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Nothing found for 2007 08 22 The Pointless Debate Over Citizen Journalism
By paulgillin | May 24, 2018 - 10:20 am - Posted in Uncategorized

The United States Holocaust Museum is conducting an interesting exercise in crowdsourced research using newspaper archives from the 1930s and 40s. Called “History Unfolded,”, the project asks students, teachers and anyone else who’s interested to look in local newspapers for accounts of 34 different Holocaust-era events that took place in the U. S. and Europe, and to submit those articles to the national database.

As of May 24, nearly 3,000 people had scanned and uploaded more than 17,600 articles. The contributions not only form an archive of the “first draft of history,” but also deliver a historical snapshot of how the Nazi threat was perceived in its earliest days. It’s fascinating reading and a treasure trove for history buffs.

By paulgillin | March 21, 2018 - 1:29 pm - Posted in Fake News, Google, Paywalls

With the media world buzzing about the fake news engine that is Cambridge Analytica, news about a new Google initiative to support quality journalism might easily be overlooked. The multi-faceted investment covers everything from website analytics tuned to the needs of publishers to machine learning tools that identify potential subscribers.

Of particular note is Subscribe with Google, a service that enables readers to easily subscribe to a news source using their Google accounts, with payments handled automatically through Google’s established payment mechanisms. The search giant handles all of the back-end accounting securely and lets publishers handle all subscriptions in one place. The company is also applying machine learning to identify revenue opportunities for publisher with its Insights Engine Project, which delivers better ad targeting and peer comparisons for ad performance.

A particular interesting new dimension of Insights Engine is a feature that identifies readers who are likely to become subscribers and helps publishers to optimize offers when they are most likely to pay. With big papers like The New York Times and The Washington Post collectively boasting more than 4 million paying subscribers, this is an opportunity for small publishers to cash in on the paywall trend.

The problem Google hasn’t conquered yet is how to identify and elevate trustworthy information ahead of fake news. If it can figure that out, it can perform a much greater service than just identifying revenue opportunities for publishers; it can restore civility to our national conversations.

By paulgillin | February 20, 2018 - 12:13 pm - Posted in Facebook

“Research has shown that the downside of powerful, centralized networks is their susceptibility to being subverted and exploited,” writes The Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims in a fascinating analysis of why social networks, which were supposed to challenge hierarchy, have reinforced it instead.

Delving into network theory, Mims explains why networks that start out with flat, distributed power structures ultimately, become vertical hierarchies. That was true in the Bolshevik revolutions of 1917, when a circle of insiders around Joseph Stalin created a hierarchy within the supposedly distributed network of citizens who overthrew the Czar.

It is also true in the 16th century, when the printing press and Martin Luther’s vernacular versions of the Bible, rather than democratizing access to information, led to nearly 200 years of civil war. The impact of the internet has often been compared to that of Gutenberg’s invention.

“Even when networks aren’t architected for this kind of control, they tend to organize themselves in ways that lead to disproportionate influence by a handful of their members,” Mims writes. “When any new person or entity joins a network, it is likely to attach to the most visible hubs, making them even more influential.”

Facebook magnified this effect by designing its algorithms to optimize for engagement rather than for truth. Russia understood this, and brilliantly exploited it to foster confusion and misinformation in the 2016 election.


Pro Publica is using fire to fight fire. Co. Design reports on the work that a team at the nonprofit news organization has been doing to employ the tools of big data to see if companies like Amazon and Facebook are living up to their own policies.

The team crowdsourced the process of identifying examples of people who felt their free-speech rights had been violated by Facebook, or that they had been denied information because of some arbitrary decision. Facebook publishes its censorship rules, but verifying compliance is nearly impossible. That’s what the big data team at Pro Publica figured out a way to do. It used a Facebook Messenger survey to gather input from the crowd and then combed through the most puzzling cases by hand. In the end, Facebook had to admit not following its own policies in 22 examples brought forth by members.

The Pro Public team’s next step will be to investigate how political ads work by using a browser plug-in that scrapes Facebook ads and analyzes them using machine learning. The team has already published some of its initial findings, including the fact that many political ads don’t carry the required disclaimers or candidate endorsements.

