With lots of people on the web are using its images without credit or payment, Getty is betting that allowing broader free use can help the bottom line more than it harms it. But watch out: Ads may be on the way.
NFL teams spend the offseason reflecting on the past season and preparing for the next one. So like any good playcaller, the team at The New York Times’ 4th Down Bot is spending the months between the Super Bowl and the start of the 2014 preseason examining what it’s learned and how it can improve for the coming season.
The 4th Down Bot performs realtime analysis of every fourth down play in the NFL and determines whether a team should go for the first down, kick a field goal, or punt the ball away. The bot was a collaboration between the Times and Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats, who originally built the code.
On his personal GitHub today, Kevin Quealy, a graphics editor at the Times, writes about how the project was developed and outlined some of the bot’s successes (more than 10,000 Twitter followers!) and areas where it could be improved (a slow response time). The bot launched in time for Week 13 of the NFL season (in the midst of my Lions’ annual late season collapse, when the bot was a welcome tool to further question now-fired coach Jim Schwartz’s competence). Quealy said the bot probably should’ve launched sooner — a non-football kind of MVP — and he outlines a few other issues he might try to address in training camp:
It could feel more “live”. The lag between the end of the play and the analysis takes about a minute, but sometimes the delay on the play-by-play data lagged a bit, which meant you were getting bot analysis well after the other team started its drive. This isn’t ideal, but there just wasn’t much we could do about it.
Because it was programmed to analyze decisions that already happened, some aspects of N.F.L. play aren’t captured well. For example, when a team intentionally takes a penalty on 4th and 1 near midfield, the bot applauds the punt on 4th and 6 without properly scolding the 4th and 1. This particularly annoyed Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, who later got over it.
As many statisticians noted, it could display uncertainty better than it does. From my perspective, that’s the most legitimate criticism, and we hope to improve on it next year.
In his post, Quealy wrote that they’re “hoping to introduce a cousin or two this summer, too.” In a followup email, Quealy told me he’s looking to apply some of the successful aspects of the 4th Down Bot to other fields — possibly baseball or politics.
“But it’s not like I have a super secret project on my desktop that is already [4th Down Bot's] next of kin,” he wrote. “Plus, we’re hoping to add features and build on our audience with 4th Down Bot, which is not an insignificant amount of work.”
If you watched the Oscars Sunday night, you probably saw John Travolta screw up the name of Idina Menzel as “Adele Dazeem”:
It got lots of attention online, and Slate jumped on it with The Adele Dazeem Name Generator, which tells you how John Travolta might mispronounce your name. (If you’re interested, the Nieman Lab staff is made up of Jorja Brazent, Julian Edjans, Chantelle Orteez, and Jonah Warshington. Also, “Nieman Lab” is Niven Loing.)
The story went insane on social media and became the most popular story in Slate history. Which led Slate editor David Plotz to tweet:
Definition of ambivalent: The John Travolta name generator is the most popular story in Slate history. http://t.co/nT4kJp7J2Q
That ambivalence, I’d wager, is a lot like the feeling some had in The New York Times’ newsroom when they realized the most popular Times story of 2013 was a dialect quiz made by an intern. Those reporters and editors get into the business to do certain kinds of work, but the factors driving today’s news web — the availability of analytics, the rise of social sharing, and what remains of the CPM-driven advertising model — mean it’s increasingly clear that popularity doesn’t always line up with the work you’d want mentioned in your bio.
I emailed Plotz to get a little more about that ambivalence, and here’s what he had to say:
Ambivalence is not quite the right feeling. Maybe bemusement. The Travolta name generator is a delightful piece of work that brings pleasure to millions — literally millions — of readers. It’s fast, fun, and on the news, and I am unbelievably proud of the clever work that went into it, and glad for the joy it has brought so many readers.
On the other hand, I have to giggle that this project is attracting millions of readers, and crushing stories about Ukraine or Obama under its boot. And on the third hand, one of the most popular Slate stories in the past six months before Travolta came along was Josh Levin’s The Welfare Queen, an 18,000-word masterpiece about the woman Ronald Reagan villainized for bilking the government, who turned out to be even more fascinating, and loathsome, than Reagan ever could have imagined.
