Friday, October 2, 2015

Laid-off journalist finds niche in data visualization

Getting laid off is not always a bad thing for a journalist. In the case of Manuel Benito Ingelmo, it created an opportunity for him to develop something he had been thinking about for a long time.

Manuel Benito Ingelmo. Photo by
He was a business journalist in Salamanca, Spain, with an interest in statistics and data visualization.  He felt that print newspapers were definitely on the way out, he told me in an interview via Skype.

"I wanted to make the jump to a digital publication but I did not want to do the same thing as we were doing on paper."

Versión en español

So when he was laid off from a small daily in 2012, he took his severance package and began to experiment with how to take advantage of the strengths of digital media -- interactivity, instantaneous publication, potential massive audience -- to create a journalistic product or service that would build on databases that were already available.

He and a handful of partners started out by giving away simple graphics on unemployment to media organizations. His idea was that these organizations could use these graphics instead of stock photos of people in unemployment lines. "In just two or three months, we reached 100 media organizations throughout Spain. We found that there was a market niche, the possibility to sell something. Then we had the problem of how much to charge for the service."

Monday, September 14, 2015

News thrives on smartphones, but publishers don't

The big players in digital news like The New York Times, Buzzfeed, and NBC News are struggling with a change in how they make money and how they define themselves as brands.

The cause is the rapid migration of news consumers and advertisers to smartphones. This migration has put the news brands at the mercy of Internet giants Facebook, Google, Apple, and others who already monopolize digital advertising.

Alan Mutter, the @newsosaur, has a deep dive on the trend and what it means for publishers.

In essence, the news publishers have discovered that much of their audience -- in some cases, most -- is accessing their content on smartphone applications provided by the big technology platforms and social networks. This means that the publishers are losing control of their users and revenue.

So the publishers have started doing something that looks like syndication of their product to the social networks and platforms. They tailor content to live on each of the platforms rather than their own -- distributed content, as described by Joshua Benton of Nieman Lab -- to increase the speed that users can access text, photos, and video (crucial on handheld devices).

Sunday, September 6, 2015

'Communities are more important than the media' -- Jose Luis Orihuela

Jose Luis Orihuela has been writing about digital media for almost 30 years. So I have been enjoying his new book, "The Media Since the Internet" (“Los medios después de Internet”), which is a compilation of his columns for newspapers in Spain and Latin America in 2011-2013. (His 159,000 Twitter followers around the world know him as @jlori.)

Orihuela, a professor and colleague of mine at the Universidad de Navarra in Spain, takes us on his intellectual voyage and shows us the courage and vision we need to navigate this sometimes scary new world of the Internet.

Versión en español

Each of these columns in the book is a like an entry in the logbook of a voyage of discovery through the uncharted waters that the new media environment represents.

Like the explorers of the 15th century, Orihuela observes, processes, analyzes, speculates, and makes recommendations based on his investigations. He drops some marker buoys to help us follow his path. The result is a guide that is valuable for students, professors, businesspeople, and ordinary citizens who want to understand this new media world.

At the outset, he says his purpose has been to communicate the idea that "to understand the transformations in the media (new and old), we have to put ourselves in the place of the users and rethink communication based on their practices and ways of using it."

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Jarvis's new role for journalists: be the organizer

Jarvis: think first of the community
Several years ago I was working in Belarus, a former Soviet republic, where independent newspapers have a hard time surviving. The government denies them access to state-monopoly newsstands, overcharges them for their newsprint, and harasses them at every turn.

We looked at one publisher's website data to see if he might have an opportunity to generate revenue online. Turns out the website's most popular page contained the community's bus schedules. And what's more, his community spent more time on that page -- 5 minutes, 30 seconds per visit -- than any other. This publisher, a journalist, was humbled to see that a simple list was more important to his readers than the journalism.

The Belarus example came to mind as I was reading Jeff Jarvis's new book, in which he talks about a new role for journalists: "Helping a community better organize its knowledge so it can better organize itself." 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Cultural publication 'flirts with the Dark Side' in Spain

El Pais announces the alliance on its website.
(Updated Aug. 22, 2015; versión en español)

The iconoclastic Spanish culture magazine Jot Down is a strange creature in many ways. At a time when people supposedly read little and do it rapidly, it publishes long interviews and essays.

In an age of minute-by-minute updates and clickbait, Jot Down makes its money by charging about US$16.75 for each copy of its massive 320-page quarterly, which carries only two or three pages of advertising.

Another oddity: its target market is not the famous millennials so sought after by many media but rather more-mature folks in their 40s and 50s. It is an edgy publication that attracts people “who think of themselves as young,” says publisher Angel Fernandez, 44, who co-founded it four years ago.

Marriage of convenience

Surprisingly, it is viable, profitable, and growing. But possibly strangest of all, it has just reached agreement to share its content with one of the media icons of Spain, in fact a symbol of much of what Jot Down criticizes about traditional media, namely El Pais. Ironically, several of the magazine’s contributors were laid off by El Pais during the long economic downturn and have not hesitated to bash their former employer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

An exercise on usability puts theory into practice

At the end of a semester-long course in digital journalism, I asked my students at the University of Navarra in Spain to say what they thought was the most interesting or useful part of the course. The survey was anonymous, so I give it some credibility.

The question was open-ended. The second-most-mentioned item was a class exercise I gave them in which they had to judge the navigability, usability, transparency, and other factors of any website they liked. This group exercise put theory into practice and developed their analytical skills.

(No. 1 was the video interviews with digital media entrepreneurs from Latin America. They are in Spanish and can be seen on my YouTube channel. Accompanying text in English is available elsewhere on this blog.)
The exercise took 45 minutes and followed a 45-minute lecture on the theory of Internet design, especially as it applied to taking advantage of mobile and social platforms.

First, I told the students that they were going to do an ungraded analysis of various characteristics of a website or application. They could do it in groups of three or four. I showed the students a list of about a dozen websites that I knew were popular but told them they could also choose any that they liked.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Nonprofit journalism tries to make it in Spain

PorCausa is a new species of digital media for Spain: nonprofit journalism.

Its founder and director, Gumersindo Lafuente, is a respected veteran of some of Spain's most important media -- El País, El Mundo, and the late lamented digital pioneer Given the limited resources available, he runs the operation much in the style of a movie director by signing some of the 21 affiliated professionals on a per-project basis. 

gumersindo lafuente burgos iredes
Lafuente emulates Propublica of the U.S. (Photo: James Breiner)
"When we secure financing, we put together a team for the project. When we finish, we dissolve the team," he said in an interview.

Poverty and inequality

PorCausa is an experiment in several senses. It is not a news medium but a foundation that was launched in 2013. It is a novelty in Spain in that it is financed completely by private donations.

It is an experiment in subject matter. Its specialty is two topics, inequality and poverty, especially childhood poverty. The founders (a list, in Spanish) believe that these topics have been neglected by the major media in Spain ("The crisis of childhood poverty", in Spanish). No cats on skateboards.