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 | May 11, 2010 - 5:45 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News

We were hit with a nasty new WordPress virus last week and have been in recovery mode for several days. The virus informs the visitor that the site presents a security threat and offers to download antivirus protection which you should never, ever do.

If you see this warning, don’t click anything except the “close window” button and get out of there. We would also appreciate it if you would drop us an e-mail if you see this threat. The site appears to be stable now but we want to be sure. Thanks.

By paulgillin | May 7, 2010 - 4:29 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News

We’ve been hit by the WordPress bug that’s been going around lately. The Death Watch will temporarily be redirected to this new location while we recover.

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By paulgillin | December 10, 2009 - 3:32 pm - Posted in Fake News, Hyper-local

As if to dramatize the crisis facing the newspaper industry, the owner of the 125-year-old Editor & Publisher magazine announced it is shutting down the title. The venerable trade magazine was the unwanted child in a deal between Nielsen Business Media and e5 Global Media Holdings, LLC involving the sale of eight brands in Nielsen’s Media and Entertainment Group. The closing was announced in a one-sentence mention in a memo from Nielsen Business Media President Greg Farrar. AFP has the facts and Huffington Post, considered by some to be the standard-bearer for the new breed of publishers that will succeed daily newspapers, adds detail.

That includes E&P’s string of 11 Neal Awards, a prestigious honor awarded to trade publications by American Business Media, as well as the magazine’s once-formidable position as the journal of record for the newspaper industry. E&P writes its own obituary and suggests that there’s still a possibility that the title could be carried on in some form. It also obligingly lists the e-mail address of all staff members for the benefit of recruiters.

We have often cited E&P‘s work in our posts on this website, and had just this morning written a commentary on an excellent dissection of the circulation experiment at the Dallas Morning News that appeared in E&P this week. While the publications articles could be annoyingly terse at times, its features are often very good and its coverage was always timely. We have particularly enjoyed the work of Mark Fitzgerald and Jennifer Sabba and hope that they quickly find a new place to showcase their talents.

It’s perhaps fitting that we learned of E&P’s demise the way an increasing number of readers consume their news these days: it was posted on Twitter.

By paulgillin | June 22, 2009 - 7:32 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

By paulgillin | May 16, 2009 - 5:19 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News

A chance meeting with a reader this morning reminded us of this 2004 video by the Museum of Media History, which we realize not everyone has seen. It’s a futuristic look back from the year 2015 at Google’s successful march to aggregate and customize the world’s information. Although dated, it’s startlingly accurate in some respects. It’s kind of cool till you get near the end. Then, well, you decide.

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By paulgillin | April 8, 2009 - 6:46 am - Posted in Fake News, Google

gary_pruittMcClatchy Co. CEO Gary Pruitt addressed the Newspaper Association of America’s annual convention on Monday. Here are his remarks, courtesy of the NAA.

Each year at McClatchy’s shareholders meeting, we conclude with a video highlighting the work of our photojournalists over the past year. I pick a song that I think speaks to the year and we set the photographs to the music. This year, I wasn’t sure which song to choose. I like the Rolling Stones, and they have several songs that fit our current economic environment:

  • “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” of course. But also consider …
  • “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
  • “19th Nervous Breakdown”
  • “Shattered” and
  • “Gimme Shelter”

But I really don’t feel fatalistic. I speak to you this morning with a strong sense of resolve and hope. We have a serious fight on our hands, but I believe we are up to it. So I thought it more appropriate to select a battle song for this year’s video – the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” to be specific – as we fight to ensure that truth does indeed go marching on. See what you think …. (Plays DVD)

Public Service Mandate

I came to newspapers not as a journalist or a businessman but as a First Amendment lawyer from Berkeley, California. So as you might expect, I’m passionate about free speech and a free press. I believe in the idea – and the ideal – that newspapers should provide high quality public service journalism so that the public can fully participate in democracy. This is not just some abstract concept. There is emerging empirical evidence to support the important relationship between democracy and the press.

A study published in The Journal of Law, Economics and Organization in 2003 looked at the per capita circulation of newspapers in different countries around the world and among the states in our own country. The study found that the lower the circulation, the greater the political corruption. Of course, the First Amendment isn’t a business model. Making the case that we’re important to society – proving it, even – does not guarantee our success. It just means the stakes are high. It is up to us to devise a business model that will sustain quality, public service journalism.