So our readers go low with us, and they go high with us, and, like Pharrell, we’re happy either way.
One major topic of discussion across all four days of last weekend’s NICAR (or five days, depending how hardcore you are) was the advantages of static news apps versus dynamic news apps. The conversation ultimately resulted in a staged debate on Saturday evening.
When people talk about a static server, they are talking about a server set up like a vending machine. When you ask for a URL, like http://www.nytimes.com/cheetos.html, there is an actual file already on that computer called cheetos.html, and all it has to do is send you a copy of that file. Talking about “flat files” refers to the same thing: having actual files that match the URLs people might request.
You punch E6, you get the Cheetos that are already in the machine, packaged, ready to eat.
When people talk about a dynamic server, they are talking about a server set up like a restaurant. The food is made-to-order. The kitchen has ingredients, and the cooks assemble those ingredients into the finished product only AFTER someone orders that dish.
In this version, if you ask for a URL, like http://www.nytimes.com/crabcakes.html, crabcakes.html doesn’t exist yet. There is no such file. It’s just a menu item. The server waits for your request, and when the request comes in, it uses ingredients (e.g. templates, a database, the Twitter API) and a “recipe” to create that page on the spot, just for you.
When people talk about the “back end” or “server side,” they are talking about the kitchen: the stuff that a server does when it gets a new request.
The post goes into further detail about how those core differences effect content delivery and newsroom developer workflow.
Guessing the location of tweets without geolocation, tracking who’ll pay for online news, and the conditions that encourage learning on Facebook: all that and more in this month’s roundup of the academic literature.
Kokenge laid out the basics of making a bot. Epton talked about his ILCampaignCash, a Chicago Tribune product that tracks and tweets campaign donations. Abelson offered a long list of bots both humorous (like @FloridaMan or @Haikugrams) and practical (like @TreasuryIO or @YourRepsOnGuns) that suggested the breadth of possibility when it comes to bots. There are also, of course, challenges:
Brian says the logic behind the Twitter bot is strict rather than greedy. He also points to issues faced with Times Haiku. “The challenge is, how are we not going to make a haiku of the Syrian civil war, how are we not going to make a haiku of something that’s serious… that’s why it’s easier to do some of these funny artistic ones rather than something you can put the name of a newsroom on.”
Once again, rate limiting is brought up — Abraham says you can write the logic of your bot to avoid having your account get deleted. “Use common sense,” he says. The more you avoid behaviors that make your bot seem like a spam bot, the safer your account will be. Joe and Brian agree — the rate limit is high enough that you can get away with a tweet every 5 minutes without hitting it.
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has, over the past few years, bought up dozens of newspapers, with 69 papers and other titles currently part of the BH Media Group, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Greensboro News & Record, Omaha World-Herald, and Tulsa World. In the 2012 edition of his legendary annual shareholder letter — seriously, their level of clarity is something most journalists can only aspire to — Buffett went on at some length about the purchases:
Newspapers continue to reign supreme, however, in the delivery of local news. If you want to know what’s going on in your town — whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football — there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job. A reader’s eyes may glaze over after they take in a couple of paragraphs about Canadian tariffs or political developments in Pakistan; a story about the reader himself or his neighbors will be read to the end. Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the special informational needs of that community will remain indispensable to a significant portion of its residents.
On Friday afternoon, the latest edition of Buffett’s shareholder letter was released, and I went to it quickly to see what new thoughts there might be inside from the Oracle of Omaha about the newspaper business.
The answer: nada.
The only reference of newspapers was a pitch for BH’s “third International Newspaper Tossing Challenge.” Buffett’s got a good newspaper-tossing arm:
Now, there’s certainly no shame in being left out of a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letter. The reach of Buffett’s empire is so broad and diverse that expecting a newspaper update every year is a bit like expecting the Roman senate to demand the latest from a small town in Mauretania Caesariensis at every meeting.
