Flipboard buys its rival from CNN: Flipboard, the most prominent of the many social reading apps, bought one of its rivals, Zite, from CNN this week. CNNMoney’s Laurie Segall pegged the deal at a value “as high as $60 million over time,” taking future advertising revenue into account. The dollar amount was strangely vague because, as Bloomberg’s Edmund Lee reported, CNN didn’t actually get any cash in the deal, but instead got a small stake in Flipboard. The two companies also announced a content and ad-selling partnership.
There’s no mystery in this case as to whether Zite will survive the acquisition: Its co-founder, Mike Klaas, said Zite will shut down, with its technology folded into Flipboard. Klaas said both companies have been focused on helping people discover personalized content, though they diverge in how they do it: “Zite’s focus was on topics, while Flipboard was mostly about publications; Flipboard was a reader for social media but Zite tried hardest to find articles you couldn’t find on your Twitter feed.”
ReadWrite’s Dan Rowinski also said Flipboard will benefit greatly from the serendipity of Zite’s recommendation technology, and Zite CEO Mark Johnson — who won’t be joining Flipboard in the merger — agreed with him that adding Zite’s back-end technology to Flipboard would be best for both apps, even though it meant the death of his own app.
Zite’s biggest shortcoming seems to have been not its technology, but its relative lack of size. J.P. Mangalindan of CNN’s Fortune reported that Zite never got the kind of traffic bump it had expected when it was bought by CNN. The social reader field now looks like it’s dominated by Flipboard and Facebook’s new Paper app, though Flipboard’s Mike McCue told TechCrunch he’s not worried about Paper as it’s simply “a different way of letting you look at Facebook.” Rachel King of ZDNet agreed that Paper is too narrowly drawing from Facebook content to be considered a “Flipboard killer.”
Northeastern journalism professor Dan Kennedy said the change isn’t a major shift but a rather expected course correction, though he protested the two-site strategy, calling it confusing. Why, he asked, should paying BostonGlobe.com customers have to go to Boston.com for anything? In a followup post, Kennedy said the Globe seems to be going with a hub-and-spoke model with a variety of affiliated projects, as opposed to a strict two-site model.
The Guardian, meanwhile, continues to move in the opposite direction regarding paid content online. Fresh off the announcement that the paper’s digital revenues have jumped 25 percent in the past year and the £619 million sale of its share in AutoTrader, Guardian CEO Andrew Miller told a conference crowd that the chance at a paywalled site has long passed. Instead, he said The Guardian will be looking into membership models over the next few months.
Mike Darcey, head of the News Corp unit that includes hard-paywalled Times and Sunday Times of London, backhandedly called The Guardian “very brave” for betting on a free-site strategy. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum commended The Guardian for its advertising gains but said it’s still leaving money on the table without a metered paywall. “You can set a meter as high as you want, and even then you could simply ask for money, rather than require it,” he said.
The New York Times, which pioneered the metered model, continues to tweak it: It announced it’s working on NYT Now, a mobile-oriented briefing of Times stories that will cost $8 a month. NYT Now is the first of several other paid offerings the Times is planning to offer that run a little cheaper than the main Times digital subscription plan.
Getty Images’ free embedded photo plan: Getty Images, one of the world’s largest stock photo agencies, announced this week that it’s making 35 million of its photos free to embed for noncommercial purposes, as the British Journal of Photography reported. Getty has a surprisingly lenient measure of what makes up noncommercial use, including news sites that use photos for editorial purposes and blogs that serve Google Ads as noncommercial, provided the photos aren’t to promote a product or service. (All except the top photo in this story are Getty embeds.)
As the BBC noted, Getty is admitting defeat with this policy: It knows its pictures are being used illicitly all over the web, and it’s conceding to that free use while trying to retain some of its revenue by gathering data from the sites on which it’s embedded and (possibly, eventually) serving ads with the pictures. Gizmodo and Techdirt — the latter of which has been quite critical of Getty’s copyright enforcement efforts — both praised the move, while the BBC pointed out that many professional photographers are livid.The Verge’s Russell Brandom compared the move to the music industry’s efforts to adapt to downloading while keeping control and worried about long-term link rot with embedded images if Getty’s terms change. The Lab’s Joshua Benton had the most in-depth look at Getty’s plan, outlining the shortcomings of its embedding format and characterizing its possible strategy as “(a) get some people to use an embed instead of stealing while (b) making the experience just clunky enough that paying customers won’t want to use it.”
