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July 3, 2014, 10:05 a.m.
Audience & Social
LINK: www.pewinternet.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Caroline O'Donovan   |   July 3, 2014

Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is out with a report today based on a survey of leaders in information technology. Earlier, Pew asked experts what digital life would look like in 2025; today’s update focuses on potential threats to our information network.

The concerns are broken down into four categories:

1) Actions by nation-states to maintain security and political control will lead to more blocking, filtering, segmentation, and balkanization of the Internet.

2) Trust will evaporate in the wake of revelations about government and corporate surveillance and likely greater surveillance in the future.

3) Commercial pressures affecting everything from Internet architecture to the flow of information will endanger the open structure of online life.

4) Efforts to fix the TMI (too much information) problem might over-compensate and actually thwart content sharing.


The first two categories have broad implications for journalists — for example, their safety, and how they practice their craft. Journalists will simultaneously have to work to push back against government and commercial control creep while learning how to resist surveillance, as will everyone else.

The second two categories, however, speak more directly and immediately to the world of digital publishing. For example, as those commercial pressures mount, it will become increasingly important to make sure that news and information providers understand and have access to the heavy-duty tools of the Internet, so that rapidly consolidating power and money do not overwhelm them:

Glenn Edens, director of research in networking, security, and distributed systems at PARC, said, “Network operators’ desire to monetize their assets to the detriment of progress represents the biggest potential problem. Enabling content creators to easily and directly reach audiences, better search tools, better promotion mechanisms and curation tools — continuing to dismantle the ‘middle men’ is key.”

The fluidity of content was also a major concern for some, who look forward to considering access a right, and believe that sharing is the antidote to a fractured Internet:

Clark Sept, co-founder and principal of Business Place Strategies Inc., wrote, “Online content access and sharing will be even better and easier by way of personal digital rights access. Sharing freely will be recognized as having greater long-term economic value than strictly limited controls over ‘intellectual property.’”

Or, more briefly:

Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, responded, “People are going to get what they want, and they want to share content.”

If the risk of an information ecosystem in which content is produced and controlled by a few economically powerful players isn’t clear, Doc Searls explains:

“What the carriers actually want — badly — is to move television to the Net, and to define the Net in TV terms: as a place you go to buy content, as you do today with cable. For this they’ll run two-sided markets: on the supply side doing deals with “content providers” such as Hollywood and big publishers, and on the demand side by intermediating the sale of that content. This by far is the most serious threat to sharing information on the Net, because it undermines and sidelines the Net’s heterogeneous and distributed system for supporting everybody and everything, and biases the whole thing to favor a few vertically-integrated ‘content’ industries.”

But there’s a flip side to all that sharing and fluid content, says Mike Roberts, former ICANN leader:

“God knows what will happen to the poor authors. John Perry Barlow says ‘information wants to be free,’ which pursued to the ultimate, pauperizes the authors and diminishes society thereby. There has been recent active discussion of this question on the ICANN former director list.”

Despite these looming systemic threats, many respondents were concerned about a challenge we already face everyday — how to efficiently locate the information that we want, and how to guarantee that it will continue to be served to us. Writes Michael Starks, an information science professional:

“The challenge will be in separating the wheat from the chaff. Will people who can create, edit, judge, find and curate content for others become valued for those skills? If so — and if that value is reflected in the salaries those people receive — then highly networked populations will have greater access to better content as well as more content.”

According to the report’s authors, complaints about the sorting process of the future included but were not limited to: “algorithms often categorize people the wrong way and do not suit their needs; they do not change as people change; search algorithms are being written mostly by corporations with financial interests that could sway the ways in which they are being written; search algorithms can be gamed by certain outside interests to sway searches to their advantage.” Susan Etlinger of the Altimeter Group added additional concerns:

“With regard to content, the biggest technical challenge will continue to be filter failure; algorithms today just cannot keep up with the number and type of signals that provisionally predict what a person will want at a certain point in time. There are so many barriers: multiple devices, offline attribution and of course simple human changeability. We will continue to see a push and pull with regard to privacy. People will continue to adapt, but their expectations for control and relevance will also increase.”

A few survey respondents went so far as to imagine the kinds of systems they believe might, or at least should, come into place to help us deal with the deluge of data. Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, expressed concerns over consolidated control of the tools we use to find information:

“Currently, approximately 70% of Internet users in the U.S. and 90% in Europe obtain information by going through the search services of one company. This needs to change. There should be many information sources, more distributed, and with less concentration of control. So, I am hoping for positive change. We need many more small and mid-size firms that are stable and enduring. The current model is to find an innovation with monetizing potential, incorporate, demonstrate proof of concept, sell to an Internet giant, and then walk away. This will not end well.”

