Archive | December, 2010

Hitting a wall

26 Dec

January 2011 is fast approaching and I’m getting a little depressed. Not because 2010 is ending or anything— 2011 is shaping up to be a pretty good year for me, what with a paid internship secured for the summer and a milestone birthday in the spring. No, what I’m sad about is the dreaded newspaper paywall rearing its ugly head again, this time at my favorite media outlet, the New York Times.

I’ve known that the change was coming for a while now; the Times announced it last January. I’ll  be able to read a  couple of articles for free every month and troll the headlines on the home page. Beyond that, I’ll hit the wall. And while I can still get the physical Times thanks to a newspaper readership program at my university, the multimedia and online convenience of the Times’ website aren’t a part of my future.

In my mind, it looks like this.

As both a journalist and a reader, I have mixed feelings about this. From the journalism standpoint of things, I understand where the Times is coming from. People used to pay for newspaper subscriptions without a problem. They understood that, if they wanted access to the news, they had to purchase it.

It was during the transition to the Internet that things got messed up. Everyone made their content available for free. Once people become accustomed to getting something for nothing, they’re not going to want to go back to the way things were. And I’m not sure that just charging to begin with would have solved everything anyway. The beauty of the Internet is its accessibility and usability. Someone, somewhere might’ve figured out how to get the information out there for free in the end.

Advertisers haven’t fared well online either — we can just dismiss their message with a simple click of a button or a pop-up blocker. This means that the money from paywalls is more necessary than ever — there are people behind the content on those newspaper websites, people who need to be paid for their work. It’s easy to forget that.

It’s not a good situation. Like I said, once people are given something for free, they’re not going to want to start paying for it again. That’s why paywalls have not fared well in the past – look at what happened this summer with Rupert Murdoch and the London Times. It makes me curious to see what will happen with New York. I’ve heard that they’re banking on loyal non-subscribers to pay for a promised excellence that’s hard to find elsewhere. That’s a sort of niche attitude that just might work but, then again, it might not.

His wall started to crumble.

The news industry is, to me,  such an interesting animal.  I believe that people have a fundamental right to know what’s going on in the world. That’s what newspapers are designed to do — inform. If we think that way, making people pay for something they inherently deserve seems wrong. But we can’t forget that newspapers are a business, driven — like every other business — by the need to make a profit. That means charging, somehow, the people who access them, whether online or elsewhere.

I’m not going to pretend to know any of the answers. If I did, everyone would be beating down my door right now asking me questions. I  don’t know enough about the industry to say how we can “fix” things. Frankly, it’s never going to be like it was in the past. Doing more with less is the new business model, and it’s here to stay.

And while I don’t think the news industry is, by any means, going to die out, that doesn’t mean I don’t still worry about the future like everyone else does. I realize that I am going into an industry that isn’t exactly stable. It’s a decision that I’ve made and, sometimes, it scares the crap out of me.

 

And then I start to freak out.

It’s certainly not hopeless. As more and more people become dependent on smartphones and devices like the iPad, I think there’s a great chance to “start over” by developing apps that people have to pay to download/access. And niche websites definitely have a better chance at attracting advertisers. The Patch network of sites, run by AOL, could draw in a lot of community advertisers who normally don’t venture online.  I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see what happens. And then write some more about our own doom.

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Twitter Trouble

21 Dec

Oh, Twitter. Here I am, writing about you once again. It’s not your fault, really. You’re just so easy to use. And so full of information that we’re willing to automatically believe.

The issue at hand this time concerns Wikileaks and a website that supposedly dropped service for the controversial organization. Or did it? According to a New York Times article, Wikileaks supporters accidentally targeted EasyDNS for cutting off services to Wikileaks when the company they actually wanted was EveryDNS.

The culprit for this case of mistaken identity? Either a blog post or a tweet that originally misidentified the company. Social media users spread the false info, which was ultimately picked up by the Guardian and the  Times itself.

Well someone's been a naughty bird.

It seems that, in the end, EasyDNS wasn’t harmed that much by the confusion. Unlike with Mastercard, Wikileaks supporters didn’t try to shut the site down- they stuck with nasty comments and calls. And, in an interesting twist, EasyDNS is now hosting Wikileaks domain names on special servers.

