Times To Pay The Price

March 28, 2011 § 3 Comments

Updated: March 28, 2011 8:12 p.m.
And so the experiment begins, with traditional print journalists heaving a sigh of relief and online folks raising an eyebrow or two while posting away jauntily on their blogs with the words “failure” and “mistake.”

Today, the NYTimes website unveiled a small box in the upper right corner entitled “Digital Subscriptions” that has the potential to re-energize what some have referred to as  a sinking paper ship known as the newspaper.  But will people go for it?

That question alone has been the subject of  intense conversation between professional, amateur and even journalists in training (such as myself) at some point or another, touching upon the industry’s ability to charge an audience for what it’s been able to get for free.

But whether the move spells out success or doom for the media giant is yet to be seen.

What we do know is this: it wouldn’t be the first time that a newspaper has evoked a pay wall onto its online twin (The Wall Street Journal claims the prize for largest newspaper to initiate and sustain a pay wall), nor is  it even the first attempt by the Times itself.

Indeed, the Times briefly flirted with the idea of monetizing their online content with TimesSelect only to ditch the plan two years later in 2007. Up until today,  readers were given unbridled access to any of the Times articles written post 1980.  The site’s general manager at the time had this to say on the decision to eliminate what had brought in $10 million a year for the company:

“We now believe by opening up all our content and unleashing what will be millions and millions of new documents, combined with phenomenal growth, that that will create a revenue stream that will more than exceed the subscription revenue.” (Vivian Schiller)

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case as the Times continues to bleed red and viewers  have much more to choose from now than they did back in ’07 –both for free and online.

The wall has already dominated the blogosphere with some supporters like  The Onion who called  it a “bold business move” and  readers of Business Insider affirming the wall’s future success. But the web also hosts the paper’s ‘fare’ share of wall naysayers like The Street who call it “the dumbest of this week’s dumbest.”

Unsurprisingly,  sites such as this one take a stronger stance on the inadequacies of the wall with instructions on how to evade it entirely. (If anyone tries it, do tell me how it goes. I am very interested in seeing if the web gods really are all powerful–even in the likes of the Sulzbergers). PCWorld does a great job at breaking the terms of the pay wall down for size with their post here.

But while many are anxious to see just how porous or impervious this pay wall is, I for one am dreading the day that I see the pay wall in all it’s digital brick-ish glory upon hitting my 21st article (something that will occur in probably less than a week’s time).

As a broke (journalism) college student, paying that extra $7.40 a week just isn’t an option.

So, food for thought: how many of you are opening your wallets for an online subscription and how many of you are not ready just yet to throw in the proverbial towel?

Multimedia Monday: Another Case of East Coast-West Coast Rivalry

March 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

My multimedia fascination with the Los Angeles Times continues with their latest installment, “Pop.u.LA.tion,” a compilation of audio slideshows by Mel Melcon and Liz O. Baylen that feature colorful LA characters from Burbank to Culver City.

The LA Times capitalizing on its West Coast flair.

The project is a little more than reminiscent of the New York Times‘ Emmy-award-winning “One in 8 Million–“ in fact, it would be safe to say that the LA Times was effectively ‘scooped’ by its East Coast counterpart (if indeed there are such things as “scoops” in the multimedia world).

NY Times captures the grit of the city in true East Coast fashion.

What makes this particular project definitely worth watching is the signature LA twist that the LA Times’ multimedia department puts on their pieces, which consistently put them at the top of the ranks overall when it comes to all things online. They’ve managed to take an idea that was already done (and done expertly, no less) and inject the carefree spirit of the West Coast.

Shot in delicious, dripping color, the LA version of this ‘slice-of-life’ project is decidedly more upbeat than the gritty black and white of the original NYT compilation.

The downside? Both are flash-heavy, which tested my patience as a Mac user, and both are very addicting. Watching just one won’t suffice.

So what say ye, fellow web journerds? Are you a Biggie or a Tupac?

The Times, They Are A-Changin'

December 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Move on over to irrelevancy, New York Times Co.

Well perhaps not to irrelevancy, but to the corner where all the other slightly less relevant companies sit.

That’s right fellow media junkies, NYT Co. is no longer a crown jewel of the S&P 500, which lists the top 500 American companies (though it’s not strictly a U.S. list as some multinational companies also make up the S&P). According to Mashable, the New York Times Co. is out and Netflix is in.

Netflix, the Blockbuster-esque company that first made strides with its video rental services via postal mail, has since expanded to the popular option of video-streaming which requires no red paper envelopes. Other video-streaming companies like Hulu are also cashing in on the convenience of the web.

The New York Times will now be on the S&P MidCap 400, which lists the median range of US stocks. It’s not the slums, but it’s not the elite either, and for a company that has built its reputation as the finest paper in the U.S., it’s a hard economic reality to swallow.

The Times is also set to unroll its paywall on its http://www.nytimes.com site sometime within the next few months. Forbes recently reported that the Times is serious about its paywall and is taking a Financial Times approach to the overhaul as opposed to WSJ’s porous wall where users can access articles for free via a quick google search.

I remember first reading about the Times paywall on its website last January with a bit of incredulousness. Even as someone who plans to go into the industry in the next couple of years, the idea of being charged for the NYTimes bothered me.

