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May 29, 2014, 6:24 p.m.
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LINK: www.nytimes.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   May 29, 2014

If you want to do something newsworthy at The New York Times and not have people notice, I guess the best thing to do is to put it on Times Insider. That’s the special newsroom-backstory blog available only to those who’ve been upsold to Times Premier, the ten-bucks-more-than-normal premium tier the paper debuted this spring.

I say that because I haven’t seen anyone tweet or otherwise mention this post that went up a couple hours ago on a very newsworthy topic: how the Times’ new top editor, Dean Baquet, is responding to the leaked Times innovation report in his early days in the job.

That report held particular ire for the print-centric nature of the Times’ daily meeting schedule, which is largely structured around picking the stories that will make Page 1 of the print edition. Apologies for the long blockquote:

The habits and traditions built over a century and a half of putting out the paper are a powerful, conservative force as we transition to digital — none more so than the gravitational pull of Page One.

nytimes-page-oneSome of our traditional competitors have aggressively reorganized around a digital-first rather than a print-first schedule. The health and profitability of our print paper means we don’t yet need to follow them down this path. But it is essential to begin the work of questioning our print-centric traditions, conducting a comprehensive assessment of our digital needs, and imagining the newsroom of the future. This means reassessing everything from our roster of talent to our organizational structure to what we do and how we do it.

[…]

The newsroom is unanimous: We are focusing too much time and energy on Page One. This concern — which we heard in virtually every interview we conducted, including with reporters, desk heads, and masthead editors — has long been a concern for the leadership.

And yet it persists. Page One sets the daily rhythms, consumes our focus, and provides the newsroom’s defining metric for success. The recent announcement from Tom Jolly to focus the Page One meeting more on the web report is a great step in the right direction, but many people have voiced their skepticism that it will truly change our focus.

Here is a typical complaint from a Washington reporter who frequently appears on A1:

“Our internal fixation on it can be unhealthy, disproportionate and ultimately counterproductive. Just think about how many points in our day are still oriented around A1 — from the 10 a.m. meeting to the summaries that reporters file in the early afternoon to the editing time that goes into those summaries to the moment the verdict is rendered at 4:30. In Washington, there’s even an email that goes out to the entire bureau alerting everyone which six stories made it. That doesn’t sound to me like a newsroom that’s thinking enough about the web.”

The Times Insider post (thanks to eagle-eyed Joseph Lichterman for spotting it) says that a staff memo sent Wednesday takes a step in that direction. From the memo, from Baquet and Karron Skog, head of the news desk and home page during the day:

We are shifting the focus of the 10 a.m. meeting, away from the next day’s A1 to a more lively discussion about how to create a robust, comprehensive digital report for the day. To accomplish this, we will run the meeting with a keen eye across all of our nonprint platforms — NYTimes.com, NYT Now, mobile, social and INYT — bearing in mind that our aim is to get our best content in front of the most readers.

Karron will start the meeting with a quick overview of the morning home page, and share any interesting/pertinent analytics. She will discuss our lede options and photo plan for the morning.

We will identify the day’s main news targets and start the discussion with that desk. We will quickly brainstorm how we can build those stories out during the day, including input from photo, graphics, video, social, Upshot, etc.

[…]

Desk editors will then pitch their entire day’s digital report — news and enterprise — and include an idea of when stories will be ready to post (this will require short pitches, slugs and lengths). We will need to make some strategic decisions about when we roll out these offerings on the home page, mobile, NYT Now and to the INYT.

[…]

This is a work in progress and suggestions are welcome. We consider this a fresh start, and we hope you are as excited about this new direction as we are.

The memo says that, after the meeting, top editors will meet separately to “pick A1 targets so space can be ordered.”

The Times Insider post also features a Q&A with Skog about the change. I won’t just copy/paste the whole thing — if you like this stuff, pay the ten bucks a month! free trial! — but a few highlights:

[Is this being done because of the report?] The report, headed up by A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher’s son, repeated emphatically our need to keep moving toward being “digital first.” So it certainly played a role. But we’ve been trying to get here for a long time. The report was an exclamation mark.