What could one type of small firm helping redistribute control of search and distribution?

Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, predicted, “To help people realize their fullest potential, an industry of ‘personal information trainers’—by analogy to personal trainers for fitness—will form to help people find and access information that is interesting and useful for them. Reference librarians played this role when we went to the information repository called a library. As the volume of information continues to grow exponentially, personal information trainers will help us with the much more daunting task of creating a virtual dashboard to access the information of value to us, much of which we did not know was out there.”

Ultimately, writers Robert Cannon, U.S. Internet law expert, we are past “the initial utopian introduction that greets the technology with claims of world peace,” and past the era of competition. “In the information era,” he writes “we have moved into the era of consolidation.” But there may yet be hope:

“Unlike other cycles where the era of consolidation also raised barriers to entry, in the modern information era, the barriers to entry still remain low. But this can change as conduit becomes entangled with content or service. […] This is the core concern of the Net neutrality debate: Will the Internet of the future look like the radio market or the telegraph market after consolidation, with few players controlling content — or will it continue to look like the never-ending marketplace of ideas?”

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LINK: www.poynter.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   May 27, 2015

Longform may get all the attention these days, but Racked — the style, shopping, and beauty site that Vox Media acquired when it bought the Curbed.com network in 2013 — is seeing a sweet spot in the middle. The site announced Tuesday that it has hired Meredith Haggerty, formerly the host of the podcast TLDR, as its new reports editor. In the role, she’ll be editing posts that fall between 1,000 and 1,500 words.

The reports editor title isn’t an anomaly at Vox Media; other Vox brands, like The Verge, have people in the same role. The position is a first for Racked, however, and Leslie Price, the site’s editor-in-chief, said it was necessitated by the fact that Racked has delved into more original reporting. The site hired Julia Rubin, formerly the online features editor at Teen Vogue, as its features editor last year. “Over the year, we’ve seen the impact of having an editor of her caliber on our brand and on our traffic. It led us to the point where we really just needed someone to do this kind of text editing” for shorter stories. Rubin, as features editor, will now focus on stories of more than 2,000 words, while Haggerty picks up the mid-length material — Q&As, repeating features like Jolie Kerr’s cleaning column, book and TV reviews, and art and museum coverage.

All the editors out there will be gratified if not surprised to hear that, yes, good editing does lead to higher traffic, at least in Racked’s case. “We want to be telling a story,” Price said, “and in the fashion/beauty space, not a lot of people are doing that work. Voice is incredibly important for us, and the editor [plays a role] there as well, making sure that everything we’re putting up is interesting and compelling.” One such story, about teen retailer Brandy Melville, “did amazingly well” because the brand “came out of nowhere, and is everywhere now, and hadn’t been reported on.” Stories about brands like this, that are “beloved with a certain subset of shoppers and we’re just digging in a little bit more,” pay off in clicks.

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LINK: www.kpcb.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   May 27, 2015

It’s an annual moment of print realism here at Nieman Lab: The posting of the attention slide from Mary Meeker’s state-of-the-Internet slide deck. It’s enough of a tradition that I can now copy-and-paste from multiple versions of this post. Here’s a sentence from the 2013 version:

For those who don’t know it, Meeker — formerly of Morgan Stanley, at VC firm Kleiner Perkins since late 2010 — each year produces a curated set of data reflecting what she sees as the major trends in Internet usage and growth. It may be the only slide deck that qualifies as an event unto itself.

And a chunk from the 2014 version:

What’s useful about Meeker’s deck is that its core data serves as a punctuation mark on some big, ongoing trends. The kind of trends we all know are happening, but whose annual rate of progress can be hard to judge. Like, say, the continued demise of print.

The Meeker slide that always interests me most is the one where she shows how American attention is divided among various forms of media — and how that division lines up with where advertising dollars go. How much of our attention goes to television, say, versus how much of our advertising go there?

It’s not absolute dogma that the two — audience attention and advertising dollars — always be equal. But it makes sense that they would tend toward parity. More people listening to the radio should lead to more companies advertising on the radio, or vice versa.

So let’s travel back in time. Here’s Meeker’s chart for 2011:

mary-meeker-adshare-2011

The two things that jump out at me: Print gets a lot more advertising than it gets attention. And mobile is the opposite. You’d think that would equalize with time.

Here’s 2012:

mary-meeker-adshare-2012

Equalization! Or at least the path to equalization, proportionately. Print loses attention, but loses ad dollars a bit more quickly; mobile gains attention, but gains ad dollars a bit more quickly. (Sizable margin of error here, it’s worth saying.)

