Category Archives: Journalism

The future of the Free Independent Press; A Case for Paid Content

The issues of online ad revenue and audience reach has been an issue for journalism in the digital world since it’s birth.  There is no way that online ad income can ever compare to print, so other options have been explored.  Click through and sell through advertising models have proven largely a disappointment and so firewalls and paid content are now a more viable option.

A free, ad-based strategy may have made sense when online was a small, supplementary business for newspapers.  Now that various digital platforms are becoming the medium of choice for so many readers, it makes sense to charge for what is expensive to report and edit professionally.

However, even the most promising streams of digital subscription revenue can’t compensate for the declining print revenues for advertising and circulation. But as news organizations begin assembling other collections of revenue to make up as much of that ground as possible, digital subscriptions will surely have a role.

The American Press Institute (API) has surveyed the many options currently being discussed for paid content and “fair use” fees from Google and other aggregators, and basically endorses them all as a remedy to what ails the newspaper business.

In a 31-page white paper prepared for last week’s newspaper executive’s summit in Chicago, API concludes, “newspapers can make the leap from an advertising-centered to an audience-centered enterprise” and should get on with it immediately.

The report, titled Newspaper Economic Action Plan, recommends that industry leaders follow five new “doctrines.”

True Value. Establish that news content online has value by charging for it. Begin “massive experimentation with several of the most promising options.”

Fair Use. Maintain the value of professionally produced and edited content by “aggressively enforcing copyright, fair use and the right to profit from original work.”

Fair Share. Negotiate a higher price for content produced by the news industry that is aggregated and redistributed by others.

Digital Deliverance. “Invest in technologies, platforms and systems that provide content-based e-commerce, data-sharing and other revenue generating solutions.”

Consumer Centric. Refocus on consumers and users. Shift revenue strategies from those focused on advertisers.

It can be argued that putting all content behind a firewall will result in substantial traffic loss and audience reach because people will refuse to pay.  Financially, it is not an issue.  Micropayment methods make more money with fewer viewers.  Not to mention that more and more online content is found behind firewalls so viewers will most likely not travel to other sites for their content.

The reduced risk of losing viewers, along with modestly encouraging early subscription results, should be enough to provoke some serious thought among the late adopters.  Given the long-term vulnerability of online advertising prospects, news organizations owe it to themselves to explore the possibilities for online subscriptions.

For example, take The New York Times; It has built the best trafficked Web site among American newspapers. The NYT, with fellow national titles The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, has maintained paid circulation much better online circulation at a subscription price more than double what anyone else charges. Because online ad growth has slowed to almost zero, this new model must be implemented.

Interestingly, most agree that paid content has improved digital attitudes in the newsroom. Said Jim Roberts of The New York Times: “There is more of an investment I feel in the newsroom among our journalists since the introduction of the paywall. They feel a greater stake in the product. People seem a little more willing to work on a piece of video, file early for the Web, etc.”





Consumer Beware; Information on the InterWeb

What is becoming an increasingly bigger problem on the Internet is the amount of information available.  We live in a country which guarantees freedom of speech, so should the government step in when it can be harmful to its citizens.

Blogs, bank accounts, drivers licenses, pictures, addresses, phone numbers and everything else you can think of is just a click away on the world wide web.

Professor, software developer and author, Herbert H. Thompson decided to run his own experiment ‘to see how vulnerable people’s accounts are to mining the Web information.’  Thompson asked his friends permission to attempt to hack into their accounts.  The results were staggering.  Access to a few simple things such as a Google search, a public blog and online resume he was able to ascertain bank information by logging onto his friends’ email accounts.  “To be clear” Thompson wrote in his article for American Scientific in August 2008 “this isn’t hacking or exploiting vulnerabilities, instead it’s mining the Internet for nuggets of personal data.”

Now, this was in 2008, almost four years ago.  Imagine what people who are just ‘mining the Internet’ are capable of now.

I have always been a fan of regulation.  I am an idealist at heart and want to believe that my government is going to work in my best interests, protecting me every step of the way.  But not everyone feels this way.

When talking about government regulation we walk a fine line of freedom versus security.  If we allow the government to begin to regulate the Internet we will be allowing what countries like China and Russia already do; they censor.  In comparison, countries like Spain, Germany and France use their Internet regulation solely for the purpose of protecting its citizens.  Websites that are seen as an invasion of privacy such as GoogleMaps are not permitted.  As a whole, the European Union is always quick to prevent privacy invasion, where as the United States usually always leans towards “laissez faire.”

One of the biggest problems with this glut of personal information is that we put it out there.  The internet gleans most of it’s information from consumers.  We upload pictures on Flickr, use online banking, put our birthdays on FaceBook and we blog intimate details about our life.  More than that, when we sign up for things online, anything, shopping, newsletters or a new email account, who really reads the ‘terms and conditions’ for all we know we could be selling our souls.  But what can be so bad, everyone else does it, right?


Problems in the Blogosphere

As I sit on my bed, computer in my lap, trying to think about what to write next, I can’t help but think about the countless roadblocks ahead.  Why is no one commenting?  Am I simply a news aggregate, am I not coming up with anything original?  Can my research, reporting, facts and figures be trusted?

