A virtual counter-revolution

The internet has been a great unifier of people, companies and online networks. Powerful forces are threatening to balkanise it

A fragmenting virtual world

THE first internet boom, a decade and a half ago, resembled a religious movement. Omnipresent cyber-gurus, often framed by colourful PowerPoint presentations reminiscent of stained glass, prophesied a digital paradise in which not only would commerce be frictionless and growth exponential, but democracy would be direct and the nation-state would no longer exist. One, John-Perry Barlow, even penned “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”.

Even though all this sounded Utopian when it was preached, it reflected online reality pretty accurately. The internet was a wide-open space, a new frontier. For the first time, anyone could communicate electronically with anyone else—globally and essentially free of charge. Anyone was able to create a website or an online shop, which could be reached from anywhere in the world using a simple piece of software called a browser, without asking anyone else for permission. The control of information, opinion and commerce by governments—or big companies, for that matter—indeed appeared to be a thing of the past. “You have no sovereignty where we gather,” Mr Barlow wrote.

The lofty discourse on “cyberspace” has long changed. Even the term now sounds passé. Today another overused celestial metaphor holds sway: the “cloud” is code for all kinds of digital services generated in warehouses packed with computers, called data centres, and distributed over the internet. Most of the talk, though, concerns more earthly matters: privacy, antitrust, Google’s woes in China, mobile applications, green information technology (IT). Only Apple’s latest iSomethings seem to inspire religious fervour, as they did again this week.

Again, this is a fair reflection of what is happening on the internet. Fifteen years after its first manifestation as a global, unifying network, it has entered its second phase: it appears to be balkanising, torn apart by three separate, but related forces.

First, governments are increasingly reasserting their sovereignty. Recently several countries have demanded that their law-enforcement agencies have access to e-mails sent from BlackBerry smart-phones. This week India, which had threatened to cut off BlackBerry service at the end of August, granted RIM, the device’s maker, an extra two months while authorities consider the firm’s proposal to comply. However, it has also said that it is going after other communication-service providers, notably Google and Skype.

Second, big IT companies are building their own digital territories, where they set the rules and control or limit connections to other parts of the internet. Third, network owners would like to treat different types of traffic differently, in effect creating faster and slower lanes on the internet.

It is still too early to say that the internet has fragmented into “internets”, but there is a danger that it may splinter along geographical and commercial boundaries. (The picture above is a visual representation of the “nationality” of traffic on the internet, created by the University of California’s Co-operative Association for Internet Data Analysis: America is in pink, Britain in dark blue, Italy in pale blue, Sweden in green and unknown countries in white.) Just as it was not preordained that the internet would become one global network where the same rules applied to everyone, everywhere, it is not certain that it will stay that way, says Kevin Werbach, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

To grasp why the internet might unravel, it is necessary to understand how, in the words of Mr Werbach, “it pulled itself together” in the first place. Even today, this seems like something of a miracle. In the physical world, most networks—railways, airlines, telephone systems—are collections of more or less connected islands. Before the internet and the world wide web came along, this balkanised model was also the norm online. For a long time, for instance, AOL and CompuServe would not even exchange e-mails.

Economists point to “network effects” to explain why the internet managed to supplant these proprietary services. Everybody had strong incentives to join: consumers, companies and, most important, the networks themselves (the internet is in fact a “network of networks”). The more the internet grew, the greater the benefits became. And its founding fathers created the basis for this virtuous circle by making it easy for networks to hook up and for individuals to get wired.

Yet economics alone do not explain why the internet rather than a proprietary service prevailed (as Microsoft did in software for personal computers, or PCs). One reason may be that the rapid rise of the internet, originally an obscure academic network funded by America’s Department of Defence, took everyone by surprise. “The internet was able to develop quietly and organically for years before it became widely known,” writes Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard University, in his 2008 book, “The Future of the Internet—And How To Stop It”. In other words, had telecoms firms, for instance, suspected how big it would become, they might have tried earlier to change its rules.

Whatever the cause, the open internet has been a boon for humanity. It has not only allowed companies and other organisations of all sorts to become more efficient, but enabled other forms of production, notably “open source” methods, in which groups of people, often volunteers, all over the world develop products, mostly pieces of software, collectively. Individuals have access to more information than ever, communicate more freely and form groups of like-minded people more easily.

Even more important, the internet is an open platform, rather than one built for a specific service, like the telephone network. Mr Zittrain calls it “generative”: people can tinker with it, creating new services and elbowing existing ones aside. Any young company can build a device or develop an application that connects to the internet, provided it follows certain, mostly technical conventions. In a more closed and controlled environment, an Amazon, a Facebook or a Google would probably never have blossomed as it did.

Forces of fragmentation

However, this very success has given rise to the forces that are now pulling the internet apart. The cracks are most visible along geographical boundaries. The internet is too important for governments to ignore. They are increasingly finding ways to enforce their laws in the digital realm. The most prominent is China’s “great firewall”. The Chinese authorities are using the same technology that companies use to stop employees accessing particular websites and online services. This is why Google at first decided to censor its Chinese search service: there was no other way to be widely accessible in the country.

But China is by no means the only country erecting borders in cyberspace. The Australian government plans to build a firewall to block material showing the sexual abuse of children and other criminal or offensive content. The OpenNet Initiative, an advocacy group, lists more than a dozen countries that block internet content for political, social and security reasons. They do not need especially clever technology: governments go increasingly after dominant online firms because they are easy to get hold of. In April Google published the numbers of requests it had received from official agencies to remove content or provide information about users. Brazil led both counts (see chart 1).

Not every request or barrier has a sinister motive. Australia’s firewall is a case in point, even if it is a clumsy way of enforcing the law. It would be another matter, however, if governments started tinkering with the internet’s address book, the Domain Name System (DNS). This allows the network to look up the computer on which a website lives. If a country started its own DNS, it could better control what people can see. Some fear this is precisely what China and others might do one day.

To confuse matters, the DNS is already splintering for a good reason. It was designed for the Latin alphabet, which was fine when most internet users came from the West. But because more and more netizens live in other parts of the world—China boasts 420m—last October the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the body that oversees the DNS, allowed domain names entirely in other scripts. This makes things easier for people in, say, China, Japan or Russia, but marks another step towards the renationalisation of the internet.

Many media companies have already gone one step further. They use another part of the internet’s address system, the “IP numbers” that identify computers on the network, to block access to content if consumers are not in certain countries. Try viewing a television show on Hulu, a popular American video service, from Europe and it will tell you: “We’re sorry, currently our video library can only be streamed within the United States.” Similarly, Spotify, a popular European music-streaming service, cannot be reached from America.

Yet it is another kind of commercial attempt to carve up the internet that is causing more concern. Devotees of a unified cyberspace are worried that the online world will soon start looking as it did before the internet took over: a collection of more or less connected proprietary islands reminiscent of AOL and CompuServe. One of them could even become as dominant as Microsoft in PC software. “We’re heading into a war for control of the web,” Tim O’Reilly, an internet savant who heads O’Reilly Media, a publishing house, wrote late last year. “And in the end, it’s more than that, it’s a war against the web as an interoperable platform.”

The trend to more closed systems is undeniable. Take Facebook, the web’s biggest social network. The site is a fast-growing, semi-open platform with more than 500m registered users. Its American contingent spends on average more than six hours a month on the site and less than two on Google. Users have identities specific to Facebook and communicate mostly via internal messages. The firm has its own rules, covering, for instance, which third-party applications may run and how personal data are dealt with.

Apple is even more of a world apart. From its iPhone and iPad, people mostly get access to online services not through a conventional browser but via specialised applications available only from the company’s “App Store”. Granted, the store has lots of apps—about 250,000—but Apple nonetheless controls which ones make it onto its platform. It has used that power to keep out products it does not like, including things that can be construed as pornographic or that might interfere with its business, such as an app for Google’s telephone service. Apple’s press conference to show off its new wares on September 1st was streamed live over the internet but could be seen only on its own devices.

Even Google can be seen as a platform unto itself, if a very open one. The world’s biggest search engine now offers dozens of services, from news aggregation to word processing, all of which are tied together and run on a global network of dozens of huge data-centres. Yet Google’s most important service is its online advertising platform, which serves most text-based ads on the web. Being the company’s main source of revenue, critics say, it is hardly a model of openness and transparency.

There is no conspiracy behind the emergence of these platforms. Firms are in business to make money. And such phenomena as social networks and online advertising exhibit strong network effects, meaning that a dominant market leader is likely to emerge. What is more, most users these days are not experts, but average consumers, who want secure, reliable products. To create a good experience on mobile devices, which more and more people will use to get onto the internet, hardware, software and services must be more tightly integrated than on PCs.

Net neutrality, or not?

Discussion of these proprietary platforms is only beginning. A lot of ink, however, has already been spilt on another form of balkanisation: in the plumbing of the internet. Most of this debate, particularly in America, is about “net neutrality”. This is one of the internet’s founding principles: that every packet of data, regardless of its contents, should be treated the same way, and the best effort should always be made to forward it.

Proponents of this principle want it to become law, out of concern that network owners will breach it if they can. Their nightmare is what Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia University, calls “the Tony Soprano vision of networking”, alluding to a television series about a mafia family. If operators were allowed to charge for better service, they could extort protection money from every website. Those not willing to pay for their data to be transmitted quickly would be left to crawl in the slow lane. “Allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the internet such a success,” said Vinton Cerf, one of the network’s founding fathers (who now works for Google), at a hearing in Congress.

Opponents of the enshrining of net neutrality in law—not just self-interested telecoms firms, but also experts like Dave Farber, another internet elder—argue that it would be counterproductive. Outlawing discrimination of any kind could discourage operators from investing to differentiate their networks. And given the rapid growth in file-sharing and video (see chart 2), operators may have good reason to manage data flows, lest other traffic be crowded out.

The issue is not as black and white as it seems. The internet has never been as neutral as some would have it. Network providers do not guarantee a certain quality of service, but merely promise to do their best. That may not matter for personal e-mails, but it does for time-sensitive data such as video. What is more, large internet firms like Amazon and Google have long redirected traffic onto private fast lanes that bypass the public internet to speed up access to their websites.

Whether such preferential treatment becomes more widespread, and even extortionary, will probably depend on the market and how it is regulated. It is telling that net neutrality has become far more politically controversial in America than it has elsewhere. This is a reflection of the relative lack of competition in America’s broadband market. In Europe and Japan, “open access” rules require network operators to lease parts of their networks to other firms on a wholesale basis, thus boosting competition. A study comparing broadband markets, published in 2009 by Harvard University’s Berkman Centre for Internet & Society, found that countries with such rules enjoy faster, cheaper broadband service than America, because the barrier to entry for new entrants is much lower. And if any access provider starts limiting what customers can do, they will defect to another.

America’s operators have long insisted that open-access requirements would destroy their incentive to build fast, new networks: why bother if you will be forced to share it? After intense lobbying, America’s telecoms regulators bought this argument. But the lesson from elsewhere in the industrialised world is that it is not true. The result, however, is that America has a small number of powerful network operators, prompting concern that they will abuse their power unless they are compelled, by a net-neutrality law, to treat all traffic equally. Rather than trying to mandate fairness in this way—net neutrality is very hard to define or enforce—it makes more sense to address the underlying problem: the lack of competition.

It should come as no surprise that the internet is being pulled apart on every level. “While technology can gravely wound governments, it rarely kills them,” Debora Spar, president of Barnard College at Columbia University, wrote several years ago in her book, “Ruling the Waves”. “This was all inevitable,” argues Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired, under the headline “The Web is Dead” in the September issue of the magazine. “A technology is invented, it spreads, a thousand flowers bloom, and then someone finds a way to own it, locking out others.”

Yet predictions are hazardous, particularly in IT. Governments may yet realise that a freer internet is good not just for their economies, but also for their societies. Consumers may decide that it is unwise to entrust all their secrets to a single online firm such as Facebook, and decamp to less insular alternatives, such as Diaspora.

Similarly, more open technology could also still prevail in the mobile industry. Android, Google’s smart-phone platform, which is less closed than Apple’s, is growing rapidly and gained more subscribers in America than the iPhone in the first half of this year. Intel and Nokia, the world’s biggest chipmaker and the biggest manufacturer of telephone handsets, are pushing an even more open platform called MeeGo. And as mobile devices and networks improve, a standards-based browser could become the dominant access software on the wireless internet as well.

Stuck in the slow lane

If, however, the internet continues to go the other way, this would be bad news. Should the network become a collection of proprietary islands accessed by devices controlled remotely by their vendors, the internet would lose much of its “generativity”, warns Harvard’s Mr Zittrain. Innovation would slow down and the next Amazon, Google or Facebook could simply be, well, Amazon, Google or Facebook.

The danger is not that these islands become physically separated, says Andrew Odlyzko, a professor at the University of Minnesota. There is just too much value in universal connectivity, he argues. “The real question is how high the walls between these walled gardens will be.” Still, if the internet loses too much of its universality, cautions Mr Werbach of the Wharton School, it may indeed fall apart, just as world trade can collapse if there is too much protectionism. Theory demonstrates that interconnected networks such as the internet can grow quickly, he explains—but also that they can dissolve quickly. “This looks rather unlikely today, but if it happens, it will be too late to do anything about it.”


Full article and photos: http://www.economist.com/node/16941635

Waves in the web

International broadcasters

Western state-backed news outfits are struggling to keep their influence in the developing world

AS A child growing up in Afghanistan, Saad Mohseni watched his father listening to the BBC World Service and Voice of America: they were almost the only way of obtaining reliable domestic, let alone foreign news. No longer. Last month Mr Mohseni launched a satellite news channel broadcasting round the clock in Dari and Pashto. He hopes to distribute it on terrestrial television soon. Such upstarts are one reason Western governments are losing their voices in the places where they most want to be heard.

The cold war was the state-backed broadcasters’ heyday, with big budgets for propaganda wars about the virtues and vices of capitalism and communism. Powerful short-wave transmissions required costly kit; getting hold of the frequencies required international arm-twisting. It was a game for big and rich countries only. Peter Horrocks, head of BBC Global News, recalls “a comfortable world”.

New technology has cut costs and demolished most barriers to entry. Wavebands matter less than bandwidth. Even for those unable to watch or listen on the internet, satellite dishes and fibre-optic cable are hugely expanding the choice of programmes.

Incumbents are struggling. In the past year the BBC World Service lost 8m viewers and listeners. Of the six American taxpayer-financed broadcasters that measure their reach, five see a decline. That poor performance came when budgets were generous. Now they will be flat or falling.

One problem is vulnerability to local politics. For all the costs and crackle, short-wave usually got through: trying to jam the broadcasts (a favoured Soviet tactic) was conspicuous and therefore embarrassing. The modern version of that is blocking websites: a clumsy tactic resorted to by China and Iran. But the shift to rebroadcasting on local FM channels exposes foreign broadcasters (and the stations who carry them) to more subtle pressure. In 2003 Voice of America’s Russian service was carried by 85 domestic radio stations; it is now carried by just one. The BBC Arabic service’s local broadcasts in northern Sudan were shut down on August 9th.

The din of voices

The old international broadcasters have the resources to deal with censorship: the cocktail of satellite, short-wave, internet and local FM broadcasts offers a powerful mix of solutions. If reporters are banned from a country, big outfits can turn to clandestine or surrogate newsgathering.

A bigger problem for them is competition. Since 2006 China, France, Iran, Japan and Qatar have launched English-language TV news channels. China has committed $7 billion to international news. That is more than 15 times the annual budget of the BBC World Service. Last month it introduced a second English-language news channel, CNC World. China’s international broadcasters have programming in more tongues than any other state-backed rival.

The new arrivals are conquering territory (and sometimes hiring staff) shed by established Western organisations. Short-wave radio is a signal example. Since 2000 Voice of America has cut the number of short-wave frequencies on which it broadcasts by 24%, to 200. The BBC has abandoned short-wave broadcasts to Latin America, North America and most of Europe, to the chagrin and despair of some loyal listeners. In the same period China Radio International has almost doubled its short-wave output (see chart). It even broadcasts from Texas. Meanwhile the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Voice of America, proposes to abolish the last of its short-wave transmitters in the United States.

Gobbling up short-wave audiences gains mostly older, poorer and more rural listeners. But the big battle is for urban opinion-formers, who consume their media chiefly by satellite and the internet. Here the most impressive new entrant is Al Jazeera, which is supported by the Emir of Qatar. Its well-established Arabic service dominates the Middle East, easily fending off competition from state-backed Western rivals. Last week a poll of six countries for the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, found that 39% of viewers watched it more than any other international news network. Just 1% of viewers favour Alhurra, America’s well-funded Arabic channel.

Tony Burman, who runs Al Jazeera’s three-year-old English-language network, says the broadcaster plans to open 10 news bureaus in the next year, taking the number to about 80. Some will be small—but digital cameras mean a small office can achieve a lot. He is particularly keen to expand in Africa: Al Jazeera has poured resources into covering tough countries like Zimbabwe. The brand is already established in Asia. Barely five years after George W. Bush considered (supposedly) an attack on its offices, Al-Jazeera’s English service is the channel of choice on American military television sets in Afghanistan.

The competition comes from little battalions too, thanks to the explosive growth of broadcasting outlets in poor countries, particularly in Africa. Before 1990 Kenya had just one, state-owned, television station. It now has 20 television broadcasters and 80 licensed radio stations playing everything from rap to Christian sermons. Whereas once the BBC news was the highlight of the day, it must now compete with a din of other offerings.

Online programming strengthens the trend. Where broadcasters once pushed programmes expensively, with multiple repeats and big worries about audibility and accessibility, they now have a model based on people pulling the material they want from a website. It is cheaper, easier to reach scattered audiences and can get round local political difficulties. Voice of America’s Russian service may have been virtually driven off the airwaves there, but 2.3m of its videos were watched on YouTube in May, according to the Senate foreign-relations committee. Once a programme or clip finds popularity in the blogosphere, the broadcaster can sit back and watch traffic spike.

That is no substitute for the old days, though. Voice of America’s reach in Russia has declined as it disappeared from the radio, says Dan Austin, who runs the service. Internet audiences (at least so far) are busier and more hurried: they don’t lean back and enjoy the broadcast, but hunch forward, eager to click on the next link. In poor countries, internet use is still patchy. The penetration rate in Kenya is just 10%.

Faced with these trends, Erik Bettermann, the head of Deutsche Welle, has largely given up trying to reach large numbers of people in the developing world, in favour of concentrating on informed urban elites. His aim is to make the German station a yardstick against which other news reports can be checked: not so much a loud voice as a dependable one.

As competition and cacophony intensify, this less heroic vision of international broadcasting may point the way for others. But those technological and consumer trends also make the international broadcasters’ privileged finances look (at least in the private sector’s eyes) increasingly unfair. In Afghanistan the three biggest national radio stations are run by the BBC World Service, Voice of America and Radio Free Afghanistan (which is also American). Mr Mohseni, who runs radio and television stations, complains that the outsiders lure his staff with higher salaries and visas to the West. As international broadcasters turn to popular music and soap operas to retain their audiences, such gripes will grow louder. Having long trumpeted the cause of freedom, the big Western broadcasters must now learn to live with its consequences.


Full article and photos: http://www.economist.com/node/16791638?story_id=16791638

Too Good To Check

How journalists create myths and legends, not least about themselves.

Hello, city desk, get me rewrite. Here’s the lead: Many of the landmark moments in American journalism are carefully nurtured myths—or, worse, outright fabrications.

William Randolph Hearst never said, “You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.” Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast didn’t panic America. Ed Murrow’s “See It Now” TV show didn’t destroy Sen. Joseph McCarthy. JFK didn’t talk the New York Times into spiking its scoop on the Bay of Pigs invasion. Far from being the first hero of the Iraq War, captured Army Pvt. Jessica Lynch was caught sobbing “Oh, God help us” and never fired a shot.

These fables and more are lovingly undressed in W. Joseph Campbell’s persuasive and entertaining “Getting It Wrong.” With old-school academic detachment, Mr. Campbell, a communications professor at American University, shows how the fog of war, the warp of ideology and muffled skepticism can transmute base journalism into golden legend.

Mr. Campbell’s examples run from the Spanish- American War to Hurricane Katrina, with oddities like the feminist bra-burning at the Democratic Convention in 1964 sandwiched in between. In each case, the author teases out the grain of sand around which the pearl of the myth was spun.

In Hearst’s case, the infamous quotation—supposedly in a wire to the artist Frederic Remington in Cuba—was cobbled up in a memoir by a mythomaniacal correspondent. No evidence of the cable was ever uncovered, Remington never mentioned it, and Hearst denied it. But the notion of the jingo press lord commanding America to war was too good not to be true. And Orson Welles sanctified it by having his Hearst figure, in “Citizen Kane” (1941), cable a correspondent in Cuba: “You provide the prose poems, and I provide the war.”

Welles also figures in the fable that his 1938 Martian-invasion radio show convulsed the nation. As Mr. Campbell tells it, newspapers spawned the myth by splashing scare headlines over thin stories. Radio was becoming a real competitor for news coverage, and the papers had a vested interest in smearing the new medium as irresponsible and sensationalist.

Television icons are central to two of Mr. Campbell’s dubious cases: Murrow and his successor as the patron saint of TV news, Walter Cronkite. Murrow, he shows, was late to the crusade against McCarthy; Drew Pearson had been dogging the senator for years. Indeed, McCarthy’s popularity was plummeting before Murrow went on the air on March 9, 1954. “The news,” wrote the New York Post’s TV critic, was “that television was saying it at all.” It was the Army- McCarthy hearings soon after the broadcast that really sealed the senator’s doom. Once again a movie, this time George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck” (2005), locked in the myth for new generations.

Cronkite is lionized for a CBS News special report in February 1968 in which he urged the U.S. to negotiate a settlement to get out of Vietnam. Watching the broadcast, Lyndon Johnson exclaims, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” The public turns against the war, and a month later Johnson announces that he will not run for re-election—or so the legend goes.

