The team behind Homicide Watch D.C. is looking for a new home for the crime reporting website. Specifically, Laura and Chris Amico want to find a permanent partner to take over operations for the D.C. site, similar to the Homicide Watch sites in Chicago and Trenton.
This week, Laura announced that she’s joining The Boston Globe as a news editor for data projects and multimedia. For now, Chris will assume the day-to-day operations of the site. In a blog post, Laura says the overall goal is to find another organization to take over those responsibilities:
The reality is this: Chris and I know that we are no longer the right people to shepherd HWDC. It is a local news site and the DC community deserves for it to be run by people who live there. In short, it needs a DC home in order to continue to exist and thrive.
We are hopeful that this will happen by the end of the year (we have conversations underway with two possible partners) and we look forward to helping that transition and following the continued good work of Homicide Watch in DC.
The Amicos would keep the right to license the software that powers Homicide Watch to other media companies. However, Laura told Poynter that if no D.C. partner is found they would consider shuttering the site. “It’s the worst-case scenario because we know it’s something that’s very important to the D.C. community,” she told Poynter.
Homicide Watch D.C. has faced an uncertain future before. Prior to Laura’s Nieman-Berkman Fellowship, the Amicos considered putting the site on “hiatus” for the duration of their time in Cambridge. A successful Kickstarter campaign raised over $40,000 to fund interns to do the legwork and reporting for the site.
For many American newspaper companies in the late 20th century, diversifying into broadcast was considered the smart move for shareholders. Companies like Gannett, Belo, Scripps, Cox, and Tribune mixed newspapers and TV in ways that Wall Street thought would made them less susceptible to cyclical revenue trends and more efficient to manage. It was an age of media conglomerates.
The past decade or so has been all about anti-diversification. Belo (where I used to work) split into a newspaper company (A.H. Belo) and a TV one (Belo) in 2008, then sold the TV one to Gannett. The New York Times Co. sold off its TV properties back in 2007. News Corp split its more profitable TV and movie business into 21st Century Fox. Tribune will formally spin off its troubled newspapers next week to separate it from its still-profitable television empire. Even Gannett, the American ur-newspaper company, has been betting on TV and even been making (confusing to interpret?) noises about selling papers.
Everybody’s becoming a pure play. These sales have, broadly speaking, been about putting the print properties on an ice floe to fend for themselves. And now we have a quasi-merger, quasi-split that lets two companies handle that divide as one:
Two storied media firms, Journal Communications Inc. of Milwaukee and E.W. Scripps Co. of Cincinnati, announced Wednesday evening an agreement to merge their broadcast operations while spinning off their newspapers into a separate company.
Under the deal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel will serve as the flagship of a new public company, Journal Media Group, which will be headquartered in Milwaukee.
Meanwhile, Journal Communications’ broadcast assets, including WTMJ radio and television, will be folded into Scripps, with the headquarters in Cincinnati. The E.W. Scripps Co. name will be retained and the firm will remain controlled by the Scripps Family.
As in the Belo split (and not as in the more ruthless Tribune split), the newspaper company isn’t being saddled with debt: “Journal Media will get a fresh financial start in an uncertain media world. The company’s balance sheet will have $10 million in cash and no debt, while Scripps keeps substantially all of the qualified pension obligations.” Still, there’s a reason Bloomberg framed this deal as Scripps “shedding” its newspaper assets, like a layer of skin no longer needed.
The newspaper company will include papers in cities like Milwaukee, Memphis, Knoxville, Naples, Corpus Christi, Abilene, and Wichita Falls — the sort of smaller metros that have generally showed more staying power than their bigger peers. But it won’t have those more reliable, not-yet-collapsing local broadcast revenues to help support the balance sheet any more.
Spain is far from the first European country whose newspapers have battled what they perceive as Google’s theft of their content. But a bill currently under consideration there could have impacts beyond the search giant.
