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Jan. 21, 2014, 2:24 p.m.
LINK: www.politico.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   January 21, 2014

As has been rumored for several weeks, Ezra Klein is leaving The Washington Post and the Wonkblog he started for greener pastures — in this case, greener because of all the dollars:

But when Klein proposed the creation of an independent, explanatory journalism website — with more than three dozen staffers and a multiyear budget north of $10 million — the Post said enough is enough. Indeed, Jeff Bezos, the Post’s new owner, and Katharine Weymouth, its publisher, never even offered an alternative figure, sources familiar with the negotiations said.

Now, Klein is set to take his talents elsewhere. The Washington Post’s Wonkblog account tweeted the announcement Tuesday that he is leaving: “It’s official: Ezra is leaving the Post. Hoping for the best for him.”

As early as this week, Klein is expected to announce a new venture — described in a memo to Post staffers as a new “news organization” — that will look to staff more than 30 people on the editorial side alone. Meanwhile, the Post, which for four years has benefited immensely from housing the Ezra Klein brand — Wonkblog averages more than four million page-views a month — will lose its star columnist and its claim to some of the most widely read policy analysis on the Internet.

There are a number of easy #HotSportsTakes on this. The Washington Post is stupidly letting a star leave again. This is just like when the Politico guys tried to start it within the Post then had to go elsewhere. This is just like Nate Silver, Kara Swisher/Walt Mossberg, Bill Simmons, etc. But I keep coming back to a few facts:

— More than $10 million is not a small amount of money for a newspaper whose revenues have done nothing but decline over the past half-decade-plus. It is a small amount of money for Jeff Bezos — which would seem to indicate that, as Bill Grueskin smartly notes, he sees the Post as a business, not a civic-minded charitable organ of his empire. (The man built his empire on efficiency, lean supply chains, and thin margins — this isn’t a shock.) Back in 2006, the Politico guys were looking for $2 million, and the Post was in a healthier state financially, gliding on Kaplan money.

— Wonkblog is very good, and I have no doubt that whatever Klein creates will also be editorially strong. Along with his analytical talents, he also brings an appreciation for what online audiences value. We don’t know much about what NuevoWonkblog will look like, beyond that it’ll focus on explanatory journalism. But it’s hard to imagine a news site about policy issues, no matter how social ready, that would generate enough advertising to pay for an expense outlay that large. The Politico story said Wonkblog currently gets 4 million pageviews a month, which The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal notes is

Even if that number is wrong, as Brad Plumer says, it’d take an audience much larger to generate enough online advertising revenue to pay for that kind of overhead — which will also have to include more tech/business-side headcount as an independent entity than as part of the Post. How much can explanatory journalism scale? If there are nine questions about Syria that you’re too embarrassed to ask, are there also…nine questions about Namibia? Nine questions about Medicare policy in Missouri? A much larger staff can produce a lot more content, but I’d wonder if there’s a ceiling for that kind of content, and whether or not it’s high enough to pay for an operation this big.

That said, and this can’t be emphasized enough, we know nothing about how NuevoWonkblog plans to make money. If it’s just advertising, I think there are some real, legitimate questions. But one could easily imagine other ways to generate revenue. Sponsored events. A high-end database strategy, gathering public data and making it easily searchable for a price. A premium, industry-based vertical product like Politico Pro. Syndication. Custom research. A TV tie-in at MSNBC. Some of these make more sense with a Wonkblog ethos than others, but given that its subject matter is the most powerful institution in the world, there’s plenty of money floating around to be snared. Until we get a handle on how this new entity plans to make money, it’s really impossible to know whether letting Klein go was a smart move or not for the Post.

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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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LINK: bbcpopup.tumblr.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Justin Ellis   |   September 11, 2014

The business of journalism looks a lot like a game of Risk right now, as media companies are angling for position with new sites and bureaus around the globe. Quartz and The Huffington Post have both recently set up shop in India. BuzzFeed plans to use its new funding to expand its overseas reporting footprint, and this week Politico announced it was partnering with Axel Springer to launch a Europe-focused politics site.

bbcnewsWith so much globetrotting it only makes sense that foreign news outlets would turn their eyes to the United States. The BBC set off on one adventure this week with BBC Pop Up, a mobile (in the on-the-move sense, not the iPhone 6 sense) reporting project where journalists will report from a series of U.S. cities over the next six months. Like any good pop up restaurant, the BBC’s plans are simultaneously ambitious but also limited: the BBC team will file stories for online, shoot video for broadcast, and work with locals to uncover unreported stories. It’ll do all of that in one month before moving on to the next town. The first stop is Boulder, Colo. The Ringling Brothers would be proud.