I am first off well aware that on most of theses posts I am simply talking to myself.  I hear my reporter voice over and over again in my own head and there is very little interaction.  That is what reporting in the 21st century is all about, interaction and dialogue.  It is hard to have a conversation of one and I am beginning to feel like I’m suffering from schizophrenia.  Though peers who post articles on their facebook pages seem to get an unheard of number of hits.  Maybe it’s the medium, or maybe it’s the message.  According to Marshall McLuan, they are one in the same.

The Internet and American Life Project at the Pew Research Center found that from 2006 to 2009, blogging among children ages 12 to 17 fell by half; now 14 percent of children those ages who use the Internet have blogs. Among 18-to-33-year-olds, the project said in a report last year, blogging dropped two percentage points in 2010 from two years earlier.  (NY Times)

Even if a particularly witty lead grabs someone they will rarely click past the headline, even less will read the while article and no one will comment. I will admit I fall victim to it as well.  With my busy schedule I rarely read past the headline of a tweet.

My cell phone doubles as my alarm clock, so that’s the first thing I pick up in the morning. Once I have it in my hand, I log into Mediagazer to see if any news broke overnight or if I can snooze for a bit. Then I check my email inboxes (personal and work), then my Twitter account to see if there are any stories that haven’t yet been picked up by our algorithm. Then I check Foursquare, to spy on where my friends were the night before. After that, assuming I haven’t had to switch to my laptop to deal with something urgent, I stumble out of bed and to the closest coffee. (The Atlantic Wire)

Jared Keller seems to hit the nail on the head with this one.  I must say we have virtually the same wake-up and to-bed routines.

In the evening, before I go to bed, it’s pretty much a reverse process from my morning. I’m on my phone, checking Foursquare to see where everyone is, Twitter to make sure I’m not missing anything, email for more personal messages, then Mediagazer to make sure the site is adequately prepared for the hours I’m offline. Then set the alarm and put the phone back in its charger. (The Atlantic Wire)

On that same hand, why would the general audience read my blog?  I admit that I am clumsy with tags, sloppy with presentation.  I do not come up with my own content nearly enough to be particularly enriching.  Most news fronts seem to posting similar content anyway.  Front pages, or home pages, are starting to look the same.  Even when I glance at my twitter feed, I see the same story over and over again.

On that same note, news aggregators seem to be flourishing.  Yahoo News and Google News rarely, if ever, come up with original content.  They will search and filter news results and will then point you in the right direction without ever bringing you to the source’s webpage.

I speak for many people in my generation in saying I was ecstatic when Napster was created and I could share music peer to peer without paying a cent.  Why would news be any different?

In a time of such widespread citizen journalism legitimacy and accuracy is another problem in the blogosphere.  Who is to say anyone is not making up sources, events, quotes and details.  That I may be simply playing a practical joke and someone misconstrues it as fact, or visa versa.  On twitter there are a plethora of celebrities that ‘die’ one day, but tweet the release of their album the next.  I’m not the first person to say it, and I most certainly wont be the last; you can’t believe everything you read.

Updated: Possible News Events to Cover

Some cool events in the area.  Unfortunately every one of them requires me to skip a class. Story of my life.
Everyone should try and check them out if they’re in the area.
  1. On Wednesday October 5th, at 7:30 Internationally acclaimed theologian and activist Matthew Fox will speak on “Where Do We Go from Here?: Spirituality for the Twenty-first Century.” Fox was a member of the Dominican Order for 34 years and holds a doctorate from the Catholic University of Paris. He is the author of 29 books and is currently a visiting scholar at the Academy for the Love of Learning in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The event, sponsored by the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and by the Weissman Center is particularly relevant because of our current global social climate.
  2. On Thursday October 13th at 4:30pm Sebastian Farber, a professor of Hispanics from Oberlin college, is coming to talk at Amherst College.  The topic of discussion is about “War, Dictatorship and Memory: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on Spain.”  More specifically he is talking about “The Duty of Memory, the Right to forget: Historical memory Beyond Stalemates.” In the last decade, efforts to confront the legacy of the Spanish Civil War and Franco dictatorship have catapulted Spain into front page news. The exhumations of mass graves and the suspension of judge Baltazar Garzón for attempting to investigate General Franco’s military regime, are just two of the stories that have prompted high-profile figures like human rights activist Rigoberta Menchú, to cite Spain as an example of the need for global mechanisms of justice and restitution.
  3. On Thursday October 13th at 5:00pm Anne Walthall will be discussing “Weaponry Technologies and Masculine Identities: The Introduction and Diffusion of Guns into Japan” at Smith College.
  4. On Wednesday October 5th palistinian speaker Diana Buttu will be presenting On the Front Line: An Account of Peace Negotiations between Israel and Palestine.  Buttu is a Dubai Initiative Research Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She has played key roles in Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations from 2000 to 2005. Her lecture will address the following questions: What lessons can be learned from those negotiations? What role, if any, could women have played in these talks? Diana Buttu is a Fellow at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. She previously served as a legal advisor to the PLO’s negotiating team in its negotiations with Israel and was later an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. During her tenure as a legal advisor, Ms Buttu was part of the team that successfully litigated Israel’s Wall before the International Court of Justice. Ms Buttu is a frequent commentator on Palestine, Palestinian politics and the peace process, appearing on CNN, BBC, MSNBC, and Al Jazeera among other networks. She holds degrees from the University of Toronto, Northwestern University and Stanford University. She is a member of the Ontario Bar.
  5. On Wednesday October 5th Northampton resident and The New York Times contributor Brooke Hauser will host a discussion about nonfiction writing and read from her book, The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens. Set during one year at a vibrant Brooklyn school where students come from more than 45 countries and speak more than 28 languages, the book follows the stories of a few unforgettable teenagers, all recent immigrants learning English. Many of the students overcame unimaginable difficulties to reach the United States.
  6. On Thursday October 13th at 6:00pm Clemente Bernad will be at Amherst College’s symposium on “War, Dictatorship and Memory: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on Spain.” Clemente Bernad is a graduate in photography, cinema and video at the University of Barcelona. From 1987 to present he has worked as a documentary photographer and writer with a particular interest in issues of migration, social justice, violence, memory and conflict. Bernad’s work has been displayed at several museums, including a recent exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. He will be presenting his latest work, Kept Awake, at the North American premier of his documentary Dying for Dreams.

