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Oct. 11, 2013, 11 a.m.

This Week in Review: Twitter’s TV ramp-up, and a clash over press regulation in the UK

Plus: The fallout of government surveillance, mugshot extortion, a Philly newspaper flap, and the rest of the week’s media and tech news.

Twitter, TV, and potential pitfalls: A week after Twitter made its IPO filing document public, the company continued to pull in deals tied to the TV industry — this time a partnership with Comcast (which owns NBC Universal) that allows users to watch or record Comcast shows straight from Twitter. As All Things D’s Peter Kafka said, Twitter’s been telling TV executives it can bring them viewers, and now it has a chance to prove it. Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici looked at some other evidence indicating that Twitter users are less likely to cut the cable cord.

Also this week, Nielsen launched its Twitter TV Ratings, an effort to get more precise and consistent measurements of how many people are talking about TV shows on Twitter. Meanwhile, Facebook is adding its own TV deals by the week. This week it expanded its data-sharing program with TV networks to include eight countries. There were pieces looking at the social TV battle from a variety of angles: Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici examined TV as a potential panacea for the money-losing Twitter, and Bloomberg’s Edmund Lee looked at Twitter as a potential panacea for the TV industry. The Atlantic’s Claire Peracchio covered Twitter and Facebook’s battle to take advantage.

Other writers identified a variety of other problems that face Twitter as it prepares to go public. The New York Times looked at the numerous other social media upstarts competing with Twitter, especially using photos and video. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and BuzzFeed’s Peter Lauria both tweaked Twitter’s ad strategy — Ingram on its challenges smoothly integrating ads, and Lauria on its over-reliance on ads in the first place.

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine brought up the problem of users who quit Twitter after being overwhelmed by its relentless flow, noting that only about a fifth of its accounts are active. “Twitter is littered with the corpses of accounts that passed away too young or never truly lived,” he wrote.

Twitter has also been acting on a couple of journalism-related fronts. As Constine and All Things D’s Peter Kafka reported, Twitter began testing Event Parrot, an account that sends direct messages of news events to users based on an algorithm built around the feeds they follow. As BuzzFeed’s John Herrman noted, it’s a sign Twitter is building a more assertive version of its service to retain more of its lapsed users. All Things D also reported that Twitter will hire NBC News’ Vivian Schiller as its head of news, a move that drew criticism from tech PR exec Ruth Bazinet for Schiller’s lack of Twitter activity and EveryBlock founder Adrian Holovaty for the way NBC shut the site down.

Meanwhile, The New York Times Magazine published an excerpt from a forthcoming book by its reporter, Nick Bilton, on the Machiavellian story behind Twitter’s founding and development, with co-founder Jack Dorsey as villain and co-founder Noah Glass as tragic outcast. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram marveled at how the chaos of Twitter’s early days led to such an indispensable part of the modern media world, and Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici wondered what would have happened if Al Gore had bought Twitter and merged it with Current, which Bilton reported he tried to do.

Press regulation struggle in Britain: Nearly a year after the sweeping Leveson Report was issued calling for stricter government regulation of the press, the British press clashed this week with government officials over just how to enact that regulation. Here’s what happened, in Guardian articles: A government council rejected the press’s regulation plan modifying the royal charter, so members of Parliament worked on their own revision to get a deal through, though the press made clear it would reject a government-revised charter. The government gave the press three days (through today) to get on board.

John Witherow, editor of The Times of London, said a group of top news organizations will work to set up their own self-regulation plan without government approval. Lord Justice Leveson, who directed the inquiry that prompted this debate, tried to stay out of the fray. The Guardian has a great Q & A explainer going into more of the details.

The standoff was accompanied, of course, by plenty of rhetoric on both sides: A coalition of newspapers said imposing a government-determined charter over the industry’s opposition would “fatally undermine freedom of expression,” and in a pair of posts, Fraser Nelson of The Spectator urged the press to take off with self-regulation rather than submit to a government regulator, noting that the press’s rejected plan would have been the strictest press regulations in the West. Longtime regulation advocate Hugh Grant countered that the charter being proposed by the government isn’t nearly as repressive as it’s being made out to be.

One twist in this story related to the Daily Mail, which ran a story last week that accused the father of Labour Party leader Ed Miliband of having been a Marxist who “hated Britain.” Political leaders condemned the piece, and the public disapproved of it, leading Dominic Ponsford of the Press Gazette to wonder if the Mail “fatally weakened” the press’s hand at a critical moment in negotiation over regulation.

The government’s case against revealing surveillance: The new chief of Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency defended his country’s surveillance strategy, claiming that making information about it public “hands the advantage to the terrorists.” He never mentioned Edward Snowden in his remarks, but it was clear that they were aimed at Snowden’s release of files describing the surveillance techniques of the U.S. and U.K. governments.

The statements were promptly ripped by a legion of commentators, including Mike Masnick of Techdirt and Nick Hopkins of The Guardian, as well as editors from around the world who defended The Guardian. Said Masnick: “The point here is that you don’t have to keep the fact that you tap these things a secret if you have sufficient oversight and controls to make sure they’re not abused. But that’s not what anyone did here.” Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger also defended his own paper’s stories, saying that the news of government surveillance can’t be a surprise to terrorists.