According to the proposed law — passed in the lower chamber and pending in the Spanish Senate — Google and other platforms would have to pay a tax for each time it uses “non-significant fragments” of a news story. Julio Alonso is the founder of Weblogs SL, a digital media company in Spain that could stand to lose a lot via this tax. On Medium, he writes:
It is aimed generally at “electronic news aggregation systems”, and, therefore it includes basically anyone who links with anything more than an anchor text. Center on its target is Spanish aggregation site Menéame. A Spanish free software based version of Digg/Reddit launched in 2005, Menéame is a very popular destination for news discovery in Spanish. Obviously any other service that does aggregation of any type or form is also potentially affected. This includes Flipboard, Zite, Pocket, even Facebook or Twitter.
It is rumored that if the law is finally passed, Google is ready to shut down the Spanish version of Google News. It clearly does not want to create a precedent of a country in which it is basically paying to link.
Of course, news organizations rely on these websites, especially Google News, to drive traffic to their stories, so Google abandoning the country could have major consequences for Spanish news publishers.
The fact that Spain’s law protects only its daily newspapers and not other publishers may make it harder to defend, but now that it has passed, we’ll have to wait for the first test cases. How they’ll be enforced is still unclear, but it’s worth remembering that Spain gave us the case that led to another controversial ruling that went against Google: the “right to be forgotten.”
What do newspaper editors think about the comments on their sites? They’re more supportive than you might imagine — given that dialogue around news site commenters usually centers on which circle of hell fits them best.
— Killing comments entirely, while maybe a real microtrend, won’t be the norm anytime soon: 82 percent said it was either impossible or unlikely that their news org would do so. On the flip side, 17 percent said an end to comments was either likely or very likely at their shop.
— Almost half reported that their site’s commenters could remain anonymous.
— More than half hand over their comments to some outside platform, with Facebook the most popular and Disqus No. 2. Some who’d moved to Facebook comments reported a slight uptick in civility, though “others noted many commenters don’t seem concerned about the lack of anonymity.”
As originally planned, First Look was to be home to a “family of digital magazines” that would cover specific topics like politics, sports, and business, among others. The Intercept, launched in February by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill, was the blueprint: Gather smart journalists and develop a magazine around them.
The big question we’ve been exploring over the past few months is how best to achieve our ambitious long-terms goals. We have definitely rethought some of our original ideas and plans. For example, rather than building one big flagship website, we’ve concluded that we will have greater positive impact if we test more ideas and grow them based on what we learn. We are unwavering in our desire to reach a mass audience, but the best way to do that may be through multiple experiments with existing digital communities rather than trying to draw a large audience to yet another omnibus site.
And rather than immediately launching a large collection of digital “magazines” based on strong, expert journalists with their own followings, as we imagined earlier, we’ll begin by building out the two we’ve started and then explore adding new ones as we learn.
Omidyar, drawing on his experience in the world of tech, says First Look is approaching journalism with a “startup spirit” and that the company will be an experimental mode for several years. One area he mentions is “being part of well-defined communities of interest, understanding the people in them and serving their needs and aspirations in new ways.”
On the technology side, Omidyar said First Look is running a pilot program of a small grants to test ideas and experiments that harness “the potential of technology and journalism to serve the greater good.”
While First Look made a big splash when the company was announced, and later with the introduction of The Intercept, the company has been relatively quiet outside of hiring moves in the intervening months. Eric Bates, First Look’s executive editor, told Capital in February, “We don’t, at least initially, have to try to feed the beast at some frantic pace and that serves the journalism as well.”
In one of his first acts as editor-in-chief of The Intercept, John Cook told readers the site would be fairly quiet aside from NSA reporting while they focus on staffing and other issues. In April, Omidyar pulled together a group of journalism and technology experts to help guide First Look’s plan for the future.
For the journalist who already joined up with First Look — Omidyar says it’s 25 and could be 50 by end of the year — the new strategy might be a change on what they were promised: A collection of reporter-driven, digital-focused media properties.
Lab contributor C. W. Anderson poses a good question, for which First Look advisor Jay Rosen has an answer:
@Chanders From what I know — not everything but a lot — the relationship is solid and nothing in today's announcement changes it.
If you’re the kind of person who reads Nieman Lab, you’re probably already sick of hearing terms like “mobile first” and “mobile majority.” Web traffic, including news traffic, is shifting from desktops and laptops to tablets and smartphones — particularly phones. For years, many news organizations viewed mobile as a weird adjunct of the “real” digital product, the one they saw on their screens at their desk; a generation of terrible mobile websites followed.