Phone Hacking Scandal Threatens Journalist’s Freedom in the Digital Age

This summer it was uncovered that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation allegedly hacked into 13-yeariold Amanda “Milly” Dowler’s phone; who was abducted and murdered in 2002. Not only did News Corp. allegedly hack into her phone, but they deleted messages that lead police to thinking she was still alive.  This was not an isolated incident.   The company had apparently been partaking in illegal practices of hacking and bribery at least since 2004 when Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman (of Murdoch’s News of the World) plead guilty to phone hacking charges.  At the time it was believed that the practices where limited to celebrities and politicians.  Such repeat offenses give journalists everywhere a bad name and government control the media seems imminent.

Murdoch had previously been criticized for building a media empire on the basis of sensationalism and gossip, lacking an ethical base preaching that his journalists should do everything in their power to get the story.  He had also been accused of changing the culture of new media outlets as well as abusing his power by promoting his own political and financial interests.  Even the New York Post, New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have fallen under similar scrutiny.

Since the discovery of the latest scandal, News of the World has closed, Dow Jones’s CEO Les Hilton, News International legal manager Tom Crone and chief executive Rebekah Brooks have all resigned from their positions.  In addition, the commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, Sir Paul Stephenson, resigned and there have been multiple arrests.  News Corp. is now facing lawsuits not only in Great Britain, but also in America, where the company is headquartered.  One of the serious charges they are facing us violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  Our friends at News Corp. are not the only one who are facing consequences for these actions. (TheWallStreetJournal) (SkyNews)

Issues such as privacy, freedom of speech, confidentiality and the role of journalism are being debated center stage.  It brings attention to the new online culture of twenty-four/seven fast paced journalism.  This has caused a competitive high-pressure environment in the media where ethical issues and errors are often overlooked in the interest of saving time.  There has been talk in Great Britain that an investigation by Parliament on media ethics and standards will be carried out; this has led to obvious anxieties by newspaper editors about the impact of state media regulation on the free press. Jeff Jarvis brings asks important questions that are on everyone’s mind.

What activities are to be regulated? …What should a regulator do in the case of violations? Fine the offender into submission? Close the publication? Does that not give your government the same weapon used by dictators elsewhere against journalists? Doesn’t this return the UK to a regime of licensing the press? Remember that he who grants licenses may also not grant them or revoke them. …Who is the proper regulator? …Is government the proper body to supervise the press, to set and oversee its standards? How could it be? The watched become the watchers’ watchers. Certainly government has shown itself to be incompetent and mightily conflicted in this case, as alleged overseers of the crimes at hand end up in high places and the police themselves are reported to be beneficiaries of corruption. …Finally, who is to be regulated? In other words, who is the press? …Is Huffington Post the press? Guido Fawkes? By extension, is any blogging citizen? Any YouTube commentator or Twitter witness-cum-reporter? (BuzzMachine)

There is also unease that new regulations will be enacted as a means of controlling the press, rather than promoting more effective self regulation.  A further major concern is that more stringent regulation will not assist the ordinary people who were the subject of investigative journalism; powerful corporations will still have the money, power, and resources to get out of any tough situation they might encounter.  Jarvis again comments;

The goal must not be to further solidify the hegemony of the media-government complex but instead to bust it open. We have the tools at hand to do that: journalists, the public they serve, and their new tool of publicness, the internet. …Rather than closing down journalism to some legislative definition of who may practice the craft, we must open its functions to all. Rather than enabling government and media to become even more entwined, we must explode their bonds and open up the business of both for all to see. (BuzzMachine)

Investigative journalism cannot be condemned as a whole, nor can it be controlled by by what it is meant to watch, for it was such journalism that finally caught Murdoch’s questionable ethics in the end.

Sources Consulted/Further Reading: NewsosaurTheGaurdianSkyNewsReutersBuzzMachine