Web Trends as News Content

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by Megan Cloherty

We’ve all see ‘Charlie Bit my Finger’ and the ‘Sneezing Panda.’ Those YouTube videos will go down as classics. But where did we hear about them? Chances are, on t.v.

Just in case you haven’t seen them:

More and more television producers I know say they are frustrated that online trends, like the latest YouTube sensations, are driving news content. Oftentimes producers are on the lookout for a kicker, something cute or funny to put towards the end of a show. But one of my friends says, on slow news days, trolling the internet for content is perfectly acceptable in her newsroom.

“Last week we ran a story about the Naughty-or-Nice-a-tron app on Facebook — another marketing tool the producer just thought was neat.” My friend is a producer for a local station in Los Angeles who wanted me to omit her name from this blog post, but has strong feelings about whether Facebook status trends should be used as news, “another story on our show yesterday was the top 10 Twitter trends of the year.”

Here’s the story in the L.A. Times: http://lat.ms/g7NxcE

There’s no question topics generated online are featured on the news everyday, such as the WikiLeaks fallout. But the question is, where is the line when it comes to pulling content from the internet? Should web trends be categorized as news?

My friend is leaning against it, “We’re using other people’s material, without permission, because we don’t have the resources or drive to find stories that actually need reporting on. I mean, once a million people have already seen it, surely a good chunk of our audience is already aware it exists? Is that a “new” story?”

Long before Facebook was leading the newscasts and Zuckerberg was a cover boy, CNN’s Jeannie Moos was on the trend beat. She is known for her light and humorous stories which are often included in morning shows across the country. But my friend says the turn around time, leaves the trends feeling a bit stale for daily news, “By the time her stories hit the feeds, they’re a day or two old — and the day she FILED the story it was probably something people had been talking about for at least a couple of days.”

And as you might imagine, it’s not just television and newspaper in on the web trending, radio is in the game as well. Here’s an NPR story about the popularity of farming games on Facebook. NPR: Latest Web Trends

Finally there is the question of fair use, which I know we’ll delve into later in the program. But there are many sites, like personal blogs, that producers can use for content but then can’t archive or post to the station’s site.


The news goes on forever

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David Wojnarowicz

Art critic’s reporting on the National Portrait Gallery’s recent censoring shows how the Web can outperform print.

By Dickson Mercer

Two days later there are about a million Web articles informing us that The Washington Post’s art and fashion critics will move on to new jobs. (Here’s one from Tuesday.)

So it goes: Fashion critic Robin Givhan will follow the Post’s former media reporter, Howard Kurtz, to the Daily Beast. Art critic Blake Gopnik, in turn, will take a yet-to-be-identified job in some city called New York.

I really enjoy Gopnik’s work, and it seemed particularly odd to read of his resignation Tuesday – at time when, in my mind, he’s been putting out some of his best stuff.

At 11:17 a.m. Nov. 30, washingtonpost.com published Gopnik’s column criticizing the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian Institution’s decision to cower to the Catholic League’s request for gay artist David Wojnarowicz’s video – a four-minute excerpt from his 1987 work, “A Fire in My Belly” – to be removed from “Hide/Seek,” its ongoing exhibition on gay love.

The video, which has an 11-second clip of ants crawling over a crucifix, is Wojnarowicz’ tribute to a lover who died of AIDS that year. Wojnarowicz died of AIDS five years later.

Enough of the background. For this venue, it’s not particularly important, either, that there was a lot in Gopnik’s article I agreed with, or that I think he presented his argument well. The reason to bring this up here is because Gopnik’s reporting on this issue is a good example of how, in some instances, the Web is a truly superior platform to print.

The final graph of this column is Gopnik’s admission that his review of “Hide/Seek” was a “rave.” On the Web, you have the option of consuming this review immediately. Another nice addition to the Web article is a timeline of “notable art controversies.”

Praise and criticism for Gopnik’s column came in fast, and the next day you could read his responses to some of the more critical comments.

Of course, you might also want to know what all the fuss is about. Lucky for us, just because the NPG caved to one group’s demands does not mean the media has to. The Web edition of Gopnik’s column, for one, also comes with the protested video embedded into its video player at the top of the article.

No matter what NPG decided, “Hide/Seek” was eventually going to close and “A Fire in My Belly” was going to move on. On the Web, however, we don’t even need to take exhibition dates into account. It’s there forever: We can watch it whenever we feel like it.

