Writing on Reuters, Felix Salmon has a good postmortem on the demise of the Daily, Rupert Murdoch's iPad-only, $30,000,000 subscription-based newspaper, which folded yesterday. Among other things, he writes about print media's enthusiasm for iPads, and the inability of closed ecosystems to out-iterate the open Web:
When the iPad was first announced, there were lots of dreams about what it could achieve, and how rich its content could be. But in hindsight, it’s notable how many of the dreamers came from the world of print. Web people tended to be much less excited about the iPad than print people were, maybe because they knew they already had something better. The web, for instance, doesn’t need to traffic in discrete “issues” — if you subscribe to the New York Times, you can read any story you like, going back decades. Whereas if you subscribe to a publication on a tablet, you can read only one issue at a time...
Similarly, when the iPad launched, it allowed people to do things they could never do with a print publication: watch videos, say. But at the same time the experience was still inferior to what you could get on the web, which iterates and improves incrementally every day. The iPad then stayed still — the technology behind iPad publications is basically the same as it was two years ago — even as the web, in its manner, predictably got better and better.
I was skeptical of the iPad for this reason from the start:
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I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who'll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff.
When I first moved to the UK, I thought I understood why people hated the Daily Mail: it's a shitty, sensationalist tabloid, right? What I failed to understand, in my naive, transatlantic way, was just how shitty a tabloid the Fail is.
Writing in The Spectator, Kirsty Walker describes the chilling effect the UK's Leveson Inquiry (which is investigating illegal phone/email interception and systematic harassment by UK papers, especially tabloids) is having on legitimate reporting. The UK is already the best place in the world for rich and powerful people who want to use libel law to silence unflattering accounts of their actions. But with Leveson heading for its conclusion and the spectre of official press regulation (through which the government would license reporters and news outlets, and could remove those licenses at will), reporters and their editors are under increasing pressure from the world's dictators and local plutocrats.
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Before the Leveson inquiry, I had received less than a dozen PCC complaints in my career and never had one upheld. But when I left, complaints were coming in at a rate of at least one a month. All required mini-investigations. Even foreign dictatorships know how to frighten Fleet Street. The last complaint I was asked to deal with was from a dictator, the King of Bahrain, who didn’t like the way I referred to criticism of his regime following the deaths of 40 people in anti-government protests.
Like 99.99 per cent of British journalists, I never hacked a phone or bribed a public official. During my long career in the House of Commons, I tried my utmost to be fair. If a story didn’t quite stack up, I would abandon it. A small handful of journalists did hire private investigators to do some horrific things, but there are laws in this country to deal with them.
The Village Voice received an improbable trademark over the use of "BEST OF" in connection with lists of the best things on offer in various cities, and now they're suing Yelp for creating their own "Best of" lists. This ridiculous suit is only possible because of the US Patent and Trademark Office's bungling, terrible methods, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Corynne McSherry writes, and will only be resolved when the USPTO cleans up its act:
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What is going on at the Patent and Trademark Office? For decades, folks have been complaining (with good reason) that the patent examiners need to do a better job of screening out bogus patent applications. It’s clear that the problem extends to the trademark side as well. The PTO has allowed companies and individuals to register marks in any number of obviously generic and/or descriptive terms, such as “urban homestead” (to refer to urban farms), “gaymer” (to refer to gay gamers), and “B-24” (to refer to model B-24 bombers).
Once a mark is registered, it is all too easy for the owner to become a trademark bully. And while companies like Yelp have the resources to fight back (as we expect it will), small companies and individuals may not. Just as dangerous, the trademark owner may go upstream, to intermediaries like Facebook who have little incentive to do anything other than take down an account or site that’s accused of infringement.
"Good enough for government work" isn't good enough for free speech. It’s time the PTO did its part to stop trademark bullies and tightened up the trademark application process.
Helen from the UK newspaper the New Statesman writes,
Today, the New Statesman is publishing an issue of the magazine guest-edited by the Chinese rebel artist Ai Weiwei.
