Technology and Media

In May and June, the Oriella PR Network surveyed 770 journalists in 15 nations. They were asked some touchy-feely questions, like whether they’re happy and satisfied (shockingly, yes, for the most part), and a bunch of questions that get to what the work of journalism is becoming in this chaotic time.

The trend that leaped out at me is the decline in journalists’ interest in multimedia content. While blogs and Twitter were on the rise, the percent of journos whose organizations produce online video clips dropped rather sharply, from 47% in 2009 to just under 40% in 2010. And that decline didn’t translate into getting more video-based publicity materials. Only 27% wanted links to video content from PRs, compared to 35% the year before. The proportion interested in audio content also shrank.

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The timeworn entrepreneurial model of fund it, build it, sell it is getting turned on its ear. In recent months, we’ve seen a rash of big companies more usually known as acquirers dip into the entrepreneurial process at an earlier stage and in very public ways.

One of the most popular ways of doing this is in the form of contests that seek to harvest entrepreneurial ideas while rewarding the people behind with support, guidance, and, in some cases, cold hard cash.

Far from exhaustive, here’s a list of three initiatives to foster — and fund — innovation that give big companies new ways to speak to their customers. As to the question of whether these programs are gimmicks designed to garner PR, only time will tell.

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There was never much doubt that Viacom’s $1 billion copyright-infringement lawsuit against YouTube would fail. Most legal and media observers predicted a result not unlike the one handed down today by a federal judge who granted summary judgment for the Google-owned video-sharing site. Basically the judge said copyright-protected clips uploaded by YouTube users are protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as long as YouTube takes down the clips when copyright-holders ask.

Even if it didn’t surprise, the ruling is still still sort of a symbolic moment that, if Viacom and other big content companies interpret it correctly, could lead them out of a Luddite frame of mind that has no room for a realistic understanding of how content is consumed and distributed today.

Here’s what needs to come next:

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Earlier this week there was a bit of hubub around Gourmet magazine, the beloved foodie bible tossed out with the fish guts last year by its cost-chopping publisher, Conde Nast, under the guidance of its knife-sharpener McKinsey. Yesterday morning, Ruth Reichl, the Gourmet editor at the time of its demise, used her Twitter account to turn the heat off any talk that Gourmet was coming back in print form.

“Thanks Tweeps,” she wrote, “you’ve really made my day, week, month with all your support. Re: Gourmet; they’re reviving the brand, not the magazine.Pity.”

Thanks Tweeps, you’ve really made my day, week, month with all your support. Re: Gourmet; they’re reviving the brand, not the magazine.Pity.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

Distinguishing between channel of distribution and brand is nothing new, especially for print media companies as they try to reinvent their business models. For years, the purveyors of glossy magazines have thought of their titles as having intimate connections with carefully aggregated, loyal, engaged and, to advertisers, highly desirable audiences that will follow a Vogue or a Vanity Fair or a Wired anywhere they might go. Online, events, TV — wherever. It’s a rightly-placed belief that it’s the editorial voice and sensibility that matters, not whether that voice is being distributed on dead trees or in pixels.

As magazine-cum-brand success stories go, Gourmet would seem to have been a classic case study. That’s why so many very vocal readers mourned its end and it’s why Conde Nast feels comfortable with the reincarnation it’s now ordered up, which will come in the form of a free iPad app called Gourmet Live. There’s still brand equity and possibly revenue in them thar hills; how do we suck it dry?

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So the paywall debate is raging. Again. That media rascal Murdoch has erected barriers and toll booths around his London Times and Sunday Times, and the New York Times is going to follow suit with a metered system that will charge readers who try to access more than an as-yet-to-be-determined number of stories.

Predictably in a business that so loves its navel, the NYT’s move spawned voluminous coverage. My cursory analysis of that coverage is about as scientific as scientology, but the pieces that bubble to the top of the search soup seem to be largely down on the idea, pointing to the lost links and, possibly more pertinently, the pointlessness of the exercise in revenue terms.

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The FTC probably isn’t going to save journalism, you won’t be shocked to hear.

The agency recently dropped a set of potential policy recommendations resulting from its yearlong investigation into the news business’ commercial woes. It’s a 47-page (with footnotes) round-up of the problems facing news organizations with some surface-level thinking on how to remedy them.

To anyone who’s been paying attention to the news business over the past several years, it’s a work of extreme intellectual myopia. To put it in sports terms (You’re welcome!), it’s a playbook that has only defensive schemes: government subsidies, contracting the scope of fair-use provisions of copyright law, taxes, legalized price-fixing and collusion, “hot news” protections. It’s entirely free of any solutions that foster innovation or entrepreneurialism. It is, to be completely clear, a complete mess.

Nevertheless, journalism does need to be reinvented. To help re-frame the issues, I’ve provided a few recommendations of my own.

