SOPA/PIPA: It’s Not Over Yet

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), two controversial privacy acts that were up for a vote in the House and the Senate respectively, have caused a huge uproar, an internet blackout by more than 115,000 websites, an outpour of comments and discussions on social media and more than 3 million e-mails to Congress, urging lawmakers to change their vote.

The bills were designed to stop online copyright infringements by cracking down on websites that offer copyrighted material abroad and block Google search from displaying them. For now, it seems, the two attempts to stifle internet piracy by censoring website abroad, has been put on hold with many representatives switching sides. The proposed bills have not been, however, outright cancelled. 

I understand the need to protect copyrights. As a writer and “content provider,” I’ve had my fair share of articles and quotes “stolen” reused, quoted out of context and copied by others. That said, I still don’t want the government imposing censorship, and it doesn’t matter if the censored sites are located abroad or within the United States. Once we start policing the web, we go down a slippery path.

For more background info, read Wikipedia’s entry on the Stop SOPA/PIPA Initiative and excerpts of a primer on the bills via ReadWriteWeb:

“The Internet is in an uproar over the Stop Online Piracy Act. The battle lines are drawn. Big Media (the record labels, movie studios and TV networks) support the bill while Big Tech (search engines, open source platforms, social networks) oppose it. The bill, introduced to Congress by Representative Lamar Smith, is ostensibly supposed to give the Attorney General the ability to eliminate Internet piracy and to “protect U.S. customers and prevent U.S. support of infringing sites.

There is a lot that may be wrong with SOPA, but putting the power to censor the Internet into the hands of the government is chief among citizens’ concerns. The law would force Internet Service Providers and search engines to cut off access to infringing sites as well as give the government the ability to stop payment to those sites.”

Below is a recap of the events. Combing the web in the past weeks, I have gathered links to the best articles that I could find on the topic. Keep this as a reference tool, because it is not over yet. And make sure to sign this petition by americancensorship.org, who states on its website that more than 24 million internet users have had their voices heard in a “collective flexing of internet muscles”. Be one of them. Because backers of both acts are “still working on backroom deals” to get similar bills passed.

Feb. 2

Jan. 31

Jan. 20

Jan. 19

Jan. 18

Jan. 17

2012 Previews and 2011 Reviews

At year’s end and the new year’s beginning, I suppose it is inevitable to look back to forge ahead. Here are some interesting takes on the past, present and future. Expect longer blog posts about some of those trends throughout the next months. Let me know which topics interest you most.

  • Here is Time Magazine’s list of the 50 Best Websites of 2011.
  • A list of The Best of TedGlobal 2011.
  • Poynter discusses Three Trends From 2011 That Will Reshape Digital News in 2012: “Storytelling is more than an author’s words; Facebook means news and e-readers and tablets go mainstream.”
    …Now, if impoverished editors and writers only could afford those…
  • The Nieman Journalism Lab‘s Predictions for Journalism 2012: Numerous renowned authors and media analysts predict that social media will get boring and its bubble will burst, the dawn of “appification media,”  the control of free-flow information, credibility will be back, pay walls will increase, streaming home pages will be the norm, the rise of the tablets will bring about personalized platforms, mobile payments and big data will be the next big thing and the focus will return to the writer (!!). Good times.
  • Some good news about the future of news in 2011 offers the Canadian Journalism Project: “It’s possible that 2011 will come to be seen as a watershed year; the year that saw the emergence of a business model that might actually allow risky, time-consuming and expensive journalism to be pursued, allow journalists to get paid a living wage, and allow media companies to make a reasonable return on their investment.”
    …Pinch me, I’m dreaming…
  • CNET‘s 2012 predictions: “News readers” — “It’s a long way from 3D printers and Kinects to tablet and smartphone-based news readers, but in the world of tech culture, aggregators [and apps] like Flipboard, Zite, and Pulse are growing in importance every day.”
More to come.

