by Mike Masnick
Mon, May 3rd 2010 5:44pm
Newspapers' Revenue Plan: If Lots Of People Used To Give Us A Little, We'll Now Get A Few People To Give Us A Lot!
from the nice-try dept
by Dennis Yang
Wed, Apr 14th 2010 2:15pm
from the times-they-are-a-changin' dept
Entries for journalism awards must be based on material coming from a text-based United States newspaper or news site that publishes at least weekly during the calendar year and that adheres to the highest journalistic principles.So, it's unclear whether or not blogs would be eligible for a Pulitzer. Plenty of blogs would meet the weekly publishing requirement, but from the rest of the definition it would appear that any site not affiliated with an "official" news site would not be eligible. As for the "highest journalistic principles," The National Enquirer was accepted as a nominee this year, so surely there's a blog or two out there that can bring their quality of reporting up to that level.
That said, the Pulitzer does not have to change their rules to include blogs, after all, by definition, it is a prize for the newspaper industry. Magazines and broadcast news are also not eligible. But, these prohibitions seem artificial since many of the prizes focus on reporting, and plenty of quality reporting happens outside of the newspapers. Times change, and if the Pulitzer wants to continue to be relevant in the public eye, it needs to evolve or it risks becoming a big award in a small pond.
Tue, Apr 13th 2010 1:42am
from the don't-tell-your-friends! dept
by Dennis Yang
Fri, Apr 9th 2010 4:36pm
from the doomed-to-repeat-mistakes dept
The paywall, which launched the week of July 15th, cost $3.95 a month, 75 cents per day, or was included if you had a subscription to the print version of the newspaper. The rationale was that since online readers were not paying a subscription fee, somehow the value to the print subscribers decreased:
"It will allow greater value to our many loyal print-edition subscribers by not giving away the news to non-subscribers," Patton said. "The days of giving content away, which costs money to create and for which we charge our print subscribers, I think, are just over."As we've discussed here before, this is a flawed argument. The subscription price of a printed newspaper barely covers the costs of printing and distribution, not the production of the content, which is generally funded with ad revenue.
In any case, after 8 months, the The Valley Morning Star took the paywall down, proudly proclaiming they "will be moving back to a completely FREE Web site." By now, so many of these paywall experiments have failed that you have to wonder when the industry will finally heed the lessons they teach.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Apr 8th 2010 6:31am
from the think-this-through-for-a-second dept
James Boyle recently wrote a column pointing out that the newspaper lawyers pushing for the return of hot news, or for other forms of copyright to protect news, may end up regretting that before too long. Beyond the fact that full copying is already illegal under copyright law and the lack of any evidence that aggregators or copying sites actually take away any real traffic from the original sources, "hot news" will be turned back upon these news organizations in ways they absolutely will not like:
So the new right would have no effect on the real problem newspapers face. And it would give them almost no protection that they do not already have either through law or technology. What would it do? It would cast a pall of fear over free speech. Is my blog or twitter feed allowed to say that there has been an earthquake or that some political scandal has erupted? Or must I buy a license to say so? After all, in the new world bloggers are "competitors" as news sources.The column itself was actually in response to a recent FTC-organized panel discussion about the journalism industry, that effectively pitted Boyle along with Yochai Benkler, against a team of newspaper industry lawyers. The full transcript (pdf) is entertaining at parts, as the industry lawyers admit that copyright law today is not the problem, but they still all seem to see it as the solution. But they all keep making questionable assumptions or downright bizarre statements. For example, the AP's Laura Malone seems to think that people won't click through to AP stories, because the AP reporters are so good that they explain all that's needed in the first paragraph and the headline:
In fact, the right would produce all kinds of effects the newspapers have not thought about. They are assuming that this new right will only be wielded by them. Not so. Think of political activists who break a story -- for example the young conservative filmmakers who produced devastating information on the operation of the organization ACORN. They are a news source. They might think it was a great idea selectively to decide which news organizations got to report that story, at least as long as it was "hot." Does that sound attractive? I think not. And then think of the difficulties of proof, the possibility of chilling of speech by wrongly claiming to be its source. Implementation would be a nightmare.
