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Archive for July, 2009

Huffpo’s flight from seriousness continues

by henrycopeland
Monday, July 20th, 2009

Check out what Huffpo’s readers are excited about today.

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with any of this stuff… it’s just that this bonfire of skin is a long way from the highbrow content that Arianna claims to be championing:


by henrycopeland
Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Huffpo gives up the seriousness ghost?

by henrycopeland
Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

On Tuesday, the day when the HuffingtonPost‘s headline story was “SOTOMAYOR UNDER THE GUN” these were the site’s most popular stories:

Huffpo bills itself as a serious forum for liberal thinkers… I wonder what percentage of its clicks are purely skin? Huffpo’s always-sober lead story is a thin veneer of high-brow atop a smorgasbord of breasts, butts and assorted salaciousness.

Shirky on publishing, publics and subsidies

by henrycopeland
Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Many nuggets in Clay Shirky’s essay about the death of publishing:

The hard truth about the future of journalism is that nobody knows for sure what will happen; the current system is so brittle, and the alternatives are so speculative, that there’s no hope for a simple and orderly transition from State A to State B. Chaos is our lot; the best we can do is identify the various forces at work shaping various possible futures. Two of the most important are the changing natures of the public, and of subsidy.

As Paul Starr, the great sociologist of media, has often noted, journalism isn’t just about uncovering facts and framing stories; it’s also about assembling a public to read and react to those stories. A public is not merely an audience. For a TV show with an audience of a million, no one cares whether it’s the same million every week — head count rules. A public, by contrast, is a group of people who not only know things, but know other members of the public know those things as well. Both persistence and synchrony matter, because journalism is about more than dissemination of news; it’s about the creation of shared awareness.

Consider, as an illustration, the difference between assembling a public for a newspaper, and for stories on that paper’s website. The publisher assembled the public for the paper, maintaining subscribers lists and distribution chains, and got to decide what front-page news was for those readers. This was a bottleneck of value that used to be enforced by the limitations of print and distribution, and by lack of competition for sources of written news.

On the website, however, the stories are the same, but assembling various publics is different. The home page doesn’t serve the function the front page used to; for many papers, less than half the traffic even sees the home page. Instead, people who care about gay marriage, say, will pass around the relevant articles in email, IM, or twitter, whether those stories are on page A1 or B17, whether the paper is published in Anchorage or Miami. Online, it is the relevant networked publics, not the editorial board, who determine much of what gets read.

The logic of the Internet, a medium that is natively good at helping groups communicate at vanishingly low cost, is that the act of forming a public has become something the public is increasingly doing for itself, rather than needing to wait for a publication (note the root) to do it for them. More publics will form, they will be smaller, shorter-lived, and less geographically contiguous, and they will overlap more than the previous era’s larger, more rooted, more stable publics.

Which brings us to the changes in subsidy. Journalism written for that fraction of the population that follows the news closely has always been subsidized. For the last century, newspaper journalism had direct subsidy from advertisement and cross-subsidy from sports fans and coupon clippers who never really cared about the city council or the coup in Madagascar. The packages containing news have been so bundled and cross-funded that we’ve never really known precisely the size of the audience for actual civic-minded reporting, or how much direct fees from that audience would amount to. We do know, however, that the rough answers are “Small” and “Not much,” answers that suggest radical transformation, now that the media environment in which those subsidies flourished is gone.

Agreed. I agree less with his remaining points.

There are many shifts coming, but three big ones are an increase in direct participation; an increase in the leverage of the professionals working alongside the amateurs; and a second great age of patronage.

Participation first. Various self-assembled publics can increasingly engage in acts of journalism on their own. The functions of gathering readers, and providing analysis and opinion, are already moving from professional organizations directly into these overlapping publics, and increasingly, the basic act of reporting — of observing and then relaying — is as well. All of this represents a massive supply-side subsidy to the volume and variety of raw reporting.

Though we do lots of writing about ourselves, there’s still very little “reporting” going on. Reporters, even when not brilliant themselves, do a great job of asking questions others aren’t asking.

Similarly, William Bastone and his staff at the Smoking Gun have moved from shoe leather to database queries in uncovering news; here the leverage is not professionals and amateurs but professionals and machines. The ability to get out of the “phone call” model of reporting — one paid journalist talking to one source at a time — and to instead bring in everything the internet has taught us about automation, syndication, parallel effort, and decentralization will increasingly characterize successful new models of journalism.

Agreed. This one I’m still chewing on:

Finally, there’s patronage, either of the “one rich person” model, as with Richard Mellon Scaife’s subsidy of conservative journals, or the NPR Fund Drive model, where the small core of highly involved users makes above-market-price donations to provision a universally accessible good run for revenue but not for profit. These models have always existed alongside the for-profit press, but they were always viewed as oddities, their ability to continue to function being regarded more as a kind of perverse outcome than evidence of continued viability.

In an age where the cost of making things public has fallen precipitously, patronage models suddenly look not just viable but eminently reproducible. The leverage to be gotten from motivations other than profit is now growing rather than shrinking; a poorly capitalized journalistic weblog is now likelier to reach a million readers than a well-funded but traditional journalistic outfit is.

