Where do they get their news? Where do you get yours?

Events earlier this month, especially those of Friday, April 19, marked a noteworthy moment for me here at UWW: For the first time, everyone on campus was talking about the news. Not even the 2012 presidential election sparked this much interest. The event in question, of course, was the Boston Marathon bombings. It was that Friday when police officers locked down the entire metropolitan area as they searched for the escaped suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. It was Friday evening when officers found him in a boat in a backyard in suburban Watertown and took him into custody.

As this video from The New York Times demonstrates, reporters are relying on all sorts of technology and social media to get their stories. Remember the term “ambient news”? That’s news that’s just sort of floating all over the place. It was everywhere in Boston that traumatic week: in the streets, in the chatter of police radios, and on social media. Here on campus, I heard it in classroom conversation, and it wafted through the University Center from the big-screen TVs in the dining area.

All this is emblematic of the fundamental change in our lives wrought by the Internet. Information used to be relatively scarce. Now it’s abundant, and a lot of it is free for the taking. It’s up to the consumer, however, to choose where to get information, and which information to trust. You’ll note that the reporters in the video (I used to work with Kat Seelye in Philadelphia) relied heavily on social media and their smartphones to gather the news and to relay it back to their editors. But they also are quick to point out that, as professional journalists, they must impart a narrative arc to the story and provide context. Just because you can shoot video on an iPhone doesn’t mean you can write the definitive daily account of the bombings and their aftermath for America’s most respected news organization, as Seelye did for several days in a row.

I heard about the lockdown that Friday on NPR as I was driving my kids to school. I read about it on my office PC and on the Kindle tablet, relying mainly on the BBC and The New York Times Web site. I had taken my older daughter to drama club that night when I heard about the siege in Watertown and the capture of Tsarnaev.

When I got home, my first instinct was to go downstairs to the iMac and read the news online. So that’s what I did. I relied mainly on The New York Times (I’m an online subscriber), but I also looked at The Boston Globe’s site, which had taken its paywall down during the emergency. It scarcely occurred to me to turn on the television.

Why did I choose online news over TV? More sources, more modes of delivery — text, audio, video, graphics — and a feeling that I could assemble my own account of the story by picking and choosing from an enormous range of providers and content. Maybe that’s because I’m an editor by trade, but I know that non-journalists do the same thing.

How about you? Where did you get your news about the bombings and the manhunt? Did you share anything on social media, or comment online in any way? Which reports did you find most useful? Did you rely on content produced by professional journalists, or did you find “raw” stuff, maybe YouTube video shot by spectators?

In these days of fractured media markets, it’s rare for a whole class to have common experience with one event like this. So let’s compare notes. Post a comment and let us know about your experience.



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Going long with Internet journalism

If you define news broadly, just about everyone reads news on the Web. Politics, arts, sports, stock prices, weather, celebrity gossip — you can find anything, instantly. Until now, though, the main problem with Internet journalism has been that people have never stuck with one item for very long. They’ll typically scan a few paragraphs, looking for key words, glance at a picture or video, then move on. Click, swipe, poke, and they’re gone. As we’ve noted in class, news Web sites aren’t very lucrative because they’re not very “sticky”: Their readers might stay for five minutes, at best.

That phenomenon is starting to change, as this piece from NPR tells us. Part of the reason is technology. The typical desktop computer screen has a resolution of 72 dots per inch. Resolution that low is fatiguing for the reader. In fact, studies show that people read text on computer screens about 15 percent slower than they do on the printed page. Screens are getting sharper, however. I just bought a Kindle Fire HD, whose screen resolution is 272 dpi. I recently saw a review of a new Android-based smartphone whose screen resolution exceeds 400 dpi! That’s getting very close to the 600 dpi that you’ll find in the sharpest magazine photos — such as those stunning two-page basketball images that you see in Sports Illustrated. The tablet or phone is also light and portable. Studies show that tablet readership peaks in the evening, when people are most disposed to reading thoughtful, longer stories.