Here’s 2013:

mary-meeker-adshare-2013

The print story remains the same: down in attention and in ad dollars. But note there is still a wide gap between the two — print still gets far more ad dollars than its hold on the American attention would seem to “deserve.”

Finally, here’s the new 2014 chart (it’s slide 16):

mary-meeker-chart-2014

The mobile growth everyone anticipated is happening — moving from 4% to 8% in 12 months’ time. And print continues to lose both time spent and revenue.

Let me wrap up by copying what I wrote last year:

Print advertising is not coming back. It will fall further. Substantially further. All newspaper planning for the coming few years needs to reckon with that basic fact.

Mobile continues its rocket rise, and there’s still lots of room for ad revenue growth. And now it’s even eating away at the Great American Time Suck, television. Mobile is eating the world, and most news organizations make only a pittance off it.

Lots more interesting stuff in Meeker’s complete deck.

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LINK: twitter.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   May 27, 2015

When Jacob Harris left The New York Times last month to work for the federal government at 18F — a sort of in-house digital consultancy to up the digital smarts of government — one could imagine the benefits of having a skilled data journalist now working on the inside. Someone who’d spent lots of time dealing with government data now might have a hand (however small — this is the federal government we’re talking about, after all) in improving the quality of that data. So it wasn’t too surprising to see him tweet this last night:

Data.gov is, of course, the feds’ open data portal: “Here you will find data, tools, and resources to conduct research, develop web and mobile applications, design data visualizations, and more.”

data-govHarris later clarified that he was asking for his “personal curiosity, not any work assignment.” But he nonetheless got an interesting range of responses — a sort of communal wish list from a group of (mostly) journalists about how government data could better serve their needs and the demands of transparency. Here are a few of the responses that stood out to me.

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LINK: nieman.harvard.edu  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   May 15, 2015

The Nieman Foundation (of which Nieman Lab is a part) just announced our 78th class of Nieman Fellows. (For the uninitiated: The Nieman Fellowship allows 24 journalists the chance to spend a year at Harvard, studying the subjects of their choice, and working to improve the state of journalism, in the United States and worldwide.)

It’s a great group, as it is every year. A few of the names will be familiar to Nieman Lab readers — we wrote about Grzegorz Piechota back in 2012, and we’ve written about Mónica Guzmán several times over the years.

You can find the new fellows’ Twitter handles here, and more information about the fellowship is here. Meanwhile, here are the ideas they’ll be exploring at Harvard starting this fall — the Americans listed first, then the internationals.

And if you’re a journalist who’d benefit from a year to step back from your daily work and work on something bigger, the next application cycle is only a few months away.

Debra Adams Simmons, a senior news executive at Advance Local, the parent company of a group of metro news organizations, will study the impact of the digital news transformation on newsroom leadership and diversity, media ethics and local communities.

Mariah Blake, most recently a senior reporter for Mother Jones, will study the intersection of science and U.S. government policy.

Christopher Borrelli, a features writer at the Chicago Tribune, plans to study the decline of regional identities in the United States and the role that income inequality and social policy play in that change.

Andrea Bruce, a conflict photographer, will study the history of democratic theory and new storytelling techniques beyond photography.

Christa Case Bryant, Jerusalem bureau chief for The Christian Science Monitor, will study the technology and international politics of cybersecurity, with a particular focus on cyberwarfare.

Mónica Guzmán, technology and media columnist for GeekWire, The Daily Beast and Columbia Journalism Review, will study how journalists can rethink their roles to meet the demands of online public discourse.

Mary Meehan, a writer at the Lexington Herald-Leader, will examine the impact of the Affordable Care Act and barriers to sustained health improvement among the previously uninsured.

Todd Pitman, Bangkok bureau chief for The Associated Press, will study the causes and consequences of military intervention in emerging nations and examine ways to advance reporting in countries under army rule.

Wendi C. Thomas, a columnist for the Memphis Flyer, will study how to deepen the public conversation on economic justice using a multimedia news website and civic engagement campaign.

Kim Tingley, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, will study the history and philosophy of science, specifically the science of navigation and its relationship to memory and sense of place.

Christopher Weyant, a cartoonist for The New Yorker, will study the repositioning of editorial cartoons as a critical asset to journalism’s digital business model.

Christine Willmsen, an investigative reporter for The Seattle Times, will study emerging toxins and chemicals that impact the health and safety of our workforce.

Wonbo Woo, a producer for NBC News, will study the way major media events impact communities and examine the collateral effects of competitive news coverage on towns and residents after the spotlight fades.

