The Now/ledge

A Guide to the 'Now' Revolution in News / by Alan Soon

WSJ Social: I still don’t get it.

WSJ Social: Exciting strategy but poorly executed on Facebook

The thought of the internet as Facebook is scary.

So it’s even scarier when a major news publication like the Wall Street Journal decides to open a store front on Facebook — without linking back to the wsj.com.

Treating Facebook as the internet is exactly what WSJ Social is doing. I’ve been trying this out since it launched over a week ago. I get the strategy: Be everywhere your audience is. Clever, because that’s rule #1 of all social strategies. Scary, because it means that the WSJ may have opened the door to the next stage of online news content: Only on Facebook.

This model however isn’t as unique as it sounds. Cable companies have widened their engagement of users from TVs to other platforms such as PCs and mobile devices.

But strategy aside, I don’t think WSJ is going to get far with this social app.

Part of the goal, it seems, is to test a new user engagement model for WSJ by getting users to see themselves as “editors” and to customize their concept of news to other people in WSJ Social. I’ve tried it; and I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do. So what if I’m hitting “Like?” Well, there is apparently a “game-ified” layer to this where curators with the highest following appear on a leaderboard. I may be missing the point here.

Filed under: Facebook, News, Newspapers, Social Media

Building AOL’s editorial production line (thank you Huffington Post)

AOL’s chief Tim Armstrong may not seem so crazy after all. The acquisition of Huffington Post, announced today, is clearly aimed at beefing up the company’s content pool in the wake of Demand Media’s (surprisingly) strong IPO last month.

To put it all in context, Demand Media is worth about $1.5 bn in market cap today — that’s $800 mil shy of AOL’s. Armstrong must have Demand on his threat radar.

AOL is pushing heavily into building its low-cost editorial factory. Leaked business plans show just how its editors are thinking: Is this story SEO-winning for in-demand terms? How can we modify it to include more terms? In all, AOL is aiming for search referrals to bring in 40 percent of its overall traffic — the largest single contributor.

So where does the HuffPo fit in all of this? For $315 mil, paid mostly in cash, AOL is getting more SEO friendly traffic from the popular blog site. By all counts, this is a smart deal. At 5x expected revenue, the HuffPo acquisition is almost cheap.

In the end, this is negative for online journalism. The deal once again proves the massive shift in the content industry to a bulk, low-cost production line led by SEO referrals. As a business, this makes sense. But for consumers, this takes you further from the news as reporters are incentivized to deliver on in-demand story trends on a daily basis. Say goodbye to enterprise, investigative or niche reporting.

Filed under: News, SEO

Al Jazeera’s moment in the battle for Egypt and news

Every network has its time. For CNN, it was the first Gulf War. Now, it’s Al Jazeera’s big moment in the spotlight as the Egyptian crisis continues to unfold. (You can watch its coverage live here.)

The network’s coverage is top notch, bar none.

In a time of massive budget cuts, U.S. networks like CNN haven’t been able to keep their foreign bureaus running. The crisis in Egypt exposes a chronic problem among U.S. networks — their inability to quickly move away from “cheap” news in times of global crisis. Spend five minutes on CNN and FOX and you’ll see what I mean. Anchors are constantly using adjectives like “extraordinary” to describe the images, while the same video is replayed repeatedly. And that’s exactly the advantage that Al Jazeera is exploiting. For them, it’s not about the anchors or reporters — it’s about the live images on the ground.

The network is helping to create a “common struggle” across the Arab world, according to Marc Lynch, a professor of Middle East Studies at George Washington University. “They did not cause these events, but it’s almost impossible to imagine all this happening without Al Jazeera,” he told the New York Times.

But it isn’t just about the minute-to-minute coverage. Al Jazeera has unprecedented distribution thanks to the Internet. If you haven’t already downloaded the iPhone/iPad app, do it. Content may be king, but distribution is definitely queen in a crisis.

There’s clearly demand from North America, where the network is suffocated by cable companies who don’t want to be associated with the Arab channel. Mohamed Nanabhay, who runs the online operations for Al Jazeera English, noted on his Twitter feed that 55 percent of web traffic to the site is from the U.S. and Canada.

John R. Stanton probably said it best on Twitter: “So is everyone going to FINALLY get off of Al-Jazeera’s back and recognize them as not only legit but pretty goddamn good?”

Well said. Now back to watching the coverage live on AJE.