Our critics and the naysayers aren’t going to do it. This is the challenge before us. So while there were easier times to lead newspapers, there has never been a more important time.

Future generations will judge how we do. Or, as Abraham Lincoln said so eloquently in 1862 during an even more historic fight: “We can not escape history … The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation.”

Competitive History

I think history has much to teach us. As Mark Twain said, “History may not repeat itself but it does rhyme a lot.” Newspapering, for much of its history, was a fiercely competitive, rough-and-tumble, dog-eat-dog, low-margin business.

Consider The Sacramento Bee. In the first 30 years of its life, from 1857 to 1887, 80 newspapers came and went in the Sacramento market. That was a tough business. The number of daily newspapers in the United States peaked in the early part of the 20th century. There have never been more newspapers before or since.

Not coincidentally, that same time period witnessed the birth of a new medium — commercial radio. First radio and then television emerged, taking share from existing media, namely newspapers. Many people predicted newspapers would go out of business – and many did. So many, in fact, that by the second half of the 20th century, all but the largest cities in the United States had only one daily newspaper. And then a funny thing happened. Those successful, scrappy, surviving newspapers got rich because there was no other print or classified advertising competition. It’s a noteworthy paradox that the development of radio and TV ultimately led to the enrichment of newspapers.

For the first time in the history of newspapers, profit margins exploded and newspapering became an easy and lucrative business. Warren Buffett once said: “You want to invest in a business that even your stupid cousin could run, because one day he will.” That was the newspaper business in the second half of the 20th century. As newspapers’ profit margins grew, so did their cost structures. Ah, but we were so much older then; we’re younger than that now.

New Disruption

The Golden Age of newspapering wasn’t to last. With the maturation of the Internet over the past decade, a new medium has emerged, a virulent competitor again taking advertising share from all existing media, especially share of classified advertising. The Internet’s impact has been particularly disruptive at large metro papers with their higher cost structures and greater dependence on classified advertising.

Some of our critics seem to think newspapers were blindsided by the Internet’s potential impact. But we deserve credit for the considerable progress we’ve made online. The U.S. newspaper industry generated $3 billion in digital revenue last year. At McClatchy, 15% of our advertising revenue today comes from online.

McClatchy, a company founded before the advent of electric lights, will generate nearly $200 million dollars in digital revenue this year at a higher profit margin than our print business. Our digital revenue and online audience grew by double digits last year and, we operate the leading local internet business in each of our daily newspaper markets.

None of which is to say this transition is easy or that we haven’t made mistakes along the way. Secular transitions are always disruptive and painful for all media — what Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter called “the creative destruction of capitalism.”

Working On It

My point is that newspaper companies, to varying degrees, were working their way through it, difficult as it was. The game-changer was the arrival of the deepest and most painful recession in generations. It’s the combination of the secular shift and the cyclical downturn that has created a very real crisis for newspapers.

Many of our critics conflate the secular and the cyclical. They see the revenue declines brought about by the recession as proof we can’t weather the secular transition. This leads to the wrong, but increasingly popular conclusion, that there’s no viable future for newspaper companies.

Absolutely we’ve got a future. But just what does it look like and how do we hurry up and get there? Alan Kay, the visionary computer scientist, once said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” That’s where we are today. It’s up to us to invent that future.

There is no silver bullet. There are no easy answers. And, sadly, as we have seen already, not every newspaper will make it. But here is what I see going forward:


Print remains viable now and into the future. Most newspapers today are profitable even in the depths of this crippling recession. More than 100 million adults in the United States read a printed newspaper every day – more than watched the Super Bowl. As troubled as the U.S. economy is, if 100 million consumers want and use something, that product usually doesn’t go away.

Sixty-one percent of 18 to 34-year-olds read a newspaper in an average week. So much for the notion that younger people don’t read newspapers.

Despite all these positives, newspapers alone are not enough. Our future depends on becoming successful hybrid media companies – fully engaged and vested in digital publishing and digital platforms as we have been historically with print. This isn’t breaking news. In the month of January, 44 percent of all U.S. internet users visited a newspaper website. And audience growth at newspaper websites is outpacing overall U.S. internet audience growth.

So we’ve been moving in this digital direction for some time – but we need to accelerate the pace and sharpen our focus. We need to establish our brands and offer our services on many different platforms. We need to leverage social media, mobile technology and the web’s interactivity as our communities and customers change how they acquire and share information.