What we're talking about is news-aggregation sites where they take headline and lead, which can be, if it's a well-written lead and a well-written headline, the way they teach in "J" schools and the way most news organizations teach their reporters, that's the heart of the story, and the way people consume their news is to look at the top two or three things, read real quickly, move on to the next article. They're not going -- They're not clicking through -- To Ken's point, not clicking through to the original source to read the entire detailed 'graph 4, 'graph 5, 'graph 6. They've got what they need in the headline and the lead, which can be one or two 'graphs. And that is supplanting what's happening out there with people not going to "The New York Times" because they're reading it on Google News or they're not going to "The Washington Post" 'cause they're reading it aggregated somewhere else. And I think that there is a problem with that. We do need to be able to say that we, the content owners, we, the copyright owners, get to set the parameters by which people can republish our stuff.But I read that, and all I think is that if someone copying your headline and your lead is enough to make people not click through, then it's your fault for not providing any more value in the rest of your article. Sure, the journalism schools teach you to put the who, what, where, when and why in the opening, but the fact that the AP is now admitting that the rest of the article is worthless is incredibly telling. It means that the AP isn't doing a very good job. If the AP reporters provided real insight and analysis in the rest of their articles, then maybe people would click through. The problem here isn't that people are copying the opening of an article in an aggregator -- it's that the AP itself is failing to give people any reason to click through. They're failing to provide the insight and value that will draw people in. Don't blame the aggregators for that. Improve your reporting skills.
The discussion itself goes along the usual path, starting with copyright in general, moving on to fair use, then to the issue of aggregation, and then jumps to hot news. From there, it begins to get scary again, as the newspaper lawyers (with a slight exception of the guy from the NY Times) start talking about the need to create a permission-based reporting system, whereby anyone should have to get permission to link to a story. News Corps' Jim Marcovitz summarized it thusly:
It's only opt-out now because there's nothing that says to someone that you have to abide by these instructions, and I think you have to shift that paradigm to one that is permission-based as opposed to opt-out-based.Benkler then demolishes this point by highlighting how ridiculous this concept would be, and how much damage it would do:
This beguiling idea of permissions everywhere -- permissions for whom? When a "New York Times" reporter who knows Spanish reads three newspapers from Chile and puts together insight about what is going on in the earthquake and how people think -- permissions? When any reporter sits, combines what they hear with seven other reports they've listened to -- permissions? You want to live in a permissions system that facts are permitted? It is -- that is exactly the point about the fact-expression dichotomy. We exist in a world where facts are, as Justice Brandeis put it, in the same case.... Facts, as Louis Brandeis said, should be free as the air to common use. We do not have a permissions system for breathing.From there, Malone (from the AP) pulls out the old argument that basically says (paraphrasing a bit, but not much), "but if we don't get to protect our content, we have no business model and reporting disappears," to which Boyle effectively responds by pointing out that technology and markets evolve:
One thing that I like to do is just reflect how wrong I have been about my confident projections about technology and war in the past, because I find it a useful corrective. Like, if someone told me in 1990, like, "What would the model be for putting together an encyclopedia?" You know, one person has this sort of Encyclopaedia Britannica model, lots of copyright, lots of trademarks, highly paid editors, whatever, and another guy goes, "I'll have, like, a website, and people can, like, put stuff up," I wouldn't have thought that the latter was a workable business model. I would have been wrong. I wouldn't have thought that Linux open source was a viable generation model. I would have been wrong. And I think that the key here is permissions-based, and I would separate James and Ken's different solutions slightly. At the beginning of the Net, it was an open question whether linking would be permissions-based or not. Right? Beginning of the Web, I should say, not the Net. There were people who thought, wrongly, I think, under American law, but who thought that there ought to be permissions every time there was any link to anyone. And you still have people, mainly school districts, who write to you, saying, "May I link to your website?" Right?...The real point comes out a bit later in the discussion, as Boyle highlights what this is really all about: it's about one industry trying to use laws to prevent competition:
But, anyway, at the beginning of the Internet, if we had been debating in this room, "Hey, there's this new world wide web thingy, right? So, should we be permissions-based, or should we be kind of opt-out, right? Opt-in or opt-out?" We could have come up with great reasons why everyone should have permission. And it's like, "It's not that hard. You just have to write to the person and get permission to link. It's not that hard. You know, if you want to create a mash-up on Google Maps, you know, you just have to write to all the data sources that you're gonna get, all million of them, and, you know, just get permission. It's not that hard." And all that would have prevented is the world wide web, right? But, of course, the people in this room wouldn't have cared because they didn't know what the world wide web was and couldn't have imagined either its horrific site -- child porn, piracy, which appears more often than child porn. That's one of its horrific sides. Child porn, you know, spam, strangely articulate Nigerian oil ministers who happen to write to me personally. Okay, so there's all the bad stuff, but there's also this amazing world that is being built, and the point is we would have got it wrong, dramatically wrong, if we'd gone permissions-based, okay? Now, the good thing that we would have foregone, we wouldn't have cared about because we couldn't have imagined it, right? This, for me, suggests humility as the guiding principle of intervention. Right? And so major changes, like going permissions-based -- I would say -- I just think that that's -- that is going to be so wrong in so many cases with such tragic results that I would really push against it.