Filed under: News, Television,

Don’t correct tweets, delete them

At the end of every major fast-breaking news events, media junkies gather — almost like clockwork — to rip apart news organizations that were too fast in firing off the “post” button on Twitter. It’s almost as if, event after event, we’re constantly surprised that with the speed of Twitter come inaccuracies.

Craig Silverman, a freelance journo based in Montreal, runs a fascinating (and almost sad) blog on inaccuracies in media called Regret The Error. In a recent review of the coverage of the shooting of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the question of correcting tweets came up.

Should a news organization delete a tweet that was inaccurate?

Boston’s WBUR was apparently first on Twitter to report that Giffords had been killed — and they got the story wrong. The Congresswoman was shot, but she wasn’t killed.

Instead of deleting the erroneous tweet, WBUR decided instead to issue a correction. In its defense, WBUR said:

We have decided NOT to delete the erroneous tweet, because it serves as part of the narrative of this story. Facts can change fast when news is breaking, and that leads to errors. We need to own the error, not hide from it. But we also need to rectify the error and explain ourselves to people who trust us. Deleting the tweet would do more to harm trust than preserving it would do to harm truth.

Well, the goal to preserve reporting as the “first draft of history” is an honorable one. It works well in print — but fails miserably in online tools like Twitter. It’s simple: leaving an erroneous tweet out there runs the risk of someone else re-tweeting it. That’s irresponsible. The goal is accuracy, not the burial of errors. So instead, what WBUR should have done was:

1. Delete the inaccurate tweet;
2. Post a new tweet explaining the correction and set the record straight

Ultimately, for Twitter to continue serving journalists, it needs to create a way for users to issue corrections while maintaining a sequence of events. That way, as far as news coverage goes, you’ll only be able to see and re-tweet the most recent update.

Isn’t that a better way to draft history?

Filed under: News, Twitter

What journalism needs in 2011

The smartest minds in the business have already put out their best predictions for 2011. So I’ll do mine differently; here’s my list of what I think journalism needs in order to thrive in 2011.

1. Tablet-only publications and redefining our metrics

Tablet devices offer the best opportunity yet for us to redefine online journalism/publishing. It’s like hitting the reset button. For one, this is our best chance yet to do away with the obsolete metric of counting page views, which in my opinion represents the worst contamination of online journalism. Story-telling is undermined by numerous “link bait,” all for the purpose of collecting more clicks. More than ever, engagement matters. It’s time we measured that in minutes and not clicks. Tablets, and their more natural way of interaction, offer the best chance to get that right.

My other hope is that tablets, with increasing competition in the apps ecosystem, will favor niche and curated stories with differentiation. The current Web ecosystem is plagued by weeds — a result of the rise of content farms. It’s time to return to considered curation. Try this analogy: instant coffee didn’t kill the barista profession; in fact, it’s taught many people about the beauty of a fabulous brew. I hope content is headed in the same direction.

2. Social news

Storify is the best example of the potential of social news. Think of it as a “news of news” platform. The Washington Post used Storify recently during the U.S. mid-term election to monitor allegations of fraud and irregularities.

I’d love to see other rivals to Storify emerge. I’d bet that the competition will come from none other than the social media networks themselves. Social updates are already the gold mine of the content age — and there’s no reason why a company like Facebook would leave this lying on the table. How long will it be before Facebook enters the social news business?

3. Data mining as a news profession

Yahoo’s country editor in Vietnam Nguyen Tran Ha often reminds me that “information only exists when it is read.” In the age of “leakification” provided by WikiLeaks and its copycats, data exists — but it needs to be interpreted and mined. Like library science, data mining is a profession in its own right and such professionals are needed to pull in and interpret the numbers.

ProPublica demonstrated with great success this year what some have called “computational journalism” — the marriage of algorithms, computing and investigation. Here’s an example of data they put together detailing which banks received the largest bailouts from the Fed.

Data is after all, the raw material for investigative journalism. It’s time to see this reflected in a profession created around it. Would someone like to attempt a job description for such a role?

Filed under: Facebook, General, Jobs, News, , , , , , ,

Collaboration in journalism: Multiple partners

Here’s a fantastic story — and an equally amazing push forward in the realm of collaborative journalism.

For its latest investigative piece on the financial practices of U.S. pharmaceutical companies, ProPublica is working with five (yeah, five!) news organizations for coverage:

  • NPR
  • Chicago Tribune
  • Boston Globe
  • Consumer Reports
  • PBS

    This is a unique challenge for ProPublica, which in the past had favored single news agencies for coverage. For “Dollars for Docs,” each partner is running their own version of the story, backed up by common data provided by ProPublica. Some will be using ProPublica’s lead to drive the piece.

