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The Nikkei Financial Times Deal: Journalism and Quality

September 29, 2015

I read a Harry Quebert type article this morning called with typical big time journalism understatement “The Financial Times and the Future of Journalism.”

Yep, the future. Of journalism.

The set up is an interview which has been converted to a chatty, informed narrative with commentrary from the person asking the questions (a New Yorker “contributor”, which I think means contract worker) and statements from a full-time equivalent at the Financial Times, a salmon colored newspaper consumed by  750,000 quality-centric readers.

The quotes in this blog post come from the CEO of the Financial Times which sold to Nikkei, a Japanese outfit for 40 times the FT’s 2014 revenues. So $37 million netted Pearson, the former owner of the FT, about $1.4 billion. Like the HP purchase of Autonomy, I will be interested to see how the purchase plays out. Obviously Pearson was neither willing nor able to put the FT on a pedestal of cash. The former owner of Madame Tussaud’s wax museum sold the newspaper. Let Nikkei realize the long term benefits of FT ownership I assume.

The write up by the New Yorker magazine, which has pretty good cartoons, is a darned interesting journalistic artifact itself. But I want to focus on some of the statements in the write up, allegedly made by the FT CEO who played a big part in the deal with the Japanese buyer.

I noted this statement:

Nikkei wanted to prepare for the transition to digital, which has been slow in its home market.

My recollection may be fuzzy, but I thought that the Japanese were exploring the digital world, databases, and all sorts of software based activities in Japan’s Fifth Generation Project in the early 1990s. Hey, that was like yesterday in traditional print publishing.

The FT executive allegedly said to the reporter:

I think if you were to summarize the vision that we both share, it would be about growth. We both think there is a very good growth opportunity for the F.T. That requires a long-term perspective. It requires investment. They have committed to that. And for a news organization like the F.T. right now, that’s music to one’s ears, frankly.”

I like the long term growth perspective. Apparently Pearson was not on board with this concept about investment without significant payoff. As a result, Pearson shopped the FT and netted a nine figure payout.

Why did Pearson opt to sell and not pump cash into the FT? Here’s the explanation from the FT executive:

What is lacking is some fuel in the tank and the ability to spread our wings a bit.”

Pearson apparently lacked “fuel”. I wonder if the “fuel” is patience, money, financial resources, or wisdom. The billion dollar deal looked pretty snappy to me. Imagine. More than one billion for a newspaper. That’s the color of money.

Apparently the FT boss perceives those from the Far East—that is, beyond Dover—as adopting Adam Carolla’s “In 50 Years We’ll All Be Chicks” approach. None of this City and Wall Street aggressiveness toward revenues and profits. Here’s a passage I highlighted in green, the color of money:

But Japanese newspapers, including the ones owned by Nikkei, are also known for taking a less aggressive stance toward news than many of their Western counterparts.

Will the FT remain independent as other newspapers and real journalistic endeavors do the inclusion, sponsored content, advertising thing? According to the FT executive:

“Editorial independence is absolutely fundamental to the way we operate,” he replied.

He allegedly added:

But I think the most important thing is they understand our values and editorial independence. I’m not going to tell them how to run Nikkei, and they are not going to tell us how to do editorial independence at the F.T. They are very clear about that.

I like that understanding. The owner will not assert control over something the person owns. Shared values among the quality journalists effervesce from this factoid.

The most important passage concerns the FT business model. Here’s the explanation of the FT’s “vindicated”, super-charged approach to generating at some time in the future oodles of dough from a global market of discerning news consumers:

The replacement was cheap trial subscriptions. If you go to the F.T.’s Web site today and try to read a story, you will be prompted to take out a month-long subscription for a dollar….“We are now able to measure, optimize, and track all of these readers and changes with real insight that we could never do before. It sounds dry, but it’s not. It’s really understanding readers, what matters to them. We are never going to edit by numbers, but we are going to inform all of our decisions around data.”