Mr. Campbell finds scant evidence that LBJ ever saw the show. David Halberstam appears to be the first to attribute the remark to Johnson, in paraphrase, but none of the president’s intimates remember him saying anything like that. What really changed LBJ was a mix of pressures, especially the Democratic primary in New Hampshire in March, in which the antiwar candidate Eugene McCarthy nearly beat him. At first Cronkite soft-pedaled the influence of his broadcast, but as the years went by he embraced the myth, telling Esquire in 2006: “I was amazed that my reporting had such an effect on history.”

The story of JFK pressuring the New York Times to play down its Bay of Pigs reporting, according to Mr. Campbell, is the confused result of an actual Kennedy intervention 18 months later when he induced the editors to withhold a story for 24 hours during the Cuban Missile Crisis. JFK helped fortify the myth when he mischievously told a Timesman after the Bay of Pigs: “If you had printed more about the operation, you would have saved us from a colossal mistake.”

Mr. Campbell pins two of his myths directly on the Washington Post. The Jessica Lynch fable had its inception, he says, in a Post story based on intelligence sources who misinterpreted Iraqi battlefield reports. They somehow mistook Lynch for the real hero of the engagement, Sgt. Donald Walters, a cook in her unit who lost his life while single-handedly holding off Iraqi ambushers. The Post, Mr. Campbell says, was also a leading culprit in promoting the 1990s myth—based on the flimsiest of scientific evidence—that the infants of crack-smoking mothers were doomed to lives crippled by mental and physical problems.

The Post’s immortal Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein also come under Mr. Campbell’s critical gaze. He argues that the myth of “the heroic journalist,” inspired by their Watergate-era reporting, obscures the reality that it took “special prosecutors, federal judges, both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court, as well as the Justice Department and the FBI” to force Richard Nixon out. Journalism, in this reading, kept the scandal alive while the authorities did the real investigation and exposure of Nixon’s crimes.

For all Mr. Campbell’s earnest scholarship, these media myths are certain to survive his efforts to slay them. Journalism can’t help itself—it loves and perpetuates its sacred legends of evil power-mongers, courageous underdogs, dread plagues and human folly. At the end of the book, Mr. Campbell offers some remedies for media mythologizing, urging journalists, among other things, “to deepen their appreciation of complexity and ambiguity.” Good luck with that, professor.

Mr. Kosner is the author of “It’s News to Me,” a memoir of his career as the editor of Newsweek, New York magazine, Esquire and the New York Daily News.


Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704535004575349633765738968.html

Putting a Price on Words

Last year, Sam Apple got the idea into his head that what the world needed was a new kind of newspaper. This was, to put it mildly, at odds with the consensus of the marketplace. At the time, several large media companies were in bankruptcy, others were trading at penny-stock levels and analysts were seriously asking whether some venerable publications — including this one — might soon cease to exist. The recession was only worsening a fundamental problem: the industry’s physical product, printed paper, was going the way of the rotary phone, and no one had yet figured out how to generate comparable revenues online. But Apple, a 34-year-old writer, wasn’t ready to give up on journalism as a profit-making enterprise. He began telling friends about his plans to start a Web publication called The Faster Times.

Apple quit his part-time gig as director of interactive media for the Web site Nerve.com in New York and began recruiting. It wasn’t hard to find people eager to join. Employment in New York’s publishing sector shrank by a tenth last year, leaving behind a mass of glum, jobless writers. The good news, though, was that one of the very forces that was sapping industry profits — the Web’s demolition of barriers to entry — also made it quite simple and cheap for anyone to become a journalism entrepreneur. Using open-source software, which Apple hired programmers to customize, The Faster Times could get up and running for less than $20,000.

Before the site went live last summer, Apple and a group of editors held marathon meetings at a Brooklyn coffee shop with free wireless Internet. In one sense, The Faster Times was supposed to be a traditional publication, staffed by trained journalists covering a wide range of beats and guided by a coherent editorial mission. Where Apple’s model departed from convention, as a matter of necessity, was in the area of compensation. He couldn’t afford to offer salaries and benefits, or even flat freelance fees, so instead he promised contributors 75 percent of the revenues from all advertisements placed next to their articles. Payments would start small, but if The Faster Times prospered, as Apple hoped, so would its writers. He referred to the publication as a journalistic “collective,” but in truth it was a small experiment in capitalistic incentives: contributors would profit directly from their work, according to the market’s assessment of its value.

And therein lies the catch — for The Faster Times, for many similar start-ups and for the entire industry of media, old and new. No one seems to know how to value the product anymore. This isn’t a lament about declining standards of quality or the rude incursions of amateur bloggers. In fact, thanks to the Internet, people probably read more good journalism than ever. That’s precisely the problem: the sheer volume of words has overwhelmed a business model that was once based on scarcity and limited choice.

For many years, newspapers and magazines operated in fairly uniform fashion, supported by two streams of revenue. The consumers purchased the product, and businesses paid to reach them with advertisements. Recessions came and went, ad pages expanded and contracted, publications started and went under — but nothing disturbed the basic model. Online economics have changed both sides of the profit equation. “It’s dawning on people that the marketplace will no longer pay the freight,” says Ken Doctor, a former newspaper executive and the author of “Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get.”

Early on, almost all print publications decided to offer free access to their online content, which over time cut into their print circulation. In theory, the industry should have been able to absorb the gradual loss of paying readers. Advertising always accounted for the vast majority of the publishers’ revenues — with newspapers, 80 percent was the rule of thumb — and because publications could reach vastly larger audiences online, it seemed reasonable to expect that they’d be able to make more money from ads. But instead, online ads sell at rates that are a fraction of those for print, for simple reasons of competition. “In a print world you had pretty much a limited amount of inventory — pages in a magazine,” says Domenic Venuto, managing director of the online marketing firm Razorfish. “In the online world, inventory has become infinite.”

“Maybe this is what success looks like,” says Nick Denton, speaking of his own business, Gawker Media — a popular and profitable network of Web sites covering technology, sports and celebrity news — as well as of disruptive ventures like Craigslist, the free site that has decimated classified advertising, once a lucrative source of income for newspapers. “You can have destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars, or billions of dollars, of revenue for other people,” Denton says, “but without capturing it all yourself.”

Yet for some — possibly foolhardy — reason, a lot of people still want to work in journalism, and even amid the depths of the recession, there have been stirrings of creativity. A multitude of younger, nimbler enterprises have popped up, unencumbered by the past and ready to try anything. History suggests that few of these ventures will ultimately survive: Web start-ups have a failure rate between 70 and 90 percent. But it’s quite possible that the experiments they’re staging are already producing the kind of innovations that make for new, sustainable business models.

The Faster Times went online last July, with a blast of publicity and a triumphant party in a Manhattan bookstore. The site had enlisted correspondents in 20 countries, and beats devoted to science, food, travel and the arts, in addition to goofier subjects, like time travel and jet packs. The whimsy aside, Sam Apple took his task seriously. “The crisis of American journalism,” he wrote in the mission statement, is “a financial crisis. Opinions posted on blogs are cheap. Great journalism is expensive.”

With any luck, he was about to discover it was also worth something.

You can’t call it a dot-com boom — there is not much capital, there are no parties with catered sushi and no one is expecting to get rich. But this generation of start-ups does share at least one trait with its 1990s predecessors: a conviction that they’re the vanguard of an unfolding revolution. One morning, as a March gale howled down Broadway, I visited the editors of the Web site True/Slant. Their loftlike office, in a vintage SoHo building, was bare, white and slightly chilly, as if designed to reflect the present ethic of austerity. With just five employees, True/Slant has built a significant audience since it started last year: about a million readers visit the site at least once a month, a number similar to the online following of The Village Voice or The Charlotte Observer. The site owes its modest but growing success to the work of more than 300 part-time contributors. It’s not so much a unified publication as a loosely connected commune of bloggers, who generate a continual stream of content with minimal editorial intervention. The company calls what it is doing “entrepreneurial journalism” and says it’s the future of the profession.

True/Slant is the creation of a lean, gray-bearded 57-year-old named Lewis Dvorkin. He began his career working at newspapers and magazines, and peppers his conversation with references to sainted editors of an earlier era. “I’m old enough to be a bit of a bridge from that world to whatever world we’re in today,” he told me. Dvorkin’s more recent and pertinent experience, however, came as a content-programming executive at AOL, where he played a role in creating the celebrity gossip site TMZ, which has since developed one of the largest audiences on the Web. A few years ago, he started toying with the idea that eventually led to True/Slant: could technology allow you to create a news organization without any of the familiar editorial hierarchies?

At True/Slant, Dvorkin told me, “you are the sole producer, creator, programmer of your content. That reduces — and this is key — the cost structure.” He started the site with a modest $3 million investment from Fuse Capital and Forbes Media, picking its name off a list of compound words that were made up by a Web developer. All of True/Slant’s writers are freelancers and are paid a pittance relative to the salaries offered at established media organizations. “Newsrooms today are high-cost, inefficient content-creation operations that will not be supported by advertising revenues in the digital world,” Dvorkin said. “It just won’t happen.”

Online, advertisers have immense power. Because it’s easy to track who is clicking what, they can aim with efficiency and typically pay according to the number of times their ads are actually viewed. Instead of sending word of its shoe sale to a million print newspaper subscribers, who may or may not be looking for shoes, a store can buy the page views of 50,000 people who are reading articles about fashion. Or the advertiser can place ads on heavily trafficked portal sites like Yahoo and AOL, both of which are currently expanding their production of original journalism. Or it can pay Google to insert its ads into search results. Or it can go to one of the large digital advertising networks that have arisen in recent years and buy unsold “remnant” page views at deep discounts. There is a lot less waste and a lot more choice, and the upshot is that advertising, which once produced robust margins for publishers, now sells for spare change online. Generally speaking, while some ad placements — like those on a site’s home page — go for a significant premium, pages of individual articles, if sold at the going rates, bring in between a penny and nickel each time a reader looks at one.

That’s not to say that it’s impossible to make money. If True/Slant can keep its production costs low and its traffic high, it can collect those pennies and nickels on a scale large enough to turn a profit. There are a couple of ways to do this as an online publisher. You can emphasize quality, producing a limited number of items in the hope that each will attract a great number of readers. Or a publisher can go for quantity, producing a lot of little things that add up in the aggregate. True/Slant’s low-cost newsroom churns out around 125 pieces of content a day.

Many companies practice this strategy at even higher volume. For instance, Examiner.com, owned by the billionaire Philip Anschutz, has a gigantic audience and a nationwide army of 36,000 localized contributors, or “examiners,” who produce articles on subjects like community news, lifestyle issues and pets, and are paid about 1 cent per page view. AOL is trying a similar “citizen journalism” approach on a site called Patch. Probably the most successful example is the Huffington Post, which employs 70 salaried editorial staff members and 6,000 uncompensated bloggers and recently pushed into the nation’s top 10 current-affairs Web sites, according to Nielsen Online, vaulting past sources like The Washington Post. The Huffington Post generates an average of 500 items a day, many of them aggregated content from other sources, and Examiner.com, more than 3,000.

Increasingly the online audience for these sites is coming in side doors, via links on blogs and social-networking Web sites like Facebook. Probably the most important tool for reaching large audiences, however, is Google. If you can climb to the top of the site’s search results, you’re certain to be rewarded with a huge number of clicks. Most publications these days try to harness the Google algorithm through an arcane process known as search-engine optimization. Some are more skilled at this than others. That’s why, as I write in mid-April, a search for the phrase “Eyjafjallajokull Volcano” brings up a Huffington Post photo slide show near the top of its results.

A handful of enterprising new sites, like Associated Content and Demand Media, are now turning the whole process around, generating content that is specifically designed to feed Google’s appetites. They don’t call what they do journalism or care about breaking news, but they say they’re generating huge advertising revenues, and their strategies are being closely watched. “We realized that there was this massive opportunity, that the economics of content and media distribution had shifted, and they had shifted permanently,” says Steven Kydd, who oversees original content production for Demand Media. The company claims to have raked in $200 million in revenue last year and is now reportedly talking to Goldman Sachs about underwriting an initial public offering.

Demand’s business model draws on the skills of thousands of freelance contributors, who pick the topics they address from an automated list of more than 200,000 written and video assignments culled from Internet search requests. The topics are mostly geared toward answering practical questions and are posted to low-profile Web sites like eHow, or to YouTube, with which Demand has a profit-sharing agreement. The company claims to have devised an algorithm that projects precisely how much advertising revenue each assignment will return. It says these mathematically generated ideas are 4.9 times as valuable as those devised by mere human brainstorming.

“Our editors absolutely love this, because they are able to sift through millions of potential titles, and they know that they are all good ideas,” Kydd says. And profitable ones — nothing is assigned unless the algorithm predicts it can cover the costs of production. Demand’s freelancers can make around $15 or $20 per item. “The funny part is, sometimes we’ll ask people who work, say, in newspapers or magazines, ‘How much did that article cost you?’ ” Kydd says. “They literally have no idea.”

That’s changing. Though journalists tend to shudder at Demand Media’s approach, mainstream publishers are starting to co-opt portions of its model. USA Today, for instance, has contracted Demand to supply the content for its Travel Tips Web page, while AOL recently started a Web site called Seed, edited by Saul Hansell, a former New York Times columnist, which generates story ideas from search data. More generally, there is a growing appreciation among those who practice journalism of the Internet’s capacity to tell them what readers want to know.

“For traditional journalists, this is a difficult concept for them to grasp, and one reason it’s difficult is because it’s scary — it’s scary to actually have that data in front of you,” Dvorkin said. “It’s scary to say, wow, this is the audience, and now all of a sudden I have to respond to the audience because this is what they’re interested in.”

Dvorkin and Coates Bateman, a former book editor who runs True/Slant’s daily content operations, showed me around the site’s “dashboard,” the back office of its virtual newsroom. There was a dial, like a digital speedometer, which showed the volume of page views on the site and a list of trending topics on Google and Twitter, topped by the confection of the moment, the teenage-pop sensation Justin Bieber. (Sure enough, within an hour or so, a Bieber-related True/Slant post appeared.) There was a list that ranked the most-viewed items and metrics that tracked how they got their traffic — maybe via a link from a popular blogger, or the recommendation tool Digg. Most eerily, there was a little algorithm-driven display that showed contributors what other people were saying about their work out in the blogosphere — eavesdropping, in real time.

True/Slant structures its compensation to give writers an incentive to hustle for readers’ attention. Contributors are paid a monthly retainer and scaled bonuses based on how many people read their articles. The money isn’t enough to live off — the entrepreneurial journalist has many gigs — but True/Slant is reasonably generous in comparison with, say, the Huffington Post, which pays its nonstaff bloggers nothing but esteem. Most writers make a few hundred dollars a month if they hit their traffic targets, and a few big names, like the professional controversialist Matt Taibbi, make quite a bit more. In fact, if you break it down, True/Slant pays its writers more than the amount of revenue their work generates at the current online advertising rates. Stripped down as it is, the start-up isn’t yet turning a profit, and it’s now in the process of raising a second round of venture capital.

I asked Bateman, as a matter of raw economics, how much an individual article is worth to True/Slant’s bottom line, on average. He told me he calculated it out: around $10.

Sam Apple and I were sitting in a hushed and crowded cafe, amid the soft glow of open laptops. “I thought at the beginning that if I could create a top-notch journalistic outlet, and if I could do that at a small fraction of the cost, maybe advertising could cover it,” he told me. The Faster Times was now eight months old, and Apple was wiser about online economics. The summer before, the site charged out of the gate with a 24-hour posting schedule, a large and enthusiastic staff and guest posts from famous writers like Gary Shteyngart. By the fall, it had acquired a monthly audience of around 200,000 readers, according to the tracking site Quantcast — small compared with the Huffington Post’s but a pretty impressive return on $20,000, in Apple’s opinion. But the revenues that were coming in from Google AdSense, the ad-placement service he was originally using, were so paltry that Apple wondered, when he gave writers their 75 percent share, whether he was actually driving them away.

“I have a friend who is a behavioral economist,” he said. “He says that if you pay people tiny amounts, it’s worse than not paying them at all.” The Faster Times’s first round of payments ranged from $5 to $75. Revenues have increased substantially since Apple switched to another ad service, but the writers’ shares still don’t amount to much. Whether it was because of that, or fickleness, or the attractions of better-paying opportunities, many of the original Faster Times contributors gradually drifted off. Apple was now trying to hatch ideas for alternate sources of revenue, to ease the site’s dependence on advertising. “I still feel like there’s a lot to try,” Apple told me. “We can kind of be a testing ground for the latest experiments.”

Many other publications, confronted with the painful math, have reached the same conclusion: the business needs alternate schemes of support. Some have adapted tried-and-true formulas. The Daily Beast is backed by a generous billionaire, Barry Diller; others are mimicking NPR’s nonprofit model; Politico makes the majority of its revenue from, of all things, advertising in an offshoot print newspaper. Most familiar of all, there’s the subscription route, which the online editions of The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times have followed with success. The New York Times has announced that early next year it will institute a fee for frequent users of its site. Many analysts are doubtful that the subscription approach will work for everyone — surveys suggest that few consumers are willing to pay for news online. But some start-ups are experimenting with a variation on the idea, premium memberships, which give readers who sign up special access and perks. GlobalPost, an online publication for international news, is currently implementing such a program, offering subscribers the chance to participate in conference-call briefings by freelance correspondents stationed in more than 50 countries, and to vote on articles they’d like to see assigned.

One thing many of these new strategies have in common is a willingness to transgress time-honored barriers — for instance, by blurring the division between reporting and advertising. True/Slant offers to let advertisers use the same blogging tools that contributors do, to produce content that, while labeled, is blended into the rest of the site. Such marketing deals are central to the company’s plans for future revenue growth. “Everywhere I go the whole notion of enabling marketers to create content on a news platform is well received,” Lewis Dvorkin says. “It’s the way the world is moving.”

Not long ago, such an idea would have been considered heretical, and in many newsrooms, it still is. But clearly, attitudes are shifting. “Hopefully we’re breaking down the silliness of how church and state was historically implemented,” says Merrill Brown, a veteran media executive and investor who is currently building a network of local news sites. Once, most journalists took a posture of willful ignorance when it came to the economics of the industry: they never wanted to sully themselves by knowing the business. The recession has, through fear and necessity, made capitalists out of everyone.

The new journalistic entrepreneurs fall into two distinct categories. There are the proprietors, people like Charles M. Sennott, a foreign correspondent who took a Boston Globe buyout and became a founder and an executive editor of GlobalPost, or Alex Balk, Choire Sicha and David Cho, who were cut loose by Radar, a dying magazine, and decided to start the Awl, a smart and idiosyncratic commentary site. Then there are the small-scale entrepreneurs, the journalists who, having found themselves dislodged from a salaried way of living, are now scrambling to piece together a freelance income while building their personal brands. Since one group pays the other — or doesn’t, as the case may be — the two sides are engaged in a symbiotic dance around the issue of valuation. “I don’t think anybody has any idea of what anyone should be paid for a piece anymore,” Sicha says. “It’s more than $25, but less than a thousand . . . I think?” He added that, as of now, the Awl doesn’t pay much to anyone, including himself.

The question of how journalists should be paid is of intense interest to journalists, obviously, but it matters to readers too, in ways they may not realize. Structures of compensation affect the end product, especially when salaries or bonuses­ are tied to the pursuit of traffic, a model that many online start-ups follow. Established publications — some of which are instituting or contemplating similar schemes — are watching the experiment with curiosity and trepidation. Writers and editors know that click-driven Internet economics tend to reward lowbrow gimmickry. They have to decide whether to work around that or to embrace it as a fact of life.

One of the loudest proponents of the latter perspective is Henry Blodget, the editor in chief of Business Insider, a gossipy start-up. His talented staff breaks plenty of news and turns out the occasional high-prestige feature, but Blodget is unapologetic about mixing in a lot of eye candy and isn’t above illustrating articles about A.I.G.’s woes with unrelated photos of attractive women kissing. A former star stock analyst who was banned from the profession amid accusations of securities fraud — he paid $4 million to settle — he says he sees himself as a journalistic outsider, unencumbered by the weight of conventional wisdom. In March he wrote: “Perhaps it’s time to float a new theory: We’re already in the gutter. What we click on accurately reflects what we’re interested in, no matter how much we think and protest and hope to the contrary.” A few days afterward, Blodget engaged in an entertaining multiplatform spat over the issue with the Reuters columnist Felix Salmon, producing the calculation that, in order to earn back a $60,000 annual salary, an online journalist needs to generate a whopping 1.8 million page views a month.

Blodget takes a lot of flak for his iconoclasm, but the fact is, he’s only stating plainly what other editors think in private. If you don’t believe that, check out the list of the most popular posts on your favorite Web site sometime — sex, scandal and Sarah Palin always score high. Even publications that don’t go fishing for clicks discover that, inevitably, certain stories rise to the top. Charles Sennott told me that amid all of GlobalPost’s serious coverage of wars and earthquakes, two big hits during the site’s first year were a post titled, “Meet India’s First Porn Star,” and a slide show of Japanese cat outfits.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with giving readers what they secretly want every once in a while. The problem arises when you start producing articles solely for the id of the search engines, because some clicks are more valuable than others. This is the conclusion, at least, of Gawker Media’s Nick Denton, one of the first to pay writers according to their page views and now a high-profile skeptic of the practice. Denton built his company on the labor of freelance bloggers, but in the last year, he has moved to hiring them as full-time employees, with set salaries and bonuses­ tied to “unique visitors” — a metric that he says measures the writer’s ability to bring new readers into the fold. No sentimentalist, Denton says he changed the formula because he found that page-view incentives encouraged writers to deliver worthless rehashes rather than reporting and tabloid-style scoops — in other words, journalism.

