Friday, August 12, 2011

Internet forces early weekend at TNM

I don't know if this is a good thing of a bad thing, but some issues with Comcast are causing Internet access disruptions here. That means it's tough to post new material.

So why not call it a day and wrap things up for the weekend? Time to go to the beach! (Oh, that's right, I'm in the Midwest. Rats.)

So unless something major happens, like Apple buys Microsoft, or something like that, that will be it for this week. Thanks for reading and see you next week.

Rule one, first do no harm: outsourcing your digital editions can come with major risks to your brand

One of the things I noticed during my final years in the B2B publishing industry was how much user experience had faded in importance to many executives. Discussions concerning a change in format, a new flipbook vendor, or a other prominent features rarely included talk about how the reader might react to the change.

A good example was when our company moved from one flipbook vendor to another who couldn't, because of their way of producing the digital issues, align page numbers on the screen with the actual page numbers, they were always off by one.

"How could we go with a vendor that made Page 10 in print show up as Page 9 online?" I asked. The answer was that readers would get used to it.
Of course, the real reason that vendor got the job of producing those worthless flipbooks probably had way more to do with the price per issue they were charging, but whatever.

I think about this simple, sad fact every time I look at a new replica edition that proves to be an unreadable mess. Take these flipbook conversions from one of biggest producers of flipbooks for publishers (name withheld just to be nice). This new app for California Lawyer has trouble written all over it the minute you see it in the App Store.

The short app description does a fairly decent job of promoting the magazine, but with only one paragraph it reads as if it were written by someone in a huge hurry. Worse, the screenshot – and there is only one screenshot – is not even of the cover of the magazine, just the logo on a blue background.

The worst part, though, is the actual reading experience. Yes, it is simply a replica edition built off of a PDF of the print edition, but the real problem is that the pages must load each time you "flip" the pages, creating a blue screen that appears, then disappears for a second to almost reveal the pages, then appears again. It is a bit like watching the Jefferson Airplane at the Fillmore in '67 (something I'm actually too young to have experienced first hand).

The experience is slightly better if you flip to a page, let it load and then return to it later – then it just loads as you would expect. But this flashing blue screen effect occurs you reach a page you haven't previously seen.

Not all of this vendor's apps behave this way. I also downloaded the app for Terry Magazine. The magazine is for the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia – not that you'd know that by the app description, of course.

With this app the reader is given the choice to "read" or "download" the issues to read. Choosing "read" gives you that same effect found in the Cal Lawyer app, though in this case you see red instead of blue. But choosing "download" gives you a smoother, more pleasant experience. It is still just a replica edition, requiring the reader to pinch-to-zoom in order to read the thing. But at least one doesn't confuse the experience for an acid trip.

Reading Paul Krugman's column today reminded me of a conversation I had with an editor about job creation. Krugman's column continues his tirade about the misguided actions of the Congress and the White House concerning deficits versus job creation. I admit that I agree with the premise, but I've certainly heard it all before from Mr. Krugman. Sadly, you will never convince those who are part of the austerity clan that spending more in a recession will increase demand temporarily, leading to growth and job creation. Austerity is a religion at this point.

But it reminded me of a talk I had with an editor who was frustrated with his increased work load, and because of this had a pretty bad attitude towards anything labelled "digital".

"I don't want to do iPad apps," he told me. "It would only mean more work for me, and besides it simply can't be done."

He went on to explain that both he and the art director would have to do the work, but since art director as a freelancer that simply wouldn't happen. Everyone involved in the process, other than him, was either a freelancer or vendor, so it would automatically mean more costs - except when it came to his work, of course.

"And we can't hire anyone, that's out of the question. Besides, what department would they work in? We've made the art directors freelancers, the circulation and sales departments have been outsourced, that leaves me and the other editors. The only department not outsourced is corporate."

We talked for a few moments about how this effects job creation, in general, and then said our good-byes. Then a couple of weeks ago I got pinged by LinkedIn. That same editor was looking for me to write a recommendation as his company had been shuttered and he was now looking for work.

Morning Brief: Meredith begins to offer subscriptions via their tablet editions; Short-selling bank stocks a no-no now in parts of Europe; Republicans kick off crazy season

Before we start this morning, a few updates – to apps, that is. A slew of updates were made this morning to media apps, all of them relatively minor.

One of them is to the B2B app from the American Chemical Society which TNM wrote about yesterday: C&EN Mobile, which is the universal app for Chemical & Engineering News. Like the others for The New Yorker Magazine and IKEA Catalogue, the app description only mentions minor bug fixes. This update doesn't include the August issues – in fact, I doubt an update will be necessary in order to bring in new issues, that, I sure, can be done on the backend.

