Friday, January 13, 2012

What dare not be publicly stated about modern journalism; the issue as it relates to the trade press

Some journalists and readers are up in arms today after the New York Times' public editor Arthur Brisbane unwisely chose to ask the question whether "news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about." Readers quickly responded, asking Brisbane about his sanity, and comments were soon closed.

Brisbane than tried a rather lame attempt to backtrack in a follow-up column accusing NYT readers of misunderstanding the question being posed. Readers, strangely enough, don't like being called stupid and again gave the NYT public editor a dressing down. "No, we got it the first time. And the answer is still 'yes, you moron'," wrote a reader online.

Journalists and media critics piled on and this morning Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald recalled Stephen Colbert's 2006 contribution to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner: “But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works. The President makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ‘em through a spell check and go home.”

But left unsaid by most is why the Times public editor would even pose the question, and why the NYT and most other major papers believe that calling into question lies spewed by politicians and others is not in a reporter's and newspaper's best interest. This issue is, and always has been, access and information.

The idea is simple: if a reporter quotes a candidate or politician verbatim, and does not point out the obvious untruths, access is maintained. This access is to be used, in this prevailing theory of modern journalism, to some use at a later date (though it rarely does).

The example being used today is the claim, passed on by the press, by Mitt Romney that President Obama has been apologizing for America. The claim is false, of course; and, in fact, many news outlets have said so.

But many journalists and editors don't see it as the job of the campaign reporters to call out these claims in their stories, or to ask tough questions back to the candidates when such claims are made. The reason for this, and the reason some big paper editors think those that want this kind of reporting are naive, is that access to the candidate might be compromised. No campaign will talk to a reporter if that reporter is found to be doing their job. And so the cycle of "stenography" begins.

Of course, this cycle is self-perpetuating: journalists, who claim to know how the game is played, play along in order to stay on the beat. Editors will pull a reporter off their beat as soon as they learn their reporters are being blackballed by the source. And on and on.

The problem, in the end, is that the news outlet loses its credibility with the public. Editors are themselves naive if they don't understand that the public knows the rules of the game and don't appreciate it when reporters and editors choose to play along rather than look out for the interests of the readers.



But while journalists debate this question publicly today, the issue of credibility has long been settled in the trade press. With very few exceptions, B2B executives have schooled their editors to not make waves with potential advertisers, to print press releases from regular advertisers and good prospects, and to stay away from anything that smacks of either news or opinion.

As a result, most B2B magazines and their supporting websites are have evolved into standard-sized versions of product tabloids (while product tabloids have themselves started to die out). B2B editors, long used to this kind of editing, rarely question the formula – editing press releases allows them to move on to the second, third or even fourth magazine they are forced to work on in order to keep their jobs.

Just as in the newspaper business, this cycle of stenography is impossible to break. The businesses being written about – seen as advertisers or prospects – know they are at an advantage. And besides, if the trade press dies off, they have already prepared for this by building up their direct marketing capabilities.

But the reality is that by playing the game B2Bs have made themselves simply a commodity, subject to rate negotiations and other give-a-ways. The difference between one B2B magazine and another becomes less and less in an environment where editorial is freely given away, where BPA audits no longer are conducted, and where editors are too busy editing other books to have much personal contact with the industries they are supposed to be covering.

Some publishers have tried to put an end to this editorial policy by pressuring editors to only print stories from paid advertisers. The idea is to stop customers from demanding editorial prior to deciding to advertise. But this, of course, does not take into account the interest of readers. Many publishers justify this by saying that most readers receive their publications free of charge anyway, ignoring the costs of renewing subscribers in a situation where readers no longer see the B2B magazine as a legitimate source of information. (The next step, of course, is then to drop the audit and stop qualifying readers.)



Most B2B titles' website are a good reflection of their print editions: a collection of press releases with an occasional columnist thrown in. Newly launched websites being produced today update the look of their sites but rarely change the editorial philosophy. The addition of video, for instance, is simply adding in a new way to publish press releases as most B2Bs simply reproduce the video content contributed from their advertisers.

In fact, New Media offers a chance to break the cycle. Blogs, columns and forums are a way of not only bringing in new voices but in driving traffic. While B2B magazines intentionally set the circulation levels in relation to their competitors, the web and other digital media platforms are where true competition is still the norm. If a B2B can drive twice the uniques and page views that their competitor can, they will be in a stronger position to sell digital advertising.

