Short Honk: Publishers Are Financially Aware, Well, Sort Of

March 11, 2018

I assume that “Hedge Fund Alden Siphoned 100s of Millions from Newspapers in Scheme to Gamble on Other Investments, Suit Says” is accurate.  If not, the write up underscores the state of “real” journalism. If the article is accurate, it underscores the state of “real” news business expertise. Interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, March 11, 2018

News Corp. and Google: Glass Houses and Stone Throwing

February 12, 2018

I read “News Corp Executives Say Google and Facebook Created Dysfunctional, Debased Online Environment.” Let’s assume that the information is “real” news and actual factual.

The write up states:

News Corp. chief executive officer Robert Thomson slammed Google and Facebook for what he calls a “dysfunctional” and “debased” online environment that harms traditional media, according to a variety of published reports. The criticism came Thursday, as News Corp. announced its quarterly earnings, France 24 reported. Efforts by the two online giants to reduce misinformation and improve online news were only “modest steps toward changing a digital environment that is dysfunctional at its core,” Thomson said.

I like the phrase “dysfunctional at its core.”

I would point out these pieces of information which did not make it into the “real” news story:

  • Phone and email hacking in the UK
  • Fox news personnel in interesting situations
  • News Corp. management succession activity

“Dysfunctional” means, according to the Wiktionary, not performing its proper or intended function or functioning incorrectly or abnormally; especially, designating of a business, family or social group with harmful, aberrant, strange or abnormal behavior.

As I noted in the headline, “glass houses” and “stones.” I don’t have the energy for “debased.”

Stephen E Arnold, February 12, 2018

And the Greatest Tech Headline of 2018 Is…

February 8, 2018

Short honk: In my morning news flow, I spotted what may be the greatest headline of 2018 (at least in the first five weeks of the year). Here it is:

Google Gave the World Powerful AI Tools, and the World Made Porn with Them

You can read the naked truth in a revealing story in Quartz. Try this link.

Strip away the veneer about AI. Breathless prose ignites one’s passion for tech thrills. With Reddit doing the censorship thing, this is “real” news, maybe just organic (I almost typed another word with and s and m.)

Stephen E Arnold, February 8, 2018

German Scientists Find Freedom Of Search

February 6, 2018

A storm had been brewing in Germany over the ability for scientists to gain access to expensive academic journals. The deal had more to do with search and rights than it did science, so the publisher stood up and did something shocking. They did…the right thing. We learned more in a recent Nature story, “Germany vs Elsevier: universities win temporary journal access after refusing to pay fees.”

According to the story:

The Dutch publishing giant Elsevier has granted uninterrupted access to its paywalled journals for researchers at around 200 German universities and research institutes that had refused to renew their individual subscriptions at the end of 2017.


The institutions had formed a consortium to negotiate a nationwide licence with the publisher. They sought a collective deal that would give most scientists in Germany full online access to about 2,500 journals at about half the price that individual libraries have paid in the past. But talks broke down and, by the end of 2017, no deal had been agreed. Elsevier now says that it will allow the country’s scientists to access its paywalled journals without a contract until a national agreement is hammered out.

This is a victory for, not just the scientists, but for freedom of information. We applaud Elsevier for putting aside profit (temporarily) in favor of human. We wish more companies and governments would take their example to heart.

Patrick Roland, February 6, 2018

Thomson Reuters: The Unwinding Begins

January 31, 2018

Years, no, decades ago, I did some work for Thomson. Today the company is Thomson Reuters, a large company with diverse businesses. When I last counted the units, I think the number was somewhere around 150. The exact number matters less than the statement, “Thomson Reuters has a lot of brands, products, business units, and companies under one corporate roof.”

Some of the businesses are related; for example, the legal information services. Others seem different from professional publishing. One example would be news and the entities set up to compete with Bloomberg for financial services or the companies jousts in financial data analysis.

Every year or so I take a look at the company’s annual financial report. My impression of the company is that it has struggled to grow. That’s not news because far bigger companies find that what worked in the past does not apply in today’s business climate; for example, IBM’s struggles are both interesting and to some amusing.

I read “Exclusive: Blackstone in Talks to Buy Majority Stake in Key Thomson Reuters Unit.” The exclusive makes sense. Thomson Reuters is, after all, reporting about Thomson Reuters. The main point is that Thomson Reuters is selling “a key business unit.” Another telling fact in the report is that Thomson Reuters is selling a “majority stake.”

For a company that exercised management control, the abrogation of control of some of its Financial and Risk business is interesting. With financial data and risk a business sector which is attracting interest from start ups and established companies, Thomson Reuters seems to be saying, “Hey, this has real value. Let’s sell. Maybe a buyer can juice up the revenues.”