Meredith has updated its magazine apps and will now sell subscriptions direction through Apple's App Store, as well as offer it current print subscribers with free access to the tablet editions.

The three magazines involved here include Better Homes and Gardens, Fitness Magazine and Parents Magazine.

The move contrasts with the constant drumbeat coming from some media quarters that Apple has been ripping off publishers with its App Store policies, which readers, on the other hand, have been blasting publishers within the store for not offering subscription prices in line with what they are willing of offer outside the store.

The BH&Gs app, for instance, has far more one star reviews than five (four to one negative) with the same complaint, exemplified by this review:
My wife was excited...until: My wife has a years subscription for which she paid 12 dollars. She was excited to find this app until she saw the $4 per issue cost. That would come out to $48 per year. Four times the cost of receiving the actual magazine in the mail. What a rip off!
If a consumer is a magazine reader they are smart enough to know that print subscriptions are discounted, why not digital editions which not only save on production, but distributions costs, as well – far more than the 30 percent Apple is taking, by the way.

Four European nations have banned short-selling on banks and other financial institutions in a move to stabilize their markets. France's Autorite des Marches Financiers will ban short-selling on 11 bank and insurance stocks for 15 days following a sharp drop in some stocks caused by rumors.

Italy, Spain and Belgium are the other three countries to make the temporary move.

Yesterday stocks in both Europe and the U.S. were sharply higher.

Texas Governor Rick Perry has made it official, he is asking Texas to secede from the union he is running for President.

Meanwhile, eight previously declared candidates debated on Fox News. None called for nationalizing the means of production or advocated for free love.

It promises to be another long political season.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

American Chemical Society releases universal app for its weekly publication 'Chemical & Engineering News'

The American Chemical Society (ACS) has released an interesting hybrid app that supports both the print edition and website of its B2B publication Chemical & Engineering News.

C&EN Mobile is made for both the iPhone and iPad and serves both well in that the app contains both up-to-the-minute news from the publication's website, as well as a store where the readers can download and read issues of the B2B weekly publication.
The app varies a bit from what can be seen in the App Store description. According to screenshots and the description included in the App Store, the reader should be able to buy individual issues for $2.99 and better yet, all August issues are supposed to be free.

Unfortunately, the two issues currently in the in-app C&EN Store are the July 11 and July 18 issues, while the July 25th issue is available to view. The August issues currently are missing.

But fear not. After speaking with Rachel Pepling, the online editor who, along with Pam Rigden-Snead, web products manager, and Yinghao Ma, Senior Scientist, was part of the team that helped get this app into the App Store, I learned that the appearance of the app today caught them a bit by surprise and those issues should be available soon.

The app, while universal, was really built with the iPhone in mind first, with the team making sure everything worked well in that environment. "Down the road we hope to do an more interactive version for the iPad," Pepling said.

The app has a lot going for it now, however.

For one thing, one of the sections that a reader can access is "Jobs". The app lists the jobs available from an RSS feed. Clicking on the link takes you to the American Chemical Society website where you have to sign-in to access further information, probably what can be expected when you are dealing with a trade association, but at least those jobs are included in the app, something most newspaper apps leave out of their tablet editions.

Left: the C&EN Store where users can buy issues; Right: the app's job board.

As for the weekly issues of Chemical & Engineering News, the issues are handled simply as they would be on the web. No effort was made to include PDF versions of the issues in the app simply because, as Pepling told me, this wouldn't work as well on the iPhone.

Pepling also said that hopefully by the end of the year the app will be updated to allow ACS members to access the issues free of charge since they are technically already paying for the content. This is one of the reasons the publication chose to offer the August issues free for now.

The team that worked with KiwiTech in getting this app developed made some good choices along the way. For off, the app appears under the ACS name, meaning that they went through the process of joining the developer program. This allows them to not only list the app under their own name, but also sell issues through the App Store. As Pepling told me, going through a build-it-yourself vendor would have required that the app appear under their name (though there are vendors that allow you to use your Apple Developer account to avoid this).

For now, once the team gets those current issues into the system, this will prove to be an excellent start for the ACS and its magazine team.

The WSJ: reporters, iPads, Grrrr!

Does this kind of thing drive you crazy? I know it does me. Half way through a news video about cable TV content streaming on iPads, one of the WSJ reporters admits (at 2:10 of the video) that she is totally in the dark about the subject because she doesn't own an iPad.

Then she says "most people at home probably don't have an iPad." Really? Apple has sold well over 30 million units so far. So it is a safe assumption that most people don't have an iPad at home?

