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.EVERY DAY IS LIKE SUNDAY (Thanks, Ben!)
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.
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.Podcast: Shirky’s Why We Need the New News Environment to be Chaotic
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.
(Image: [Virginia. Newspaper vendor and cart in camp] Date: c. 1863, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from oldeyankee's photostream)
I could tell these students that when I was growing up, the only news I read was thrown into our front yard by a boy on a bicycle. They might find this interesting, but only in the way I found it interesting that my father had grown up without indoor plumbing. What 19 year olds need to know isn't how it was in Ye Olden Tymes of 1992; they need to know what we've learned about supporting the creation and dissemination of news between then and now. Contemplating what I should tell them, there are only three things I'm sure of: News has to be subsidized, and it has to be cheap, and it has to be free.Why We Need the New News Environment to be Chaotic (via Waxy)
News has to be subsidized because society's truth-tellers can't be supported by what their work would fetch on the open market. However much the Journalism as Philanthropy crowd gives off that 'Eat your peas' vibe, one thing they have exactly right is that markets supply less reporting than democracies demand. Most people don't care about the news, and most of the people who do don't care enough to pay for it, but we need the ones who care to have it, even if they care only a little bit, only some of the time. To create more of something than people will pay for requires subsidy.
News has to be cheap because cheap is where the opportunity is right now. For all that the Journalism as Capitalism people can sound like Creflo Dollar mid-sermon, they are right to put their faith in new models for news. If for-profit revenue is shrinking and non-profit funding won't make up the shortfall, we need much cheaper ways of gathering, understanding, and disseminating news, whether measured in information produced or readers served.
And news has to be free, because it has to spread. The few people who care about the news need to be able to share it with one another and, in times of crisis, to sound the alarm for the rest of us. Newspapers have always felt a tension between their commercial and civic functions, but when a publication drags access to the news itself over to the business side, as with the paywalls at The Times of London or the Tallahassee Democrat, they become Journalism as Luxury. In a future dominated by Journalism as Luxury, elites will still get what they need (a tautology in market economies), but most communities will suffer; imagine Bell, California times a thousand, with no Ruben Vives to go after the the politicians.*
The thing I really want to impress on my students is that the commercial case for news only matters if the profits are used to subsidize reporting the public can see, and that civic virtue may be heart-warming, but it won't keep the lights on, if the lights cost more than cash on hand. Both sides of the equation have to be solved.
The Dowler family then granted an exclusive interview to the News of the World in which they talked about their hope, quite unaware that it had been falsely kindled by the newspaper's own intervention. Sally Dowler told the paper: "If Milly walked through the door, I don't think we'd be able to speak. We'd just weep tears of joy and give her a great big hug." The deletion of the messages also caused difficulties for the police by confusing the picture when they had few leads to pursue. It also potentially destroyed valuable evidence. According to one senior source familiar with the Surrey police investigation: "It can happen with abduction murders that the perpetrator will leave messages, asking the missing person to get in touch, as part of their efforts at concealment. We need those messages as evidence. Anybody who destroys that evidence is seriously interfering with the course of a police investigation."The newspaper, described as "heinous" and "despicable" by the family, is at the center of a cellphone "hacking" scandal in the U.K., in which the remote mailboxes of politicians, celebrities and everyday people were tapped by reporters. One of the curiosities of the scandal was the Metropolitan Police's refusal to launch a substantial investigation until embarrassed by reports in The Guardian and The New York Times, which found insiders willing to admit being influenced by "fear" of reprisals from Rupert Murdoch, owner of the News of the World. One of serial killer Levi Bellfield's victims, Dowler disappeared at the age of 13 in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, in 2002. Missing Milly Dowler's voicemail was hacked by News of the World [The Guardian. Photo: Wikimedia]
The more people involved in flying the airplane, or moving the surgeon's scalpel during a brain operation, the worse off we are. But this is not true in journalism. It benefits from participation, as with Investigate your MP's expenses, also called crowd sourcing, or this invitation from the Los Angeles Times: share public documents. A far simpler example is sources. If sources won't participate, there often is no story. Witnesses contribute when they pull out their cameras and record what is happening in front of them. The news system is stronger for it...What I Think I Know About Journalism (via Memex 1.1)
To feel informed, we also need background knowledge, a framework into which the relevant facts can be put. Or, as I put it in 2008, "There are some stories--and the mortgage crisis is a great example--where until I grasp the whole I am unable to make sense of any part. Not only am I not a customer for news reports prior to that moment, but the very frequency of the updates alienates me from the providers of those updates because the news stream is adding daily to my feeling of being ill-informed, overwhelmed, out of the loop."