Not only that, the FT is going back to the model for the newspapers which have become pedestal mounted historical artifacts. Newspapers are back as the “trusted” folks in the information business. I know that I trusted newspapers until I read about US diplomacy and yellow journalist in the period from 1895 to 1898.

“Precisely because of digital disruption, precisely because there is so much information and news and information out there, the value of a trusted guide, the value of a trusted brand” has gone up, he said.

Yep, those families losing sons in the dust up among the US, Spain, and Cuba understand that trust stuff.

Then there is a statement which seems to bring the future payday for the new owner of the FT tantalizingly near:

But we fundamentally believed that if it’s quality journalism, people will pay for it. That’s been vindicated.”

From my point of view, what’s been vindicated is that there was a buyer willing to pony up more than $1 billion for a brand, several hundred thousand readers, and a Web site offering a  $1.00 trial subscription. I assume that is the definition of vindication from Pearson’s point of view. I am not sure about Nikkei’s point of view. If the FT’s senior management had an agreement with Pearson designed to keep the FT’s senior management on board, was some of the money shared with the FT leadership? Good question.

I also highlighted in red ink red, not money green, this statement attributed to the FT executive:

But he also said insisted that things are changing in journalism and that the business climate is improving. “There is a belief in journalism,” he said.

Stepping back I thought about the New Yorker’s analysis of the FT deal. Much of the verbiage could be used to describe how the New Yorker feels about its approach to news and information.

I asked myself, “Is this article about the FT or is it about the New Yorker’s perception of quality journalism?” Another good question.

And what about search. Does anyone recall the Endeca FT Newssift project? I do. Moving on.

Stephen E Arnold, September 29, 2015

Forest Service: Let Leaves Cover the Content

September 22, 2015

I read “The US Forest Service Is Trying to Bury a Crucial Journal Article.” Who knows if this story is accurate. I find the idea of keeping content away from readers interesting.

According to the write up:

…Science magazine published a crucial and overdue commentary lamenting the current state of wildfire management on US public lands. Among the authors was Malcolm North, a plant ecologist at the US Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station in California.

Now the interesting passage:

…the USFS was none too pleased about the piece or North’s name being attached to it. According to Valley Public Radio, the central California NPR affiliate, the agency has barred North from discussing the paper and had even attempted to prevent Science from publishing it.

It is difficult to search for something if the content is not online or discussion of the content is encumbered.

Perhaps the Forest Service is anticipating seasonal change. Leaves fall. Leaves cover up the ground. You know. Spring is just around the corner.

Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2015

Outfits Which Are Big Tech under Fire

September 19, 2015

I am puzzled because I came across a New York Times article dated September 19, 2015, which in Harrod’s Creek is a Saturday. The write up is labeled “Sunday Review” and sports this title: “Big Tech Has Become Way Too Powerful.” I like the “way too” touch. Not just powerful, really powerful, gentle reader. When you click the link, you may encounter a “pay for access” or “access denied” message. Hey, that’s one more example of our modern world. Tough luck for some.

The write up makes the point that some outfits like some addled high tech companies offering products “everyone else has to use.” Yep, digital services coalesce into natural monocultures and monopolies in my experience.

The write up reveals that most online traffic goes to a small percentage of online sites. Yikes, Zipf’s Law has been discovered by the Gray Lady. Not a moment to soon for Benford either.

The problem is that equality is not part of the equation. Just ask a small business about its findability and Web site traffic.

The write up reaches back into America’s past for evidence of the consequences of business concentration:

“The enterprises of the country are aggregating vast corporate combinations of unexampled capital, boldly marching, not for economical conquests only, but for political power,” warned Edward G. Ryan, the chief justice of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, in 1873. Antitrust law was viewed as a means of breaking this link. “If we will not endure a king as a political power,” Senator John Sherman of Ohio thundered, “we should not endure a king over the production, transportation and sale” of what the nation produced.