Well, I guess when you look at the numbers a "majority" of homes are without an iPad. But will I ever really want to hear from this team of reporters again about tech? Probably not. Grrr.

In the meantime, the report from the WSJ's Sam Schechner is worth watching, nonetheless, if only to get a bit of background on the cable TV-networks-iPad issue.

DoApp rolls out universal apps for its media clients, adding iPad support to its mobile media app offerings

When TNM first launched back at the beginning of last year, much of the posts here centered on mobile media apps then being rolled out by newspapers and magazines. Many of these apps had been developed by new vendors that were specializing in mobile.

In conversations with several of these developers the conversation would inevitably lead to tablets and whether they planned on offering services for the iPad, which had just been announced by Apple. "Yes, of course" was always the answer, but since then few of these mobile app developers actually launched tablet apps for their media client.
One that has just done that is DoApp, the Minneapolis-based developer that has over 200 iPhone apps currently in the App Store. Yesterday the company launched nearly a dozen universal apps for its media clients: Lowell Sun News, St. Paul Pioneer Press, The Gazette, NBC 4, WTMJ-TV, WCAX Mobile Local News, Vail Daily Mobile Local News, KTNV Mobile Local News, LancasterOnline, 8 News Now|KLAS-TV and WCCO Mobile Local News.

In its press release to announce the new apps, DoApp does not hold back on its opinion of these new apps.

"We started from scratch on the front and back end design of our iPad solution," Wade Beavers, DoApp’s CEO, said in the company's release announcement. "This is definitely not a refresh of our Mobile Local News design for smart phones, it’s a completely new experience. We focused on usability and user experience to create a great product, elegantly taking advantage of the metaphors and screen size offered by the iPad."

"Our new iPad product is a huge step forward in the consumption of news on a mobile device," said DoApp founder Joe Sriver. "The experience developed for our readers is nothing less than stunning. The initial reaction to our new iPad product has been tremendously positive. Our design and usability stands head and shoulders above anything else in the news industry."

The app released so far all free to download and offer the content free-of-charge, as well. The apps offer the easy navigation which includes attractive navigation animation that looks a lot like that being used in Lion.

Each of the apps I looked at also have a banner ad along the bottom that floats over the content itself. In each case, it appears that the advertising is from a network which I assume to be DoApp's own Adagogo.

And it is at this point that you begin to sense the issues involved with these apps. Like the mobile apps from DoApp, they are all identical. There is absolutely zero variation in look that I could detect, each app using the same box design that is kind of a poor man's Flipboard. This kind of design could have been created using any number of out-of-the-box app design companies such as RedFoundry or any number of others.

The advantage of this approach, of course, would be that when you are finished with your app it would appear in the App Store under your name as you would have created your own Apple Developer account.

In the case of these apps, they are all appearing under the DoApp name – great branding for DoApp, but not for the publisher.
But the real problem here is the sameness of every app. Except for the media company's logo at the top of the home page, there is nothing different about, say, the Pioneer Press app from the Vail app. This sameness becomes even more apparent once you leave the home page as the section headers are all the same, all using the same sans serif font.

So if you look at the Pioneer Press app, for the MediaNews Group owned newspaper, and the WCCO app, for the CBS Local Media owned app, one gets confused as to which app you are looking at – especially true today because both news organizations are featuring the same AP story.

Most importantly, these kinds of apps really limit a publishers options. One can't, for instance, use Apple's in-app subscription services because you, as the publisher, are not the "seller". You can't charge for the app, again for the same reason. And you can't (apparently) sell local advertising.

The purpose of these apps seem to be to create an ad network for the developer, because of this I have to assume that these apps are free for the publisher. If not, well, I don't even want to speculate.

Back in the early part of last year good, solid mobile apps were the gold standard. But today the real need in media is to create sound business models. That means revenue streams that include income for circulation, national and local advertising, and classifieds (though few media apps are exploring this area). It also means branding and marketing. Lastly, I also think it means building in-house capabilities, even if the media company is working with outside firms.

I really think these kinds of apps are a step backwards, not forwards. Each of these media properties are locked in a box. Now whether you think that box is attractive, and worth the price of admission is up each decision maker.

Morning Brief: Can a government ban you from using social media?: authorities in Uzbekistan move to block western news sites from being accessed via the Internet

The British Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament that his government may seek new powers that would allow them to ban certain people from using social media such as Twitter and message services in the wake of the riots in several major U.K. cities. The rioters have been apparently using their BlackBerry phones to message to each other location information in order to gather or disperse at a moment's notice.
The Guardian reports that Cameron said to parliament that "Police were facing a new circumstance where rioters were using the BlackBerry Messenger service, a closed network, to organise riots," the prime minister said. "We've got to examine that and work out how to get ahead of them."

