We do a mix of quick hit investigative work when events call for it and mini-projects that might run for a few days. But every year we like to put together a project way too ambitious for a paper our size because we dream that one day Walt Bogdanich will have to say: "I can't believe the Sarasota Whatever-Tribune cost me my 20th Pulitzer." As many of you already know, those kinds of projects can be hellish, soul-sucking, doubt-inducing affairs. But if you're the type of sicko who likes holing up in a tiny, closed office with reporters of questionable hygiene to build databases from scratch by hand-entering thousands of pages of documents to take on powerful people and institutions that wish you were dead, all for the glorious reward of having readers pick up the paper and glance at your potential prize-winning epic as they flip their way to the Jumble... well, if that sounds like journalism Heaven, then you're our kind of sicko.Sarasota Herald-Tribune (via Making Light)
For those unaware of Florida's reputation, it's arguably the best news state in the country and not just because of the great public records laws. We have all kinds of corruption, violence and scumbaggery. The 9/11 terrorists trained here. Bush read My Pet Goat here. Our elections are colossal clusterfucks. Our new governor once ran a health care company that got hit with a record fine because of rampant Medicare fraud. We have hurricanes, wildfires, tar balls, bedbugs, diseased citrus trees and an entire town overrun by giant roaches (only one of those things is made up). And we have Disney World and beaches, so bring the whole family.
Some background: the new NYT paywall allows for unlimited free article views for people following links from Twitter. The @FreeNYTimes feed created links to all the NYT stories, which meant that you could read the whole paper gratis, simply by following the feed (presumably, you could also create an index of Twitter URLs that corresponded to all the URLs on the Times's site, a kind of codex of free backdoors to the paper).
The NYT has many options to fight this sort of thing. They could program their firewall to restrict Twitter referers, or to simply block anything from the @FreeNYTimes account. Instead, the Times lodged an utterly bogus trademark complaint with Twitter -- bogus because trademark doesn't generically give you the right to stop people using your product or company's name; rather, it stops people from doing so deceptively. The Times's position effectively was that Times readers would mistake @FreeNYTimes for a big-hearted gesture from the Times itself, operated by the Times in order to defeat the Times's paywall. This is a stupid thing to assert.
It's also damaging to journalism: there are many trademark holders, from Sarah Palin to Dow Chemical, who'd love it if the NYT could only use their name with permission. There is no trademark confusion when the Times prints Sarah Palin's name; there is also no trademark confusion with @FreeNYTimes.
So now there's @FreeUnnamedNews, and there's no trademark basis to use to stop the account. The next step from the Times may well be to object on the basis "deep linking," and that is a doctrine that is nearly as damaging to journalism as the exotic trademark theory the Times has already advanced: for if plain true facts ("this page exists at this URL") are property, then the Times had better get its checkbook out, as there are plenty of true facts in every edition of the Times whose putative owners would love to get paid rent for them -- and there are plenty of true facts whose "owners" would love to deny to journalists altogether (think, for example, of the true facts surrounding political corruption). And, of course, in order to sue, the Times (whose reporters have gone to jail to protect their sources) will have to demand that Twitter turn over the personal identity of the FreeNYTimes/FreeUnnamedNews person.
On the other hand, the Times might just add more complexity (and more brittleness, expense, and false positives and negatives) to its paywall by instructing it to inspect Twitter referers in detail and reject those coming from @FreeUnnamedNews. Over time, the paper will compile quite an enemies list in this fashion, a long catalog of people who are not allowed to refer other people to NYT stories.
Commercially, this is not good. As I wrote before, the mental state that the Times paywall strives to evoke in its reader is "Hey, I'm getting so much value from this site, I think I'll sign up as a paying customer," not "Oh, those bullies at the Times have clobbered another programmer and this is the fifteenth time this month that it mistook me for a freeloader. Screw them!"
The Times's staff have tweeted that they are glad to have traffic from users who leap the paywall -- a visitor is a visitor -- and implied that I've mis-stated the nature of their strategy. However, this trademark theory, hostile to free speech and an open society, belies their bravado. The problem with the Times's paywall isn't (just) that it won't work -- it's that it will lead an institution whose mission is free speech, transparency and due process into a war with its readers that demands that it oppose these values to hold its ground against them.
- New York Times paywall: wishful thinking or just crazy? - Boing Boing
- Boing Boing: Report: NYT will soon kill TimesSelect online paywall
- NYTimes kills its paywall: "Google visitors make more dough than ...
- Shirky: Times paywall is pretty much like all the other paywalls ...
- Report: NYT will soon kill timesselect online paywall - Boing Boing
The New York Times just announced a new paywall that will let you see 20 articles a month and thereafter redirect you to a signup for paid access.Read the rest
Some anonymous genius has been postering my neighborhood in east London with satirical posters featuring headlines from the "Evening Standrd" (sic) (the Evening Standard is a ubiquitous London tabloid freesheet). So far, I've spotted four of them (along with this possibly related Daily Mail parody). I don't know who's behind it, but they've got my vote for God-Emperor of British Media.