The only hitch in the git along is that once digital concentration occurs, the mass of traffic (expressed in different ways) works just like one of those NASA confections showing black holes eating stuff to become bigger. The idea is that the black hole allows nothing to escape its maw.

After reading the write up, I formulated three observations:

  • In the short term, I don’t see the black holes of Facebook, Google, and other traffic dominant firms becoming the equivalent of friendly forest creatures in a Bambiesque world.
  • Users are voting with their behavior. Billions of folks are perfectly happy with concentration. Go with the flow. There must be broader forces at work than concerns about tracking, equality, and features.
  • Regulatory entities are chasing a train which has left the station. By the time, someone discovers Zipf’s Law (maybe the New York Times), other developments are afoot. The time lag makes complaints an academic exercise.

In short, the Gray Lady is taking yet another whack at digital outfits which have supplanted the newspapers perceived right to control certain types of information and advertising.

Nice try. Too late. Facebook and Google may run out of gas sooner rather than later. Their problems will have little to do with traditional publishing. Energy can dissipate. Grousing seems to be more persistent.

By the way, clear time stamps are helpful. Gentle reader, pass this thought along if you come across a “real” journalist. Today is Saturday, not Sunday. Today’s reality is not what will eventually be.

Reality is annoying. Zipf died in 1950. The Zipfian distribution lives on in certain data behaviors. Those log log graphs are indeed useful.

Stephen E Arnold, September 19, 2015

New York Times and the Guardian: Best Buds of the Alphabet Google

September 12, 2015

i read “The New York Times and The Guardian Sign On for Google and Twitter’s Instant Article Push.” The main idea is that dead tree outfits are getting with the real time content thing.

Now don’t think about PointCast and the Rupert Murdoch dalliance. Don’t think about push and pushlets. Don’t think about BackWeb and Active Channel.

Think about instant articles. These enable a mobile user “to quickly pull up stories,” presumably with split infinitives.

I am not a fan of the notification approach to information access. My approach is to use a variety of Stone Age tools to locate information. I am one of the folks in Kentucky who thinks Homo naledi is a cutting edge group.

My hunch is that the traditional publishers see the Google thing and the Facebook thing as a new source of revenue.

My hunch is that these hip, online outfits want to extend their control over certain types of content.

Control may be more important than money to the Alphabet outfit. Facebook is the new CompuServe and emulates its walled garden approaches.

How will this end? How does one spell “Google”?

Stephen E Arnold, September 12, 2015

Fighting the Academic Publishers Gets You Fired

September 11, 2015

Academic publishers, such as Springer and Elsevier, have a monopoly on academic publishing and they do not want to lose their grasp.  In the Slashdot science forum, a report from The Guardian was posted “Paywalled Science Journals Under Fire Again” describing how the academic publishers won a battle in Australia.

The Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) fired their editor Professor Stephen Leeder, when he expressed his displeasure over the journal outsourcing its functions to Elsevier.  Leeder might have lost his job, but he will speak at a symposium at the State Library of NSW about ways academic communities can fight against the commoditization of knowledge.

What is concerning is that academic publishers are more interested in turning a profit than expanding humanity’s knowledge base:

“Alex Holcombe, an associate professor of psychology who will also be presenting at the symposium, said the business model of some of the major academic publishers was more profitable than owning a gold mine. Some of the 1,600 titles published by Elsevier charged institutions more than $19,000 for an annual subscription to just one journal. The Springer group, which publishes more than 2,000 titles, charges more than $21,000 for access to some of its titles. ‘The mining giant Rio Tinto has a profit margin of about 23%,’ Holcombe said. ‘Elsevier consistently comes in at around 37%. Open access publishing is catching on, but it requires researchers to pay up to $3000 to get a single open access article published.’”