Russia’s media offensive: Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the growing international tensions surrounding Ukraine have dominated the news this week, and as The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone and Luke Johnson reported, Russia has been waging a media offensive alongside its military moves. Crimea’s only independent TV channel shut down after threats to its journalists, and masked gunmen seized the offices of the Crimean Center for Investigative Journalism. Both actions drew condemnation from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In Russia, state-run media has been enlisted in the propaganda effort, as Calderone and Johnson, The Daily Beast’s Oleg Shynkarenko, and BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray all documented the spin and misinformation being aired there. One anchor on the Russian government-funded TV network RT America, Liz Wahl (an American), drew attention by resigning on air in protest. RT America condemned her resignation as “nothing more than a self-promotional stunt” while praising another RT host who criticized the Russian government on her talk show; its editor-in-chief followed up with a post expressing pride in her RT’s journalists for withstanding the criticism they go through in the U.S.
Wahl, for her part, criticized RT America in an interview with The Daily Beast for marketing the network to appeal to a young Westerners cynical about political authority while downplaying the fact that it’s run by an extremely authoritarian organization in the Kremlin. The New York Times talked to a former RT staffer who backed up her claim of covert editorial influence in favor of the Russian government. The New York Times talked to experts who said this sort of misleading selectivity is the norm, not just during wartime, but also noted that the U.S. media takes a pretty pro-American perspective as well, something RT representatives and experts also told Mashable.
Reading roundup: Lots more news going on this week in the media world beyond the big headlines:— Time unveiled a redesign that includes new, more dynamic and interactive ad units and, as Poynter’s Sam Kirkland pointed out, a more text-heavy, app-like feel. Tech entrepreneur Chris Saad tweaked sites like Time’s for web design that mimics iPad design. Meanwhile, Time’s (former?) rival, Newsweek, relaunched its print edition this week with an attention-getting cover story revealing the identity of Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto that led to a denial, outrage, a car chase, and an ethical debate. The New York Times outlined Newsweek’s plans — it’s printing 70,000 copies, available for a whopping $7.99 each — and the Lab’s Ken Doctor went deeper into its print-web subscription strategy.
— Federal attorneys in Texas dismissed 11 charges against Barrett Brown, who had been accused of trafficking in stolen data for posting a link to the data online. The case has drawn attention from free speech advocates, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation praised the decision to drop the charges. Earlier in the week, Brown’s attorneys had filed a motion to dismiss his indictment; you can read Techdirt’s commentary on that document here.
— As First Look Media and Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept build on their non-hierarchical, collaborative editorial model, PandoDaily lobbed a conflict-of-interest accusation revolving around funding its owner, Pierre Omidyar, has given to pro-democracy groups in Ukraine. Greenwald responded with a defense of his and The Intercept’s journalistic independence, and PandoDaily issued another reply. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple summarized the conflict with some rebukes for both sides, and CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis looked at the episode as a case study in the new ethics of philanthropy-based journalism.
— The trial of three Al Jazeera journalists who have been detained in Egypt for several months began this week, with the defendants claiming they’ve been tortured and the prosecutors presenting, according to The Guardian, farcical evidence from the journalists’ hotel rooms. The trial has been postponed until March 24.— Just like The New York Times in December, Slate hit a traffic high this week with a non-article — a name generator inspired by John Travolta’s Oscar-night flub. The Lab’s Joshua Benton delved into the ambivalence around non-news content drawing huge traffic at a news site, while the Times explored it as an instance of the gamification of news.
— Three thoughtful pieces to chew on: Dean Starkman of the Columbia Journalism Review’s “new consensus on the future of the news” manifesto, UNC professor John L. Robinson reflected briefly on the pros and cons of his students’ social media-heavy news diets, and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism’s Anna Hiatt went deep (naturally) into the future of online longform journalism.