As NPR tells us, journalists are responding to these changes because they, too, are tired of shallow, superficial news on the Web. Note how Jacqui Banaszynski refers to my former employer, The Philadelphia Inquirer, as the “gold standard” for long-form narrative journalism. That sort of journalism is becoming less common in print, including at the Inquirer, which is nowhere near the great newspaper it used to be. As the Web seeks the lowest common denominator in its lust for page views (see CNN.com), news is becoming a cheap commodity. Journalists are fighting back by doing thoughtful, long-form pieces, and at least a few are finding that, in the age of reader-friendly tablets, their strategy is working.

You sports folks, check out SB Nation’s longform page, which runs well-crafted stories on everything from football to dogsled racing. The graphics are pretty cool, too. You’ll note that NPR says these pieces are “commissioned,” which means the site pays for them. Amateurs can’t write like this. It takes raw talent, fierce ambition and years of constant practice to write a piece that will hold a reader for half an hour. The economics of long-form journalism will demand that good writing be supported by advertising, subscription fees or, in the case of investigative reporting, philanthropy.

I’m a lot like other readers. Until recently, I didn’t read anything long on the Web. But one of the first things I read on the Kindle was a New York Times Magazine profile of Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. The piece was probably 5,000 words. Typical of the Times, the story was beautifully written, and I loved it. I never would have read this on my desktop computer. Instead, I devoured it while lying on a hotel bed in Chicago, holding the Kindle to my face much the same way I would with a book. With the tablet, the Web now has all the potential of becoming a truly immersive medium, just as print has always been. That’s exciting.

How about you? Are you reading anything substantial on the Web? What device are you using to read it? Post a comment and tell me about your experience.

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Tabloid antics bring a backlash in Britain

If you ever visit England, one thing you must do is treat yourself to a British tabloid newspaper. You’ll find page after page of scandal, heartbreaking stories of petty tragedy, and lots of celebrity gossip. Newspapers are still very popular in Britain, with one London tab boasting a daily circulation of 4 million. But the tabs have had their troubles lately.

You may have heard about the “phone hacking” scandal, in which tabloid reporters tapped into the voice-mail messages of all sorts of prominent people. This snooping resulted in some juicy stories, all right, but it was both unethical and highly illegal. One story I read said the papers have spent the equivalent of $200 million defending themselves in this mess. No story can possibly be worth that much.

Now the British government, with the squeamish acquiescence of Prime Minister David Cameron, is proposing to set up a new agency to regulate the press. (The whole thing would be put in motion by a royal charter that must be signed by Queen Elizabeth II. You can only imagine what she thinks about press coverage of her own family.) The agency would have the power to fine newspapers up to $1.5 million (that’s a million pounds, for you Anglophiles out there) and could force them to print retractions and apologies for stories that are judged unfair. Newspapers also could be required to allow the wronged parties the opportunity to reply in print. 

None of those actions would be permissible in the United States. The First Amendment expressly forbids the government from punishing newspapers for their content, and the Supreme Court has held that “right of reply” laws are unconstitutional. If you believe you’ve been wronged by the American press, your only recourse is to sue for libel, and the U.S. courts have made it pretty tough to win a libel suit, too.

Not so in Britain. While so-called “public figures” like movie stars and pro athletes have to tolerate just about anything the American media can throw at them, celebrities have sued British publications and won big settlements. Britain’s press has a high degree of freedom, but Britain doesn’t have the equivalent of our First Amendment. So when people get peeved at the press, the politicians can turn up the heat.

As this article notes, participation in this scheme will be “voluntary,” but the publishers who join up will get a nice inducement: They’ll get immunity from punitive damages in libel lawsuits, those big-money judgments that can bankrupt news organizations. Still, many publishers say they won’t participate. The whole project could yet fall apart.

