Tablets: Evolution of the News

Ever since the printing press, news has constantly evolved in its delivery method. The use of tablets for news is the natural progression in this evolution. Coined the ‘platform to save the news industry’, tablets and mobile are viewed by some as a chance to start over. Media companies have the chance to attempt to re-configure their system to benefit from tablet users. When the free online version of the papers debuted, media companies have had a difficult time constructing a pay structure that not only retained consumers but was profitable as well. Mobile is giving them a second chance.

For there to be a future in journalism on mobile devices, media companies need to establish a pay structure from the beginning. While pay structures can present the same problems as on traditional media, a balance needs to be achieved. Niche and specialty papers such as the Wall Street Journal have never had a problem with hard pay walls, but general news gets trickier. One benefit of tablets is the perception by the consumer. They are more willing to pay for content and value the applications differently. Media companies need to utilize this to the fullest and charge for content from the start.

Tablets offer a new form of revenue from advertising and charging for application downloads as well. Applications as well as mobile sites are crucial to news outlets to attract users to not only create brand loyalty but make money from the mobile advertising as well.

Media companies need to adapt to the changes or perish. In this environment where technology is reinventing and moving forward, there is no other choice. The numbers have been rising since the inception of the tablet and this gives the media companies a chance to build back their business.

This may not ‘save’ the publishing industries but it is the next step in the news cycle. Traditional companies need to embrace the reality and configure a pay and overall structure that will not only retain consumers but be lucrative as well. This can only help the media companies if they understand the growing need for this shift.

It comes down to not whether media companies will adapt but if it will work in the long-term. The way information is disseminated is constantly shifting and to stay relevant companies need to assimilate to embrace the changes.

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The Pay Wall Debate

Pay walls have become an interesting phenomena to examine over the past couple years. A paywall is a metered pay system that urges viewers to subscribe after a certain number of views . Alan Mutter explains in his blog, that visitors who don’t pay are blocked from some or all of the content on the site for the rest of the month. They have the chance to start again the next month.

Mutter uses the Augusta Chronicle as an example of a successful paywall that actually seemed to increase web traffic. In the first three months, page views rose 5 percent from previous months. The Chronicle’s pay wall still provides a porous system where a considerable amount of articles are accessed for free before a reader learns of the paywall. In contrast, a rival newspaper in Georgia constructed a hard paywall that demands either $2 a day or $9.95 a month on any article accessed. This affected their online visits severely, dropping 47% from the same month of the previous year.

One strategy used by the Augusta Chronicle is allowing access to 25 premium articles, but limited restricted to non-premium articles. Mutter points out that there is little distinction between premium and non-premium articles. The confusion between the articles isn’t considered a drawback to executive editor Alan English, rather a positive.

Some other positive aspects are highlighted by English. “The act of placing a value on our journalism may be more important that any penny we ever collect.” Since the Chronicle’s subscription system is so permeable, the amount of subscriptions it will acquire are difficult to calculate. English stated, “It’s very early in our game and we are still building our strategy. But we are glad to be part of the wave of people who are putting forth the value proposition for content created by professional journalists. Giving it away for all those years was a mistake.”

The emergence of new mediums such as the iPad and the Kindle have also contributed to the larges changes in online news. CEO of LeadBolt, Dave Carr considers paywalls one of the largest experiments in online journalism. He points out the ‘explosion of apps’ available on iPads and Kindles that have made the concept of paying for premium content more acceptable. He told the Christian Science Monitor, “Apps woke the public up to the fact that there are other revenue streams they can create.”

One concern is raised by Thomas Ksiasek, assistant professor of communication at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. “It remains to be seen whether this slighting confusing quota system will lead to more subscriptions or merely more creative access routes.” He refers to the model as a ‘leaky fence’ rather than a blunt paywall. A valid point, it points out that people have a way of figuring out how to maneuverer the internet, especially when it comes to finding free content.

The offset of this concern is website with highly demanded specialized content. ESPN and The Wall Street Journal contain the most successful online pay models. The Journal is a must for high finance while ESPN has severe appeal for sports fanatics.

This is where the New York Times may encounter some problems with their paywall. A widely respected newspaper of record, it is still considered a general interest newspaper. Wouldn’t a viewer just go somewhere else to get free news? “Without offering a specialized product with a clear benefit to the consumer, it’s likely that many users will seek out their news elsewhere,” Ksiasek said.

