Posts about nytimes

Hyperlocal Boston

Now that The New York Times Company has decided not to sell the Boston Globe, DailyDeal.com wonders whether the company should convert Boston to a hyperlocal-based business.

Well, our Knight Foundation-funded New Business Models for News can be a roadmap. Indeed, the 5-million-person hypothetical market we worked on looks an awful lot like Boston (because, truth be told, it is Boston).

We suggest that a new news organization working collaboratively with a large base of independent sites and companies can establish itself at low cost and risk because much of the news is produced by people other than employees. The company would be much smaller but it would be profitable, potentially at impressive margins. Getting smaller would be painful, of course, but if the Globe doesn’t do it, some kid in a Harvard dorm room could.

Internet bigotry – again

I was growling at my iPhone on the train this morning as I read a prominently promoted New York Times story about the rumored Chelsea Clinton wedding that didn’t happen. Sixth graph:

The persistence of the rumor despite the lack of tangible evidence says something about today’s free-for-all Internet media culture, where facts sometimes don’t get in the way of a good story. It also says something about the Clintons and the mistrust they have engendered over the years that so many people do not take them at their word, even over a question like this.

It’s bad enough that the reporter, Peter Baker, made two such gross generalizations but it’s worse that there was no backup for either in the story.

Who spread the rumor according to Mr. Baker? Here’s every attribution in his story:
* “The wedding rumor mill got started by the Boston Globe…”
* “Then New York magazine picked up the ball…”
* “In July, the New York Daily News said…”
* “’There is no truth to that,’ Mrs. Clinton said on Fox News…”
* “The Washington Post reported…”
* “The Post followed up…”
* “On Sunday, the New York Post reported…”
* “The New York Post concluded…”

I don’t see a damned thing about “internet media culture” there, do you? Not one snarky, unreliable, rumor-mongering, content-stealing, value-sucking blog. Nope, not one mention of Gawker. Just big, old newspapers and magazines. Indeed, the only refutation of the rumor – the fact-checking of it – appears to have been on Fox News. (I also saw no editor asked whether they continued to spread the rumor because they didn’t trust the Clintons.)

This is the sort of internet bigotry that pops up in The Times like clockwork.

Mind you, The Times as a whole is doing lots of innovative things online: The Local (in which CUNY is involved), its blogs, its twittering, its API – plenty to praise.

Yet this snarling about the internet still bubbles up from the newsroom, from reporters and from the many editors who choose to publish it. That’s the newsroom culture – as opposed to that damned internet media culture – you keep hearing about as an impediment to change. This is how newsrooms fight it, using the one weapon they have: the keyboard. They may be forced to blog and podcast but they can always get their revenge in print. Good, old, comforting – though unsubstantiated, rumor-mongering, never-let-the-facts-stand-in-the-way-of-a-good-story – print.

Bring out the knives

Former San Francisco Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein talked with former Washington Post editor Len Downie and this resulted:

He royally dissed the New York Times, his main competitor during his years as Post editor, and said they needed to cut their newsroom, which might horrify purists. “A lot of excess costs built in” to the operation, was how he put it. “They’re going to have to get serious about things they’ve been high-minded about in the past.” Wait. Len? Len Downie?

Post-paper and after the tears

The great thing about Michael Hirschorn’s piece in the Atlantic about the death of the print New York Times is that it sees beyond the period of mourning and imagines what a post-paper Times could and should be. That’s what journalists should be doing – imagining a different – and perhaps even better – future.

“Ultimately, the death of The New York Times—or at least its print edition—would be a sentimental moment, and a severe blow to American journalism,” he says. “But a disaster? In the long run, maybe not.”

Hirschorn imagines many of the elements of the paperless paper that I also envision: more specializing, aggregation, collaboration. Individual brands – Friedman, Krugman, Sorkin – standing out on their own.

In an optimistic scenario, the remaining reporters—now reporters-cum-bloggers, in many cases—could use their considerable savvy to mix their own reporting with that of others, giving us a more integrative, real-time view of the world unencumbered by the inefficiencies of the traditional journalistic form. Times readers might actually end up getting more exposure than they currently do to reporting resources scattered around the globe, and to areas and issues that are difficult to cover in a general-interest publication.

I also love that he presents the model for the new Times as Huffington Post. The Times would surely quibble with that. But they’re not as far apart as they might seem. Both respect good reporting. As Arianna told Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger in London a few months ago, the reason she hires reporters is because their stories get more traffic. The public, too, respects good reporting. So maybe the Times should buy the Huffington Post – or vice versa – and they can start to learn from each other now. Naw, that’s going too far.

But having this discussion about life and journalism post-paper is valuable and I’m glad it’s happening.

