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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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LINK: mobilemediamemo.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   November 18, 2014

You may known Cory Bergman as the cofounder (and now general manager) of the innovative mobile app Breaking News, or as the cofounder of Seattle hyperlocal network Next Door Media. But now he’s got a new email newsletter, Mobile Media Memo, that I suspect a number of Lab readers will be interested in. (Subscribe here.) The first issue just went out and features some smart thoughts on a pet peeve of mine: Journalists’ obsession with equating length and quality.

In the world of media, longer content is heralded as higher quality. A six-minute piece is more prestigious than a minute-twenty package. Full-length features trump shorts. Shows beat webisodes. Two-thousand words are better than two hundred. There are lots of reasons for the industry bias toward longer content. Legacy platforms and business models. Prominence and awards. Creative freedom and journalistic context. Ask just about anyone in the content business, and they prefer longer work.

[…]

That doesn’t mean there’s not a market for longer-form content on mobile. I read books and watch movies on my iPhone while flying back and forth from NYC. Tablet users, especially in evening and nighttime hours, read longer-form stories and binge on Netflix. But on average across the mobile universe, shorter content is consumed more. It’s also the gateway to longer forms of content: social apps act as recommendation engines for your attention. That’s how Facebook’s app became the “home page” of mobile, accounting for more time spent than all mobile browsers combined.

[…]

Part of the problem is the industry’s fixation on “time spent” as an engagement metric. I remember a Poynter study a couple years ago that discovered the average “bail out” point on a tablet is 78.3 seconds of reading. The recommendation? Write the story in such a way that gets users to keep reading. The obvious solution: write a shorter story.

It’s often better to maximize “time saved” rather than time spent, especially on a per session basis. Imagine, for example, that you can get the nugget of a 2-minute video in a 24-second clip, or 80% of the value in 20% of the time. For most mobile users, that’s more delightful than watching the full 2 minutes. The more delighted the users, the more frequently they’ll return, which all adds up to a lot of time spent/user at the end of the month.

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LINK: ww2.cfo.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   November 17, 2014

CFO magazine has an interview with Victoria Harker, the chief financial officer of Gannett, which is one of a number of news companies in various stages of splitting off its print properties (newspapers, mostly) from its broadcast and digital ones. The positive spin is that it’ll let each type of company pursue the best approach without strategy tax; the negative spin is that it’s sending print off onto an ice floe where its continued decline will no longer infect the other side of the business. This question would seem to position Gannett as a candidate for the newspaper industry rollup (or mop-up) many have been anticipating (emphasis mine):

Q: Some people praise Gannett because it isn’t burdening the newspaper spin-off with debt, as other media companies have done. Others criticize Gannett for not including, say, Cars.com in the spin-off to provide more advertising revenue. How do you respond to these views?

A: Relative to the debt, we felt very strongly that the publishing segment — which has its own digital properties, by the way — needed to have the kind of capital structure that will enable them to be a consolidator in the industry, should that be the strategic decision they make. They have produced a very efficient model for running the newsroom of today and tomorrow. So we didn’t want to saddle them with a lot of debt. We wanted to enable a good revenue stream, a good cost structure, and good cash production, so they can do the kinds of things they need to do to create longevity within that business.

Relative to Cars.com, we will have affiliation agreements with the publishing business for five years after the deal closes. In our way of thinking it’s the best of both worlds, in that Cars.com will live in the broadcast and digital company, where it will have the right type of capital structure and investment, while the publishing side will continue to be able to leverage that relationship.

You know, we spent a lot of time with investors during the last 10 days, and a number of them asked how they can become an investor on both sides of the house once we spin. So it’s not that everybody wants to go into growth and be in broadcast and digital. We have a number of investors saying, “We’re very interested in publishing, this is an interesting story for the value side of our investment house.” And it’s a dividend-producing entity, which is very attractive to them.

Getting external capital for that sort of move will likely only get tougher, so flexibility on the balance sheet is important.

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LINK: blog.pastpages.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   November 13, 2014

Hopefully you know about PastPages, the tool built by L.A. Times data journalist Ben Welsh to record what some of the web’s most important news sites have on their homepage — hour by hour, every single day. Want to see what The Guardian’s homepage looked like Tuesday night? Here you go. Want to see how that Ebola patient first appeared on DallasNews.com in September? Try the small item here. It’s a valuable service, particularly for future researchers who will want to study how stories moved through new media. (For print media, we have physical archives; for digital news, work even a few years old has an alarming tendency to disappear.)

Anyway, Ben is back with a new tool called StoryTracker, “a set of open source tools for archiving and analyzing news homepages,” backed in part by the Reynolds Journalism Institute at Mizzou.