But, you know, there really is -- the sort of Boyle's Law of Technology government regulation is that there's a pervasive problem which is mistaking the current parties who deliver a particularly useful social service or the social service itself. Right? You know, the people who -- who sold whale oil -- whale oil for lamps -- you know, could well have come to Congress and say, "Illumination for reading is a valuable thing. These newfangled electric light companies need to be put out of business," and that would have been the wrong move. I think that the "hot news" doctrine has real negative consequences. Right now it operates as a kind of insider's club. Much of what is done by newspapers with each other is actually problematic under existing "hot news" doctrine but would never for a moment be considered litigant....And that really is the key point in all of this. The newspapers think that "the news" originates with them, and they want to make sure that no one else can re-report the facts they're reporting, as if they own them. But they're going to discover quickly that the news does not originate with them, and quite often will originate with other parties -- parties who might not want the AP or the NY Times to report that news. And then the newspapers and their lawyers who pushed so hard for this hot news doctrine will be in serious trouble -- perhaps even more trouble than they are in today.
So the newspapers are going to keep pushing for new protectionist laws that are not about saving reporting at all. They're about saving their existing infrastructure and their existing companies -- because that's all they know. But they don't recognize the unintended consequences of all this, and how much harm it will do to reporting itself -- including their own reporting. And they'll discover soon enough that when an upstart reports on something, and suddenly the NY Times or the AP or News Corp. can't report on the same thing themselves, that perhaps they made a pretty big mistake.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Mar 24th 2010 6:51pm
from the yawn dept
But, still, lots of people protested that suddenly all our news was going to come from Rupert Murdoch, and politicians looked to invalidate the rule while lawsuits were filed. A judge eventually banned putting the rules into effect, but an appeals court has now temporarily lifted the ban. While some are still complaining about this, the impact is likely to be negligible at best. As Editor & Publisher explains:
It's safe to say that Tuesday's Third Circuit action -- which could prove only a temporary lifting of the ban -- won't set off any buying binge among newspapers.
For one thing, nobody is going to lend newspapers money to buy media these days. That lesson's been learned until the next bubble comes around. And even if a newspaper had the jack to swing a deal, there's little point in spending it on the fourth-place -- or worse -- broadcast outlet in town.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Mar 17th 2010 7:22pm
UK's Times Online Starts Blocking Aggregators Hours After Aggregators Win Copyright Tribunal Ruling Against Newspapers
from the donkeys-arguing-against-the-wheel dept
In fact, last year the NLA (Newspaper Licensing Association) in the UK decided to start charging all such services just for linking. This is, of course, ridiculous. One of the largest services of this type is called Meltwater News, and it decided to protest this ridiculous license on linking. It was joined in this effort by the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), who noted that there is no copyright on headlines and links -- and the NLA's license amounted to an illegal tax. The NLA responded by saying that Meltwater and PRCA had no right to protest these licenses.
Earlier this week, however, the Copyright Tribunal in the UK ruled in favor of the PRCA and Meltwater in protesting these new licenses, and it ordered the NLA to pay the costs of both organizations. Now there will be a full trial concerning the legality of the licenses.
What's interesting, however, is that hours after this decision came out, the Times Online in the UK just so happened to update its robots.txt file to block Meltwater (along with NewsNow, who had already been blocked). Basically, it was a quiet threat: if you don't pay, we'll block you.
The newspapers are walking a very thin line here. They're trying to charge for the most basic element of the web: linking and sharing links with others. I would imagine that if they actually win this fight, they're going to end up regretting it even more -- because if they start linking to other sites themselves, how long will it take before those linked sites start demanding money back from the newspapers as well. It's an incredibly short-sited view that a newspaper takes to think that others must pay you to promote you.
by Marcus Carab
Tue, Mar 16th 2010 6:11pm
from the there's-money-to-be-made dept
The Google Public Policy Blog recently posted a summary of a speech by Chief Economist Hal Varian on newspaper economics. Alongside the we-are-not-your-enemy message that Google is hoping newspapers will someday listen to, it contains useful insights on the challenge of succeeding as an established print publication in the digital world. Varian suggests a few potential courses of action, but the real value of the piece is that it highlights the obstacles in a way that can be tackled by experienced insiders—especially marketers and salespeople, which newspapers employ in abundance but often fail to set free on experimental strategies.