Image: Wikimedia Commons
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By paulgillin | October 19, 2017 - 12:21 pm - Posted in Uncategorized
Image credit: Wikipedia

Image credit: Wikipedia

Despite a Pew Research study‘s finding last year that two-thirds of Facebook users rely on the site for news, the COO of the world’s largest social network insists that Facebook isn’t a media company.

“At our heart we’re a tech company… we don’t hire journalists,” Sheryl Sandberg told Axios. Although Sandberg admitted that her company made mistakes in allowing Russian organizations to buy ads to try to influence the 2016 U.S. election, her refusal to admit the much larger and more damaging role Facebook played by enabling the dissemination of fake news displays the kind of arrogance you only find in Silicon Valley. Since when does the people you hire define what you are?

According to Wikipedia’s definition of media as “the collective communication outlets or tools that are used to store and deliver information or data,” Facebook is as much a media company as NBC or The New York Times. The key word is “deliver.” Facebook is not only the world’s most powerful news delivery medium, but its algorithms are fine-tuned to give its members the information that interests them most. Isn’t that also what newspaper editors do?

Come to think of it, no. Newspaper editors attempt to present their readers with the information they think those readers need to know, regardless of whether they want to know it. Facebook feeds its members only stuff in which they’ve demonstrated an interest. The more defined your place on the political spectrum, the more Facebook will shovel material at you that conforms to your view of the world. News organizations seek to create an educated populace. Facebook creates echo chambers.

One solution might be to change those algorithms to give Facebook members a more balanced view of the world. But that isn’t in Facebook’s best interests. As long as it continues to deny its role in shaping public opinion, it can justify changing nothing. Because, you know, it’s a tech company.

This isn’t about algorithms; it’s about common sense. The social network now says it’s working on elegant technical solutions to flagging fake news, but a simpler solution last year would have been a banner at the top of every page saying, “Do not believe something just because you read it on Facebook.” Be skeptical, check facts and don’t share lies. And if you do, there will be consequences.

Curation existed long before the internet, but it was the Web that made it a legitimate form of media. Is Drudge Report not media because it lacks original content? The stories it chooses to curate, and the places it assigns them on the page, are a form of editorial because they help shape public opinion. The fact that Facebook uses code instead of human editors to make those decisions doesn’t change the outcome.

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By paulgillin | November 3, 2016 - 8:21 pm - Posted in Uncategorized

After a spate of closures and layoffs in the latter part of the last decade, the newspaper industry appeared to find its footing over the past few years. But now that oasis of stability may be drying up.

Hard times are hitting some of the most resilient titles, and the trend indicates that things are only get worse. The decline in print advertising revenue at The New York Times has accelerated from 9 percent in the first quarter of 2016 to nearly 19 percent in the most recent quarter, writes Mathew Ingram in a Fortune story ominously headlined “The New York Times Scrambles to Avoid Print Advertising Cliff.” In announcing its financial results, the paper said it expects the falloff to continue “at a rate similar to that seen in the third quarter,” or at least 19% per quarter.

The only good news in that statement is that sequential 20% declines take a smaller total dollar bite out of revenues with each iteration because the base number is smaller. But that’s the only good news. If the last three quarters are any indication, the Times advertising business is in free-fall. The paper has done a better job than anyone of growing its base of circulation revenue and increasing its digital advertising business, but both pale in comparison to the size – and profitability – of the print advertising business.

Almost in tandem with the Times’ disappointing financial results, The Wall Street Journal announced that it will consolidate sections and lay off staff as it seeks to stabilize its print business while it scrambles to grow its digital operations. Last week, the Journal laid off the staff of its “Greater New York” section and offered buyouts to 450 employees. Only 48 took the package, indicating that things could get ugly soon.

A new “Business & Finance” section will combine the Journal’s current “Business & Tech” and “Money & Investing” sections, Reuters reports. New York coverage will be reduced and moved into the main section of the newspaper.

The Journal has proved more resilient to the downturn than most print newspapers because of its pricey subscriptions and well-heeled readership. When the most optimistic statement management can make is that the paper is seeking to create a “print edition that can stand on a sound financial footing for the foreseeable future,” that doesn’t sound good.

Speaking of Reuters, the company completed this week’s morbid hat trick by announcing that it will lay off about 2,000 workers at a cost of $250 million as part of a “transformation” of its business. The silver lining – journalistically speaking – is that Reuters said none of the cuts will be in the newsroom. Instead, they will be focused in financial and technology operations that primarily serve financial services companies. Things have been tough in that business amid low interest rates and pressure from new-economy competitors. Reuters has the advantage of being a diversified company with a strong position in financial markets, but revenues are flat and there’s no indication of where additional business will come from.