Long Live Long Form

In a Mediabeat Interview (click image to view) with Michael Wolff, founder of Newser (“Read Less, Know More”), a news aggregator, Wolff explains: “We take lots of content and make it short, without ripping of someone’s headline or lead. We take a full story and very carefully reduce it to 65-200 words, using editorial skills. People have a need for shorter, faster information. We have to absorb more. The New York Times is a bore; they write for an older world.”

I agree that there is a need for places to get news fast and as a quick, easily digestible read. But reading long-form journalism is not “a bore” or meant for an “older world” (whatever that means) and far from obsolete. And I am sure, Mr. Wolff, that many of the articles that you reduce are written by these “old-world” journalists.

Want proof that long-form journalism is on the rise? Take as an example the news site ProPublica. Its readers like to read long stories, according to the results of ProPublica’s 2011 Reader Survey. Steve Meyers concludes in Poynter that “ProPublica’s not alone here. Long-form journalism is benefiting from new technologies (the iPad) and Web services (Instapaper, Read It Later), curating services (Longreads, Longform) and products (Kindle Singles, Byliner, The Atavist).”

So, Newser, your days might be numbered. Just skimming the surface is becoming the new bore.

We increasingly chose to read content, not just snippets, online. And tablets are exhilarating that pace. Not only do they entice online readers to read longer articles, but they also have an ever-growing impact on users’ willingness to pay for that content.

On that bright note, Happy New Year!

Quickshots: October

A great example why print still works: The Occupy Wall Street Journal is a 4-page broadsheet that is widely distributed among protesters downtown.

“Forgive an old newspaper hack a moment of sentimentality, but it is somehow reassuring that a newspaper still has traction in an environment preoccupied by social media. It makes sense when you think about it: Newspapers convey a sense of place, of actually being there, that digital media can’t. When is the last time somebody handed you a Web site?” (David Carr, “A Protest’s Ink-Stained Fingers“, New York Times).

 ♦

In Is Journalism As We Know It Becoming Obsolete?”, Mathew Ingram debates the question that Dave Winer (Scripting) raised in his blog post, where he argued that it is obsolete “because everyone can do it”. Winer writes, “Now we can hear directly from the sources and build our own news networks. It’s still early days for this, and it wasn’t that long ago that we depended on journalists for the news. But in a generation or two we won’t be employing people to gather news for us. It’ll work differently.”

You should know my point of view by now. And if you agree with the notion that journalism is an old hat, why are you reading this blog? Ingram (and I happen to agree with him) argues that everyone has their own definition what journalism is, “but I think it’s fundamentally about a spirit of inquiry, of curiosity, of wanting to make sense of things. It’s something like the spirit of scientific inquiry, as Matt Thompson noted recently in a post at the Poynter Institute. It has very little to do with specific tools or specific methods of publishing.”

Yes, anybody can access sources and write. But we still need those of us who can curate the flow of information, put it in historic and political perspective and digest the findings. We are not going anywhere anytime soon.

Journalism, says Ingram, “is a state of mind.” Yes, indeed.

“A new generation of web entrepreneurs has discovered the joys of charging users cold, hard cash. […] If we’re lucky, this trend will save the Internet from one of the most corrosive forces affecting it — the bloodless logic of advertising,” writes Clive Thompson on Online Ads in Wired Magazine. “I predict that in 2050, we’ll look back at the first 20 years of the web and shake our heads. The craptacular design! The hallucinogenic business models! The privacy nightmares! All because entrepreneurs convinced themselves that they couldn’t do what inventors have done for centuries: Charge people a fair price for things they want.”

I agree! Thanks, Clive. But what took you so long to discover this? And do you pay for what you read online?