One of the first things Varian establishes is the volume and value of online news readers, and then he looks at the difficulties of turning that value into revenue. The numbers may be discouraging for newspapers, but they could also become the basis of several important short- and long-term goals in an online strategy:
"Visitors to online newspaper sites don't spend a lot of time there. The average amount of time looking at online news is about 70 seconds a day, while the average amount of time spent reading the physical newspaper is about 25 minutes a day. Not surprisingly, advertisers are willing to pay more for their share of readers' attention during that 25 minutes of offline reading than during the 70 seconds of online reading. So even though online advertising has grown rapidly in the last five years, it appears that somewhat less than 5% of newspapers' ad revenue comes from their internet editions, according to the most recent Newspaper Association of America data.
There's a reason for the relatively short time readers spend on online news: a disproportionate amount of online news reading occurs during working hours. The good news is that newspapers can now reach readers at work, which was difficult prior to the internet. The bad news is that readers don't have a lot of time to devote to news when they are supposed to be working. Online news reading is predominately a labor time activity while offline news reading is primarily a leisure time activity."
Varian talks about the need to increase leisure involvement with online news, and in the full speech, he lists ways this might be done: leveraging new technologies like smartphones and tablets, developing more engaging formats for journalism (like Google Living Stories, which recently went open source), and creating multimedia experiences.
These are all important ideas, but to some extent, they miss an opportunity by focusing on ways to get people reading at home instead of work: namely, don't at-work readers have value too?
For a long time, newspapers have used "business purchasing influence" as a prominent reader statistic in media kits. But we now live in a world where business purchasing influence is a much more distributed thing, hardly limited to managers and IT folk: employees at every level in every field make use of online services to expedite their work. Web services subvert the top-down model of corporate IT, allowing workers to seek out the tools that work best for them. These services usually have freemium models, with prices that suit small departmental budgets, and since there's no software installation there's no need to involve IT staff.
Think web lockers (plenty of companies still have laughably low email attachment limits). Think Flash-based presentation tools (graphics departments hate PowerPoint). These are bottom-up business services: a few employees get free accounts, a few more get on board, and before you know it a whole department is more than happy to pay a monthly fee for such a useful tool. These are the companies that want to reach people at work, during those 70 seconds they spend reading a news story while wondering how to transfer a 50-megabyte PDF.
There are some other excellent parts of Varian's post, including a look at the goldmine vertical markets which have traditionally sustained newspapers: automotive, travel, home & garden and the like (he oddly fails to mention real estate, which is a biggie). These are the same verticals that sustain Google's search advertising—the problem is that the end market is now specialty sites, not news publications. Though Varian doesn't discuss the possibilities, this is an area where newspapers still have a chance: they should be leveraging their community respect while partnering with specialty purchase sites through advertising and affiliate programs, ensuring that they continue to be an important link in the chain. TechCrunch recently reported on a Forrester Research study that estimates that web-influenced offline sales in the U.S. (purchases where the consumer made their decision online then went to a retail store) are worth nearly a trillion dollars, and news websites should absolutely be a part of that.
It's well worth reading Varian's post in full, but in the end, his core piece of advice is what counts:
"In my view, the best thing that newspapers can do now is experiment, experiment, experiment. There are huge cost savings associated with online news. Roughly 50% of the cost of producing a physical newspaper is in printing and distribution, with only about 15% of total costs being editorial. Newspapers could save a lot of money if the primary access to news was via the internet."
That really is the core of it. Newspapers must experiment with new ways to report the news, new ways to engage their readers and new ways to get advertisers on board, while embracing the fact that their readers are switching to a medium that costs them less. There are over 70-million Americans reading news online—if newspapers can't turn those eyeballs into money, someone else will.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Mar 16th 2010 11:32am
from the more-than-half,-apparently dept
And yet we keep getting told that we need to "support" this all important newspaper industry so they can carry on with the important democracy-saving task of journalism?
Last year, we noted that some attempts to count how many stories a newspaper actually reported on each day showed that the numbers were woefully low -- just a handful per day, with the rest all filled in with fluff and wire service copy. But it gets even more ridiculous once you realize that many of the "stories" that reporters worked on were really little more than gussied up press releases turned into "articles."
Boing Boing points us to a recent study in Australia that looked at a week's worth of newspaper stories, and found that more than half were placed by PR people, though there was definitely a pretty wide range depending on the newspaper.
This seems like a pretty important finding to be included in any debate about "saving" newspapers -- especially when the government is talking about stepping in to tax others to prop up newspapers. If all they're really doing is propping up efforts to run wire copy and run thinly veiled advertisements-as-news, is that really what the government should be supporting? It seems we have this mental "ideal" of journalism, represented by Woodward and Bernstein, holding politicians accountable for their actions -- but that rarely happens in practice. Instead, too much of traditional journalism has become notetaking -- writing down what politicians and PR people say and repeating it back to an audience that could find that information themselves if they wanted it.