Because journalism has always been subsidized, and because the public can increasingly get involved in activities too complex for loose groups to take on before the current era, journalism is seeping into the population at large, with the models of subsidy being altered to fit that shift. The transition here is like the spread of the ability to drive, from paid chauffeurs to the whole population. We still pay people to drive, from buses to race cars, and there are more paid drivers today than there were in the days of the chauffeur. Paid drivers are, however, no longer the majority of all drivers.

I guess the Sunlight Foundation qualifies as the latter. SEIU blog qualifies. What else?

Perez promotes Sony’s The Ugly Truth on Twitter

by henrycopeland
Monday, July 13th, 2009

This morning Perez Hilton launched the first major Twitterer’s ad campaign, for Sony Picture’s romantic comedy “The Ugly Truth.” As far as we know, Perez’s blast marks the first time a Twitter personality has leveraged his or her influence on behalf of an advertiser.

Readers will tweet their best dating advice to @uglytruthmovie. Their tweets will be featured on PerezHilton.com, where readers will rate the dating tips. The top 10 tips will be featured on the site this Friday. Perez is doing sponsored tweets (clearly marked) to promote the contest.

Perez began tweeting in early January 2009 and is currently the 20th most-followed Twitterer, with 1.2 million followers. Perez is the fourth most retweeted person on Twitter.

When journalism becomes a popularity contest

by henrycopeland
Monday, July 13th, 2009

WaPo’s web columnist Dan Froomkin gets the ax because his online articles don’t get enough traffic.

Think about all the coverage that will disappear in coming years as this philosophy becomes standard.

Think about all the far away places about which the average person knows little and care less — Sudan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Pakistan, Ghana, Taiwan, South Korea, Peru — that won’t measure up to the web’s popularity standards and slowly disappear as take-it-or-leave-it bundle of The Newspaper is replaced by the “every word for itself” metrics of web publishing.

The HuffingtonPost has stepped up to hire Froomkin — no doubt garnering a nice little spike in page impressions and PR — but is itself on vanguard of the desperate commercial scramble to add frothy content to drive page impressions and revenues. (Right this second the most popular stories on Huffpo are #1 “Sarah Palin’s Most memorable style moments” #2 “Women’s iconic swimsuit movie moments” #3 “ADN confirms, Sarah Palin’s story doesn’t add up” and #4 “Emma Watson’s Wardrobe Malfunction.”)

I’m not arguing that Froomkin was a great journalist or deserved to stay at the Post. I’m just marking this small moment in the shifting climate of publishing, a moment in which web metrics nudge aside the editor’s judgement.

Untuned, United frets

by henrycopeland
Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Just for the record…

Currently 218k views and 2700 comments.

Debt spiral

by henrycopeland
Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

WSJ reports:

Short-term interest rates at near zero have helped pull yields down across the curve. In June 2009 the average cost of government debt fell to 2.69% from 4.04% a year earlier.

But since January, longer-dated Treasury yields have risen. The 10-year note now yields 3.33% up from just over 2%. Meanwhile, the rate on T-bills, or debt with less than a one-year maturity, will not remain near zero forever – unless, of course, the U.S. enters a Japan-style extended period of stagnation.

The potential impact of government borrowing rates returning to more normal levels could be huge, the CBO data shows. Even under its baseline assumptions net interest payments will rise from around 7.7% of revenues in 2010, to 9.6% in 2012, to 14.1% in 2014. The total net interest bill for the 2010-2014 period weighs in at $1.5 trillion. Even this interest burden has the potential to constrain policy – forcing the administration to cut spending aggressively or raise taxes.

But if there were some kind of interest-rate shock, the picture could look extremely bleak. One CBO scenario: If 10-year yields and T-bill rates moved back to the average levels of the 1990s by 2014, the interest bill for the five-year period would rise to $2 trillion. If yields returned to 1980s levels, when 10-year yields averaged 10.5%, the interest bill would climb to $2.6 trillion.

Obscure thought for the day

by henrycopeland
Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

“Disciplines are cultures, with embedded practices and ways of thinking that have been successful at tackling certain kinds of problems. When a new problem or opportunity arises that does not fall into one of the traditional disciplinary bins—like converging technologies–then practitioners from different fields may find they have fundamentally different perspectives on it, including whether there really is an opportunity. This kind of communications barrier depends, in part, on one’s level of inclusion in the disciplinary culture (Law & Bijker, 1992) and on which invisible colleges a particular member of the culture belongs to (Crane, 1972).” (From draft workshop proposal, Trading zones, interactional expertise and interdisciplinary collaboration, by Michael E. Gorman, University of Virginia)

Double down

by henrycopeland
Monday, July 6th, 2009


Investors anticipating another “summer rally” may be disappointed as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner accelerates debt sales to finance a record budget deficit. After more than doubling note and bond offerings to $963 billion in the first half, another $1.1 trillion may be sold by year-end, according to Barclays Plc, one of the 16 primary dealers that are obligated to bid at Treasury auctions. The second-half sales would be more than the total amount of debt sold in all of 2008.

The U.S. will conduct four auctions this week for the first time since the Treasury began issuing securities regularly in 1976. Today’s $8 billion auction of 10-year Treasury Inflation- Protected Securities will be followed by the sale $35 billion of 3-year notes tomorrow, $19 billion of 10-year notes the next day and $11 billion of 30-year bonds on July 9.

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