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The newsonomics of auctioning off Digital First’s newspapers (and California schemin’)
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March 28, 2014, 5:16 p.m.

talking-points-memo-tpm-logoAndrew Sullivan, editor of The Dish, gave a lecture on behalf of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics last night in which he railed against the evils of sponsored content. Sullivan argues that content intended, on any level, to confuse your reader is a breach of trust and that any writing done in service of a product or brand is propaganda. His accusations were fired at a list of publishers that includes but is not limited to BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Romenesko, Time, and, most recently, Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo.

Today, Marshall published a defense of his decision to start publishing sponsored content paid for by PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Marshall makes the familiar arguments about his intention to retain independence and to clearly label the sponsored content as such, as well as the necessity of revenue to any news organization. But he also makes an interesting case for a reason why an interest group would want to pay for content beyond ultimately duping his reader:

Why are these “Sponsored Messages” attractive to advertisers, particularly our advertisers? Because our advertisers are policy focused and thus tend to have more complex arguments. They’re not just selling soap or peanut butter. There’s only so much of those arguments you can fit into a picture box or a video. They want room to make fuller arguments, lengthier descriptions of who they are and what they do, as you would if you were writing an editorial — in text, going into detail. The opportunity to do that to an audience like TPM’s is of particular value because you’re people who care about policy and you read stuff. That’s an advantage we have as a publication, something that allows us to stay ahead of the curve and the downward ad price pressures that are affecting much of the rest of the publishing industry.

See also Henry Farrell’s complaint at Crooked Timber and Marshall’s response in the comments:

Just as has long been the case, virtually all our revenue comes from paid advertising, mainly from advertisers from pretty clear industry and political motives. These are the advertisers who want to advertise in political publications. Shoe manufacturers and clothiers are generally not interested. (Entertainment companies, interestingly, are)…

Our Polltracker section and app in 2012 was 100% sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, literally the Oil Lobby. That didn’t make it a ‘sponsored section’. API wanted to associate themselves with the content and run their ads next to it.

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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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