“When we look at the numbers, it’s increasingly evident that the traditional blog post has become a complete commodity,” Denton says. When dueling algorithms compete to answer every human query, it turns out there’s value in telling people things they weren’t aware they didn’t know. To wit: Denton’s technology site Gizmodo recently bought a secret prototype iPhone that an Apple programmer lost in a bar and produced a post featuring pictures and the phone’s specs. Over two weeks, that item racked up nearly 10 million page views, an estimated 4.4 million of them from newcomers, bringing the site an enormous amount of attention (not the least of it from Apple’s lawyers and the police). Denton says his hope is that all the publicity attached to breaking big stories will translate into reader loyalty, brand equity and more lucrative advertising deals.

If that is the model of the future, then the new world could end up looking a lot like the old one, albeit with smaller newsrooms and new players. Politico replaces the Washington correspondent, TMZ is the gossip page and you can get coverage of your baseball team directly from MLB.com, which employs professional sportswriters. In cities like San Diego, New York and Washington, online start-ups are taking on metro news coverage, hoping to tap local ad markets. All of these publications have been hiring real, full-time employees — as have nontraditional providers like Yahoo, which is constructing a new political news site. Over the last few months, there has been a palpable uptick in both advertising and the journalism job market. The iPad, and its applications that restore magazines and newspapers to something like their traditional format, was greeted within the industry like the sight of a ship from a deserted island.

Still, it’s hard to foresee anything like a total restoration. Many publications are struggling to stay afloat, from storied titles like Newsweek, which was recently put up for sale, to scrappy start-ups like The Faster Times. One April evening, Sam Apple and nine top staff members of the publication gathered at the foreign editor’s place, a row house in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to talk over their prospects. Apple presented what he believed to be the best route forward: introducing a membership program.

Readers could sign up to sponsor a favorite writer, at rates ranging from $12 to $120 a year. The writers would get 70 percent of the proceeds and in return would come up with customized benefits for their sponsors. Over beer and tortilla chips, the editors got to brainstorming. One contributor, a professor and translator of Nietzsche, had already offered to answer a philosophical question of the reader’s choice. The dating columnist volunteered to critique online matchmaking profiles. Apple said that he’d just signed up a new writer. “She’s a Sarah Lawrence grad, but also a dominatrix,” he said. “She’s going to be starting soon, writing about sex and power. So there’s real incentive possibilities.”

“Not to get too theoretical,” the managing editor, Olivia Scheck, interjected over the laughter, “but this is the problem that we keep coming to with this idea, which is that we want to be selling journalism, not sex.”

Apple mentioned, with some cheerful chagrin, that the site’s most popular article ever in terms of page views was a blog post titled, “Megan Fox Has Wacky Hot Chick Syndrome.” That wasn’t exactly the kind of impact he had in mind when he came up with the idea for a new type of newspaper. But he said he liked to think that maybe a handful of those starlet-Googlers had stuck around to read the dispatches­ from Egypt and Turkey, or the acclaimed travel section, or the theater critic — who, contrary to all expectations, turned out to be The Faster Times’s highest initial advertising earner.

Since I’ve been regularly reading The Faster Times, I’ve been most affected by a column called Financial Stress. Written by Kathryn Higgins, a single mother in Connecticut who is losing her house in foreclosure, it’s a heartbreaking chronicle of unimaginable choices, like whether to squat or to move into a bedbug-infested homeless shelter. She just e-mailed Apple out of the blue one day, asking to contribute. There are a lot of voices­ like that in the Faster Times, writers who ended up on the wrong side of this recession. Whatever happens in the future, Apple has accomplished something by giving them a place to set their experiences down in words, creating a record of this transitional moment. That’s the essence of journalism, but its value remains in the eye of the beholder.

Andrew Rice is a contributing writer and the author of a book about Uganda, “The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget.”


Full article and photo: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/16/magazine/16Journalism-t.html

Emperors and beggars

The rise of content farms

Can technology help make online content pay?

Our ceramic-mugs correspondent writes

THIS week the Wall Street Journal, the pride of News Corporation’s stable of newspapers, launched a 12-page daily section of local news in New York, in a direct challenge to the New York Times. The premise behind the launch is that expensive, thorough reporting will pay for itself by attracting readers and advertisers. Indeed, Rupert Murdoch, News Corp’s boss, recently proclaimed, “Content is not just king, it is the emperor of all things electronic.” However, a new brand of media firms dubbed “content farms” takes the opposite view: that online, at any rate, revenue from advertising or subscriptions will never cover the costs of conventional journalism, so journalism will have to change.

Newspaper articles are expensive to produce but usually cost nothing to read online and do not command high advertising rates, since there is almost unlimited inventory. Mr Murdoch’s answer is to charge for online content: another of his newspapers, the Times of London, will start to do so this summer (the Journal already does). Content farms like Demand Media and Associated Content, in contrast, aim to produce content at a price so low that even meagre advertising revenue can support it.

Demand Media’s approach is a “combination of science and art”, in the words of Steven Kydd, who is in charge of the firm’s content production. Clever software works out what internet users are interested in and how much advertising revenue a given topic can pull in. The results are sent to an army of 7,000 freelancers, each of whom must have a college degree, writing experience and a speciality. They artfully pen articles or produce video clips to fit headlines such as “How do I paint ceramic mugs?” and “Why am I so tired in winter?”

Although an article may pay as little as $5, writers make on average $20-25 an hour, says Mr Kydd. The articles are copy-edited and checked for plagiarism. For the most part, they are published on the firm’s 72 websites, including eHow, answerbag and travels.com. But videos are also uploaded onto YouTube, where the firm is by far the biggest contributor. Some articles end up on the websites of more conventional media, including USAToday, which runs travel tips produced by Demand Media. In March, Demand Media churned out 150,000 pieces of content in this way. The company is expected to go public later this year, if it is not acquired by a big web portal, such as Yahoo!, first.

AOL, a web portal which was recently spun off from Time Warner, a media giant, does not like to be compared to such an operation. Tim Armstrong, its boss, intends to turn it into “the largest producer of quality online content”. The firm already runs more than 80 websites covering topics from gadgets (Engadget.com) and music (Spinner.com) to fashion (Stylelist.com) and local news (Patch.com).

In AOL’s journalistic universe there are three groups of contributors. The first two are salaried journalists and freelancers with expertise in a certain domain, who currently number more than 3,000. Then there are amateurs who contribute to individual projects, for instance when AOL recently compiled profiles of all 2,000 bands at the SXSW music festival in Texas. (Contributors were paid $50 for each profile.) All this is powered by a system like Demand Media’s that uses data and algorithms to predict what sorts of stories will appeal most to readers, what advertisers are willing to pay for them and what freelancers should therefore be offered. So far, however, the numbers are small: in the week of April 25th, 61 writers published 155 articles in this way on 33 AOL sites.

Predictably, many commentators are appalled. Demand Media has been called “demonic”. But, argues Dan Gillmor, a professor of journalism at Arizona State University, “the firm is at least interested in what people want to know—which is nothing to sneer at”. And unlike many other services that take advantage of “user generated content”, he says, Demand Media actually pays its contributors.

The problem with content farms, Mr Gillmor and others say, is that they swamp the internet with mediocre content. To earn a decent living, freelancers have to work at a breakneck pace, which has an obvious impact on quality. Moreover, content that is designed to appear high up in the results produced by search engines could lose its audience if the search engines change their rules.

In AOL’s case, the question is whether the infrastructure for the three tiers of contributors will work financially, not just journalistically and technically. Clay Shirky, a new-media expert at New York University, suggests that content produced cheaply by freelancers could serve to fund more ambitious projects. If AOL can make that work, the pundits will cheer.


Full article and photo: http://www.economist.com/business-finance/displaystory.cfm?story_id=16010291&source=hptextfeature

Corriere della Sera Joins European Network

Italy’s Corriere della Sera on Tuesday joined the network of high quality European newspapers and magazines publishing in English created by Germany’s SPIEGEL ONLINE, Holland’s NRC Handelsblad and Denmark’s Politiken.

Milan’s Piazza Del Duomo: The city is also home to the website of Italy’s newspaper of record, Corriere della Sera.

Italy’s respected daily Corriere della Sera announced on Tuesday it would become the fourth partner in the European journalism network launched by NRC Handelsblad in the Netherlands, SPIEGEL ONLINE in Germany and Politiken in Denmark.

Under the agreement, Corriere della Sera, SPIEGEL ONLINE, NRC Handelsblad and Politiken will work together to establish a continent-wide network to provide English-speaking Web users everywhere with access to journalism from some of Europe’s most-respected sources.

“Corriere della Sera is proud to enter into an editorial partnership with the English-language sites of some of Europe’s best known media brands,” said Daniele Manca, vice editor at Corriere della Sera and editor in chief at Corriere della Sera’s website. “We look forward to contributing to this growing network of quality European publishers with outstanding journalism with an Italian perspective.”

The Milan-based daily, with an average of 1.6 million online readers every day, has been publishing news in English on Italian current affairs and culture online since 2004. Through its new partnership with publications with strong reputations for quality journalism elsewhere in Europe, Corriere della Sera will contribute news and perspectives on Italy and Europe from its English-language ” Italian Life” section.

‘European Media of Record’

“SPIEGEL ONLINE is pleased to have Corriere della Sera, with its rich history and journalistic traditions, as part of our network,” said Rüdiger Ditz, editor in chief of SPIEGEL ONLINE. “Together with Italy’s most venerated daily and our other partners in Rotterdam and Copenhagen, we plan to offer independent and opinion-shaping journalism on issues facing Europe and the international community from diverse perspectives. We plan to do this in a network modelled after airline alliances — one that promotes the members’ national identities while at the same time building the platform for a truly pan-European dialogue.”

“Adding a major southern European publication like Corriere della Sera to our network is very important,” said Birgit Donker, editor in chief of the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad. “Corriere della Sera is the paper of record to inform the rest of the world about political and economical issues at play in Italy. Corriere’s stories should broaden the scope and perspective of coverage of European issues from our network.”

Diverse Perspectives from across the Continent

“It is with great pleasure that we welcome one of Europe’s great publications to our expanding network of European media of record,” said Politiken Editor-in-Chief Stig Ørskov. “Corriere della Sera will add substance and authority to our coverage of one of Europe’s most important regions. We look forward to developing new pan-European projects together and providing our readers with the incisive local reporting they seek,” he said, adding that negotiations are under way with other leading publications in order to expand the network further in 2010.

SPIEGEL ONLINE and NRC Handelsblad first joined forces in 2008 to establish the blueprint for an English-language network of private publishers across Europe. Since then, the two companies have frequently exchanged articles and cooperated on a number of joint journalistic projects, including collaborative reporting and online chats. After the network expanded in 2009 to include Denmark’s Politiken, the partners jointly covered the run-up to the European Parliament elections with interviews with opinion-makers across the Continent as part of our ” 27 Views of Europe” project.

With the expansion of the network, SPIEGEL ONLINE, NRC Handelsblad, Politiken and Corriere della Sera hope to lay the foundations for a pan-European platform for dialogue that represents diverse perspectives from across the continent.


Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,691478,00.html

The Search for Serendipity

A funny thing happened on the way to the information revolution: While digital media have given us access to endless information from diverse sources, many of us focus our news habits on narrow topics and familiar points of view. We end up discovering fewer new ideas or opinions. In short, we have more information but less understanding.

The challenge for modern information consumers becomes: How do you discover what you don’t know you want to know?

Old-time print journalists bemoan the absence of serendipity—the accidental discovery of stories that readers didn’t know they were interested in reading. In the words of a recent blog post at the Nieman Journalism’s Lab site, “While there is more news on the web, our perspectives on the news are narrower because we only browse the sites we already agree with, or know we already like, or care about.” With newspapers, by contrast, readers discover “things we didn’t care about, or didn’t agree with, in the physical act of turning the page.”

Newspaper and magazine editors design their publications to help readers stumble onto topics they may not think are of interest. The front page of most newspapers is intended to guide readers to both important and interesting stories. This experience has not been easy to replicate online. Most-read or most-emailed article lists can help, but people tend to go to sites or blogs on specific topics from congenial points of view.

It’s not just nostalgic journalists who wonder about the impact of this shift in how we consume information. A telling exchange last week suggests even the digerati are searching for serendipity. At the offices of the Guardian newspaper in London, an online technologist asked media analyst Clay Shirky whether the serendipity of newspapers could ever be replicated online. Mr. Shirky encouraged experimentation, and within a few hours the “Random Guardian” feature was launched on the paper’s Web site.

This was creative, but random news is not the same thing as inspired editors presenting new topics or writers to their readers. Or as blogger Jeff Jarvis put it last week, “Serendipity is not randomness. It is unexpected relevance.” He says that “when we read a paper and find a good story that we couldn’t have predicted we’d have liked, we think that is serendipity. But there’s some reason we like it, that we find it relevant to us.”

Don’t underestimate the unexpected. Accidental discovery is a major factor in many areas of innovation. The artificial sweeteners saccharine, aspartame and cyclamate were each invented unintentionally as scientists were working in other areas, from anti-ulcer drugs to coal-tar derivatives. Accidental discovery likewise led to corn flakes, microwave ovens and Post-It Notes.

When it comes to information, the speed and ease of digital media can lure us into thinking that if the news is important, it will somehow find us. Often it does, through personalized news sites and feeds. Many of us rely on links to news articles by the people we follow on Twitter or Facebook to find out something new or to make sure we haven’t missed something. This experience can resemble the serendipity of older media, but there is also the risk of living in an echo chamber where we read what we want to read and share views with those we know already agree with us.

“The aggregation of news sources has gone from being a server-side to a client-side operation,” Mr. Shirky says, “which is to say, the decision about what to bring together into a bundle is made by the consumer and not by the producer.”

Law professor Cass Sunstein, currently a White House official, calls the risk “cyberbalkanization.” In “Going to Extremes,” published last year, he observed that it’s now tempting for people to get only the news they want and to “avoid general-interest newspapers and magazines and to make choices that reflect their own predispositions,” undermining what he calls the “architecture of serendipity.” Liberal comedian Bill Maher makes a similar point, saying, “I have the theory that news is now driven not by editors who know anything,” but by people “surfing the Internet.”

The good news is that readers can still find serendipity, if they look for it. There are new magazines dedicated to smart aggregation of news, such as The Week, whose circulation continues to grow.

Perhaps some day there will even be a serendipity machine that takes advantage of digital technology to find a new solution to this old problem. It could have a smart algorithm that will deliver news personalized for each of us, alerting us to news we would not find on our own and that we’d be glad to discover. Meanwhile, we’re on our own, searching for our own best way to serendipity.

L. Gordon Crovitz, Wall Street Journal


Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052702304334704575162221873969424.html

Danish Paper Settles Muhammad Cartoon Issue

Politiken Corrects

The Muslim world was outraged when the Muhammad cartoons first appeared in the Danish daily Jyllands Posten.

The Danish daily Politiken, which partners with SPIEGEL ONLINE, has reached a settlement with the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, apologizing for the offence caused by the Muhammad caricatures republished by the paper. Not all politicians in Denmark support the move.

As the first newspaper to do so, Politiken has reached a settlement with descendants of the Prophet Muhammad in connection with the affront its reprint of drawings of the Prophet Muohammad in 2008 may have caused Muslims.

The settlement was reached between Politiken and eight organisations representing 94,923 descendants of the Prophet Muhammad in a move Politiken‘s Editor-in-Chief Tøger Seidenfaden says shows that dialogue is the way forward.

“The settlement looks ahead and expresses very sensible views. It may possibly reduce the tensions that have shown themselves to be so resilient. It gives us hope that relations between Denmark, and not least its media, and the Muslim world can be improved,” Seidenfaden says, adding he does not believe Politiken’s move is a freedom of speech sellout.

Under the settlement, Politiken has not given up its right to publish the cartoons and does not apologize for having printed them, but rather expresses regret for the affront felt by some Muslims.

Lawyer Faisal Yamani, who entered into the settlement on behalf of the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad says the settlement is a good one.

‘It’s Crazy’

“This is a good settlement. It would be wrong to speak of a victory. Both parties have reached the point where they understand the background to what has happened. Politiken is courageous in apologizing, even though its was not their intention to offend anyone,” Yamani says.

Several Danish politicians have condemned the move.

“It’s crazy. The media carries offensive material every day. That is what freedom of speech is about,” says Social Democratic leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Socialist People’s Party leader Villy Søvndal says that “freedom of speech is not up for negotiation.”

The Danish People’s Party leader Pia Kjærsgaard says she is “speechless” in finding words to express how absurd the situation is.

“It is deeply, deeply embarrassing that Tøger Seidenfaden has sold out of Denmark’s and the West’s freedom of speech. I cannot distance myself enough from this total sell-out to this doctrine,” Kjærsgaard says.

Neither the prime minister nor the foreign minister have had the opportunity to comment on the issue, but the Liberal Political Spokesman Peter Christensen says “it is strange that Politiken felt the need to apologize. I don’t see what there is to apologize for.”

A World Full of Conflict

The former Liberal Chairman and Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, however is positive. “The paper loses nothing by apologizing. In a world full of conflict, where too many paint themselves into a corner, it would be good to see more of these types of attempts to reach a common understanding,” Ellemann-Jensen says.

In August last year, a total of 11 Danish newspapers were approached by Yamani with demands that the cartoons be removed from Internet pages, that media apologize and that they promise not to re-print the cartoons in question, or others, again.

Politiken is the only newspaper that has chosen to reach a settlement, at the same time avoiding attempts by the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad to sue the newspaper.

Jyllands-Posten, the paper which first printed the Muhammad caricatures, has also received a letter from the lawyer Yamani. But the paper told Politiken that it has no interest in a settlement which involves an apology.

Jyllands-Posten’s Editor-in-Chief Jørn Mikkelsen says it is regrettable that Politiken has folded, instead of maintaining solidarity with the other newspapers. “Politiken has betrayed the battle for freedom of speech. They’ve given up and bowed to threats. That is, of course, disgraceful,” Mikkelsen says.


Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,680591,00.html

Publish, perish, protest

Bad news for dodgy journalism—and for libel tourists

LIBEL law in England is too expensive and restricts free speech. But journalistic dirty tricks are a disgrace and self-regulation of the media isn’t working properly. So the rules need lots of tweaks and a couple of big changes. Those are the conclusions of a much-awaited parliamentary committee report on the British press.

It makes uncomfortable reading for many. But the sharpest criticism was reserved for the News of the World, a tabloid that is Britain’s best-selling Sunday newspaper; its owner, Rupert Murdoch’s News International; and its practice of stealing messages from the voice mailboxes of prominent people, including members of the royal family. A reporter, Clive Goodman, was jailed for four months for the offence, later receiving a generous pay-off from his erstwhile employer for “unfair dismissal”.

The report says the number of phones hacked must have been far bigger than the handful admitted by the company, and calls it “inconceivable” that nobody else knew what was going on. It criticises the “collective amnesia” of the company’s witnesses and their “deliberate obfuscation” (some refused to give evidence; others said things that the MPs implied were untrue). But the report makes only indirect criticism of Andy Coulson, then the paper’s editor and now a close adviser to the Conservative leader, David Cameron. In response, News International rejected the allegations, accused the MPs of bias and said they had produced nothing new. Calls for a further inquiry are growing.

The report gives other journalistic misconduct a savaging too, especially the “abysmal” standards of reporting in the frenzy surrounding Kate and Gerry McCann, the parents of a British child who went missing in Portugal in 2007. (The McCanns later won hefty libel damages from newspapers that wrongly blamed them for abducting their own daughter.) The MPs also note that the McCanns were failed by the Press Complaints Commission, a self-regulatory body which is meant to deal with such conduct.

The committee’s original aim was to focus on media misbehaviour. But its investigation has ranged more widely. The report has plenty of comfort for more serious-minded journalists, as well as for the campaigning groups, scientists and others who worry about the chilling effect of libel law on press freedom. In English libel law (Scotland’s is different), the fact that the public has an interest in knowing about something offers only a limited defence against a charge of libel. (This is not unlike the rest of Europe, but it is shockingly different for Americans used to the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.) When sued, journalists usually have to prove that what they wrote was right, fair or at least conscientiously reported. That can be costly (even a preliminary defence can easily exceed £100,000). Foreigners may sue other foreigners, as long as they can show that their reputation was damaged in England.

Many lawyers and judges have dismissed media campaigns for changes in the law as self-interested. The committee rejects sweeping proposals for reform, such as statutory caps on the size of libel damages. But it does suggest that the Ministry of Justice, which is examining the libel law, make some important changes.

One is reversing the burden of proof for corporate claimants: if they want to sue for libel, they would have to show that the published material actually damaged their business. That could help people such as Simon Singh, a science writer facing a lawsuit from the chiropractors’ trade body for calling their treatments “bogus”. The MPs also want to discourage “libel tourism” by requiring a claimant who is not based in Britain to produce a very solid argument as to why the case needs to be brought there.

As for the cost of libel actions, which can be ruinous to all but the biggest defendants, the MPs have few specific ideas, though they appeal to lawyers’ sense of responsibility. That is about as realistic as urging tabloid journalists to act ethically.


Full article and photo: http://www.economist.com/world/britain/displayStory.cfm?story_id=15580628&source=hptextfeature

Enquiring Minds

This year, for the first time in its colorful history, The National Enquirer will be in the running for a Pulitzer Prize.

It might even deserve to win one.

Last Thursday, after weeks of hedging, the Pulitzer Committee acknowledged that the Enquirer’s extensive coverage of John Edwards’s double life — stories that were first ignored, then dismissed, and finally vindicated in the mainstream press — would be considered for investigative reporting and national news reporting awards.

By rights, the Edwards story should have been entered in the “public service” category as well. If the supermarket tabloid’s reporters hadn’t gone digging where other journalists declined to even tread, we might never have learned how close the Democratic Party came to nominating a truly disgraceful character for the presidency.