In the 1970s and ’80s, American publishers tried something similar, though the plan was strictly voluntary and was not run by government. A National News Council, made up of prominent citizens and journalists, weighed complaints against the press and published its decisions on a regular basis. The project eventually withered and died because some publishers felt persecuted and the public didn’t seem to care much.

Will Britain’s action do any good? Will it curb the tabloids’ wretched excesses, or will it stifle the sort of hard-hitting coverage of government that every democracy needs to thrive? If we could have such measures here in the United States, should we? Post a comment and let me know what you think.


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At least for a week, blogging is highly fashionable

Everybody blogs. Well, not everybody, but upwards of 100 million people, by any estimate. Most of us blog for fun, as a means of self-expression, the same way we’d keep a journal on paper. If someone should want to read it, well, that’s fine.

Once in a great while, a blogger strikes the public fancy — usually because he or she writes exceptionally well and has something unusual to say — and the blog becomes a phenomenon, read by thousands or even millions. In a case of new media meets old, a successful blog often will lead to a book contract. I recently read a terrific book (in fact, all four of us in our family read it) called “Waiter Rant,” based on the blog musings of a man who had worked in an upscale New York restaurant for several years.

One of the rare areas where bloggers can make a living is the world of fashion, where trends change quickly and online “buzz” can translate into millions of dollars’ worth of sales. Bloggers who can write well, and who have an eye for the latest look, sell ads and collect money through online donations. (And, yes, some pretend to be blogging objectively when they are, in fact, being paid by fashion designers to hawk their merchandise). As this article from The Wall Street Journal demonstrates, fashionistas are starting to notice these bloggers and their influence. We’re just wrapping up the twice-a-year Fashion Week in New York, so bloggers are swarming Manhattan, hoping to make a name for themselves. Most of them don’t have press credentials, so they have to observe the festivities as outsiders, just as most of us regular mortals do.

Much of this stuff is beyond my understanding, but fashion is a fickle thing. It can’t be managed or controlled or marketed like other phenomena. The criteria for judging what’s good and what’s not are hugely subjective. Bloggers sometimes capture the Zeitgeist in a way that professional salespeople simply miss. (If you don’t know what the German word Zeitgeist means, look it up — it’s something you should know if you want to call yourself culturally literate.) Look, for example, at a blog called Humans of New York, which is focusing on Fashion Week. You’ll probably say, as I did, “Wow, these people are weird!”, but of course, trends that start with weird people often trickle into the mainstream.

How about you? Do you read any particular blog on a regular basis? If so, what hooked you? The writer’s voice? The subject matter? The point of view? Is your favorite blogger hugely popular, or just another voice in the crowd? I’ll start the conversation by pointing to Jim Romenesko, one of the leading bloggers on trends in the media business. I check his blog probably once a week, in part to find stuff that I can share with you guys. Send me a link to your favorite blog (if you have one), and tell me why you like it.



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Everyblock shuts down, but don’t call it a failure

Adrian Holovaty

One of the more unusual journalism experiments of the last few years was a site called Everyblock.com, which allowed users to cull information about the places where they lived, worked and played. True to its name, the site allowed users (first in Chicago, then in other major cities) to find out what was happening in their neighborhoods, right down to the level of the individual block. Most of it was based on computer-aided mining of public records. If you specified the area you were interested in (say, the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago), it would give you maps showing all the crimes reported in the last week, building permits, housing sales and all sorts of publicly announced events. It would even tell you if a film crew had sought permission to shoot a TV show or movie in your area.

Everyblock was started by Adrian Holovaty, a former Washington Post staffer who, like many Internet news pioneers, is part journalist and part computer geek. Holovaty got a million dollars from the Knight Foundation, which underwrites new journalism experiments. When the grant money ran out, he sold the site to MSNBC. The site was expanded to include user postings and discussions, sort of like Facebook with a geographic focus. But it never found a viable business model, and this week, parent company NBC pulled the plug.