Sadly, I must admit that as a publisher or group publisher, I have found it hard to sell this idea to my editors. The reason is simple: editing the title's website is just another chore added to the already long list of duties required of most B2B editors. True, some titles, like the ad agency books and the general business titles, are in a completely different position than their small to mid-sized brethren. But they truly are the exception.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Will Hungary become the focus of the EU's attention, or is the Central Bank all they are really concerned about

For much of 2011 the center of attention in Europe had been Greece (followed by Italy). As the Greek debt crisis continued the Socialist prime minister was eventually replaced with a technocrat, Lucas Papademos, a former Vice President of the European Central Bank. Not long afterward the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berluscon was replaced by Mario Monti.

Today the New York Times published a story on what may be the big story in Europe this year, Hungary.

Faced with what critics say is an alarming drift away from democracy by one of its members, the European Union gave the Hungarian government a final warning Wednesday that it would face the start of formal legal action by next Tuesday unless it modified a series of measures that threaten the balance of power in the country.NYT
At the center of the debate is Fidesz, the right-wing political party that has control of the levers of government, and has been pushing through laws that are meant to guarantee its continued control.
In 2011, only the laws concerning the media seemed to get much play (what a surprise), but now it is the move to end the independence of the Central Bank that has caught the attention of the EU.

Hungary has its own debt crisis, so the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban needs to be able to access credit. But can the EU really accept a non-democratic state within the organization?

For further background I would recommend this blog post at European Tribune: Protest in a one-party state.

The Philadelphia Inquirer choses makes a strange app icon choice: former U.S. Senator Arlen Specter

This has to be the strangest choice for an app icon I've ever seen: U.S. Senator Arlen Specter.

Why The Philadelphia Inquirer would want Arlen Spector's face as their app icon is one of those questions I suppose that has no answer other than "don't question the thinking of a newspaper executive, it will drive you crazy."

The good news is that once you have downloaded the app the actual icon you see in Newsstand is different – though I have to say that the actual icon is really no better, a dark photo and the name of the paper so small that a magnifying glass wouldn't be of much help.

It is reported that Arlen Specter is now doing stand-up comedy, and isn't too bad. Maybe the management team at the Inquirer are attempting the same.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Haven Register to close pressroom, outsource printing operation to Hartford, layoff 105 staffers

This has to be one of the most tone deaf stories ever to appear on the website of a newspaper: the New Haven Register has announced that it will lay off 105 people by closing down its pressroom, yet its report reads like this is all going to be good news. Readers aren't buying it, judging from the comments to the story.

The story lacks the byline of an individual reporter but instead is credited to "Register Staff". Good thing, no one would want to take credit for such writing.

“We’re excited to be opening our newsroom to our community,” publisher Tom Wiley is quoted as saying about the newspaper's plans to open an "open newsroom". “We have launched our Community Media Lab and community conversations and this is the next step in serving our community.”

Yes, I'm sure the 105 staffers are equally as excited. But none of them are quoted in the story, and the publisher doesn't mention them in the story either.

Journal Register Co., if you have forgotten, is the company behind the newly formed company Digital First, the combined entity that includes MediaNews Group. Their big initiative right now appears to be opening Newsroom Caf├ęs, places where readers can gather and drink lattes while observing digital first journalists aggregating and editing copy. It's all so modern and all so digital, you see.

More and more, this whole digital first initiative resembles a cult, and I guess I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid. Right now the movement looks to me like a new twist on the whole engineering craze which corporate suits and consultants used to justify layoffs in the mid-nineties.

(At McGraw-Hill we were given copies of the book to read by the newly installed division president as if it were Mao's Little Red Book – why I never burned my copy I don't know. One year later the division president was gone, but so were about half the employees. It was the first time, but unfortunately not that last time I was forced to layoff staffers in support of some idiot's great new idea.)

Adobe to offer CS3, CS4 owners upgrade pricing to CS 6

The website 9to5 Mac made a nice catch this morning when it noticed a new post on the Adobe website. The news is that Adobe will be offering owners of Creative Suite versions 3 and 4 the opportunity to upgrade to Creative Suite 6 when it is released at upgrade pricing.

Here is their announcement:

We’re very excited about the upcoming release of Adobe® Creative Suite® 6 software and Adobe Creative Cloud™. CS6 will be a major new release of our creative desktop tools, with huge improvements for every type of creative professional. Adobe Creative Cloud will be our most comprehensive creative solution ever, giving members access to all of the CS6 desktop software plus additional services, new tools, Adobe Touch Apps, and rich community features. In addition, Creative Cloud members will receive continuous upgrades and updates to all products and services as part of their membership.