But can the prime minister really ban citizens from using social media. And how do you define social media, especially since new services that are assume to be part of the social media landscape appear all the time, services such as photo sharing services often are developed along the same lines as Twitter or Facebook.

"Events like the recent riots are frequently used to attack civil liberties. Policing should be targeted at actual offenders, with the proper protection of the courts," Jim Killock, the executive director of online advocacy organisation Open Rights Group, was quoted by the Guardian as saying in response.

The AP is reporting that the government of Uzbekistan is moving to block Internet sites in the Central Asian nation. The wire service quotes the independent news website as staign that western news sites such as the New York Times have been blocked by authorities in order to keep out news of the authoritarian country.

The AP quotes Daniil Kislov, editor of Ferghana, another site not permitted to be accessed in Uzbekistan as stating that the actions "bears witness to how worried Uzbek authorities are about the influence of the Internet on social activism."

Officials from the Premiere League, Football League and the Newspaper Publishers Association, representing organizations, are meeting to see if they can come to an agreement concerning rules regarding how the press can cover British football games.

Much of the press was locked out of last week's games and others cut back their coverage because of the dispute which centers on the speed in which news organizations can publish photographs and accounts of the games. Several newspapers like to create "live blogs" of football games on their websites. But the league, like sports leagues in the U.S., likes to control access to information about the games as much as possible.

Saturday is football day in the U.K., so the two sides still have today and tomorrow to try and come to any agreement.

And speaking of "soccer": the Jurgen Klinsmann era started for U.S. Soccer yesterday. The former German football star was named coach of the Men's National Team, and despite only have three practices with the team, faced his first test last night as the U.S. faced off against rival Mexico.

Things did not start out well, as the Mexican team scored a goal in the first half and the U.S. team looked disorganized and helpless early on. But in the second half, following a couple substitutions, the U.S. side improved, scoring an equalizing goal by Robbie Rogers off a good move and pass by Brek Shea. In the end, the U.S. and Mexico ended up with a draw – probably a good result since both sides dominated one half each.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

End of the day blues: Dow drops over 500 points (again), GroupOn reports higher revenue, as well as more losses

It's really a toss up which is more depressing, watching the market fall over 500 points again, or hearing another politician explain that if only we cut spending to the bone growth would somehow return to the economy. The explanation for the theory is really never explained, but not matter, I just heard a commentator on NPR explain that today's huge drop was caused by the Fed's announcement that they would hold interest rates at their current low level. That same commentator yesterday explained the huge run up in stock prices yesterday on ... the Fed's announcement that they would hold interest rates at their current low level.

Of course, as you'd expect, I have my own theory about why the economy is in such bad shape. In short, it is our obsession with low costs: low costs drives jobs overseas, it lowers wages, it lessen quality, it diminishes profits.

But you really don't come here for my economic diatribes, so here is a video fresh off the WSJ website that talks about GroupOn's latest earnings report. It showed that revenue is still growing, rising to $878 million in Q2, but the company continues to bleed red ink, losing $117 million in the quarter, as well.

Retweet: newspapers refer to local bloggers in riot areas, miss opportunity to add bloggers them to their teams

This is a sort of follow-up to this morning's post about bloggers and the missed opportunities many newspapers continue to experience by not co-opting local and specialty bloggers into their content teams.

This later afternoon – London time – the live blog on The Guardian's website made a reference to a blogger from Walworth, which is in south London. The live blogger for the Guardian, Matt Wells, links to and refers to the blogger's own coverage of events on Walworth Road. That blogger, blogging anonymously as Motown, who says he is "tall, dark has a son" in his profile, recounts events last night in his neighborhood and wonders why the press did not pay more attention.

As Wells writes, however, the press can not be everywhere, writing about everything. But I wonder if there might be room for more improvisation on the part of editors at newspapers such as the Guardian, to bring these bloggers into the fold, even if only on a temporary basis.

In any case, this might be the subject of conversations in many newsrooms in the near future as news organizations struggle to figure out how to cover fast moving, localized events with their smaller and obviously less nimble editorial staffs. There is, to be sure, risks in this idea of news-blogger cooperation, but it might be to consider the merits of shoveling a few bucks towards bloggers from the freelance budget in lieu of spending those dollars on more mainstream, and less relevant, news sources.

The video below, posted on YouTube, was shot on the evening of the 8th, but is not from Motown's Blog, as the blogger did not embed his own video in a way that would make it sharable - possibly to better hide his identity.