[Was the old meeting setup holding the paper back?] “Holding us back” is maybe too strong. But it is true that many editors — though fewer and fewer — have felt as if the measure of their desks’ success rested primarily on whether their stories made the front page. This is the latest signal that it simply isn’t the case: Giving good play to an article on the home page and in our mobile feeds is just as important. Half our digital readers, by the way, are on mobile.

[What are peak hours on web and mobile?] Our web traffic starts to rise around 6 a.m. and peaks between noon and 1 p.m. Mobile peaks much earlier, around 8. For several years now, we’ve been much more attuned to publishing our best stories when we have the most readers. That does not mean other times are not good: We find our readers enjoy longer stories in the evening when they have more time. We get an uptick in traffic on Sunday night when people are disengaging from the weekend and getting ready to plow back into work. Some international stories might be best published in the time zone of that particular country or region. We try to think about all the ways we can get the stories most relevant to our readers posted when they want them.

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Last month, BuzzFeed’s executive editor for news Shani Hilton stopped by the Nieman Foundation, where the Nieman Fellows and I had the chance to ask her a few questions.

Hilton was just promoted to her current role this September, a position which makes her responsible for, among many other things, developing a set of newsroom standards for BuzzFeed’s ever growing staff. In addition to talking about that, we touched on hiring strategy, diversity, how you know when a new project isn’t working, international expansion, and more.

Our sister publication, Nieman Reports, has the highlights reel in text; for true devotees, the full audio of the interview is below.

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Earlier this year Spanish lawmakers passed a law requiring Google and other aggregators to pay local publishers for snippets or links to stories. As Europe continues to turn up the heat on Google, the company decided today to shut down Google News in Spain.

While it’s still uncertain how much companies like Google would have to pay every time an article appears, the penalty for not paying the fee is almost $750,000. That was apparently more than enough reason for Google to take its ball and go home. Richard Gingras, head of Google News writes:

This new legislation requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not. As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable. So it’s with real sadness that on 16 December (before the new law comes into effect in January) we’ll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain.

According to Mark Scott of The New York Times, Google plans to remove all Spanish publishers from its “global news aggregating products.” What effect Google’s decision will have on traffic for the Spanish news sites remains to be seen. As SEO consultant Adam Shrek’s recent analysis showed, the amount of traffic a site gets from Google News can vary.

All across Europe publishers have been demanding that Google start paying for content. Media companies in France, Spain, and Germany have led the fight, accusing the search company of becoming rich off copyrighted work from publishers. A similar law was passed in Germany, but rather than paying the fees outlined in the law Google gave publishers the choice to opt in to show up in search results. By opting in companies would waive their right to get paid. As Catherine Stupp wrote for the Lab earlier this month, there were immediate results:

To avoid paying the collection agency, VG Media, which represents the publishers that chose not to opt in, Google stopped showing snippets from their news articles on Oct. 23. Shortly after that, the publishers in VG Media gave Google a license to restore snippets to their search results — for free. Berlin-based Axel Springer, one of Europe’s largest publishers, announced on Nov. 5 that it had caved to Google’s pressure after traffic to its websites from Google dropped by 40 percent and from Google News by 80 percent when snippets were left out of search results.

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LINK: www.adamsherk.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   December 9, 2014

There’s Google and then there’s Google News. One tries to soak up the entire Internet, the other a curated selection of news sites. It’s easy to confuse the two, since you’ll often get “Google News” results at the top of a standard Google search page even if you never go near the url news.google.com. But they’re distinct parts of Googleland.

Google and publishers have a fraught relationship, and plenty have given thought to what it would be like to pull out of one or both Google corpora. (Axel Springer found out.) But how important is each to your overall search traffic? Is it your site’s presence in Google that’s driving it, or its presence in Google News?

That’s the question asked in this interesting piece by SEO consultant Adam Sherk. He used a tool to try to determine how much of 80 news sites’ search traffic came from general search and how much came from Google News. The answer: It depends.

