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Below are the stories I covered for this bi-weekly edition of the OPA intelligence report. Follow the links to read individual stories or click here for full coverage of the top online media news. Any comments are welcome below.

Intelligence Report – 8/02/2010
By Mark Glaser and Corbin Hiar

NEWS

Yahoo Japan picks Google over Yahoo for search
Newspaper revenues rebound as NY Times profits
Sales booming for iPad, as Amazon slashes price on Kindle
FTC considers ‘do not track’ registry for online ads

RESEARCH

Forrester: Foursquare not ready for the mainstream yet
ACSI: Customers not satisfied with Facebook, social nets
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This is my second piece for PBS MediaShift, which is again looking at new opportunities for journalists. Although the quotes I got were much less explosive than in the previous piece, I still managed to work in a great anecdote about dropping inappropriate Sarah Palin references into blog posts to drive traffic.

In my first article for our special Beyond Content Farms series, I examined the opportunities available to writers at some of the biggest content farms. Today, I look at jobs covering hyper-local news.

What hyper-local news organizations are aiming for is nothing short of revolutionary: AOL’s two-year-old Patch network and established players like Examiner.com are attempting to recreate a profitable business model for professionally produced local journalism in the digital age. Unlike companies like Demand Media that pump out largely face-less content, the hyper-local sites allow writers to build a name for themselves on one geographic or subject area.

These companies are hiring a lot of journalists in communities all over the U.S., which means more and more people will find jobs in hyper-local news. So what’s it like to work in the new hyper-local journalism space? I spoke with a few writers and editors to learn more.

Going Through a Rough Patch

Jennifer Connic works as editor of the Millburn-Short Hills, N.J. site that’s part of Patch’s expanding hyper-local network. But she bristled at the hyper-local tag. “I think it belittles in some ways the journalism people like me are doing,” she said.

No matter what you call it, the job she is doing is not an easy one, as Connic readily admits. Patch editors are all basically one-woman news organizations. “You’re really the only person who’s running the site,” Connic said. When people have a news tip or there’s breaking news, she said, “I’m the one who gets contacted, I’m the one who has to be on top of that.”

Nearly two years into the job, Connic is still putting in long hours. She had a very difficult spring where, Connic said, “I had a lot of days where I’d get up in the morning and start working and I wouldn’t be done until after midnight.”

Most of that time was spent providing invaluable coverage of how the New Jersey state budget crisis was impacting the Millburn public school system. Well-known media industry reporter Joe Strupp highlighted some other great Patch reporting from Cecelia Smith, the former editor for Darien, CT. She broke a story revealing the criminal history of a candidate running for the town’s First Selectman (similar to the mayor). Smith discovered the candidate had an attempted murder conviction, and he eventually lost the race.

Like most Patch editors, Connic has a degree in journalism and her pay is likely relatively modest (although she declined to give any hard figures for her salary). As Andria Krewson reported on MediaShift, Patch competitor MainStreetConnect pays editors a salary of roughly $40,000 a year. “It is what it is,” sighed the New Jersey transplant, doing her best to adopt the local patois.

Connic was more forthcoming about the pay rates offered her freelancers…

Click here to comment and read about freelancing for Patch, becoming a D.C. English Springer Spaniel Examiner for Examiner.com and, yes, Jello wrestling with Sarah Palin.

Photo credit: brianbutko (via Flickr)

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This is my first piece for my new employer, PBS MediaShift. It is my first of two contributions to our week-long series, Beyond Content Farms.  The site is examining the rise of farmed and hyper-local content, with my pieces focused on what it’s like to work in these areas. (For an introduction to content farms and hyper-local journalism, click here.)

UPDATE: Shortly after it was published, my piece became the top story on the PBS.org homepage and was  highlighted by the influential media industry blogs paidContent and Romenesko–the latter of which is featured on the website of the Poynter Institute, a non-profit school for journalists. The Providence Journal, The Atlantic WireMediaBistro’s WebNewser, a UC-Santa Clara journalism professor, Reporting on Health, and eMedia Vitals all blogged about my article.

UPDATE 2: The attention my reporting attracted prompted Demand Media–the content farm that comes off the worst in both the article and subsequent comments–to post an amusingly tangential response to the story on their corporate blog. (Note the way the company attempts to discredit the PBS MediaShift series in the first graf by putting the word examination in quotes: “It’s been a busy few weeks and our model has been under fire from various blogs, publications like ‘The Wrap’ and, of course, the latest weeklong ‘examination’ of new media models by PBS’s ‘MediaShift.'”)

