May 20, 2016
In the 1930s, Britain’s newspaper the Guardian was founded, through a generous family’s endowment, on the ideas of an unfettered press and free access to information. In continued pursuit of these goals, the publication has maintained a paywall-free online presence, despite declining online-advertising revenue. That choice has cost them, we learn from the piece, ”Guardian Bet Shows Digital Risks” at USA Today. Writer Michael Wolff explains:
“In order to underwrite the costs of this transformation, most of the trust’s income-producing investments have been liquidated in recent years in order to keep cash on hand — more than a billion dollars.
“In effect, the Guardian saw itself as departing the newspaper business and competing with new digital news providers like BuzzFeed and Vox and Vice Media, each raising ever-more capital from investors with which to finance their growth. The Guardian — unlike most other newspapers that are struggling to make it in the digital world without benefit of access to outside capital — could use the interest generated by its massive trust to indefinitely deficit-finance its growth. At a mere 4% return, that would mean it could lose more than $40 million a year and be no worse for wear.
“But … the cost of digital growth mounted as digital advertising revenue declined. And with zero interest rates, there has been, practically speaking, no return on cash. Hence, the Guardian’s never-run-out endowment has plunged by more than 12% since the summer and, suddenly looking at a finite life cycle, the Guardian will now have to implement another transition: shrinking rather than expanding.”
The Guardian’s troubles point to a larger issue, writes Wolff; no one has been able to figure out a sustainable business model for digital news. For its part, the Guardian still plans to avoid a paywall, but will try to coax assorted fees from its users. We shall see how that works out.
Cynthia Murrell, May 20, 2016
May 19, 2016
The wide-open Internet was supposed to be a counterweight to the consolidation of news media into fewer and fewer hands. Now, though, PublishersDaily reports that “10 Publishers Account for Half of All Online News.” The article cites a recent study from SimilarWeb, which examined 2015’s top online news publishers, on both mobile and desktop platforms. Writer Erik Sass summarizes:
“Overall, the top 10 publishers — together owning around 60 news sites — account for 47% of total online traffic to news content last year, with the next-biggest 140 publishers accounting for most of the other half, SimilarWeb found.
“The biggest online news publisher for the U.S. audience was MSN, owner of MSN.com, with just over 27 billion combined page views across mobile and desktop, followed by Disney Media Networks, owner of ESPN and ABC News, with 25.9 billion.
“Time Warner, owner of CNN and Bleacher Report, had 14.8 billion, followed by Yahoo with 10.3 billion, and Time, Inc. with 10.2 billion.
“A bit further down the totem poll were CBS Corp., owner of Cnet.com, with 9.9 billion combined page views; NBC Universal, with 9.5 billion; Matt Drudge, with 8.5 billion; Advance Publications, with 8 billion; and Fox Entertainment Group, owner of Fox News, with 7.9 billion.”
Sass goes on to cover page views for specific publications and outlines which outfits are leading in mobile. Interestingly, it seems smaller publishers are doing especially well on mobile platforms. See the write-up for more details.
Cynthia Murrell, May 19, 2016
May 16, 2016
The article titled These Unlucky People Have Names That Break Computers on BBC Future delves into the strange world of “edge cases” or people with unexpected or problematic names that reveal glitches in the most commonplace systems that those of us named “Smith” or “Jones” take for granted. Consider Jennifer Null, the Virginia woman who can’t book a plane ticket or complete her taxes without extensive phone calls and headaches. The article says,
“But to any programmer, it’s painfully easy to see why “Null” could cause problems for a database. This is because the word “null” is often inserted into database fields to indicate that there is no data there. Now and again, system administrators have to try and fix the problem for people who are actually named “Null” – but the issue is rare and sometimes surprisingly difficult to solve.”
It may be tricky to find people with names like Null. Because of the nature of the controls related to names, issues generally arise for people like Null on systems where it actually does matter, like government forms. This is not an issue unique to the US, either. One Patrick McKenzie, an American programmer living in Japan, has run into regular difficulties because of the length of his last name. But that is nothing compared to Janice Keihanaikukauakahihulihe’ekahaunaele, a Hawaiian woman who championed for more flexibility in name length restrictions for state ID cards.