I thought this was interesting for a couple of reasons. 1) It reiterates my point that Twitter is a powerful tool for journalism. But it can cause a lot of problems when journalists forget that, at times, it’s just a glorified virtual grapevine for gossip.

It’s a problem that I’ve thought about before, and something I think journalists need to think about. Just as you would (hopefully) double check information you got from a source or a website even, you should do the same with social media. It’s so easy to spy a tasty rumor on Twitter and run off to write a story. If it’s true, that’s great. If it’s not, you wind up with egg on your face, so to speak. (Trust me, we’ve been tempted recently at my college newspaper to rely heavily on Twitter. Thankfully, we’ve stepped back a couple of times and taken information with a grain of salt, which is more than I can say for some more “professional” media outlets in the area.)

Tasty.

2) I don’t know if the government – as much as it wants to – will ever be able to shut Wikileaks down. Supporters have already shown what they’re capable of. And the internet is so nebulous – you can’t lock it away in a filing cabinet like the old days. Maybe, instead of focusing so much on punishing someone for something that can never be undone, the government should focus on more closely protecting what secrets it still does have.

And anyway, I don’t necessarily agree with the bullying tactics. As far as my First Amendment knowledge extends, Wikileaks is perfectly within its rights to publish leaked information – it just can’t be going out there and stealing those files itself. Just like the situation at Columbia University (where students were originally advised to not even discuss Wikileaks online) prior restraint does not fly in this country. And we can’t stand for it.

They did not write the Bill of Rights just for their health, people.

No booze? We lose.

14 Dec

This post was inspired by an article that the editor-in-chief of my college newspaper posted in a group on Facebook.

The issue at hand? Alcohol advertising in college newspapers. More specifically, the Supreme Court refused to review a case in Virginia involving a ban that two college newspapers have contested as unconstitutional.

It's like Prohibition, baby! Kind of.

Now, I’m no legal expert. My experience with the First Amendment extends to a three-credit hour class that I just finished taking. (Shout out to Professor Reinardy! Holla.) But I have some questions about the constitutionality — and above all the logic — of bans like these.

For one, these ads aren’t promoting anything illegal. Sure, a portion of college newspapers’ readerships can’t legally drink. But I bet well over half can — once you count the faculty, staff and non-traditional and graduate students. And anyways, if it’s truthful and valuable information (and I’m sure some people consider this to be valuable) then it receives limited Constitutional protection.

And if it’s binge drinking the legislators are trying to stamp out by doing this — which I’m sure it is — I say they have about as much of a chance of succeeding as Hell does of freezing over.

Not the one in Michigan.

They’re taking on a college culture that has been set in its ways for decades.  I don’t support binge drinking, but I certainly don’t see it going anywhere. Not even if you take away advertising like this. Because any good college student already knows where the good drink specials are. And where to get cheap beer. And which liquor stores are most likely to accept your fake ID. Sorry, but it’s true.

Plus, newspaper ads aren’t the only way “happy hour” information can be found. There are entire websites and smartphone apps dedicated to this sole purpose. Good luck controlling the Internet.

In the end, laws like these won’t hurt drinking establishments or the popularity of binge drinking; they’ll hurt college newspapers. We need this advertising revenue. Sure, we have a relatively captive market. And most of our staff works for free (I can attest to this firsthand.) But we still need to make money, and alcohol advertisements are a large part of this. There’s a weekly drink special chart on the back of our newspaper’s sister magazine. It’s big bucks.

Gosh, I hate it when I have this problem at the grocery store.

And legislators are forgetting the crusade many college newspapers have waged to help curtail binge drinking. I know our newspaper, for one, has written many articles on the activity and its dangers. Most recently, we covered the debate on Four Loko, a popular energy/alcohol drink that has since been taken off of the market.

In a nutshell, legislators are making a big mistake with this one. I ask them to think back to their own college days. Would a ban like this have made a difference to them or their friends? I seriously doubt it.

Latest ACES article.

14 Dec

This is a piece I wrote about Patch.com — online only, hyperlocal news coverage. Check it out!

http://www.copydesk.org/news/society/2010/patch/