What’s happening in hyperlocal…

Yesterday, the New York Times announced a collaboration with New York University to cover local news in the East Village.

NYT journalist Richard G Jones will edit the Local East Village site, developed by staff and faculty at the University’s Arthur L Carter Journalism Institute. The site will ‘live’ on nytimes.com.

The Times has already collaborated with another journalism school on a hyperlocal project in Brooklyn, it has a venture in Chicago and an upcoming Bay Area link-up in San Francisco.

Speaking about the most recent announcement, the Editor of Digital Initiatives at NYT, Jim Schachter, says:

We want to continue to expand our network of collaborations, in the New York area and across the country, through associations with individuals, companies and institutions that share our values — foremost, increasing the volume and scope of quality journalism about issues that matter.

The new East Village site is not the only recent development in local news.

AOL is expanding its local news venture patch.com. According to a report last week from Business Insider, the group is planning to grow the number of local news websites from 30 to ‘hundreds’.

Citing an internal communication with employees, Business Insider reports that AOL said it wants to be ‘the global and local leader in sourcing, creating, producing and delivering high quality content.’

Insider says:

Patch is already growing fast. It served just 12 communities in New Jersey and Connecticut as of October 2009, when it announced plans to expand to another 11. It currently covers about 30.

Insider also reports that AOL is out at events (recently in NYU) seeking to hire journalism grads.

Writing about the AOL news, GigaOM’s Matthew Ingram says if patch.com is a failure it will be the biggest blow to hyperlocal yet.

Across the Atlantic, guardian.co.uk took its first steps into the world of hyperlocal with its Leeds website. Sites for Edinburgh and Cardiff are on the way.

Journalism.co.uk says Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger told Twitter the move was a ‘tiny toe in local web water’.

On her blog, Director of Digital Content for Guardian News and Media, Emily Bell says:

A hugely important part of this project has been the involvement of MySociety, who we’ve collaborated with to provide customised versions of their civic tools, allowing and encouraging local residents to report issues, contact their representatives and generally become engaged in the governance and care of their locality. This is an important partnership for us because we share many of the same values with MySociety, and it has been very valuable to work with them on a project like this.

I think hyperlocal has a big future – I have thought that for a long time.

I find it bothersome, however, that it mostly, at least in the US, remains the preserve of citizen journalists, journalism students and recent grads. Aside from the person tasked with being the editor, it seems the big names or more established journalists tend to be missing.

How do organisations expect readers to take local news seriously if they are not throwing major muscle, including journalists, behind it.

Local news is important. After all it can have the most immediate impact on readers’ lives and could possibly drive them to other parts of a media organisation’s operation.


Foursquare – is it useful for journalists?

Journalism lecturer Jeremy Littau’s thoughts on Foursquare and how it might be used by journalists:

Foursquare is a platform full of journalistic potential because adding information to the record is what we do. Did a local business fail a health inspection recently? Right now we put that in the newspaper, which people are reading less, or on a Web site, where people don’t know how to find it among mountains of information. There is value in journalists adding news and verified information to the record (including links for more information) that would enhance a person’s knowledge and ability to experience (or avoid) a place.

Foursquare has been tipped as the next big thing in social media – so it’s worth getting acquainted with it.

Read the full post here

US government to examine direction of journalism

Via Nieman Journalism Lab

In the US, the Federal Communications Commission has issued a public notice today seeking comment on the ‘future of media and information needs of communities in a digital age’.

The objective of this review is to assess whether all Americans have access to vibrant, diverse sources of news and information that will enable them to enrich their lives, their communities and our democracy.
The Future of Media project will produce a report providing a clear, precise assessment of the current media landscape, analyze policy options and, as appropriate, make policy recommendations to the FCC, other government entities, and other parties.

It sets out its reasons for the undertaking – talking about worrying trends in the industry and quoting research from Pew and Columbia:

These trends could have dire consequences for our democracy and the health of communities, hindering citizens’ ability to hold their leaders and institutions accountable.

It says that while it is a time of difficulty for the industry there is also opportunity to be found and points to the benefits the digital age creates for newsgathering and the choice it offers consumers.

The FCC asks 42 questions under a number of headings including:

Newspapers and Magazines
Information Needs of Communities & Citizens
Business Models and Financial Trends
Commercial Broadcast TV and Radio Cable and Satellite
Noncommercial and Public Media
Internet and Mobile

Along with paper submissions, comments can be made to the FCC through a special website, which they are launching for the project: www.fcc.gov/futureofmedia

Even if you don’t intend to submit anything  the questions are worth a read.


Pay walls, strategy and content…

Yesterday’s New York Times’ announcement has solidified a few things in my head.

Here goes…

1. I need to get this one out of the way first, what type of long-term, strategic planning is going on in the New York Times Co that it got rid of NYT Select three years ago and the more than 220,000 subscribers that went with it only to introduce a new pay model now. I understand there are differences between the two models but it would have made for a nice customer base to start off with.

More importantly though, this indecisiveness about whether online content should or should not be paid for is becoming more confusing to the consumer by the day. This is not helping the industry in the long run.  It is good NYT has decided their content, be it in print or online, has value that should paid for, I just wish they had decided earlier and stuck to it. Trends in advertising, while of course important, should not be the determining factor as they may have been with the Select decision.

2. With that out of the way, I think it is good that it is not a straight pay wall. Although metering could just lead to reduced news consumption by NYT.com readers (and generally if this was to be replicated across the industry), I would rather have fewer readers and more revenue than the unsustainable position of lots of readers and no revenue.