There’s no doubt that my life would be different as a j-school student if I didn’t have access to the Times. It was the first newspaper I started to follow on a consistent basis and it set off my growing love affair for print, which has since expanded to other major dailies. But as a college student, the idea of paying hundreds a year for a subscription really really hurts. It not only hurts, but I’m beginning to wonder whether I’ll be able to actually afford the Times.

I shiver in anticipation as I await for more details to roll out. But for now, I’m pretty much at the mercy of the Times. Their sweet, no-longer-free, high quality, journalistic mercy.

So, what say you, fellow blogosphere warriors–will you be shelling out some cash for the Times online? Do any of you subscribe to the Times in print and will you continue to do so?

An Endangered Species: Science Journalism

September 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

While the 2:14 video didn’t divulge much in terms of details, it pressed on a topic that was near and dear to my journalistic heart: science reporting.

Peter Lewis on the state of science journalism.

Peter Lewis, a Knight fellow, former New York Times tech writer, and proud maker of the nytimes.com domain name, is working on building a model that creates a generation of science journalists ready to report in-depth on a plethora of technology, health, and environmental issues.

Lewis, who had originally to set out to find an alternate business model for the sagging journalism industry, has since shifted his focus away from “reinventing the wheel” to finding a way to “revive the idea of robust science journalism with a focus on the environment.”

In a world where technology dictates every facet of our lives and climate change is a household word, it’s hard to believe that science journalism wouldn’t be catching on like fire.

“It turns out that science journalism is one of the most endangered species in an overall industry that’s in turmoil right now,” Lewis said of the need for knowledgeable science reporters.

One of my many far-reaching journalistic aspirations is to be a science reporter that specializes in the environment (this is supposed to happen somewhere in between being an international correspondent and an investigative reporter).

All too often I see science journalism abstracted into ideological debates that are unfounded in the roots of the scientific inquiry. At the same time, I’ll be the first to admit that I am unqualified to become a science reporter.

Not only for the geek-inclined.

In the minds of many, science journalism still remains a niche field, relegated to specialty magazines like Wired.com for the tech-geek, or Popular Science for the general geek. In its purest form, science journalism becomes too unsavory and too dry and technical for the average reader to comprehend.

“It doesn’t relate to me” is a general complaint I hear from people in relation to why the Science Times section ends up in the wastebasket.

But in my experience, science is about as human as it gets. Nothing has a greater ability to link us to one another than a story about DNA and evolution. Nothing is more distressing to read than a large-scale community ravaged by natural disaster. And few things are more frustrating to read about than humanity fouling its own nest.

The Death of Social Media: It's Not What You Think

September 6, 2010 § 1 Comment

The opening line of a post on Mashable by Vadim Lavrusik immediately caught my attention:

“The future of social media in journalism will see the death of ‘social media’.”

Personally, the idea of the near-total annihilation of  twitter would be akin to when the Wicked Witch of the West evaporates into thin air. It would be perfectly fine to me if social media were to no longer rule the Kingdom of the Web–leaving behind only a Facebook graveyard in its demise.

While I admit to being somewhat of an avid Facebook-er, the idea of tweets included alongside my morning broadcast is equivalent to adding a pound of sugar to Fruity Pebbles. It’s both way too sugary and way too early. (Though, I’ll admit to being a fan of former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin’s tweets–it’s like my morning coffee: chock-full-of-gaffes.)

Of course if one were to continue reading the article you’d notice that Lavrusik is actually writing about the exact opposite: that is, the full integration of social media into journalism. Thus, the concept of “social media” would no longer apply as it would simply be a living, breathing, tweeting, thread of the fabric of news.

While a traditionalist-cynic like me finds the idea absolutely cringe-worthy, the guy has a point.

It's not pretty.

As traditional forms of journalism–print publications, broadcast, radio–struggle to stay afloat on their decrepid, sinking business models based on dried-up ad revenue streams, online journalism continues to sail forward.

While the industry buzz word last year might have been “social media,” this year’s buzz word might be “hyperlocal.” News 12 on Long Island embraces the term on broadcast graphics and websites like Patch.com, which utilize a Craigslist-esque approach to the news, are one of the few places that are readily hiring.

 

Twitter owns all.

 

Even the “big dogs” of the industry can’t resist the allure of the number of hits that locality fostered by social media brings. The New York Times, The Financial Times, and virtually every major broadcast network has a twitter. And even the industry sweethearts like ProPublica, which uses public funding to pay for its Pulitzer award-winning investigative pieces, are reaping the benefits of going beyond simply being on the Web.

Unlike my doom and gloom, Lavrusik appears more optimistic about the shift, saying that the integration of social media into journalism will actually integrate journalists into the communities in which they write and report on. Elements of Journalism, anyone?

One of the fundamental elements of journalism, according to Kovach and Rosensthiel, is loyalty to the public. In other words: Thou shall provide the public with all they need to know to make their own decisions. It may also refer to: Thou shalt not isolate yourself from the very public you’re suppose to work for.

Could social media be the bridge between journalists and the communities they serve? Or could it just end up being a bridge to nowhere?

Is Lavrusik right? Could social media actually be the bridge that gaps the distance between the lonely reporters perched on their islands and the constituencies that they purport to serve?

It very well could be, but for now, it’s a shaky one.

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