- UK newspaper headlines of Sept 12, 2001 - Boing Boing
- Newspaper headlines of Obama election win, Nov. 5 2008 - Boing Boing
- Obama Inauguration Newspaper Headlines - Boing Boing
- Sensationalist London newspaper headline - Boing Boing
- London Evening Standard headline generator - Boing Boing
- Irish journalism's trenchant criticism of govt bailout plans ...
Dan “We, the Media” Gillmor’s latest book, Mediactive is a master-class in media literacy for the 21st century. Gillmor, a former star reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, serial entrepreneur, and journalism professor, has produced an extraordinary text that disrupts the current poor-me narrative of failing journalistic business models and counters it with a set of sensible, entrepreneurial proposals for an Internet era news-media that invites broad participation without surrendering critical thinking and healthy skepticism.Read the rest
Here's what the Times will say: about 50,000 of the current paid users are on a monthly subscription of some sort: £8.66, £1, or free with a TalkTalk subscription. They will not disclose how many £1 trial users turn into £8.66 users, or how many sustain their £8.66 subscription into the second or third month. However, the anonymous official spokesperson did say that whichever users are remaining after three months are more than 90% likely to stump up for a fourth month. From this, I think we can safely assume that lots less than 90% of paid users stick around for a second month, and of those, less than 90% sustain themselves for a fourth month.News Corp Kremlinology: what do the Times paywall numbers mean?
But the Times isn't saying.
The remaining 50,000, of course, are people who paid £1 for a single day's access. Some number of these converted to monthly subscribers.
Some number bought a second article. How many? The Times isn't saying.
So, best case: there are 50,000 paid subscribers, all of whom got there by paying £1 for an article, converted immediately to £1 monthly subscriptions and now pay £8.66 every month (or £9.99 in the case of iPad users who want to pay extra for the privilege of not being allowed to access the website).
Worst case: 50,000 people tried a day pass and left. 20,000 TalkTalk subscribers got a free subscription with their phone which they may or may not know or care about. 5,000 people use it with an iPad.
75,000 people tried a £1 month trial. 40,000 of them signed up for a second month, 30,000 of them for a third, and 25,000 stayed on for a fourth month.
The classic description of a commodity market uses milk. If you own the only cow for 50 miles, you can charge usurious rates, because no one can undercut you. If you own only one of a hundred such cows, though, then everyone can undercut you, so you can't charge such rates. In a competitive environment like that, milk becomes a commodity, something whose price is set by the market as a whole.The Times' Paywall and Newsletter Economics
Owning a newspaper used to be like owning the only cow, especially for regional papers. Even in urban markets, there was enough segmentation-the business paper, the tabloid, the alternative weekly-and high enough costs to keep competition at bay. No longer.
The internet commodifies the business of newspapers. Newspapers compete with other newspapers, but newspaper websites compete with other websites. As Nicholas Carr pointed out during the 2009 pirate kidnapping, Google News found 11,264 different sources for the story, all equally accessible.* The web puts newspapers in competition with radio and TV stations, magazines, and new entrants, both professional and amateur. It is the war of each against all.
None of this is new. The potential disruptive effects of the internet on newspapers have been observable since ClariNet in 1989.* Nor has the business case for paywalls changed. The advantage of paywalls is that they raise revenue from users. The disadvantages are that they reduce readership, increase customer acquistion and retention costs, and eliminate ad revenue from user-forwarded content. In most cases, the disadvantages have outweighed the advantages.
- Times Online claims 200K paid users: but where's the detailed ...
- Financial Times chief sees paywalls as 'morally' necessary to ...
- Regwall cuts The Times's online readership in half
- Winds howl over the deserted moonscape behind Rupert Murdoch's UK ...
- NYTimes kills its paywall: "Google visitors make more dough than ...
- Local newspaper boasts ultimate passive-aggressive paywall policy ...
- Report: NYT will soon kill TimesSelect online paywall
- Nytimes.com to start charging for some site access: your thoughts ...
Kim Rugg is a Canadian visual artist with a very sharp knife and a lot of patience and glue: she newspapers, stamps and other paper ephemera up, letter by letter, and makes does delightful and demented art like newspapers in which all the type has been rearranged in alphabetical order. The work is a beautiful and provocative commentary on the form and content of print media.
The wider implications of this emptiness are only just starting to become clear. A Murdoch and Fleet Street veteran with whom I've been corresponding about the paywall reported to me on his recent conversation with an A-list entertainment publicist: "What was really interesting to me was that this person volunteered a blinding realization. 'Why would I get any of my clients to talk to the Times or the Sunday Times if they are behind a paywall? Who can see it? I can't even share a link and they aren't on search. It's as though their writers don't exist anymore...'"What's Really Going on Behind Murdoch's Paywall? (via /.)
(Image: Desert Moon Rising, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from joshsommers's photostream)
- Notes from a news-site paywall attempt
- Rupert Murdoch vows to take all of Newscorp's websites out of ...