The Times also created a penetrable subscription wall, letting readers access it from social media sites. Their model has acquired almost 250,000 paid subscribers in first 3 months, along with 750,000 print subscriptions and around 57,000 tablet users signed up for the Times. Considering the domestic and international importance of the Times, many consider a failure of the Times’ paywall not an option. Richard Levick, president of Levick Strategic Communications in Washington, said, “The Times is important to a free society. It is important to a marketplace of ideas that the New York Times share in that pantheon of great leadership.”

While the Times are doing a good job managing their paywall, critics ask why newspapers even need paywalls. Plenty of sites make a decent living though their advertising supported model, and according to a report from Econsultancy, more than half of online publishers have seen increased revenue. This accentuates the growing shift to digital media and that digital readership seems to be increasing. Even though it is increasing, a University of Missouri study found that 50% of newspapers derive only 9% of their revenue from online editions.

One analysis of this problem is that newspaper advertising may just cost too much. Newspapers have a CPM (Cost per mille/thousand views) of $6.99 while online advertising’s CPM is $2.52, and social media’s rate is $.56. Newspapers are 177 percent greater than the national average. IT seems newspapers have priced themselves out of the market. Is a newspaper ad 20 or 100 times more effective than an online or social media ad? A social media ad has the ability to give valuable information about its views and who ‘likes’ it, so is it really justifiable to spend 100 times more on a print ad that can’t tell you if it’s even been read?

Critics claim that unless papers can figure out how to lessen costs, competitively price themselves and offer content worth paying for, paywalls will only quicken the inevitable decline.

In erecting a paywall, all of the previous arguments need to be considered. The most viable and seemingly successful model would have to have a level of penetrability. When a third of an online news site’s web viewership comes from search engines, restricting viewers from that will dramatically affect traffic. As a smaller newspaper, a hard paywall makes no sense unless one is offering specialized content that very few others have. Readers of general interest care less about loyalty and more about price, especially in this economy. The New York Times has created a very stable system of charging for their content, while maintain web traffic. While critics argue that web content should be priced the same as print, the reality of the situation needs to be considered. By allowing social media links to access the site as well as 20 articles before paying helps ‘hook’ the reader. Even with this though, it is not a good idea to try and charge the same as print since the same problems as a hard paywall would be raised.

Is ‘Slacktivism’ the reason for KONY 2012?

The documentary KONY 2012 has enveloped the internet since Wednesday, with over 70 million YouTube and Vimeo views. The topics #stopkony, Uganda, Invisible Children, and LRA were also prevalent on Twitter throughout the week.

The film seeks to bring attention to Joseph Kony, the leader of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony is known for his crimes against humanity, specifically abducting children and turning them into child soldiers and sex slaves.

As Zoe Fox’s article shows, critics of the movie have questioned the finances and Invisible Children as an organization and the film’s promotion of slacktivism.

Slaktivism refers to the inability of people using social media to create change. With the KONY 2012, it has broken barriers by showing just how ‘slacktivists’ have successfully made Kony well known. Regardless of ones opinion of Invisible Children or Joseph Kony, the campaign has shown the impact of social media.

A commonly accepted online video rule is that people normally stop watching a video after two minutes. KONY 2012 is almost 30 minutes long, and in a study an equal amount of people who saw the video watched the entire thing.

The video itself has accomplished its goal by creating buzz and making the issue well known. It is a giant step in showing how social media can have a considerable impact. After the film’s viral success, Uganda said on Friday it would capture Kony either ‘dead or alive’.

A criticism about the intent or motive of Invisible Children aside, this video has shown firsthand how social media and the digital movement are turning the traditional methods of information on its head. It has shown how an issue can permeate the internet and become considered newsworthy through ‘slacktivists’.

‘Self-Harm’ blogs blocked on Tumblr

A new policy is being released by Tumblr that will prohibit blogs that promote or glorify self-harm such as anorexia, bulimia, self-mutilation and suicide. According to Zoe Fox’s article, this is a change to the platform’s Content Policy that will go live in the next week.

Tumblr strongly opposes self-harm but was having trouble between prohibiting the blogs altogether or redirecting users to support organizations such as the National Eating Disorders Association. In the proposed change, Tumblr stresses that online dialogue about these disorders is incredibly important and the prohibition is geared only for blogs that glorify or actively promote self-harm.

A Tumblr staff blog stated, “We are deeply committed to supporting and defending our users’ freedom of speech, but we do draw some limits. As a company, we’ve decided that some specific kinds of content aren’t welcome on Tumblr.”

Tumblr will also sponsor public service ads that will appear next to search results for terms such as thinspiration, proana, suicide, bulimia and anorexia. Such self-harm support groups online have already been the topic of conversation for The Oprah Winfrey Show and PBS Frontline.

