Media Redux

Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can spread whatever drivel he or she wishes. Social media amplifies it, and before you know it, this fake news has spread like a wildfire in the California hills.
- Autumn 2018 Issue, Posted Nov 29, 2018
Publishers now have to wrestle with the reality of global content.
- Summer 2018 Issue, Posted Aug 28, 2018
A free press is a cornerstone of any free society. Lately, it's been under attack, becoming the whipping boy of anyone looking for an easy target. Politicians and the press have an adversarial relationship, but there's usually at least some semblance of respect. The current president has a particularly contentious relationship with the press, labeling anything he doesn't like as fake news. At one point early on in the administration, he went so far as to call the press "the enemy of the people" in an angry tweet.
We've seen companies trying—sometimes desperately—to move into the 21st century and transform their businesses. Many waited way too long, let their staff get too small, or lost sight of their mission. But it seems that we could be turning a corner and finally getting to a point where publications can learn how to make money again.
As I write this, we are 4 weeks into the new presidency. It's fair to say the press has played a central role in the early days of this administration. We have seen that even while journalists' jobs are shifting—thanks to new technologies and distribution channels—the fundamental skills needed to be a good reporter remain the same. And those skills have been on display lately, much to the chagrin of the new president.
- Posted May 23, 2017
As I write this, NPR announced it's bringing an end to its online comments. It's hardly alone, as many big-name publications have made similar pronouncements in the last year. Perhaps trolls and vitriol have killed the online comment once and for all.
In April, BuzzFeed did a live internet broadcast of an exploding watermelon. It got a lot of (ahem!) buzz, but it was perhaps a new low in the fight to the bottom in the struggle for eyeballs. In case you're wondering, WIRED reported that, at its peak, the stunt garnered more than 800,000 viewers. About the same time, Mashable fired 30 reporters who covered actual news.
- July/August 2016 Issue, Posted Aug 30, 2016
We've been hearing about hyperlocal news for years, but in spite of many attempts at a platform play, nothing has really stuck. Just when you think a trend is pretty much doomed, someone comes along with investment capital and a new twist. Such is the case with The Tab, a U.K.-based variation on the hyperlocal theme that uses journalism students as unpaid writers, concentrates on university communities, and distributes the stories via social media.
- March 2016 Issue, Posted Mar 15, 2016
Back in the golden days of tech blogging, there were a handful of intrepid entrepreneurs who started successful tech blogs. It was an easier undertaking back then. Today, it takes cash to scale, and even strong brands struggle to keep up.
- December 2015 Issue, Posted Dec 28, 2015
It's a strange time for journalism. We have more outlets than ever before. Mobile, social, and cloud tools have transformed the craft--and the business-letting us reach more people than ever before. We can have two-way conversations with our readers. We even know our audience at a granular level.
- July/August 2015 Issue, Posted Jul 14, 2015
This month, I finally pulled the plug on the dead-tree version of my Sunday paper. I meant to do it for months, but at long last, I couldn't stifle the guilt for even one more second. It was too sad to watch while the paper slowly rotted at the end of the driveway or simply ended up--unread--in my recycling bin every week.
- March 2015 Issue, Posted Mar 17, 2015
I recently had the good fortune to visit the MIT Media Lab. These days, the Media Lab is much more than media, of course. Its focuses include building smart cities and urban farming, efficient vehicles, and better artificial limbs. There's a lot going on there, but as a media columnist, one area caught my eye: a project on the future of news.
- December 2014 Issue, Posted Dec 10, 2014
The night before I wrote this column, I watched a classic British spy thriller. One of the old-guard spies complained that they had more information coming than ever before, but nobody knew how to make sense of it all. In an age of Big Data, any profession that deals with information faces this problem, including journalists.
- Posted Jul 01, 2014
In the old days, you published an article and maybe you got a handful of letters to the editor-of which only a couple were likely to be printed. Your editor would sort through the mail and hold letter writers accountable for their words. In today's connected world, after a journalist publishes an article, the comments section allows anyone to air his opinions without the filter of the old editorial desk. This has resulted in more two-way communication between writers and readers, but it can also lead to some rude, and even crude, responses.
- March 2014 Issue, Posted Mar 04, 2014
Earlier this year, news came out that Congress was trying to write a shield law to "protect" journalists. This probably sounds reasonable to you, even altruistic, but the question remains: Why shield journalists at all? We have a shield law that covers all speech. It's called the First Amendment.
- December 2013 Issue, Posted Dec 03, 2013
As we went to press, news broke that the partner of The Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald--who helped release the Edward Snowden revelations--had been detained under British anti-terrorism laws while traveling through England on his way home to Brazil. The episode was designed to send a message to Greenwald (and all journalists) that if you publish sensitive documents, we will come after you. Just to make sure the message was clear, the border police held Greenwald's partner, David Miranda, for almost the entire 9 hours the law allowed under section 7 of the U.K.'s Terrorism Act 2000.
