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Facebook Is No Friend of Traditional, New Media

I believe my wife to be the toughest, stubbornest (and prettiest) gal alive.

If being married to me wasn't proof enough, consider the strength in her decision not to follow the wandering herds of me, I and us onto the wide-open, public spaces of Facebook.

I have typed of my utter disdain for this social-networking behemoth before, and then had to admit that I participate in this online game of peer pressure. Oh, I quit once, only to grudgingly crawl back.

Of course, my wife is a print journalist, so she is in constant training to stay plenty tough and plenty stubborn. After all, Facebook is just the latest enemy of print. Think I'm overstating that?

While on a recent vacation out West, we were sitting on a sun-drenched patio sipping wine (now I am just trying to rub it in) and an old friend of my wife's was expounding on the virtues of Facebook, and trying to convince her old buddy to join the mob.

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Local Media Don't Get Tea Party Invite

All politics might be local, but sometimes, sadly, media coverage of politics isn't.

The inaugural National Tea Party Convention got under way in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, and world media of all stripes and political colors poured into the city to cover the three-day event.

That is mostly good news, because only a month ago, the event organizers were cherry-picking who would cover their event and, not surprisingly, most of those cherries were Republican Red.

After rethinking that one-way strategy, the Party bosses announced Thursday that they had, in fact, credentialed 111 members of the working press -- some from as far away as Japan.

"We desire transparency at this convention and have worked with media that are friendly to the Tea Party movement as well as those that have not been seen to be supportive of our efforts," convention spokesman Mark A. Skoda said.

Bravo for that, except in this case, transparency seems to work only if you are viewing the convention with a telescope.

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For the Record, Unnamed Sources Don't Cut It

Look, politicians have been using the press for their own devices since George Washington's administration, so to start getting too bent out of shape about it now, would be like throwing buckets of water at a five-alarm neighborhood fire.

Today, anyway, that's not going to stop me from opening up the spigot, and pouring cold water all over the hot air coming from no-names in Washington regarding the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner.

Most of the water, however, will be reserved for the working press that is carelessly repeating this shoddily sourced drivel, and presenting it as news.

Hopefully, I won't come off all wet ...

Continue reading "For the Record, Unnamed Sources Don't Cut It" »

Many Publishers Emphasizing 'Free'-lancing

Today's offering has everything to do with rubbing it in if you call yourself a writer or a print journalist. Yeah, you knew it was bad out there, but pop an aspirin or two while we convince you that it's even worse than you thought.

This little beauty was sent along by a colleague this morning.

James Rainey, who handles the On the Media column for the L.A. Times, pens a sad tale detailing just how hard it is for good writers and journalists to be compensated something better than migrant-worker wages for turning around freelance copy.

In his extensive piece, Rainey opines that "freelancing has become all too free."

According to Rainey, (though we're not sure where he got this figure), "seasoned professionals have seen their income drop by 50% or more as publishers fill the Web's seemingly limitless news hole, drawing on the ever-expanding rank of under-employed writers."

Continue reading "Many Publishers Emphasizing 'Free'-lancing" »

Huff Post: Future of Journalism?

With newspapers dropping dead like flies in a bug-zapper, the search is on to find their replacement in the media world. One name has emerged as a potential model for the post-newspaper era: The Huffington Post.

Founded in 2005 and backed by Arianna Huffington (whose divorce from oil magnate Michael Huffington netted her millions), the Huffington Post initially presented itself as a counter weight to the right-wing Drudge Report. Over time, however, it has moved to include both news coverage as well as commentary on the site.

With over 11 million unique visitors monthly, HuffPost's audience is roughly the combined total of the Drudge Report and Politico, its two main competitors. But success brings more scrutiny. HuffPost's practices are increasingly coming under the microscope - and some observations are not so flattering.

In a feature in Time magazine, it was noted that:

HuffPo is not made for people who like their news straight. As the situation in Iraq got boggy, the economy soured and the Bush Administration's popularity face-planted, folks wanted a place to vent. And when the Obama phenomenon took off and Wall Street collapsed, they wanted a place where they could both celebrate and vent more. HuffPo was the easiest, most satisfying place to do it.

"We like to expose hypocrisy," says Katharine Zaleski, the site's news editor. The Huffsters see what they do as curating the news: finding the good stuff from other sources and artfully exhibiting it for the enrichment of the more educated, liberal news consumer. And yet the site's most viewed stories often have to do with the trivial -- every garment in Michelle Obama's wardrobe gets its due -- and the racy. It's improbable that anything like the wildly popular HuffPo slide show of Pamela Anderson's disturbingly shaped nipple would be featured on, say, Politico.

The most serious - and frequent - accusation Huffington Post faces is plagiarism. An outright content theft incident in December left Arianna Huffington defensive - she blamed it as a mistake by an intern.