When changing or implementing such a policy, the wording is imperative. Tumblr is trying to draw a line between talking about such issues and actively promoting or glorifying them. By just banning the content, they could have infringed on the right to free speech or eliminated forums for people in recovery. This type of proposed change is a good response to the issue and other social networking sites could benefit from it as well. Some of these interests include pro-ana or ‘thinspiration’ content. While most doesn’t actively promote self-harm or starvation, there is the larger issue of glorifying it. It is likely that once Tumblr starts to police these blogs, users will simply migrate elsewhere. Pinterest, a virtual pin board, has already started to see a dramatic increase in “thinspirational” imagery. The effect these images could have on people recovering from disorders or even impressionable teen users could be damaging. Policies need to be revised and take a stance against promoting such disorders or behaviors.

The Role of a Digital First Mentality

News is becoming more digitally focused. This isn’t a new idea; newspapers have adopted an online version for years and have started to integrate social media into their reporting. What Steve Buttry suggests in his blog is that journalists write for the online version and social media before the actual paper. His company, Digital First, promotes different priorities and processes for journalists.

Buttry explains the first step in the Digital First approach is to work and think first for digital platforms. An example used is a court reporter, where Twitter and a live blog replace her trial notebook. Tweets are sent out highlighting developments of the trial and a summary of the coverage is posted online to the blog, as well as a Facebook post and an item to Google+. The work here is formatted for the digital platforms, meant to give weight to live coverage.

Experimenting and risk taking is the another step. This applies to all aspects of journalism but especially the editors. Turning the focus to live coverage and breaking news, editors will have to guide journalists on their growth in digital journalism. Another step is trying new tools and techniques, which an editor would be best poised to suggest or inform on. Suggesting map integration, new hash tags, different social media websites and crowdsourcing ideas can help the overall flow of the work.

Two more steps Buttry points out are to cover the news live and value community input. By immediately posting updates to Twitter or Facebook, one can get feedback instantaneously. The concern of tipping off competitors shouldn’t be a deciding factor, rather the idea is to stimulate and curate community conversation on issues. This works well for beat reporters, covering local issues. Another source for beat reporters is the aggressive use of databases for interactive answerbases or to visualize data.

Buttry’s vision of Digital First isn’t where society is heading but where society already is. This approach gives live coverage and social media integration where most people are looking for news or updates. By using this method, professional journalists can help define themselves from citizen journalists who have been using the same tools. In a society where technology morphs itself every day, looking into the future is the best option for news organizations to continue to stay relevant. Sharing information first online, contrasts with most newsrooms’ traditional approach. The outdated versions of news coverage need to be reassessed. This doesn’t mean eliminating all paper or broadcast coverage but it does mean understanding a digital first approach and being able to successfully integrate it into the system. The idea that immediacy would take precedence over accuracy shouldn’t be an issue if the journalists are trained correctly.

Summarizing the idea perfectly, Steve Yelvington said that Digital First is about making the future your first priority, with everything that implies.

There’s nowhere to hide…

Crowd sourcing is not a new idea, but is being reinvented to keep up with changing technology. Banjo is a relatively new application that connects people across social networks in real time or “a social discovery service”. This combines social networks and geo-tagging by collecting posts and updates and integrating them on a map. One doesn’t need to post or check in to see what other people are doing.

For journalists, Banjo is another tool to use is obtaining tips, information and new angles. In Elana Zak’s article, she uses Andy Stettler as an example of merging Banjo with a news event. Banjo allowed him to see people checked into the King of Prussia Mall in Philadelphia where there were reports of a possible ‘bomb device’. By tweeting questions to the people, he was able to figure out that part of the mall was not yet evacuated. By integrating the social sites and a location, it gives reporters the ability to discern what is going on and where. Media outlets are competitive as it is and this is another method to stay on top of breaking news or acquire new leads. By integrating such devices into a daily routine can help journalists stay a step ahead of the competition.

This does present a question if new media is blurring the line between public and private.

There is still a strange cross section of generations between those who never had a cell phone or the internet growing up but are now immersed in texting, social networks and web surfing. Those traditional outlooks still have a tendency of lingering. With banjo, a person can know the exact location at the exact time. People chose to put themselves in this position, but it is a little unsettling that someone could potentially know where a person is at all times. This contrasts severely with the pre I-generation thinking.

Is this the beginning of the end of privacy? Are we becoming a morphed society that doesn’t consider things real or of value unless they are posted online? People take pictures with the pure intent of posting, go places to check in to and craft thoughts about daily activities. We now consciously make the decision that we want people to follow us, we want to let people know what we’re doing, whether it is genuinely to inform or in our own self-interest. Banjo wasn’t the first of these sites and will not be the last. It can be a great professional tool for journalism but one has to decide how much to share and how to deal with the outcomes of those decisions in their personal lives.