This economic downturn makes it difficult to take risks, but we need to experiment smartly and partner where it makes sense. We need to learn from our mistakes, adjust and move on. Let’s listen to our audience and our advertisers – not conventional wisdom.

Transform the Business

The same technology that challenges us on the revenue side offers savings on the expense side through centralization, collaboration and outsourcing. We must continue to shed those legacy, 20th century, monopoly cost structures that weigh us down, limit our flexibility, jeopardize our health.

Think of the newspaper company of the future as an athlete – lean, fit and trim, yet muscular where we need to be. We need to ensure strength in our newsrooms and advertising sales staffs – our two most powerful assets, our core competencies and our social responsibility. Even today, with all the downsizing across our industry, we have the largest newsgathering operations in our markets by far. No other local media outlet is as well equipped to produce and deliver the high value, premium local content that’s growing our total audience in print and online. And we know that audience growth remains the best predictor of long-term success for any medium.

While we’ve done a good job growing audience, we need to do a better job of leveraging our sales forces. We must empower our sales staffs to sell our full portfolio of print and digital products – giving them the right tools, training and incentives. Also, think of the possibilities of harnessing that large, local sales staff to sell on behalf of others and share revenues. The untapped potential of local digital advertising in each of our markets is why internet giants like Yahoo and Google seek partnerships with newspapers. We need to mine that local digital revenue stream. We can’t afford to fumble the opportunity.

Lastly, we need to accept the reality that we’re in a tougher, more competitive business, now and forever. Ours is a business that’s still viable and vital – just with a smaller margin for profits and a smaller margin for error. Let’s appreciate how lucky we are to work in the media business in this critical time of transition. Our actions count. No unbearable lightness of being here. The ball is in our hands and the game is on the line.

I’d like to leave you this morning with a bit of inspiration from Bob Dylan and his song “Silvio.” Although written more than 20 years ago now, I think Dylan’s lyrics speak to the newspaper industry today:

Stake my future on a hell of a past
Looks like tomorrow is coming on fast
Ain’t complaining ’bout what I got
Seen better times, but who has not?

By paulgillin | January 30, 2009 - 5:15 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News

Editor & Publisher reports that the Los Angeles Times will cut 300 positions, including 70 editorial staff, or about 11% of the newsroom. The site has a memo from Editor Russ Stanton outlining plans to restructure the daily into four sections. LA Observed (via Edward Padgett) says casualties include the California section and Stanton’s memo appears to confirm that information. The paper has cut about 300 jobs from the newsroom alone since last summer in three rounds of layoffs.

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By paulgillin | January 2, 2009 - 10:00 am - Posted in Fake News, Hyper-local, Solutions

We sorted through our 147 entries of 2008 to come up with the stories that surprised us, delighted us or made us shake our heads in disbelief. We’re presenting them as a series of posts entries over four days. Tomorrow we’ll conclude with our favorite quotes of the year.

Creative Solutions

A group of Ohio newspapers got together to share stories and even reporting assignments in a novel response to cost pressure. The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Columbus Dispatch, Toledo Blade, Cincinnati Enquirer and Akron Beacon Journal now post all their daily stories on a private website where editors can pick whatever they want and publish it in their own pages. The tactic has now been tested in several other parts of the US.

Pasadena Now, a small weekly, fired its entire editorial staff and farmed out coverage to a staff of Indian writers recruited on Craigslist. Publisher James McPherson pays the virtual staff about $7.50 per 1,000 words, compared to the $30,000 to $40,000 he was paying each reporter annually. The Indian writers “report” via telephones, web harvesting and webcams, with support and guidance from McPherson and his wife., a spinoff of the Dallas Morning News, uses a social network to anchor a community journalism initiative. Local residents create profiles and post information about their interests, and some celebrities are emerging, like the Helpless Housewife (right). Every week, editors dig through content submitted by citizens and produce 18 local print editions.

Research and Markets released a report entitled “Offshoring By US Newspaper Publishers” that sees big growth in the newspaper outsourcing industry, particularly in India. About 2,300 people were employed offshore to serve US and UK newspaper companies in July, 2008, the report said. However, “The total offshore opportunity from newspaper publishers is estimated to be approximately $3.5 billion,” in the long run.

manual_frontA team of enterprising publishers in the UK produced a four-page newspaper created entirely by hand. “Every word and every image and every mark of any kind in The Manual was drawn by a team of volunteers – mostly illustrators,” the website says. The group foresees a day when “handmade qualities can transform newspapers from ‘junk’ to collectable.