3. Now is a time of survival for newspapers/organisations – they have to try and hang on – by whatever means necessary. Given the changes in the industry, there are clearly too many newspapers and the economics of content have changed. Those who manage to survive the next decade will emerge with less competition from established media organisations – giving them a privileged and potentially profitable position.

4. This is not a carte blanche to over-zealous, money counting publishers. You need to invest to get good content that is worthy of a pay wall. It should be something people have to read and value as the only reliable source in town. Good quality, well investigated and reported journalism that people can depend upon will be the scarce, but in-demand commodity.

Of course I am sure some of these arguments were heard back when TV news emerged and will be rolled out for any subsequent innovations but I strongly believe people have been placing too much emphasis on the platform as the commodity not the content. Spare it another thought.


The Skiff Reader – a saviour for newspapers?

The Guardian has a profile today of the Skiff electronic reader. The article says some of the world’s biggest newspaper groups are eyeing the device.

Gil Fuchsberg, the former journalist and new media deal-maker who has overseen Skiff from its origins as an R&D project within Hearst Corporation, argues that the time is right for magazines and newspapers to follow books, which are available on electronic readers such as Kindle. Fuchsberg says he looks forward to travelling on the tube in London surrounded by commuters reading touchscreen tablets.

Personally I don’t think Mr Fuchsberg is going to see that sight.

At one point I thought there might be a role for a device like this, but that was more than five years ago – when the digital media landscape was less developed. If people are going to consume news digitally they are going to do it on whatever mobile digital device they currently own (that also does video, audio and is in colour!) or on one they purchase that does everything else too – newspapers are not books – they can’t be treated in a similar way. People may pay for an e-reader for books because they are used to paying for them in the first place. Books have a different place in people’s lives. They won’t pay for a special device for newspapers because they are used to getting that for free (aside from connection charges).

The only market this device has is the group that still buys newspapers. Why re-invent the wheel for them – they already buy your device (a newspaper). The Skiff is about selling hardware not content. This is not the solution – newspapers steer clear!

Read All About It – some random links

Paid Content reports that Guardian News & Media sold 9,000 units of its guardian.co.uk iPhone app in its first two days. GNM is charging £2.39 in the UK.

Next up, in yet another bad day for newspapers, layoffs began yesterday at the New York Times, according to New York magazine, just over 70 people took buyouts but with a target number of 100 in editorial the remaining people were notified. On the flip side NYT was named best online newspaper by Mashable readers – they may not have much to read in a few years if staffers keep getting cut.

Finally, an interesting column by Rafe Needlemen over a Cnet. He has a subscription to WSJ online, which costs him $100 a year, but he is complaining that if he wants the iPhone app he will have to pay again albeit at a discounted rate. Would he expect to also get a copy of the paper edition for free too? Just because it’s another digital platform why should it be tossed in gratis?

The future of journalism more promising than ever – Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch is out and about again today in the Wall Street Journal with an opinion piece on the future of journalism.

While I may not agree with all he has to say in this piece, it is part of a much bigger debate that has kicked off about these issues – which is a very good thing.

The opinion piece is a version of what he presented recently to a Federal Trade Commission’s workshop on journalism and the Internet.

Some quick thoughts on what he says:

  • He blames the editors, the producers, bloggers even governments – but why not the media companies who started giving away news for free to begin with?
  • He is on the button when he says newspapers have prospered only because they provide the news that is important to the communities they serve:
  • That means covering the communities where they live, exposing government or business corruption, and standing up to the rich and powerful.

  • I disagree when he says organisations need to give the people the news they want. This idea can be taken too far.  You can serve a community well without pandering to it and there is a middle ground between producing news for prizes and only news people want:
  • 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.

  • He says customers are smart enough to know you don’t get something for nothing. Well this is what they’ve been getting for the past decade or so and are now complaining about losing – so I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Readers of the Wall Street Journal may be able to see the value of paying for the content of that publication (after-all it helps many of them make business decisions – so it’s a worthwhile investment), but will readers of the more-general publications like The Times or The Sun feel the same way?
  • He says he is open to different pay models, which seems wise considering the various types of publications and products in News Corp’s stable.
  • I am not so sure he is the best person to talk about competition particularly in an article in which he renews his calls to the FCC about cross-ownership.
  • 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.

Despite asserting that the future of journalism is more promising than ever – this is not the overall tone of this opinion piece.  In fact, it seems to me that even he is not sure of the future or maybe he’s just not ready to show his FULL hand.


Read All About It – some random links

Following the news that Jim VandeHei, co-founder of online and print-based publication Politico, has been elected to the Pulitzer Prize Board, a move it made to demonstrate its fondness for new media, Greg Marx at the Columbian Journalism Review asks if Politico really is new media. A good question considering 60% of Politicos’ income comes from small ads in its print edition. Read Marx’s article here

Next up, Robert Andrews at PaidContent has some interesting comments from Times Media’s digital development head Hector Arthur and News International’s strategy and product development director Dominic Young who are apparently ‘calm and relaxed’ about an impending paywall. Read here

Finally, I am sure it is no consolation to the employees who no longer have a job at McClatchy, but after earnings reports showed ‘improving trends’ the company has decided to end the wage freeze. However, more bad news made be around the corner as the group’s CEO did add that further cuts may be necessary next year. Read here


Google’s concedes to newspapers?

Has Murdoch managed to force Google’s hand?

Via the BBC website:

Newspaper publishers will now be able to set a limit on the number of free news articles people can read through Google, the company has announced.

The concession follows claims from some media companies that the search engine is profiting from online news pages.

Under the First Click Free programme, publishers can now prevent unrestricted access to subscription websites.

Read the full article from the BBC  here and get more views from Mashable here

More on this later