Lord Thomson of Fleet is a distant memory to some at the company I assume. What’s clear is that change of a significant nature is now taking place within the company.

Have stakeholders grown weary of the reorganizations and efforts to generate Facebook and Google like growth? Have the senior managers realized that generating money from what are information businesses may be increasingly difficult going forward and now is the time to act?

I don’t know. This development is worth watching.

Stephen E Arnold, January 31, 2018

Google: Even More Humans Needed

January 12, 2018

I read “Google Plans to Vet YouTube Premium Video Content.” The main point of the write up strikes me as:

Google told partners that it plans to use both human moderators — the company recently announced it will have 10,000 employees focused on the task — as well as artificial intelligence software to flag videos deemed inappropriate for ads.

Yep, humans. Just like the old fashioned, endangered newspaper, magazine, and commercial database companies did.

I find this amusing because the shift at Google is similar to the approach that Facebook seems to be implementing. Humans who require vacations, medical insurance, retirement plans, vacations, and management. Well, maybe not management in the go go gig approach to business.

My take on this allegedly accurate real news story is:

  1. The baloney about smart software is starting to become inedible even for the most ardent lovers of processed hype
  2. The cost controls now in place are going to be reworked which means more for fee services for formerly “free” stuff. I can envision a subscription service with regular rate increases easily.
  3. The predictions that 2018 will transform businesses may become true in an unexpected manner: More flawed operations plus higher costs.

Interesting stuff. Going to the museum of information production and walking off with old fashioned tools. What’s next? typewriters and some Linotype machines?

Stephen E Arnold, January 12, 2018

Editorial Excitement: Will Facebook and Google Struggle with Social Responsibility

December 6, 2017

I noted three interesting news items. Both cast high profile companies as arbiters of social responsibility. The first item is “Facebook Is Banning Women for Calling Men Scum.” The main idea is that those who use the phrase “men are scum” can be banned from Facebook. Seems simple. Phrase identification, phrase look up, phrase on list triggers banning. Some people who have been banned for 30 days object. Interesting.

The second item is “Here’s What YouTube Is Doing to Stop Its Child Exploitation Problem.” The headline makes clear that there is a problem. The Alphabet Google YouTube fix is— wait for it — to use humans to identify socially irresponsible videos. The main point for me is that Alphabet Google’s algorithms cannot do the job. I thought that Google’s artificial intelligence system can develop artificial intelligent systems better than the one that Google created itself. Guess humans still have a role and maybe AI is not exactly able to handle what seems like socially responsible functions.

The third item is “How Trolls Locked My Twitter Account for 10 Days.” Main idea? Twitter’s socially responsible mechanism for making Twitter a better digital place can be exploited.

Net net: These three firms seem to be struggling with the notion of editorial controls, implementing them in an effective manner, and making algorithms work in a socially responsible manner.

Interesting. Traditional publishers have been performing this function for hundreds of years. There are plenty of journalists and publishers looking for work. My hunch is that the Silicon Valley set may prefer to go their own way. Who can learn from traditional publishing procedures? Maybe a smart self learning algorithm?

Well, maybe not yet at least. Jeff Bezos owns a newspaper and presumably has a leg up when it comes to addressing “fake” information.

Stephen E Arnold, December 6, 2017

Filtered Content: Tactical Differences between Dow Jones and Thomson Reuters

December 5, 2017

You may know that Dow Jones has an online search company. The firm is called Factiva, and it is an old-school approach to finding information. The company recently announced a deal with an outfit called Curation. Founded by a former newspaper professional, Curation uses mostly humans to assemble reports on hot topics. Factiva is reselling these services, and advertising for customers in the Wall Street Journal. Key point: This is mostly a manual method. The approach was more in line with the types of “reports” available from blue chip consulting firms.

You may also know that Thomson Reuters has been rolling out machine curated reports. These have many different product names. Thomson Reuters has a large number of companies and brands. Not surprisingly, Thomson’s approach has to apply to many companies managed by executives who compete with regular competitors like Dow Jones but also among themselves. Darwin would have loved Thomson Reuters. The point is that Thomson Reuters’ approach relies on “smart” software.

You can read about Dow Jones’ play here.

You can read about Thomson Reuters’ play here.

My take is that these two different approaches reflect the painful fact that there is not clear path forward for professional publishing companies. In order to make money from electronic information, two of the major players are still experimenting. The digital revolution began, what?, about 40 years ago.

One would have thought that leading companies like Dow Jones and Thomson Reuters would have moved beyond the experimental stage and into cash cow land.