- November 2013 Issue, Posted Nov 05, 2013
As this issue of EContent went to press, American media consumers were reeling from several fairly emotional stories. The Zimmerman verdict had been handed down, the Snowden revelations still resonated, and Rolling Stone had just released a cover story featuring Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. What these three stories had in common, aside from their obvious news value, was the way the public reacted to them and the way that reaction reverberated across the social web.
- October 2013 Issue, Posted Oct 01, 2013
My wife and I recently began the college search with our youngest child and toured two very similar schools: Marymount Manhattan College and Emerson College. I was encouraged that they both seemed to mix real-world experience with classroom learning, a combination that I think is essential in today's job market. However, I was troubled that one seemed fixated on the jobs of yesterday, while the other seemed more focused on the careers of tomorrow.
- September 2013 Issue, Posted Sep 03, 2013
When you think of the Pulitzer Prize, you probably envision large news organizations with deep pockets running in-depth investigative series and being rewarded for them with the industry's most prestigious prize. But this year, you'd be wrong. A small company with just seven employees, only three of whom are full-time reporters, took home the prize, beating its better financed competitors.
- July/August 2013 Issue, Posted Aug 06, 2013
Internet disruption could be accused of being a serial killer. Its most recent victim is the venerable alternative weekly The Boston Phoenix. The paper, launched in 1966 during another time of change and upheaval, died a slow and painful death by internet disruption.

It's ironic in a way, that The Phoenix, which was born as an alternative to the traditional daily newspaper, was itself eventually fatally disrupted.

- June 2013 Issue, Posted Jun 04, 2013
One of the great dilemmas facing traditional print media is the idea that the internet makes everyone a publisher-writers are no longer beholden to publishers who guard the gate to large printing and distribution systems. In the mobile age, publishing capabilities literally sit in the palm of your hand--and when you add the ability to develop large networks via social media and substantial self-funding sources, the game has changed completely.
- May 2013 Issue, Posted May 07, 2013
This past week, as I was considering what to write for my column, I scored what I call a homerun post. It took off and amassed more than 24,000 page views at last count. I had another that barely broke 200. So it goes in the world of writing on the web.
- April 2013 Issue, Posted Apr 02, 2013
As I write this column, the Newtown, Conn., shooting tragedy is still a raw, gaping wound in the national consciousness. We have seen the face of evil, and those of us in the press who cover breaking news have been left to report on the horror. I'm sad to say we haven't always done it elegantly or with compassion for the victims or their families. What's worse, in an effort to be first, blatantly wrong information was published.
- March 2013 Issue, Posted Mar 05, 2013
Every modern journalist needs a certain set of key skills. Certainly you have to know your way around social media to publicize your work, but these days, you also need to be able understand and make use of data.
In my last column, I discussed some fundamental rules that remain in place even as journalism is changing before our eyes. But as the role of journalism changes, we are still bringing new generations of journalists into the fold--and I happen to have one in my own house.
- December 2012 Issue, Posted Dec 04, 2012
There is little doubt that we are living in a new age of journalism. The internet has clearly put pressure on traditional publications. Stories are published faster. There is less fact-checking and editorial oversight. Virtually anyone with even a hint of technical savvy can publish to the web. Many of the more traditional rules of journalism have gone by the wayside, and while much of this change is positive, that doesn't mean all of the old rules don't still apply. Some should remain guiding lights, regardless of the medium, but too often lately we have seen modern journalism steer off course.
- November 2012 Issue, Posted Nov 06, 2012
I read several books during my summer vacation. And each time I came across a passage about a person reading a newspaper over breakfast, I checked the copyright page at the front of the book. You just don't see people casually reading the paper over coffee anymore-at least not in the U.S. It's a quaint vestige of an earlier, slower time.The daily newspaper has been replaced by the internet. People don't even casually eat breakfast anymore. They grab a coffee, probably at a chain such as Starbucks, and chug it on the run. They get their news on their mobile devices or laptops.
- October 2012 Issue, Posted Oct 02, 2012
MSNBC (now known as NBC News) has learned to embrace analytics and social media to help drive traffic to its various properties, and if you're smart, you should be doing the same thing with your websites.
- September 2012 Issue, Posted Sep 04, 2012
I continue to be amazed by the inability of big media in general—and newspapers in particular—to understand the internet. This is 2012 after all. The web is more than 20 years old now—old enough to drink. You would think we would have arrived at some basic level of knowledge about how to use the most important communication tool of our time—but no, apparently not.
- July/August 2012 Issue, Posted Jul 03, 2012
I'm in the process of reading Walter Isaacson's excellent biography of the contradictory and unpredictable man that was Steve Jobs. Isaacson wrote that in 2010, wracked with cancer, Jobs was on a mission to accomplish as much as he could before he died-and to that end he turned his keen attention to journalism.