For an organization as large as the BBC the pop up bureaus are a relatively low risk/high reward proposition. It gets the BBC wider exposure in the United States as something other than the place that broadcasts Gordon Ramsey and Doctor Who, but also serves as a test for whether there is a broader appetite for their reporting in the states.

As far as experiments go, it’s still curious why a news organization that already has large bureaus throughout the United States, not to mention various language services around the world, would put on a roadshow. As Matt Danzico, head of the BBC innovation lab explains, the pop up project is about building a bridge to a new type of audience:

In the 21st Century, creating video for television from cities like Washington, New York and/or Los Angeles is definitely an effective way of reaching traditional media consumers in those markets. But if you’re also trying to reach younger generations in Colorado, for instance, why not create gripping video from the state that’s of interest to a global audience?

And now you’ve not only provided interesting programming to your traditional audience but you have also sparked the interest of an entirely new community as well.

Do that for one month at a time. Post your videos to local social media. Move cities. Repeat.

Yes, BBC News has 44 foreign bureaus in a heap of cities around the world. But the world has nearly 3,000 cities with a population over 150k. So why not create a mobile bureau that can embed itself in a community and then relocate easily?

Here’s a look at what they have in store:

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LINK: www.buzzfeed.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joseph Lichterman   |   September 11, 2014

Apple WatchAfter Apple unveiled its Apple Watch earlier this week most news organizations are still figuring out how — or even if — they’ll develop apps for the smart watch. Most outlets haven’t received any technical specifications from Apple about the device and are still in the very preliminary stages of thinking about how they’ll approach the smart watch, Myles Tanzer reports in BuzzFeed.

There was at least one news app that got an advance look at the Apple Watch: Yahoo News Digest. The app’s logo was visible on mock-ups of the watch during Apple’s presentation. (It’s the purple one with the colorful dots in a circle — above the Pinterest logo — in the watch that’s above.)

From BuzzFeed:

But during the Tuesday’s keynote, close observers noticed multiple quick flashes of the Apple Watch’s homescreen that showed icons for two apps from Yahoo, one of which is a version of the popular Yahoo News Digest app. Adam Cahan, Yahoo’s senior vice president of mobile and emerging products, confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the company has a working version of a Yahoo News Digest product but was wary to comment on any additional apps from Yahoo — “I wouldn’t read into every icon that you see everywhere.” He said the Yahoo team was one of a select few chosen to participate in a multi-week test of the Apple Watch’s development kit.

The Apple Watch is slated to be released sometime early next year. It seems likely more news apps will be developed for the platform.

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LINK: new.dowjones.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Justin Ellis   |   September 9, 2014

The Wall Street Journal wants readers to know that being a subscriber has its perks. The Journal rolled out WSJ+ this week, a complimentary membership program for readers who have subscriptions to the paper.

What, exactly, does being a WSJ+ member get you beyond a sweet membership card to display on your digital device of choice? From the Journal’s news release:

WSJ+ members will receive special offers and be welcomed to invitation-only events designed to bring Journal content to life, while providing subscribers elevated Journal experiences specially curated to speak to their wide-ranging and ambitious interests. Events will take place across the country and will include panel discussions with top Journal editors, as well as arts performances and private film screenings.

As a WSJ+ member you could get a talk and tour of the Journal newsroom (“learn how our famous stipples are made,” the event advertises) with Editor in Chief Gerald Baker or see a conversation between Whoopi Goldberg and legendary TV producer Norman Lear.

Many of the offers through WSJ+ are either discounts or raffles seemingly attuned to the needs of the aspirational Journal reader. Tell the “Golf Concierge” you’d like a discount to play at course in Hilton Head Island, or win two tickets to the Longines Los Angeles Masters equestrian event.

The Journal is one of a growing number of media companies that wants to deepen the relationship with readers through membership programs. Both nonprofit and for-profit companies are trying to find programs to incentivize paid readership while also collecting more detailed data on their audience. One difference is that some loyalty programs, like WSJ+, are complimentary with a subscription. Others, like The Guardian’s membership plan and The New York Times’ Times Premier, are extra, which means a potential added source of revenue.

The characteristics of the programs usually fall into similar categories: special access to events, discounts, and invitations to look behind the curtain of your beloved news provider. Wine and free books seem to be a love shared by media executives and newspaper readers.

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