It’s remarkable, in a way, that the Enquirer still exists at all, let alone that it’s enjoying a moment in the journalistic sun. In the age of Gawker, Twitter, and TMZ.com, a weekly scandal sheet seems quaint, if not archaic. And in an era when newspapers are fighting desperately for readers, you would think that the mainstream media — hemorrhaging subscribers and hungry for online eyeballs — would uncover all the really interesting scandals first.

But you’d be wrong. The Internet is very good at generating gossip, but lousy at the dogged work of transforming rumor into news. And the national press almost seems more uncertain about when and whether to probe into politicians’ private lives than it was in the days when The Miami Herald cheerfully ran a photograph of Donna Rice sitting side-saddle on Gary Hart’s lap.

The result is salacious overkill one moment, but unexpected diffidence the next. The last election cycle, for instance, gave us the great Sarah Palin feeding frenzy. But it also featured a number of cases where the media raised a potential scandal and then left it unresolved — from The New York Times’s report about John McCain’s complicated relationship with a female lobbyist, to the Vanity Fair profile of Bill Clinton that implicitly accused him of philandering without coming out and saying it.

And then, of course, there was the scandal that was never raised at all, save in the pages of the Enquirer: the truth about John Edwards’s recklessness and caddishness, and the grim reality behind his doting-husband facade.

Such journalistic reticence might be defended as a means to a less prurient and sex-obsessed culture, which heaven knows we could use. But the gossip machine will grind on irrespective of what the major newspapers report. If Americans aren’t reading about Edwards and Rielle Hunter, they’ll just read about Tiger Woods or the Jolie-Pitts instead.

Better the former than the latter. Watching Woods unburden himself last Friday made me think: This really shouldn’t be any of my business. I’ve never had the same thought watching John Edwards confess his sins. Athletes and actors don’t work for us directly; they’re entrusted with great wealth and fame, but not great power. But the private peccadilloes of politicians tend to interfere with, and corrupt, their commission of their public duties.

This has been the pattern in nearly every recent sex scandal, from Mark Sanford’s dereliction of duty to Arizona Senator John Ensign’s alleged payoffs to his mistress to Eliot Spitzer’s prostitution habit. (It’s worth noting, as a precedent for the Enquirer’s Pulitzer bid, that The Times won a prize last year for its coverage of the Spitzer story.) And it was the pattern 50 years ago as well. Anyone who waxes nostalgic for the days when the press corps winked and nodded at John F. Kennedy’s adulteries, for instance, should acknowledge that they’re pining for a time when the president of the United States probably shared a mistress with a mobster without the public knowing anything about it.

Not all affairs produce corruption, and we don’t have to know every sin that our politicians commit. Bill Clinton wasn’t on the ballot in 2008, and maybe the public didn’t need a substantial investigation into his post-presidential sex life. (Though one imagines that Democratic primary voters trying to decide whether to let him back inside the White House might have wanted to hear a little more about the issue.)

But the Democratic Party’s narrow escape from the nightmare of an Edwards candidacy suggests that there’s a case for erring on the side of prurience. Some private acts should be publicly disqualifying, and the media need to be willing to go digging for them. Pulitzer or no, we can’t always count on The National Enquirer to tell us what we need to know.

Ross Douthat, New York Times


Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/21/opinion/22douthat.html

What Newspapers Can Learn From Craigslist

Craig Newmark did one simple thing: He thought about what his users truly wanted.

Last summer Wired magazine ran a cover story on Craigslist, the classified-advertising Web site, and its founder, Craig Newmark. Craigslist, the headline read, was a mess. The story said the site was underdeveloped. It refused to monetize itself. Mr. Newmark wouldn’t add new features, and his motivations were obscure.

Indeed, so poorly is Craigslist run that it’s easily one of the 20 biggest Web sites in the U.S. and, according to Wired, likely topped $100 million in revenue last year. It did this with minimal effort and with a staff an order of magnitude or two smaller than those of other sites its size. Those are two things that can not be said about most Web sites in the U.S., and certainly not about the New York Times, which announced last month it would be shifting its Web operation to a modified pay set-up in 2011.

The details are as yet sketchy, but the paper plans to adopt a metered model. Subscribers—daily or Sunday—get everything. Nonsubscribers get to see a few articles every month; after that, they will be invited to pay some sort of fee. The move is designed to take advantage of the traffic that search engines bring to the site, but still target the moochers.

The Times has invested heavily in the Web. You can’t accuse it of not taking the medium seriously. Unlike Craigslist it highly monetizes its Web site, makes a hefty amount from it, and deserves to do whatever it wants to make money to support its extensive news operation. Indeed, the move makes terrestrial subscriptions more valuable—a smart way to maximize that revenue stream.

That said, let’s remember that the road to charging for content on the Internet is strewn with media roadkill, including the Times’s short-lived TimesSelect experiment, which launched in 2005 and folded in 2007.

With all humility toward the very smart people at the Times, I submit that they can learn a thing or two from the lowly Craigslist. Indeed, I submit that it’s hard to look at virtually any news site out there and not notice how its architecture and presentation differ from that of Craigslist, which has several times any news site’s number of users.

Craig Newmark did one simple thing: He thought about what his users wanted, and put very little on his site that wasn’t useful to them. Craigslist’s mission is merely to make it easy for people to sell an old refrigerator, or look for a roommate, or find someone to date. By just about any metric the site serves those users as well as any business on the Internet, with the arguable exception of Google.

For decades, newspapers made billions in profits by tending their local monopolies and felt quite important in the process. So it’s not surprising that the single most salient weakness of a mainstream news site is that in the end it is a corporate showcase, a striking contrast to the Craigslist model. The vocabulary of the architecture speaks plainly that the page is there to serve not readers, but to articulate the structure of the company behind it.

That architecture is depressingly similar. The typical news site doesn’t take advantage of the wide horizontal window of the browser. Instead, it is framed inside a square or vertical box. And inside that frame, the reader is presented with four or five—and sometimes even seven or eight—horizontal lines of information or navigation before the first actual story headline appears. (The Wall Street Journal site, which, it should be noted, has never given away its content for free, has more than a half-dozen lines of foofaraw before a reader is granted a story headline.)

The stories are as a rule stuffed into a cramped space in the bottom middle of the page, hemmed in by myriad other links, devices and widgets arrayed in columns to either side. Headlines, forced to fit in those tiny spaces, are often as awkward and telegrammatic as print ones.

Even after the reader clicks on a story, the site then offers up more of the same: A frame inside the browser window, unwanted navigation elements, links to any and every possible department of the site, placed above, to the left and to the right of the actual prose. As for that prose, it could be a 400-word reported piece, a lacerating editorial, or a recipe for pumpkin pie. It doesn’t matter—it will always be trapped in that small well, suffocated by the weight of the widgets, links and navigation around it.

I’m not talking about ads. It is a cranky consumer who can’t grok the reason for an ad next to a story. I think many readers, like me, would gladly swap their prized Adblock Firefox add-on for one that would keep the ads and instead eliminate all the non-content elements of the average newspaper Web page.

Ultimately, I would like about 99% fewer navigation links on the page, but will settle for 90% fewer. For that service, a newspaper site can hit me with all the ads it wants, or charge me any amount of money. But until it provides this simple and I think obvious service to readers, one can’t help suspecting that a newspaper’s approach to the Web is incomplete.

Newspaper folks, looking at their collapsed business model, have griped for a decade that Craigslist stole their classified ads—and a breath later dream about charging for content. They do everything but consider that a Craigslist model—which puts the reader first, highlights the presentation of information, and fosters community—might indeed fund newsgathering for a new millennium.

Mr. Wyman is the former arts editor of Salon.com and National Public Radio.


Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703808904575025032326755678.html

How the Enquirer Exposed the John Edwards Affair

The former senator might be your attorney general today if our reporters hadn’t stuck with the story.

It took John Edwards two years to tell the truth. I was surprised; I thought it would take longer.

The man who risked the fate of the Democratic Party to satisfy his political narcissism released a statement Thursday finally admitting paternity of Rielle Hunter’s daughter. In part, he said: “To all those I have disappointed and hurt, these words will never be enough, but I am truly sorry.”

His sincerity was as egocentrically superficial as his infamous $1,250 haircut during the 2004 presidential race.

If this seems harsh, it’s an analysis borne of two and a half years uncovering the former North Carolina senator’s affair while I was editor in chief of the National Enquirer. Throughout the 2008 Democratic primary, I watched him lie, use associates to help him lie, and perniciously abuse public trust while campaigning on restoring a moral core to fill the void of America’s diminishing greatness.

In October 2007, after invoking Martin Luther King Jr. in a campaign speech, Mr. Edwards said: “There are much more important things in life than winning elections at the cost of selling your soul. Especially right now, when our country . . . needs to hear the truth from its leaders.”

Cut to Aug. 8, 2008, when Mr. Edwards, after being caught visiting his mistress and their baby in the middle of the night by the National Enquirer, admits his affair on ABC’s “Nightline” only because he can no longer credibly deny or evade the issue.

In his mea culpa about the affair, when confronted with the issue of paternity and an Enquirer photo of him holding the baby, Mr. Edwards told a national TV audience: “I don’t know who that baby is” and insisted that “timing” made it impossible for him to be the father.

Mr. Edwards’s admission of paternity is the final vindication for the National Enquirer, which broke the news of his affair with Ms. Hunter in 2007 and continues to pursue the story. A December 2007 Enquirer report featured a photograph of a clearly pregnant Ms. Hunter and detailed information that she was being hidden in a North Carolina gated community by Mr. Edwards’s friend and aide Andrew Young.

At the time, as editor in chief of the Enquirer, I directed a several-month operation with reporters and photographers on stakeout in North Carolina to nail down this scoop. We believed the photograph of Ms. Hunter, the checkable facts about her relationship with Mr. Edwards, and the in-process coverup would cause an instant public uproar as the mainstream press verified the article and demanded answers from Mr. Edwards.

Former Sen. John Edwards

But the photograph of Ms. Hunter pregnant and a slew of well-documented facts in the Enquirer article did nothing to enervate Mr. Edwards’s brazen quest for power or budge the mainstream press from its comfortable seat on the campaign bus. A cursory question about the affair was eventually asked, to which a smug Mr. Edwards responded: “tabloid trash.”

And then there was silence. While Mr. Edwards went on to lose the Democratic primary, he still tried to position himself for an important role in the new administration, attempting to barter his way into being named attorney general. He might have made it that far if the Enquirer had given up after its initial exclusive was dismissed by the candidate, the press and the public.

Faced with public and press indifference to a major political exclusive on a leading presidential candidate, many at the Enquirer assumed we were finished with a story that had consumed tremendous resources for little payoff. The investigative team was buoyed when we decided to continue.

Was the decision to stay after Mr. Edwards made out of anger over his lies and their acceptance by the press and public? Was it a high-minded attempt to force the public to acknowledge the dangerous character flaws of a man who was headed for some type of high office? Or was it simply a tabloid instinct to illuminate the crepuscular hiding places where the rich and famous store their secrets? Draw your own conclusions, but ultimately the public good was served in a way that was undeniable.

Months passed. The Enquirer had several after-the-fact confirmations of meetings between Mr. Edwards and Ms. Hunter. We abandoned our normal methodology and did not run articles on these. The breakthrough came early summer of 2008, with information that Ms. Hunter and Mr. Edwards would secretly meet at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Two separate teams of Enquirer reporters and photographers checked into the hotel and were deployed at various points on the property.

Ms. Hunter and Mr. Edwards met on July 21, 2008. Enquirer cameras captured it all on videotape, including early the next morning when Mr. Edwards, confronted by an Enquirer reporter as he left Ms. Hunter’s room, ran into the men’s room.

Hours later, I posted our new exclusive on the Enquirer’s Web site and shortly thereafter published in the Enquirer the photo of Mr. Edwards holding his baby. Still, the mainstream media was reluctant to run the story. Numerous reporters and editors from other outlets called and asked me to release the video footage of that night. I refused. Some were angry. I owed and offered them no explanation about our strategy—until now.

Mr. Edwards had already shown us his willingness to lie in the face of overwhelming evidence. In July 2008, Mr. Edwards knew the Enquirer had him on video and he waited. Behind the scenes we sent him a message—deny the affair and we will release the video and prove you a liar. At the same time an ABC News investigative team pounded him.

When Mr. Edwards realized there was no way out, he tried to control the damage and decided to confess to the affair. He appeared on “Nightline” on Aug. 8, 2008, and admitted only to the affair, knowing the Enquirer had his meeting with Ms. Hunter on video. At points in the interview he offered ridiculous denials about paternity and the photo of him with his child.

It had taken 10 months for the Enquirer to prove Mr. Edwards affair, and once he confessed we knew it still wasn’t over. Paternity was the next issue. But again, Mr. Edwards would admit the truth only when it was absolutely necessary.

In late 2008, the Enquirer, confident in our sources, reported definitively that Mr. Edwards was the father of the baby. Again he evaded the question even while our sources told us he was privately arguing over child support with Ms. Hunter, the terms of which he now says have been agreed upon.

Some journalists asked me if the Enquirer had a DNA match of Mr. Edwards and the child. I never answered that question. But the possibility that we had obtained a DNA match may explain why Mr. Edwards never followed through with his plan—according to recent statements by his aide Mr. Young—to fake a DNA test. He knew the possibility of a real one proving his paternity would be produced.

Two years and three months after the Enquirer first reported on his affair with Rielle Hunter, John Edwards released a statement acknowledging paternity of her baby.

Mr. Perel, the editor in chief of the National Enquirer from 2006 to January 2009, directed its coverage of the John Edwards affair.


Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704509704575019123220714044.html

The Times to Charge for Frequent Access to Its Web Site

Beginning in January 2011, unlimited access to NYTimes.com will require a paper subscription or payment of a flat fee.

Taking a step that has tempted and terrified much of the newspaper industry, The New York Times announced on Wednesday that it would charge some frequent readers for access to its Web site — news that drew ample reaction from media analysts and consumers, ranging from enthusiastic to withering.

Starting in January 2011, a visitor to NYTimes.com will be allowed to view a certain number of articles free each month; to read more, the reader must pay a flat fee for unlimited access. Subscribers to the print newspaper, even those who subscribe only to the Sunday paper, will receive full access to the site without any additional charge.

Executives of The New York Times Company said they wanted to create a system that would have little effect on the millions of occasional visitors to the site, while trying to cash in on the loyalty of more devoted readers. But fundamental features of the plan have not yet been decided, including how much the paper will charge for online subscriptions or how many articles a reader will be allowed to see without paying.

“This announcement allows us to begin the thought process that’s going to answer so many of the questions that we all care about,” Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the Times Company chairman and publisher of the newspaper, said in an interview. “We can’t get this halfway right or three-quarters of the way right. We have to get this really, really right.”

For years, publishers banked on a digital future supported entirely by advertising, dismissing online fees as little more than a formula for shrinking their audiences and ad revenue. But two years of plummeting advertising has many of them weighing anew whether they might collect more money from readers than they would lose from advertisers.

Financial analysts and writers who follow the media business had mostly qualified praise for the decision of The Times. NYTimes.com is the most popular newspaper site in the country, with more than 17 million readers a month in the United States, according to Nielsen Online; analysts say it is the leader in advertising revenue, as well, giving The Times more to lose if the move backfires.

“You can’t continue to be The New York Times unless you find” a new source of revenue, said James McQuivey, media analyst at Forrester Research.

Mike Simonton, an analyst at Fitch Ratings, said, “We expect that The Times will be able to execute a strategy like this,” adding that other papers will try it in the near future, but few are likely to succeed.

But the response was far from universally positive. Felix Salmon, a respected writer on media for Reuters, wrote, “Successful media companies go after audience first, and then watch revenues follow; failing ones alienate their audience in an attempt to maximize short-term revenues.”

Others endorsed the idea of a pay wall generally, while criticizing the approach of The Times.

Thousands of readers sent e-mail messages to The Times or posted comments on the site Wednesday, with those saying they supported the move outnumbered by others who vowed not to pay.

Shares of the Times Company fell 39 cents, closing at $13.31.

All visitors to NYTimes.com will have full access to the home page. In addition, readers will be able to read individual articles through search sites like Google, Yahoo and Bing without charge. After that first article, though, clicking on subsequent ones will count toward the monthly limit. Among the nation’s largest newspapers, only The Wall Street Journal and Newsday charge for access to major portions of their Web sites. A few smaller ones also do, including The Financial Times, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and The Albuquerque Journal, and more are expected to join their ranks this year.

The Times Company has been studying the matter for almost a year, searching for common ground between pro- and anti-pay camps. Company executives said the changes would wait another year primarily because they need to build pay-system software that works seamlessly with NYTimes.com and the print subscriber database.

“There’s no prize for getting it quick,” said Janet L. Robinson, the company’s president and chief executive. “There’s more of a prize for getting it right.”

Within the newsroom of The Times, where there has long been strong sentiment in favor of charging, the primary criticism was about the wait until 2011.

“I think we should have done it years ago,” said David Firestone, a deputy national news editor. “As painful as it will be at the beginning, we have to get rid of the notion that high-quality news comes free.”

The Times has tried and abandoned more limited online pay models. In the 1990s it charged overseas readers, and from 2005 to 2007 the newspaper’s TimesSelect service charged for access to editorials and columns.

Company executives said the current decision was not a reaction to the ad recession but a long-term strategy to develop new revenue. “This is a bet, to a certain degree, on where we think the Web is going,” Mr. Sulzberger said. “This is not going to be something that is going to change the financial dynamics overnight.”

Most readers who go to the Times site, as with other news sites, are incidental visitors, arriving no more than once in a while through searches and links, and many of them would be unaffected by the new system. A much smaller number of committed readers account for the bulk of the site visits and page views, and the essential question is how many of them will pay.

The Times Company looked at several approaches, including a straightforward pay wall similar to The Journal’s, which makes some articles available to any visitor, and others accessible only to paying readers. It also rejected the ideas of varying the price depending on how much a consumer uses the site, and a “membership” format similar to the one used in public broadcasting.

The approach the company took was “the one that after much research and study we determined has the most upside” in both subscriptions and advertising, said Martin A. Nisenholtz, senior vice president for digital operations. “We’re trying to maximize revenue. We’re not saying we want to put this revenue stream above that revenue stream. The goal is to maximize both revenue streams in combination.”



Full article and photo: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/21/business/media/21times.html

Keep a Civil Cybertongue

Rude and abusive online behavior should not be met with silence.

In less than 20 years, the World Wide Web has irrevocably expanded the number of ways we connect and communicate with others. This radical transformation has been almost universally praised.

What hasn’t kept pace with the technical innovation is the recognition that people need to engage in civil dialogue. What we see regularly on social networking sites, blogs and other online forums is behavior that ranges from the carelessly rude to the intentionally abusive.

Flair-ups occur on social networking sites because of the ease by which thoughts can be shared through the simple press of a button. Ordinary people, celebrities, members of the media and even legal professionals have shown insufficient restraint before clicking send. There is no shortage of examples—from the recent Twitter heckling at a Web 2.0 Expo in New York, to a Facebook poll asking whether President Obama should be killed.

The comments sections of online gossip sites, as well as some national media outlets, often reflect semi-literate, vitriolic remarks that appear to serve no purpose besides disparaging their intended target. Some sites exist solely as a place for mean-spirited individuals to congregate and spew their venomous verbiage.

Online hostility targeting adults is vastly underreported. The reasons victims fail to come forward include the belief that online hostility is an unavoidable and even acceptable mode of behavior; the pervasive notion that hostile online speech is a tolerable form of free expression; the perceived social stigma of speaking out against attacks; and the absence of readily available support infrastructure to assist victims.

The problem of online hostility, in short, shows no sign of abating on its own. Establishing cybercivility will take a concerted effort. We can start by taking the following steps:

First, and most importantly, we need to create an online culture in which every person can participate in an open and rational exchange of ideas and information without fear of being the target of unwarranted abuse, harassment or lies. Everyone who is online should have a sense of accountability and responsibility.

Too frequently, we hear the argument that being online includes the right to be nasty—and that those who chose to participate on the Web should develop thicker skin. This gives transgressors an out for immoral behavior.

Just as we’ve learned what is deemed appropriate face-to-face communication, we need to learn what is appropriate behavior in an environment that frequently deals with purely written modes of communication and an inherent absence of nonverbal cues.

Second, individuals appalled at the degeneration of online civility need to speak out, to show that this type of behavior will no longer be tolerated. Targets of online hostility should also consider coming forward to show that attacks can have serious consequences. There are already several documented cases of teens taking their own lives because of cyberbullying.

A third step has to do with media literacy. People need to know how to differentiate between information that is published on legitimate sites that follow defined standards and also possibly a professional code of ethics, and information published in places like gossip sites whose only goal is to post the most outrageous headlines and stories in order to increase traffic. People can and will learn to shun and avoid such sites over time, particularly with education about why they are unethical.

Fourth, adult targets of online hostility deserve a national support network. This should be a safe place where they can congregate online to receive emotional support, practical advice on how to deal with transgressors, and information on whom to contact for legal advice when appropriate.

Finally, it’s time to re-examine the current legal system. Online hostility is cross-jurisdictional. We might need laws that directly address this challenge. There is currently no uniformity of definition among states in the definition of cyberbullying and cyberharassment. Perhaps federal input is needed.

The Internet is bringing about a revolution in human knowledge and communication, and we have an unprecedented opportunity to make the global conversation more reasonable and productive. But we can only do so if we prevent the worst among us from silencing the best among us with hostility and incivility.

Mr. Wales is the founder of Wikipedia and sits on the board of CiviliNation, a nonprofit. Ms. Weckerle is the founder and president of CiviliNation.


Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704107104574572101333074122.html

You’d like this story even more if the headline were yellow

Yes, tabloid headlines are yellow for a reason. Graphic designers and experts say yellow attracts consumers in ways that other colours don’t

Next time you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, check out the racks of gossip magazines arrayed in the checkout aisle (because of course you’d never glance at a tabloid otherwise) and you’ll notice one thing they almost all share. No, not pictures of Tiger Woods.