On the high end, you had Reuters and the Christian Science Monitor, which each get more than 40 percent of their search traffic from Google News — either from the Google News site itself or a search onebox. (Update: Sherk now says oneboxes aren’t included here, which means the real impact of Google News is understated here.)

adam-sherk-google-news-top

At the very bottom? BuzzFeed, with less than 1 percent coming from Google News.

adam-sherk-google-news-bottom

It’s hard to generalize too much from the data. The Christian Science Monitor, despite its somewhat old-fashioned reputation, is actually something of a SEO powerhouse, quite good at staying on top of Google Trends and posting webby copy that matches what people are searching for in the moment. It makes sense that Reuters, as a wire service, would do well for in-the-moment news searches. And that BuzzFeed’s search traffic comes overwhelmingly from the non-news side of Google makes sense, given its abundance of evergreen listicles.

But you also have sites like Mashable (4%) and Business Insider (5%) in the low-from-Google-News category, and Bloomberg Businessweek (29%) and Newsweek (19%) on the high-from-Google-News end — each of which is the opposite of what I would have expected. So it’s more complicated than it might seem. But the broad majority of sites seem to be in that 5 to 25 percent range — meaning Google News makes up a significant but not overwhelming part of most sites’ search traffic.

Check out Sherk’s post to see data on 80 major news sites — both raw totals and the News/non-News split.

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Recent media news headlines have briefly sucked the digital discourse around new and legacy media back into the reductive binary of pro- and anti-Internet.

While asking whether the Internet helps or hurts journalism is about as useful as asking if technology is good or bad, the Pew Research Internet Project does have a study out today that comes down pretty clearly on one side.

The survey of 1,066 internet users shows that 87% of online adults say the internet and cell phones have improved their ability to learn new things, including 53% who say it has improved this “a lot.” Internet users under age 50, those in higher income households, and those with higher educational attainment are especially likely to say the internet and cell phones help them “a lot” when it comes to learning new things.

Asked if they enjoy having so much information at their fingertips or if they feel overloaded, 72% of internet users report they like having so much information, while just 26% say they feel overloaded.

[…]

News: Substantial majorities also feel better informed about national news (75%), international news (74%), and pop culture (72%) because of these tools.

Not only do individual Americans feel more personally informed because of the Internet, but a majority also believe that society at large is better informed. Interestingly, survey respondents generally felt that the Internet improved their knowledge of distant topics — pop stars and international news — more than it increased their understanding of things like local news or civic issues. 60 percent of those surveyed said they felt better informed about local news after the Internet, while 74 percent and 75 percent felt mobile phones and the Internet made them better informed about international and national news, respectively.

Media news tends to focus on the national narrative — BuzzFeed versus The New York Times versus whoever’s spending millions of dollars to build a huge new website this week. But despite efforts of programs like the Knight Foundation’s Community Information Challenge, the tougher nut to crack for the Internet seems to be disseminating information on a more granular level.

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A new report out today from the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project takes a look at how partnerships work in journalism by way of five case studies. Rick Edmonds and Amy Mitchell write about collaborations between Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress; I-News Network, Rocky Mountain PBS, and KUSA-TV; five Texas newspapers; The Lens and WWNO Public Radio; and The Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald. It’s worth noting that these examples include both nonprofit and commercial partnerships.

The report finds that, broadly, the majority of these partnerships are born out of economic necessity, and that, despite their increasing prevalence, they can be difficult to manage successfully. Interestingly, the authors say that many of these collaborations are easier to execute in legacy media — namely print and broadcast — than digitally, because of technological barriers such as incompatible content management systems.

Also of interest is the observation that few of the partnerships are financial in nature. For the most part, the goal is to work more efficiently, reach a broader audience, and tell a better story, rather than for one side or the other to increase revenue. For example, the Texas Front-Page Exchange has been sharing content gratis for five years now. From the report:

What stood in the way of this sort of cooperation for decades was industry prosperity, big newsroom budgets and a tradition whose definition of quality began with running only the work of your own staff along with wire stories.

But particularly after papers scaled back any statewide circulation ambitions as hard times set in, there came to be very little competition for audience among the five.

Other editors share Mong’s view that the cooperation, while not central to editorial strategy, is a distinct plus. Nancy Barnes came to the Chronicle in October 2013 after years at the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and began as a skeptic. “I was surprised—giving away all that content for free? But in fact these are all very distinct markets. The exchange helps us avoid redundant effort. It seems a very innovative solution.”

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