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.

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By paulgillin | October 19, 2017 - 12:21 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News

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 Fake News

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 Fake News

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 | July 13, 2016 - 9:31 am - Posted in Fake News

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 Fake News

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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By paulgillin | November 12, 2015 - 7:36 am - Posted in Fake News

Three years ago a former greeting card executive and his partner bought the Orange County Register and a handful of smaller newspapers. Operating as Freedom Communications, they stunned a gasping industry by declaring their intention to invest heavily in news.

A year later, the experiment showed signs of bearing fruit. As we wrote in July, 2013, “Newsroom staff is up to 360 from a low of 180 when Freedom took over. The Register routinely publishes daily issues that are nearly twice the size of its nearby rival, the Los Angeles Times. Page counts have been increased by half, color expanded and even the quality of paper improved.”

That was then. Two years later, the Freedom experiment can be judged a failure as Freedom filed for bankruptcy protection as part of a management-led plan to acquire the paper. The plan will end the active role of Aaron Kushner, the greeting card magnate who said two years ago that he was in the game for the long haul and who even eyed a buyout of the Los Angeles Times, whose parent Tribune Co. was itself bankrupt at the time.

A group led by Rich Mirman, who is the current CEO and publisher of Freedom, is bidding to acquire the company and reorganize its finances. Mirman said there will be no job cuts and that all bills will continue to be paid during the reorganization. He also said the company should turn a profit this year after losing more than $40 million over the past two years.

Nowhere to be seen in the deal is Kusher, the newcomer with a vision who spoke so forcefully about the value of newspapers two years ago. His plan always was a long shot, but he was at least a positive voice in an industry that’s so shrouded in hopelessness these days. He was one of a dwindling list of rich executives that includes Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos and John Henry, who seem to believe that journalism is still worth the investment. Why is it that the only people who have faith in the newspaper industry are people who have no background in newspapers?

 

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By paulgillin | September 21, 2015 - 5:26 pm - Posted in Fake News

Newspaper publishers pride themselves on being champions of truth, defenders of the public’s right to know and knowledgeable skeptics who cut through obfuscation and evasion to get the real story.

Except when it comes to delivering bad news about themselves.

In another one of the too-many-to-keep-count examples of a newspaper candy-coating its own hairball, the New Orleans Times-Picayune announced that it is cutting 21 percent of its overall news staff in a bid “to reinforce its core journalistic mission.”

To be fair, the official announcement did quote NOLA Media Group President Ricky Mathews conceding that “It’s a difficult day for us and our colleagues who are losing their jobs,” but that brief tinge of regret is buried four paragraphs deep in the 560-word announcement that is chock full of good news about the success the media group has had online. You might remember that the Times-Picayune cut frequency to three days a week in 2012, following the lead of the Detroit Free Press which did so four years earlier.

 

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By paulgillin | August 7, 2015 - 7:29 am - Posted in Fake News

The New York Times marked a milestone of sorts yesterday with the announcement that it has passed the one million paid digital-only subscriber mark, less than four-and-a-half years after launching its paywall. The milestone is validation that paywalls can work, especially if you’re The New York Times.

The news comes less than two months after the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers reported that global newspaper circulation revenues surpassed advertising revenues for the first time this century (good slide presentation here). The association didn’t say when was the last time circulation was the industry’s biggest revenue contributor – or even if that information is known – but we’d guess it was more than 50 years ago.

The newspaper industry became addicted to advertising in the 1960s – and thus began its downfall. With 80% of revenue coming from advertising by the late 1970s – and circulation functioning as a loss-leader to build audiences – the business had all its eggs in one basket. When the Internet tore a hole in that basket, there was nowhere else to turn.

A painful decade later, there is evidence that newspapers are rebuilding online around the paywall model. They have lost a lot of blood, though, and circulation revenue will never be as large or profitable as advertising was. Wired notes that only one-third of the Times‘ revenue comes from digital subscriptions. It will need a lot more subscribers – or alternative revenue sources – to keep the business stable.

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By paulgillin | February 22, 2015 - 11:28 am - Posted in Fake News

Two Great Examples of How Journalism Has Changed for the Better – Gigaom

Mathew Ingram writes:

“It’s worth pointing out when ‘citizen journalism’ — or networked journalism, or whatever we want to call it — really works, and a couple of great examples of that have come to light recently. One of them is related to a project that I’ve written about: namely, the open Ukrainian vehicle tracking database that British investigative blogger Eliot Higgins and his team have been putting together through his Bellingcat website, which tracks the movements of Russian troops and machinery in and around Ukraine.