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By paulgillin | September 28, 2016 - 8:59 pm - Posted in Uncategorized

pittsburgh-tribune-reviewWe’re going to call a time-of-death on the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, despite the fact that the newspaper says it’ll live on with a website. Everyone says that these days. The more important news is that the 24-year-old daily will shutter its print edition and lay off 106 staff members. It will maintain an online-only edition, but most dying newspapers say that.

Our favorite quote comes from Jennifer Bertetto, president and chief executive of Trib Total Media, which owns the Tribune-Review: “Our commitment to covering news in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County will not change.” Right. We’ll just do it with 106 fewer people.

In keeping with the pattern that has characterized other newspaper failures, the company’s official announcement doesn’t mention the closure or layoffs until the seventh paragraph.

It’s actually a lot fewer than that, when you consider the multiple cuts that parent company Trib Total Media has inflicted on its workforce over the past couple of years. Isolating the goings-on at the Pittsburgh paper is difficult, since Trib Total Media built its media empire in nearby Greensburg and only expanded into Pittsburgh in 1992 when the competing Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was in the midst of a strike. Billionaire Publisher Richard Mellon Scaife (note that Mellon is a rather big name in the region) launched the expansion after he failed in an attempt to buy the Post-Gazette. The Pittsburgh Business Times has a good timeline here.

As the number-two paper in a two-paper town, the Tribune-Review‘s back was always against the wall. Its weekday circulation of 89,000 and Sunday circulation of 168,000 were more than 40% lower than the Post-Gazette‘s, and Pittsburgh isn’t a very big market to begin with. Once Scaife died in July, 2014, the company he left behind focused its attention more on selling off assets than supporting journalism. An ongoing suit by Scaife’s heirs alleges that he threw good money after bad in attempting to keep the Tribune-Review alive.

Trib Total Media sold eight newspapers last October and laid off 153 employees in November. It shuttered the McKeesport Daily News – the Monongahela Valley’s longest-running daily – in December. Nearly 80% of the staff got a buyout offer in July. This is clearly a media business that’s looking to get out of the media business.

The loss of the Tribune-Review reduces by one the dwindling number of two-newspaper towns in the U.S. The fact that Pittsburgh, with a population of just 300,000 souls, held out so long is notable. Pittsburgh is a proud and beautiful city, if you ever get the chance to visit. Just don’t expect to find a choice of newspapers when you get there.

 

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By paulgillin | August 12, 2016 - 9:34 am - Posted in Uncategorized

Blendle TimelineThe idea of convincing readers to pay a few pennies to read a single article has been largely scoffed at over the years, but Blendle may have cracked the code, at least a little bit.

Launched two years ago in Europe, Blendle says it just surpassed the one-million-member mark. It’s getting hundreds of thousands of monthly visitors and 20% are converting into paying customers. Users will have read more than 20 million articles on Blendle by the end of the year, Managing Editor Michaël Jarjour told TechCrunch. It’s backed by The New York Times Co. and German publisher Axel Springer, and features content from an assortment of big-name publishers.

Users pay a few pennies to read an article and have the option of requesting a refund if they don’t like what they see. Refund requests must include a reason, a hitch Blendle adds to prevent abuse. Jarjour said the company employees 15 journalists who comb the Web looking for worthwhile stories that are hidden behind paywalls.

Blendle has elements of Flipboard, Nuzzel and other social news services in the form of human-curated feeds. If users provide access to their social network accounts, Blendle will add durations from friends into the news feed. A new service called Blendle Premium Feed is powered by a combination of algorithmic predictions and recommendations from friends.

So what will people pay to read? Not news, apparently. “We’ve seen that our users don’t like to spend money on the news,” wrote co-founder Alexander Klöpping in a Medium post announcing the company’s entry into the U.S. market. “What our users do like to read is investigative reporting, revelatory background articles, newsworthy analysis and hard-hitting interviews.”