1. Stop pretending that newspapers equal journalism.

Throughout the findings newspapers and journalism are used pretty much interchangeably. Newspapers, you would think from reading the report, are the be-all and end-all of newsgathering and their business model needs to be preserved at all costs. Online news sources, on the other hand, are dismissed thusly: “virtually no sites have yet found a sustainable business model that would allow them to survive without some form of funding from non-profit sources.” Um, I guess that’s true unless you think of companies like Gawker Media, Salon, Drudge, Huffington Post and so on. While none of these have models that you’d describe as unimpeachable and while they do, often quite pleasantly, trouble traditional definition of “journalism,” they can’t be ignored. Each has broken news — in some case’s news of the highest order — and thus participates in journalism.

2. Cool down about the “hot news” protections.

“Hot news” would essentially extend copyright protection to the reporting of facts for a certain time. It’s a nice idea that would seem to be completely unenforceable, if not a straight-up violation of the First Amendment. I can see the attraction to protecting meaningful news breaks. But let’s be really honest. A not-so-small portion of newsgathering, even at our most august institutions, is about negotiating a press release from a PR flack a few minutes before your competitor gets it. Is that behavior we really need to protect? And how does social media fit it into this? Will random Twitterers who retweet news breaks suddenly be the subject of litigation because they don’t comply with some “hot news” time frame?

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Data visualization gets its props on web and information design sites, such as Web Design Ledger, Web Designer Depot, and Information Is Beautiful, which feature some incredible examples of this science (or is it art). Yet its influence on the way the news media tells stories and configures its platforms is still sadly limited.

That’s not to say it doesn’t get any play. Magazines like Wired frequently simplify the complex or enliven the intellectual with clever visualizations. On this week’s Beancast, Angela Natividad of Hypios, ended the show by advising listeners to check out this nifty World Cup predictor from Wired UK. Also on the World Cup tip, Spanish sports language daily, Marca, created this fantastic interactive schedule.

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The maturation of the digital news business hasn’t been kind to the Associated Press. In addition to fighting a pointless battle with Google over the distribution of AP articles in its news channel and taking potshots at aggregators, the iconic news association has been dumped by CNN, as the network pushes its own newswire offering. On top of those strategic missteps it’s obvious the world has passed by a service that, not long ago, was indispensable to journalism.

In 2010, it’s pretty clear that the real associated press is comprised of thousands of strong credible voices breaking news and doing sharp analysis on any topic you can name — not a vast network of expensive reporters churning generic content and a revenue model based on overcharging for the privilege of distributing that content. Finally, there’s a service out there that recognizes that fact and is set to help get those voices more eyeballs, especially those eyeballs that are still glued to the proverbial fish wrapper, all while reducing costs for newspaper publisher.

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When major news organizations born in print revamp their digital homes, more is generally regarded as more.

Newsweek Redesigns Its HomepageWith its new look website this week, Newsweek has bucked that trend, going for a clean look and feel that stands in sharp contrast to the feature jumble you get from, The New York Times and other massive news operations. Rather than try to jam as much on the homepage as possible, Newsweek gives you a mercilessly pared down version of world events, surrounded by white space, all in a clear attempt to live up to the tagline, “What Matters Most.”

It might be tempting to call this approach bloggy, as Editorial Director Mark Miller and others have done, but that couldn’t be more wrong. If Newsweek leadership really wanted to incorporate the best of the culture of blogging, they wouldn’t have drained the site of the personalities that provide Newsweek with what value that still remains: Its commentators. Strangely, there’s no preening of Newsweek’s crew of heavy-hitting authors until you get to the bottom of the page, where the likes of Fareed Zakaria, Howard Fineman, Daniel Gross, and Dan Lyons are listed in tiny type. It’s a curious decision in light of Newsweek’s strategic overhaul of a few years back to focus on opinion and commentary at the expense of newsgathering and, naturally, newsgatherers, hundreds of whom were laid off and bought-out.

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I currently pay $2.99 a month for access to the The New Yorker on my Kindle. It’s actually a great way to read the magazine’s almost entirely text-driven content. And it’s probably an improvement on print when you consider how hard copies of the New Yorker tend to pile up. With the Kindle subscription, you always have a bunch of them with you and the content tends to stay fresh over time. All said, the Kindle version is handy and priced correctly.

But recently I’d been wondering whether I’d be willing to pay a separate fee when I buy an iPad later this year. Happily, that’s not a decision I’ll have to make.

David Remnick New YorkerYou wouldn’t expect the The New Yorker, whose move to the web been a bit like one of its articles — long, slow, with plenty of twists and turns — to be a trailblazer on anything digital. Yet Editor David Remnick’s announcement this week that it’s offering one pricing option across all platforms except print is a welcome bit of news.

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