Now it appears that GoDaddy, the domain registrar for the domain Righthaven.com, has taken down their domain for an invalid whois. According to ICANN rules domain owners are required to maintain valid whois information. Anyone can report an invalid whois record via the WDPRS system, which then passes on the complaint to the sponsoring registrar of the domain. The registrar would then attempt to contact the domain owner and ask them to verify/update their contact information. Should they not do so, the domain can be suspended or even deleted.RightHaven.com Taken Down for Invalid Whois (Thanks, Clifton!)
Tesfaye says that 30 to 40 people will read a single paper. At the end of the day, the well-thumbed publications can be sold on.Renting a read from 'newspaper landlords'
"After a newspaper passes its deadline we will sell it to shops who can use it as packaging for items that they sell," says Tesfaye, who says he uses the earnings from his business to support his three siblings.
As Frédéric Filloux and others have pointed out, The New York Times pricing seems designed not to get people to subscribe digitally, but rather to discourage existing subscribers from cancelling their print subscriptions. I think the chart above validates that view: they apparently have no interest in competing for digital-only dollars.Digital Subscription Prices Visualized (aka The New York Times Is Delusional) (via O'Reilly Radar)
Does The Times really think the mass audience is going to decide their $455/year is better spent on The Times rather than getting 20+ free articles/month from The Times plus The Wall Street Journal ($207/year) plus The Economist ($110/year) plus say The Daily ($39/year) for good measure, and still having ~$100 left over each year?
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
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- Report: NYT will soon kill timesselect online paywall - Boing Boing
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 ...
Mediactive is divided into three sections. The first section is a history of the dismal state of current media -- partisan and bickering, financially troubled, insufficiently critical of power and overly sensitive to Internet upstarts. Gillmor explains how reporters can (and sometimes do) use online media to get their stories straight, and in so doing, explains how you can do the same, and become a smarter consumer of, participant in, and maker of news. This is a crash-course in being a better consumer of the news, asking active questions about how the news you see and hear and read is constructed.
Part two is an information age journalism program encapsulated in a swiftly moving section on using tools and systems to make better news. Even if you're not planning on starting up your own blog, wiki, mailing list, or even a newspaper, this section should be required reading for anyone hoping to understand how smart use of the right tool can put the news in the service to its community, structured around the values of truth, humility, and honor.
Part three is a big-think piece on the way that institutions -- from j-schools to the FTC and Congress -- can and should change the way they do things to clear the way for journalism that works with the net, not against it. Covering issues from pedagogy to DRM law, from comment moderation to Network Neutrality, Gillmor moves into the macro-scale with the same deftness that he brings to the details in part two.
The overall book left me feeling smarter and more doubtful about the things I think I know about media, which is a heady combination. But it's not an unusual one for my interactions with Dan Gillmor, who is truly a journalist's journalist for the modern age, unparalleled for thoughtfulness, critical thinking, and technical savvy. His entrepreneurial, can-do approach to creating a sustainable networked press is a refreshing change from the Cold War rhetoric about parasitic bloggers and MSM dinosaurs.
Mediactive (which features a great foreword by Clay Shirky) is available as a free, CC-licensed download (also in PDF and a print-on-demand book from Lulu.com. Gillmor's Mediactive site contains further resources and conversations on the book.
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.
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