This week in media musings: What real-time search means for news, and journalism subsidies get a hearing

As The New York Times’ media critic, David Carr, noted on Friday, this last week has been a rather momentous one in future-of-journalism happenings. That means I’ve got a ton to cover, so I’ll try to keep it digestible for you. (Explanation of what I’m doing, as always, is here.)

— First off, this was the week real-time search officially took off. On Wednesday morning, The Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital broke the news that Microsoft had reached an agreement to give its Bing search engine the ability to include Twitter and Facebook status updates. Four hours later, we found out that Google, too, had reached a similar agreement with Twitter (no Google-Facebook marriage, though — that would have been a surprise).

So now we have Twitter status updates available on Google and Bing, and Facebook updates on Bing as well. The tech blog ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick has a handy-dandy chart to help us keep all the companies’ search strengths and weaknesses straight. He and Adam Ostrow from the social media blog Mashable both note that Microsoft’s plan for Facebook search is dependent on Facebook’s ability to persuade its users to make their status updates at least semi-public — and Facebook users have a history of fiercely guarding their privacy.

There’s a few different ways to examine the impact of these deals: The New York Times has focused on money, noting that this is likely a huge part of Twitter’s answer to the ubiquitous “But how are you going to make money off of this?” question, and then, in turn, wondering, “How are Microsoft and Google going to make money off of this?”

Several others have been talking about the value of this data. Catharine Taylor at Social Media Insider thinks most of it is “simply unimportant,” which is, well, nuts. (You seriously can’t see how finding out what people are saying right now about a given topic might be slightly valuable?) TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld posits (rightly, I think) that the greatest value of this data will be at the aggregate, “firehose” level in the ability to refine search results to reflect real-time results — sort of like an integration of a far more sophisticated version of Google Trends.

Then, of course, there’s the journalism angle. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum asks the same question that I can just about bet Rupert Murdoch and Tom Curley were asking when they heard about the deals: “If tweets are worth money to a search engine, why isn’t the news?” Meanwhile, tech pioneer Dave Winer, in the most insightful post I’ve seen on these deals, argues that we should be beyond thinking about what this means for traditional news organizations: Google, Microsoft and Twitter are now in the news business themselves.

This is the dawn of a system, Winer says, where all of our news “flows through the same pipes, and curators pick off the good stuff and route it to people who are interested.” And instead of jumping in on this while it’s beginning, the moguls of traditional media are sitting on the sidelines, hoping someone will just stop by and decide to pay them — not because they’ve provided any serious value in this new media ecosystem, but only because they’re complaining loud enough. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Just read Dave’s post.

— The other big development this week was a report released by former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie and UC-San Diego/Columbia University journalism prof Michael Schudson, which was followed by an avalanche of reactions from journalism pundits and scholars. The Nieman Journalism Lab has a fine summary of the report and the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Steve Buttry has a comprehensive roundup of the reaction, so I won’t duplicate their work here.

The aspect of the report that got the most attention was Downie and Schudson’s recommendation of several avenues for increased government funding for journalism, summed up nicely by Michele McLellan here. And that may be the most valuable thing to come out of this report — it’s the first proposal of expanding public funding for journalism to be engaged with seriously by many of The People Who Think About Journalism, probably because it’s the first proposal that deserves to be taken seriously.

I have my own deep skepticism about publicly funding journalism — though I’m slightly more amenable to starting up new initiatives under the public-media banner than to using subsidies or tax breaks to prop up flagging newspapers — but it seems that Downie and Schudson’s report has finally gotten us past the knee-jerk “Over my dead body!” response to publicly funded journalism, even if the right answer is “No way — but here’s why, and I’m still open to hearing some ideas from the other side.”

— This week included a watershed moment for the sports blogosphere, too. Deadspin, a Gawker Media blog that towers over the sports blogging world, launched a daylong offensive against ESPN after, according to Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio, a PR rep for the network brushed aside his questions last month about a rumored affair and suspension by ESPN baseball analyst Steve Phillips. When the story turned out to be true and was broken by the New York Post last week, Daulerio retaliated by publishing reports of sexual misdeeds by a mid-level ESPN Radio host and an unknown-to-the-public marketing VP.

The reaction from the sports blogosphere was almost universally negative (though there were exceptions), which is notable because so many of those blogs generally operate with a very similar M.O. If you had to boil the sports blogosphere down to just a few of its defining characteristics, one of them would be its fixation on sexual scandals that only tangentially involve sports. Yet this week we found out that even regarding that, those blogs have a line. And when even the most powerful sports blog on the Web crossed that line, they heard it from their fellow bloggers. If you’re interested in diving deeper into this, the National Sports Journalism Center has a roundup of reactions, Midwest Sports Fans has an audio interview with Daulerio about the flap, and lawyer and former Deadspin associate editor Clay Travis uses the episode to give us a lesson on libel law.

— In the wake of the past few weeks’ adventures in news orgs’ social media guidelines, veteran journalist Gina Chen has an extremely helpful personal guide to the ethics of social media for journalists, complete with case studies. Over at MediaShift, meanwhile, Stephen Ward has some tips for news orgs crafting social media policies.

— The nation’s 12th-largest newspaper, Newsday on Long Island, has put a paywall around its online content. Newsday execs explain the move at Editor & Publisher, and news business expert Alan Mutter cautions that Newsday’s being owned by a cable company makes this move a tough one to replicate.

— Finally, two professors argue at SEED magazine that social media and the explosion of online publishing mean that soon, our society will be characterized not only by nearly universal literacy, but by nearly universal authorship as well. And if you’re a journalism student (or a working journalist, for that matter), Publish2′s Ryan Sholin has some helpful advice: Be great at one analog craft and one digital craft. Sounds about right.

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26. October 2009 by Mark
Categories: social media, this week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 comments