[This review was originally posted at the Nieman Journalism Lab on March 22, 2013.]
British press rails against regulations
: Much of the British press is livid this week over new government regulations that would establish a tougher independent regulator that could order corrections and fines for wrongdoing. The regulations came out of the Leveson Inquiry report released last year
in response to the News Corp. phone hacking scandal, and they are to be inscribed in a royal charter, which is more difficult to change than standard statute. The BBC
and New York Times
have overviews of the regulations, and The Guardian
has some more particulars.
The press was outraged. The Guardian
and New York Times
reported on their objections, which centered on the regulations' enshrined limits on their freedom into statute and the increased power of the new regulatory body. As The Guardian noted, various newspaper groups are contemplating legal challenges
to the new regulations, and even forming several breakaway regulatory bodies
There were several columns outlining newspapers' objections: The New Statesman's editorial board
, The Spectator's Fraser Nelson
, The Telegraph's Boris Johnson
, and The Guardian's Simon Jenkins
all voiced their disapproval, and The New York Times chimed in
from across the Atlantic. Said Johnson, "If Parliament agrees to anything remotely approaching legislation, it will be handing politicians the tools they need to begin the job of cowing and even silencing the press."
There was some pushback to the press' howling, too. British filmmaker and politician Lord David Putnam said the press is stuck in an antiquated mindset
in which it has "the right of kings." The New Statesman's Alex Andreou argued
that the British press has failed in its chances at self-regulation, and Kevin Anderson Knowledge Bridge said their objections aren't about freedom of the press
, but freedom from accountability.
Another group was also alarmed at the new press regulations — bloggers. The Guardian's Lisa O'Carroll wrote
that bloggers are likely covered by the regulation and could face larger "exemplary" fines, just like the newspapers, if they don't voluntarily sign up to be subject to the regulator. Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing argued
that the deal's language is vague enough that it could include anyone who uses Twitter and Facebook, too. At The Guardian, Emily Bell said the regulations are operating from a web-illiterate perspective
that still sees a coherent "press" and "public."
A pessimistic picture of news
: The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism released its annual State of the News Media
report this week — as usual, a comprehensive, insightful, and data-filled look at where the industry is today. You can drill deeper into it with the Lab's podcast
with PEJ acting director Amy Mitchell. The report covers a broad range of topics, from social news consumption to campaign coverage to network, cable, and local TV to alternative media.
In such a wide-ranging report, there's plenty of data to support both optimism and pessimism about the future of news. Mathew Ingram of paidContent offered a few tidbits
on both sides of the glass-half-empty/glass-half-full divide. The central narrative around the study, though, was decidedly negative: Years of cutbacks in resources within the news industry are bearing distasteful fruit in the form of lower-quality coverage and diminishing audiences. Poynter's Andrew Beaujon has a good summary of the situation
, and as Mashable's Lauren Indvik emphasized
, the news industry's cuts are corresponding with a rise of various ways for organizations to circumvent the media to reach the public themselves.
The New York Times focused on the effects of this shrinking in local TV news
, and Poynter's Rick Edmonds looked at the grim picture for newspapers
. The Atlantic's Derek Thompson highlighted
the discrepancy between print and digital ad revenues as "the scariest statistic about the newspaper business today." Slate's Matthew Yglesias took issue with all this hand-wringing, arguing that from the consumer's perspective, things are actually fantastic
— there's never been more good, easy-to-access information. Media analyst Alan Mutter countered
that Yglesias is mistaking quantity for quality, and Daily Download's Ben Jacobs argued
that just because people have access to all this information doesn't mean they're consuming it.
Others saw an important niche for digital tools in Poynter's report: Amy Gahran of the Knight Digital Media Center highlighted
the crucial role of mobile media for community journalism, and j-prof Alfred Hermida pointed out the indispensability of social media
for journalists. Another point that drew attention was Pew's finding that opinion is taking up a greater share of cable news programming, with MSNBC carrying the most opinion and CNN showing the most change since 2007. The Washington Post's Erik Wemple noted the profitability of cable-news opinionating
, and Mediaite's Joe Concha urged MSNBC
to own its opinion-heavy identity.