- June 2012 Issue, Posted Jun 05, 2012
As we watch newspapers continue to struggle with the digital transformation, it's worth looking at another time in history when newspapers grappled with a disruptive technology. That's right, the introduction of the internet was not the first time newspapers were rocked by revolutionary upheaval. In the middle of the 19th century, as the telegraph started to take hold, newspapers initially saw it as a threat before coming to a realization: It could actually transform the industry. Sound familiar?
- May 2012 Issue, Posted May 08, 2012
You wouldn't know it to hear publishers griping, but newspapers have a long history of giving away content-or at least selling it on the cheap. That didn't change with the internet; what's really changed is the advertising model.Think about how newspapers were sold in the 20th century. The newsstand cost was actually very cheap, perhaps 25 cents a copy -- and sometimes it was free -- so the subscription revenue was never much to speak of.
- April 2012 Issue, Posted Apr 03, 2012
When it comes to defining old media, you don't get much older or stodgier than The Associated Press (AP), which has been delivering the news for 165 years. In December 2011, it decided to finally join us in the 21st century by defining a new policy that would go beyond merely breaking a story first and go so far as to add value to it with analysis, video, and more.
- March 2012 Issue, Posted Feb 28, 2012
There seems little doubt that the advent of tablets, the ultimate media consumption device, had a positive impact on the news business. But until the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, in collaboration with The Economist Group, released a study in October, the exact impact was mere speculation.
Guess what's back in vogue: that lovely old chestnut, the paywall. In September, The Boston Globe announced it was putting up a paywall for its new website, leaving the very popular intact but apparently with less free content.It's part of a trend we are seeing in the newspaper world. Desperate to find new sources of revenue, traditional media is trying the tried-and-true paywall. The New York Times--which owns The Boston Globe by the way--made the transition last spring, but this was a paywall with a twist. It wasn't so much a wall as maybe a hedge.
- December 2011 Issue, Posted Jan 31, 2012
It seems baffling to me that in 2011 there are media companies that are still so clueless about the realities of digital publishing. In fact, many act surprised, as though it's something new that just dropped into their laps rather than a transition that's been happening over the past decade.
- October 2011 Issue, Posted Oct 17, 2011
For many years it seems, AOL has been a brand in search of a business model. For a time it appeared to be stockpiling journalists and properties in order to become a go-to destination for online journalism. But when the "AOL Way" memo leaked in February, it showed a far different picture.
- June 2011 Issue, Posted Jun 20, 2011
Last December, WikiLeaks stirred up debate when it, once again, released sensitive government documents to the world. Julian Assange, WikiLeaks' editor-in-chief, quickly became a public enemy, and the story brought up a wide range of issues about the role of journalists, governments, and the freedom of the press. The leak, however, also raised the question of just what a publication is in the eyes of the government and if press freedom should extend to web-only publications, especially when they may not be based in the U.S. (or anywhere else, in this case).
- March 2011 Issue, Posted Mar 15, 2011
As we head into the homestretch of 2010, we've seen a lot of activity in the journalism world—many experiments and attempts to find a working, profitable content creation and delivery model. Maybe we've finally gotten past the blame game and gotten to the point where we are actually looking for answers. The problem, however, remains a stubborn adherence to the idea of maintaining control over the content. With few exceptions, publishers seemed focused on finding new ways to lock down content.
- December 2010 Issue, Posted Nov 22, 2010
By the time the media industry caught up with the profound changes brought on by the World Wide Web, it was late in the game and they were forced to play catch-up with lean web-native startups that understand the delivery channel much better than they do. The main issue was (and remains) that traditional media companies viewed the web as a separate channel.
- October 2010 Issue, Posted Oct 15, 2010
Rupert Murdoch threw his annual anti-Google hissy fit this past April, when he screamed to anyone who would listen that Google is stealing his content. As usual, it was timed to coincide with the annual meeting of the American Society of News Editors (ASNE). Excuse me while I yawn.
- July/August 2010 Issue, Posted Jul 09, 2010
Think about the last time you ran into a registration wall. How did you react? If you're like me, chances are you gave up and left. Yet newspapers and magazines are deluding themselves into thinking that pay walls will suddenly, magically be the solution to their revenue crisis this year. To put it mildly, I'm dubious about this scheme.
- May 2010 Issue, Posted May 03, 2010
What would happen to content providers such as News Corp. if Google went away tomorrow? Would they be better off, or would they be back where they started?
- March 2010 Issue, Posted Mar 04, 2010
Let's not pull any punches: It's been a horrible year for newspapers. We've watched as one newspaper after another has closed down or gone to a limited online-only model. Newspapers are suddenly frantic to find a way to make money online, as though the commercial web is something that came along last month instead of 15 years ago.
- December 2009 Issue, Posted Nov 24, 2009