Andrew Keen vs. the New Media

Andrew Keen has made his strong polemic on ‘the destructive impact of the digital revolution on our culture, economy and values’ well known. His arguments against the ‘Web 2.0’ are detailed in his book ‘The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing and Assaulting our Economy’. Written in 2007, the book outlines many of the growing trends and fears associated with the new emergence of citizen journalists, social media and the decline of traditional media. The theme revolves around a world where media institutions are “being overtaken by an avalanche of amateur, user-generated, free content”.

Keen is himself subscribed to Twitter, Facebook, has a podcast and a blog. Quite a bit of involvement for someone preaching the end of civilization is stemming from this new form of internet. In an interview with FUTURIST senior editor Patrick Tucker, Keen says while he is unsure of these social networks and methods, “as a speaker and a social critic, I have an economic incentive in finding an audience.”

The new Web 2.0 offers new methods for merging information in a user friendly manner. Wikipedia and YouTube are just two sites that Keen expresses concern and dismay in. Keen says these can be tools for corporate propaganda or contain inaccurate information. He doesn’t address that traditional media can be just as guilty. The ‘amateurs’ are also helping to keep media in check with providing reliable and accurate information. The 24/7 news cycle may provide an overload of information but also the opportunity to respond and comment on stories.

Time Magazine said that the Web 2.0 ‘will not only change the world but also change the way the world changes.” This is exactly what is happening. The fear that Keen expresses is justifiable, just as it was justifiable for the Luddites to fear the Industrial revolution. Change can be frightening, especially when the future of a change is unknown. However, change is a barreling force that can’t be stopped. In his review of Keen’s book, Atara Frenkel-Faran states that even ‘not knowing how this brave new world will economically reward creators should not stop us, just as (thankfully) it did not stop the print revolution.

Keen chooses to critique and point out what could happen and what is being taken away, he can’t stop it. He seems to have realized this, adapting to the new modes of communication such as blogs or social media. This can seem either highly hypocritical or that he just decided to join the expansion to help change it. To critique anything one needs to be competent on the subject. Keen has immersed himself in the new methods and growing trends becoming familiar with what he is protesting. This is no different than when opposing candidates inform themselves on each other’s points to craft rebuttals.

Differentiating an expert on an issue from an amateur may have been a concern in 2007, but Keen didn’t account for the common sense of most people. For example, just because someone isn’t an expert on the internet doesn’t mean they can’t use common deducing skills to filter through inaccurate information. Books with outlandish opinions have been published for generations. Keen refers to citizen journalists as only having the duty to, “spread gossip, sensationalize political scandal, display embarrassing photos of public figures, and link stories on imaginative topics such as UFO sightings and 9/11 conspiracy theories”. People have the capacity to read and make their own opinion regarding the issue and not just take what is printed as the blind truth. Keen needs to address a person’s ability to competently discern between an amateur and an expert.

Keen surmises the lines between a traditional author and audience are being blurred and ‘old media is facing extinction’. This revolution of new methods to communicate doesn’t mean extinction but evolution. The printing presses were introduced in 1439 and people opposed them but it continued on. Radio came about and revolutionized obtaining information. With television and now the internet it is only a logical step. Things change, not always for the better but it is the natural progression on the world. We constantly strive for something new, especially when it comes to technology.

Privacy has been a long standing issue with the constantly changing internet and is an issue to examine closer. Keen envisions the possibility that our culture is headed to a place where there will be no concept of privacy, no distinction between public and private. He claims the internet is dismantling the idea that there won’t even be a distinction. This is the issue that might sway the largest audience to his opinions. Society is currently split into those who remember life without the internet and those who can’t imagine doing anything without it. The gap is rapidly closing as the I-generation expands. What Keen doesn’t address is that it is up to the individual to decide how much they are willing to share. People can decide how much they want their personal lives broadcasted or not to participate at all. Just because these entities exist does not mean people will or have to use them.

Keen warns of the impending doom for professional journalists. What he doesn’t realize is that everyone is adapting to the new form. Whether we agree that privacy is being rapidly diminished or revel in the newfound sharing system, journalists realize that it is necessary for survival. He agrees himself that it is in his ‘economic incentive’ to become engaged.

Keen has found his niche as a self-proclaimed ‘social critic’. He makes valid arguments concerning the Web 2.0 and presents an almost extinct view himself. It is important for people to be wary of changes and not just accept them on face value, and Keen emphasizes this in his thorough analysis.