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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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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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