“We are going to be the largest net hirer of journalists in the world next year,” AOL’s media and studios division president David Eun said last month in an interview with Michael Learmonth of Ad Age. Eun suggested that AOL could double its existing stable of 500 full-time editorial staffers in addition to expanding its network of 40,000 freelance contributors. Many of the jobs will be added to its hyper-local venture, Patch, while the majority of AOL’s freelancers will work for the company’s content farms — Seed and the recently acquired video production operation, StudioNow.

These two areas into which AOL is ambitiously expanding are the fastest growing sectors of the journalism market. Hyper-local networks like Outside.in and content farms such as Demand Media are flourishing. As Eun’s bold prediction indicates, more and more journalists will end up working for new online content producers. What will these new gigs be like? To better understand, I reached out to people who have already worked with some of the big players.

Life of a ‘Content Creator’

“A lot of my friends did it and we had a lot of fun with it,” said one graduate of a top journalism graduate program when asked about her work for Demand Media. “We just made fun of whatever we wrote.”

The former “content creator” — that’s what Demand CEO Richard Rosenblatt calls his freelance contributors — asked to be identified only as a working journalist for fear of “embarrassing” her current employer with her content farm-hand past. She began working for Demand in 2008, a year after graduating with honors from a prestigious journalism program. It was simply a way for her to make some easy money. In addition to working as a barista and freelance journalist, she wrote two or three posts a week for Demand on “anything that I could remotely punch out quickly.”

The articles she wrote — all of which were selected from an algorithmically generated list — included How to Wear a Sweater Vest” and How to Massage a Dog That Is Emotionally Stressed,” even though she would never willingly don a sweater vest and has never owned a dog.

“I was completely aware that I was writing crap,” she said. “I was like, ‘I hope to God people don’t read my advice on how to make gin at home because they’ll probably poison themselves.’

“Never trust anything you read on eHow.com,” she said, referring to one of Demand Media’s high-traffic websites, on which most of her clips appeared.

Although chief revenue officer Joanne Bradford has touted Demand’s ability to give freelancers a byline and get their pieces published to “a great place on the web,” the successful writers I interviewed made great efforts to conceal their identities while working for the content farm.

Click here to read the rest of the PBS MediaShift article or to make a comment.

Photo credit: Bob Jagendorf (via Flickr)

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One of the many things I help out my boss at PBS MediaShift with is his work for the Online Publishers Association, a media research organization founded and financed by some of the biggest names in news after the dotcom crash. He has written a weekly intelligence report for them for over a decade. The past couple bi-weekly studies were primarily written and researched by me, but this is the first one onto which I requested my byline be added. I will continue to post these on Hiar Learning every couple weeks (with less of an explanation next time).

You can follow the links below to read an individual story or click here to access the full report.

OPA Intelligence Report — 7/19/10
By Mark Glaser and Corbin Hiar

NEWS

Apple iPhone 4 woes lead to free bumpers — but no recall
Mobile Roundup: iAds blast off; Meredith buys Hyperfactory
Twitter does deal-a-day with @Earlybird feed
Time.com limits magazine stories online

RESEARCH

Search ads grow, tempered by economy, social nets
Gigya: Facebook dominates log-ins, except on news sites

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I hope this wasn’t lost in my critique: I really did enjoy the Newseum. But more as Disneyland for news junkies than as a museum. I do recommend it, with the caveats listed in the More Intelligent Life article.

One of Washington, DC’s most popular attractions is also its most unwittingly moribund

Walking up historic Pennsylvania Avenue, one cannot help but notice the massive 74-foot-tall tablet adorning the otherwise futuristic facade of the Newseum, a seven-storey, steel and glass museum dedicated to journalism. Like a massively oversized version of one of Moses’s ten commandments, the 50-ton slab of Tennessee marble is inscribed with a similarly venerated text: the first amendment to the Constitution, which ensures the right of Americans to free speech. Under the tablet is a dynamic display of the county’s free press, featuring the front pages of daily newspapers from America and around the world.

This juxtaposition of old and new is echoed throughout the Newseum, with often impressive results. A mangled piece of the broadcast tower that once stood atop the World Trade Centre is the centrepiece of a powerful multimedia exhibit about the challenges journalists faced in covering the attacks of September 11th 2001 (pictured below). A collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs is brought to life by interviews with both the photographers and their subjects. An antique transistor radio shares display space with Apple’s iPad.

But after playing in the interactive newsroom and interacting with the dozens of touch-screens scattered throughout the museum, I was left wondering where all this technology is leading journalism. The Newseum, which is highly popular, manages to avoid many of the big and difficult questions facing the industry. Instead it is devoted to the heroic history and rosy future of journalism, told from the perspective of the big media titans who helped finance the museum. Facts that contradict this narrative are downplayed or ignored.