The trend lines are all going to mobile, and many (most?) news outlets are still behind. But a few others have gone in the other direction, with redesigns built for mobile first that, if we’re being honest, look kinda bad on bigger screens. NBC News, Sports Illustrated, Slate, The Wire, The Dallas Morning News’ (now dead) “premium” site: Reasonable people can disagree, but their hamburger-button-laden, box-and-overlay-choked recent redesigns seem to make more sense on your iPhone than your iMac.
It’s a tough balance: On one hand, news sites have a lot of catching up to do on mobile. On the other, desktops and laptops aren’t going away any time soon, at least for one key market segment: people who spend their work days in front of a computer. Out of the office, yes, phones and tablets rule, and their lead will continue to grow. But the rise of the workplace as a place to read news has been one of the defining trends for online news, and most every news site still seeks peak audience during work hours Monday to Friday.
I have a hard time getting too passionate about making that it’s-too-soon case — the overall trendline to mobile is still pretty overwhelming — but it is worth noting that (a) peak online news reading time is likely to remain traditional work hours, and (b) most people who are currently looking at a computer during those hours will likely keep doing so for quite a while. (Tim Cook may do 80 percent of his office work on a tablet, but slipping iPad sales would seem to indicate he’s an understandable edge case in a corporate environment.)
The result could be a more bifurcated market, not a scenario where online news is, say, 85 percent mobile in three years. (There may not be too much more evening-and-weekend laptop traffic left to bleed off; I suspect most of that has already switched to phones and tablets.)
This was prompted by this set of tweets started by Wolfgang Blau, director of digital strategy at The Guardian and previously online editor of Die Zeit in Germany.
@wblau there's an interesting alternative version of this story to be told, which concentrates on numbers, not % of traffic
That’s that difficult balance: building for mobile growth, making it a top priority, but doing it without underserving the 9-to-5 audience that’ll probably be looking at a big screen for some years to come.
…I’d argue that any centralization plan needs to include something that improves your journalism. A cost-cutting-only centralization plan won’t improve your sites or your relationship with readers, both of which are key to future relevance.
…Watching the Thunderdome team work so collaboratively was, to me, an example of how newsrooms have to operate to survive in the future. We need fewer egos, fewer divas, more collaboration and more stepping into the breach to help colleagues. All in all, the Thunderdome newsroom was the lowest maintenance newsroom I have ever managed.
… One of the key reasons for centralizing is to get scale in national news production. But do we think local news organizations — in the disaggregated Web world we live in and the even more atomic mobile world we’re speeding into — actually need much national news anymore? I’m not sure, especially when you consider the cost of acquiring that content. So it may be that part of centralization isn’t really needed for much longer.
When people talk about explanatory journalism, the focus is on new players like Vox and FiveThirtyEight, or on giants like the Times and the Post. But can connecting the dots trickle down to the local level?
Anil Dash returned to the topic today, with a post on Medium titled “What is Public?” In it, Dash brings up concerns about how industry leaders in tech and media conceive of privacy — typically, he argues, however it best serves their own interests.
It has so quickly become acceptable practice within mainstream web publishing companies to reuse people’s tweets as the substance of an article that special tools have sprung up to help them do so. But inside these newsrooms, there is no apparent debate over whether it’s any different to embed a tweet from the President of the United States or from a vulnerable young activist who might not have anticipated her words being attached to her real identity, where she can be targeted by anonymous harassers.
The essay generated a wide array of responses, many positive, from those who see Dash’s argument as a defense of the less privileged.
Later, however, Dash repeatedly argued that the majority of his detractors where white men whose privilege — of gender, race, and class — makes it harder for them to understand what’s at stake in the private versus public debate.
There may be no greater online joy than writing a piece where every angry reply is from a dude with a blue checkmark who works in media.
Ultimately, the debate seems to boil down to whether we are concerned with the legal issue — in which case, tweets are public — or an ethical issue, which is more complicated. Most journalists would probably happily embed a newsworthy tweet, though many would likely seek permission and confirmation of the information therein before doing so. But Dash’s essay does engender worthwhile conversation about data, surveillance, and what our treatment of publics today will mean for privacy in the future.