Tech sites race to get information and pictures on the new Apple products, even resorting to creating their own

We are only weeks away from Apple launching its newest version of the the iPhone and possibly even a few months away from a new iPad, though that is less certain. So what does that mean for the tech press? A lot of speculating, rumors and mostly retractions. MacRumors, which banned me months ago for actually including links in my posts, is even creating their own mock-ups (no link since turnaround is fair play).

I'm, frankly, more than a little bored with it all. Do I really care if my next cell phone has a tapered back, a very slightly larger screen, or if it also works as a can opener? Well, actually, if it could improve on the can opener I might be interested.

Of course, all this is simply link bait, so I suppose it is to be expected. But I fear that if the strategy works we will start to see the more mainstream media start to copy the behavior.

But, maybe, that isn't such a dumb idea. After all, I have advocated for the inclusion of third party blogs in the content offerings of newspaper websites – why not tech blogs serving the same purpose.

Here is an example of what I mean: the blog McCoveyChronicles currently has its story up about last night's Giants win, rare as that is now-a-days. Even though it is 7 in the morning on the left coast, there are already over 200 comments on the post. Yesterday's post on Carlos Beltran drew over 1200 comments yesterday.

Now compare that with the San Francisco Chronicle's main story of last night's game: 43 comments so far. 43! That is a lot of web traffic that is going elsewhere because the Hearst Corporation is still a decade behind the rest of the new media world in how to attract and maintain an Internet community. McCoveyChronicles is not some crazy website, its part of a network that has investors such as Comcast Ventures. It is, in a word, a competitor for web advertising.

Yet there is no barrier to entry for the Chronicle and nothing that prevents them from doing what the NYT did with Nate Silver when they incorporated his Five Thirty Eight blog into the NYT's offerings.

But back to rumors for a moment: I don't think there is anything particularly wrong with spreading them or speculating on them if you don't mind losing reader credibility occasionally.
That is why I have consulted with my sources deep within Apple and have learned that Steve Jobs has decided to go with a more retro look for the upcoming new iPhone – something that reflects the times, that says "austerity" when you use it.

So here is my rendering of the new iPhone 5. Remember it is only a rumor, but I trust my sources, which just happen to be me.

Morning Brief: a day of minor turnarounds; the NYT launches its new home for web experimentation, beta620; recall campaign falls short in Wisconsin

The last 24 hours have seen at least two unexpected developments: the markets have actually gone up, and the Giants finally won a ball game. The latter really caught me by surprise.

Today both the German DAX and the British FTSE are showing modest gains, while the French CAC is down slightly, probably just to annoy the Germans.

Unfortunately, U.S. stock futures are negative following yesterday's dramatic gain in the markets. Look for another roller coaster day.

Why the obsession with the markets? Well,these are the dog days of summer when media news is a bit slow. While we wait for Apple to release iOS 5 and the new iPhone things have slowed down quite a bit. Also there is that nasty thing called the economy which I am quite sure is having an impact on the businesses of many publishers right now. And the last thing we all need during fall planning season is economic uncertainly, right?

The New York Times has launched its lab for experimental web products site beta620, which the paper describes as "a new home for experimental projects from Times developers — and a place for anyone to suggest and collaborate on new ideas and new products." Seen at left is Times Skimmer, a flipboard-like news page.

Others available for viewing include TimesInstant, a Google-like search page, and Community Hub, a home for registered users – which, if you ask me, also looks a lot like a Google designed web page.

It's a nice touch that the NYT has included the names of the developers and in some cases a picture, as well.

Republicans, the Tea Party, and the Koch brothers scored a huge win last evening that could have a ripple effect across the nation. Efforts by unions and the Democrats to recall state Senators failed to win enough support from voters as four of six Republican candidates beat back recall efforts, leaving the state Senate in the control of the Republicans.

The victories by the Republicans could lead to further efforts to weaken organized labor in Wisconsin and increase the influence of big business in the state.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that more than $35 million has been spent on the recall races, according to its source, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. A total of $19.3 million was spent on last year's 115 legislative races.

Quark sold to private equity firm Platinum Equity; publishing software company had been an industry leader

Quark, the Denver, Colorado based publishing software company behind QuarkXpress that once was used by a vast majority of magazine publishers, has been sold to a private equity firm. Platinum Equity of Los Angeles announced the acquisition and said it hopes to "re-invigorate" the QuarkXpress brand.

Quark is a legendary brand that helped create the desktop publishing market and is now helping organizations transform how they publish content both to print and digital media,” Brian Wall, partner at Platinum who led the team pursuing the acquisition, said in the company's announcement. “Quark is committed to its loyal and dedicated user base and we are enthusiastic about the company’s new products which are gaining traction and generating positive reviews. We believe that with their expertise and innovative software, Quark has the potential to revolutionize publishing again.”