    Tom Detzel, the ProPublica editor in charge of the project described it to Niemen Lab:

    The partners all took initiative to do their own stories. We didn’t try to draw any lines in the sand: ‘Here’s what you can do, and can’t do.’ We just said, ‘Here’s the topic we want to work with, and here’s the data we have. Take it and run with it.’

    This is an interesting project and I hope it works out. I think it’s clear that the next era for journalism will be collaborative through shared resources, data and assets. I’d love to see a partnership like this thrive.

    Filed under: News,

  • Ready for a surprise? Portals still matter.

    The latest survey by the Pew Research Center on the news consumption habits of Americans has some interesting nuggets in it.

    First, the headline story: Americans are spending more time consuming news now than they have been over the last decade. That’s probably not too surprising given the increase in digital content. Roughly a third of those surveyed say they have been going online for news — which is on par with radio, and slightly higher than daily newspapers.

    Second (and here’s the interesting part), portals still play a major role in dishing out news to Americans.

    At the top of the list: Yahoo! (Disclosure: I work for them).

    Some 28 percent of respondents said they went to Yahoo! for their news. This compares with 16 percent with CNN (which is in second place).

    Other familiar portals include MSN (14 percent) and AOL (7 percent).

    And here’s a third surprise: Only 1 percent mentioned The Huffington Post. A similar number said Facebook.

    Filed under: News,

    The rise of Xinhua and the future of journalism

    The debate over the rise of China’s Xinhua as a major global news empire never seems to end.

    Newsweek this month published a piece on the aspirations of the state-run organization under the headline “All the propaganda that’s fit to print.”

    It talks about the deals Xinhua is making around the world with news agencies in Cuba, Malaysia, Mongolia and Turkey, providing them with articles, photos and videos.

    The clearest view in the article comes from Jim Laurie, my former boss and now a consultant for China Central Television.

    “I’m not convinced [censorship] makes a whole lot of difference [for video and pictures]… Bottom line is so important. If you see a source of video that is reasonably good, reasonably reliable, and reasonably inexpensive, you’ll access it.”

    Xinhua, with all the money it has behind it, will undoubtedly fill the gaps left behind by U.S. media, who are fast pulling back their bureaus in the wake of cost cutting. Its litmus test for credibility remains the most critical question: How will it cover crises in its own backyard?

    Filed under: News,

    Public media API — it’s worth watching

    Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore reports that journos from American Public Media, Public Radio Exchange, PBS and NPR have been putting together specs that would help these public media organizations collaborate and distribute content across platforms.

    The goal is an API that developers, creators and publishers can tap into.

    It makes sense. The future of journalism will be less competitive on the production side of things; rather, it will be more collaborative.

    Production of content — the assigning, gathering, reporting, creation — represents a big investment on part of media companies. Often, there is plenty of overlap. TV stations will send individual satellite trucks to press conferences while reporters will be dispatched to cover the same stories. That overlap could be better managed through collaboration. The goal is the fast, accurate and efficient distribution of news.

    “We think through the power of public media networks, the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts,” Joel Sucherman, the program director of Project Argo at NPR, told Poynter.

    This is worth watching.

    (Illustration: psd/Creative Commons)

    Filed under: News

    Who’s responsible for the Terry Jones madness?

    The media bares some responsibility over the Terry Jones and his Koran burning affair. Actually, correction — it bears full responsibility.

    How does the leader of a church that gets no more than 50 people at his sermons suddenly have the power to stir anger and protest around the world? In the 24-hour news cycle, almost anyone it seems with a YouTube account and a crazy idea gets to make it on prime-time news.

    The international news media should have looked away. This was clearly a publicity stunt aimed at drawing attention to his church. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was right to tell the media not to cover the planned Koran burning.

    In the end, it was FOX News and the Associated Press that decided their audiences deserved better than to let a mad man play them for fools. Kudos.

    “We do not cover every flag burning that happens in this country. We don’t run every hostage tape… If we tried to cover everyone who wants us to stick a camera in front of them, we’d run out of cameras pretty fast each day. But this is really about just using some judgment.”

    — FOX News SVP Michael Clemente in an interview with the Baltimore Sun

    This will make a great case study in journalism classes. We’re back to asking the question: What is news?

    If there’s anything good that came out of this, it’s the fact that we’re reminded that there are good, sensible people all around the world; people who respect religions and faiths without judgement. Just look at the outpouring of comments online in support of Muslims around the world.

    Now that’s a story worth telling.

    Filed under: News, Television