Other HuffPost tactics are also coming under fire. For one, its comments sections are lightly patrolled - the site has a staff of 28 editors. Profanity and mudslinging on its blogs are par for the course. Finally, its aggregation methods are beginning to get noticed. Its search-engine optimization success has increased pageviews. And often the search led to a HuffPost article that "borrowed" heavily from other original sources.

At least one analyst sees a potential war brewing between Old Media and Huffington Post.

(N)ews organizations may not tolerate others cherry-picking their content and repurposing it for profit for much longer. "Someone is going to sue the Huffington Post," says Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. "It's not just about the volume of the content that it appropriates, it's about the value." There are other aggregators, but HuffPo is the most tempting. "It's a big player, and the site that has got closest to the line" between fair and unfair use of copy, Benton notes.

Like it or not, Huffington Post will be a force to be reckoned with for some time to come. Last December, it secured $25 million in funding from Oak Investment Partners. With the cash infusion, Huffington laid out her goals: "This commitment from Oak Investment Partners will allow us to accelerate our growth, with more verticals, more video, more citizen journalism initiatives, more cities for our local editions, and a fund for investigative journalism."

A Glimmer of Hope for P-I?

It may be only days before the Seattle Post-Intelligencer goes the way of the Rocky Mountain News. Its parent Hearst Corporation has set a March 10 deadline to find a buyer or it may shut down the paper.

While no serious buyer has emerged, word is that Hearst may be planning to extend the P-I's existence by making it an online-only entity. A number of P-I's staffers have been offered to stay on to work for the web site.

One reporter who turned down the offer said it came with some strings attached - it would increase his health insurance cost, cut his salary by an unspecified amount, match his 401(k) contributions, require him to forgo his P-I severance pay, reduce his vacation accrual to zero and require him to give up overtime. But Hector Castro said the reason he rejected the deal is because he finds working online "too tech-oriented."

Meanwhile, some of the newly unemployed Rocky Mountain News journalists have already found a way back on the web. Tracy Ringolsby, one of the most respected baseball writers who also co-founded Baseball America, has launched a baseball site along with fellow ex-Rocky baseball writer Jack Etkin and editor Steve Foster. It didn't take Colorado Rockies fans long to discover InsidetheRockies.com, which got around 2,100 hits the first day and climbing ever since.

Newsday Plans to Charge for Web Site

Newsday on Long Island may become the first U.S. metro daily newspaper to jump into the pay fray as a way to sustain the current business model. During a conference call Thursday, Cablevision CEO Tom Rutledge said his company, which owns Newsday and News12, a cable TV network in the New York metro area, will be charging for content on their sites, though he did not specify a time.

"When we purchased Newsday, we were aware of the long-term issues facing the traditional newspaper industry," Rutledge said. "We plan to end the distribution of free web content and make our newsgathering capabilities a service to our customers."

Newsday reportedly lost over $300 million in the fourth quarter last year and, with a well-trafficked web site, pay-for-content may help to offset some of the losses. Currently, the Wall Street Journal is the only U.S. newspaper site that requires a subscription.

Of course, it didn't take long for skeptics to emerge. In his blog, Ken Doctor thinks Newsday may be committing web site suicide:

The average unique visitor on Newsday.com spends four minutes, 25 seconds per month on the site. Ouch. That number can sub for lots of focus groups, price elasticity testing and the like. Newsday's would-be digital audience has voted with its fingertips. That number is up almost one minute from a year earlier, here courtesy of E&P's monthly Nielsen rankings, but still ranks Newsday as having the lowest online engagement of the top 30 newspaper sites.

Confronted with having to pay for a site you may use less than five minutes a month, you think you are going to pay for it? Wrong site. Wrong year. Wrong metro area.

He may have a very valid point. The New York metro area is blanketed by newspaper web sites: The New York Times, Daily News, Post and Star-Ledger, not to mention the Journal. This goes back to the argument that if a paywall has to be erected, the most probable way for it to succeed is having a cooperative among all newspapers.

ESPN Goes Loco ... er, Local

Like a vulture swooping down on a defenseless, wounded animal, ESPN is embarking on a new venture by creating offshoots that cater to individual cities and regions. Our comrade Ryan Hudson of RealClearSports has some interesting details.

ESPN's first target is Chicago, ripe for the picking because it's a city of passionate sports fans - and its two local papers are in financial distress. The Tribune's parent company filed for bankruptcy protection last December, and its rival Sun-Times is arguably in worse shape.

It's certain that Chicago will be just the first of the many, as a number of major metros are easy preys:

Denver - Rocky Mountain News may be closing in a month. Denver Post's parent company Media News is in financial dire straits.

Seattle - The P-I is going out of business, barring an 11th-hour deal. The Times is asking state legislature for a tax break to stay afloat.

Twin Cities - Minneapolis Star-Tribune is in bankruptcy, St. Paul Pioneer Press is in worse shape.