QuarkXpress was once the dominate publishing software choice of art directors in the magazine and specialty publishing industry, and many art directors still use and prefer it to the now dominate Indesign from Adobe. What the new owner can do to reverse this will have to be seen.

In its report on the sale MacWorld says that Quark plans to concentrate on traditional publishing formats such as newspapers and magazines. From my perspective, Quark would be wise to become an affordable alternative to Adobe's very expensive digital publishing solutions. The alternative, serving the dead tree industry, does not seem like an attractive alternative.

“This transition comes at an exciting time for our company and our customers," said Raymond Schiavone, President and CEO at Quark. "In the past few years we have made great strides in helping our customers realize dynamic publishing, have re-invigorated QuarkXPress, and have readied Quark to take an early leadership position in digital publishing."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Summer afternoon news break: Dow does some gymnastics following Fed announcement; Brazilian police cart off loads of government officials from the tourism ministry; hackers deface BlackBerry maker's website

New media news is in fairly short supply today as developers await the release of the final version of iOS 5, the new iPhone, etc. In the meantime, world political and economic events dominate the headlines.
So tell me, what was this? See that sharp "V" drop in the Dow from this afternoon? It occurred right after the Fed announced that it would keep interest rates low for the foreseeable future. The NYT blamed the sharp drop on the announcement, but by the time they could get their story online the drop had been reversed and the Dow was once again in the black.

It seems fishy to me and could have been the result of a bad electronic trade. Maybe we'll learn something about this after the markets close, or maybe we won't.
Update: So now the market has closed and look what happened, the Dow closed up over 400 points. I think there can only be one explanation: drugs. The way I see it, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke marched into the NYSE and started throwing out (fill in the blank) to all the traders to get them euphoric.

The only thing that might make my theory suspect is that the Nasdaq also climbed dramatically at the end of the day. Strange days. But then there is what is going on in Brazil ...

The Deputy Tourism Minister of Brazil, Frederico Silva da Costa, as well as 37 other government officials from the ministry have been arrested on corruption charges today. According to the BBC, police swooped into the cities of Brasilia, Sao Paulo and Macapa to make the arrests and carted the government officials off to jail.

The tourism officials are accused of awarding contracts at inflated prices, presumably to get kickbacks.

There are also allegations of corruption at the agriculture and transport ministries, as well, with the transport minister, Alfredo Nascimento, resigning in July over allegations of corruption.

And if to top things off, the Defense Minister, Nelson Jobim, resigned just a few days ago after it was learned that he voted for the President's opponent in the last election, and when it was learned that he claimed the he was surrounded by "idiots" in the government.

"He pulled a real no-no. You have a female president and you talk badly about two of her female ministers? It's a nasty scene," David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia, was quoted by the AP as stating.

ZDNet UK is reporting that hackers have defaced the website of Research In Motion after the maker of the BlackBerry said it would assist the Metropolitan Police in tracking down rioters who are using BlackBerry phones to coordinate their activities.

Patrick Spence, managing director of RIM's global sales and regional marketing, said "We feel for those impacted by this weekend's riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can. As in all markets around the world where BlackBerry is available, we co-operate with local telecommunications operators, law enforcement and regulatory officials."

Wired seems to think that the Tribune Company making its own tablets is a bad idea. Well, that might make me reconsider my own opinion about this since the magazine that proclaimed the web dead thinks it's a bad idea.

Guess they can't be wrong all the time, can they?

Politician's leadership on the economy is strangely reminiscent of the actions of some publishers I know

It would be hard to be in either the newspaper or magazine business these past few years and not see the parallels with what is going on in politics. Bad management making big decisions that, surprise, surprise, are coming back to haunt them. In both case, those making the decision have a hard time coming to the obvious conclusion that they have blown it.

As one looks at events in the U.K. one sees that the British are about six to twelve months ahead of the Americans in the austerity game with the results being that their economy is grinding to a halt. Whether you can blame the last three days of rioting on the Tories is, I suppose, something that will be influenced by your politics, but one thing for sure, the lack of public spending is causing a retraction of the nation's economy.

(Yesterday, for instance, the British government – at least that portion of it not on vacation – reported that manufacturing levels fell, reviving fears that the country was falling – officially – back into recession.)

This shouldn't, of course, come as a surprise. Greece and other debtor nations, forced into austerity moves by the need for bailouts, have also seen their economies crash – and also have seen a rise in labor unrest, as well.

Here in the states, the President yesterday backup Defense Secretary Panetta's caution that there shouldn't be large cuts to the defense budget. That means that Medicare and Social Security may be what is targeted.