With these great new releases coming in the first half of 2012, we want to make sure our customers have plenty of time to determine which offering is best for them. Therefore, we’re pleased to announce that we will offer special introductory upgrade pricing on Creative Suite 6 to customers who own CS3 or CS4. This offer will be available from the time CS6 is released until December 31, 2012. More details on this offer, as well as any introductory offers for existing customers to move to Creative Cloud membership, will be announced when CS6 and Creative Cloud are released later this year.
Adobe upgrade pricing is currently highly variable – upgrading to Creative Suite 5.5 Design Premium from CS3 costs $949 while the upgrade from CS 4 is $649, for instance – so it will be interesting to see what kind of pricing Adobe will offer.

Two years ago I was able to upgrade to CS4 when Adobe suddenly offered discounted upgrades – that upgrade included a full version of the software with a new license. Hopefully Adobe will do the same this time around.

Two new tablet apps show that spending time on native layouts will result in a better tablet reading experience

It is always a joy to download new iPad apps that prove to be a joy to read – the experience is far too rare these days. But these two apps (below) show the value in investing in native tablet production.

The first app comes from the German publisher CHIP Communications GmbH for its namesake magazine CHIP. The app is free to download and provides readers with free previews of the magazine editions found inside.
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Each issue costs $3.99 per issue, or the reader can subscribe for three months at $9.99, $19.99 for 6 months, or an annual subscription at $37.99 (obviously the prices are different in the German App Store, for instance individual issues cost € 2.99).

The previews give the reader more than enough content to make a decision. More importantly, it shows the reader what the reading experience will really be like: landscape and portrait layouts, native page design which includes scrolling within pages, etc.

The issues open with an animated cover, which can be somewhat annoying because every time one encounters the page the animation plays again. But the animation is kept to a minimum at least.

This app has been in the App Store for several months now, but an app update was issued today to fix various bugs. The reader response to the app has been generally very favorable, with most complaints in the German App Store centering on the subscription prices being charged rather than the app itself.

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Left: CHIP can be read in both portrait and landscape, with the ads redesigned to fit both orientations; Right: the TOC is simple and cleverly designed for the iPad reading experience.


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A new app for Kent State University was released yesterday into the App Store. Developed by iMirus, the digital publishing division of Riggs Heinrich Media, the app is can be found inside Newsstand and is free to download, as is the content inside.

My expectations were that I would find replica editions of the campus brochures, but was pleasantly surprised to find that the brochures have been redesigned to be read on the iPad, taking advantage of native design ideas such as text boxes, embedded video, etc.

As a result, the app is very easy to use and read. The app was a bit sluggish on my first generation iPad (for this reason I am looking forward to getting iPad 3 when released), and gave me a memory warning when I played the Crooked River Adventures video found inside. But it did not crash, I might add.

Rather than using adjustable fonts, the app relies on pinch-to-zoom, which I found odd, but otherwise the app worked fine. But the developer iMirus has other apps inside the App Store that have pretty negative reviews due to performance issues (such as the negative reviews for Charisma Media Magazine). This app, then, appears to be a major improvement over the previous apps released by iMirus.
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Left: The school President's opening page, with a scrollable text box; Right: the Crooked River Adventures article containing the embedded video.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Consumer magazines recorded a decline in ad pages for 2011 thanks to a bad fourth quarter; Q4 pages down 8%

For most of 2011 it looked like consumer magazine publishers would be able to eek out a small gain in ad pages. But thanks to a very bad fourth quarter, total ad pages for 2011 fell 3.1 percent for the year, according to the year-end report issued by the Publishers Information Bureau.

"The magazine industry posted positive 2011 Q1 and Q2 advertising performances in pages and revenue, but a weakened economy in the second half of the year offset those gains as advertisers grew more skittish from diminished consumer spending, wild stock market swings and zero job growth,” said Nina Link, President and CEO, MPA – The Association of Magazine Media.


"There were pockets of strength in some categories for full-year 2011. Advertisers in the apparel, cosmetics and financial sectors increased their magazine marketing spend last year. Magazines were negatively impacted by the food sector in 2011 as rising energy and production costs in the food industry resulted in a decreased overall advertising spend. Similarly, magazines were also affected by a decline in overall advertising spending in home furnishing and supplies, a result of the soft housing market,” Link said.

Ad pages declined by 8 percent in the fourth quarter, wiping out any hope that the year would end positively.

Magazines that recorded good ad page growth included AARP-The Magazine, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Departures, and Esquire. But most titles recorded ad page declines including Better Homes & Gardens, Cooking Light, Flex, Ladies Home Journal, Real Simple, Saveur, and Scholastic Parent & Chile. Both Sports Illustrated and Sporting News also recorded declines in ad pages in 2011.

