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Watching what happens: The New York Times is making a front-page bet on real-time aggregation
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April 7, 2014, 2:34 p.m.
LINK:   ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   April 7, 2014

It’s remarkable, I think, how much mainstream-media attention the departures of Nate Silver from The New York Times and Ezra Klein from The Washington Post have gotten over the past few months. I’ve admired the work of both men enormously, and I look forward to reading their new sites for years to come. But I think the chatter has been so loud in part because it fit into the preconceived narrative that Newspaper People Are Dumb And Internet People Get It. That narrative’s been right plenty of times over the past decade — but it’s also a little too pat for my liking, a default frame for every question.

vox-logoLast night, the Klein & Co. project Vox launched — more about that to come — and in The New York Times Klein was quoted as saying unflattering things about the Post (which were later amended to be unflattering things about newspapers as a whole).

At ISOJ this weekend, Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron gave a speech about the state of news today, which we covered elsewhere. But he also, in the Q&A that followed, talked a bit about how the Klein departure went down from his perspective. I thought it was worth presenting that perspective.

This sort of he-said-he-said shade-throwing is kind of boring, in the end — more about internal politics and personalities than ideas. Today we have a really interesting new news startup, embedded at maybe the smartest online news company, one that I’ve always hoped would move beyond sports/tech/games and into more traditional news. And we have one of America’s great newspapers, adding net staff for the first time in years, trying new things, and with a close to ideal ownership situation. It’s good all around! So maybe a little less trash talk?

Until then, let me ironically contribute to the chatter by sharing Baron’s comments:

I have great admiration for Ezra and I wish him well. And as I said, I think this is a sign of health in our industry that there is capital for people to embark on entrepreneurial ventures. He obviously had the entrepreneurial itch and decided to attend to that itch. He’s been able to find financing, and good for him. As I said, I think the availability of financing is a healthy aspect of our industry.

That said, I think people have been left with the impression with the coverage that somehow he was trying to do this within the umbrella of The Washington Post, and that’s just simply not the case. What Ezra said when he came to senior executives at the Post — and I was the first one he came to, as far as I know — was that he wanted to create an entirely new news organization, something entirely separate from the Post. And that he would be in charge of it — he would be the president, the CEO, the editor-in-chief, he would select the technology, he would select the advertising chief — pretty much everything. And it would exist outside the framework of The Washington Post.

It was not a request for more financing for his venture within the Post called Wonkblog, which we had financed to the tune of millions of dollars over many years — we had grown it. I don’t know how well people knew Ezra before he worked at The Washington Post, but I know that after he worked at The Washington Post, they knew him quite well. It was a great platform for him, and he was great for us as well.

But this was something that he — he had said that, you know, Wonkblog had grown about as much as it could — maybe it could have a few more people — but what he had in mind was a separate news organization. And what he really wanted to know — what he wanted to know was whether Jeff Bezos would be willing to finance that.

And that’s fine, and we obviously ran that up the pole. But I don’t have a venture capital fund available to me. I’ve looked all around — I’ve looked in the files. I don’t have a venture capital fund. And our publisher, I don’t believe, has a venture capital fund either. The company is owned 100 percent by Jeff Bezos, so any decision to fund a new venture would be his to make. And, as it turned out, the amount of money that apparently was being sought, you know, was somewhere roughly equivalent to 10 percent of our newsroom budget. And, you know, I think it’s safe to say that I would not have been too happy if 10 percent of my newsroom budget had been earmarked for [this project].

Here’s audio, if you want to check my transcribing skills, and the full Q&A starts around 5 hours and 56 minutes into this day-long ISOJ video.

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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 Zimmerman 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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LINK: bbcpopup.tumblr.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Justin Ellis   |   September 11, 2014

The business of journalism looks a lot like a game of Risk right now, as media companies are angling for position with new sites and bureaus around the globe. Quartz and The Huffington Post have both recently set up shop in India. BuzzFeed plans to use its new funding to expand its overseas reporting footprint, and this week Politico announced it was partnering with Axel Springer to launch a Europe-focused politics site.

bbcnewsWith so much globetrotting it only makes sense that foreign news outlets would turn their eyes to the United States. The BBC set off on one adventure this week with BBC Pop Up, a mobile (in the on-the-move sense, not the iPhone 6 sense) reporting project where journalists will report from a series of U.S. cities over the next six months. Like any good pop up restaurant, the BBC’s plans are simultaneously ambitious but also limited: the BBC team will file stories for online, shoot video for broadcast, and work with locals to uncover unreported stories. It’ll do all of that in one month before moving on to the next town. The first stop is Boulder, Colo. The Ringling Brothers would be proud.

For an organization as large as the BBC the pop up bureaus are a relatively low risk/high reward proposition. It gets the BBC wider exposure in the United States as something other than the place that broadcasts Gordon Ramsey and Doctor Who, but also serves as a test for whether there is a broader appetite for their reporting in the states.

As far as experiments go, it’s still curious why a news organization that already has large bureaus throughout the United States, not to mention various language services around the world, would put on a roadshow. As Matt Danzico, head of the BBC innovation lab explains, the pop up project is about building a bridge to a new type of audience:

In the 21st Century, creating video for television from cities like Washington, New York and/or Los Angeles is definitely an effective way of reaching traditional media consumers in those markets. But if you’re also trying to reach younger generations in Colorado, for instance, why not create gripping video from the state that’s of interest to a global audience?

And now you’ve not only provided interesting programming to your traditional audience but you have also sparked the interest of an entirely new community as well.

Do that for one month at a time. Post your videos to local social media. Move cities. Repeat.

Yes, BBC News has 44 foreign bureaus in a heap of cities around the world. But the world has nearly 3,000 cities with a population over 150k. So why not create a mobile bureau that can embed itself in a community and then relocate easily?

Here’s a look at what they have in store:

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