That would be fine with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who said yesterday that he wants “significant entitlement reform” so that the wealthy do not have to have their taxes raised.

So we know what actions are coming, and we should know what the reaction and consequences will be, shouldn't we?

It reminds me very much of what many B2B executives have been doing to their companies throughout the past decade: reducing sales and editorial staff sizes, while simultaneously acting surprised with the collapse of ad revenue and readership levels. Surprise, surprise, the cost of maintaining their qualified readership levels has risen and so these executives cut their print quantities and some have pulled their audits – again, with the all too predictable consequence that ad revenues have continued to go down...

Retweet: CNN report claims the Tribune Company wants to develop its own Android tablet to lure subscriptions

Recently emerged from bankruptcy, the Tribune Company is developing its own tablet that will run Android, according to a report this morning from CNN.

Quoting anonymous sources, CNN's Mark Millan said the plan is for the Tribune Company to offer the Android tablet free of charge, or "at a highly subsidized price" in exchange for an extended subscription.
The Tribune Company owns the newspapers includingChicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, as well as 23 TV stations across the country which would mean that the total market for this tablet would be relatively small.

Millan's story points out the obvious: this initiative is coming from a company doesn't even have Android app that run on Honeycomb, and whose iOS app efforts have been modest at best.

For me, creating one's own tablet in order to sell subscriptions is the modern equivalent of setting up a print plant in Iowa to service a reader of the Chicago Tribune who decides to move to Des Moines.

But read the CNN report yourself and ask yourself whether this is really going to happen, or whether the story itself may be an attempt by the story's sources to shine a light on some crazy internal goings on.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Twin major stories present problems for news websites locked into a standard layout design

How many years now have we been distributing news via the worldwide web? The Wayback Machine has its oldest snapshot of the New York Times website as November 1996.

But here we are, some 15 years later, and most news organizations have the same issue with their web home pages – how to cover two stories at the same time. Both the NYT and The Guardian face this issue today when trying to balance news of the stock market crash with news of the London riots, today in their third night.

For the NYT the decision is probably easiest: the fall of the Dow and other markets is a local story, and so the stock market, along with a follow-up on S&P leads. News from London is a tiny headline far down the page.

For The Guardian, too, one of these stories is local and so it is leading with news of the continuing riots in London. But its story of the fall of the markets follows the story of the riots – but because of its page design the story falls off the first "page" and the reader must scroll down to see it.

This is an issue of page design for the web, one that many designers are all too aware of. While print editions have almost infinite variability, websites are still locked in. Often the biggest area of flexibility is in the area of advertising, where a large creative ad can sometimes be popped onto a page without much trouble, but rearranging the news is difficult or impossible.
Of course, the problem of inflexible web design doesn't just come into play were there are two big stories that need to be played up, but also when there is one huge story. One could argue that the web design seen here at the NYT and Guardian is insufficient on those occasions when there is only one big story, but the page design just doesn't convey the importance of that story.

This can be seen on the home page of the Washington Post, where there is a simple headline followed by only two lines of text allowed by the design. The reader could be excused for just glancing past the story since this is the same look the website has when the lead story is far less important.

I'm not a web designer, I'm a publisher and editor, so I don't have an easy answer to propose other than to continue to express my dissatisfaction with the way websites are designed.

When leading the web redesign of a group of B2B magazine a couple of years ago I remember talking to the head of the development team about flexibility. Almost any request was answered with the stock answer "the system doesn't allow that". It was incredibly frustrating that after so many years of web publishing that it felt like we were still in the dark ages. And I suppose we still are.

The view from my office window: watch out for falling stock brokers

It's another week of madness and mayhem on Wall Street and elsewhere as world markets continue to tumble. At a little before 2pm eastern time the Dow was down over 3.5 percent in value, a level that would get everyone's attention were it not simply another day of declines.
The German DAX, which lost two percent of its value every day last week out did itself by falling five percent today, falling below the 6,000 mark, which I'm sure is causing a bit of concern (understatement) in Europe. In fact, Die Welt is talking about a new crash – assuming Google's translation service is to be believed.

But while the news is certainly leading the NYT's website, the media seems to be calm about things overall. After all, this isn't the start of another Great Depression, is it? Who knows.

But a couple of years ago I was looking at the issue archives of a B2B magazine that was over 100 years old. I looked at some old issues to see how the editors of that magazine handled the news of the day that was not of direct concern to the magazine – events like the 1929 stock market crash and Pearl Harbor.

The magazine, being a weekly, did not directly talk about Pearl Harbor in its mid-December issue following the Japanese attack, but was already talking about the nation being at war and how this would effect the industry it was covering.