In the issue, Ai interviews the "blind dissident" Chen Guangcheng about the forced abortions and sterilisations required to enforce the one-child policy. He also speaks to a member of the "50 Cent party" - China's "paid trolls", given half a dollar every time they derail an online conversation. There are also pieces by human rights lawyers, activists, film makers and artists - as well as Ai's 170,000 Twitter followers giving their thoughts on the future of China.
We're expecting the NS website to be banned in China - and deleted from search results - after doing this, so it's vital to get the issue out by other means. We've created a PDF version in Mandarin, and uploaded it to PirateBay, and other torrent sites. That way, people on VPNs in China, can get it, and pass it around. The page I'm sending has information on how to do that.
China wants to restrict its people from telling the truth about their lives. We hope the internet can set them free.
Taking on the "Great Firewall of China"
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An update from Rupert Murdoch's experiment in news publishing without search-engines: the oligarch has reversed his policy regarding the Times (which went paywall in 2009), and he will now allow Google and other search tools to index the first two sentences of each article. Of course, anyone who sees a Times article in her search results will not be able to read it, unless she pays for it, or unless she is among the 130,000-odd digital subscribers to the service. What's more, any page of search results displaying an unfollowable link to a Times story will also include a followable link to another story covering the same subject.
PaidContent says that this represents "the publisher [...] having to look in new places to maintain customer acquisition momentum." Back in 2010, I spent a week on the phone with a NewsCorp exec, digging into the company's paywall numbers, concluding that they were engaged in spin intended to obscure the truth of the outcome of their experiment. However, back then, the Times was boasting 200,000 paid users (though they wouldn't say how many paid £1 for a single day's access, how many got a subscription free with their mobile phone service, and how many were regular subscribers), and now that number has declined to 130,000. Take that for whatever it's worth.
Rupert Murdoch Admits Defeat: Now Wants London Times To Appear In Search Results
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Dan "Mediactive" Gillmor sends us his latest Guardian column, a thoughtful and fascinating manifesto for what the role newspaper ombudsmen could morph into, in order to maximize the relevance and centrality of newspapers and news organizations on the Internet:
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• Aggregate (quote and link to) every thoughtful critique of the organization's work that I could find, and invite readers to analyze and comment on those critiques. I would ask permission to crosspost some of these on the blog. When I thought a critic was wrong, I'd say so. I'd also note when they were, in my view, making fair points. I'd deal with disrespectful critiques on a case-by-case basis, recognizing that sometimes a nasty person can make a good point.
• Create a robust, open forum about the newspaper's work. This would most likely take the form of a traditional bulletin board system where readers could create their own topics, using moderation software that would minimize staff costs while still filtering out the worst trolls.
• Strongly encourage newsroom staff to participate in these conversations. The discussions would still work to some degree without the staff, but with them, the conversations would be vastly better. Of course, some newsroom folks – Nicholas Kristof is a prime example – are already engaging with readers in terrific ways; I'd point to those interactions. But my main goal here would be, whenever possible, to have the newsroom explain how it operates and why it does what it does. Serious journalism is hard work, and I don't think readers understand how hard.
Ridiculous subscription pricing policies
at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Be prepared to headdesk so many times that you dent your furniture and/or give yourself a concussion ... especially when you get to the spreadsheets. (Via Nieman Lab) Read the rest
Newspaper Club is a service in London that lets people publish super-limited-edition newspapers. They're always finding surprising and sweet niches for newspapers. One recent example is Steve Wilkin, an illustrator who rides the 7:38 train from Hebden Bridge to the University of Central Lancashire, where he teaches illustration. For ten years, he's been sketching the regulars on his train. Now, he's put out his own micro-newspaper, 738, containing a selection of those sketches, intended for the commuters he rides with every day.
For the past ten years he has been drawing people on his daily commute. A free newspaper gave him the inspiration to publish his sketchbooks in newspaper format. With funding from the contemporary arts development group (CADG) at the University of Central Lancashire he published 500 x 16-page traditionally-printed newspapers to give out to his fellow travellers.
