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March 24, 2014, 11:32 a.m.
LINK: www.wweek.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   March 24, 2014

In the Portland alt-weekly Willamette Week, Aaron Mesh has word of a new evaluation system for journalists at The Oregonian — one of Advance Publications’ daily newspapers that have been rendered less than daily in print.

Internal documents obtained by WW show that a quota system is being put in place that calls for steep increases in posting to Oregonlive.com, and promises compensation for those employees who post most often.

The new policy, shown to the editorial staff in a PowerPoint presentation in late February, provides that as much as 75 percent of reporters’ job performance will be based on measurable web-based metrics, including how often they post to Oregonlive.com.

Beat reporters will be expected to post at least three times a day, and all reporters are expected to increase their average number of posts by 40 percent over the next year.

In addition, reporters have been told to stir up online conversations among readers.

David Carr has a column tied to the same information and riffing on the general idea of tying compensation to metrics.

Mesh called me a few days ago to ask what I thought of this arrangement, and I think it’s fair to say I’m less outraged by it than a lot of people:

“Advance, for better or for worse, has been the most aggressive American newspaper company in moving to the web,” says Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab. “This is their bet. It makes sense that they would want to align their staff with that bet.”

Here’s what I mean. Advance has decided the way forward for newspapers is to get to a digital orientation as quickly as possible. Remaining tethered to print means that reader behaviors won’t change fast enough, ad sales behaviors won’t change fast enough, and editorial behaviors won’t change fast enough. Keeping the focus on print may well mean more revenue in the short term, but it delays the changes that’ll be necessary for the long term, since no one thinks print is going to make a stunning comeback anytime soon. So Advance has chosen radical action: stopping daily printing and/or daily home delivery at its papers, laying off a big chunk of their newsrooms, and demanding a shift to shorter online content and audience engagement.

That’s their bet. It may be a good bet or a bad bet. I tend to side with Ken Doctor when he argues the print losses end up being greater than the digital gains. And it’s a strategy that relies on the assumption that you’ll have the remaining print market to yourself — which is what makes the incursion of Baton Rouge’s Advocate into New Orleans so threatening.

But it’s their bet. And even though there are parts of it I don’t like — and even though there are good questions about whether these metrics and these standards are the right ones — I for one am happy to see newspaper companies making big bets. Because even if some (most!) of them are wrong, we know that continuing down the road the industry’s been on the past decade — cuts every year, smaller papers, weaker but still traditional journalism, neverending advertising decline, constantly aging audience — leads nowhere. That really can’t be emphasized enough: Other than what’s looking like a one-time bump from paywall revenue, the basic narrative of metro newspaper revenues has been virtually unchanged for years.

So we need big bets. And if we’re going to have big bets, we should have staff and incentive structures that line up with that bet.

Look at a paper making a different bet, The Globe and Mail. Canada’s national newspaper is betting that a paywall will be a big part of its financial future. So how is it aligning its staff resources? It’s tying compensation for some employees to paywall performance — how successful a given section’s articles were in converting readers to subscribers. A very different bet, but a similar alignment of incentives and goals.

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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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LINK: nieman.harvard.edu  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   October 15, 2014

I’m very happy to point you toward the new group of Visiting Fellows here at the Nieman Foundation, of which Nieman Lab is a part. Regular Lab readers will spot several people who’ve appeared in (or written) stories here in the past. Go here for the full press release; the winners are listed below.

A reminder: The Visiting Fellowship program exists “to invite individuals with promising research proposals to advance journalism to take advantage of the many resources at Harvard and the Nieman Foundation.” And it’s not just limited to journalists: “Those who are welcome to apply include publishers, programmers, designers, media analysts, academics, journalists and others interested in enhancing quality, building new business models or designing programs to improve journalism.”

We’ll open applications for the Visiting Fellowships again next year — watch this space. And if you are a working journalist interested in our year-long fellowships, which are amazing, it’s time to start thinking about applying. The deadline for non-U.S. citizens is December 1; for Americans, the deadline is January 31.

Dean Haddock, director of web and information technology for StoryCorps, will design a system for recording, editing and accessing user-generated interviews online that will extend StoryCorps’ proven interview methodology to the Internet and mobile devices. The project will offer new ways to produce high-quality, well-organized audio content that journalists, communities, families and the public at large can freely use and share.

Melody Joy Kramer, an editor and digital strategist at NPR, will develop a new model for public media membership to include non-financial forms of contributions and use of local stations’ physical space for community building. The goal of the project is to instill a sense of ownership and identity among listeners, allowing them to feel more connected to and invested in public media’s content, work and mission. She will also be working with MIT Media Lab graduate students to investigate new ways for audiences to tag audio.

Donna Pierce, a contributing editor at Upscale Magazine who writes about food in a syndicated column for the Chicago Defender, will research papers at the Harvard University Archives and elsewhere for a publishing project on the migration of African-American cooks and recipes from the South to the Midwest, West and Northeast. She also will work on a companion project to teach journalistic skills to young people through interviews with senior citizens about their food traditions.

Jack Riley, the London-based head of audience development for The Huffington Post UK, will research the future impact of smartwatches and wearable devices on journalism and content. His work at Harvard will include research, interviews, case studies and surveys about product potential and likely adoption, as well as monetization. Riley also will work on a prototype of a smartwatch publishing app.

Freek Staps, the head of the business news start-up NRC Q in the Netherlands, will research a set of issues related to journalism’s digital transformation, including leadership skills, newsroom buy-in and how content producers can work hand-in-hand with reader-oriented departments on the business side of media companies. His goal is to identify best practices in the United States order to introduce them to European markets.

Amy Webb, founder and CEO of Webbmedia Group and co-founder of Spark Camp, will develop a program to reform journalism education by researching and publishing a blueprint that can be adapted within universities. Webb has developed seven key areas for change, as well as new metrics and key performance indicators to measure outcomes, and will spend her time in Cambridge advancing her research.

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