  ♦

Very sound advice:

“Online publishing has made it deceptively easy to become a publisher. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Back when editors and publishers were gatekeepers, there was someone who was reviewing your writing. Content creation, like any other art form, generally improves with practice. If you haven’t ever written for the web or you’re just a bit rusty, you should consider practicing more in private. Working out your routine in private is far less damaging to your brand than producing sub-par content.” (Buddy Scalera, “Content Strategy Tip: Write Awful Content”) 

World press trends: Newspapers still reach more than internet. “Circulation is like the sun. It continues to rise in the East and decline in the West,” said Christoph Riess, CEO of WAN-IFRA, who presented an annual survey at the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum in Vienna, Austria. Nicely put.

Quickshots: September

“It was computer technology (particularly Apple) that put typography into the hands of all of us. And it’s computer technology that is relentlessly picking it apart, devaluing expression in a misguided attempt to demonstrate that you’re too busy coding to make anything look trustworthy or delightful.” (Seth Godin in “The web leaders hate typography (but not for long)”

I agree wholeheartedly. In case you are interested in typography, this is a must read: “Why do the points on Futura in letters like A and N rise slightly above and below the heights of other capital letters? Purely a design decision? Residual choice from old printing techniques?”

New and old meet.

According to a 2010 Project for Excellence in Journalism study, aptly named “The Blogosphere: New Media, Old Media,” 99 percent of news links on blogs came from legacy outlets like newspapers and broadcast networks. “Despite the unconventional agenda of bloggers, traditional media still provide the vast majority of their information. More than 99% of the stories linked to came from legacy outlets like newspapers and broadcast networks. American legacy outlets made up 75% of all items. […] Web-only sites, on the other hand, made up less than 1% of the links in the blogosphere.”

Shut those down and what have you got? Kittens on YouTube.

What, The Byliner and The Atavist both pay for original written content, aka the labor of a writer, who worked on a story that will bring in ad revenues, clicks, eyeballs and…readers (ahem, unique visitors)?

Shocking.

“Like The Atavist, The Byliner’s business model offers its writers an initial fee (reportedly topping out in the low five figures for the biggest names) and then splits revenues 50/50. “

Isn’t that a given for a good business model, one that values its workers? And you need a pat on your back for that? 

Oh, that reminds me: How can an online journalists work when the Internet is full of unpaid blogs? Join the National Writers Union, NYC, on Oct. 11 for a panel discussion. The panel will also be streamed live at PayTheWriter.org.

Facebook, Facebook, Facebook

Americans spent a total of 53.5 billion minutes on Facebook in May, according to a new Nielsen study. “As long as Facebook and its new partners are still motivated by their bottom lines, coming changes are […] kind of scary. As Facebook marches toward its inevitable IPO, the social network walks a very fine line between being a profit-generator and a protector of 750 million users’ privacy preferences. It will be interesting to see how Facebook’s users (and its competitors) feel about all of this.” (Forbes Magazine, “Facebook’s Makeover Is A Little Scary“) .

Facebook execs say that Timeline will be “like meeting a friend for drinks and spilling your soul until the bar lights flicker for closing time.”

Is this a joke? To me, Facebook feels like a trendy nightclub, where everyone that you know — or barely know, or have already forgotten that you know or have tried to tune out — lounges around in their PJs and watches your every move. Cozy, huh? Here’s more on Facebook: CNet: “Facebook changes creeping out some customers” and via All Things D: “Facebook Boldly Annexes the Web

I am on Facebook, but I don’t “spill my soul” there. Are you, Zuckerberg? Wait, don’t answer that…

Interesting article in the New York Times, “All The News You Want, When You Want It,” on how apps help create customized magazines, leaving out what we don’t want. But, admits the author, he goes back to the newsprint version often to seek in-depth reporting that he has possibly missed. “[T]he news app experience is different from reading a newspaper section by section, page by page. I feel informed, but I always have the nagging feeling that I missed something important or that I am reading the news superficially. I go back to the newsprint version during the day to seek in-depth reporting that I may have missed by skimming. Sure, I saved longer articles to read later on my apps, but I don’t always do that. At least gathering the newspapers for recycling is a reminder to glance through them to be sure I did not miss something important.”

