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What news ombudsmen should do to make the news part of the Web, and vice-versa

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:

• 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. As I wrote in my most recent book, greater transparency in an honorable news organization will lead your audience to trust you more even if they may believe you less.

• Use the Sunday column mostly as a guide to (with highlights from) the online conversations.

There's more -- be sure and click through to read the whole thing.

A manifesto for the newspaper's public editor in the social media era (Thanks, Dan)

Act now! Special offer!

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) Maggie

Commuting illustrator draws his fellow riders, publishes a newspaper for them containing his sketches


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)

Copyright troll stripped of copyrights, which are to be sold to pay off its victims

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

Former NYT CEO paid $23.7M exit package; company netted $3M over the past 4 years


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)

Newspapers moot dropping Doonesbury during transvaginal ultrasound plot

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)

Fed court: quoting newspaper articles online is fair use

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

You Can't Read This Book, new book on the ugly truth of English libel law

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.

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. It was accustomed to receiving praise from the financial press for the entrepreneurial dynamism of its managers. It threatened to sue Ekstra Bladet in Copenhagen and at the same time filed a complaint with the Danish Press Council, which handled cases of breaches of press ethics.

The paper defended its journalism and the Danish Press Council rejected the bank's complaint. Kaupthing withdrew its Danish lawsuit and the argument seemed to be over until Ekstra Bladet's bewildered editors heard that the bank was now suing them in London. The costs were beyond anything they had experienced before. In Denmark, lawyers consider a libel action that costs £25,000 expensive. In London, lawyers for Kaupthing and Ekstra Bladet ran up costs of close to £1m before the case came to court. Ekstra Bladet could not run the risk of doubling, maybe trebling, the bill if it lost. It agreed to pay substantial damages to Kaupthing, cover its legal expenses and carry a formal apology on its website.

A few months later, Kaupthing, along with the other entrepreneurial, go-ahead Icelandic banks, collapsed. Iceland's GDP fell by 65%, one-third of the population said they were considering emigration and the British and Dutch governments demanded compensation equivalent to the output of the entire Icelandic economy for the lost deposits of their citizens in Kaupthing and other banks.

You Can't Read This Book: why libel tourists love London (via Naked Capitalism)

Porous paywalls are an admission that virtually no one wants to subscribe to newspapers

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:

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.

From there, Shirky moves into the paradox of 21st century journalism: the majority of papers are local, and local news is the one thing that civic minded people are likely to sustain, but local papers have all but abandoned local news:

Thresholds are now mostly being tried at big-city papers — New York, Chicago, Minneapolis. Most papers, however, are not the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Most papers are the Springfield Reporter, papers with a circulation 20,000 or less, and mostly made up of content bought from the Associated Press and United Media. These papers may not do well on the God Forbid index, because they produce so little original content, and they may not find thresholds financially viable, because the most engaged hundredth of their audience will number in the dozens, not the thousands.

On the other hand, local reporting is almost the only form of content for which the local paper is the sole source, so it’s also possible to imagine a virtuous circle for at least some small papers, where a civically-minded core of citizens step in to fund the paper in return for an increase in local coverage, both of politics and community matters. (It’s hard to overstate how vital community coverage is for small-town papers, which have typically been as much village well as town crier.)

Newspapers, Paywalls, and Core Users

News of the World shredded hard-drives, laptops

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)

Journalism school teaches students pre-digital newspaper production techniques

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.)

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.

HOW TO BUILD A NEWSROOM TIME MACHINE (via Beyond the Beyond)

Damning 2007 letter asserts that phone hacking was an open practice at News of the World


Clive Goodman, the News of the World royals reporter who resigned in disgrace, wrote a letter to News International's HR department four years ago asserting that the editorial staff of the NoTW knew about the phone hacking, that it was discussed at editorial meetings, and that Andy Coulson -- UK Prime Minister David Cameron's ex-media advisor -- was active in these discussions. It also calls into question Rupert and James Murdochs's testimony to Parliament that they hadn't been aware of the practice.
Goodman then claims that other members of staff at the News of the World were also hacking phones. Crucially, he adds: "This practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the editor." He reveals that the paper continued to consult him on stories even though they knew he was going to plead guilty to phone hacking and that the paper's then lawyer, Tom Crone, knew all the details of the case against him.

In a particularly embarrassing allegation, he adds: "Tom Crone and the editor promised on many occasions that I could come back to a job at the newspaper if I did not implicate the paper or any of its staff in my mitigation plea. I did not, and I expect the paper to honour its promise to me." In the event, Goodman lost his appeal. But the claim that the paper induced him to mislead the court is one that may cause further problems for News International.