Chelsea Kerwin, May 16, 2016
May 2, 2016
The article on The Verge titled The Most Dangerous Writing App Lets You Delete All of Your Work For Free speculates on the difficulties and hubris of charging money for technology that someone can clone and offer for free. Manuel Ebert’s The Most Dangerous Writing App offers a self-detonating notebook that you trigger if you stop typing. The article explains,
“Ebert’s service appears to be a repackaging of Flowstate, a $15 Mac app released back in January that functions in a nearly identical way. He even calls it The Most Dangerous Writing App, which is a direct reference to the words displayed on Flowstate creator Overman’s website. The difference: Ebert’s app is free, which could help it take off among the admittedly niche community of writers looking for self-deleting online notebooks.”
One such community that comes to mind is that of the creative writers. Many writers, and poets in particular, rely on exercises akin to the philosophy of The Most Dangerous Writing App: don’t let your pen leave the page, even if you are just writing nonsense. Adding higher stakes to the process might be an interesting twist, especially for those writers who believe that just as the nonsense begins, truth and significance are unlocked.
Chelsea Kerwin, May 2, 2016
April 22, 2016
On April 14, 2016, I flipped through my dead tree copy of the New York Times. You know. The newspaper which is struggling to sell more copies than McPaper. What first caught my eye was this advertisement for a dead tree book called “ The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage: The Official Style guide Used by the Writers and Editors of the World’s Most Authoritative News Organization. I assume this manual was produced by “real” journalists and editors. I am not familiar with this book, although I was aware of its existence. The addled goose uses the style set forth in the classic Tressler Christ circa 1958. Oh, you may be able to read a version of the New York Times story at this link. Keep in mind that you may have to pay pay pay.
I noted in the very same edition of the dead tree edition of the New York Times this write up about a football (soccer) match. I know that the “real” journalists working in Midtown are probably not into the European Cup if there is a Starbuck’s nearby.
I noted this interesting stylistic touch:
I spotted two paragraphs which are mostly the same. I assume that the new edition of the Style and Usage volume is okay with duplicate passages. It is tough to determine which is the “correct” paragraph.
Tressler Christ, as I recall, suggested that writing the same passage twice in a row was not a good move in 1958. The reality of the cost conscious New York Times may be that it is okay to pontificate and then duplicate content.
Nifty. I will try this some time.
Nifty. I will try this some time.
Nifty. I will try this some time.
Nifty. I will try this some time.
See. Not annoying annoying annoying at all.
Stephen E Arnold, April 22, 2016
April 12, 2016
The article on MotherBoard titled How The FBI Located Suspected Administrator of the Dark Web’s Largest Child Porn Site provides a comprehensive overview of the events that led to the FBI being accused of “outrageous conduct” for operating a child pornography site for just under two weeks in February of 2015 in order to take down Playpen, a dark web child porn service. The article states,
“In order to locate these users in the real world, the agency took control of Playpen and operated it from February 20 to March 4 in 2015, deploying a hacking tool to identify visitorsof the site. The FBI hacked computers in the US, Greece, Chile, and likely elsewhere.
But, in identifying at least two high ranking members of Playpen, and possibly one other, the FBI relied on information provided by a foreign law enforcement agency (FLA), according to court documents.”
Since the dial-up era, child pornographers have made use of the Internet. The story of comedian Barry Crimmins exposing numerous child pornographers who were using AOL’s early chat rooms to share their pictures is a revealing look at that company’s eagerness to turn a blind eye. In spite of this capitulation, the dark web is the current haven for such activities, and the February 2015 hacking project was the largest one yet.
Chelsea Kerwin, April 12, 2016
March 28, 2016
Does the presence of a major news site lend an air of legitimacy to the Dark Web? Wired announces, “ProPublica Launches the Dark Web’s First Major News Site.” Reporter Andy Greenberg tells us that ProPublica recently introduced a version of their site running on the Tor network. To understand why anyone would need such a high level of privacy just to read the news, imagine living under a censorship-happy government; ProPublica was inspired to launch the site while working on a report about Chinese online censorship.
Why not just navigate to ProPublica’s site through Tor? Greenberg explains the danger of malicious exit nodes:
“Of course, any privacy-conscious user can achieve a very similar level of anonymity by simply visiting ProPublica’s regular site through their Tor Browser. But as Tigas points out, that approach does leave the reader open to the risk of a malicious ‘exit node,’ the computer in Tor’s network of volunteer proxies that makes the final connection to the destination site. If the anonymous user connects to a part of ProPublica that isn’t SSL-encrypted—most of the site runs SSL, but not yet every page—then the malicious relay could read what the user is viewing. Or even on SSL-encrypted pages, the exit node could simply see that the user was visiting ProPublica. When a Tor user visits ProPublica’s Tor hidden service, by contrast—and the hidden service can only be accessed when the visitor runs Tor—the traffic stays under the cloak of Tor’s anonymity all the way to ProPublica’s server.”