- Regwall cuts The Times's online readership in half
- Shirky: What "people must pay for content" really means
- Hypothetical peek into the feverish mind of Rupert Murdoch - Boing ...
- Why paywalls won't help most big newspapers
Berlusconi tries law prohibiting reporting on corruption investigation; Italy's press refuses to report any news in protest
Berlusconi's notoriously corrupt government has been the subject of numerous scandalous investigations, and the media oligarch previously passed legislation prohibiting the courts from prosecuting him while he was in office (this law was struck down by the courts, prompting Berlusconi to denounce his country's judiciary).
The media would only be able to publish a summary of the findings of an investigation after it had ended. While that may be no more onerous a restriction than applies in Britain, the editor of Italy's biggest-selling daily, Corriere della Sera, Ferruccio de Bortoli, argues it is "a bill tailor-made to shield members of the government from unwelcome investigation".Silvio Berlusconi's 'gag law' sparks media strike in Italy
He added: "If this were a normal country, and there were not these interested attempts to make the work of the prosecutors more difficult, we would be readier to countenance a measure to protect the privacy of individuals."
- Berlusconi declares war on the press
- Jasmina Tešanović: Report from anti-Berlusconi demonstration in ...
- Berlusconi used Hollywood studios for money laundering
- Berlusconi's immunity-for-me law overturned
- Jasmina Tešanović: Violence in Milan
- Italian bloggers call for support from around the world to fight ...
- Italy's premier Berlusconi SMS-spams voters' mobile ...
One problem: the AP has previously told bloggers that quotations -- however brief -- should be licensed before publication. They even offer these licenses. For a small fee, AP will generously allow you to quote one of its articles on your blog (provided that you don't do so in a way that criticizes the AP, of course, and they reserve the right to take the quote back at any time).
So W00t! sent the AP a bill for $17.50 for the quotation:
The AP, we can't thank you enough for looking our way. You see, when we showed off our good news on Wednesday afternoon, we expected we'd get a little bit of attention. But when we found your little newsy thing you do, we couldn't help but notice something important. And that something is this: you printed our web content in your article! The web content that came from our blog! Why, isn't that the very thing you've previously told nu-media bloggers they're not supposed to do?Woot To AP: You Owe Us $17.50 For Copying Our Content
So, The AP, here we are. Just to be fair about this, we've used your very own pricing scheme to calculate how much you owe us. By looking through the link above, and comparing your post with our original letter, we've figured you owe us roughly $17.50 for the content you borrowed from our blog post, which, by the way, we worked very very hard to create. But, hey. We're all friends here. And invoicing is such a hassle in today's paperless society, are we right? How about this: instead of cutting us a check for the web content you liberated from our site, all you'll need to do is show us your email receipt from today's two pack of Sennheiser MX400 In-Ear Headphones, and we'll call it even.
Connecticut Attorney-General Richard Blumenthal gave a speech to military vets in which he claimed that "I served in Vietnam." However, Blumenthal "obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970" and "landed a coveted spot in the Marine Reserve, which virtually guaranteed that he would not be sent to Vietnam. He joined a unit in Washington that conducted drills and other exercises and focused on local projects, like fixing a campground and organizing a Toys for Tots drive."
The New York Times has an excellent story on this.
But as John Naughton points out, the Times' headline writer didn't get the memo. The story is headed "Candidate's Words on Vietnam Service Differ from Reality."
Fiona from Amnesty UK sez,
After raising £30,000 to support an ad campaign exposing Shell's damaging practices in the Niger Delta, Amnesty International and its supporters were sorely disappointed when the Financial Times took a last minute decision to pull their ad.Amnesty 'disappointed' by FT's decision to pull ad targeting Shell
Tim Hancock, Amnesty International UK's campaigns director, said: "The decision by the Financial Times is extremely disappointing. We gave them written reassurances that we would take full responsibility for the comments and opinions stated in the advertisement. Both The Metro and The Evening Standard had no problems with running the ad.
"The money to pay for the advertisements came entirely from more than 2,000 individuals online, who we'd asked to fund an ad campaign targeting Shell's AGM -- and it really caught their imagination. And I am sure these supporters will share with us our sense of deep disappointment."
Here's a zeitgeisty little collage of the full-on media freakout the UK papers are indulging in as the UK election mess drags on (for those not following UK politics: no one party won enough seats for a majority, and now the two biggest are jockeying around the left/libertarian-leaning LibDems to see if an alliance can be forged).
(via Memex 1.1)
- Digital Pledges for the UK election
- Android app crowdsources UK election spending survey
- UK election: ask your candidates if they'll repeal the Digital ...
- Trenchant and graphic UK electoral commentary
- Lib Dems soar in UK polls after debate
- BBC to project real-time election results on Big Ben's tower ...
- UK minority party supporters coordinate strategic votes through ...
- Brits: demonstrate for electoral reform Saturday, Trafalgar Square ...
Can a world without newspapers survive? Sure, says The Economist. What matters is the availability and quality of the news, not the medium that delivers it.