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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: reporterslab.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   January 20, 2015

A new census from Duke’s Reporters’ Lab says that fact-checking sites are on the rise worldwide:

The 2015 Fact-Checking Census from the Duke Reporters’ Lab found 89 that have been active in the past few years and 64 that are active today. That’s up from 59 total/44 active when we did our last count in May 2014. (We include inactive sites in our total count because sites come and go with election cycles. Some news organizations and journalism NGOs only fact-check during election years.)

Bill Adair, who runs the Reporters’ Lab, used to run PolitiFact — hence his interest.

The survey also found that the use of true/false ratings scales was on the rise, though “Pants On Fire” hasn’t become the universal synonym for lying:

Many rating systems use a true to false scale while others have devised more creative names. For example, ratings for the European site FactCheckEU include “Rather Daft” and “Insane Whopper.” Canada’s Baloney Meter rates statements from “No Baloney” to “Full of Baloney.”

There’s also True to Huckster Propaganda, True to Rubbish, Verdadero to Ridículo, and an array of Pinocchios.

The full list of sites is here.

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You may remember a year ago I posted this short piece that detailed the decline of free daily newspapers in Europe. (“Remember how, a few years ago, some thought that Metro and others of its free ilk would sweep into the space paid dailies were leaving behind? It didn’t work out exactly that way.”) I included this chart by Piet Bakker, perhaps the world’s top analyst of free newspapers:

free-newspapers-chart-piet-bakker

Another year, another chart: Bakker has just updated with 2013 data:

free-dailies-europe-1995-2013-piet-bakker

In other words, more of the same. WAN-IFRA did a brief email interview with Bakker about the state of affairs:

Since free dailies have only one source of income — advertising — the economic crisis hit this sector harder than other print media. Apart from that, there is a general decline in print circulation, probably because younger generations don’t use print that often. This generation was always rather interested in free dailies but now increasingly uses mobile phones during the time that they used to read a free newspaper. And just before the crisis, many free titles were launched (in 2005-2007), which resulted in fierce competition among free papers, hurting the business model even more.

Bakker is also reviewing the situation for free dailies across the world in a 67-part series — the man has stamina! So far, he’s run through Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Denmark. (Estonians: Get ready!) He expects to finish Europe by mid-February, then move to the rest of the world.

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LINK: betasurvey.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   January 15, 2015

nytimes-logoFor two decades, The New York Times has had a reader insight panel — a subset of its audience that it occasionally surveys to “better understand the reading habits, lifestyles and interests of Times readers. (They’re far from alone in this; here’s The Washington Post’s, for instance.) If you’re on it, as I am, you get occasional questions about whether you read a certain section, whether you’d be interested in a particular new Times product, and so on.

But now the Times is using its reader panel for journalistic purposes. For the first time, the results will be published in The New York Times Magazine. I got an email earlier this week under the name of new magazine editor Jake Silverstein (emphasis mine):

Dear New York Times Reader Insight Panel Member,

Whether you are a new Insight Panel member, or have been with us for years, we want to thank you for the invaluable feedback you provide as valued New York Times reader.

Today we have a very special survey. For the first time, results of this Readers Insight Panel survey will be published in The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

The survey covers a number of topics, but it’s all about you. Please note that some of the questions are very personal. In these instances we have provided a “Prefer not to answer” option. If, at any point during the survey, you feel that the questions are too personal, please feel free to stop and close out of it completely. We understand if you are not comfortable answering any or all of our questions. As with all NYT Reader Insight Panel surveys, all answers are strictly confidential. Answers will be reported in the magazine only in aggregate.

The survey should take about 10 minutes to complete. Just click on the link below or copy and paste the URL into your browser.

[link omitted]

Thank you very much for participating in our survey.

Sincerely,

Jake Silverstein
Editor, The New York Times Sunday Magazine

I won’t spoil the future reveal of this package for the magazine, other than to note that among the questions were “Who is the best American President ever?,” “Do you have any close friends of a different political party?,” “Have you ever had dinner with your neighbors?,” and “Let’s say you are at a party and people are talking about a particular book that everyone has read except for you. Do you admit you haven’t read it, or do you fake it?”

(Oh, and “Do you believe in God?”)

But I did want to note it as an example of a business-side operation (reader research) and editorial working together, in a way that shouldn’t anger any but the most vitriolic church/state scolds. Why engage an outside polling operation to find out what your readers think — when you’ve already built one in house? The Times’ Innovation report specifically called for more of this sort of collaboration:

The very first step, however, should be a deliberate push to abandon our current metaphors of choice — “The Wall” and “Church and State” — which project an enduring need for division. Increased collaboration, done right, does not present any threat to our values of journalistic independence…

We have an army of colleagues who are committed to helping deliver cutting-edge journalism and growing our audience. [For example?] The Analytics groups use data to learn about our readers’ changing habits as well as the effectiveness of our advertising and marketing. They also gather direct feedback from our readers about what they want from our apps and websites. This group translates those needs for Product and Design.

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Since its launch in 2012, the Solutions Journalism Network has worked with dozens of newsrooms by holding training workshops, helping journalists on individual stories, organizing longterm partnerships, and more.

Today though, SJN is taking its particular brand of journalism to the journalistic masses with the release of a 48-page guide on how to use the solutions journalism method at all stages of reporting a story, from pitching an editor to promoting a finished piece on social media.

Solutions journalism calls for reporters to showcase potential solutions along with the problems they’re reporting on as a way to produce more informative and impactful stories. As the report puts it:

It is increasingly inadequate for journalists to simply note what’s wrong and hope for society to create better laws or provide proper oversight. The world’s problems are just too complex and fast-changing. People must learn about credible examples of responses to problems in order to become empowered, discerning actors capable of shaping a better society. In this context, journalism must augment its traditional role, spotlighting adaptive responses to entrenched social ills.

SJN has previously published tools for practicing solutions journalism on its website, but the new guide, which can be downloaded as a PDF, is meant to be a more comprehensive document that can “answer some of the most common doubts journalists have about this practice — like how to write about failure in a solutions — oriented way.”

The guide gives point-by-point explanations for how to identify what makes a good solutions journalism story, the best way to pitch an editor, the types of questions to ask sources, and how to approach writing a story. There are also annotated stories from The New York Times, The Seattle Times, PRI’s The World, and Kaiser Health News that highlight how the pieces demonstrate solutions journalism.

Here’s a link to the full report.

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Yesterday, CNN announced that it had struck a deal with the feds that represents some progress for those interested in using drones for journalism:

CNN has entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRDA) with the Federal Aviation Administration to advance efforts to integrate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) into newsgathering and reporting.

The cooperation arrangement will integrate efforts from CNN’s existing research partnership with the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). Coordination between and among CNN, GTRI and the FAA has already begun. The FAA will use data collected from this initiative to formulate a framework for various types of UAVs to be safely integrated into newsgathering operations.

Some folks reported on this as if it meant you’d be seeing CNN drone footage any day now. (“After months of studying drones as a news reporting tool, CNN just struck a deal with the Federal Aviation Administration today, meaning lots of eye-in-the-sky Wolf Blitzer segments are forthcoming.” “Drones are going to help CNN bring you the news.” “CNN gets go-ahead to use drones in newsgathering.”) But Matt Waite and other drone journalism aficionados cautioned that the deal isn’t as broad as some are making it seem:

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