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The newsonomics of auctioning off Digital First’s newspapers (and California schemin’)
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Nov. 26, 2013, 2:49 p.m.
LINK: gawker.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Caroline O'Donovan   |   November 26, 2013

With America’s favorite shopping holiday just a few days away, two tales from journalists who claim to have failed in their enterprises because of their refusal to play nice with advertisers.

One comes from Mark Duffy, also known as the Copyranter, who left a copywriter job to join BuzzFeed, only to be fired from the media startup last month. Yesterday, he published one last rant, via Gawker, titled “TOP 10 BEST EVER WTF OMG REASONS BUZZFEED FIRED ME, LOL!”

Ben Smith made me delete a post I did on Axe Body Spray’s ads, titled, “The Objectification Of Women By Axe Continues Unabated in 2013″ (it was initially called something to the effect of “Axe Body Spray Continues its Contribution to Rape Culture,” but I quickly softened it). Get this: he made me delete it one month after it was posted, due to apparent pressure from Axe’s owner Unilever. How that’s for editorial integrity? Ben Smith also questioned other posts I did knocking major advertisers’ ads (he kept repeating the phrase “punching down”), including the pathetically pandering, irresponsible Nike “Fat Boy” commercial.

I of course understand that websites like BuzzFeed need lots of advertising dollars to operate, and that no media outlets—including the one you’re reading this on—are immune to advertiser pressure. I understand that my posts may have pissed advertisers off. I also understand—very clearly—the job I was hired to do because I invented it. I had a longstanding blog that clearly outlined what BuzzFeed was getting into. Turns out Ben Smith didn’t want what he asked for, and I guess I was too gullible to think it could be any other way.

In a level headed response, Ben Smith says he has “never based a decision about reporting on an advertiser’s needs” and illustrates some of the editorial conflicts he and Duffy had.

Then, today, we had Mathew Ingram’s account of what happened to NSFW Corp., as told through the eyes of Paul Carr.

Carr also admitted that his attitude towards his existing investors — such as his former boss Michael Arrington’s CrunchFund and Zappos’ founder Tony Hsieh’s VegasTech Fund, two of the company’s earliest backers — probably didn’t help increase his company’s lifespan either. As he described it during a discussion of Glenn Greenwald’s new venture, and whether the former Guardian writer would be comfortable reporting on his benefactor, eBay billionaire Omidyar, Carr said:

“You only have to look at NSFW and see that we have been relentless in attacking CrunchFund for its bullshit hypocrisy in investing in NSA-backed [actually CIA-backed] startups, and we have been relentless in mocking the stuff Tony Hsieh is doing in Vegas… of course it has [had an impact on financing], it’s probably the main reason we couldn’t raise any more. It’s the reason why Vegas Tech Fund didn’t invest in the latest round or the round before, and it’s why Mike Arrington hasn’t talked to me in a long time.”

For Carr, whose aggressiveness towards colleagues, friends and pretty much everyone else has achieved almost legendary status in the media community, this kind of attitude may have doomed NSFW Corp. as a financial entity, but it was required in order for the venture to have any kind of journalistic credibility at all. “I’ve never been one to hide behind saying ‘Oh, he’s an investor, I’d better be nice,’” Carr said. “Who cares? We’re f***ing journalists. I’d rather be poor and credible than have $250 million and have to say bullshit like ‘I can’t comment.’”

Enjoy your holiday!

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LINK: speakerdeck.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   September 23, 2014

Page speed is an underrated part of user experience. A fast website is a website readers will return to more often and feel better about using. (Add WPO to SEO and SMO in your mental acronym storage case.)

We’ve shared before about efforts at The Guardian and The New York Times to get faster, and now we’ve got a new slide deck from Times developer Eitan Koningsburg on the sometimes counterintuitive things they’ve done to speed up NYTimes.com (including the earlier [thanks, Allen] strange-sounding-to-me use of an intentional blocking script to load ads better):

The current mantra in performance thinking is “Tools not Rules.” The premise is simple: The path to faster websites is not only about fast requests, but how they interact with paints, animations, and script execution. But tools are only part of the solution. What The New York Times discovered is that performance is about truly understanding your product and users, and the sum total of your site. Following this approach can lead to surprising results.

The New York Times underwent a major redesign that involved a rewrite of the entire technology stack. The Product team not only bought into the idea that performance should be a goal, but mandated that it be part of the product’s success. While we implemented many of the community’s best practices, our biggest wins were a little surprising, and at first glance, counter to community best practices. Front-end software architect Eitan Koningsburg covers those changes, what worked, what didn’t, and how we got there.

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Is Aaron Kushner thinking of getting out of L.A.? The owner and publisher of the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Register told an audience at the Portada Hispanic Advertising and Media Conference he’ll be considering the paper’s future:

Aaron Kushner, CEO of Freedom Communications, said that he will evaluate “in the next few weeks” whether the Los Angeles Register has a viable future as a daily. The Los Angeles Register was launched in April of this year in the Los Angeles, CA market, where it competes with other dailies including the Los Angeles Times. Kushner’s comments, which were made during an on-stage interview conducted by Portada publisher Marcos Baer during Portada’s 8th Annual Hispanic Advertising and Media Conference, are the first explicit references by Freedom Communications CEO about the possibility of discontinuing daily publication of the Los Angeles Register.

