This Week in Review: Facebook’s big move, the iPad’s news app control, and a future for hard reporting
[This review was originally posted at the Nieman Journalism Lab on April 23, 2010.]
Facebook tries to connect the web: Most of the talk on journalism and the web this week was about two tech giants making moves that, for the most part, aren’t making users and commentators happy. The first one I’ll run down is Facebook — its moves this week aren’t as directly tied to journalism as Apple’s, but their scope seems a lot larger. On Wednesday, Facebook unveiled a set of tools that will allow its site to be integrated across the web by remembering users’ preferences and tying them all together through their Facebook accounts. GigaOm’s Liz Gannes and Om Malik have helpful overviews of the individual social features and Facebook’s larger plans.
What this means is that you’re going to be seeing a ton of Facebook around the internet and a ton of data — much of it personal — sent through Facebook’s connections. As tech guru Robert Scoble writes, this appears to be an incredibly ambitious move that could transform the look and feel of the web. Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb notes that while it’s hard to find fault initially with anything specific about Facebook’s announcement, people are going to justifiably be concerned with the fact that the material Facebook is using to make the web social is formerly private information from its users.
And within the first day of commentary, a lot of people were concerned. TechCrunch’s MG Siegler thought Facebook took control of the internet with the move, saying that it’s backing up its assertion that “social connections are going to be just as important going forward as hyperlinks have been for the web.” Liz Gannes said Facebook’s asking for a lot of trust from developers and later pinpointed its “instant personalization” as the main privacy problem. Both Dave Winer and Robert Scoble marveled at Facebook’s audacity and the niftiness of its API, but both had big concerns about seeing so much power and data given to one company. Winer summed the position well: “Facebook is to be the identity system for the web. A company? That just can’t work. I can’t believe he doesn’t know that.”
So what does this mean for news orgs? In a post for ReadWriteWeb, Facebook marketer Chris Treadway took a first stab at an answer. Facebook is making social media (and itself in particular) pervasive across the web, Treadway argues, so it has to be a top consideration when designing, developing and creating content for newspapers. He says newspapers need to hire not just web developers, but Facebook developers. “The decline of those news sources that fail to realize the necessary potential of Facebook will be swift. … It’s becoming a necessary core competency, and fast.”
On the privacy front, a few people explained exactly which of Facebook’s new features might be problematic: The aforementioned Liz Gannes on “instant personalization“; paidContent’s Joseph Tarkatoff on allowing other sites to hold onto Facebook users’ data; grad student Arnab Nandi on “liking” sites you’ve never visited; and Mashable’s Christina Warren on the Open Graph API. Warren nails the essential change in Facebook privacy: “Public no longer means ‘public on Facebook,’ it means ‘public in the Facebook ecosystem.’”
The iPad’s control over news apps: The other big tech company to draw criticism this week was Apple, for the continued controversy over its control over iPhone and iPad apps. About the time this post went up last Friday, we found out that Apple was reconsidering the iPhone app by Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore, which it initially rejected for mocking public figures. (Here are The New York Times’ and the Lab’s reports of the news.) Later that day, Apple chief Steve Jobs called the rejection a mistake. And a few days later, Fiore’s app was approved.
Several people used the episode as a window into the larger issue of Apple’s control over apps on the iPhone or iPad. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum called for all news orgs to remove their apps in protest: The press, he said, “would never let the government have such power over its right to publish. It shouldn’t let any corporation have it, either.”Media critic Dan Gillmor asked several major news orgs whether Apple has the power to disable their iPad apps and heard nothing back. And CNET’s Erica Ogg wondered if publishers’ embrace of the iPad will give Apple even more of an upper hand.
In other iPad-related bits, a CNET panel of reporters discussed that (seemingly) age-old question of whether it can save newspapers and magazines, and Jennifer McFadden looked at some hard numbers and concluded that the answer is probably no. Meanwhile, PR exec Steve Rubel took a mostly positive look at three trends the iPad might accelerate.
A search for investigative reporting funding: Cal-Berkeley held its annual Reva and David Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium last weekend, and it touched on some very timely topics as the news ecosystem expands to include more nontraditional sources. Chris O’Brien provided quite a bit of coverage for PBS MediaShift, writing detailed summaries of the back-and-forth exchanges on several panels. His day-one post includes discussions of collaboration between news orgs, the consequences of investigative reporting, and funding sources, and his day-two edition covers a panel on new investigative initiatives.
In a post written after the event, O’Brien zeroed in on one of those initiatives, WikiLeaks, coming away impressed that the whistle-blowing organization professionally vets its tips and has carefully structured itself to be protected from lawsuits. He also looked more closely at two of the nonprofits talked about in the symposium’s panels, ProPublica and the new Bay Citizen. He remained a bit skeptical about the Bay Citizen but noted its editor’s statement that the nonprofit model is becoming more viable as private capital from investors for journalism — as opposed to aggregation — dries up.
The Lab’s Laura McGann also wrote about the day-one panel on funding sources, focusing on the broad-based, experimental revenue-generating philosophy that one panelist described as “revenue promiscuity.”
NYU prof and web thinker Clay Shirky and veteran journalist Walter Robinson also talked about the future of investigative journalism this week at Harvard, and the Lab had the audio and transcript. The two talked about the Boston Globe’s work to uncover Boston’s priest abuse scandal, and Laura McGann summarized the reasons they said a small online news org would have a tough time doing the same thing. The whole thing’s well worth a read/listen if you’re interested in the future of accountability journalism by nontraditional sources.
Reading roundup: We had a ton of interesting pieces this week that didn’t fit very well in a larger item, so I’ll pull them all together into a longer-than-usual reading roundup.
— The Associated Press, arbiter of much of American newsrooms’ copy style, announced it was changing “Web site” to “website.” Among journalists who hang out online, the news was mostly met with glee. Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore got some reaction, and the Online Journalism Review’s Robert Niles said young journalists need to spend more time learning SEO (search engine optimization) style than AP style.
— A sequel to the “hot news doctrine” case we looked at last month: Dow Jones sued Briefing.com for aggregating and summarizing content from their financial newswire under the same doctrine. Here’s the story from Bloomberg, the Citizen Media Law Project and paidContent, which has a copy of the suit.
— Here’s a few cool curated resources you might find helpful: Josh Stearns put together a list of collaborations between news outlets, Columbia j-prof Sree Sreenivasan compiled social media tips for journalists (Kaukab Jhumra Smith has a shorter version), and USC j-prof David Westphal has a comprehensive list of public policy and funding ideas for journalism.
— Two interesting future-of-journalism case studies: One by Cindy Royal of Texas State-San Marcos on The New York Times interactive news technology department, and the other by J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer on the Philadelphia news ecosystem.
— Salon vet and blogging historian Scott Rosenberg launched MediaBugs, an open-source service that tracks media errors with the aim of correcting them more quickly and reliably. Poynter and the Lab both have write-ups.
— News business analyst Alan Mutter provides a critique of several of the most popular online paid-content models right now, then concludes that “it won’t matter what pay model publishers choose, unless they produce unique and compelling content, tools or applications that readers can’t find anywhere else.”
— Finally, two neat ideas to give some thought: Open-government activist David Eaves ably dissects five old-media myths about journalism and new media, and the Lab’s Megan Garber goes through the attributes that writer Dave Eggers associates with print, pointing out that those principles could apply just as well to the web. “They offer insights into what many consumers want out of news in general, regardless of platform,” she writes, as well as “a challenge to (and, more optimistically, a vision for) news organizations and web designers alike.”