Where does the pursuit of knowledge actually take place if researchers are at the mercy of academic publishers?  One might say that researchers could publish their work for free on the Web, but remember that anyone can do that.  Being published under a reputable banner adds to study’s authenticity and also helps it get used to support other research.  The problem lies in the fact that big academic publishers limit who accesses their content to subscription holders and often those subscriptions are too expensive for the average researcher to afford on their own.  Researchers want to have access to more academic content, but it is being locked down.

Whitney Grace, September 11, 2015
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Ebsco Discovers Discovery and Finds Lunch Other Ways

September 7, 2015

If you are in Paris in September 2015, you might want to swing by and catch the Ebsco Subscription Services lecture about “Bien choisir son portail documentaire, un enjeu statégique pour l’enterprise.” Ebsco, like other vendors of expensive “real” content is feeling the economic squeeze. The solution is to find a way to sell library-oriented information to a broader world. The idea is to package up software and expensive information from “real” publishers in a buzzword bundle.

Here’s what the Ebsco expert will explain:

To meet the new needs of research and professional content in business and in particular to help professionals identify, query and operate more easily useful resources, Ebsco Discovery Service has developed a new generation of information portals, marketed as discovery solutions.  Ebsco Discovery Service provides company employees with a single access, not only to all [I love these categorical affirmatives] professional information available within the company in paper or electronic format; for example, journals, magazines, books, databases, etc.), but especially to the most reliable and latest information for all [here we go again with precise logical explanations] their research, their business documents, their briefs, their training program, etc.

I noted the two etc. Very comprehensive.

The question is, “Will Ebsco be able to make headway in markets outside of libraries?” Like other for fee content companies, the costs of marketing, technology, and licenses continue to rise.

Diversification is necessary for Ebsco and similar firms. Perhaps Ebsco will succeed. Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, LexisNexis, and other old school outfits are facing the same challenges as Ebsco.

My hunch is that Ebsco and these other old school firms missed out on business and technical information “plays” which were captured by faster moving, more strategic competitors.

For business information today, I find it essential to review the information available on LinkedIn and similar non traditional publishing platforms.

I dearly love the Harvard Business Review and Nature, but I find the information stale and out of touch with my information needs. The here and now problems senior managers face demand different types of information services. Diffeo, maybe? What about Recorded Future?

The decline of the commercial database sector which was thriving in the 1980s is history. Now the aggregators face the same challenge.

Discovering a solution is more difficult than a pleasant afternoon in Paris in September. I assume that “excellence in all we do” means having lunch at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. How does one choose a restaurant after a lecture about discovery? I did not use Ebsco, gentle reader. I used a modern, real-time service with hooks into streams of social content.

The indexes of HBR and other “academic” content are for another time, another world.

Stephen E Arnold, September 7, 2015

College Professors: Adjuncts and Hoodwinking

September 7, 2015

I read “Academics Are Being Hoodwinked into Writing Books Nobody Can Buy.” (I almost typed “wants to buy” but I caught myself. Wow, near miss.)

The idea is that at a university a professor knows a subject, perhaps arcane, but the idea is that someone teaching at a big time institution knows stuff.

The write up points out:

So I’d [a savvy college professor] been asked to write a book about whatever I wanted, and this editor didn’t even know whether I’d written anything before. It didn’t matter. It would sell its 300 copies regardless. Not to people with an interest in reading the book, but to librarians who would put it on a shelf and then, a few years later, probably bury it in a storeroom. Most academics get these requests. A colleague was recently courted by an editor who, after confessing they only published expensive hardbacks (at around £200), explained that this was an opportunity for my colleague to enhance his academic record. He was told he could give them pretty much anything, like an old report, or some old articles.

The best line in the article, in my opinion, is this one:

So why don’t academics simply stay away from the greedy publishers? The only answer I can think of is vanity.

Does this mean that some adjuncts and other academic faunae are easily manipulated by publishers? Amazing. I wish I were still in college. I would learn so much. Is there an index of expensive books which no one can afford? Publishers would never hoodwink a university level instructor. Of course not. Only students appealing an unjust grade do the hoodwink thing.