Instead, week in and week out, almost all feature headlines in a bright shade of yellow.

It’s not just a coincidence – and it’s more than a sly nod to the muckraking tradition of yellow journalism. Graphic designers and experts who specialize in the psychology of colour say yellow attracts consumers in ways that other colours don’t.

“It’s an excellent attention-getting colour,” says Paul Lester, a professor of communication at California State University, Fullerton, and author of Visual Communication.

Yellow and red have the longest wavelengths on the colour spectrum, which means they can be seen from farther away than other colours. But yellow has added psychological benefits: It’s believed to trigger feelings of happiness, Prof. Lester says.

Given its high visibility and bliss-inducing effects, it’s no wonder bright yellow is a common feature of gossip magazine headlines. The colour gets noticed and gives people a thrill.

Which may be why magazines not known for regular gossip coverage can often be seen adopting the hue for their more celebrity-driven stories.

The current issue of Maclean’s, for example, wades in to the Tiger Woods scandal with a bright yellow headline that looks as if it’s been pulled straight from Us Weekly announcing “The Fall of the World’s Greatest Athlete.”

“There’s a certain degree of tackiness to yellow,” says Alexander White, a typography consultant and professor at Parsons The New School for Design, in New York.

Those who design celebrity magazine covers are aware that readers pick up such magazines as a fun and shallow indulgence, Prof. White says, noting that yellow is a fitting choice for such interests.

“I can’t think of a better colour to use if you were trying to evoke that kind of light and not-so-serious experience of a magazine,” he says.

Bonnie Fuller, the Canadian-born gossip magazine queen who has been at the helm of Flare, YM, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Glamour and Us Weekly and is currently president and editor-in-chief of HollywoodLife.com, is often credited with creating the colour palette of bright yellows, pinks and blues that currently dominates celebrity magazines and websites.

“She has left a rainbow in her wake,” says Tony Quinn, founder of Magforum.com, a British-based website that covers the magazine industry.

“You’ve got to make stories and magazine pages look inviting and exciting so that they literally reach out and pull in the reader,” Ms. Fuller says.

The colour palette of celebrity magazines, which are predominantly read by women, is meant to convey a sense of lighthearted enjoyment, she says.

“Why use downbeat colours? I wanted my magazines to make women feel better – feel better about themselves, feel better about their lives, be a fun and entertaining and helpful experience to read. And so I think that when you use … a bright palette it helps to do that. It’s an uplifter.”

Of course, simply because something is yellow does not necessarily mean that it is tacky or trashy. “It all depends on the shade of yellow,” says Joanna Turlej, president of Adora Graphics, an Oakville, Ont.-based graphic design company.

Compare, for example, the tawdry neon yellow of Us Weekly, In Touch, Star and other gossip magazine headlines with the richer hue that frames the cover of National Geographic.

“National Geographic is a yellow that has that prestige feeling of gold, whereas the gossip magazines shoot for something that’s a little more playful,” says Kyle Meyer, founder of Typesites.com, a U.S.-based website about typographic design.

Considering that celebrity magazines are often impulse purchases, it’s no wonder they need to grab attention with bright yellow headlines promising “trashy” fun, says Matt Thomson, a marketing professor at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business.

The irony, of course, is that with all gossip magazines screaming their promises of shallow indulgence in bright yellow, no one headline is able to stand out from the rest. Waiting in light at the grocery store, you may not even notice all those yellow headlines because your eyes have glazed over.

“When everything is in boldface,” Prof. Lester says, “nothing is in boldface.”

Dave McGinn is a writer with Globe Life.


Full article and photo: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/technology/science/youd-like-this-story-even-more-if-the-headline-were-yellow/article1406432/

British Newspapers Misquote German Hitler Researcher

Author Defends Reputation

German Hitler researcher Joachim Riecker has been falsely quoted by the British media. He says he is keeping his legal options open.

German historian Joachim Riecker recently published a book about Hitler’s hatred of Jews. British newspapers soon printed articles containing inaccurate information about the book. Now the researcher is battling to save his reputation. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Ricker expresses his frustration and demands a correction.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Riecker, you wrote a book about Hitler and the Holocaust. Your central thesis in “Hitler’s November 9,” is that Germany’s defeat in World War I is one of the main reasons for Hitler’s anti-Semitic delusion. Now the tabloid Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph newspapers claim that you wrote in your book that one of the causes of that hatred of Jews was the “harmful treatment” Hitler’s mother received from a Jewish general practictioner. You were even quoted directly. Did the Daily Mail ever talk to you?

Joachim Riecker: No. The author appears to have taken the information from an obscure Austrian Web site with English-language articles that included incorrect information about my book in a review. That was the first place I read the quotations that had been attributed to me.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Anyone who reads your book with any attention to detail will not find any indication that you support the thesis of US historian Rudolph Binion, who attributes Hitler’s hatred of Jews to, among other things, the treatment methods used by the Jewish doctor. You even reject his theory outright in one chapter. Nevertheless, the Daily Mail quotes you as saying that Hitler “never forgave the Jewish doctor” and became anti-Semitic for that reason.

Riecker: This claim is simply nonsense. General Practitioner Eduard Bloch, who treated Hitler’s mother in 1907, still lived in Linz during the occupation of Austria by the Wehrmacht in 1938. He was placed under the protection of the Gestapo and was allowed to sell his property in a normal manner and emigrate to the USA with his wife in 1940. Historian Brigitte Hamann recently wrote a book about Eduard Block and even quoted Hitler as commenting that his mother’s former practitioner had been a “noble Jew.”

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What consequences has the Daily Mail‘s story had for you?

Riecker: Several newspapers around the world cited the false quotes attributed to me by the Daily Mail, including the likes of the Times of India and Haaretz, the major Israeli daily newspaper — and each time they attributed the quotes to me. These articles can also be found on the information service of the Israeli government as well as the Web site of the Israeli Embassy to the Vatican.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Bloggers have also cited the Daily Mail’s account without verification of its authenticity. Do you fear that your reputation as a serious journalist for the Märkischen Allgemeinen Zeitung, which is owned by the prestigious Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, has been damaged?

Riecker: Of course. The Holocaust is a highly sensitive subject. False reports like this can quickly destroy a journalist’s credibility. I don’t even want to imagine what else could happen at this point.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you plan to take legal action against the Daily Mail?

Riecker: I will keep this option open. First, I expect the Daily Mail and the other newspapers to print a correction article that correctly presents the theses contained in my book. We are currently discussing this. The Telegraph and the Daily Mail have already corrected their stories. But this cannot compensate for the damage caused by the reports in other media. I find that deeply regrettable — especially with regard to Israel.


Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,668362,00.html

Network effects

Newspapers and technology

How a new communications technology disrupted America’s newspaper industry—in 1845



CHANGE is in the air. A new communications technology threatens a dramatic upheaval in America’s newspaper industry, overturning the status quo and disrupting the business model that has served the industry for years. This “great revolution”, warns one editor, will mean that some publications “must submit to destiny, and go out of existence.” With many American papers declaring bankruptcy in the past few months, their readers and advertisers lured away by cheaper alternatives on the internet, this doom-laden prediction sounds familiar. But it was in fact made in May 1845, when the revolutionary technology of the day was not the internet—but the electric telegraph.

It was only a year earlier, in May 1844, that Samuel Morse had connected Washington, DC, and Baltimore by wire and sent the first official message, in dots and dashes: “WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT”. The second message sent down Morse’s line was of more practical value, however: “HAVE YOU ANY NEWS”. (There was no question-mark in Morse’s original alphabet.) As a network of wires spread across the country, referred to as “the great highway of thought” by one contemporary observer, it was obvious that this new technology was going to have a huge impact on the newspaper industry. But would the telegraph be friend or foe?

James Gordon Bennett, the editor of the New York Herald and author of the gloomy prediction of May 1845, concluded that the telegraph would put many newspapers out of business. “In regard to the newspaper press, it will experience to a degree, that must in a vast number of cases be fatal, the effects of the new mode of circulating intelligence,” he wrote. He returned to his theme in another editorial in July. “All those papers which serve merely as vehicles of intelligence will be destroyed,” he declared. “The scissors-and-paste journalism of the country will be annihilated.”

The telegraph posed a threat to the newspapers’ hard-won control of the news, itself a relatively recent development. In the early 1800s newspapers were astonishingly slow. They received news by post, some as reports from correspondents but mostly by copying old stories from other newspapers as part of an exchange system. The Weekly Herald, recalling the 1820s, noted that “the newspapers of that day relied altogether upon their exchanges for news, and, of course, the intelligence which they gave the readers was meagre, stale and unsatisfactory.” Foreign news, if any, was usually several weeks old. Some local papers even varied publication schedules to suit the editor’s social life.

The most avid collectors of news were businessmen, some of whom acted as correspondents to papers. But merchants who passed on news in this way would already have made use of it, and they kept anything that was still commercially valuable to themselves. Some merchants exchanged information with each other in special clubs, called newsrooms, in which items of interest (the arrival of particular ships, say, or reports from abroad) were recorded in shared books to be accessed by paying subscribers only. Journalists would sometimes frequent such newsrooms to pick up stories. But they rarely sought out news themselves.

Things began to change in the late 1820s as two New York papers, the Journal of Commerce and the Courier and Enquirer, began to compete for business readers. Both started to use pony expresses to deliver news from other cities, and fast boats to meet incoming vessels and get foreign news a few hours early. In the 1830s competition intensified with the establishment of the “penny press” papers, which were cheaper than the business ones and catered to a much wider audience. Bennett, the founder of the New York Herald, agreed to pay one of his sources $500 for every hour by which he beat other papers in getting news from Europe.

Elaborate ruses involving fast boats, carrier pigeons, express trains and even semaphore systems meant that papers, not businessmen, started getting the news first. Editors boasted about the timeliness of their news, and how they had beaten other papers to it. When the Journal of Commerce arrived in Boston by mail, merchants would fight to see it: one eyewitness reported seeing “crowds, in Topliff’s News-room in Boston, disagreeably elbowing each other around the file of the Journal of Commerce, on the arrival of the New York mail.” Newspapers were democratising information. Bennett once declared that “speculators should not have the advantage of earlier news than the public at large.”

The telegraph, it seemed, would put an end to this productive rivalry. Raw news and market information would now arrive first at the telegraph office; papers, along with merchants and everyone else, would have to queue for it. Telegraph firms would establish a new monopoly over news delivery, and would sell early access to the news to the highest bidder. Papers would be unable to compete. Circulation would decline and advertisers would flee. The democratisation of news would be undone.

There was hope, however. Bennett believed that a few papers which provided commentary and analysis (including the Herald) would survive. “The telegraph may not affect magazine literature, nor those newspapers that have some peculiar characteristic,” he predicted. But he warned that “mere newspapers”, which simply reported the news, were doomed. He was not alone in this view. The Alexandria Gazette opined that the telegraph would henceforth deliver the raw news, leaving newspapers to “examining causes, tracing effects, enlightening the judgments, and directing the reflections of men.” It seemed that the only way to survive was to offer analysis and opinion, or to focus on events in a narrow field, too obscure to merit coverage by telegraphic news services. A reshaping of the entire industry appeared to be imminent.

Not such bad news after all

The telegraph did indeed reshape the newspaper industry, but not in the way that Bennett and others had predicted. For although telegraph wires could deliver news more rapidly than ever, they had a “last mile” problem: they could not disseminate news quickly to thousands of people. Only printed newspapers could do that. Far from putting papers out of business, the telegraph actually made them more attractive and increased their sales.

For the first time it became possible to read up-to-date business and political news within hours of its occurrence. “We live in a transition period of society,” declared the New York Herald on May 7th 1846. “In yesterday’s paper we published the intelligence of the proceedings of Congress of the preceding day, simultaneously with the newspapers which are published in Washington city itself—220 miles distant.” For fast-moving stories, papers would print “extra” editions with updates sent by telegraph.

Predictions that newspapers would henceforth favour analysis and opinion over news also got things exactly backwards. Instead, the balance tipped towards the latest news. In 1851 Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, told a British parliamentary committee that “the quickest news is the one looked to.” Did that mean, he was asked, that “the leading article has not then so much influence as it has in England?” No, said Greeley. “The telegraphic dispatch is the great point.”

When the first transatlantic telegraph link was established in 1858, one of the first messages sent from America was “PRAY GIVE US SOME NEWS FOR NEW YORK, THEY ARE MAD FOR NEWS.” The quicker the news could be delivered, and the more distant the events it described, the better. “To the press the electric telegraph is an invention of immense value,” one journalist observed in 1868. “It gives you the news before the circumstances have had time to alter. The press is enabled to lay it fresh before the reader like a steak hot from the gridiron, instead of being cooled and rendered flavourless by a slow journey from a distant kitchen.”

But some felt the obsession with speed went too far; there were concerns that the freshness of news, often from far away, was taking precedence over relevance. The Alpena Echo, a small newspaper in Michigan, cut off its telegraph service because “it could not tell why the telegraph company caused it to be sent a full account of a flood in Shanghai, a massacre in Calcutta, a sailor fight in Bombay, hard frosts in Siberia, a missionary banquet in Madagascar, the price of kangaroo leather from Borneo, and a lot of nice cheerful news from the Archipelagoes—and not a single line about the Muskegon fire.”

Writing in the Atlantic Monthly in 1891, W.J. Stillman, a journalist and critic, decried the effects of the telegraph on his profession. “America has in fact transformed journalism from what it once was, the periodical expression of the thought of the time, the opportune record of the questions and answers of contemporary life, into an agency for collecting, condensing and assimilating the trivialities of the entire human existence,” he moaned. “The frantic haste with which we bolt everything we take, seconded by the eager wish of the journalist not to be a day behind his competitor, abolishes deliberation from judgment and sound digestion from our mental constitutions. We have no time to go below surfaces, and as a general thing no disposition.”

What of the fears that telegraph companies would establish a monopoly over news? These too proved to be unfounded: there were one or two attempts by telegraph companies to set up news services, but telegraph operators made pretty hopeless journalists, and stringing up wires and operating networks turned out to be a very different business from collecting news. Instead, the newspapers themselves took control of delivering news over the wires, with the formation of the Associated Press. It grew out of a scheme, established in 1846, to share the costs of reporting on the Mexican war between several New York papers. Those papers also agreed to co-operate in the gathering of news from approaching ships, in order to reduce their costs. All this had the effect of reducing the degree of competition between newspapers.

At the same time, the delivery of news by telegraph, and the need for reports that could be shared and printed in any newspaper, whatever its political position, gave rise to a new writing style: brief, to the point and neutral in tone (or what is now called “telegraphic”). The high cost of sending telegrams, at least in the early days of the technology, led to starker, simpler prose. The main points of a story were summarised, followed by layers of additional detail, in declining order of importance, in an “inverted pyramid”. Whether wire reports were truly more neutral than the more partisan reporting of the pre-telegraphic era is still the subject of academic debate, but they did give the semblance of neutrality. In the mid-19th century America’s papers were, in any case, shifting towards being less political, in order to appeal to more readers, rather than just those of a particular political persuasion.

This new, telegraphic writing style also influenced public speaking: short sound bites became popular because they were easier for stenographers to transcribe, and cheaper and quicker for reporters to transmit. Horatio Seymour, the governor of New York and Democratic nominee for president in 1868, was fond of saying that the art of reporting had killed the art of oratory. “And we have to agree that it has at least very much modified the style of public speaking,” noted the New York Times in 1901, in an article considering how journalism had changed in the previous century.

An end to speculation?

Moreover, the advent of the telegraph did away with much of the speculation that had previously been a staple of American newspapers. The transition was not always smooth. President James Polk’s declaration of war on Mexico, reported “by Electric Telegraph”, appeared on the front page of the New York Herald on May 12th 1846, for example. But on the next page was a letter from Washington, already overtaken by events, speculating about what the president might do. In the edition of June 7th, a telegraphic report told of the American victory at Matamoros; but in the same issue there were reports ruminating about the Americans’ difficult position in the battle.

The telegraph “may help speculation in commercial affairs, but it will interfere very often with the speculations of the newspapers”, observed the Public Ledger in 1858. “This being brought into contact, daily, with facts, will upset a great many fancies, and give a pre-eminence of the factual over the imaginative.” Speculation about the course of the second opium war between Britain and China, based on reports several months old, was rendered obsolete overnight by the completion of the transatlantic cable, which had delivered the news that the war was over. “Some of the comments, compared with the actual facts, were found not to be so sagacious as they were supposed to be.” This would, said the Public Ledger, make journalism “more cautious in its comments upon public events abroad”.

Politicians also had to be watchful once their words were circulated by telegraph. Offhand comments could not be disclaimed and they could no longer alter speeches for local consumption. “By the power of the telegraph…the public utterances of public men in the furthest sections of the Union are…subjected to the criticism of the great centres of population and political activity in all their details,” noted the New York Times in September 1859. “The telegraph gives the speaker in the furthest East or West an audience as wide as the Union. He is talking to all America…immediately, and literally with the emphasis of lightning.”

What lessons does the telegraph hold for newspapers now grappling with the internet? The telegraph was first seen as a threat to papers, but was then co-opted and turned to their advantage. “The telegraph helped contribute to the emergence of the modern newspaper,” says Ford Risley, head of the journalism department at Penn State University. “People began to expect the latest news, and a newspaper could not succeed if it was not timely.”

Today, papers are doing their best to co-opt the internet. They have launched online editions, set up blogs and encouraged dialogue with readers. Like the telegraph, the internet has changed the style of reporting and forced papers to be more timely and accurate, and politicians to be more consistent. Again there is talk of news being commoditised and of the need to focus on analysis and opinion, or on a narrow subject area. And again there are predictions of the death of the newspaper, with hand-wringing about the implications for democracy if fewer publications exist to challenge those in authority or expose wrongdoing.

The internet may kill newspapers; but it is not clear if that matters. For society, what matters is that people should have access to news, not that it should be delivered through any particular medium; and, for the consumer, the faster it travels, the better. The telegraph hastened the speed at which news was disseminated. So does the internet. Those in the news business use the new technology at every stage of newsgathering and distribution. A move to electronic distribution—through PCs, mobile phones and e-readers—has started. It seems likely only to accelerate.

The trouble is that nobody knows how to make money in the new environment. That raises questions about how much news will be gathered. But there is no sign of falling demand for news, and technology has cut the cost of collecting and distributing it, so the supply is likely to increase. The internet is shaking up the news business, as the telegraph did; in the same way, mankind will be better informed about his fellow humans than before. If paper editions die, then Bennett’s prediction that communications technology would be the death of newspapers will be belatedly proved right. But that is not the same as the death of news.


Full article and photos: http://www.economist.com/businessfinance/displayStory.cfm?story_id=15108618&source=hptextfeature

Newsrooms Don’t Need More Conservatives

What’s important is the willingness to hold power accountable.

This is a terrible time for newspapers, but the solutions suggested over the last year by the deep thinkers of the floundering industry give one little hope.

Back in September, the ombudsman of the Washington Post, Andrew Alexander, lamented his paper’s failure to keep up with conservative outlets after they described footage showing Acorn employees apparently advising people how to evade the law. The Post’s slowness on the story, Mr. Alexander wrote, raised the possibility that the paper didn’t “pay sufficient attention to conservative media or viewpoints.”

Continuing the next day on the newspaper’s Web site, he decided that the blame for this unhappy situation lay with the newspaper industry’s workforce, which is apparently made up of the wrong kind of people. According to “surveys,” Mr. Alexander wrote, “newsrooms . . . are more liberal than the population.” Newspapers might mean well, but they are handicapped by their monocultural politics. The obvious answer is to hire for political diversity.

Mr. Alexander’s predecessor as ombudsman made the same point in 2008, and it’s easy to understand why: It seems to dismiss an embarrassing failure with an uncontroversial idea. Everyone likes diversity, right? And this way no one is really to blame for botched coverage of any sort, least of all newspaper brass. Their intentions are pure, just poorly executed by their annoyingly conformist info-proles.

Ordinarily, such a bad idea would not draw much concern. But it has now been repeated several times in the great organ of journalistic consensus. Clearly they mean it seriously.

Years ago, Mr. Alexander wrote, newspapers achieved racial and gender diversity, and “It’s the same with ideology.”

Actually, it isn’t. Unlike race or gender, people choose their ideologies. What’s more, they often change them as they go through life, and they sometimes find that it is to their pecuniary advantage to ditch the embarrassing political enthusiasms of their youth.

Which brings up the problem of Republicans in Name Only. Anyone setting out to appease bias-spotters on the right should know that the conservative movement feels that it is plagued by impostors and fakers, and it won’t be satisfied until these RINOs, too, are chased from the newsrooms of the nation.

Then, once all that is taken into account, there’s the damnable problem of the bias-spotting left, like the Media Matters for America organization, which has documented the conservative tilt of the press in voluminous detail. How to deal with this? By ignoring it? Isn’t that an act of bias on its own?

Besides, there’s the mechanics of the job. How is the Post supposed to check up on its reporters’ politics? I’m hoping for loyalty oaths and televised hearings, with stiff penalties for employees who refuse to talk or to name names: It would be the perfect spectacle for the end of the newspaper era.

Craziest of all, though, is the prospect of the Post ditching its decades-long pursuit of the grail of objectivity . . . because it got scooped on the Acorn story. If that is all it takes to reduce the Washington Post’s vaunted editorial philosophy to ashes, what is the newspaper industry planning to do to atone for its far more consequential failures?

Remember, this disastrous decade saw two of them: First, the news media’s failure to look critically at the Bush administration’s rationale for the Iraq War; and then, the business press’s failure to understand the depth of the subprime mortgage problem and to anticipate its massive consequences.

Would the solution currently on the table—hiring more Republicans and fewer Democrats—have helped the press behave differently in either situation? It’s possible, of course, given the right Republicans.

But it is far more likely that it wouldn’t have helped at all. To begin with, it would have been unrealistic to expect the press to scrutinize the Bush administration’s claims about Iraq more vigorously had it agreed with the administration more. Even bias theorists understand that’s not the way it’s supposed to work.

