Tag Archives: Digital Journalism

What Has Become of Business Journalism?

The New Yorker published my essay about the financial crisis and business journalism; I review a new book that talks about these issues.

“The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark” doesn’t attempt to enshrine old-media institutions. Instead, it defines accountability reporting and what’s needed to foster it, no matter the medium: resources, to fund extensive research; expert knowledge, to decipher sub-cultures; and resilient editors willing to withstand intimidation from the government and from powerful companies. Starkman’s strength is his insistence that we judge journalism from within its own tradition rather than jamming it through the logic of market efficiency or “disruptive” information technology and accepting what comes out.

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Jeff Bezos Is Bad News

Writing in The New Republic Senior Editor Alec MacGillis takes an informed and critical stance against the purchase of The Washington Post by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

…let’s not kid ourselves here: The company that made him one of the richest men in the world has had a less than benign impact on our nation. It has devastated the publishing industry, from the big presses to the small booksellers. It has exacerbated the growth of the low-wage economy, to the point where the president feels the need to celebrate an increase in warehouse jobs that will pay barely more than minimum wage. (Fun fact uncovered by the Morning Call in Allentown, Pa. two years ago: Instead of paying for air-conditioning at some Pennsylvania warehouses, Amazon had just stationed paramedics outside to take the inevitably heat-stressed workers to the hospital.)

More generally, Amazon has embodied, more than any other of the giants that rule our new landscape, the faster-cheaper-further mindset that scratches away daily at our communal fabric: Why bother running down to the store around the block if you can buy it with a click? No risk of running into someone on the way and actually having to talk to them, and hey, can you beat that price? No thought given to the externalities that make that price possible…

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The Rise Of Walled Gardens And The Future Of The Web

“In many ways, Google’s shutdown of its RSS reader is just a small part of a larger move away from open web standards and towards closed, proprietary platforms that are easier to control and monetize,” observes Mathew Ingram of GigaOm.

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Slow Media

Hamish McKenzie has a thoughtful piece at PandoDaily on the latent demand for “slow media.” By this he means digital books, long form reporting, and careful analysis, as opposed to the unceasing onslaught of crappy blog posts and zillions of shoddy articles that sites churn out to keep their “content” “fresh.”

Rather than lament the decline of literary culture, McKenzie frames the issue in terms of media economics. It’s not that people dislike reading top caliber, longer writing, it’s that no business model yet exists to fund such publishing endeavors. McKenzie discusses start ups that are attempting to create such a business model and explains how an assortment of existing strategies–affiliate links, sponsored content, pay walls, special events and memberships–are grasping for long term success.

Slow Media, on the other hand, has opportunities beyond display ads. It favors deep engagement rather than brief contact with ad meat. It trades on relationships with the audience rather than fleeting touches. It builds affinity rather than habits. So far, we have seen media owners struggle to monetize those differences, and so many instead rely on the mechanics of the now to generate mass as quickly as possible, even as the ad units upon which such an approach is predicated produce diminishing returns. In these early decades of the Internet, the economic disincentives for longform reporting or analysis have been too great. What may emerge, however, are new ways to unlock the power behind that deep engagement and loyalty.

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Paul Miller Returns To The Internet After 1 Year of Solitude

Evan Rodgers writes at The Verge:

Paul Miller left the internet for a year, and he’s finally coming back. At midnight tomorrow, he’ll plug back in after 365 days away, capping his experiment by returning to the connected world. Is he a new man? Ready to return or dreading the web? We’re having a special late-night Vergecast that kicks off at 11PM ET on April 30th to celebrate the occasion, followed by the debut of Paul’s personal story of disconnecting and a livestream discussion of his return.

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Tumblr’s Failed Journalism Experiment

Hamish McKenzie of PandoDaily explain’s why Tumblr’s in-house journalism project, “Storyboard” was nixed.

Even though it had success with its partnerships program at placing stories into other forums, Storyboard’s stories always had the whiff of marketing, or what is these days being described as “native advertising.”

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We Don’t Need News Summaries, We Need Better Analysis: Yahoo, Summly And The Folly of Semantic Analysis

With Yahoo’s recent acquisition of the startup Summly, an app that summarizes news articles for iPhone consumption, Hamish McKenzie of PandoDaily raises a good point: is it news summaries we want, or succinct analysis?

McKenzie’s thoughtful piece riffed off a razor keen blog post by Cornell professor Emin Gün Sirer who argued that not only was Yahoo’s purchase preposterously stupid, but that the technology behind Summly represents a culture of mindless news consumption. Gun Sirer explains:

Our time is valuable, and we definitely need tools that help. And because digital information sources have become repetitive echo chambers, I would welcome tools that can extract the latent signals. “This article is really a fluff piece paid for by tobacco interests.” “This picture of attractive happy people of different races mixed together in the same proportion as society at large, sipping lattes at Starbucks, is probably an image ad by Starbucks.” “Yahoo makes outrageous purchase to get people to talk about its dying brand, and perhaps to indicate that it has cash to waste…

Instead of providing insight or the guiding light of expertise or data, Summly relies on technology that merely extracts basic facts using natural language text (this can be accomplished by cutting out the first sentence of news articles and copying the 2nd paragraph, where the who/what/where/when/why can be found, according to Gun Sirer).

And the natural language technology that Summly deploys isn’t even all that impressive. As Gun Sirer writes, “if Yahoo were to look at the work of anyone who is active in [natural language]…it’d immediately discover that this is a deep field full of exciting developments at its core. Gluing [a natural language] engine up to news surely adds some value, but pales in comparison to what cutting edge [natural language] algorithms can accomplish.”

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Journalism Worthy Of Web Culture: Syria Deeply And The Single Story Website

Nieman Journalism Lab

Nieman Journalism Lab

In reporting war and conflict, the traditional news article can often be a detriment to understanding. By sketching narratives that any reader can understand, journalists often state and restate basic facts and storylines, leaving layered back-story or relevant tangents unwritten. New names, battlefields and rising death tolls are reported, but these are mere additions, extra sentences slapped on at the end.

What if instead, complex subjects were reported in an innovative way, using interactive timelines and maps where readers decide how “deep” they want to dive into a subject?

Lara Setrakian, founder of the website Syria Deeply, writes on the success of such a journalistic endeavor:

It is part news aggregator, part interactive backgrounder, part original reporting space. Most importantly, it aims to fuse all of the kinds of content that have become critical to this crisis: professional reporting, citizen journalism, and social media. We wanted to visualize more, convey greater nuance, and focus on civilian stories, rather than just emphasize the big shots and the battle action that normally lead our headlines.

And here is the actual site: Syria Deeply

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