But the 1929 stock market crash was another matter altogether. It was not mentioned at all in the pages of the magazine. In fact, the only reference to the Great Depression in the editorial of the magazine was first seen in 1933. Prior to that there were plenty of articles that talked about weak economic conditions and the soon-to-appear recovery. By 1934, however, even the editors of the magazine had to admit something horrible was happening.

My point is that it is totally normal for much of the press to go on with its normal news coverage as if nothing is happening. But something is happening: the DAX has lost 20 percent of its value in the last month. 20 percent! Just for some perpective: the 1929 crash of October 28 and 29, 1929 was a drop of 24 percent.

2:20 EDT Update: Dow stocks of note – Bank of America has lost 18%, Caterpillar is down 7.6%, IBM is down 4.5%. All 30 stocks that make up the Dow are down with Coca-Cola doing best, down only 1%.

The Star Tribune releases a native app tablet edition; no subscription or registration mechanism built into app

The Star Tribune, Minnesota's largest circulation newspaper, has released a tablet edition this weekend. The app, Star Tribune News App, must have been designed by the web team, because it offers the content free of charge, without even requiring registration. The circulation department must be going bananas this morning.
The app is an attractive tablet edition, avoiding the pitfalls of replica editions, articles are easy to read, and the app looks good in both portrait and landscape modes.

Navigating the tablet edition is a bit strange because swiping the front page immediately takes you to stories (after seeing the single sponsor ad from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota). Swiping in the opposite direction takes you right an obituary.

But that aside, the app contains all the sections you would expect. Well, except the ones the paper might make money at like classifieds.

In fact, this app seems to be completely without a business plan at all: there are no in-app subscription options, tempting readers to dump their print editions for this free tablet edition; and the advertising is limited to the single sponsor ad, hopefully they are being charged a couple million a year, otherwise the business model is a bit perplexing.

One wonders if this app is solely the work of the web team without the input of circulation or advertising, because I can't see how the other teams at the newspaper would be happy with a free version of the newspaper without circulation or much ad revenue.

Oh well. I know that if I lived in Minneapolis I'd be pretty happy with this app and would be on the phone immediately cutting my ties to the print edition (except Sunday, of course, due to the coupons and supplements).

Left: the front page in landscape with the drop down menu of the sections; Right: the full screen photo gallery feature.

Morning Brief: The banksters, the debt and interest rates; the press and football at loggerheads over coverage

For months now a certain segment of the political spectrum has been crying out for higher interest rates to defeat inflation that doesn't exist. The Fed hasn't raised rates since the reality of the situation is that inflation is nonexistent due to the sluggish economy. But now, thanks to S&P downgrading U.S. government bonds, it looks like those folks will get their wish.

The sad fact is, however, that the downgrade will increase calls for more budget cuts, which will depress the economy even further, leading to the inevitable next downgrade. It is a vicious cycle that we may be in.

The European Central Bank stepped in today and bought Spanish and Italian bonds, driving the yields down significantly on the 10-year bonds of both countries.

The move will be appreciated by both governments, but it is not doing much to lessen the fears of investors. European stock markets fell again today with the German DAX currently down two percent, the sixth straight trading day that the German markets have fallen by two percent or more. Asian markets all fell badly in trading Monday as the Hang Sang fell over 455 points, or 2.17 percent, while the Sanghai Composite fell almost 100 points, or 3.79 percent.

Dow futures indicated that the U.S. markets will open lower, as well. (Of course, that could simply be in response to the news that the worst Treasury Secretary in the history of the republican, Timothy Geithner, has agreed to stay on.)

The start of the British Premiere League season was this weekend, but press coverage was limited due to the continuing dispute between the league and The Newspaper Publishers Association, which includes the The Telegraph, The Guardian. The Independent, the Financial Times and other U.K. papers.

"We are sorry we are unable to bring you full coverage of the opening weekend of the Football League season, as we had hoped," read The Telegraph's story of the dispute. "This is due to an ongoing dispute between the media and the Premier League and the Football League over terms of accreditation."

Fires in Tottenham, photo courtesy of the AP.

Speaking of football (soccer, that is): the Tottenham Spurs say they will play their opening home match this Saturday despite riots that occurred in the north London neighborhood which included damage done to the Spur's ticket office.

The ticket office will remain closed until Wednesday. "As a major employer and business in the area, the club is deeply saddened by recent events," a spokesman for the Spurs said yesterday. "We are concerned about the disruption to local people's lives and the effect on the community as a whole."

If you haven't been keeping up with the news this weekend, London exploded with riots following the shooting by the Metropolitan Police of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father of four. The shooting at first led to protests in the community that soon spiraled out of control and has led to two nights of rioting in several north London neighborhoods.