And in the case of the subprime lending industry and its relationship to Wall Street, the public would probably have been better served by a perspective that regarded, say, predatory lending with suspicion instead of one that insisted on putting the phrase in quotation marks.

Which is another way of saying that the problem, in each of these massive failures, wasn’t really ideological at all. The people who got it right, in both cases, were the ones willing to hold power accountable, to directly challenge the conventional wisdom.

What the Post seems to be after is the opposite: A form of journalism that offends nobody, that comes crawling to the powerful, that mirrors the partisan breakdown of the population as a whole. If that’s the future of journalism, we can be certain that ever more catastrophic failures await.


Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704398304574598380197007934.html

A Hulu for print

Magazines take on Amazon

Magazines attempt to win back control of their digital editions

LET it never again be said that old-media firms are slow to deal with new technology. On December 8th Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corporation and Time Inc invested in an as-yet-unnamed venture that will create and sell digital magazines and newspapers for the new generation of e-readers that is likely to succeed Amazon’s monochrome Kindle in the next year or so. It was as if a group of explorers had announced plans to settle a country that had not yet been discovered.

Consumers can already get hold of many publications on smart-phones and e-readers. But smart-phones have small screens, and e-readers render magazines as crudely illustrated black-and-white books. They cannot reproduce magazines’ distinctive fonts or elegant graphics. Worse, they are unsuited to advertising, on which most magazines depend. In the year to June, Meredith’s publishing arm, which produces Better Homes and Gardens among dozens of other titles, made almost twice as much from advertising as it did from newsstand sales and subscriptions.

Publishers are irked at the prospect of formatting content for multiple devices with slightly different requirements—a problem that will worsen. They are even more irked at the current market leader, Amazon, which returns as little as 30% of the sale price of a digital magazine to publishers and provides less detail about customers’ reading habits than they would like. Publishers who want to go digital currently have a choice between the open internet, which generally provides revenue from advertising (but not much) and no subscriptions, and e-readers, which provide revenue from subscriptions (but not much) and no advertising.

The consortium plans to develop software that can be used to create digital publications for a wide range of devices. It will also set up a storefront similar to iTunes, Apple’s online music outlet. This will not be restricted to the consortium’s publications, nor will it be the only way to get hold of them. Condé Nast is already working with Adobe to develop software of its own for advanced e-readers. Hearst, another member of the consortium, has a start-up called Skiff. How the new venture’s efforts will mesh with these other projects is not yet certain. Yet the destination is clear, says John Squires of Time Inc, who will manage the consortium at first. His company has produced a mock-up of an edition of Sports Illustrated, complete with video and interactive ads, which provides a compelling, if hypothetical, glimpse into the future of magazines.

In important ways the consortium resembles Hulu, an outfit Mr Squires praises as “artful”. Hulu’s website streams television programmes from three of America’s four big English-language broadcasters, as well as a few pay-television shows. It has no sneezing pandas, tedious home-made tirades or any of the other detritus with which YouTube is filled. Hulu is popular with both consumers and companies, which pay stiff rates to place advertisements in its programmes (it helps that Hulu does not yet run many ads). As with the magazine consortium, media companies own equity stakes in Hulu.

This model is spreading. On the very day the publishers agreed to set up their venture, record companies launched a Hulu of sorts for music videos in America. Vevo is partly owned by Universal and Sony and licenses other content from EMI. Although it is run in conjunction with YouTube, it is intended to be a separate, cleaner world. Such is the evolving wisdom for traditional media firms that want to engage with digital technology: put some distance between your content and the dross, and make sure you have a stake in any new outfit that appears.

Full article: http://www.economist.com/businessfinance/displayStory.cfm?story_id=15065491&source=hptextfeature

Tiger Woods and the Animation of News

Video avatars are like newspaper illustrations of old.

Long after Tiger Woods has been forgiven his transgressions, one lasting legacy of his extramarital activities will be a new journalistic art form: the animated news report. Millions of people have now viewed the online animations produced by Hong Kong-based Next Media depicting the wronged wife coming after Tiger Woods with a golf club and smashing the back window of his vehicle, causing the now-famous accident.

This may or may not be what actually happened, but one lesson of technology applied to information is that every medium finds its ultimate conclusion, from talk radio to reality television. In the case of online video, animated “news” will fill the gap where there is no actual video. (If you’ve somehow missed this animation, view it at http://tinyurl.com/YL9H6X6).

Journalistic traditionalists tut-tut; animations are not re-enactments so much as a potential version of the news. Even leading new-media journalists are ambivalent. Kara Swisher, who blogs at the Journal’s All Things Digital Web site, quipped, “It’s not pretty, but it is hard to avert my eyes from the bizarre video report,” comparing it to a video game “gone awry.” She said she couldn’t tell “whether such faux representations of how news might or might not have happened is a good or bad thing.”

These animations are the latest brainstorm of Jimmy Lai, the founder of Next Media, which launched what are now the most popular Chinese-language newspapers in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Reflecting on how newspaper stories have more background about events than television news reports have, as he told me last week, “I thought, hey, why not make those missing images of the background into animated images?” He hired 160 software developers and engineers in Taiwan, who spent more than two years perfecting the technique. Reporters describe their interpretation of what happened to engineers and actors who serve as the models for the animation. Mr. Lai says that his team can create an animated video in 90 minutes, producing about 20 a day.

Mr. Lai says there’s no confusing the animation with real video. “The avatars are still quite wooden looking,” he said, though he plans to make them more realistic as the technology improves. Still, viewers need to be discriminating, keeping in mind the difference between enactments and real footage.

Which reminds us that quite a few news stories would benefit from animation of reality: How about congressmen pretending to read the entire health-care bill, or Iranian arms-control negotiators secretly sniggering at U.N. diplomats?

Next Media launched its animations last month, and regulators in Taiwan have already fined the company for its sometimes-graphic depictions of murder and other crimes. Mr. Lai is philosophical. It takes time to get used to new forms of media, he says, “especially when you have competitors who fan the public’s sentiment out of fear of an innovation’s disruptive competition.”

Next Media is based in Hong Kong, which has long enjoyed bragging rights for having more news outlets than any other city. Even under Beijing’s rule, the former British colony has remained vibrant and transparent due in good part to its colorful spectrum of news media, including Mr. Lai’s free-market and democracy-championing Next Magazine and sister paper Apple Daily.

There is a technology precedent for Mr. Lai’s news innovation. Before the era of photography in newspapers and magazines, enterprising editors used similar creative license to help readers imagine how news might have happened. The Illustrated London News, founded in 1842, used woodcut-like drawings to depict dramatic scenes, everything from sightings of royals to natural calamities to lynchings of robbers during California’s Gold Rush.

The pictorial newspaper sensationalized crime with a purpose. The editors hoped to “infuse a healthier tone of morality into the popular mind upon the subject of such dismal atrocities.” When the newspaper printed a drawing of a new archbishop, every clergyman in Britain got a free copy.

As similar newspapers launched in the 19th century, the Illustrated London News hired an army of artists to interpret the news quickly, telling readers, “We shall be able to keep our wood engraving department further in advance by the retention of permanent artists ready at a moment’s notice for the contingencies of every public event.”

Mr. Lai plans to share his technology with news companies around the world. He reports that “we’re in talks with news agencies and some major TV channels” in the U.S. to cooperate in producing animated news.

Another technology genie out of the bottle, destined to change our view of news.

L. Gordon Crovitz, Wall Street Journal


Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703757404574592093833268688.html

When Type Was Poured Hot

Photograph from “My Paper Chase”

Newsmen are by nature good story­tellers, and no stories animate them quite so much as their own. Yes, they will say, that late-breaking piece turned the tide, and certainly that campaign against feckless bureaucrats landed nicely. But ask them how they got the goods in the first place, and be prepared to pull up a chair.

Sir Harold Evans knows his way around a story, having served as the editor of The Sunday Times of London, The Times of London, and all manner of publications up and down the food chain. As the title of his new book, “My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times,” suggests, he describes an epoch past, an era in British journalism when type was poured hot, articles deemed unfit landed on an actual spike, and the men — and it was mostly men — who commanded all of it were literate buccaneers.

If all that sounds a bit silly, a gaslight waltz of serious men in eyeshades that has nothing to do with how journalism evolved, then “My Paper Chase” will leave you hopelessly, relentlessly bored. But do not confuse the modern newsroom (a generally quiet place that could be part of an insurance company) with the newsrooms of old — palpable theaters of language and ideas. The book is a fight song that revels in the music of those times past.

All of 16 years old, Evans went to apply for a job at The Ashton-Under-Lyne Reporter in the north of England and got his first look inside the guts of the machine that clacked out the lines of type that eventually became a newspaper. In a paroxysm of recall, he writes: “The floor was filled with long lines of iron monsters, each 7 feet high, 5 feet wide, decked out with an incomprehensible array of moving parts. . . . A man crouched in communion at the foot of each contraption. . . . It was hot news. Lead, antimony and tin bubbled in each Linotype’s melting pot, kept at 300 degrees centigrade by a gasoline burner.”

The “vanished times” of the subtitle speak to an era when journalists made things, part of a complicated daily manufacturing apparatus of typesetting and printing that always ended in the satisfying plop of a physical object.

No one was more satisfied than Evans, who saw in newspapers a route out of those humble, stout beginnings that crop up again and again in narratives that hew to the Great Man theory of history. (It makes sense that Evans would go on to write “The American Century” and “They Made America,” works that suggest history was made by those with their hands on the levers of wondrous machines.)

It sounds as if it all started when he walked into his first newsroom, but unfortunately for the reader, it does not. Like so many biographers of the self, Evans mistakes his textured childhood (he was born in 1928 in Manchester to Welsh parents) for something of authorial moment. Although class resentments and strivings — a persistent theme here — were formed in the crucible of his early days as the son of a railroad worker and a shopkeeper, the simple dignities of family and work are so thoroughly recollected that the reader might be tempted to set aside the book.

That would be a mistake. Like printing presses, the narrative cranks up slowly but then begins whirring as it celebrates bygone glories and dwells on the truths of good journalism that still obtain.

Evans is given to fair and sometimes hilarious self-estimation. Joining the Royal Air Force one year after the end of World War II, he “had no aptitude for anything,” except for a newspaper he started with his mates. In spite of his prosaic high school education, he parlayed his military service into entrance to Durham University, where he became an honors student and earned his master’s, all the while nursing his newspaper ambitions. He graduated to a job at The Manchester Evening News, where he learned the folkways and the rigors of journalism in midcentury England, excelling after he was given a column. A Harkness fellowship brought him to the United States in 1956 — he mistakes himself for a savant on American race relations — and began a romance with this country that would blossom years later. In 1961, he became editor of The Northern Echo, a daily in northeast England.

Using an archaic, regional newspaper as his platform — he is the necessary transformative figure at calcified institutions throughout the book — Evans began a crusading style of journalism that came to define his career. He and his paper afflicted the guilty, championed the innocent and, in a series that gained him a reputation beyond the provinces he was operating in, helped push through a national program for the detection of cervical cancer.

A thinking person would never confuse journalism with heroism; save for the few among us who run toward danger, the two isms rarely meet. But in “My Paper Chase,” Evans pulls back the blankets on various forms of mis- and malfeasance and goes to significant lengths to make it all sound very exciting. Along the way, he had many standoffs with publishers, printers, bureaucrats and politicians, although he admits, “One of the characteristics in which I’m deficient as an authority figure is that I don’t scare people.”

Instead, he wheedles, cajoles, bluffs and, yes, occasionally shouts. His commoner’s touch for public causes, combined with an uncommon eye for talent, eventually brought him attention from the so-called quality papers of Fleet Street. As a rube from the north of England, he regarded that interest with a mix of desire and insecurity. When he was offered a job at The Sunday Times by the editor, Denis Hamilton, the top four positions below Hamilton “were all held by Oxbridge men.” Whatever Evans lacked in terms of clubby connections, he seems to have ameliorated with ambition and good timing: “I was a beneficiary of the late-breaking waves of political, cultural and social changes that gathered force in the mid-1960s.” When the top job at The Sunday Times came open in 1967, he grabbed it with both hands, editing the paper for 14 years — during which he used the newspaper’s investigative team to reveal that hundreds of British children who had been born with severe birth defects because of thalidomide had been shunted aside without compensation.

Evans was, by all accounts, a relentless opponent of Britain’s strictures on journalists, tempting the fates by publishing exposés about the spy Kim Philby and the diaries of the former Labour minister Richard Crossman. It was a heady run, and even if he occasionally uses a purple crayon rather than his black editor’s pencil, he renders those times with real drama. (Given his background, his tone-deafness to the underpinnings of the Troubles in Northern Ireland comes as a surprise, and a corrosive report on Bloody Sunday constitutes one instance where he failed to publish when he probably should have.)

It is a paradox of his working-class origins and his love of the smell of lead that Evans came to see the plump and often corrupt printers’ unions as the most implacable foe of progress. Indeed, it explains why he was willing to take the job as editor of The Times of London when the union antagonist Rupert Murdoch bought the paper in 1981. But despite Murdoch’s promises not to meddle — the author does not miss the chance to point to the pledge Murdoch made to the Bancroft family to obtain the prized Wall Street Journal — Evans was undermined at every turn and left after a year. (He chronicled that fight in “Good Times, Bad Times.”)

In 1978, Evans ended a long marriage with three children that is barely referred to in the book. He had fallen in love with Tina Brown, 25 years his junior, enraptured by “her innocent integrity and wit.” They moved to America, where Brown used something besides innocence to conquer vast swaths of magazining while Evans became an executive at the Atlantic Monthly Press, U.S. News & World Report, Condé Nast Traveler and Random House.

Brown eventually took her franchise to the Web in the form of The Daily Beast, but in “My Paper Chase,” Evans’s romance with language is an artifact preserved in amber. “A newspaper is an argument on the way to a deadline,” he writes. And when that deadline is met, something worth brandishing comes forth. “How delicious the smell of the still warm newsprint!” he says of the love of his life. “How envious the rivals would be!”

David Carr is a culture reporter at The Times and writes the paper’s Media Equation column.


Full article and photo: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/books/review/Carr-t.html

Journalism and Freedom

Government assistance is a greater threat to the press than any new technology.

We are at a time when many news enterprises are shutting down or scaling back. No doubt you will hear some tell you that journalism is in dire shape, and the triumph of digital is to blame.

My message is just the opposite. The future of journalism is more promising than ever—limited only by editors and producers unwilling to fight for their readers and viewers, or government using its heavy hand either to overregulate or subsidize us.

From the beginning, newspapers have prospered for one reason: the trust that comes from representing their readers’ interests and giving them the news that’s important to them. That means covering the communities where they live, exposing government or business corruption, and standing up to the rich and powerful.

Technology now allows us to do this on a much greater scale. That means we have the means to reach billions of people who until now have had no honest or independent sources of the information they need to rise in society, hold their governments accountable, and pursue their needs and dreams.

Does this mean we are all going to succeed? Of course not. Some newspapers and news organizations will not adapt to the digital realities of our day—and they will fail. We should not blame technology for these failures. The future of journalism belongs to the bold, and the companies that prosper will be those that find new and better ways to meet the needs of their viewers, listeners, and readers.

First, media companies need to give people the news they want. I can’t tell you how many papers I have visited where they have a wall of journalism prizes—and a rapidly declining circulation. This tells me the editors are producing news for themselves—instead of news that is relevant to their customers. A news organization’s most important asset is the trust it has with its readers, a bond that reflects the readers’ confidence that editors are looking out for their needs and interests.

At News Corp., we have been working for two years on a project that would use a portion of our broadcast spectrum to bring our TV offerings—and maybe even our newspaper content—to mobile devices. Today’s news consumers do not want to be chained to a box in their homes or offices to get their favorite news and entertainment—and our plan includes the needs of the next wave of TV viewing by going mobile.

The same is true with newspapers. More and more, our readers are using different technologies to access our papers during different parts of the day. For example, they might read some of their Wall Street Journal on their BlackBerries while commuting into the office, read it on the computer when they arrive, and read it on a larger and clearer e-reader wherever they may be.

My second point follows from my first: Quality content is not free. In the future, good journalism will depend on the ability of a news organization to attract customers by providing news and information they are willing to pay for.

The old business model based mainly on advertising is dead. Let’s face it: A business model that relies primarily on online advertising cannot sustain newspapers over the long term. The reason is simple arithmetic. Though online advertising is increasing, that increase is only a fraction of what is being lost with print advertising.

That’s not going to change, even in a boom. The reason is that the old model was founded on quasimonopolies such as classified advertising, which has been decimated by new and cheaper competitors such as Craigslist, Monster.com, and so on.

In the new business model, we will be charging consumers for the news we provide on our Internet sites. The critics say people won’t pay. I believe they will, but only if we give them something of good and useful value. Our customers are smart enough to know that you don’t get something for nothing.

That goes for some of our friends online too. And yet there are those who think they have a right to take our news content and use it for their own purposes without contributing a penny to its production. Some rewrite, at times without attribution, the news stories of expensive and distinguished journalists who invested days, weeks or even months in their stories—all under the tattered veil of “fair use.”

These people are not investing in journalism. They are feeding off the hard-earned efforts and investments of others. And their almost wholesale misappropriation of our stories is not “fair use.” To be impolite, it’s theft.

Right now content creators bear all the costs, while aggregators enjoy many of the benefits. In the long term, this is untenable. We are open to different pay models. But the principle is clear: To paraphrase a famous economist, there’s no such thing as a free news story, and we are going to ensure that we get a fair but modest price for the value we provide.

Finally, a few words about government. In the last two or three decades, we have seen the emergence of new platforms and opportunities that no one could have predicted—from social networking sites and iPhones and BlackBerries, to Internet sites for newspapers, radio and television. And we are only at the beginning.

The government has a role here. Unfortunately, too many of the mechanisms government uses to regulate the news and information business in this new century are based on 20th-century assumptions and business models. If we are really concerned about the survival of newspapers and other journalistic enterprises, the best thing government can do is to get rid of the arbitrary and contradictory regulations that actually prevent people from investing in these businesses.

One example of outdated thinking is the FCC’s cross-ownership rule that prevents people from owning, say, a television station and a newspaper in the same market. Many of these rules were written when competition was limited because of the huge up-front costs. If you are a newspaper today, your competition is not necessarily the TV station in the same city. It can be a Web site on the other side of the world, or even an icon on someone’s cell phone.

These developments mean increased competition, and that is good for consumers. But just as businesses are adapting to new realities, the government needs to adapt too. In this new and more globally competitive news world, restricting cross-ownership between television and newspapers makes as little sense as would banning newspapers from having Web sites.

In my view, the growing drumbeat for government assistance for newspapers is as alarming as overregulation. One idea gaining in popularity is providing taxpayer funds for journalists. Or giving newspapers “nonprofit” status—in exchange, of course, for papers giving up their right to endorse political candidates. The most damning problem with government “help” is what we saw with the bailout of the U.S. auto industry: Help props up those who are producing things that customers do not want.

The prospect of the U.S. government becoming directly involved in commercial journalism ought to be chilling for anyone who cares about freedom of speech. The Founding Fathers knew that the key to independence was to allow enterprises to prosper and serve as a counterweight to government power. It is precisely because newspapers make profits and do not depend on the government for their livelihood that they have the resources and wherewithal to hold the government accountable.

When the representatives of 13 former British colonies established a new order for the ages, they built it on a sturdy foundation: a free and informed citizenry. They understood that an informed citizenry requires news that is independent from government. That is one reason they put the First Amendment first.

Our modern world is faster moving and far more complex than theirs. But the basic truth remains: To make informed decisions, free men and women require honest and reliable news about events affecting their countries and their lives. Whether the newspaper of the future is delivered with electrons or dead trees is ultimately not that important. What is most important is that the news industry remains free, independent—and competitive.

Mr. Murdoch is chairman and CEO of News Corp. This is adapted from his Dec. 1 remarks before the Federal Trade Commission’s workshop on journalism and the Internet.


Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704107104574570191223415268.html

How Google Can Help Newspapers

Video didn’t kill the radio star, and the Internet won’t destroy news organizations. It will foster a new, digital business model.

It’s the year 2015. The compact device in my hand delivers me the world, one news story at a time. I flip through my favorite papers and magazines, the images as crisp as in print, without a maddening wait for each page to load.

Even better, the device knows who I am, what I like, and what I have already read. So while I get all the news and comment, I also see stories tailored for my interests. I zip through a health story in The Wall Street Journal and a piece about Iraq from Egypt’s Al Gomhuria, translated automatically from Arabic to English. I tap my finger on the screen, telling the computer brains underneath it got this suggestion right.

Some of these stories are part of a monthly subscription package. Some, where the free preview sucks me in, cost a few pennies billed to my account. Others are available at no charge, paid for by advertising. But these ads are not static pitches for products I’d never use. Like the news I am reading, the ads are tailored just for me. Advertisers are willing to shell out a lot of money for this targeting.

This is a long way from where we are today. The current technology—in this case the distinguished newspaper you are now reading—may be relatively old, but it is a model of simplicity and speed compared with the online news experience today. I can flip through pages much faster in the physical edition of the Journal than I can on the Web. And every time I return to a site, I am treated as a stranger.

So when I think about the current crisis in the print industry, this is where I begin—a traditional technology struggling to adapt to a new, disruptive world. It is a familiar story: It was the arrival of radio and television that started the decline of newspaper circulation. Afternoon newspapers were the first casualties. Then the advent of 24-hour news transformed what was in the morning papers literally into old news.

Now the Internet has broken down the entire news package with articles read individually, reached from a blog or search engine, and abandoned if there is no good reason to hang around once the story is finished. It’s what we have come to call internally the atomic unit of consumption.