Rather than post the video here, I’ll leave the decision to go surfing for it on YouTube up to you.

Gawker announces new blog format

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By Andrea Kenner

Whether or not you consider Gawker to be a “news” site, the folks at Gawker clearly think it is. I agree with them.

Gawker has a business model and a strategy that works very well for them: “publishing the stories that others won’t touch.” According to a recent post on LifeHacker, a Gawker sister site, Gawker pulls in an audience of 20 million people from the United States each month.

Another Gawker sister site, Gizmodo, broke the news on April 19 that they had obtained an iPhone 4 prototype from someone who found the phone in a bar. Gizmodo knew that they had a huge story on their hands. But, since their site is published in blog format, newer stories would have quickly pushed the iPhone story down on the page. To solve that problem, they stopped publishing new items for a couple of hours, according to the LifeHacker post.

That solution helped Gizmodo get through the crush, but as the LifeHacker post put it, “How ridiculous! In any sane medium, a story as powerful as that, one which was drawing more than 90% of the site’s traffic, would be given commensurate real estate; and it wouldn’t require a hack to keep the item prominent.”

Gawker’s long-term solution was to develop a new page layout that turns “every page into a front page.” Each story and its visual elements will take up more screen real estate. The “blog scroll” will be detached from the story and shifted to the right.

Nick Bilton, a columnist at the New York Times, wrote about the announcement in the Bits  column on December 1. Bilton said that the impact of the change would likely be large because of the size of Gawker’s audience. “Whether the goal is to highlight important stories or attract new advertisers, the blog is clearly about to go through a transition similar to what newspapers experienced over the last century,” Bilton said.


Podcasts: The Next Twitter?

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Your future source for a story may be waiting on your iPod. Tweets are becoming a popular tool for capturing breaking first-person news. Can video and audio podcasts be far behind?
Podcasts deliver a webcast to user’s iPod or other mp3 player through files that link to the website location of the broadcast audio or video file. The podcast uses distributors such as iTunes or Juice to read the RSS, short for Really Simple Syndication, file. The podcast “feeds” this information directly to your desktop or browser through RSS readers. Subscribers to RSS feeds can also download podcast content directly to their content player such as an iPod. Content is updated automatically.

Podcasts are generally free, over 100,000 are on I-Tunes, and require only a microphone and easily downloaded software to create.

Approximately 70 million Americans 12+ years of age have utilized either audio or video podcast services according to a 2010 Edison Research study.
Edison’s 2009 research found the number one reason individuals chose podcasts was the ability to view or listen to selected content at any time.
Podcast content can be added to a WordPress blog or used as simply a means to get a free fitness coach.
As journalists look for sources of online revenue, podcast viewers represent a captive and affluent audience.

New Pulitzer rules make room for interactive media

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By George Knowles

There is more evidence that digital or interactive media is becoming more important. Here’s an interesting article I found today while looking around at the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americassite. The Wall Street Journal via the Associated Press reported on Dec. 8 that the Pulitzer Prize Board has expanded the rules to include any sort of multimedia storytelling tool for 2011 entries, including ones that feature graphics or video.

In a quote from the Pulitzer site, “These changes help ensure that in the multimedia age, the Pulitzer Prizes will continue to recognize the very best journalism in all formats,” said Pulitzer Board Co-Chairs David M. Kennedy and Amanda Bennett.

The most significant expansion is the fact that 12 of the 14 categories of prizes have changed their entry rules to include a wider array of journalistic tools, including videos, databases, interactive presentations or all of the above. The only categories left unchanged were for photography, where only still photos are eligible.

This recognition of the importance of interactive storytelling is a postive, and it’s coming at just the right time. Great things are being done with interactive media lately, like the recent New York Times interactive budget feature from November.

Another good example is the excellent Washington Post interactive feature, “Top Secret America” that explored the expansion of the U.S. intelligence community in the years since the September 11th attacks.

Interactive stories like this are valuable to readers not only because of their content, but of their non-linear storytelling potential and creativity. Anything that is able to harness data and inform the public is valuable, and it’s good to see technology and imaginiation help this along. It’s also good to see the Pulitzer Board recognize this.

Paywalls in Online News: Will They Work?