 

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By paulgillin | August 10, 2016 - 12:30 pm - Posted in Uncategorized

John Oliver’s sendup of the news industry for preposterous ideas like Tronc is both hilarious and sad. Oliver digs into the video history bag to remind us that Sam Zell really did own a newspaper company at one point and thought that stories about cats could possibly support stories about crime and corruption. He also calls out Sheldon Adelson for instructing journalists at the Las Vegas Review Journal not to post negative stories about him or any of his properties. And the mashup of “Spotlight” with the investigative crew assigned to dig up everything it can about racoon kittens is flat-out genius. The quotes from Washington Post Editor Marty Barron about the workload news reporters have to process these days is poignant.

They aren’t laughing at the Newspaper Association of America, though, which called Oliver’s piece “petty insults” and noted that the humorist offered no solutions. Fair enough, but is it the job of a comedian to offer solutions? Pointing out absurdities like the click-bait headline atop this post is the first step toward solving problems, and thank goodness we have people like Oliver and Jon Stewart to point out what a circus media has become. It’s sad that comedians have to play the role of fact-checkers in this industry, but at least someone is willing to call out the emperor for having no clothes.

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By paulgillin | July 13, 2016 - 9:31 am - Posted in Uncategorized

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is raising newsstand prices 50 cents to $2 per weekday issue, despite the fact that weekday print circulation has dropped 54% over the last decade.rThe move continues a drive by newspapers to raise reader revenues in the face of quickening declines in advertising sales. Ad revenues at U.S. newspapers fell 8% last year, the largest decline since 2009. The price increase is also an effort to wring more dollars out of the shrinking base of older readers who can’t get through the day without a print newspaper. Those readers have money, but advertisers don’t want to reach them.

The story in the rival Tribune-Review quotes Poynter Institute analyst Rick Edmonds saying that raising prices puts pressure on newspapers to improve quality, but there is little evidence that quality and price are correlated. The Post-Gazette is more likely looking to whittle down its print reader base to the hard-core few who will pay a price at which print is profitable.

 

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By paulgillin | May 4, 2016 - 4:59 pm - Posted in Uncategorized

Tampa TribuneThe Tampa Tribune is no more.

The rival Tampa Bay Times said on Tuesday that it has purchased the 121-year-old Tribune and shut it down, converting subscribers and advertisers to the Times. That makes the Times the fifth-largest Sunday newspaper in the country by circulation.

A purchase price was not specified, but TampaBay.com reported that Times ownership borrowed $13.3 million to finance the sale.

Locals saw this one coming. Few major metropolitan areas can support to daily newspapers anymore, and, with 2.8 million residents, Tampa-St. Petersburg is on the fringe of what you could call a major metropolitan area. The Times won a contract to print the Tribune in February, and experts said the writing was on the wall after that.

“The continued competition between the two newspapers was threatening to both,” said Times chairman and CEO Paul Tash, in a quote on Rick Edmonds’ blog at the Poynter Institute. “There are very few cities that are able to sustain more than one daily newspaper, and the Tampa Bay region is not among them.”

The two papers had long been able to make a go of it by targeting subscribers on either side of Tampa Bay, and at one time were considered two of the fiercest rivals in the newspaper industry. However, the collapse of business models brought about by the Internet has had both papers playing defense for the past decade.

The Tribune published continuously from 1895 until this week. Long owned by Media General, it was sold to an investment capital group in 2012 for $9.5 million. That company nearly doubled its money when it sold the Tribune’s headquarters building last July for $17.75 million, but the Tribune can hardly be considered a winning investment. The owners had reportedly borrowed more than $37 million over the last two years.

The Tribune employed 265 full-time staff. Deep cuts are expected, with Times chairman and CEO Paul Tash saying at least 100 jobs will be lost. Beginning today, the Times began appearing on Tribune subscribers’ doorsteps and in newsstand racks. The Times said it will honor all the existing subscription and advertising contracts. The Times will continue to operate the Tribune’s tbo.com website after a temporary redirect to the Times’ tampabay.com. It will also continue several local operations owned by the Tribune under their existing names.

The Times is owned by the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school and journalism think tank. Until 2012 the paper was called the St. Petersburg Times under a legal agreement that had given the Tribune temporary ownership of the Times name.

The Times claims daily readership of nearly 448,000 and Sunday readership of nearly 739,000. Actual circulation is about half that. The company’s media kit claims that its print and online properties reach 1.5 million people.

A team of Times reporters who formerly worked for the Tribune put together a nice retrospective here.

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