“The open database of vehicle sightings in Ukraine that Eliot and his team at the Bellingcat site have been putting together — using photos and videos and eyewitness reports of vehicles, blast craters and burn marks that have been posted by residents — has produced some fairly strong evidence that Russia has been firing missiles and other weaponry into Ukraine from inside Russian territory, despite repeated government denials.
“The second example comes via a piece in the New York Times magazine, which will be published in print this weekend but is already available online. It tells the story of a group of residents who live in one of the worst slums in Rio de Janeiro — a group that calls itself ‘Papo Reto,’ meaning ‘straight talk.’ Armed only with cellphones, they have been documenting police violence in the Rio favela, at great personal cost, because the Brazilian media apparently isn’t interested.”
“For too long, it’s been easy to mock legacy media organizations that dare dabble in relatively new, digital platforms or formats that are perceived to be low-brow. Given how quick we are to cry ‘clickbait!’ these days, the legacies must assure their audience that they are not sacrificing standards when they try to play the digital game and—god forbid—get some social-media traffic.

“The most popular New York Times story of 2013—a year when the paper won Pulitzers for investigative, explanatory, and international reporting—was a quiz. That same quiz was also its third most popular piece of content in 2014. And last I checked, the Times still publishes a crossword. None of this has harmed the paper’s reputation as a home for serious journalism.

“Part of the reason legacies panic about losing their gravitas and upstarts worry about how to gain it is that most of their audience doesn’t come through a homepage or a print magazine, where a hierarchy is on display.

“As Felix Salmon pointed out when the Times got a bit embarrassed about running a story about hipsters wearing monocles, online it’s impossible to ‘tuck’ a story away. It can be equally hard to call attention to a story that editors deem important but won’t naturally attract an avalanche of clicks.

About time department: New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet announced Thursday The Times is retiring its system of pitching stories for Page 1 of the print edition in a memo to staff that outlines the paper’s growing emphasis on digital journalism.The Times will continue to have its distinctive morning meetings, Baquet writes. Rather than being focused primarily on which stories will make the front page of the next day’s print edition, the paper will ‘compete for the best digital, rather than print, real estate.’

Craig SilvermanCraig Silverman, whom we interviewed years ago for this site, is becoming a leading voice in media responsibility and accountability. Here’s an excerpt from his new report, ‘Lies, Damn Lies and Viral Content: How News Websites Spread (and Debunk) Online Rumors, Unverified Claims and Misinformation.‘ Click here to download the full report.
“News websites dedicate far more time and resources to propagating questionable and often false claims than they do working to verify and/or debunk viral content and online rumors. Rather than acting as a source of accurate information, online media frequently promote misinformation in an attempt to drive traffic and social engagement…

“Today the bar for what is worth giving attention seems to be much lower. There are also widely used practices in online news that are misleading and confusing to the public. These practices reflect short-term thinking that ultimately fails to deliver the full value of a piece of emerging news…

“Many news sites apply little or no basic verification to the claims they pass on. Instead, they rely on linking-out to other media reports, which themselves often only cite other media reports as well…

“News organizations are inconsistent at best at following up on the rumors and claims they offer initial coverage. This is likely connected to the fact that they pass them on without adding reporting or value. With such little effort put into the initial rewrite of a rumor, there is little thought or incentive to follow up…
many news organizations pair an article about a rumor or unverified claim with a headline that declares it to be true. This is a fundamentally dishonest practice…They frequently use headlines that express the unverified claim as a question (‘Did a woman have a third breast added?’). However, research shows these subtleties result in misinformed audiences…

“Within minutes or hours a claim can morph from a lone tweet or badly sourced report to a story repeated by dozens of news websites, generating tens of thousands of shares. Once a certain critical mass is met, repetition has a powerful effect on belief. The rumor becomes true for readers simply by virtue of its ubiquity.”

*Newspapers are increasingly launching online radio stations as the supply of talk radio outlets dwindles in local markets. But it isn’t just a small-town phenomenon. The Boston Herald “launched its radio station in the summer of 2013, and when news now breaks, its protocol is to get it on the radio first before posting it online or to social media,” writes Joseph Lichterman on Nieman Journalism Lab. The good news 2/3 of under-25s listen to online radio weekly. The bad news: early adopters say it’s been tough to get advertisers on board.”

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