Cansu Çamlibel (Turkey), a writer and senior diplomatic correspondent for Hürriyet, will study the rise of political Islam and how religion shaped contemporary Turkish political discourse.

Naomi Darom (Israel), a writer at Haaretz, will study the relationship between feminism and the messages about gender conveyed by popular culture.

Tim de Gier (Netherlands), head of digital and a staff writer for Vrij Nederland,will study the intersection of modern leftist theory and the political and economic challenges of digital technology.

Fan Wenxin (China), a reporter for Bloomberg News, will study how China’s domestic politics and economy impact its relations with other countries.

Olivia Laing (UK), a writer and critic for The Guardian and New Statesman, will study literature and the crosscurrents between art and trauma.

Hamish Macdonald (Australia), international affairs correspondent for ABC News, will study the intersection of traditional international affairs reporting with innovative, contemporary modes of storytelling to develop new models for collaboration and delivery.

Stephen Maher (Martin Wise Goodman Canadian Nieman Fellow), a political columnist at Postmedia News, will study the use and abuse of surveillance in the absence of effective civilian oversight.

Fabiano Maisonnave (Knight Latin American Nieman Fellow, Brazil), a senior reporter and editorial writer at Folha de S.Paulo, will study the impact of social and economic policies on inequality and the environment in developing countries.

Grzegorz Piechota (Poland), head of the Innovation Lab at the Warsaw-based Gazeta Wyborcza, will study patterns in digital news content engagement to identify best practices.

Anastasia Taylor-Lind (UK/Sweden), a documentary photographer, will study the ways women are portrayed in ancient and modern conflict.

Fungai Tichawangana (Zimbabwe), managing editor of Zimbo Jam, Zimbabwe’s leading arts and culture website, will study digital storytelling techniques, the development of interactive media and online security.

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LINK: www.nytco.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Justin Ellis   |   May 11, 2015

The latest version of NYT Now, The New York Times’ aggregation-fueled smartphone app, is out today and, for the first time, it’s free to all users.

Though rumored and discussed for some time, it’s still a significant shift for the company, which originally launched the app as a cheaper alternative to a full Times subscription, specifically focused on younger, more smartphone-centric readers. At $8 a month, it was about half the price of the cheapest digital subscription to the Times.

But even that price was too high to attract a substantial paying audience. The Times captured a reported 20,000 subscribers, and a majority of NYT Now users were full Times subscriptions who had the app thrown in as a benefit. And so Paywalls 2.0 shifts to NYT Now 2.0.

Inside the company, the app was seen as a creative and technological success, if not a financial one. In a January memo to staff, Times executive editor Dean Baquet wrote:

We have made clear that NYT Now was not a financial breakthrough. But it has been a tremendous journalistic success, showing up on almost every ranking of best new apps. We learned many significant lessons from building NYT Now. We realized we could be more visual, and talk to readers in a different, less formal way, and still be The New York Times. We are exploring how we can make NYT Now a financial success.

That exploration has turned it into a ad-supported model that could let the app — which has been consistently well reviewed — reach a broader audience of phone-heavy readers. Some of those might eventually graduate up to the full Times experience, but there’ll be ads to serve to those who don’t.

NYT Now 2.0 collapses its first two tabs — a selection of Times stories and a curated assemblage of stories from elsewhere — into one stream, with the Times stories on top. (Who’s getting link love from the Times? This morning the app featured Vanity Fair, Quartz, BuzzFeed, Jezebel, Slate, Pacific Standard, Rolling Stone, and Deadline, among others.)

The app previously allowed only 10 free stories a month to non-subscribers; now users will be able to read 10 selected Times stories at any given time and 20 or 30 stories over a 24-hour period, Times spokeswoman Linda Zebian said.


The stories themselves are still basically unchanged, what you’d see in a smartphone mobile browser or the Times’ full app. The app now lets readers know how many new stories have been added at launch, and the bullet-point-centric morning and evening news roundups now come with optional push notifications when they’re ready.

As the Times marches closer to 1 million digital subscribers, the company has spent the last few years trying to find ways to diversify its paid offerings. NYT Now, along with the short-lived NYT Opinion app, were supposed to be the next phase in generating more revenue from readers. But slow subscriber pickup pushed a switch in models, including a greater reliance on brand advertising. As app team leader Cliff Levy put it to Ken Doctor last fall:

…we realized that perhaps we went too fast toward monetizing NYT Now and NYT Opinion. Maybe in the future, a better path is to first do audience development and then do monetization.

When NYT Now debuted, one concern was that existing Times subscribers would find the app was “enough Times for them” and downgrade from a full print or digital subscription to eight bucks a month. Making the app completely free would seem to be an even greater potential risk.

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