So-called “hyperlocal” sites are having a hard time making money. Everyblock wasn’t really a “news” site in the conventional sense, but it did include information on things that were happening in your neighborhood, along with commentary. While other Web sites tend to create “communities of interest,” drawing together people who may live far apart but share common passions, Everyblock tried to build community the old-fashioned way — based on getting to know the people who lived just down the street. In that sense alone, it was a radically innovative experiment.

I’m sure the Knight Foundation has no regrets about underwriting this venture, and NBC probably doesn’t have too many either. The new journalism is fraught with peril, and many more sites such as this will fail than succeed. But even the projects that disappear help define the look and feel of this new medium, and their contribution will endure after they’re gone.

Look through some of the links to older posts contained in the Poynter story to get an idea of this venture’s history. Is this journalism? Is it social media? If you lived in a city where it existed, would you use it? Does it point the way, somehow, to a new kind of media that can give people the information they need to govern themselves? Post a comment and let me know what you think.

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Suffering in Syracuse

Advance Publications, the privately held media empire of the Newhouse family, is cutting publication of its daily newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y., to just three days a week on paper while simultaneously adopting a much-touted “digital first” strategy on the Internet.

This has become a familiar song-and-dance in the business. Newhouse has done this in New Orleans (where there was a great outcry from readers and community leaders) and at the newspaper where I started my career, The Saginaw (Mich.) News. Each time, the company has tried to portray the move as a step forward, but the unmistakable truth is this: The business is getting smaller, and it will deliver less news because it will have fewer journalists.

Remember, the problem with newspapers generally is not readership. Newspapers still print more than 40 million copies a day in the United States. The Syracuse paper has an astoundingly high “penetration rate” of 64 percent, meaning that nearly two-thirds of the households in town subscribe to it. Big, old-fashioned factory towns like Syracuse often have very loyal newspaper audiences. (Two towns where I worked as a newspaperman, Buffalo and Milwaukee, are much the same.) The real problem is advertising. Newspaper readers generally are older and more set in their ways, and the newspaper can deliver only a mass audience, not a targeted one, which is what advertisers want these days.

Even if the newspaper Web sites get advertising (and they’ll get some), advertisers pay less for a Web ad than a print ad. That’s because readers tend to stick with a news Web site for less time than they’d spend with a paper-and-ink product. That’s understandable: If you’ve got a newspaper in your hands, you’re kind of stuck with it. When you’re reading a Web site, you can instantly go elsewhere with the click of a mouse (or, these days, a poke of a finger). The average reader of a news Web site lingers for less than five minutes.

I won’t excoriate Newhouse for doing this. As the publisher says in the story above, you can’t do anything for the public if you can’t stay in business. I already have a similar relationship with my old employer, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I get home delivery of the paper on Sunday, and I read it online the rest of the week. And no, I don’t feel guilty about that.

The writer from Syracuse University (an institution, ironically, that has been heavily bankrolled by Newhouse money), sees three possibilities: First, this is just plain rampant corporate greed; second, it’s the last gasp of a dying industry; or third, it’s a new birth for the newspaper business. I’d vote for the third option, though not in such glowing terms. I think it’s a regrettable but necessary survival strategy, one that could last for quite a few years before it sputters out or, more likely, gets absorbed into larger media conglomerates that may have little to do with newspapers.

The real issue here is not about money. Businesses come and go, and capitalists have to recognize this. The real issue is how we are going to deliver news to citizens so they can participate meaningfully in democracy. 

What’s your vote on the three options above? Post a comment and let me know.


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Magazines enter the digital frontier

If you subscribe to any magazines, you probably have noticed that they are very, very cheap. Sure, a glossy magazine like Esquire or Popular Science will cost you about five bucks on the newsstand, but if you subscribe, you can get many big-name magazines for about a dollar an issue. That’s barely enough to pay for paper and ink, much less postage.

Why so little? Because magazines are desperate to hold on to readers. They traditionally have made most of their money from advertising. So if they have lots of readers, they’ll get tons of advertising, and everyone will be happy. That’s the traditional model, anyway.