Stephen E Arnold, September 7, 2015

Monopoly On Scientific Papers

August 31, 2015

If you work in the academic community this headline from Your News Wire shouldn’t come as a surprise: “Nearly All Scientific Papers Controlled By Same Six Corporations.”  A group of researchers studied scientific papers published between 1973-2013 and discovered that six major publishers ruled the industry: Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, Taylor & Francis, Sage, Reed Elsevier, and ACS.  During the specified time period, it was found that the larger ones absorbed smaller publishers.  Another, more startling, fact came to light as well: academic research groups must rely more and more on the main six publishers’ interests if they want to get their research published.

“Much of the independence that was once cherished within the scientific community, in other words, has gone by the wayside as these major publishers have taken control and now dictate what types of content get published. The result is a publishing oligopoly in which scientists are muzzled by and overarching trend toward politically correct, and industry-favoring, ‘science.’”

The six publishers publish subjects that benefit their profit margin and as a direct result they influence major scientific fields.  Fields concerning chemistry, social sciences, and psychology are the most influenced by the publishers.  This leads to corruption in the above disciplines and researchers are limited by studies that will deliver the most profits to the publishers.  The main six publishers can also publish the papers digitally for a 40% profit margin.

There is good news.  The study did find that publishing a paper via a smaller venue does not affect its reach.  It also has the added benefit of the smaller venue not pushing a special interest agenda.  The real question is are big publishers even needed in a digital age anymore?

Whitney Grace, August 31, 2015
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Quote to Note for Ad Lovers

August 28, 2015

The world seems to be focused on the stock market excitement. I want to highlight a paragraph in the dead tree edition of the Wall Street Journal. You might be able to access “Mobile Readers Abound—The Ads, Not So Much” online. Not my problem. Pick up the real newspaper. Flip to the Business & Tech” section and look for this paragraph on page B1 of the August 24, 2015 edition:

It [lagging mobile device ad revenues] is a similar story at News Corp’s Dow Jones & Col, publisher of the Wall Street Journal. More than half of unique visits to the Wall Street Journal Digital Network—which includes the Journal, MarketWatch, Barron’s, and WSJ Magazine—now come from nondesktop devices, but mobile accounts for less than 20 percent of the network’s digital ad revenue, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Interesting comment. So as the world goes mobile, Google goes Alphabet. Publishers perspire.

Without ads, where will online information journey? I would recommend that real journalists who cannot identify co workers as anything other than “a person familiar with the matter” consider podcasting. There may be jobs at Alphabet too.

Stephen E Arnold, August 28, 2015

Recipes, Recipes. The Gray Lady Cooks

August 24, 2015

Years ago I heard a Googler talk about recipes. I did not think too much about recipes. At the time, I was good to go with a Mountain Dew and a bag of M&M  peanuts. Zoom, zoom, zoom.

Not long ago I learned that IBM Watson, the money spinning wonder machine from the lads and lasses in Almaden, Armonk, and Manhattan, wrote a cook book. Get your copy of “Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson: Recipes for Innovation from IBM & the Institute of Culinary Education” right now. Yummy.

Not to be out parboiled, the New York Times has, according to “The New York Times Makes 17,000 Tasty Recipes Available Online: Japanese, Italian, Thai & Much More,” has been busy in the kitchen too.


Here’s a passage I noted:

Have a look around, and you’ll see that the site also offers a number of useful functions for those who make a free account there, such as the ability to save the recipes you want to make later and a recommendation engine to give you suggestions as to what to make next. But still, even though sites like these guarantee that none of us will ever go hungry for lack of a recipe, we can only do as well by any of them as our actual, physical cooking skills allow.

Which cutting edge company will step forward with a kitchen robot able to let the annoying human go back to the couch and contemplate a potato? I suppose I could check out my supply of miso and soy. Nah, too much real work. I am going to nuke a burrito in the microwave and watch cartoons.

Stephen E Arnold, August 24, 2015

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