trust in us,” says Blendle CEO, Klöpping. “Axel Springer has successfully transformed its business into a digital publishing house with a great portfolio of online offerings and start-ups that we believe we can learn a lot from. The New York Times’ online strategy serves as a worldwide example for other newspapers and magazines.”

“As a publisher we want to convince users to pay for great journalism; also in the digital age. I’m therefore delighted that a European startup is building a platform for paid access to quality journalism that is easy to use. Blendle has the potential to attract young, internet savvy readers,” says Mathias Döpfner, Chief Executive Officer of Axel Springer SE.

After the investment the two founders will continue to fully control the company representing more than 75% of Blendle’s share capital. The new investors will not have any insight in the Blendle sales numbers of other associated publishers and their affiliated newspapers and publications will not receive any preferential treatment and will contract with Blendle on an arm’s length basis.

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LINK: files.nyu.edu  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   October 20, 2014

One of the most common complaints about social media is about filter bubbles — the idea that, because you choose your own universe of friends or accounts on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, you risk cocooning yourself in a world of likeminded perspectives. Conservatives only hear from fellow conservatives, the argument goes, liberals from fellow liberals, and everyone ends up with hardened, more extreme positions. The result: increased political polarization.

But this new paper from NYU’s Pablo Barberá argues that that’s not true. The core of his argument: Social media encourages connections between people with weak ties — not just your best friends, for instance, but also your high school classmates, that guy you met on a business trip who friended you, and the local guy you heard was funny on Twitter. Those people tend to be “more politically heterogeneous than citizens’ immediate personal networks,” which exposes you to more perspectives, not fewer.

I apply this method to measure the ideological positions of millions of individuals in Germany, Spain, and the United States over time, as well as the ideological composition of their personal networks. Results from this panel design show that most social media users are embedded in ideologically diverse networks, and that exposure to political diversity has a positive effect on political moderation…Contrary to conventional wisdom, my analysis provides evidence that social media usage reduces mass political polarization.

This is just one paper, but it adds to a growing body of knowledge that shows that the connection between media consumption and political polarization is much more complicated than conventional wisdom has it. Add this to Alan Abramowitz’s work showing that knowing more about politics correlated with more extreme views on both left and right and Pew’s findings that show viewers of one cable news network are more likely to watch other cable news channels. (In other words, regular Fox News viewers are more likely to watch MSNBC than the average American, and vice versa.) The filter bubble narrative is more complicated than it seems. Barberá:

Contrary to a growing body of work that suggests that the Internet functions as an “echo chamber,” where citizens are primarily exposed to like-minded political views, my findings demonstrate that most social media users receive information from a diversity of viewpoints…I have provided empirical evidence from a panel design showing that exposure to political diversity on social media has a positive effect on political moderation, and that it reduces mass political polarization.

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LINK: knightfoundation.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   October 20, 2014

The Knight Foundation (disclosure: a funder of Nieman Lab) gives money to a lot of journalism and journalism-adjacent projects. But they often work through a variety of contests and programs that aren’t always clear to outsiders. (Most famously, the Knight News Challenge, which has “news” right there in the name, has lately been funding projects around libraries, online freedom, and open government. Worthy causes all, but often confusing to people who are looking for financial support for their news startup.)

That makes this post by Knight’s Andrew Sherry useful — it outlines the various routes to funding currently available. The three most important to journalism types (emphasis mine):

If you have a news or information idea you want to develop and test, the Knight Prototype Fund may be for you. This Media Innovation initiative provides $35,000 to turn ideas into prototypes. There are several cohorts of winners each year; the most recent winners can be seen here. The next application deadline is Nov. 1…

The Knight News Challenge, which will next open for applications in early 2015, is Knight’s best known way of funding media innovation. Challenges usually have a theme — libraries, strengthening the Internet, Open Gov, networks — and the number in a year may vary. Increasingly, though, we’re emphasizing the Prototype Fund as the gateway for news and information projects

Separate from Knight’s grantmaking, the Knight Enterprise Fund provides early-stage venture funding for media innovation. The fund invests in for-profit companies that can strengthen the news and information ecosystem. Along with investment, the fund brings Knight’s media industry network and knowledge to the table. The fund is drawn from Knight’s endowment, not its grantmaking budget.