(For what it’s worth, I didn’t ask anyone if I could embed their tweets in this blog post.)
Digiday has an update today on the relaunch over at NowThis, formerly NowThis News.
Now, even a minute can seem like an eternity. And so NowThis has largely moved to 15-second videos, and the anchor has been replaced by text on the screen. NowThis also has dropped the “News” from its brand to reflect a broadening of its coverage to include op-eds, science and viral content. [...]
“We don’t want to box ourselves in,” Mills said. “We are still a news company, but the definition of news has changed so much, and it means different things to different people. Our hyperfocus is connecting to mobile and social. Capturing people’s interest on different social platforms — that is what’s most interesting to us.”
Digiday confirms some of what we reported a few months ago regarding changes at NowThis. Videos will be shorter — aimed at Vine and Instagram lengths of six to fifteen seconds — and focus on viral content, including science and op-eds. Digiday reports that the new strategy has led to increased reach, with a 75 percent audience increase on Facebook and a 1,300 percent increase in average monthly views.
NowThis is still pushing their real-time newsroom for brands, though Mills said it can be challenging. In addition, there’s some skepticism about how much loyalty a publisher can engender when their identity is driven by form over content.
“NowThis has an interesting idea in terms of, we’re going to try a different format,” said Chia Chen, mobile practice lead at Digitas. “The reality is also the point of view you’re espousing in the content itself. It’s an interesting approach. If they had a distinct voice, that would make it even better.”
But for those who’d hoped that NowThis News might be figuring out a new model for fitting TV news into the mobile/social reality — it wasn’t that long ago that people were labeling it a “CNN killer” — the shift to more familiar viral territory is a little disappointing.
To mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, The Guardian today launched a massive 32-minute interactive documentary that illustrates the history of the war.
The Guardian’s aim with the interactive is to tell the story of the war from a global perspective. To achieve that, the documentary includes 10 historians from all around the world discussing the war and its impact from their country’s perspective. In a blog post on The Guardian’s website, special projects editor Francesca Panetta explained how her team set out to get a global perspective on World War I:
I also sourced letters, diary entries and poems from around the world. We’re familiar here in the UK with war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, but I thought there must be Turkish and Indian equivalents. With the help of Modern Poetry in Translation we found poems from all over the world. Of course, cutting all this together is itself editorialising. But as much as possible we wanted this global story to be told through the words of participators rather than a posh, English, scripted voiceover!
To further that global approach, The Guardian, through a partnership with the British Academy, translated the interactive into six additional languages aside from English — French, German, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, and Hindi. (The videos are all narrated in English, but have different subtitles depending on what language the user selects.) Since 2011, the British Academy, which supports the humanities and social sciences in the U.K., has funded a program with The Guardian to advocate for improved language education. That program, the Case for Language Learning, paid for professional translations.
Kiln, the London-based interactive design firm that built the interactive, “designed a clever mechanism that displayed the subtitles and an international team of Guardian journalists checked them for accuracy,” Panetta wrote in her blog post. “We had all languages skills in-house, except Hindi!” The Guardian is looking to translate the interactive into even more languages by asking readers if they’d like offer their own translation services for additional languages. Other news organizations have also offered to help with translations, Panetta said.
“A Scandinavian paper has already approached us saying they may be interested in collaborating in this way,” she told me in an email. “It depends on the response we get, but we would very much like to relaunch in the autumn with more languages. That’s the plan.”
Here’s an interesting project from the data-oriented software developer Shoothill: GaugeMap is an interactive map with live river-level data from over 2,400 government gauges across England and Wales. From the announcement:
GaugeMap aims to help to look after and improve the natural environment by allowing these users to access this data on the move, wherever they are. Users can retrieve live data on actual river levels via the website, or by following the new, dedicated Twitter accounts that GaugeMap has established for each of the Environment Agency‘s 2,400+ river level monitoring stations they may be interested in. For example Teddington Lock now has its own Twitter account: https://twitter.com/riverlevel_1182.