It offers a menu of options, documented here, for creating an orderly archive of HTML snapshots, extracting hyperlinks with a bonus set of metadata that captures each link’s prominence on the page and visualizing a page’s layout with animations that show changes over time.

The potential uses for researchers are obvious, but I could also imagine plenty of realtime uses. Tracking your own homepage over time, you could get good data on how the granular movement of stories there correlates with traffic over time. (To ask questions like: Is the top slot more or less valuable on weekends or overnight than during the day Monday to Friday?) You could track your competition’s homepages to get hard data on what stories they’re pushing hardest. And unlike the base PastPages, which saves screenshots of homepages, StoryTracker gets at the HTML to determine what stories are where. It’s all open source, so have at it. (Here’s a sample analysis to see what sources the Drudge Report links to most.)

Ben presented StoryTracker at a conference at RJI earlier this week; here’s the video and his slide deck.

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LINK: www.nber.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   November 10, 2014

Interesting new study (PDF) from Stefano DellaVigna of UC Berkeley and Johannes Hermle of the University of Bonn. From the abstract (emphasis mine):

Media outlets are increasingly owned by conglomerates, inducing a conflict of interest: a media outlet can bias its coverage to benefit companies in the same group. We test for bias by examining movie reviews by media outlets owned by News Corp. — such as the Wall Street Journal — and by Time Warner — such as Time.

We use a matching procedure based on reported preferences to disentangle bias due to conflict of interest from correlated tastes. We find no evidence of bias in the reviews for 20th Century Fox movies in the News Corp. outlets, nor for the reviews of Warner Bros. movies in the Time Warner outlets. We can reject even small effects, such as biasing the review by one extra star (out of four) every 13 movies. We test for differential bias when the return to bias is plausibly higher, examine bias by media outlet and by journalist, as well as editorial bias. We also consider bias by omission: whether the media at conflict of interest are more likely to review highly-rated movies by affiliated studios.

In none of these dimensions do we find systematic evidence of bias. Lastly, we document that conflict of interest within a movie aggregator does not lead to bias either.

(For an interesting and somewhat contradictory perspective, you might enjoy this great piece from the summer on the history of Entertainment Weekly and its role within the various iterations of Time Warner.)

So why don’t movie reviews get skewed to support the corporate parent? DellaVigna and Hermle suggest it’s the high degree of competition: “We conclude that media reputation in this competitive industry acts as a powerful disciplining force.” In other words, there are plenty of voices available on any given movie, so readers who think the fix is in for Horrible Bosses 2 would find it easy to switch to some other source of reviews.

(I’d argue another factor is that inaccurate movie reviews exact a more concrete cost to readers — a wasted movie ticket and a lame night out — than most other news products. You generally don’t lose money and time if a city council story has a fact wrong. That direct tie to consumer behavior probably incentivizes more ready switching.)

If competition on a given subject discourages bias, you can imagine the opposite would be true too — less competition, more bias. You can certainly read that as discouraging: After all, there are many beats that have fewer professional reporters covering them than 10 or 20 years ago. But you could also read it as encouraging, since social media and personal publishing can bring corrective voices to the fore. In all cases, it seems to be a critical mass of interested voices that can help tamp down (or at least surface) bias.

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LINK:   ➚   |   Posted by: Joseph Lichterman   |   November 6, 2014

News video aggregator Watchup just announced a new funding round, a $2.75 million investment led by Tribune Media, the broadcast arm of the former Tribune Company. With this round, Watchup has now raised $4.25 million since its launch in 2012. McClatchy along with prior funders the Knight Enterprise Fund, the Stanford-StartX Fund, and businessmen Ned Lamont, Gordon Crovitz, and Jim Friedlich are also investors.

“We are so excited about this round because we have brought together a select group of media innovators who are willing to contribute their industry knowledge and their content to help us reinvent the video news experience,” Adriano Farano, Watchup’s co-founder and CEO said in a statement.

Watchup (which started as a Knight News Challenge winner) is an app that allows users to build personalized newscasts by pulling video from dozens of global and local news outlets. Most of the video is pulled in through public YouTube channels, but Watchup also has agreements with The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, PBS NewsHour, and other organizations to directly provide video to the app.

This round marks the latest in a series of investments legacy news organizations are making in news startups. In September, Vice Media received $500 million in funding, including $250 million from A&E Networks, which is owned by Hearst and Disney. Last month, The New York Times Co. and German publishing behemoth Axel Springer said they were investing $3.7 million into Blendle, a Dutch news reading platform where readers pay by the article.

Tribune Media, for its part, is investing in Watchup because it “extends our vision of expanding the reach of quality local news content,” Larry Wert, Tribune’s president of broadcasting said in a statement. Tribune Media owns or operates 42 different local broadcast stations.

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