But magazine advertising has stagnated, and magazine executives are scrambling to raise revenue in the dawning digital age. That’s why, as the article below from The Wall Street Journal explains, magazines are charging more for their digital offerings than they do for their print products. Cosmopolitan, for example, will cost you twice as much for a tablet subscription via iTunes than you would pay to get the magazine in print.

In some ways, the tablet versions are better. They have interactive graphics, video, even ads that talk to you. And you can load a couple of magazines on your tablet before going on a business trip or vacation. That’s pretty handy. As the WSJ article notes, a fair number of people are willing to pay for these magazine apps. Tablet readers are younger and better-educated than print readers, and they have higher incomes, so they’ll fork over a few extra bucks to get something new.

The simple truth is, as the Web expands and offers more and more opportunities for advertisers, the price of ad space will fall and consumers will have to pay more for media, whether it’s print, online, or even TV, for that matter. In exchange for your money, you’ll get a vastly wider selection of content. That’s the digital trade-off.

How about you? Have you ever read a magazine on a PC, laptop, smartphone or tablet? Which one? Did you pay money for it? If your favorite magazine (I’m talking to you, Cosmo girls and Sports Illustrated guys) were unavailable in print, would you read it on the tablet? Post a comment and let me know what you think.


Cosmopolitan readers can get their first year’s subscription to the print magazine for $10. But if they want the digital edition on their iPads, they will have to fork over $19.99.

That’s a pricing maneuver so bold it may make even Cosmo readers blush. In the book and newspaper industries, digital versions are typically cheaper than print ones. But some in the magazine world are going the other way, charging more for their digital versions.

[image] Keach Hagey/The Wall Street JournalHearst’s David Carey with tablets.

Buffeted by declining advertising, which accounted for about 75% of their revenue historically, magazines are turning to tablet computers and digital editions to boost circulation revenue. In doing so, they are hoping to reset decades of subscription discounting so deep that a year’s supply of magazines like Esquire currently costs just $8.

“This represents an opportunity for the magazine business to become more leveraged toward consumer revenue and a little less dependent on advertising,” said David Carey, the president of Cosmo publisher Hearst Magazines, in an interview at his office at the top of New York’s Hearst Tower.

Nearby, in Hearst’s tablet-filled App Lab, John Loughlin, Hearst’s executive vice president and general manager, put it even more bluntly: “I hope that this is the demise of $6 and $7 and $8 and $9 print subscriptions,” he said.

So far, consumers don’t seem to mind the higher digital prices. Earlier this month, Hearst said it had amassed nearly 800,000 digital subscribers, short of its year-end target of a million but still the largest digital-only subscriber base in the industry. And that is despite the fact that its average digital subscription price of $19.99 annually was twice that of its average introductory print-subscription price of $10.

Hearst isn’t alone in seizing this opportunity. Bonnier Corp. magazines like Popular Science and Field & Stream cost more to subscribe to on the iPad than in print, while the Economist recently unbundled its print and digital subscriptions and bumped the price of the two together to $160 from $127.

Over the past 12 months, Condé Nast, publisher of high-end titles like Vogue and the New Yorker, also raised prices on its bundled print and digital subscription offerings, effectively making print subscribers pay more for digital versions they previously received as a free extra.

For example, the New Yorker is currently advertising a bundled print and digital subscription for $99, while print alone or digital alone costs $69. Two years ago, before the existence of the digital edition, a print subscription cost $39.

Despite the price increase, the print subscribers who chose to sign up for digital subscriptions renewed at a 25% higher rate than those who didn’t, said Condé Nast President Bob Sauerberg. So far, the company has about 500,000 digital-only subscribers and 1.5 million digital readers, including the print subscribers who log onto the tablet version of a magazine.

“We’re using this new platform and the clear demand for all access to our content as a way to redefine our subscription offerings at a higher price,” Mr. Sauerberg said. “The industry is trying to take a step forward because we’re all trying to get more money from the consumer.”