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By Tricia Fulks

Reuters columnist Felix Salmon wrote today that the New York Times will toughen its paywall policy because some readers are finding their way around its “first click free” allowance.

Salmon wrote that the publication’s paywall is “porous” because users enter the site from other outlets, i.e. Google, Twitter, etc., and “will always be able to read the article they’re looking for, even if they’ve used up their monthly quota. As a result, it’s more of a navigation fee than a charge for content.”

Now, I must admit – I’m no economist, so I don’t completely understand all of the ins and outs of the business side of journalism. But, simply put, with everything going online and money being lost in print and broadcast, something needs to be done. It’s just too bad that readers consumed the news for free and now they’re being charged for content.

So, will this paywall model work?

Barry Diller seems to think so.

Diller, who just last week stepped down as CEO of IAC/InterActiveCorp, told Bloomberg TV that paywalls will work…eventually. According to this Huffington Post article, Diller said since people are used to paying for applications – “99 cents or whether they pay for a tune, or they pay 99 cents to play Solitaire, or $4.95 to do this or $2.95 to do that” – it’s this that will prepare society to have to pay for news.

“Diller said that the New York Times paywall will probably fail at first, but will ultimately succeed,” which was published June 18.

But it’s not just the mainstream media – The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, even the community newspaper The Concord Monitor in New Hampshire – that are considering or implementing paywalls. Citizen journalists – or more parochially dubbed bloggers – are setting up the wall.

The Tompkins Times, a blog out of Liverpool, charges 3.50 pounds a month for premium members, 2 pounds a month for standard. Paul Tompkins, creator, thought the charge would generate some income, but not 2,000 regular readers, according to Sutro Digital Dialogue. Sutro Digital believes Tompkins’ paywall works for a few reasons:

  • He is an authority on his chosen niche – Liverpool Football Club.
  • He is focused on building a community, not just a blog (This, I believe, is important.)
  • He exerts rigorous standards in this community.
  • He is a great tech partner.
  • He isn’t scared to experiment – like creating the different subscription levels.
  • He has developed other projects, a book “Pay As You Play: The True Price of Success in the Premier League Era.
  • He judiciously uses social media.

So one blogger has found a successful model, according to Sutro Digital. One media mogul believes the NYT will eventually find its footing with its paywall. What do you think? Like most ventures in media, is this just something the industry needs to catch up to?

WikiLeaks – Is this journalism?



Let’s set aside for a moment that Julian Assange, the mastermind behind WikiLeaks, is a fugitive from justice thanks to allegations of sexual assault. Let’s also disregard descriptions of him as a hacker (which he resents, reportedly) and a generally odd duck. The question for the day is, is WikiLeaks doing journalism or not?

Most of us veteran reporters with holier-than-thou complexes answer that question with a big fat NO. Back in J-school, they taught us it meant more to be a reporter than simply transcribing what’s been said. One must digest the information, interpret it, decide what’s newsworthy and write a story in clear, concise and accurate pose.

There’s no journalism involved in dumping 250,000 State Department cables on a website. Where’s the digesting and interpreting? And I don’t give him credit for leaking it to news organizations beforehand – that was just PR. And don’t give me that nonsense about WikiLeaks being as important as the release of the Pentagon papers, which exposed years of lies to the public about the conduct of the U.S. during the Vietnam War.

And there are larger concerns – is this guy really putting peoples’ lives in danger, as the government would have us believe? And by doing these massive data dumps, which included secret reports on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, isn’t he going to make it tougher on journalists down the road? Won’t the government clamp down and sources clam up? Maybe the government will stop writing stuff down.

These are all good arguments, but they tend to ignore the new reality. It doesn’t matter if it’s journalism or not. This is a world where practically all information can be digitized and the technology to send enormous chunks of it around the globe is cheap and getting cheaper. Stuff gets leaked. And it will keep getting leaked. And spread around.

Here’s where there is some good news for old journalists, though. Someone still needs to sift through all that stuff and figure out if any of it amounts to real news or not, a process that seems to be under way at the moment.

Whether this massive unshackling of secret information is good for global society is another question. I tend to err on the side of transparency. But that would be cold comfort to the child of whose father was locked up or killed thanks to one of those documents. At a minimum, there seems like there should be some sort of vetting process.

I wanted to do a little vetting of my own for this blog post. But for now, WikiLeaks itself is a secret. I can’t get on the darn website.

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