Not yet it seems. The reason for my pointing out these two different approaches is that there are more innovative methods available. For snapshots of companies which move beyond the Factiva and Thomson methods, watch Dark Cyber, a new program is available every Tuesday via YouTube at this link.

Stephen E Arnold, December 5, 2017

Semantic Scholar Expanding with Biomedical Lit

November 29, 2017

Academic publishing is the black hole of the publishing world.  While it is a prestigious honor to have your work published by a scholar press or journal, it will not have a high circulation.  One reason that academic material is blocked behind expensive paywalls and another is that papers are not indexed well.  Tech Crunch has some good news for researchers: “Allen institute For AI’s Semantic Scholar Adds Biomedical Papers To Its AI-Sorted Corpus.”

The Allen Institute for AI started the Semantic Scholar is an effort to index scientific literature with NLP and other AI algorithms.  Semantic Scholar will now include biomedical texts in the index.  There is way too much content available for individuals to read and create indices.  AI helps catalog and create keywords for papers by scanning an entire text, pulling key themes, and adding it to the right topic.

There’s so much literature being published now, and it stretches back so far, that it’s practically impossible for a single researcher or even a team to adequately review it. What if a paper from six years ago happened to note a slight effect of a drug byproduct on norepinephrine production, but it wasn’t a main finding, or was in a journal from a different discipline?

Scientific studies are being called into question, especially when the tests are funded by corporate entities.  It is important to verify truth from false information as we consume more and more each day.  Tools like Semantic Scholar are key to uncovering the truth.  It is too bad it does not receive more attention.

Whitney Grace, November 29, 2017


The FG Snipers Draw a Bead

November 22, 2017

Facebook (hereinafter “F”) and Google (hereinafter “G”) are the part of the new sport FG sniping. Favored by the Guardian and other “real” publishers, F and G are plump, apparently arrogant, and seemingly clueless targets. The horrible companies do not “give back” to the “real” magazines and newspapers which have been eroded by the flow of clicks flowing to F and G.

A fun example of this blood sport appear in “Why Magazine Mogul Tina Brown Is ‘Angry and Upset’ at Google and Facebook.” I highlighted three comments Tina Brown (Oxford graduate and traditional print journalist) allegedly made to a “real” journalist who has gone over to the dark side of online content creation.

Number One:

I [Tina Brown, Oxford graduate] am very angry and upset about the way advertising revenue has been essentially pirated by the Facebook-Google world

Ahoy, mates. Google indexes. “Real” publishers tried this; for example, the New York Times and its fumbling with LexisNexis and its own Jeff Pemberton led initiative decades ago. Google succeeded; the NYT and other “real” publishers failed. Sour grapes?

Number Two:

When you don’t have human beings who have judgment, who have taste, who have a sense of responsibility, you can have any old Russian hacker dishing it out to the American public.

Not just any “human beings.” The “right” type of human being is a trained journalist like those who do the “This Week in Google” podcast perhaps? Plus, last I knew, F and G had human beings. Mr. Brin, for example, allegedly behaved in a human manner with a certain Google Glass marketing maven. The disconnect is that some human beings are more adept at applying technology to content processing and delivering what users want. On the other hand, “real” publishers certain knew how to generate “yellow” journalism and engage in other fascinating human activities.

Number Three:

People don’t know what’s important or where to find it.

To be clear, some people do know what’s important and where to find it. The problem is that People Magazine or the grocery store tabloid the National Enquirer are not much different from “real” newspapers and magazines.

What the issue is, of course, is the fact that traditional publishing has found itself marginalized. The arbiters of taste and judgment from places like Oxford and Yale are a bit overwhelmed because they don’t get traffic or a sufficient number of likes.

Where in the modern economy is the “law” which says that F and G have to give back to the outfits which have failed to adapt to the new world.

I guess Darwinian principles (Darwin was a Cambridge graduate) don’t apply to those Oxford graduates  who wish to enshrine dead tree methods. From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, Darwin (a Cambridge graduate) is alive and well. Just look at those informed individuals living in trailers living by the creek. Also, in forward leaning  places like Palo Alto, one can observe on the way to F and G the lines of SUVs and motor homes which provide safe havens for Facebook posts and Google searches.

Life would be so much better if time stood still. Are F and G clueless? Should large companies “give back”? One could consult Adam Smith I suppose. Oh, Smith was an allegedly unhappy Oxforder. Nasty intellectual environment my economics professor observed as I recall.

Failure can be unpalatable. Zeros and ones leave a bitter after taste on the tongues of some arbiters of taste.

Stephen E Arnold, November 22, 2017

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