738 – a journey in newsprint
(via Beyond the Beyond)
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Righthaven, the copyright troll that flamed out after a botched attempt to get rich by suing bloggers for quoting newspaper articles, has reached bottom. After having its domain seized and sold off to pay its legal bills, it is now faced with having to sell the copyrights to the aforesaid newspaper articles as well to offset more of its victims' expenses. David Kravets writes on Ars Technica:
U.S. District Judge Philip M. Pro of Nevada ordered Righthaven to surrender for auction the 278 copyrighted news articles that were the subject of its lawsuits.
"The copyright registrations to more than 275 works are in Righthaven’s name, can be transferred by this court, and can then be auctioned," the judge ruled. (.pdf)
The Righthaven.com domain was auctioned for $3,000 last year to help satisfy the legal bill the firm must pay to one of its defendants that prevailed in a copyright suit brought by Righthaven itself. The tab is more than $60,000 in the case before Judge Pro, and in total Righthaven owes about $200,000 to various defendants.
Judge orders failed copyright troll to forfeit "all" copyrights
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Outgoing New York Times CEO Janet Robinson received an exit package worth $23.7 million after presiding over an eight year tenure that saw the company's share price fall by 80 percent. The company's net earnings over the past four years were $3 million. In addition to her exit package, Robinson earned a $1 million annual salary. Edmund Lee for Bloomberg News:
Robinson gets pension and supplemental retirement income valued at $11.4 million, performance awards of $5.39 million, restricted stock units worth $1.07 million and stock options worth $694,164, according to the company’s proxy statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission today. She will also earn $4.5 million in consulting fees for this year.
Robinson’s exit, which costs Times Co. more than the company earned in the past four years, marks an end to a period during which the publisher’s sales and earnings slumped amid intensifying online competition. Times Co. (NYT) stock plunged more than 80 percent during Robinson’s tenure as CEO, which began in December 2004.
The departure of Robinson, 61, also leaves a leadership vacuum at Times Co., publisher of the namesake newspaper. The company, based in New York, faces falling print-advertising revenue, profit squeezed by pension costs, and pressure from members of the Ochs-Sulzberger family to restore a dividend once worth more than $20 million annually.
New York Times CEO Robinson’s Exit Compensation Package Tops $23 Million [Bloomberg News via Tech Dirt]
(Image: The New York Times building (new style), a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from scobleizer's photostream)
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As Doonesbury tackles mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds for women considering abortions, rumours abound that newspapers will drop or substitute the strip:
In the "Doonesbury" strip, a woman goes to a Texas clinic to have the procedure and is forced to get a sonogram, Roush said.
The cartoon ends with the woman going home to wait 24 hours before having the abortion, as the Texas law requires, Roush said. The woman is a new character in "Doonesbury," she said.
Editors from about a dozen newspapers have reached out to Universal Uclick with questions about the strip authored by Pulitzer Prize winner Garry Trudeau, with some newspapers asking about whether an alternate strip will be offered, Roush said.
"I would imagine that some will make that choice" not to run the abortion-related strip, Roush said.
Doonesbury Pulled Over Rick Perry’s Transvaginal Exams
(via The Mary Sue)
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The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Kurt Opsahl analyzes an important declaratory judgment from a Nevada federal court, which held that excerpting news articles in online postings was fair use.
Judge Roger Hunt’s judgment confirms that an online forum is not liable for its users’ posts, even if it was not protected by the safe harbors of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s notice and takedown provisions. The decision also clarifies that a common practice on the Internet – excerpting a few sentences and linking to interesting articles elsewhere – is a fair use, not an infringement of copyright.
The case is a remnant of the Righthaven copyright troll campaign, in which a newspaper owner and a lawyer formed a venture to get rich by shaking down websites. It's ended in bankruptcy, loss of investment, and an investigation from the Nevada bar.