“GaugeMap will help any river user to be better informed, whether they use the river for recreation, pleasure or business,” said Rod Plummer, MD at Shoothill. “It also provides accurate, up-to-date information to help with water abstraction and so it could potentially be used to ensure the amount of water being abstracted from any river at any given time is sustainable and acceptable. Over-abstraction of river systems can cause changes in water quality, which obviously can have wide-reaching impacts on the wildlife that relies on our natural waterways, both directly and indirectly.”
It’s the Twitter integration that most interests me — over 2,400 accounts, each tied to a specific spot on a specific river, sending out alerts about water levels:
One could imagine ways to improve the bots. For instance, the accounts don’t seem to be smart enough to automatically alert when the water gets dangerously high. The GaugeMap site tells me that Catcliffe Drain is in a “Flooding Possible” state, but you couldn’t tell that from Catcliffe Drain’s Twitter account.
Still, the idea is powerful: a kind of distributed EveryBlock. One could imagine a local news organization gathering together data like this and pushing it out through neighborhood focused social media accounts, automatically and without human intervention.
The surprising thing to me – and which I believe is unusual for newspaper paywalls – is that the N&R is charging more for a digital subscription than for a print subscription.
Currently, a 7-day, 52-week subscription costs $187.12. According to an ad in the newspaper today, the digital subscription is $215.40. (FYI, the subscription page on the website hasn’t been updated, at least that I can find.)
In comparison, the News & Observer charges $390 for a year’s print subscription, and only $69.95 for a digital subscription. The Star News in Wilmington charges $218.40 for the print edition, and $131.40 for a digital subscription.
But the N&R is cutting the other way. Editor/Publisher Jeff Gauger explains: “The reason for that variance? A print subscription permits us to subsidize the cost of content by providing access to your home or business for preprinted advertising circulars. A digital-only subscription lacks that advertising subsidy.”
The N&R’s move is unusual, but it’s far from unprecedented. The Orange County Register is currently offering digital access for $3.99 a week, or digital plus Sunday print for $2.99 a week. That’s right: They’ll essentially pay you a dollar a week to take the Sunday paper. The New York Times has done something similar since launching its paywall — Sunday print gives you all-digital access at a price that’s usually cheaper than all-digital access itself. (Currently: $8.60 a week for Sunday print plus digital, $8.75 a week for just digital.)
What is a bit unusual here is pricing digital above a seven-day print subscription, not just a Sunday print subscription. That is unusual. But Berkshire Hathaway-owned papers have gone against the grain before. The Omaha World-Herald charges even 7-day print subscribers for digital access ($7 extra a month!) and $25 a month for digital alone. The Tulsa World offers $14.99 a month for digital — or $14 a month for digital plus Sunday and Wednesday print. It’s a weird world.
Is the pricing structured to encourage digital users to subscribe to the paper? After all, the more subscribers a paper has, the more it can charge advertisers. (Despite what many readers think, advertising pays the bulk of the cost of a newspaper, not subscription fees.) I doubt this is the actual intent, but it does make some perverse sense to the consumer. Unless you can get what you need from the website from its 20 free articles per month.
I can’t speak for the News & Record, but at many papers, that is exactly the intent. Propping up print numbers isn’t the only reason to structure offers this way, but it’s a big one.
Two of the biggest trends in news today: the rise of mobile and the rise of data visualization.
The unfortunate reality is that they’re often in conflict. Too many beautiful data visualizations are designed with a big desktop browser window in mind, not the smaller screen of an iPhone or an Android phone. Text becomes unreadable, interactions become untappable, and a lovely experience becomes unusable.
Vertical Bar Charts: When using bar charts in portrait mode, stack your bar chart bars vertically.
Use Vertical Scrolling: When creating interfaces that don’t fit in their entirety on the screen, enable vertical scrolling instead of horizontal scrolling.
Stack Table Cells: When needing to display tables that have more than a couple of columns consider stacking cells vertically within each row.
Carousel Instead of Tabs: When allowing users to switch between different displays, instead of using tabs (which require a lot of horizontal space,) consider using a carousel with next and previous buttons.
Fix Tooltips to Area of Screen: When displaying information on touch, designate an area on screen that will update accordingly.
Use Touch Zones: When displaying a lot of data points that are hoverable/touchable, consider using defined touch zones instead.
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