Elsewhere in the sprawling surveillance leaks story, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has broken many of the stories based on Snowden’s files, was interviewed on BBC Newsnight, with the network drawing criticism from Jay Rosen for a weak, faux-adversarial style. Barton Gellman of The Washington Post, who broke many of the surveillance stories on the American side, explained why The Post didn’t withhold the names of the tech companies participating in the U.S. National Security Agency’s PRISM program. And filmmaker Laura Poitras, who also broke the stories, gave an extensive interview to the Italian magazine Mousse.

Newsweek’s Pema Levy profiled blogger Marcy Wheeler, who’s done valuable work parsing the documents released about the NSA. And The Guardian reported that U.S. and U.K. surveillance has targeted the online anonymity network Tor, though the Columbia Journalism Review’s Lauren Kirchner argued that journalists can still trust Tor. A group of researchers from Columbia and MIT filed a public letter to a U.S. government committee arguing that mass surveillance is dangerous to journalism, and Kirchner wrote about how reporters are dealing with sourcing and encryption in a mass surveillance environment.


Mugshot extortion and public data: The New York Times brought attention to a story with wide-ranging implications for search and data journalism with its report on mugshot sites that extort people by making them pay to have their photos removed from the site and its very prominent Google search results. Just before the story was released, Google released an algorithm update that bumped those sites down its search results.

Data scientist Hilary Mason noted that what the mugshot sites do is to make already technically public information more accessible, thus rendering it more public. “Data is no longer just private or public, but often exists in an in-between state, where the public-ness of the data is a function of how much work is required to find it,” she wrote. Mathew Ingram of GigaOM questioned the power of Google to determine proper and improper uses of public information, a point echoed by Forbes’ Kashmir Hill.

Roger Kay of Forbes used the story as a jumping-off point to question the legitimacy of search engine optimization as a whole, and the First Amendment Coalition’s Peter Scheer argued that it reinforces The Times’ ability to alter the realities it’s reporting on, through its status and reporting tenacity.


Philadelphia Inquirer editor fired: The Philadelphia Inquirer fired its editor, Bill Marimow, this week as part of a dispute between the newspaper’s owners and its top editors. The paper’s publisher, Bob Hall, attributed the firing to “philosophical differences” between himself and Marimow, and Philadelphia magazine reported that the fight between Marimow and Hall was tied to Marimow’s refusal to overhaul the paper’s website in the way Hall wanted, as well as his refusal to fire certain editors.

As The New York Observer’s Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke reported, the conflict was a proxy battle between members of the paper’s fractured group of owners: Two owners sued the company over the firing within two days. Bloomgarden-Smoke also reported that there was deep frustration in the newsroom over the relationship between the Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and their shared website, Jim Romenesko reported that Marimow was refusing to acknowledge his firing and that Inquirer and Daily News alumni were calling for a review of the firing. Mathew Ingram of paidContent characterized the struggle as a battle between evolutionary and revolutionary change on the web, Philadelphia magazine’s Joel Mathis criticized Marimow’s slow approach to digital change, as well as the fight over his firing.

Reading roundup: A few stories that might have slipped past during a busy week:

— The Committee to Protect Journalists released a damning report on the Obama administration’s record of surveillance and leak investigations to attempt to thwart journalists’ attempts to gain information about it. The Washington Post published an excerpt on reporters’ attempts to fight back, and The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone put together the best summary of the report. Free Press’ Josh Stearns and The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald castigated the Obama administration for its clampdown, and The Post’s Erik Wemple noted that the White House journalists quoted in the report don’t seem worried about losing access, because they don’t have much in the first place.

— The Financial Times announced it would end its regional editions and publish just one global print edition as part of a shift toward being a digital-centric (and potentially digital-only) publication. Part of that online focus will include “smart aggregation” of content from FT and elsewhere. Patrick Smith of The Media Briefing saw the plan as a model for moving away from a print-centered structure, as did journalist Kevin Anderson.

— Pew Research released a study with some dire findings indicating that millennials simply aren’t following the pattern of news use that previous generations have. Jeff Jarvis proposed that it might not be that young people don’t care about the news as much, but that they’re using it more efficiently.

—Researchers Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler released a report for the New America Foundation that found evidence that politicians do tend to lie less when they know they’re being fact-checked. Both Craig Silverman of Poynter and Molly Ball of The Atlantic gave good summaries of their innovative study and looked at the possibility that organizations like PolitiFact might act as a deterrent to political lying.

— Guardian Australia editor Katharine Viner made the case for her news organization’s digital strategy of embracing openness and eschewing paywalls. Mathew Ingram of paidContent praised her speech and elsewhere argued that The Guardian shouldn’t feel an obligation to put up a paywall. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Dean Starkman, however, argued that The Guardian is in dangerous financial territory without a paywall.

Image of Twitter on TV by Esther Vargas used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Oct. 11, 2013, 11 a.m.
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