New needs old.

 ♦

Computer-generated content is on the rise: “The leaders of Narrative Science emphasize that their technology would be primarily a low-cost tool for publications to expand and enrich coverage when editorial budgets are under pressure.”  (The New York Times, “In Case You Wondered, a Real Human Wrote This Column“)

Is that supposed to make us feel better?

The Onion’s editorial department will be relocated from New York to Chicago next summer.

I doubt that it will find as much satirical material there. I guess, the fiscal bottom line is more important. I feel for you. 

Remember this one: “8.4 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize New York City A Horrible Place To Live“? “At 4:32 p.m. Tuesday, every single resident of New York City decided to evacuate the famed metropolis, having realized it was nothing more than a massive, trash-ridden hell hole that slowly sucks the life out of every one of its inhabitants.”

We’ll miss you, Onion.

Quote from the movie Contagion: “Blogging is not writing; it’s graffiti with punctuation”. Except mine, of course.

Told ya! Return of the Editor: Why Human Filters are the Future of the Web: “Before news aggregators, content curators and Google’s omnipotent algorithm, the world’s information was sorted by real human beings. In the web’s next phase, argues The IdeaLists’ Karyn Campbell, the old-fashioned editor is poised for a comeback.”

Yes, Please!

In case you’re concerned: Print is not Dead. Really.

“Last summer, Paul Steinle and Sara Brown took shoe leather journalism to its extremes. The husband and wife couple, retired journalists and academics both, set off on a 50-state trek to gauge the state of the U.S. newspaper industry in the midst of digital transition.” Their findings: “Market size matters. Local news and watchdog reporting are indispensable assets. There’s no holy grail for digital revenue models.”

Feel better? 

E-Publishing — A Revolution?

 

Got your Kindle/Nook/iPad? Happy?

I love gadgets. I am usually the first to try out a new electronic thingy. I bought a cell phone when they were still as large as a brick; my first PC was a DOS-based IBM XT computer with a floppy disk slot, a 10 MB hard disk drive and 56 KB of memory. Remember DIR [drive:][path][filename] [/P] [/W] [/A[[:]attributes]] [/O[[:]sortorder]] [/S] [/B] [/L] [/V]? I do. I built my first website when it wasn’t fashionable yet to promote one’s personal brand digitally (and not on a blogging-platform, mind you, where you copy and paste and that’s all there’s to it, but by painstakingly hand-coding.)

But using an e-reader? Hmpff.

I like the printed book too much. I like the smell of books. I like dedications in books, authors’ signatures and the memory where I bought the book or who gave it to me. I like to feel the weight of the book, see exactly how much more there is to go before I’m done, before I snap it shut to give it away; or before I write my name in it and put it on my shelf to re-read, where it awaits its turn next to the colorful spines of many other books. I like hardcover books that have their own sewn-in book mark. I like cheap paperbacks with stains, like the one from the memorable flight to Europe, when my daughter spilled Bloody Mary mix all over my bag. The book still smells like a cocktail shaker. Memories like that. And no e-reader can give me that.

But regardless of my nostalgic digging into old times, I am aware, and at awe, that the e-book revolution has arrived! This might be good news for print media in general. Fascinating.

U.S. e-book sales grew from $3 million in 2005 to $88.7 million in the second quarter of 2010. According to the International Digital Publishing Forum, by the end of the third quarter, it had reached $119.7 million. It’s a phenomenon that redefines the nature of reading itself. We are close to the tipping point of forever changing the publishing industry.

New York Women in Communications recently hosted a fascinating panel that gave a glimpse into what publishing will have in store for us. The panelists included Ray Pearce, vice-president, Circulation & Reader Applications at The New York Times; Lauren Indvik, assistant editor at Mashable.com; Matt DeVirgiliis, e-book manager, Digital Rights & Alliances at McGraw Hill Digital; and Sujata Gosalia, associate partner at Oliver Wyman. The moderator was Tim Carmody, a writer at Snarkmarket.com and the founder of Bookfuturism.com.