In other words, if you’re a typical Nieman Lab reader, unless you’re a for-profit of the sort that looks for substantial venture capital, the Prototype Fund process is probably the best way to seek funding from Knight. The positive side of that is that the turnaround time is much shorter than the News Challenge used to offer, and the number of projects funded is higher; the downside is that the dollar figures are smaller than the News Challenge used to offer. But a successful Prototype Fund grantee could certainly move up to bigger funding down the road.

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LINK: blog.twitter.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   October 16, 2014

Back in May, we told you about how WNYC was using a Twitter Player Card to embed audio into its tweets. It was pretty nifty! But it came with a few technical hiccups:

It’s not a perfect experience. Twitter is all about the stream, scrolling through tweets — it’s not exactly optimized for having the same tweet in front of you while a 16-minute audio clip plays. (On the Twitter iOS app, for instance, the widget is only playable as a separate web page, which both is unattractive and means you can’t look at any other tweets in your stream for 16 minutes.) And I imagine many news orgs would much rather direct traffic to their website than share even more of their content on someone else’s platform.

Well, one of those problems is now solved, with a brand new Audio Card announced today.

With a single tap, the Twitter Audio Card lets you discover and listen to audio directly in your timeline on both iOS and Android devices. Throughout your listening experience, you can dock the Audio Card and keep listening as you continue to browse inside the Twitter app.

In other words, listening to an audio clip in a tweet no longer means you’re stuck staring at the same tweet for the next hour — at least if you’re using SoundCloud and are a pre-cleared partner.

So if you want to catch up on Serial (and you do, that Jay guy is super suspicious), you can listen while scrolling through your timeline:

Twitter says it plans “to make it available to more partners and creators in the future so that many more musical artists and creators will be able to share exclusive, in-the-moment audio to millions of listeners on Twitter.”

If it’s your goal to make audio more sharable — more social, more viral — a better Twitter experience is a pretty big deal.

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LINK: www.apple.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   October 16, 2014

Apple just announced a brand new iMac with a Retina display — Apple’s term for a display with pixels small enough that they can’t under normal use be detected by the human eye. Retina started on the iPhone, graduated to the iPad, then moved to the MacBook Pro — but now it’s moving to Apple’s giant desktop screens. We’re talking 14.7 million pixels. (The original iPhone had 153,600 — 1/96th as many.)

imac-retina

It looks like a very nice piece of kit, but it’s worth note to publishers because the iMac is probably the single most common computer used by web designers. (I’m typing this on one.) And the downside of a Retina display is that your old website graphics, designed for one-fourth as many pixels, will look a little fuzzy. So a lot of designers will be tempted to replace their existing images with ones 4× as large so they’ll look “right” on their screens. Even more important, their bosses will someday soon get these glorious screens and ask a dev: Why is my website fuzzy on my computer? You saw some of this when the Retina MacBook Pro, but this is the next step. (And of course, non-Apple desktop and laptop computers will continue to get more pixel-dense displays, just as phones and tablets have.)

Bigger images are nice in every way except file size. The weight of the average web page has been on a steady march northward, sitting now more than 15× that of a web page 10 years ago and 50 percent larger than just a year ago. Most of that page weight is images. And this new iMac will push a lot of nice 125K images into 500K bandwidth-cloggers. That’d probably fine on your beautiful new desktop on a fat broadband pipe, but it’ll mean your website will get substantially slower on a phone — just as even more of your audience switches to phones.

growth-average-web-page2014

This doesn’t have to happen, of course. CSS media queries allow you to serve different images to devices with different pixel ratios. And solutions for responsive images are in various stages of progress. (We use Picturefill all over this site and have been happy with it.) SVG gets better all the time, and icon fonts can solve problems in a pinch. (This book, coming out soon, will tell you what you need to know.)

But those methods rely on coders using best practices, and not everyone does. So watch your site and see if page weight starts to creep up not long after a few large Apple boxes get dropped off in graphics.

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