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Feb. 1, 2013, 11:30 a.m.

This Week in Review: Vine’s potential and problems, and the new face of The New Republic

Plus: The Washington Post’s real-time fact-checking, hacking attacks against The New York Times, and the rest of the week’s news in media and tech.

Creating news (and porn) on Vine: Twitter’s new six-second video-sharing app, Vine, has been out for just eight days, so we’re still trying to figure out just how it’s going to be used and what it might mean. Facebook quickly and quietly responded by updating its iOS app to include in-app video recording and sharing. Entrepreneur Jordan Cooper argued that Vine will be a crucial step forward for Twitter, pointing to its ability to compress a remarkable amount of human experience into a small amount of data: “If a photo answers the question ‘what were you doing at a point in time,’ Vine answers the question “what were you doing through time?”

Karen Fratti of 10,000 Words acknowledged that the early returns on Vine’s use for news have not been encouraging, but said there’s no reason to give up hope just yet. PandoDaily’s Hamish McKenzie contended that Vine has great potential for news because it’s a quick, easy tool with some new storytelling possibilities, and because it’s a form of news video that busy users might actually watch.

Former Guardian developer Martin Belam bristled at the quick dismissal of Vine among some on Twitter, questioning whether their approach is too utilitarian and ignores the simple fun of creating Vines. Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman, meanwhile, noted that Vine could raise ethical questions regarding when and how to use citizen video of news events.

The biggest headlines around Vine this week, though, related not to news but to porn. Predictably, scores of explicit videos cropped up on Vine as soon as it was launched, and it briefly made a pornographic video the featured “editor’s pick” on its homepage. Twitter responded to the snafu by banning searches for explicit content, as well as some of the users posting that content.

The issue was quickly termed Vine’s “porn problem” by TechCrunch and Forbes’ Tim Worstall, who said Twitter’s anti-censorship policy is going to run up against the seriousness of child pornography laws. Of course, Jared Keller of Bloomberg Businessweek pointed out that pretty much every social media platform ever has been said to have a “porn problem,” and All Things D’s Mike Isaac the problem isn’t that there’s porn, but that it’s too easy to find.

The immediate issue for Twitter, as Isaac noted, is that it’s in violation of Apple’s App Store policies. Apple seems to be giving Vine a long leash because of its close relationship with Twitter, and The Verge’s Joshua Topolsky called that another example of Apple’s inconsistent policies regarding objectionable content. Steve Kovach of Business Insider said Apple has to find a better way to enforce those policies.

The New Republic’s digital transformation: One of the U.S.’ oldest political magazines, The New Republic, underwent a redesign this week that drew attention not so much because of the redesign itself, but because of who was behind it — 29-year-old Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who bought a majority share of the magazine last year. In his letter to readers, Hughes said TNR is relaunching around a philosophy that’s built around longform, deep-dive journalism and a freedom from partisan bias. He also talked with NPR about the magazine’s use of social media and its balance of print and the web.

There were a few particular aspects of the redesign to take note of: As All Things D’s Peter Kafka reported, TNR is moving to a metered-model paywall with eight free articles a month for non-subscribers, and the magazine is working with the startup SpokenLayer to have full-text audio versions of each of its stories. The New York Times gave a big-picture view of the changes, reporting on Hughes’ efforts to give the 98-year-old magazine a startup mentality and steer it toward profitability. Politico’s Dylan Byers said the new New Republic has fresh, smart content, but still has a way to go before it catches The New Yorker.

Matt Taylor of Daily Download explained why so much of the publishing world is watching TNR’s shift closely — their respect for Hughes, and TNR’s distinct position between high-brow and low-brow culture that could illuminate a way forward for other publications. But Fishbowl NY’s Chris O’Shea threw some cold water on the idea that any other magazine could copy TNR’s strategy, and Reuters’ Jack Shafer noted that Hughes seems to be falling right into a long, unsuccessful tradition of publishing’s vanity moguls: “if he continues to insist on playing the role of journalist, a role that doesn’t take extraordinary skill or even years of experience to fake, he’d better start studying the part.”

Hughes led his first redesigned issue with a wide-ranging interview with President Obama during which the president ventured into media criticism. The interview must’ve been relatively easy to score, because Hughes was a former online campaign adviser of Obama’s. That was a conflict of interest that j-prof Dan Kennedy said crossed a line.

