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?

Newsweek: The One That Got Away…

November 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

Only to come back.

That’s right fellow media romantics, The Daily Beast‘s Tina Brown is at it again with  Newsweek Magazine.


The Daily Beast's Tina Brown.

After parting ways just last month, the Daily Beast is finally set to merge with Newsweek, making Brown editor-in-chief of not only her feisty web aggregator child, but also head honcho at the iconic and failing weekly magazine.

Newsweek's Sidney Harman

Brown confirmed the rumors on a column on the Daily Beast, which read: “Daily Beast, Newsweek To Wed!

It’s nice to see the two crazy kids finally get past their differences and just tie the media knot already, but in case you’re interested–here’s the nitty gritty of the new deal:

  • New company to be named “Newsweek Daily Beast Company”
  • Ownership will be split 50/50 by IAC’s Barry Diller (co-founder of the Beast in 2008) and Newsweek’s Sidney Harman.
  • No word yet on what the merger will mean for Newsweek and The Daily Beast as separate entities, although the Times is reporting that both “would retain their separate identities” (whatever that means).
  • Harman will finally get an editor-in-chief for the magazine with extensive print experience and an online following (Brown was former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.)
  • IAC and the Beast have the potential to see mega-profits with the redesign of an old print favorite.

Not to split hairs, but what exactly broke up the two anyway?

Well, apparently Harman felt like he was getting squeezed out of the company during deal talks. The 92-year-old audio pioneer, who purchased the company from the Washington Post Co. for $1 this past summer, absorbed the magazine’s $71 million debt and poised to turn around the failing weekly.

Only time will tell if these two can make it work. Here’s hoping that I won’t have to return that blender.

Online Pay-Per-View

October 10, 2010 § 1 Comment

Ah, the internal memo.

I’m sure at some point in time that the internal office memo remained internally within the office and was a sacred part of office etiquette not to be trifled with.

Gone are those days (if they ever indeed existed).

This recent post on Business Insider features a leaked memo from Gawker owner Nick Denton concerning how much employees should spend when buying a “commissioned piece of content.”

In other words, how much should Gawker be willing to spend in order to introduce readers to Jenn Sterger?

While such tabloid-esque stories wouldn’t carry much clout in the straight news industry, the idea of this pay-per-view journalism is definitely catching on when it comes to the web.

Increasingly, websites take a similar approach to defining costs based on clicks–letting clicks determine not only a story’s worth and budget, but the worth of the journalist who wrote it.

On a hyperlocal site like Patch.com, where local bureaus can consist of nothing but a single editor and a handful of freelancers, contributors can get paid a whopping $30 per article (so say a few of my friends who contribute to the site).

While a published clip is a published clip and j-students are probably more than grateful to receive any kind of monetary recognition for their student work, a lot of these online freelancing gigs pay a rather microscopic nominal free or even pay you purely based on how much web traffic you direct to their site.

What you end up seeing are desperate status pleas from friends on Facebook asking you to bring them one click closer to the thousand or so views needed to generate a dollar.

The boom of the internet seems to have caused an exponential rise in information and news, but not necessarily original information or news.

Traditional print media has sort of always relied on a “build it and they will come” kind of strategy, using ad revenue streams to make costly newsprint profitable, often operating in the red for years before breaking even.

While the web is seemingly based on the traditional business model of ads, the relationship between news and ads and how they affect each other is a bit murkier online. What happens when journalists’ pay are in direct relation to how many views they get? Do the same standards of journalism apply then too?

Sebastian Rotella: ProPublica

October 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

 

From drug-fueled violence along the Mexican-U.S. border to uncovering global terrorist networks in the Middle East, reporter Sebastian Rotella has probably seen it all.

 

ProPublica.org

 

The ProPublica senior reporter spoke recently as a guest at one of my journalism classes. It was both sobering and uplifting–sobering because it further elucidated the shaky state of investigative journalism, and uplifting because his career represents my ideal prospects for the future.

Rotella worked his way through the ranks as a copy clerk in Chicago, eventually making his way to a stint at UPI, and later to the Los Angeles Times, where he spent much of his 23 years at the paper as an international correspondent with an investigative edge.

He still works on the hard-hitting, international stories that have built his career–only this time from the web. As a senior reporter at ProPublica, Rotella can continue the long-form, in-depth style of journalism that was once the crown jewel of major dailies.

ProPublica, a non-profit website dedicated to investigative journalism and funded by the Sandlers (banking industry), became the first online-based news source to win a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for a piece on medical treatment in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The site is also unabashedly web while playing nice with print.

Indeed, as Rotella pointed out, much of ProPublica’s success has to do with its symbiotic relationship with traditional media [listed here], which significantly broadens the readership of what would otherwise be a primarily web operation.

It’s symbiotic because ProPublica gets the circulation that major dailies can provide, and in turn, newspapers and other outlets can get investigative reporting on the cheap–or rather, for free. [See their interesting “Steal our stories” clause here.]

As newsrooms continue to tighten their already narrow waists, whittling down staff and quality–expensive and time-consuming investigative reporting has also received the heave-ho.

But other than that, the transition to web hasn’t been all that big of a change for Rotella, who said that he still uses the same newspaper approach to investigative reporting, which emphasizes a multiplicity of sources.

It’s reporting that’s done with rigor. And sadly, it’s reporting that’s done less and less frequently.

Rotella, who said that he was growing “more and more depressed about the state of the paper [LA Times],” appeared more optimistic about the possibility of investigative journalism on the web. Specifically, Rotella said that ProPublica is “even better than the LA Times at its peak,” referring to both outlets’ trend of investigative reporting.

As a more than occasional reader of ProPublica, I was very much surprised to learn about how closely ProPublica works with traditional media in terms of free reign over publication of their articles in print or for broadcast.

It would almost seem counter-intuitive considering everything that I’ve been learning so far about the state of traditional journalism, but he brought up an excellent point about the clout and immediate impact that traditional media carries.

Come to think about it, big news doesn’t become big news until it’s carried on the evening broadcast or run in the city paper. Even websites seem to fall into certain credibility castes, with traditional media websites still leading the gamut alongside popular news blogging hybrids.

One thing’s for sure: while the current business model for journalism seems to be in need of a dire change, in-depth journalism itself seems better for wear.

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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