Detroit - The two papers are cutting back deliveries to three days a week and are expected to slash staff if it doesn't go well.

Philadelphia - The joint operating company of the two papers just filed for bankruptcy, with the Daily News teetering on the brink.

These are but a few cities with at least an NFL and a Major League Baseball franchise. With ESPN's reach from its TV, radio and web properties, it's not difficult to see how it may pull this off with relatively low cost. In addition, these markets may offer ESPN a prime opportunity to scoop up freshly unemployed sportswriters on the cheap - don't think for a minute that this idea isn't on its business plan.

About a week ago Steven Stark, writing in the Boston Phoenix, suggested that newspapers may want to consider shrinking down to just sports papers with a little bit of local news thrown in it.

Can local papers charge something for what they're offering now on the Web? Well, yeah -- but not much. But let's say local papers beef up their sports sections, as suggested. Would there be an audience willing to pay more for that? Quite likely, particularly in sports-mad towns. And there might be some incentive for individual papers along the line to develop types of expertise they could sell -- say, rugby for one paper or international news in India and Pakistan for another, and so on.

Stark may be onto something there. Other than the national papers such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, the sports section has always been the one that drives a paper's sales. (How many times have you been to a coffee shop to find a newspaper completely intact - only to realize that the sports section was missing?)

But if this is a survival strategy, the papers had better catch on fast. ESPN isn't going to wait.

Barbarians at the Gate

Just when was the dawn of the Internet age? It was earlier than you think. And the newspapers, as was pointed out in a previous post, they were really early adapters.

Check out this vintage video from a San Francisco newscast in 1981.

The anchor's parting shot seemed cute at the time, but it was that kind of complacency - or an underestimation of the power of the Internet - that put the newspapers in the bind they're in today.

During lunch yesterday with an editor of the besieged L.A. Times, we mused over just how newspapers lost their power over the readers. One thing was clear: Back in the day when the AP and other news wires were only available to the editors in newsrooms, the print media were the kingmaker. When the masses started getting their own wire reports from portals such as Yahoo!, Google and AOL over the Internet, the genie simply left the bottle for good.

Top International News Sites

Launched in August 2008, coinciding with the Beijing Olympics, RealClearWorld is quickly becoming one of the must-stops for international news junkies as well as foreign policy analysts looking for commentaries from around the world.

OK, so this is a bit of a self-promotion, but we do take our jobs very seriously at RealClearWorld, and this week, we felt it's time to let our readers in on some of our little secrets.

Featured In this week's RealClearWorld is the top five list of our favorite international news sites. While we rely a good deal of our daily aggregation on American publications such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor and Washington Post, we scour sites from more than two dozen countries for opinion and analysis piece with varying political biases.

Our top five include: Der Spiegel, World Politics Review, China Post, Japan Times and Al Jazeera. There are a few others that also deserve mention, such as The Australian, Asia Times, Lebanon's Daily Star, Pakistan's Daily Times and Canada's Globe and Mail.

Here's a detailed look at our top five and why we like them.

ESPN Fumbles Redesign

When you have the most-trafficked sports site in the world and one of most popular sites, period, what would you do with it?

You fix something that ain't broke, of course.

ESPN.com unveiled its newly redesigned web site on Monday and surprise! ... everyone immediately hates it:

"The only thing worse than the Jets collapse is this new website."

"Activities I can complete while waiting for a page to load:

1. take a nap
2. have a three course meal
3. watch two and a half men"

"Absolutely terrible. First off, it doesn't work on my work computer. Second, there is so much stuff going on at the same time, it's dizzying. There should be a classic mode for those of us who want a simple ESPN w/o all the unnecessary extras. And I need it to function at work. This is the New Coke of internet sites. SO very bad."

Let me say I LOVE the new site. But there are a few things that could make it better...
1. More video-Why don't you merge with Youtube?
2. Not enough F-150 ads-LOVE the F-150
3. Not complicated enough-I like my websites to make me think I'm trying to figure out the space time continuum."

"OK.. who let the high school multimedia intern start making decisions in Bristol? "

These are but some of the hundreds complaints trickling in since the new site was launched. And these folks are the intrepid ones, for it's not really all that easy to even find the link to register complaints. As a public service, click here to write your own comments.

The three main problems with the redesign are 1) It's way too busy and it makes it difficult to find anything - plus some of the best features of the old site, such as drop-down menus for different sports, were eliminated. 2) As many readers pointed out, it takes a long time to load and sometimes it crashes the browser. Many users obviously look at the site at work and they don't have all day to wait for a simple page to come up. 3) The new design overwhelms with videos (which contributes to No. 2). A lot of people, surprisingly, still like to read.

The Watchdog fired off a couple of quick questions to ESPN and has yet to hear back. In the meantime, for you nostalgic sorts, here's what this fabulous site used to look like:

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