Painful as this is to newspapers and magazines, the pressures on their ad revenue from the Internet is causing even greater damage. The choice facing advertisers targeting consumers in San Francisco was once between an ad in the Chronicle or Examiner. Then came Craigslist, making it possible to get local classifieds for free, followed by Ebay and specialist Web sites. Now search engines like Google connect advertisers directly with consumers looking for what they sell.

With dwindling revenue and diminished resources, frustrated newspaper executives are looking for someone to blame. Much of their anger is currently directed at Google, whom many executives view as getting all the benefit from the business relationship without giving much in return. The facts, I believe, suggest otherwise.

Google is a great source of promotion. We send online news publishers a billion clicks a month from Google News and more than three billion extra visits from our other services, such as Web Search and iGoogle. That is 100,000 opportunities a minute to win loyal readers and generate revenue—for free. In terms of copyright, another bone of contention, we only show a headline and a couple of lines from each story. If readers want to read on they have to click through to the newspaper’s Web site. (The exception are stories we host through a licensing agreement with news services.) And if they wish, publishers can remove their content from our search index, or from Google News.

The claim that we’re making big profits on the back of newspapers also misrepresents the reality. In search, we make our money primarily from advertisements for products. Someone types in digital camera and gets ads for digital cameras. A typical news search—for Afghanistan, say—may generate few if any ads. The revenue generated from the ads shown alongside news search queries is a tiny fraction of our search revenue.

It’s understandable to look to find someone else to blame. But as Rupert Murdoch has said, it is complacency caused by past monopolies, not technology, that has been the real threat to the news industry.

We recognize, however, that a crisis for news-gathering is not just a crisis for the newspaper industry. The flow of accurate information, diverse views and proper analysis is critical for a functioning democracy. We also acknowledge that it has been difficult for newspapers to make money from their online content. But just as there is no single cause of the industry’s current problems, there is no single solution. We want to work with publishers to help them build bigger audiences, better engage readers, and make more money.

Meeting that challenge will mean using technology to develop new ways to reach readers and keep them engaged for longer, as well as new ways to raise revenue combining free and paid access. I believe it also requires a change of tone in the debate, a recognition that we all have to work together to fulfill the promise of journalism in the digital age.

Google is serious about playing its part. We are already testing, with more than three dozen major partners from the news industry, a service called Google Fast Flip. The theory—which seems to work in practice—is that if we make it easier to read articles, people will read more of them. Our news partners will receive the majority of the revenue generated by the display ads shown beside stories.

Nor is there a choice, as some newspapers seem to think, between charging for access to their online content or keeping links to their articles in Google News and Google Search. They can do both.

This is a start. But together we can go much further toward that fantasy news gadget I outlined at the start. The acceleration in mobile phone sophistication and ownership offers tremendous potential. As more of these phones become connected to the Internet, they are becoming reading devices, delivering stories, business reviews and ads. These phones know where you are and can provide geographically relevant information. There will be more news, more comment, more opportunities for debate in the future, not less.

The best newspapers have always held up a mirror to their communities. Now they can offer a digital place for their readers to congregate and talk. And just as we have seen different models of payment for TV as choice has increased and new providers have become involved, I believe we will see the same with news. We could easily see free access for mass-market content funded from advertising alongside the equivalent of subscription and pay-for-view for material with a niche readership.

I certainly don’t believe that the Internet will mean the death of news. Through innovation and technology, it can endure with newfound profitability and vitality. Video didn’t kill the radio star. It created a whole new additional industry.

Mr. Schmidt is chairman and CEO of Google Inc.


Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704107104574569570797550520.html

Giant Penis Sparks Bizarre Media War

Berlin’s History Res-Erected

Berlin newspaper the Taz has sparked a war with its rival Bild by displaying a risqué artwork on the outside of its building.

Four decades ago, the mass-circulation tabloid Bild did its best to squelch the 1968 student movement in Berlin. This year, the German capital has seen the conflict swell once again. And it has resulted in some rather stiff competition. 

The shimmering, gold-colored high-rise building that publisher Axel Springer had built in the 1960s is just a stone’s throw from the offices of Berlin’s legendary left-wing Tageszeitung newspaper, more commonly known simply as the “Taz.” But for someone looking from the 17th floor of the Springer building, where the main editorial offices of the influential tabloid newspaper Bild are located, a few trees block the view of the gray building that houses the editorial offices of the Taz, a publication that appears to believe even today that it has the right to dictate what it means to be left-wing in Germany. 

But what exactly does it mean to be “left-wing” these days? Is it left-wing to attach to the outside of the Taz building a sculpture of Bild editor-in-chief Kai Diekmann showing him naked, wearing red glasses and cheap brown loafers and equipped with a penis that extends all the way up the front of the Taz building? Or is it just in poor taste? 

Diekmann, 45, is standing in front of the Taz building on Rudi Dutschke Street. He is wearing a gray pinstriped suit and brown brogues that look like they cost several hundred euros. He tilts his head back to take a look at his enormous pink doppelganger. “I came all the way down here to see it because there are trees blocking my view,” says Diekmann. “But I still haven’t quite figured out who the sculpture on the front of this building is supposed to depict.” 

Well, Diekmann himself, of course. 

At this moment, Diekmann looks a little like the American comic actor Buster Keaton, who always looked slightly sad. But there is also a trace of triumph and irony in his face. “It can’t be me,” he says. “The artist, Peter Lenk, expressly denied that it’s me.” 

‘A Six-Meter-Long Schlong’ 

An odd dispute has been the source of excitement in Berlin’s media community in recent weeks. On the one side of the dispute is Taz, published by a cooperative, constantly on the verge of bankruptcy and with a paid circulation of 65,000. On the other side is the editor-in-chief of Europe’s biggest newspaper, Bild, the cash cow of the Springer Group, with a circulation of more than 3 million. 

Lenk, 62, an artist from Lake Constance, attached his anti-Springer installation, “Peace Be With You,” to the façade of the building with the approval of Taz management. It didn’t take long before the installation had triggered anger and outrage — but not from the gold-colored high-rise nearby. In fact, the displeasure over Lenk’s piece came from the fifth floor of the Taz building, where Ines Pohl moved into an office four months ago as the publication’s new editor-in-chief. 

“I’m going to have to lock up my bike every morning under a six-meter-long schlong for the next two years,” says Ines Pohl, the recently appointed editor-in-chief of the Taz.

“If the artist Peter Lenk has his way, I’m going to have to lock up my bike every morning under a six-meter-long schlong for the next two years,” Pohl says. “What a pathetic provocation. How tedious. I’m just not interested in this inflated smugness that revolves around the sad, never-ending male rivalry over who has the longest penis.” She wants the sculpture removed. 

Diekmann can hardly believe his luck, now that his adversaries are turning their weapons on themselves. The satire that was intended to expose him has become a comedy about the Taz editors and their image of themselves. While chaos was erupting at the Taz, Diekmann began a game of self-deprecating jujitsu on his blog. 

In a blog entry titled “The Naked and the Reds,” Diekmann scoffs at his counterparts at the Taz, who have apparently “become so humorless and bitter recently that you have to ask yourself: Are these people truly brothers in spirit?” In another entry, entitled “How Much Dick Is Acceptable?”, he gleefully commiserates with his esteemed colleagues over at Taz: “I had a feeling this would happen. Now my Taz comrades are tearing each other apart over that naked monument.” 

Pranksters and Reactionaries 

The world has been turned upside-down on Rudi Dutschke Street. The team that likes to claim that its job is to stir things up in bourgeois society now finds itself with its back against a wall adorned by an art installation it approved. Meanwhile, the supposedly reactionary die-hards at Bild are using the tools of the modern prankster to stir things up at the Taz. The casual observer could be forgiven for being confused by the strange goings-on at the two papers. Who exactly are the revolutionaries here, and who is bourgeois? 

Kai Diekmann, at any rate, appears to derive a certain Mephistophelian glee from playing the Springer prankster. When he walks through the door of Sale e Tabacchi, an Italian restaurant on the ground floor of the Taz building, he seems about as energetic and self-confident as if he owned the place. 

The restaurant was once a favorite of the editors at Taz, who had worked out a deal with Sale e Tabacchi whereby they could get lunch for a bargain €3.50 ($5.20). Germany’s poorest editorial staff once had the country’s best cafeteria. But then they began finding fault with the food. Nowadays Diekmann uses Sale e Tabacchi as a living room of sorts, and he even launched his book “Der grosse Selbstbetrug” (“The Great Self-Deception”), a critique of the German student protest movements of the late 1960s, at the restaurant. 

“Enemy territory? Not at all,” says Diekmann. For some time now, Taz employees have been eating lunch in their own cafeteria, where “Fennel au gratin with gorgonzola béchamel sauce, bulgur and vegetable pilaf” can be had for €5.95. 

A Long-Lasting Culture War 

It is quite possible that Berlin is now the scene of the last battle in a culture war that has lasted more than 40 years, a battle between the left-wing scene and Bild, which berated the protesters during the student unrest of the 1960s and sparked popular anger against people who were perceived to be deadbeats. The student activists held Bild and its headlines responsible for the death of student protester Benno Ohnesorg and the attempted assassination of the legendary student leader Rudi Dutschke. Even today, more than 40 years later, there is little reason to see these events differently. 

The journalistic heirs of Axel Springer are still wrestling with the past today, despite all efforts to modernize the group’s publications. Thomas Schmid, the editor-in-chief of Springer’s flagship conservative newspaper Die Welt, is a former confidant of the leftist politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the head of the Greens in the European Parliament. And Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner invited veteran German left-wing activists Christian Semler and Peter Schneider to attend a “Springer Tribunal” at the media conglomerate’s headquarters — although his offer was flatly rejected, because Semler and Schneider felt that they would be paraded around like trophies. 

There have always been, and still are, many unsettled accounts between Taz and Springer. Most of the time, Springer came away looking foolish because the writers and editors at Taz managed to expose their rivals with humor, impudence and chutzpah. For example, the Taz team, despite opposition from the Berlin branch of the conservative Christian Democratic Union and the Springer Group, managed to have a section of Kochstrasse, the street where their offices are located, renamed Rudi Dutschke Street as a tribute to the left-wing hero. 

The Limits of Satire 

In recent years, Diekmann was usually their most prominent victim. They gave him unflattering nicknames and accused him of cozying up to the “brutal George W. in Washington” and “whispering ass-kissing words” to him. 

Diekmann takes a bite of his sandwich. “I’ve become more prudent and have matured in the last seven years,” he says. “I have allowed myself to be convinced that satire can be given a great deal of latitude. But that has to apply across the board, not just to the satire at Taz.” 

In 2002, Taz reported in its satire column that the Bild editor-in-chief had had his penis enlarged in Miami. “In the operation,” Taz wrote, “the veins, erectile tissue and flesh from the genitals of a male corpse were supposed to be implanted into his body, but the operation went badly, and it resulted in the castration of the patient.” 

Things only became worse for Diekmann when he sued for an injunction against Taz and demanded €30,000 ($44,700) in damages. The court ruled against him. Until then, it was only a few people in the leftist scene who had been laughing at him. Now one of the most powerful editors-in-chief in Germany was looking like a fool. 

The Anti-Phallus Contingent 

The day after Diekmann walked down to inspect his alleged likeness, a company meeting was held at Taz to discuss what to do about the art installation. A number of readers had expressed their irritation, and the pink monstrosity had become a source of embarrassment for many of the editors. But hardly anyone wanted to give Diekmann the satisfaction of seeing the sculpture being taken down. 

A decision to remove the installation was postponed. There are now two camps at Taz. On the one side are those who no longer want to be made fools of by their arch-nemesis and who berate the anti-phallus contingent as “neo-bourgeois and prudish.” On the other are people like editor-in-chief Ines Pohl who just want to see the thing removed. Almost all of them find the discussion embarrassing, but even after debating the issue for almost two-and-a-half hours, they haven’t come up with an effective response to Diekmann. 

After the meeting, Pohl is standing in the cafeteria. She is wearing a green parka and her eyes seem glazed over. She shrugs her shoulders. One staff member, she says, suggested installing a fountain into the tip of the penis, but that isn’t an option. For now, she says, the unwanted sculpture is staying where it is. 

It is Pohl’s first experience of what it’s like to be in charge at a publication where direct democracy rules. In other words, she doesn’t have much say at the paper. Pohl was brought in four months ago to shift Taz a little further to the left. Many editors complained that Pohl’s urbane predecessor, Bascha Mika, had become more interested in going on talk shows than in taking part in the fight against nuclear power. 

Pohl, on the other hand, is not so interested in the spotlight. She has attended anti-nuclear and peace rallies in Mutlangen, the former site of a US military base in southwest Germany, was the women’s affairs representative at the University of Göttingen and has worked for various regional newspapers. Pohl balks at the idea of promoting herself as a public figure, something that seems to form part of the job of an editor-in-chief today. She seems somewhat outclassed in the dispute with Diekmann. 

Sympathy for the Devil 

Diekmann, on the other hand, comes across as if he has been preparing for his job as Bild editor-in-chief his whole life. When he was only 14, he held a microphone up to the face of his idol, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Today Kohl is practically part of the family; Kohl was Diekmann’s best man at his wedding in 2002, and Diekmann returned the favor when Kohl married for a second time in 2008. 

By the age of 36, Diekmann had made it to the top at Bild. Since then he has assembled a small team around him. They run a blog together with Diekmann, where he also sells hot pants imprinted with the inscription “I Heart KD” and shoulder bags with the inscription “Sympathy for the Devil.” 

Six months ago, Diekmann — in complete seriousness, of course — joined the Taz cooperative, which owns the newspaper and currently has over 8,900 members. “We wanted to reach the target of 9,000 cooperative members by the end of the year,” Diekmann told SPIEGEL. “We are currently being forced to abandon this goal,” he said, adding, in a reference to the artist who created the penis sculpture, “I’m afraid the Lenk campaign is backfiring. That’s something we need to talk about.” 

In 2003, he was even guest editor for one issue of the Taz, which garnered record circulation figures. But now many at the Taz have the feeling that they made a pact with the devil at the time. 

Meanwhile, the sculpture will stay up for another two years — at least. Peter Lenk, the artist, has cited a verbal agreement with Kalle Ruch, the managing director of the Taz. “If anyone touches it before then,” says Lenk, “it’ll cost them €130,000 — and that would be a special price because we’re friends.” 

Folk Hero 

Lenk is sitting in the kitchen of his house on Lake Constance. He worked on the piece for one year, and at the end, when he had accumulated material costs of close to €28,000, he even hocked his sailboat. His bawdy satirical pieces have made Lenk a folk hero on Lake Constance. 

Last year, he installed a triptych depicting an orgy in front of the city hall in the southwestern city of Ludwigshafen. In the piece, a naked Chancellor Angela Merkel is grabbing former Bavarian governor Edmund Stoiber’s genitals, while former Volkswagen works council member Klaus Volkert gropes Brazilian whores — a reference to a much-publicized scandal at the carmaker. The piece attracted such large crowds that the city administration collected €6,000 in fines for illegally parked cars in the first eight weeks alone. The city has since installed a small viewing area with benches in front of the sculpture. 

Lenk is an anarchically minded left-winger of the old school. He attended demonstrations in Stuttgart where he would shout obscene slogans. He was later fired from his job as a teacher because he was allowing his students to give themselves grades. Lenk has been a sculptor since then. 

With his populist art, Lenk is a kind of Kai Diekmann of the Lake Constance art scene. But this isn’t enough for him anymore. Now he wants to make his mark in Berlin. 

“The ball is on the penalty spot, ready to be kicked straight into the executive floor of the the Springer building,” says Lenk. “Right under the nose of those people who are obsessed with schadenfreude and tawdry sex.” 

Ines Pohl, says Lenk, wants to turn the Taz into a serious newspaper. “But me,” says Lenk defiantly, “I’m not serious.” 

Diekmann seems to believe that the outcome of the culture war has already been decided — in his favor, of course. For this reason, he has invited the Taz staff to attend a party to bury the hatchet, with free beer courtesy of Bild. 

The thought alone turns the stomach of Taz old hand and blog manager Mathias Bröckers. “We’ve always had better parties,” says Bröckers. “Now we’ve got this pecker hanging on the wall for the next two years.” After it comes down, he says, there will still be time to make up with the people at Bild. 


Full article and photos: http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,664926,00.html

Google allows publishers to limit free content

Google Inc. is allowing publishers of paid content to limit the number of free news articles accessed by people using its Internet search engine, a concession to an increasingly disgruntled media industry.

There has been mounting criticism of Google’s practices from media publishers – most notably News Corp. chairman and chief executive Rupert Murdoch – that argue the company is profiting from online news pages.

In an official blog posted late Tuesday, Josh Cohen, Google’s senior business product manager, said the company had updated its so-called First Click Free program so publishers can limit users to viewing no more than five articles a day without registering or subscribing.

Previously, each click from a user of Google’s search engine would be treated as free.

“If you’re a Google user, this means that you may start to see a registration page after you’ve clicked through to more than five articles on the website of a publisher using First Click Free in a day … while allowing publishers to focus on potential subscribers who are accessing a lot of their content on a regular basis,” Cohen wrote in the post.

Murdoch on Tuesday told a Washington D.C. conference that media companies should charge for content and stop news aggregators like Google from “feeding off the hard-earned efforts and investments of others.”

News Corp. already charges for online access to The Wall Street Journal and it plans to expand that to other publications, including British newspapers The Sun and The Times.

A fundamental problem facing the media industry, Murdoch told the U.S. Federal Trade Commission workshop, is that “technology makes it cheap and easy to distribute news for anyone with Internet access, but producing journalism is expensive.”

“Right now there is a huge gap in costs,” he added, referring to news compilation sites like Google.

Cohen stressed that publishers and Google could coexist, with the former able to charge for their content and still make it available via Google under the revamped click program.

“The two aren’t mutually exclusive,” Cohen said on the blog.

“After all, whether you’re offering your content for free or selling it, it’s crucial that people find it,” he added. “Google can help with that.”

Cohen said that Google will also begin crawling, indexing and treating as “free” any preview pages – usually the headline and first few paragraphs of a story – from subscription Web sites.

People using Google would then see the same content that would be shown free to a user of the media site and the stories labelled as “subscription” in Google News.

“The ranking of these articles will be subject to the same criteria as all sites in Google, whether paid or free,” Cohen said. “Paid content may not do as well as free options, but that is not a decision we make based on whether or not it’s free. It’s simply based on the popularity of the content with users and other sites that link to it.”


Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/02/AR2009120200677.html

The Fall and Rise of Media

Historically, young women and men who sought to thrive in publishing made their way to Manhattan. Once there, they were told, they would work in marginal jobs for indifferent bosses doing mundane tasks and then one day, if they did all of that without whimper or complaint, they would magically be granted access to a gilded community, the large heaving engine of books, magazines and newspapers.

Beyond that, all it took to find a place to stand on a very crowded island, as E. B. White suggested, was a willingness to be lucky. Once inside that velvet rope, they would find the escalator that would take them through the various tiers of the business and eventually, they would be the ones deciding who would be allowed to come in.

As even casual readers of media news know, those assumptions now sound precious, preposterous even. Calvinistic ideals are no match for macromedia economics that have vaporized significant components of the business model that drives traditional publishing.

The most popular books of the holiday season have become cat toys in a price war between online and offline retailers. Newspapers still hang onto a portion of seasonal ads, but the retail chains that place them have consolidated into a much smaller cohort, and much of their spending is bifurcated between old and new media marketing. Magazines intended to help the reader primp for Christmas parties are, in many cases, half as big as they were just a few short years ago.

Pages are down, spending is down, revenues are down, and the biggest feature of this holiday season in the media kingdom has been layoffs and buyouts at Condé Nast, Time Inc., The Associated Press, and yes, The New York Times.

(And it’s not just Manhattan-centric endeavors. Published ambition has been diminished by new realities elsewhere, most recently in the announced closing of The Washington Post’s remaining domestic bureaus. Last week, in an interview with Howard Kurtz, the executive editor, Marcus Brauchli, said it plainly: “We are not a national news organization of record serving a general audience.” Yeow.)

That feeling of age, of a coming sunset, is tough to avoid in all corners of traditional publishing. Earlier in November, the New York comptroller said that employment in communications in New York had lost 60,000 jobs since 2000, a year when the media industry here seemed at the height of its powers.

I arrived in New York that same year as part of Inside.com, a digital news site conceived to cover a media space that was converging and morphing into something wholly new. The site covered the mainstream media’s efforts to come to grips with new realities and efforts by new players to cash in on emerging technology.

Few of us could have conceived that in the next decade some of the reigning titans of media would be routed. Profligate dot-com ad money that had fattened print went away in a digital wipeout, and when digital media came back, it was to dine on the mainstream media rather than engorge it. After 2000, jobs in traditional media industries declined at a rate of about 2.5 percent annually and then went into a dive in 2008 or so. (Inside.com, an idea before its time — hey, let’s charge for high-quality, business-oriented content — disappeared after about 18 months.)

That carnage has left behind an island of misfit toys, trains whose cabooses have square wheels and bird fish who are trying to swim in thin air. The skills that once commanded $4 for every shiny word are far less valuable at a time when the supply of both editorial and advertising content more or less doubles every year.

Where do all the burgeoning pixels come from? Everywhere, and cheap at that. An outfit called Demand Media now tests headlines for reader salience and cranks out thousands of articles and videos daily that it pays about $20 apiece for.

Web crawlers grab expensive content and replicate it far away from the organizations that produce it. Various media labs are now testing algorithms that assemble facts into narratives that deliver information, no writers required. The results would not be mistaken for literary journalism, but on the Web, pretty good — or even not terrible — is often good enough.

For those of us who work in Manhattan media, it means that a life of occasional excess and prerogative has been replaced by a drum beat of goodbye speeches with sheet cakes and cheap sparkling wine. It’s a wan reminder that all reigns are temporary, that the court of self-appointed media royalty was serving at the pleasure of an advertising economy that itself was built on inefficiency and excess. Google fixed that.