Magazine publishers’ moves echo similar steps taken by newspaper publishers to offset declining ad revenue. In the case of newspapers, however, higher circulation money has come from raising print cover prices and instituting so-called paywalls that require customers to pay for full access to newspaper websites. It generally remains cheaper to read newspapers online than in print.

That’s partly because historically, newspaper subscriptions haven’t been heavily discounted. By contrast, magazine publishers have guaranteed advertisers their titles will reach a minimum number of readers and, to fulfill that pledge, they have long cut prices sharply for promotional subscriptions. And such guarantees have reduced the magazine publishers’ ability to raise print subscription prices.

Digital pricing gives magazine companies a tool to begin training consumers to pay more for content, and some of these new prices have even made their way into print. Condé Nast has raised prices significantly on the print edition of Wired since it launched its digital edition in 2011, while Hearst has been testing new print-subscription pricing that may do away with ultracheap promotional offers. With the “influx of paid digital,” Mr. Carey said, “you could rethink that—potentially even walk away from it.”

Without big increases for print subscriptions, the magazine industry won’t be able to significantly offset ad-revenue declines. Magazine-advertising pages dropped 8.2% in 2012 and are down 32% since 2008, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. And digital subscribers remain a minority: Most of the big publishers expect only about 10% of their total circulation to be digital by around 2015, up from the low single-digit percentages today.

Not everyone is hopping on the price-increase bandwagon. The country’s biggest magazine publisher, Time Inc., whose magazines include People and Sports Illustrated, sells digital editions, print editions and print-and-digital bundles for the same price. Time Inc. executives say that because they never got into the business of discounting most of their magazines the way their competitors did—a year’s subscription to the weekly People costs more than $100, while Sports Illustrated costs $39—they believe they don’t need to raise prices now.

“Just because you can get it on the tablet doesn’t mean that you can price up,” says Time Inc. Chief Executive Laura Lang. “You actually have to have content that people get excited about…What I love about tablets is, it gives us a chance to make more relevant content, which people will value.”

The willingness of tablet owners to renew their pricier digital magazine subscriptions may change as tablets become more mass market. The average tablet reader now is younger, richer and more educated than the average magazine reader. Nearly two-thirds of them are male, and 54% of them are Millennials—or between 18 and 35—while 36% have more than $100,000 in household income, according to “The Tablet at Two,” a study of the tablet publishing landscape by Empirical Media, a digital-advisory firm.

Two-and-a-half years after Apple Inc. AAPL -0.88%created the market with the launch of the iPad, tablets have entered their “middle-adopter” phase with 70 million tablet readers in the U.S., said Jim Friedlich, the president of Empirical Media.

“As market penetration continues, the demographics of the tablet user will be largely indistinguishable from mainstream magazine and newspaper readers,” he said.

Write to Keach Hagey at keach.hagey@wsj.com

A version of this article appeared January 19, 2013, on page B1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Magazines Cross The Digital Divide



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A postscript for the Post

The UWM Post has died — well, sort of. Maybe. Or is it being reborn?

The student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will no longer exist in printed form. Instead, it will be published to the Web in a facsimile edition, an example of which you can see at the above link. Here’s the story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

I’ll be blunt about this: I think it’s a big mistake. Sure, the overall media audience is going online, but as we saw in an earlier posting this term, the college campus is one place where the ink-on-paper formula still works. If you can’t make money, or at least break even, with university-supplied offices, a staff that’s paid very little, and a captive audience in a concentrated geographic area, it’s because of one or two reasons: It’s either because your organization is being mismanaged or your content stinks. In the case of the Post, it’s probably both.

College newspapers (including the Royal Purple) are victims of malign neglect because college administrators refuse to take legal or organizational responsibility for them. Most college papers were cut loose in the 1970s because colleges didn’t want to be “publishers” if the papers were sued for libel. Many college papers have floundered around because even journalism professors want to have nothing to do with them. When I was in grad school at Madison, the Daily Cardinal was so awful that another daily paper — The Badger Herald — arose off-campus as a viable competitor. 