The Politico, a Washington-based boutique news service that specializes in Capitol Hill coverage, signed up more than 100 newspapers for its news service, including the Arizona Republic, Des Moines Register, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Philadelphia Inquirer. Launched in early 2007, the specialized print/online/broadcast hybrid focuses exclusively on politics, is reportedly profitable and has become a must-read for political junkies.

CNN announced plans to challenge the Associated Press with its own wire service. The AP suffered subscriber flight in 2008 as several large newspapers have canceled their subscriptions, claiming the price is too high.

The Chicago Sun-Times offered 44 copies of its Nov. 5 front page on eBay as a “museum wrap fine art giclée print on canvas.” Nov. 5 was a rare bright spot in an otherwise disastrous year. The historic election created a brief surge of demand and many publishers sold out that day’s issue.

The Sun-Times had another idea to attract readers: It brought back dead columnists. “Vintage” columns written by Chicago institution Mike Royko began appearing in August, some 11 years after Royko died. The first one was about a Windy City citizen who was also dead.

Brave New World


Huffington Post employee Mayhill Fowler captured a three-minute rant by Bill Clinton about a Vanity Fair report that questioned the propriety of his post-presidential behavior. Fowler didn’t identify herself as a reporter but said she had the video camera in plain view while Clinton was talking. The LA Times account describes the recorder as “candy bar-sized” and Clinton claims to have not known he was being recorded.

CNN reported on a Yahoo employee who Twittered his layoff in February and gained an eager following. Ryan Kuder eventually took a job from the hundreds of leads contributed by his followers . His story was covered on prominent blogs and in mainstream media.

Talking Points Memo was awarded a George Polk Award for its coverage of the firing of eight United States attorneys. The New York Times account pointed to the difference between the new breed of online reporting and traditional print journalism. Chief among them is the involvement of readers in the process. Editor Joshua Micah Marshall has even been known to give “assignments” to his readers, asking them to comb through official documents.

Gutsy Moves

Monitor Editor John Yemma

The Christian Science Monitor said it is all but exiting the print business. Management chose the paper’s 100th anniversary year to make the shift, attracting worldwide attention. The Monitor‘s dramatic move legitimized frequency cuts as a survival tactic. Other papers have followed its lead.

Editor & Publisher columnist Steve Outing cancelled his newspaper subscription and wrote about it at length, invoking a deluge of scorn from newspaper vets. Outing stuck to his guns.

Tampa Tribune intern Jessica DaSilva documented a contentious meeting about the need for change at the newspaper and posted the editor-in-chief’s comments on her blog. The young woman endured a torrent of abuse from veteran journalists, including many personal insults, as more than 200 comments piled up on her blog. The incident dramatized the industry’s difficulty in dealing with change.

Land of the Rising Seniors

Newspaper sales in Japan are 2.5 times those of the US as a percentage of the population and journalist layoffs are all but unheard of. The reason: the population is declining. The percentage of children 14 and younger is the lowest it’s been in 100 years and the overall population of Japan is expected to decline by a third over the next 50 years. The lack of a new generation of Web-savvy upstarts means papers have less pressure to move online and figure out how to serve a new audience.

Just Plain Fun

The Onion offered a tutorial in how to write a provocative magazine cover line (right).

A tongue-in-cheek investigation by IowaHawk rounded up recent incidents of criminal activity by journalists and concluded that newsrooms are at risk of becoming a “killing field.” Of course, the reporters could have conducted the exercise for lawyers, accountants or plumbers and come to the same conclusion. The best line was from Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit: “I think it’s unfair to single out journalists as thieves, or violent, or drunks, or child abusers. Sometimes they’re all of the above.” The chart is amusing, too.

The Simpsons showed its snotty character Nelson insulting a journalist. “Hah hah! Your medium is dying!”

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By paulgillin | January 1, 2009 - 11:00 am - Posted in Fake News, Hyper-local

We sorted through our 147 entries of 2008 to come up with the stories that surprised us, delighted us or made us shake our heads in disbelief. We’ll present them as a series of posts over the next few days in hopes that you’ll find them to be as memorable as we did. Happy New Year!