Certain stalwart brands will survive and even thrive because of a new scarcity of quality content for niche audiences that demand more than generic information. The chip that was implanted in me when I arrived at this newspaper — you might call it New York Times Exceptionalism — leads me to conclude that this organization will be one of those, but the insurgency continues apace.

Those of us who covered media were told for years that the sky was falling, and nothing happened. And then it did. Great big chunks of the sky gave way and magazines tumbled — Gourmet!? — that seemed as if they were as solid as the skyline itself. But to those of us who were here back in September of 2001, we learned that even the edifice of Manhattan itself is subject to perforation and endless loss.

So what do we get instead? The future, which is not a bad deal if you ignore all the collateral gore. Young men and women are still coming here to remake the world, they just won’t be stopping by the human resources department of Condé Nast to begin their ascent.

For every kid that I bump into who is wandering the media industry looking for an entrance that closed some time ago, I come across another who is a bundle of ideas, energy and technological mastery. The next wave is not just knocking on doors, but seeking to knock them down.

Somewhere down in the Flatiron, out in Brooklyn, over in Queens or up in Harlem, cabals of bright young things are watching all the disruption with more than an academic interest. Their tiny netbooks and iPhones, which serve as portals to the cloud, contain more informational firepower than entire newsrooms possessed just two decades ago. And they are ginning content from their audiences in the form of social media or finding ways of making ambient information more useful. They are jaded in the way youth requires, but have the confidence that is a gift of their age as well.

For them, New York is not an island sinking, but one that is rising on a fresh, ferocious wave.

David Carr, New York Times


Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/30/business/media/30carr.html

Journalism’s slow, sad death

Like the nearby Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the Newseum — Washington’s museum dedicated to journalism — displays dinosaurs. On a long wall near the entrance, the front pages of newspapers from around the country are electronically posted each morning — the artifacts of a declining industry. Inside, the high-tech exhibits are nostalgic for a lower-tech time when banner headlines and network news summarized the emotions and exposed the scandals of the nation. Lindbergh Lands Safely. One Small Step. Nixon Resigns. Cronkite removes his glasses to announce President Kennedy’s death at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time.

Behind a long rack of preserved, historic front pages, there is a kind of journalistic mausoleum, displaying the departed. The Ann Arbor News, closed July 23 after 174 years in print. The Rocky Mountain News, taken at age 150. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which passed quietly into the Internet.

What difference does this make? For many conservatives, the “mainstream media” is an epithet. Didn’t the Internet expose the lies of Dan Rather? Many on the left also shed few tears, preferring to consume their partisanship raw in the new media.

But a visit to the Newseum is a reminder that what is passing is not only a business but also a profession — the journalistic tradition of nonpartisan objectivity. Journalists, God knows, didn’t always live up to that tradition. But they generally accepted it, and they felt shamed when their biases or inaccuracies were exposed. The profession had rules about facts and sources and editors who enforced standards. At its best, the profession of journalism has involved a spirit of public service and adventure — reporting from a bomber during a raid in World War II, or exposing the suffering of Sudan or Appalachia, or rushing to the site of the World Trade Center moments after the buildings fell.

By these standards, the changes we see in the media are also a decline. Most cable news networks have forsaken objectivity entirely and produce little actual news, since makeup for guests is cheaper than reporting. Most Internet sites display an endless hunger to comment and little appetite for verification. Free markets, it turns out, often make poor fact-checkers, instead feeding the fantasies of conspiracy theorists from “birthers” to Sept. 11, 2001, “truthers.” Bloggers in repressive countries often show great courage, but few American bloggers have the resources or inclination to report from war zones, famines and genocides.

The democratization of the media — really its fragmentation — has encouraged ideological polarization. Princeton University professor Paul Starr traced this process recently in the Columbia Journalism Review. After the captive audience for network news was released by cable, many Americans did not turn to other sources of news. They turned to entertainment. The viewers who remained were more political and more partisan. “As Walter Cronkite prospered in the old environment,” says Starr, “Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann thrive in the new one. As the diminished public for journalism becomes more partisan, journalism itself is likely to shift further in that direction.”

Cable and the Internet now allow Americans, if they choose, to get their information entirely from sources that agree with them — sources that reinforce and exaggerate their political predispositions.

And the whole system is based on a kind of intellectual theft. Internet aggregators (who link to news they don’t produce) and bloggers would have little to collect or comment upon without the costly enterprise of newsgathering and investigative reporting. The old-media dinosaurs remain the basis for the entire media food chain. But newspapers are expected to provide their content free on the Internet. A recent poll found that 80 percent of Americans refuse to pay for Internet content. There is no economic model that will allow newspapers to keep producing content they don’t charge for, while Internet sites repackage and sell content they don’t pay to produce.

I dislike media bias as much as the next conservative. But I don’t believe that journalistic objectivity is a fraud. I was a journalist for a time, at a once-great, now-diminished newsmagazine. I’ve seen good men and women work according to a set of professional standards I respect — standards that serve the public. Professional journalism is not like the buggy-whip industry, outdated by economic progress, to be mourned but not missed. This profession has a social value that is currently not reflected in its market value.

What is to be done? A lot of good people are working on it. But if you currently have newsprint on your hands, thank you.

Michael Gerson, Washington Post


Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/25/AR2009112503534.html

Wall Street’s Spin Game

Lloyd C. Blankfein, chief executive of Goldman Sachs, the bank to bash on a resurgent Wall Street, is receiving a lot of advice lately, and it’s not just about money.

Sitting before an audience of 300 at the Metropolitan Club of New York on Tuesday, he spoke with barely disguised disdain in his voice about the work of the image consultants, reputation experts and public relations advisors who are beating a path to his door, and to the doors of other Wall Street banks vilified for their profits and million-dollar bonuses at a time of continuing economic pain.

“Some people come in and say, ‘You are doing too much. Don’t say another word.’ Other people say we should get on the talk shows,” said Mr. Blankfein (as he was awarded the distinction of C.E.O. of the Year by a magazine for corporate directors.)

A few years ago, Wall Street would have cared less for such artifice — it was enough that the Masters of the Universe were wildly successful; their success spoke for itself. But politics and the bottom line have energized the relationship between these New York institutions of money and spin, as banks see the need to calm the rage directed toward them and confront a public relations problem that has seemed in recent weeks to be spiraling out of control.

Just last week, Goldman announced that it would spend $500 million to help thousands of small businesses recover from the recession. At the same time, Mr. Blankfein acknowledged that Goldman had made mistakes. “We participated in things that were clearly wrong and have reason to regret,” he said. ”We apologize.”

But is that enough? And, if it isn’t, what will be? Examples of the public’s anger at Wall Street are legion. Last month, a couple of thousand protesters marched on the American Bankers Association’s annual conference in Chicago brandishing cut-outs of bank C.E.O.s.

As the Chicago demonstration made clear, the image problems aren’t confined to Goldman and could have a cost. Wall Street banks are under regulatory pressure, and come election time, if unemployment is still above 10 percent and Wall Street is still paying itself big bonuses, lawmakers’ wrath might force broader pay curbs, tougher restrictions on what banks can do, or even a break up of the biggest banks.

They are already losing business because of their toxic reputations. One recent Goldman deal, for instance, to buy cheap assets from Fannie Mae, the hobbled mortgage lender, was blocked by the Treasury because it couldn’t be seen to be helping Wall Street benefit once again from the crisis. Critics say the negative media chatter is dragging on their share price.

Now, the main securities industry trade organization has hired Brunswick, a powerhouse public relations firm, to burnish the banks’ image, and banks are urging their staffs to cut down on conspicuous consumption and are canceling Christmas parties in an attempt to turn the reputational tide.

It is a tough brief, even for Manhattan’s skilled public relations industry. Last week, New York State’s comptroller reported that Wall Street profits this year are on track to exceed the record set at the height of the credit bubble. So what to do? Here are some suggestions about making the unloved Masters of the Universe loveable again.

Be humble: Apologize and say thank you.

The quickest way for the banks to redeem themselves could be to admit they played a role in the crisis and that their survival depended on taxpayer money.

FACE IN THE CROWD A mock wanted poster of Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of Goldman Sachs, sits during a union rally outside the firm’s offices in Washington.

Several public relations executives pointed to John J. Mack, Morgan Stanley’s chief executive, as an example of a banker wisely getting in front of the problem early. It was Mr. Mack who offered a full-throated mea culpa at a Congressional hearing last February for his bank’s role in fueling the crisis. “We are sorry for it,” he told lawmakers.

One public relations executive, who does not work for Mr. Mack and who asked not to be identified for fear it could hurt his relationships with other bankers, said: “They have done the best job of anybody of navigating the crisis.” Not every bank has been willing to apologize even though “maintaining otherwise manifestly contradicts the reality that most people see,” according to Stephen Davis, executive director at the Millstein Center for Corporate Governance and Performance at Yale University.

Goldman’s apology, for instance, was a grudging start but it may not be enough. “They should be taking advertisements, they should hold seminars, news conferences,” said Howard J. Rubenstein, president of Rubenstein Associates, who argues for a more effusive mea culpa. “This is a time for gratitude and attitude. One letter to the editor, one news conference, one speech does not make an image.”

Give Back Some Money.

Donating money to a worthwhile cause is another way of soothing public outrage.

But there is the risk that such a strategy will be seen as a transparent ploy to buy off public opinion. Goldman’s donation was only about 3 percent of the $16.7 billion the bank has so far set aside this year for its bonus pool. The bankers may have to give up more yet — and not only by writing a check.

“They need to give back and make a real impact — public education, health care, after school programs,” Mr. Rubenstein said. “These guys have brilliant staff. They should make it mandatory for their people to do voluntary work big time.”

Show you create real products that benefit people.

The crisis revealed what some people had long suspected: that quite a lot of the whiz-bang financial engineering that Wall Street relied on for profits was worthless.

According to Richard Edelman, a leading New York public relations executive, one of the best things Wall Street could do now is clearly “explain how you make your money and why your business model makes sense for a stakeholder society.”

If they can demonstrate in vivid terms the real role they play in the economy — by helping companies borrow money to grow and create jobs, for example — they might also justify their profits and pay.

Says Travis Larson of Financial Dynamics in Washington: “It is clear how sports stars are judged, and everyone knows how Bill Gates makes his money because you can see the software. Investment banks need a new metric for success.”

Cut Pay.

Even then, the most likely way to win back sympathy may be to do what the Masters of the Universe would probably hate the most, which is pay themselves less.

At the moment, that doesn’t appear likely. Six of the top American bank holding companies set aside $112 billion for salaries and bonuses in the first nine months, according to New York’s comptroller. If profits continue, bonuses could exceed the $162 billion paid in 2007 — the year before the financial crisis hit stock markets. The banks are Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo.

Still, some banks are making changes to the way they pay their employees. Credit Suisse, the big Swiss bank, intends to tie bonuses to a specific financial measure and effectively claw back payouts if the bank’s fortunes dim. But the move will not necessarily reduce compensation there.

Forget about it — it will go away.

In the end, though, should banks really care? Maybe the current storm will indeed blow over.

Even so, bad reputations can potentially have real costs. The beating in the court of public opinion demoralizes staff, distracts senior executives and can hurt a bank’s ability to hire.

Franz Paasche, a reputations specialist at Communications Consulting Worldwide in New York, argues that a bad reputation can also harm a company’s ability to fight for what it wants in Washington.

“Reputation has value and strong reputations create permissions to grow and prosper,” he said. As Wall Street banks’ reputations sink, “they are losing the more active seat at the table in discussions about policy.”

If the government did take wider measures against the banks, it would leave a very different Wall Street. There would be less swagger to those Masters of the Universe. But perhaps only then would the rest of us finally be able to love them.

Graham Bowley, New York Times


Full article and photos: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/weekinreview/22bowley.html

Microsoft and News Corp eye web pact

Microsoft has had discussions with News Corp over a plan that would involve the media company being paid to “de-index” its news websites from Google, setting the scene for a search engine battle that could offer a ray of light to the newspaper industry.

The impetus for the discussions came from News Corp, owner of newspapers ranging from the Wall Street Journal of the US to The Sun of the UK, said a person familiar with the situation, who warned that talks were at an early stage.

However, the Financial Times has learnt that Microsoft has also approached other big online publishers to persuade them to remove their sites from Google’s search engine.

News Corp and Microsoft, which owns the rival Bing search engine, declined to comment.

One website publisher approached by Microsoft said that the plan “puts enormous value on content if search engines are prepared to pay us to index with them”.

Microsoft’s interest is being interpreted as a direct assault on Google because it puts pressure on the search engine to start paying for content.

“This is all about Microsoft hurting Google’s margins,” said the web publisher who is familiar with the plan.

But the biggest beneficiary of the tussle could be the newspaper industry, which has yet to construct a reliable online business model that adequately replaces declining print and advertising revenues.

In a possible sign of negotiations to come, Google last week played down the importance of newspaper content.

Matt Brittin, Google’s UK director, told a Society of Editors conference that Google did not need news content to survive. “Economically it’s not a big part of how we generate revenue,” he said.

News Corp has been exploring online payment models for its newspapers and has taken an increasingly hard line against Google.

Rupert Murdoch, News Corp chairman, has said that he would use legal methods to prevent Google “stealing stories” published in his papers.

Microsoft is desperate to catch Google in search and, after five years and hundreds of millions of dollars of losses, Bing, launched in June, marks its most ambitious attempt yet.

Steve Ballmer, chief executive of Microsoft, has said that the company is prepared to spend heavily for many years to make Bing a serious rival to Google.

Microsoft has sought to differentiate Bing by drawing in material not found elsewhere, though it has not demanded exclusivity from content partners. Bing accounted for 9.9 per cent of searches in the US in October, up from 8.4 per cent at its launch, according to ComScore.

James Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp Europe and Asia, hinted last week that the company was making progress with its online plans. “We think that there’s a very exciting marketplace, potentially a wholesale market place for digital journalism that we’ll be developing,” he said.


Full article: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a243c8b2-d79b-11de-b578-00144feabdc0.html

The Great Chinese Media Offensive

China’s image in the world hasn’t been the best lately. Now, Beijing is pumping billions of dollars into a global media campaign in an effort to reverse that trend. Chinese television may be coming soon to a TV near you.

Much of the state-run media in China are far from independent and come across with a corresponding degree of implausibility.

China’s answer to Larry King wears a suit and tie instead of suspenders. His fame hasn’t yet spread quite as far as the renowned CNN television host, but Yang Rui, 46, has come far in his long march through the media world. Beijing now wants to engage his help to break the media dominance of Western TV and to realign global opinion with its own.

It’s still early in the morning at the television center in Beijing, and, since Yang doesn’t host his “Dialogue” program until the evening, the star of CCTV-9, the English language channel at China’s state-controlled television network, has time to talk about his mission.

Yang says he wants to “enhance China’s prestige in the world.” The outside world, he complains, repeatedly criticizes China — especially Western media that are obsessed with the sensational. He says Western journalists prefer listening to separatists who oppose Beijing rather than reporting the accomplishments of China’s communist leadership in an “objective and balanced” way.

He speaks in a gentle, friendly manner — in the precise English he learned as a student in Great Britain. Here too, outside the studio, he remains the consummate gentleman, never rising into the shrill tones favored by many a government spokesperson.

The Battle for Global Opinion

Yang embodies China’s new ambitions. As Asia’s leading power, China wants to become a global media player — one focused above all on maintaining its own image. After the rebellion in Tibet last year and the public relations disaster surrounding the Olympic torch, Beijing recognized that it was no longer possible to retain control over its enormous empire only with police-state tactics directed at its own population.

Rather, the country’s leadership decided, China needs to assert itself to the outside world — and it believes that is best done with the help of a controlled media apparatus. And Beijing is fighting the battle for global opinion on three fronts:

  • the Internet, brutally monitored domestically but also used to broadcast CCTV-9 worldwide;
  • new English-language editions of party newspapers, intended to enhance China’s reputation in the rest of the world;
  • the global development and acquisition of television networks.

Several TV networks already compete to deliver China’s patriotic news to the world. The government’s official press agency, Xinhua, supplies around 50 foreign media services such as Reuters and CNN with television news in English. This summer, several months earlier than planned, CCTV launched an Arabic language network for 22 countries with a total of 300 million potential viewers. The project was rushed due to the unrest in Xinjiang, as China tried to shore up support among Muslims following the brutal oppression of Muslim Uighurs in the autonomous region.

English Language News Network

The state TV network also kicked off a Russian channel in September, with over 100 Chinese and 20 foreign employees. Spanish and French programming exists already, and a Portuguese language network is in the works. By late 2011, the media giant plans to include 10 global TV channels, including its own English language news network.

It is certainly not uncommon for Beijing to generate ambitious new plans, but the media offensive is being led by Hu Jintao, head of state and of the Communist Party, personally. Hu lamented last year, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the party organ People’s Daily, that the West is strong and China is weak when it comes to international public opinion. And that, he said, has to change. “The battles in the fields of news and opinion will become more fierce and complicated,” Hu predicted.

China does possess an important advantage over the West’s crisis-plagued media industry in the coming propaganda war — the Communist government’s coffers are full. Beijing reportedly plans to pump the equivalent of €4.4 billion ($6.5 billion) into its global media campaign.

In addition, advertising revenue is rising at a good pace despite the recession. The giant CCTV network, which has recently completed a gigantic new headquarters in Beijing designed by Dutch star architect Rem Koolhaas, brought in €350 million in advertising in just the first quarter of this year. That may not sound like much compared to Western revenues, but it’s 19 percent more than in the same period last year.

Degree of Implausibility

But despite the money, China faces high hurdles. Beijing’s greatest disadvantages are its lack of experience with Western tastes and, above all, its state-run media, which are far from independent and often come across with a corresponding degree of implausibility.

One notable exception was Caijing, a financial magazine that consistently tested governmental boundaries with its exposés of corruption and misdoings in the business world. Last week, however, magazine founder and editor in chief Hu Shuli, 56, threw in the towel in the wake of a grueling internal power struggle.

More than journalistic skills, Beijing expects allegiance from its media representatives. “We must strengthen the party’s leading role in radio, film, and television,” declares Wang Taihua, director of the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television. When CNN or BBC broadcast images critical of China, Beijing simply switches monitors to black.

Even within the country, the government station CCTV is often ridiculed for its crude propaganda. The evening news consists of a pair of stiff newscasters reading off party resolutions, which can go on for several minutes each. There is no advertising on the evening news, yet the program is interrupted twice — first to celebrate “pioneers of time” and then to remember “heroes and role models of the people.”

Higher-ups do allow the foreign language channels a little more latitude. Yang describes proudly how he invited two American professors onto his live program, where they argued against the death penalty. For Chinese standards, Yang showed a degree of courage. Nonetheless, he’s still worlds away from a critical journalist’s desire to provide the public with unbiased information.

On the Global Scene

More than anything, China’s leadership wants to see its successes as a nation recognized. The same impulse inspired its opening spectacle at the 2008 Summer Olympics, meant to impress TV viewers the world over. Now Beijing is drawing more Western professionals from the PR and media industries into its services, to present itself even more perfectly on the global scene.

One example of these partnerships is 5CTV, a television network founded in 2008 by the Chinese governmental information authority together with American investors and launched at a fancy party in Los Angeles. William M. Campbell, chief executive officer of the new network, declared, “Our goal will be to bring China to the world, and the world to China.”

Campbell, who headed Discovery Networks in the US until 2007, demonstrated how he plans to market China in an interview with Cai Wu, China’s culture minister and the powerful former head of the state’s Information Office. The American businessman placed his right hand submissively on his chest and asked the Chinese official “for some thoughts about 5CTV and for some advice I can share with our Western and American viewers.”

The United States, however, is at most a sideline for Chinese strategists. A much more important region is the Middle East. China depends on countries there as suppliers of raw materials, but also as allies in the United Nations, as Yang explains. Beijing risked alienating Arab Muslims with its harsh treatment of the Muslim Uighurs; al-Qaida even threatened attacks on China in response. As a result, the country is attempting to persuade Arab viewers to see the benefits of China’s policy on minorities.

Friendship Offensive

On its new program, Chinese newscasters speaking in Arabic deliver the latest from China and around the world, and elaborate historical documentaries that recall friendly ties between China and the Arab world, for example through the Silk Road.

Meanwhile, this friendship offensive is being complemented by the ventures of private businessmen such as Wang Weisheng. Wang acquired an entertainment network in Dubai more than three years ago, then expanded it into the financial channel Arab Asia Business TV (AABTV). Now he broadcasts around the clock with bilingual information about the Chinese economy aimed at Arab businesspeople.

Gao Du, 36, head of AABTV, receives visitors in his TV studio in Hangzhou, not far from Shanghai. “We produce around 60 percent of our programming in China and the rest in Dubai,” he explains. Next up is expansion into Europe and India. “We’re thinking globally,” he says.

Then there’s Ye Maoxi, a media manager and real estate tycoon from Wenzhou in eastern China, who recently acquired the British satellite channel Propeller TV. Traveling in Europe this spring with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, Ye learned of the channel’s financial problems and decided to buy it.

‘They Have Hollywood’

Attacking separately, then triumphing collectively — in the end this may just be the formula that allows China’s new media giants to take over the world. Yang Rui, the TV anchor, comments, “when the United States wants to keep our country from advancement, they mobilize their private NGOs and criticize us on human rights and democracy. So why shouldn’t our private businesspeople act on China’s behalf?”

Yang is proud of what his country has achieved, and remembers clearly why he decided to become a journalist 26 years ago. He was studying in Shanghai at the time, when an official from the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television came to recruit new talent. “She told us that foreigners imagine people with braids and bound feet when they think of us Chinese.” Yang was shocked.

Now, he himself is the one presenting foreigners with a politically correct image of China. But he knows he can never quite measure up to the real Larry King at CNN. “He can get every star guest,” Yang says. “After all, he knows them all.” And the US has another advantage China will never be able to compete with: “They have Hollywood.”


Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,661759,00.html