The article does acknowledge that Deep Dot Web has been serving up news on the Dark Web for some time now. However, some believe this move from a reputable publisher is a game changer. ProPublica developer Mike Tigas stated:
“Personally I hope other people see that there are uses for hidden services that aren’t just hosting illegal sites. Having good examples of sites like ProPublica and Securedrop using hidden services shows that these things aren’t just for criminals.”
Will law-abiding, but privacy-loving, citizens soon flood the shadowy landscape of the Dark Web.
Cynthia Murrell, March 28, 2016
March 25, 2016
I read “Proposed Truthfulness Law Spooks Russian News Aggregators.” I came away a little puzzled. My perception is that the “news,” regardless of country, is a weird amalgam of infotainment, bias, and theater (political, social, and William Wycherley fare). Whenever the notion of “real,” “accurate,” “objective,” and “true” enter from stage right or left, I wonder what these folks’ definition of the glittering generalities are.
According to the write up, “Russia has tight media controls that include a requirement to make sure all print, broadcast and online news is true.”
A new bill (not yet a law, gentle reader) “would effectively say that news aggregators are the same as mass media operations.” News aggregators like Yandex and the Alphabet Google thing:
would become liable if they spread false information and state agencies complain about it.
The write up, a “real” journalism outfit observes:
Although the law would create a handy way of further restricting information flows, when the bill came out, the Russian communications ministry indicated it was not keen on the idea. That said, the Kremlin has already been making life hard for big online players, particularly by mandating that they store users’ personal data on servers in Russia.
May I suggest a quick romp through Jacques Ellul’s Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes?
Stephen E Arnold, March 25, 2016
March 22, 2016
The article on Beyond the Book titled Data Not Content Is Now Publishers’ Product floats a new buzzword in its discussion of the future of information: infonomics, or the study of creation and consumption of information. The article compares information to petroleum as the resource that will cause quite a stir in this century. Grace Hong, Vice-President of Strategic Markets & Development for Wolters Kluwer’s Tax & Accounting, weighs in,
“When it comes to big data – and especially when we think about organizations like traditional publishing organizations – data in and of itself is not valuable. It’s really about the insights and the problems that you’re able to solve,” Hong tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “From a product standpoint and from a customer standpoint, it’s about asking the right questions and then really deeply understanding how this information can provide value to the customer, not only just mining the data that currently exists.”
Hong points out that the data itself is useless unless it has been produced correctly. That means asking the right questions and using the best technology available to find meaning in the massive collections of information possible to collect. Hong suggests that it is time for publishers to seize on the market created by Big Data.
Chelsea Kerwin, March 22, 2016
March 17, 2016
I love it when universities reinvent stuff. Imagine an academic journal without fees. Instead of peer review, the journal features peer to peer review. You can get the scoop in “MIT Media Lab’s Journal of Design and Science Is a Radical New Kind of Publication.”
The idea is that the journal will combine design (phones that look like blocks of metal and science software which permits a self driving auto to collide with a bus). I learned:
Science, design, art, and engineering, long considered their own areas of focus, are no longer domains to be explored in isolation, but together, in the hopes of expediting progress and discovery.
Knock down those artificial walls between disciplines. Innovate with a new journal.
I am okay with this type of publication.
However, once the journal model is migrated from the warm, fuzzy, and endowed confines of the MIT womb, what’s the business model?
My hunch is that the “new” will have to work with the “old”; that is, subscribers have to pay and then renew, authors will grouse if some nag suggests that compensation is appropriate, vendors will want hard cash for bandwidth, and even sciencey Web programmers may want some money.
Interesting idea, but the business model remains the problem for new publications which have to survive in the present economic environment. Now if there is a friendly check writer who will provide a not for profit environment, there may be more publishing innovations like MIT’s. Until then, it looks like there will be blogs with comments allowed.
But the benefits to the innovator and his ability to publish information in an important “new” journal may be substantial. But that’s what universities are for today. Oh, universities also facilitate student loans. Great stuff higher education.
Stephen E Arnold, March 17, 2016