The list of magazines follows the break:

The Economist Group launches web app for tablets that covers the 2012 U.S. election – Electionism

The Economist Group today announced the launch of an HTML5 website for the 2012 U.S. presidential election. The website is optimized, whatever that really means, for tablets such as the iPad and others.

"Electionism combines The Economist's day-to-day opinion and commentary on the US elections, from our Webby-award-winning 'Democracy in America' blog, with detailed on-the-ground coverage from CQ Roll Call and our picks of the best election coverage from elsewhere on the web, all wrapped up in a tablet-friendly format," said Tom Standage, digital editor of The Economist.
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The web app was created by The Economist Group Media Lab, an internal product innovation group, and was built with its technology partner, Toronto-based Pressly.

But like other html5 websites built for tablets the question arises as to "why": why a website for tablets rather than simply a website? When a reader encounters the website on their Mac or PC one gets a message saying they are basically unwanted. Wot? You don't have a tablet, little boy?

Further, if the web app is a real alternative to a regular website, built using html5 or not, why doesn't the app ask you to create an icon on your iPad?

OK, I get it, these tablet web apps are the hot, new thing. So, let's take a look at it.

Oh God, more boxes. Like those box cars built by Kia, Nissan and others, I guess this is someone's idea of modern design. But for me, cubism died early last century, can be we please move on to surrealism now?

But once the reader gets past the boxes ont he opening page things improve – at least as far as design is concerned. The layouts are more approachable and the article layouts are typical of native tablet apps.

But I still have to go back to "why": why build a free web app without ads? Where's the business model here? Has The Economist suddenly embraced some sort of socialist ideal? No doubt about it, 2012 is going to be an interesting year.

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Comcast issues iOS update to its mobile app that (it claims) brings texting services, but users complain

Cable and Internet provider Comcast issued an update to its universal app, Xfinity Mobile, that the company claims brings free texting services to iPhone and iPad users. But early adopters are complaining that the app update introduces bugs to the app.
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My own experience with the update is that after downloading the new version and installing it, the actual app does not match the screenshots seen in the app description. At right is the screenshot used in the App Store that shows "Text" as part of the Messages.

But even after confirming that the new version of the app was loaded I did not get this navigation bar. Worse, the app forces the user to sign in each time the user accesses a different part of the app – at least three times in total – in order to access the account and TV portions.

In short, Comcast has made a mess of their mobile app.

The Android version of the same app was updated on December 20th inside the Android Market, but there, too, users are complaining about the app's performance. But the Android app description does, however, add a line saying that texting is "not available in all areas". This may explain the texting issue.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Nuance announces it will unveil Dragon TV at CES 2012; voice controlled television solution offered to TV OEMs

The big Apple rumor during the last half of 2011 was that the consumer electronics giant would release an Apple TV set this year, one that would revolutionize television. At the center of the rumored Apple TV was supposed to be Siri, the personal assistant software built into the new iPhone.

But part of what makes Siri work is the dictation abilities from Nuance. Today Nuance announced that it would unveil Dragon TV, a voice and language comprehension platform for televisions. The app, if I may call it that, is designed for TV OEMs to be incorporated into their TV products. (See complete press release after the break.)

The product seems to be a big part of what Apple was rumored to be bringing out, should they have actually launched their own TV line.

I have been, and continue to be skeptical about an Apple TV line simply because the price of HDTVs has been crashing for the past couple of years. Apple has traditionally only introduced products into areas where they will either be without much competition, or where their product can be the premium priced product. Without a monopoly on voice control, what would be the differentiator for Apple?

Here is the full press release from Nuance:

Nuance Unveils Dragon TV

TV, Device and Set-Top Box OEMs and Service Operators Will Transform the Digital Living Room with Nuance’s Voice, Natural Language Understanding and Touch Innovations for Content Discovery and Social Media Engagement

2012 International CES
LAS VEGAS & BURLINGTON, Mass. -- Nuance Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: NUAN) today unveiled Dragon TV, a unique voice and natural language understanding platform for TV, device and set-top box OEMs and service operators. Dragon TV makes finding and accessing shows, movies and content in today’s digital living room easy and fun for consumers. Leveraging Nuance’s voice and natural language understanding capabilities, Dragon TV creates the “lean-back experience” consumers demand, with the ability to easily find content by speaking channel numbers, station names, show and movie names. People can even search for content by actor and genre, and stay connected via Twitter, Facebook and Skype.