Now that the iPad and various simpler e-readers have become the must-have gadgets for the avid reader, Google launched its own cross-platform initiative “Google Editions” or simply Goggle eBooks — a hub for purchasing and accessing more than 3 million e-books on various platforms (computer, mobile, e-reader and tablet), giving consumers a choice where, on what platform they read and at what expense. Their initiative is shaping up to be, according to MediaBeat, “the world’s largest library of titles.”

With Google introducing the new purchasing model, there is no more device-restricted downloading; readers freely share content and read it on any device they own in the “cloud,” or pay for downloads in one centralized marketplace, thus taking control away from the e-reader manufacturers that are still vying to curb the distribution of free content.

“For newspapers, Google is ‘very interesting’,” admits Ray. Still, he says, “we, at the newspaper, decide what we want to keep control of, namely our customer care. We want you as a New York Times reader; we want to know who you are. We want to determine a consistent pricing model, no matter the device you read the newspaper on. We need to structure the payment that meets our needs.” And newspaper content online, after the reader exceeds a pre-set amount of downloads will soon disappear behind a pay wall.

Google’s arrival at the e-publishing forefront, “shows how important search is to finding content,” adds Sujata. “They’re a lot of players to influence what users see first and respond to. Now, the end consumer owns the content and thus takes the power away from the manufacturers of the devices.”

But in the new world of publishing and sharing, who has the rights to the content? “We need to find the happy middle,” says Matt. “Keep your customers and your clients in mind and strike a balance; be also careful to safeguard the content for the author.” Adds Ray: “Publishers start to bundle in packages to meet the customers’ needs, like “buy once — access anywhere” wherever it fits me at the time. Most publishers are on that track.”

The publishing industry is met with a growing consumer demand that content ought to be customized to a specific platform. Reading is not a one-size-fits-all experience any longer; depending on the device, readers expect the content, the level of interaction and the ease of accessibility to change across the various platforms.

The average consumer has now changed dramatically: “When the first e-readers hit the market, about 75% of the average readers were young and female,” says Lauren. “The e-publishing market has grown to a billion readers [worldwide, who access content electronically]. Now, the split is even, with shiny devices preferred by men.” But interestingly, readers who use their iPad to access newspapers use these devices almost as they would use their print newspapers: they tend to use their gadgets early in the morning, in the evening and on weekends. According to Ray, during the day, mobile devices and computers are used more frequently to access The New York Times. “E-readers are in between mobile and computers. And size matters: The e-reader wants to conquer your bag; the mobile wants to conquer your pocket and the iPad wants to sit on your coffee table.”

What’s next in e-publishing? “Screen sizes!” predicts Matt. “TVs will use the same apps that are on your mobile. Everything that’s electronic will soon be talking to each other.” “The line of what is publishing, media and technology will blur and interact,” believes Sujata. “For consumer technology and content creators, this is scary but exciting!”

Book authors will rethink their works to fit a certain digital platform. “The criteria for how to judge a ‘good’ novel will change to ‘is it interactive?’” adds Lauren. “Not only how the book is written but how engaging it is. Authors will rethink what they can do with content to reach more consumers.”

Traditional publishers will have to assess how they produce their content and what kind of interactivity and freedom they want to give the reader. “We still need to understand the brand process and how it is accessed, where and by whom,” says Sujata. “How do we rethink the workflow of content creation, layout and how it looks on the various screens and screen sizes?”

In the end, however, all agreed that there will always be a place for printed books, magazines and newspapers in the world. “Overnight, the idea that you cannot charge for digital content evaporated when it became clear that there is no ad revenue online,” concludes Ray. “Customers now expect to pay for content on their gadgets. No more free for all.”