Hey, Saul

I can’t not respond to Saul Hansell’s nanny nattering at me and other bloggers over the AP Affair.

What the AP and The New York Times’ Hansell don’t seem to realize is how hostile an act it is to send lawyer letters to individuals. They have armies of attorneys. We bloggers don’t. The mere act of sending us a letter can cost us money out of our own pockets. Sending a lawyer letter is an assault.

Saul tweaks me about having a conversation first: “Mr. Jarvis, in particular, often talks about blogging as a conversation. It seems like the A.P. wants to talk, and many bloggers would prefer a temper tantrum to a discussion.” Saul, I don’t think you’re cut out for a career as a playground monitor for you don’t have the most basic skill of the job: recognizing who started it. The AP sent its lawyer letters. It declared war.

And so, Saul, I’d say you should pose this to the AP: Why didn’t it start a conversation — an open conversation — before starting war?

I would have appreciated it very much if Saul had noticed my efforts at conversation namely this post in which I tried to explain to the AP our ethic of the link and suggest that they try it on. The AP’s Jim Kennedy called it constructive.

I think Saul misses an important point made in the blogosphere: that it’s not up to the AP to set the definition of fair use. They can’t rewrite the law. You may say that they are trying to create safe harbor by setting their own rules. From our view, they are trying to put up a fence where it cannot legally exist. All they can say is this is when they will and won’t sue or send their threatening letters. That’s not saying whether they’ll win or should. It’s not so much a safe harbor as slightly shallower water. See fellow big-media blogger Matthew Ingram:

But that’s kind of the point: the AP doesn’t have to offer a “safe harbor” to bloggers or other media sites under certain circumstances. The fair use exemption under U.S. copyright law already does that, whether the newswire likes it or not (and clearly it doesn’t). If it wants to get someone to say whether a few sentences excerpted on a blog qualifies or not, then it can go to court and try to get a judge to do so. But sitting down and trying to negotiate some kind of blanket pass for something that is already permitted under law seems like a mug’s game.

Finally, Saul says it’s silly to talk about boycotting the AP because bloggers don’t pay it (yet). That’s where Saul is farthest off the mark. He’s ignoring the value of links. More on that in the next post.

Tearing down the news-opinion divide

Nick Denton — who’s doing his best to destroy all journalism, of course — goes after the most sacred of cows (at his most profane website) arguing that it is time to for The New York Times abandon the false divide between news and opinion.

What’s really happening at The Times, in my view, is that its blogs have been a Trojan horse for the invasion of voice and opinion into the news columns. I say it’s a most welcome shot of blood into those old, gray veins. Nick gives plenty of examples, starting with:

When Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo fell through, hotshot reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin produced a scathing analysis of the deal-making skills of the Redmond software giant’s boss, Steve Ballmer. ‘Microsoft has tried to spin its reversal as a show of “discipline” and “self-control.” But what it really shows — painfully — is Mr. Ballmer’s indecisiveness about this deal.’ Ouch! And fun! But you won’t find Bill Keller and his fellow editors boasting about Sorkin’s punchiness: because they’re still in denial about the blurring of news and opinion, and so much else.

I’ve also valued finally getting Saul Hansell’s opinions (call it analysis, then) in the Bits blog. And I like hearing the voices of the other writers in the other blogs. This, as Nick points out, is one way for newspapers to battle the commodification of news: “An intelligent or provocative slant is one way that a newspaper can differentiate its story from the thousand other rehashes of the same information. British hyper-competitive newspapers have made an art of such spin; as America’s media becomes more competitive, outlets are following Fleet Street’s example.”

So opinion crosses a media divide: How can you write a blog without a human voice? And once you import stuff from that blog, even a Times blog, into print, you’ve brought in a human voice — that is, one with a stated perspective — into a publication that has prided itself on having no perspective. Heh.

There’s another divide to consider here, an organizational divide. Don’t forget that at The Times and many American newspapers, there’s a wall between business and editorial and another wall between the newsroom and the editorial page. The silly conceit of this is that opinion can be relegated to and imprisoned in the walls and pages of an editorial department: They own opinion and nobody else is allowed to have any — and that is the inoculation that has, historically, preserved the news department’s own conceit that it is objective: See, we don’t do opinion, those people over there do.

So one has to ask what the difference is between Andrew Sorkin and Paul Krugman except that Sorkin is paid to spend more of his time reporting with more sources. So — no offense to Krugman; I just picked the most convenient beat — but what whose opinion/perspective/viewpoint is more useful? If we take the argument that newspapers make against blogs — they just have opinions; they don’t report — that would give the contest to Sorkin, now that he is allowed to have opinions. So what’s the point of having opinion-page columnists? Why not just have reporters who can also share their perspective?