But the newspaper business can use all the outside business smarts it can get these days. Berkshire Hathaway is of course famous for letting its component businesses run themselves, but I think this year’s absence of attention might be a tiny, tiny piece of evidence that Martin Langeveld was right when he characterized Buffett’s interest in newspapers this way in our year-end Predictions package:
I think Warren Buffett is really pursuing a mop-up strategy. He says otherwise, of course: “Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the special informational needs of that community will remain indispensable to a significant portion of its residents.” What else is he going to say? He may actually believe this, and believe that printed newspapers will remain viable for a long time, and may prefer to read news on paper like most people in his generation.
But Buffett’s backup strategy is this: He is buying newspaper assets cheap and not investing much into them, in the expectation that even if they lose all value over the next 6 or 8 years, he will have made a decent return on his investment…
Warren Buffett will continue buying newspapers wherever he can do so very cheaply. No grand strategy, no new business models for news will emerge from Omaha. Ultimately, these papers will be closed or sold. It’s a mop-up.
BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith came up to Cambridge this week and gave a talk at the Nieman Foundation about the site’s evolution from a meme factory into a meme factory that also reports on events in the Crimean peninsula. Our friends at Nieman Reports have video of the full event (featuring a few questions from us Nieman Labbers) and a BuzzFeed-inspired selection of quotes. This, for instance, is true:
My actual day-to-day view is that every single piece of content is competing with every single other piece of content all the time.
As is this:
One of the advantages of starting from scratch is that you can rethink beat structures. Gay rights is this huge story of the last 10 years, but it’s covered as a B-list beat at a lot of publications just because it always has been. For us, it’s very much a frontline beat, and we’re able to hire the best reporters who really own that beat.
As dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, Edward Wasserman’s goal is simple: “I’m trying to turn out journalists who get Pulitzer Prizes.” But with limited resources, achieving that goal requires prioritizing initiatives. And that’s what happened at Berkeley this week, as Wasserman said the school was ending its involvement with Mission Local, the hyperlocal news site it has run in San Francisco’s Mission District since 2008. Mission Local will be spun off as an independent, for-profit site. “Mission Local was moving toward a stand alone operation,” Wasserman said. “That’s testimony to their success.”
(We didn’t get a chance to talk with Wasserman before our story yesterday on the move, but we connected Thursday evening and wanted to share his perspective.)
Many saw Mission Local as a prime example of the teaching hospital model of journalism education; just as medical students can provide services to their community, so could journalism students. Wasserman praised Mission Local for the work it was doing in the Mission, but said many aspects of running a successful local news organization — covering community events and businesses or marketing the publication, for example — do not help in training journalists who are able to tackle hard, complex stories.
“The question then becomes: Do you face a choice at a certain point of providing that news site what it needs to fulfill that function in the community, or giving your students the training they need to be the kind of high impact, sophisticated, well-trained reporters going after difficult stories?” Wasserman asked.
Wasserman also emphasized that Mission Local was not a core component of Berkeley’s curriculum. Students were required to work for Mission Local — or one of Berkeley’s two other hyperlocal sites — as one of their first-semester courses. They could choose to continue working for the site for another semester, but it was optional, he said. And continuing to run the sites year-round distracts from the school’s chief mission of educating students.
“Part of that teaching hospital model is a kind of implied obligation for a year-round service,” he said. “Who pays for that? I don’t have the money for that. I’m trying to throw as much money as I can to financial aid for my students.”
And while Wasserman acknowledged that it is important for students to understand the business side of journalism, with only two years to provide a comprehensive education, he argues there isn’t enough time to fully educate students in areas like marketing, circulation, and other areas critical to running a news organization — especially with a glut of digital tools that students need to master to be successful reporters.
“You don’t expect lawyers to get of law school and understand how to run a law firm,” Wasserman said. “You don’t expect doctors to run a hospital.”
Berkeley runs two other hyperlocal news sites, Oakland North and Richmond Confidential, which are closer to the school’s campus, and Wasserman said the school is still figuring out the best way to utilize those resources. He said they will likely continue in some form, but could be consolidated into a school-wide site focusing on the entire Bay Area or focus on certain coverage areas like criminal justice, civil justice or healthcare.
“The teaching hospital model is a noble thing,” Wasserman said. “There may be elements of that we want to retain, but it’s not some template that you simply apply and follow.”