The paper’s had a rocky existence so far, and the timing of Kushner’s remarks will probably only fuel rumors about the fate of the paper. The Los Angeles Register debuted in April, but by June Freedom had instituted a company-wide furlough program and was offering voluntary buyout packages.

Of course, evaluating can mean a lot of things. But that Kushner would say he’s evaluating the status of the L.A. paper, rather than praising the investment, chastising critics, or trying to stoke an old-fashioned newspaper war, is no small sign. Kushner also told the crowd Freedom Communications’ weekly papers, along with dailies like the OC Register and The Press Enterprise are responsible for “low single-digit revenue growth rate” at the company.

Update, 9/23: Well, that was quick:

The Los Angeles Register, which launched in April as part Aaron Kushner’s bold bet on print newspapers, will cease publication, effective immediately.

Orange County Register co-owner Aaron Kushner announced the decision Monday night in a memo sent to employees.

“Pundits and local competitors who have closely followed our entry into Los Angeles will be quick to criticize our decision to launch a new newspaper and they will say that we failed,” said the memo, signed by Kushner and his Freedom Communications co-owner Eric Spitz.

“We believe, the true definition of failure is not taking bold steps toward growth.”

The memo hints at layoffs, but provided no specific details.

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The American Press Institute’s Lisa Zimmermann has a detailed piece that tries to answer that question. And the solutions don’t always have to involve big investments in technology; here’s one take from Spokane:

The Spokesman-Review in Washington State changed its commenting policy in August 2014. “We no longer will allow comments to be posted on national or international stories, or letters to the editor,” wrote editor Gary Graham, noting that the comments will be allowed on local stories, staff blogs and staff columns, but that these discussions will no longer take place beneath the content. Instead readers now click the link provided where they are brought to a separate page for discussion.

Graham said the two goals behind these changes were to “encourage more constructive and civil discourse on local issues” and to reduce the amount of time staff spend monitoring comments. “It’s no secret that our newsroom ranks are much smaller in the wake of the economic tsunami that has wreaked havoc on the industry, and time spent moderating comments is time we cannot spend on research, reporting and editing,” he wrote.

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The Economist offers an interesting perspective today on the flip side of the wonky data journalism craze. While traditional newsrooms and media startups sift through spreadsheets and build interactive graphics and apps, think tanks — they of the traditionally dry, analytical white paper — have increasingly come to resemble digital news sites themselves. From the magazine:

Foreign Policy, a magazine, now runs “Democracy Lab”, a website paid for by the Legatum Institute, a think-tank based in London. It has a modest budget for freelancers. In June the Centre for Policy Studies, a think-tank co-founded by Margaret Thatcher, launched “CapX”, which publishes daily news and comment on its website and by e-mail. The Centre for European Reform, a think-tank founded by Charles Grant (formerly of The Economist), publishes pieces with gripping headlines such as: “Twelve things everyone should know about the European Court of Justice”.

It’s not especially surprising that think tanks and NGOs have begun to realize the value of producing fresh Takes. It’s the best way to remain a part of the conversation, which is essential if what you’re trying to do is shape opinion and influence policy. But not all the work these organizations are producing is mere content — in fact, think tank employees can fill some of the void left by ever-shrinking international reportage.

Human Rights Watch, which investigates abusive governments, recently published a series of articles on the plight of the Yazidis in Iraq. [,..] Nathan Thrall, the ICG’s Middle East analyst, based in Jerusalem, has written about the conflict in Gaza for, among others, the New York Times and the London Review of Books.

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LINK: comicsalliance.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Justin Ellis   |   September 17, 2014

The Guardian is giving new life to the traditional newspaper comic strip with The Last Saturday. Instead of Marmaduke or the ongoing exotic adventures of Mark Trail, The Last Saturday is a weekly graphic novella made to be read in print and online.

Created by the Eisner Award and Harvey Award winner Chris Ware, the episodic comic is blown out in vivid color and rich detail, with stories following the daily lives of people in the town of Sandy Port, Michigan. Ware is no stranger to collaborating with newspapers; part of his graphic novel “Building Stories” was serialized in The New York Times Magazine.

chris-ware-guardian-comic

As Comics Alliance notes, the Guardian may be trying to find better ways to make Ware’s work more tactile and engaging in digital formats:

‘The Last Saturday’ is an interesting format experiment. The first page doesn’t offer much more than a digital magnifier (primarily for mobile readers) and some unorthodox panel orientations, as is standard for Ware’s work, but considering that The Guardian’s “interactive team” is developing functionality for the comic, there’s a possibility that the comic could take advantage of the online format in all sorts of interesting ways.

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