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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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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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LINK: www.buzzfeed.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joseph Lichterman   |   September 11, 2014

Apple WatchAfter Apple unveiled its Apple Watch earlier this week most news organizations are still figuring out how — or even if — they’ll develop apps for the smart watch. Most outlets haven’t received any technical specifications from Apple about the device and are still in the very preliminary stages of thinking about how they’ll approach the smart watch, Myles Tanzer reports in BuzzFeed.

There was at least one news app that got an advance look at the Apple Watch: Yahoo News Digest. The app’s logo was visible on mock-ups of the watch during Apple’s presentation. (It’s the purple one with the colorful dots in a circle — above the Pinterest logo — in the watch that’s above.)

From BuzzFeed:

But during the Tuesday’s keynote, close observers noticed multiple quick flashes of the Apple Watch’s homescreen that showed icons for two apps from Yahoo, one of which is a version of the popular Yahoo News Digest app. Adam Cahan, Yahoo’s senior vice president of mobile and emerging products, confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the company has a working version of a Yahoo News Digest product but was wary to comment on any additional apps from Yahoo — “I wouldn’t read into every icon that you see everywhere.” He said the Yahoo team was one of a select few chosen to participate in a multi-week test of the Apple Watch’s development kit.

The Apple Watch is slated to be released sometime early next year. It seems likely more news apps will be developed for the platform.

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LINK: new.dowjones.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Justin Ellis   |   September 9, 2014

The Wall Street Journal wants readers to know that being a subscriber has its perks. The Journal rolled out WSJ+ this week, a complimentary membership program for readers who have subscriptions to the paper.

What, exactly, does being a WSJ+ member get you beyond a sweet membership card to display on your digital device of choice? From the Journal’s news release:

WSJ+ members will receive special offers and be welcomed to invitation-only events designed to bring Journal content to life, while providing subscribers elevated Journal experiences specially curated to speak to their wide-ranging and ambitious interests. Events will take place across the country and will include panel discussions with top Journal editors, as well as arts performances and private film screenings.

As a WSJ+ member you could get a talk and tour of the Journal newsroom (“learn how our famous stipples are made,” the event advertises) with Editor in Chief Gerald Baker or see a conversation between Whoopi Goldberg and legendary TV producer Norman Lear.

Many of the offers through WSJ+ are either discounts or raffles seemingly attuned to the needs of the aspirational Journal reader. Tell the “Golf Concierge” you’d like a discount to play at course in Hilton Head Island, or win two tickets to the Longines Los Angeles Masters equestrian event.

The Journal is one of a growing number of media companies that wants to deepen the relationship with readers through membership programs. Both nonprofit and for-profit companies are trying to find programs to incentivize paid readership while also collecting more detailed data on their audience. One difference is that some loyalty programs, like WSJ+, are complimentary with a subscription. Others, like The Guardian’s membership plan and The New York Times’ Times Premier, are extra, which means a potential added source of revenue.

The characteristics of the programs usually fall into similar categories: special access to events, discounts, and invitations to look behind the curtain of your beloved news provider. Wine and free books seem to be a love shared by media executives and newspaper readers.

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