I brought this up with Joe Urschel, executive director of the museum. “Facts? You don’t want facts, do you?” he jokes as I sit down in his spacious office, with views of the Capitol and National Mall. Three flat-screen televisions suspended near his desk broadcast news from ESPN, MSNBC and CNN. As a longtime editor at USA Today and the Detroit Free Press before joining the Newseum, Urschel understands the way facts can get in the way of a good story.

Click here to read the rest of the MIL article or to make a comment.

Photo credit: James P. Blair/Newseum

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Below is my last MoJo blog post. I concluded my internship at the DC bureau of Mother Jones on Friday and had an editor publish the post for me at the beginning of this week. Next stop Reykjavík? (If you have any better ideas, leave me a comment.)

Could Iceland soon be to journalists what the Cayman Islands is to wealthy magnates? Supporters of the groundbreaking Icelandic Modern Media Initiative introduced a proposal today to establish the European island nation as the world’s first “offshore publishing center.” The proposal is based on the business model of offshore financial centers like Switzerland, which attracts foreign depositors with an enticing combination of low taxes and strict bank secrecy laws. The IMMI aims to do the same for investigative journalists by compelling Icelandic legislators to pass the strongest combination of source protection and freedom of speech laws in the world.

The IMMI was drafted with help from Julian Assange and Daniel Schmitt, two of the founders of Wikileaks, an otherwise anonymous whistleblower website dedicated to publishing leaks of sensitive governmental, corporate, organizational, or religious documents. Wikileaks, which is currently offline due to fundraising difficulties, has already experimented with ways of breaking stories on a particular country by publishing outside their legal jurisdiction. Last May, when the UK’s strict libel laws prevented the BBC from posting documents detailing the dumping of 400 tonnes of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, the papers appeared on Wikileaks days later. At the end of the summer, an Icelandic broadcaster listed the URL for Wikileaks on TV to circumvent a ruling blocking it from revealing a list of the country’s creditors.

Johnathan Stray of the Neiman Journalism Lab asks, “Could global news organizations with a home office in Reykjavík soon be as common as Delaware corporations or Cayman Islands assets?” In the wake of an economic collapse that some legislators feel was brought on by a lack of transparency, the Guardian reports that the proposal “has widespread backing” among Iceland’s 51 members of parliament. “The main purpose is to prevent something like our financial crisis from taking place again,” MP Lilja Mósesdóttir told Stray, noting the country’s financiers had great influence over the Icelandic media. “They were manipulating the news.”

Most coverage of IMMI has focused on the increased accountability that could result from passage of the groundbreaking proposal. But serious questions remain about the viability of the initiative. For instance, every country has libel laws for a reason. How will the IMMI ensure that it becomes a hub for investigative journalists and not the tabloid capital of the world? And if Icelandic MPs intend to remedy the country’s financial woes via journalism, they are likely to be sorely disappointed. As Gawker helpfully warns, “if you’re trying to pull in money from investigative journalists, Iceland, that’s strike two for you.”

Photo credit: Stig Nygaard (via Flickr)

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The NY Times Paywall: Worth the Wait

This morning, Kevin commented on the announcement by the New York Times that it intends to build a paywall around its content… starting next year:

This is sort of odd. Why wait until 2011? The technology for tracking visits isn’t very hard to implement. And why announce this without answers to basic questions like “how many stories can I read for free?”

Reading between the lines of their carefully worded announcement, I think the answers to his questions are pretty clear. The Grey Lady has an out-sized presence in the American media market. Any move she makes is both influential—and unsettling.

The lead time allows the Times‘ other competitors here and abroad to carefully rethink their online media strategies. The current online model practiced by most major newspapers—put everything on the Web for free—is less of a strategy and more an accident of history. The Internet pounced on a profitable and antiquated industry and has been diverting content and revenues it ever since. On the bright side, this change has brought about the advent of blogging and an unparalleled era of free information. But as Times‘ media critic David Carr noted, “people who remain reflexively bullish on free ignore the fact that the clock is ticking on many of the legacy businesses that produce that content.” (For “legacy business,” see the Los Angeles Times.)

If other news sites don’t choose to fight over the NYTimes.com readers repelled by its paywall, a surprise beneficiary of their new strategy could be Steve Brill’s much-hyped Journalism Online venture. Carr dismissed working with third parties like Brill, Amazon, or Apple, saying, “the golden rule in digital matters is that the man in the middle makes the gold.” Still, smaller rivals like the LA Times or Chicago Sun-Times could find working with a middleman preferable to being out of work.

Click here to read the rest of the MoJo blog post.

Photo credit: wallyg (via Flickr)

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