Google Reader and the viability of free
After Google announced the shutdown of Google Reader last week, the mass exodus, fury, and pushback echoed into this week, as well. The many RSS alternatives
continue to vie for the Reader diaspora, led by Feedly, which drew more than 500,000 Reader users
in two days. David Zax of MIT Technology Review wondered
whether any of the alternatives would catch on, but suspected that social media would be good enough for many people; RSS, he said, is for the obsessive who "needs to know every development in a given field as it happens."
Slate's Chris Kirk and Heather Brady cleverly noted
that Reader is very, very far from the first service Google has killed, and management prof Joshua Gans wondered
whether Google Scholar might be next. Developer Clay Allsopp differentiated between Reader as a product and Reader as a symbol
, saying that the former was clunky and antiquated, while the latter was a bulwark against the "walled garden" approach.
Several more writers made the popular case for Reader as a warning against using free, corporately owned tools. The Observer's John Naughton pointed to that as a lesson of Reader's downfall
, and Instapaper's Marco Arment
and programmer Christoph Nahr
both argued that free pricing works in the short run but has damaging long-term implications. What Google did with Reader, Arment wrote, was effectively predatory pricing, which turned what could have been a thriving industry into a "proprietary monoculture."
The Washington Post's paywall
: The Washington Post, the most prominent American newspaper still holding out against an online pay model, announced this week
it would join the ranks of the paywalled with plans to institute a metered model this summer. (The mantle of most prominent American holdout now passes to USA Today.) The plan is quite modest, though — users will get 20 free page views per month, and students, educators, government employees, and the military will all get free access.
As Jeff Bercovici of Forbes noted
, those loopholes will encompass a significant percentage of DC-area residents. Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review gave some "better late than never" approval to the paywall, but criticized the large loopholes
as poor design: "They largely won’t pay to read at home what they get at work for free—which is where most reading is done anyway."
: Plenty of other smaller stories to check out during this busy week:
— The Washington Examiner, the free daily newspaper owned by Philip Anschutz, announced that it will cease daily publication in June and laid off 87 employees, according to the Washington City Paper
, though 20 new positions
will be hired. The locally oriented paper will turn into a weekly magazine and website focused instead on national politics
, aiming for straight news reporting supplemented with conservative opinion. The Washington Post's Erik Wemple gave more details
on that plan and compared it to Anschutz's other political publication, The Weekly Standard.
— Some follow-ups on the arrest last week of Reuters social media editor Matthew Keys for helping Anonymous attack news sites in 2010: Keys' attorney said he was actually doing undercover journalism
on Anonymous. Gawker's Adrian Chen gave some more details
on that defense, as well as Keys' Internet past. Keys' former co-worker, Judy Farah, reflected on Keys
as a friend, and Gerry Smith of the Huffington Post used the case as an example of the security dangers
of rogue employees, while the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Hanni Fakhoury used the case to look at problems with sentencing
under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Caitlin Dewey of The Washington Post, meanwhile, countered
the idea that Keys is comparable to Aaron Swartz.
— A few leftover pieces from the closing of the alternative weekly the Boston Phoenix late last week: The Phoenix's Carly Carioli
and the Columbia Journalism Review's Justin Peters
gave elegies for the paper, and the Lab's Joshua Benton pointed to its demise
as a reminder that a switch from newsprint to glossy print doesn't solve the basic problems alt weeklies are facing. Jack Shafer of Reuters zoomed out
to explain why alt weeklies everywhere have been declining for years, and Poynter's Andrew Beaujon pointed out
their declining circulation in Pew's State of the Media report.
— For those interested in media research or analytics, two extremely helpful posts this week: First, at the Lab, Matt Stempeck of the MIT Center for Civic Media released a script
for tracking mentions of words, phrases, or people in the recently released TVNews Archive. Second, New York Times OpenNews fellow Brian Abelson demonstrated a metric for engagement
on news apps.
— Finally, the post just about everyone currently or formerly in newspapers seemed to be passing around this week was this essay
by former newspaper reporter Allyson Bird about why she left the business. It's a thought-provoking, sobering read about what it's like to work in newspapers right now.