Telling Tales
Gallup research showed that 31% of US adults now consult the Internet daily for news while 40% read a local newspaper. The trend lines look to cross sometime in the next five years, making the Internet the most important news source among US adults. Only 22% of adults under 30 read a local newspaper daily, Gallup reported. The average daily newspaper reader is now 56 years old.

Ted Gup, a journalism professor at Case Western, lamented his students’ appalling ignorance of basic current events. “Nearly half of a recent class could not name a single country that bordered Israel. In an introductory journalism class, 11 of 18 students could not name what country Kabul was in, although we have been at war there for half a decade. Last fall only one in 21 students could name the U.S. secretary of defense. Given a list of four countries – China, Cuba, India, and Japan – not one of those same 21 students could identify India and Japan as democracies.

Rick RedfernRick Redfern, the resident ink-stained wretch of the Doonesbury comic strip for more than 30 years, decided to accept a buyout

The Wall Street Journal’s paid subscription model has often been held up as an example of how newspapers need to buck the trend toward free content. However, in April, website Salon revealed how to get full access to The Wall Street Journal for free instead of paying $79 annually. It turns out the Journal creates a shadow version of its web content for the express purpose of getting traffic from Google, which can’t see around firewalls.

In May, Mike Koehler launched Praying for Papers, a blog whose stated purpose was to encourage “anyone who is touched by this shift in our industry to include it each day in their prayer life.” On July 11, the author said he was going on vacation. The blog hasn’t been updated since.

Shortly before the stock market meltdown, Valleywag observed that the combined wealth of Google’s co-founders exceeded the value of the entire US newspaper industry

The fifth annual “State of the American News Media” study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that as newspapers cut staff, they actually concentrated their remaining resources in fewer places. “You have in a sense more reporters across more outlets, but they are all covering a fairly narrow band of stories,” the project’s director told Reuters.

Jolly JournalistJolly Journalist debuted in June, asserting that “these are the most exciting times to work in journalism. We want to collect your reasons why this is the case.” It hasn’t been updated since Oct. 13.


Cost-cutting is robbing the public of an American institution – the editorial cartoonist. “In the past three years, around three dozen artists have been laid off, forced to take buyouts or to retire, according to the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists,” said an Associated Press piece.

The ombudsman, a staff watchdog position that became popular in the 1970s, turned into an expensive luxury. “Over the past year, reader representatives/public editors/reader advocates/ombudsmen have been reassigned, retired or bought out at the Baltimore Sun, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Orlando Sentinel, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Palm Beach Post,” wrote Karen Hunter, the Hartford Courant‘s reader representative, in a farewell column that has since been pulled off the site.

Paper Cuts MapErica Smith vividly documented the industry’s massive layoffs using a Google Maps mashup.

The Gannett Blog became a major source of news about job cuts at the company. jim_hopkinsOnly the site isn’t run by Gannett but rather by a former employee, Jim Hopkins. The New York Times cited Gannett as a poster child of corporate cluelessness because it refuses to pay attention to the blog, despite the fact that Hopkins’ posts can draw hundreds of comments. Hopkins assembled field reports from employees at more than 70 newspapers about recent layoffs, making the blog the most comprehensive source of news about that topic.

Clue, Please

The American Press Institute held an executive confab in Reston, Va. In November in which industry honchos heard that the newspaper industry is in a full-blown crisis. All but one of the public companies in the room was at real risk of bankruptcy, a summary said. Session leader James Shein said one of the purposes of the meeting was to “illuminate for newspaper industry leaders the urgency of their situation.” Executives agreed to meet again in six months.

NAA AdThe Newspaper Association of America continues to run these strange ads with their baffling images, apparently thinking it’s doing some good. What the heck is that thing?

The executive editor of the Raleigh News & Observer wrote a stirring column about the growth of the newspaper’s overall print and online circulation. Underscoring the importance of the online product and readership trends in that direction, he cited several online sources, but didn’t link to any of them.

Sincerest Form of Flattery

Web wunderkind Marc Andreessen announced a New York Times death watch.

Ad Age headlineAnd Advertising Age launched a series of articles intended to “look at the thought leaders in the industry, their attempts to leave the past — and even formats — behind and their strategies for finding new business models. The series title: The Newspaper Death Watch.

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