 

Summer Laziness and Mob Mentality

For this one lone August post, I can blame summer laziness, not media fatigue, even though I have many times come close to just giving up on the state of the media and where we’re headed.

My tagline reads “Old Media and New Media Meet”, and that is sometimes hard to come by. Old and new are still behaving like third graders who compare the size of their ice cream cones. It’s not either-or; neither will get far without the other. So, here is a small list of the positive things that each side will bring to the table. Merging these will lead to better communications, no matter the platform.

Old media bring depth, when needed, tight control over the quality of the writing (editors, copy editors, proof readers), sincere fact checking and an army (or what was once an army) of investigative reporters and writers who know their beat, have the right connections and get out there to cover the news. Oh, yes, and they get paid and have the resources to follow their noses. Old media still adhere mostly to the rule that one needs more than one source to get the story right and that you draw a distinctive line between reporting, commentary and advertising. Old media raise issues that readers are not always aware of, or don’t think they need to know but should.

New media bring immediacy, the collaboration of many to a story, the interaction with the readers, the ability to constantly update and supplement a story with new facts, links, info graphics, audio and video. It is a many-to-many approach, and as such rather democratic: no matter where you are and who you are, your voice is part of the whole. You can decide what you want to read and customize your daily media intake. You become the editor.

I, for one, need both, the old and the new.

Many of us in media, however, see only doom and gloom lurking around us. We’ve lost our jobs, our self-esteem and careers, and our work is being taken for granted by young web editors, who crash with their parents but then tell us our hour’s work of writing should be worth less than what they get babysitting their neighbor’s kid to supplement their own meager income. Now, they say, everyone is a journalist, a photographer, an editor and writer, or so it seems. Content should be free, they beam, and they advise us old timers to be happy to get a byline and a thumbs up on Digg.

I want to share with you a moving blog post from the blog Headlines and Deadlines. The writer muses about her “blogging breakdown” amid the state of old media:

“Lately I haven’t had many thoughts about journalism or newspapers, at least not any that would stand sharing. Because recently, Blog, I have found it increasingly hard to negotiate the choppy waters of ‘changing times’; I have, if you like, lost my compass. I have striven to be optimistic about newspapers and the future but sometimes the words rang very hollow indeed.”

I hear you. But no, it’s not all downhill from here. One way or another, people will come to realize that words and content still matter. They will miss getting lost in a story, once they’re left with only snippets of bullet-pointed search-engine-friendly written content; “voices drowning one another out”, as Jaron Lanier wrote in an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “World Wide Mush.” And he continues: “When you have everyone collaborate on everything, you generate a dull, average outcome in all things. You don’t get innovation […] creativity and excellence.”

Admit it, new and social media by themselves are not enough to get the whole picture. Surely you’ve come to the same conclusion, when you got lost in a Google search the other day and ended up spending hours on Facebook before you picked up a magazine or a paper.

I believe, we still have a choice: to become a numb collective with a short attention span, that regurgitates what advertisers, public relations people or celebrities want us to talk about. Or we could merge old media’s values with new media’s possibilities and not get lost in the crowd.

Print to Web Transition: Where’s My Fair Pay?

NYTimes article by Michael Winerip “Keeping The Plates Spinning” (2/19/10) about the transitions from print to web — Quote: “We’re asking more of them, and frankly we’re not paying them more. But they do it, because we’re a team and they’re nice people.”

Not only that: They are looking for writers “who’d be willing to …write, unpaid, in exchange for links to their sites and mentions of their businesses in an accompanying bio.”

Here is another take from Newsosaur, “Stop the Exploitation of Journalists,” urging veteran and aspiring journalists “to stop participating in their own exploitation by working for a pittance – or, worse, giving away their valuable services for free…The reason is simple: If they don’t put a value on what they do, then no one else will either.”

People, when are we finally done with being “nice” and eager for a free byline and demand fair pay for our work?!