There’s another opinion divide to consider: inside v. outside. What about those bloggers? As newspapers get relationships with them — The Times has taken Freakonomics under its wing and the Washington Post today announced it is syndicating TechCrunch onto its side (as it syndicates my PrezVid) — one need wonder about their opinions. They have them. Michael Arrington certainly has them — including opinions about mainstream newspapers, we should remember. So how does that fit with the news-opinion divide? I was surprised to learn recently that Freakonomics is under The Times’ Opinion section. Why? The Post put TechCrunch stories on its technology news page. What’s the difference: prissiness, as Nick says, or turf battles? (And by the way, in all these cases, I think a network relationship is smarter than a syndicated relationship — but that’s the subject of another post another day.)

Nick concludes:

You know what? Screw the news-opinion divide. When the Times was still pure, reporters would simply trot out some tame expert to give the story the slant they planned; it’s less convoluted–and wordy–for writers like Sorkin and Stanley simply to express their own views. Readers can get raw information from wire services and press releases; the only value the Times can add is time-saving summarization–and attitude.

The Times is the closet-case of newspapers. Everybody knows that the political bent is liberal; that the newspaper’s reporters have opinions; and that they’re hungry for a juicy story, even if the rush to publish can introduce mistakes. None of these are crimes; they only become embarrassments because of the paper’s official position. Bill Keller needs simply to come to terms with the nature of modern newspapers. He and his colleagues will feel so much lighter if they do.

Of course, I agree. But I think The Times will be the last to admit it’s human. So if I were the editor of another paper in the U.S., I’d take down the divide and say that we’re all about our perspective with facts; that’s our value. The check on us is you and your opinions out there in the public, now that they can be heard (if the paper will listen).

Rupert’s pincer movement around a trapped Times

I doubt that Rupert Murdoch is quite monomaniacal in an effort to destroy the New York Times — since he’s just too smart a businessman to get too carried away; money is his check and balance — but if you were sitting on 43rd Street Eighth Avenue, you’d be forgiven for feeling paranoid and sweaty right now. As CJR points out today, Murdoch is tightening his strategic grip on the shape of the future of the Wall Street Journal with the imminent reported departure of Managing Editor Marcus Brauchli (damn, just when I learned to pronounce his name). And there are reports that Murdoch’s about to snag Newsday for $580 million. Add the New York Post, of course, and Fox News — not to mention the Times of London — and you have the New York Times cornered. Murdoch can attack from above — national and international — and below — local — and the the right flank — ideological — and the future — TV and digital.

But I think what really has the Times cornered is its tradition, its sense of history and preservation. Is the Times willing to reinvent itself? That’s what’s really necessary. But I fear they will treat their past as sacred and put preservation over reinvention. I don’t say that dismissively; they certainly do believe they are preserving the finest tradition of journalism in America and that’s a laudable goal. But preservation is not a strategy for the future. I’ve had my suggestions for the company but let’s reexamine the Times’ options as it faces Rupert to the right of them, Rupert to the front of them.

They could finally decide to be America’s liberal voice. But they won’t. My friends (and employers) at the Guardian stand in a better position to grab that title since they are unafraid to be liberal (hell, they trumpet it: “The world’s leading liberal voice,” that’s their mission).

They could decide to become the great American marketplace of opinion, except HuffingtonPost and the Guardian each have a robust headstart on them.

I don’t think there’s a future in local for them (no, not even the blessed hyperlocal). They will be loathe to cede New York to the competitors but their audience here is tiny. I still think that metro should become a separate business.

The battlegrounds will be national and digital. There the Times is strong, thanks to the good work of NY Times Digital; they are a leader. But online, it’s easy to supersede leaders (see: AOL, Yahoo, MSN, MSNBC, MySpace, Friendster….). This is why I think the Times has to decide on radical reinvention, a new architecture. You can guess my starting points: a networked structure, a distributed strategy, a community plan. I’m not sure where I’d start but I do think they are all the more vulnerable today. I wonder how much they know that. And I wonder what you would do in their sweaty shoes.

: LATER: Nick Denton, media mogul, on why fellow mogul Murdoch is in such a hurry.

Here’s my appearance on the topic on the Brian Lehrer show:

Do I smell smoke? Is that a fiddle I hear?

The New York Times Monday media report completely buried the report of the worst newspaper ad revenue decline since 1950, when the NAA started measuring the number (which is to say, the worst decline ever). It’s on page C-7, given a mere four paragraphs. Granted, the news is a bit stale, having come out three days ago. Still, you’d think that the media section would have decided to give this more perspective.

I think the proper perspective is that we are at a full-blown, slippery-slope, accelerating-fall, watch-out-below crisis for the newspaper industry and professional journalism with it. It’s time for drastic thinking.