Court Declares Newspaper Excerpt on Online Forum is a Non-Infringing Fair Use
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The Guardian published a long excerpt from Nick Cohen's forthcoming You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom, a fantastic-looking book that reveals the dirty truth of English libel law, where "money buys silence" for some of the world's most notorious dictators, thieves, and bad guys. English libel law is so broad that it allows, for example, Russian oligarchs to sue Russian newspapers for punitive sums ("the cost of libel actions in England and Wales is 140 times higher than the European average") in an English court, merely by demonstrating that someone, somewhere in England looked at the paper's website. And yet, the libel law in England and Wales doesn't actually protect people from the most common forms of libelous publication: false declarations of criminal suspicion by the police, false claims of financial irregularities from credit reporting bureaux and false statements in former employers' reference letters are protected unless they can be shown to have been malicious and negligent.
The book doesn't appear to have US distribution, but there are some importers selling it on Amazon's US site, too.
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In 2006, reporters on the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet decided to investigate the stunning rise of the Icelandic bank Kaupthing, which was buying assets across Denmark. How, they asked, had a bank from a volcanic island without the resources to support a huge and voracious financial sector become so powerful? The newsdesk decided they should concentrate on the links between the bank, Russian oligarchs and tax havens. Kaupthing was furious.
Clay Shirky rings in the new year with another barn-burning essay about the state of newspapers, first noting that a "porous" paywall that allows 20 free pageviews per month is a tacit admission that pretty much no one who visits the paper's site is a potential customer for the paper's product:
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To understand newspapers’ 15-year attachment to paywalls, you have to understand “Everyone must pay!” not just as an economic assertion, but as a cultural one. Though the journalists all knew readership would plummet if their paper dropped imported content like Dear Abby or the funny pages, they never really had to know just how few people were reading about the City Council or the water main break. Part of the appeal of paywalls, even in the face of their economic ineffectiveness, was preserving this sense that a coupon-clipper and a news junkie were both just customers, people whose motivations the paper could serve in general, without having to understand in particular.
The article threshold has often been discussed as if it was simply a new method of getting readers to pay, to which the reply has to be “Yes, except for most of them.” Calling article thresholds a “leaky” or “porous” paywall understates the enormity of the change; the metaphor of a leak suggests a mostly intact container that lets out a minority of its contents, but a paper that shares even two pages a month frees a majority of users from any fee at all. By the time the threshold is at 20 pages (a number fast becoming customary) a paper has given up on even trying to charge between 85% and 95% of its readers, and it will only convince a minority of that minority to pay.
A lawyer for victims of News of the World phone hacking told the court that long after NotW knew of the police investigation of its newsgathering process, it put reporters' laptops and hard-drives "through a grinder" and took them out and "smashed them up."
The destruction of the computers is understood to have taken place around October last year, prior to the launch of Operation Weeting, the London Metropolitan Police investigation into phone hacking which has led to the arrests of 16 journalists.
The shredding of hard drives would have happened long after senior executives were made aware that phone hacking had spread beyond a single "rogue" reporter.
Phone-tap tabloid's computers destroyed, court told
(via The Inquirer)
(Image: Responsible Hard-Drive Destruction - Let's Get Real)
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Students in the Florida Atlantic University J-school produced a newspaper using (mostly) pre-computer technologies, composing on manual typewriters, pasting up with X-Acto blades and rubber cement, shooting on film and developing in a darkroom:
While archeologists try to recreate what life was like 10,000 years ago, and historians try to recreate what life was like 1,000 years ago, journalists can’t even recreate how they published a newspaper 20 years ago. No one documented the details or saved the old equipment. (I had to buy some of it from creepy old men through Craigslist.)
HOW TO BUILD A NEWSROOM TIME MACHINE
Journalists may write history’s first draft, but when it comes to covering their own history, they don’t even take notes. I can imagine college students 20 years from now asking their aged adviser…
Your digital cameras didn’t just beam images to the cloud as you shot them? What’s a “memory card”? And you had different programs for writing, design, and photo editing? Does anyone still have “Word,” “InDesign,” and “Photoshop”? It’d be fun publishing an issue that way – maybe we can buy copies from some creepy old men on Craigslist.
(via Beyond the Beyond
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