What’s more, there’s not much evidence that college media do well online. There’s a lot of competition on the Internet, led by Facebook, YouTube and humor sites such as The Onion. I fear that the Post will become a nonentity on the Web, even less relevant than the print edition had become. (And if you think print is dead, how come the print edition of The Onion continues to flourish? Because it’s topical, it’s uproariously funny, and people read it.)

Maybe I’m wrong. I really hope I am. What do you think?



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Should false tweeters become jailbirds?

Here’s a column from Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune. It considers a question raised by many after Hurricane Sandy a couple of weeks ago: Is it constitutional to jail a person for sending a false message on Twitter?

People put spoofs on Twitter all the time, of course. Celebrities are reported dead when they’re not, or false news is posted just to see if it will go viral. Most such posts are just harmless teenage pranks. Every journalist knows that Twitter can be a source of news tips, but it can’t be trusted as a sole source of information.

But what about truly malicious or dangerous tweets — the kind that can send people into a panic, or make financial markets swoon? That’s what people were talking about after Sandy. Some idiot — turns out he was a campaign manager for a congressional candidate — thought it would be fun to tweet false news about the storm. Power was going out all over Manhattan. Water was three feet high on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Gov. Andrew Cuomo was trapped in the city and couldn’t get out. Pretty funny, eh?

People like this have been around for a long time. When the Titanic sank 100 years ago, pranksters sent false radio messages saying that the vessel was afloat and being towed to New York. Stunts like this led the country to start regulating radio for the first time. 

In a 1919 Supreme Court ruling, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously said that it was not permissible to “shout fire in a crowded theater.” What about false tweeting in a time of emergency? I don’t know whether this guy will be prosecuted, but I think if it happens he’ll have a hard time hiding behind the First Amendment. What do you think?


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Having lost its way, Newsweek goes all-digital

Newsweek, the smaller and feistier competitor to Time magazine for 80 years, will cease print publication and go all-digital at the beginning of 2013.

This isn’t really a surprise. Newsweek has been hemorrhaging money for a couple of years now, ever since the Washington Post Company unloaded it. Now owned by the company that produces The Daily Beast Web site, the magazine has been struggling to find an identity. It has shed its former role as a comprehensive newsweekly, instead flopping around with issues that focused on a single topic or controversial covers that created buzz on the Internet, such as the one that proclaimed Barack Obama “The First Gay President” for his support of same-sex marriage. Internet buzz is fun, but it’s not a sustainable business model.

We shouldn’t read too much into this, if you’ll pardon the expression. Newsweek’s move is more about its own problems than about the state of the magazine industry. Magazine revenue has been growing slowly over the last three years. The industry has stabilized after being hammered by the 2007-2009 economic crisis. Many magazines are making comfortable, if not spectacular, profits as they launch iPad editions to complement their print versions.

Newsweek’s chief problem was that it prospered so long as a general-interest newsmagazine, offering a pithy take on the week’s events, from politics to foreign affairs to culture. If you read Newsweek, you felt you were “in the know.” It was a smarter, younger and hipper cousin to Time magazine, which was more conservative and stuffy. As long as the market was fat, the two magazines could coexist. When it got thinner, the little guy got crowded out. Magazines are expensive to produce, and a general-interest publication like Newsweek can’t do much to target its advertising. Meanwhile, there’s no shortage of thoughtful, intelligent commentary and analysis on the Web; check out The Atlantic for one such example.

Editor Tina Brown and her crew insist that Newsweek isn’t dying; it’s just transitioning to another form. This may be so. But in a crowded marketplace, it will be difficult to get people to shell out subscription money for the online magazine.

How about you? Have you ever read a newsweekly such as Time, Newsweek or The Economist? Or have these magazines become like the network evening news shows — shrunken remnants of once-great media institutions, pretty much forgotten if not entirely gone? Post a comment and let me know what you think.


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