Chinese hackers go after the Times and othersThe New York Times revealed this week that it had been the subject of hacking attacks from China for the past four months, possibly from the Chinese military and likely in response to its reports on the business dealings of the family of China’s prime minister. The hackers accessed the passwords of all the Times’ employees and used them to break into the email accounts of several of its journalists in China. The Times reported that the hacks were part of a growing campaign against American sources, including Bloomberg News. The Wall Street Journal then reported that it’s been the target of Chinese hacks as well.

The Chinese government denied the claim that it had hacked into the Times, and Times’ report also said that its security system, Symantec, was largely helpless to stop or identify the intrusions or the malware installed. That left Symantec in the crosshairs of writers like Forbes’ Andy Greenberg, though Symantec responded that the Times didn’t use the proper security software.

The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos also concluded that these hacks were “business, not pleasure” and not that they stretch much further than previous thought. BuzzFeed’s John Herrman pointed out that for all the technological sophistication, it was still a human error — likely, an employee’s click on a phishing email — that opened the door to the Times for the hackers.

Fact-checking in real time: The Washington Post announced a new effort to move fact-checking into real time with Truth Teller, a prototype that automatically transcribes speech, searches the text for factual claims, checks them against a database of past fact-checking rulings, and shows viewers the results alongside the video. The Post’s Cory Haik explained the project on a post at the blog of the Knight Foundation, which funded it. She also told Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman the next steps are to integrate it with live streaming video, improve the algorithm to better recognize factual claims, build up a larger database of fact-checks, and down the road, to incorporate it into a mobile app.

TechCrunch’s Gregory Ferenstein pointed out a few of the more general obstacles Truth Teller will have to overcome: Even many “facts” are open to interpretation, and people may not believe the Post’s fact-checking conclusions anyway. Likewise, Mathew Ingram of paidContent argued that politicians are getting savvier at working around fact-checking methods (especially automated ones) by making claims that are misleading, but are too vague to be factually wrong. And David Holmes of PandoDaily said that for all the hoopla about a computer-driven fact-checking system, Truth Teller is still going to need to rely heavily on human reporting to be successful.

Reading roundup: Not many big stories this week, but a few smaller issues developed some interesting conversations:

— The battle between the tech site CNET and its owner, CBS, over CNET’s ability to independently pick the “Best in Show” awards for the Consumer Electronics Show continues to have repercussions. CES dropped CNET as the selector of its awards and gave Dish’s The Hopper the award that CBS wouldn’t let CNET give. CBS, meanwhile, chose not to reverse its policy to not allow CNET to review products (like The Hopper) of companies that CBS is suing. CNET’s Declan McCullagh gave examples of other media companies that allow their writers to review products that are the subject of their lawsuits, while TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington wrote two posts castigating CNET’s staffers for not leaving their jobs over CBS’ censorship.

— An interesting conversation on the quality of discourse on Twitter emerged from Matt K. Lewis’ column at The Week on the way Twitter has devolved into cynical, petty sniping. Paul Brandus of The Week responded that as a pundit, Lewis shouldn’t be shocked at people nastily disagreeing with him. The Awl’s Choire Sicha and The Atlantic’s Rebecca Greenfield both pointed out that Twitter is what you make it, and The Telegraph’s Tom Chivers noted that the Twitter experience is fundamentally different for its most popular users than for its typical ones.

— A few bits and pieces on comments: paidContent’s Jeff John Roberts looked at how The Huffington Post’s new “Conversations” commenting system works, former Guardian developer Martin Belam argued that you can’t fix commenting quality just by changing the platform, and Scientific American blogger Bora Zivkovic explained why comment moderation is so important and how to do it well.

— YouTube was reported by Ad Age to be preparing to introduce paid subscriptions to particular channels. Marketing Pilgrim’s Cynthia Boris asked the question that’s on a lot of our minds: Is there anything on YouTube you would actually pay to watch?

— The magazine giant Time Inc. is laying off 6% of its workforce, a whopping 500 employees. PaidContent’s Mathew Ingram provided a bit more context to the move.

Photo of Vine by Ariel Zambelich/Wired used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Feb. 1, 2013, 11:30 a.m.
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