Phone hacking: News of the World reporter's letter reveals cover-up (via Reddit)

Copyright troll handed ass (again), tries saddest trick ever to get out of paying its victim's legal bills

Everyone's favorite copyright troll Righthaven has once again had its ass handed to it. The company, which was spun out of a Nevada newspaper, sublicenses the right to sue people from copyright holders, then sends legal threats to bloggers and website owners who publish articles or images from newspapers, including short quotations or thumbnails. Judges keep telling Righthaven that this isn't legal -- there's no such thing as a sub-licensable right to sue -- but Righthaven keeps on keeping on.

This time, they sued a user on a sports-book message board, who pasted two complete op-eds into a sub-sub board on the system. Not only did the judge rule that this was fair use (an eye-popping precedent in its own right), but it also ruled that, as usual, Righthaven didn't have any business suing the poster because they didn't own the copyright.

Here's where it gets even sadder: Righthaven then argued that it shouldn't have to pay the defendants' attorney fees because it didn't have standing to sue, so the court didn't have standing to order it to pay. The judge laughed and laughed and laughed. And told them to cough up $34,045.50.

Defense attorney J. Malcolm DeVoy was furious. "Righthaven deserves some credit for taking this position, as it requires an amazing amount of chutzpah," he wrote to the judge. "Righthaven seeks a ruling holding that, as long as a plaintiff’s case is completely frivolous, then the court is deprived of the right to make the frivolously sued defendant whole, whereas a partially frivolous case might give rise to fee liability. Righthaven’s view, aside from being bizarre, does not even comport with the law surrounding prudential standing."

The judge agreed. In a terse order today, he decided that Hoehn had won the case (as the "prevailing party") and "the attorney’s fees and costs sought on his behalf are reasonable." Righthaven has until September 14 to cut a check for $34,045.50.

This is the second case in weeks in which Righthaven has to pay Devoy and the Randazza Legal Group he represents. The first time, Righthaven sent its $3,815 check to the wrong address.

Righthaven rocked, owes $34,000 after "fair use" loss

1968: when Britain's Daily Mirror tried to overthrow Parliament

Ben sez, "This Adam Curtis documentary (he posted the rough cut of his new one) is pretty incredible. It features the story of the head of the Daily Mirror in 1968, attempting to organize a coup of the British Parliament, partially by spreading financial panic rumors through his newspaper. He is abetted by the head of the Bank of England, and his psychic wife who convinces him that he has super powers.
Many in the Labour Party have believed ever since that Cecil King was conspiring with members of MI5 to destroy the democratically elected government, but there appears to be no hard evidence for this.

The truth is that King was in league with more familiar "rogue elements" - senior City of London bankers, including the Governor of the Bank of England, who wanted to force the Labour government to slash the financial deficit. But the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, was refusing to bow to their demands.

At the same time as this was happening, many of the journalists in Fleet Street were filled with a terrible doom about the future of newspapers. As a result the BBC got excited and went and made all sorts of films about newspapers - recording Fleet Street before it died. Some of the material they filmed is just wonderful - it is full of both touching and silly moments of an old world of journalism.

EVERY DAY IS LIKE SUNDAY (Thanks, Ben!)

Reading of Shirky's "Why We Need the New News Environment to be Chaotic"


My latest podcast is a reading of Clay Shirky's fabulous essay Why We Need the New News Environment to be Chaotic, previously blogged here. It's a beautifully argued piece about business models, social functions, and market dynamics as they pertain to news, and it was a lot of fun to read.
This system was never ideal—out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made—and long before Craig Newmark and Arianna Huffington began their reign of terror, Gannett and Scripps were pioneering debt-laden balance sheets, highly paid executives, and short-term profit-chasing. But even in their worst days, newspapers supported the minority of journalists reporting actual news, for the minority of citizens who cared. In return, the people who followed sports or celebrities, or clipped recipes and coupons, got to live in a town where the City Council was marginally less likely to be corrupt.

Writing about the Dallas Cowboys in order to take money from Ford and give it to the guy on the City Desk never made much sense, but at least it worked. Online, though, the economic and technological rationale for bundling weakens—no monopoly over local advertising, no daily allotment of space to fill, no one-size-fits-all delivery system. Newspapers, as a sheaf of unrelated content glued together with ads, aren’t just being threatened with unprofitability, but incoherence.

Podcast: Shirky’s Why We Need the New News Environment to be Chaotic

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(Image: [Virginia. Newspaper vendor and cart in camp] Date: c. 1863, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from oldeyankee's photostream)