An estimated 1.6 billion TVs will be connected to the web by 2014 according to Strategy Analytics – and the broad spectrum of channels and media options available today are already nearly impossible to navigate with traditional TV remotes. Consumers have more options and media than they are even aware of, and still can’t find “what’s on.” Dragon TV changes all of that, giving OEMs and service operators the ability to deliver TVs, set-top boxes and applications that let consumers find and experience content with Nuance’s leading voice technologies. Further, Nuance’s natural language understanding technologies allow consumers to say virtually anything to quickly and easily discover shows, movies and more. For instance, people can say:
  • “Go to PBS”
  • “What’s on Bravo at 9 p.m. tonight?”
  • “When is Ellen on?”
  • “Watch Dexter on DVR”
  • “Find comedies with Vince Vaughn”
  • “Play David Guetta on Music Choice”
Dragon TV also makes it even easier to stay connected from the couch by leveraging the unique messaging and social media capabilities that today’s digital TV OEMs and operators offer, such as email, messaging, Twitter, Facebook and Skype. For instance, people can say:
  • “Send message to Julie, ‘Old School is on TBS again this weekend – super excited’”
  • “Send update to Facebook, ‘Anyone else looking forward to Celebrity Wife Swap?’”
  • “Call John via Skype” and be talking in no time
Dragon TV is incredibly flexible, and can be integrated across embedded, connected and hybrid modes, allowing OEMs and service operators to take advantage of the content available on the device and in the cloud. Dragon TV features include:
  • Seamless Application Control: Digital home devices are now integrating applications for e-mail, social networking and interactive communication. Dragon TV offers a straightforward and simple method of input to drive adoption.
  • Discovering: A wealth of information is now available over TV, including program guide listings, personal media and web content. Dragon TV delivers an integrated, universal search solution allowing users to access content with ease.
  • Messaging: From social networking to e-mail, the availability of messaging applications on TV continues to grow. With Dragon TV users are empowered to interact and communicate via an integrated text and speech solution.
  • Accessibility: Governments and standards bodies are now mandating accessible solutions for TV. Leveraging Nuance’s core speech technologies and natural language understanding, Dragon TV makes TV accessible to everyone.
  • Complex Acoustics: With Nuance’s Far-Talk technology, Dragon TV is able to break through the interferences of multiple acoustic sources and focus on what’s important for interpreting commands – the user’s voice.
“Traditional search on televisions is tedious and amazingly outdated,” said Michael Thompson, senior vice president and general manager, Nuance Mobile. “Dragon TV brings an amazing voice experience directly to the living room, similar to what people do every day on their phones and in their cars.”

Availability

Dragon TV is currently available for TV, device OEMs, operators and developers, supporting all major TV, set-top box, remote control and application platforms, including Linux, Android and iOS. For more information, visit www.nuancemobilelife.com.

About Nuance Communications, Inc.

Nuance Communications, Inc. (NASDAQ: NUAN) is a leading provider of voice and language solutions for businesses and consumers around the world. Its technologies, applications and services make the user experience more compelling by transforming the way people interact with devices and systems. Every day, millions of users and thousands of businesses experience Nuance’s proven applications. For more information, please visit www.nuance.com.

Nuance and the Nuance logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Nuance Communications, Inc. or its subsidiaries in the United States of America and/or other countries. All other company names or product names may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

The statements in this press release relating to future plans or future events or service, are forward-looking statements which are subject to specific risks and uncertainties. These could involve particular market trends, competition factors and other risks described in the documents submitted to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The actual results, events and services may vary significantly from the forecasts. The reader is warned not to rely on these forward-looking statements without reservation, since these are simply reflections of the current situation.

Sandhills Publishing, publisher of Smart Computing, releases a half-dozen apps into Apple's Newsstand

As someone who looks at just about every new magazine or newspaper app for tablets that gets released, one quickly gets jaded by the steady stream of replica editions. I tend to quickly jump to a conclusion about the app and then move on.
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One thing that I see all the time is that apps that utilize Apple's Newsstand try and reverse the previous trend of giving away digital products while still charging for print. Newsstand is seen by many publishers as a chance to make up for the decision, made many years ago, to give online readers free access to content.

But some publishers seem trapped in the nineties, still seemingly lost when it comes to their digital strategies – whether on the web or now on tablets.

That is certainly my first impression of these apps from Sandhills Publishing. The publisher of magazines such as Smart Computing and PC Today have launched a half dozen apps for their magazines all of which contain Newsstand support, but all of which give away their magazines for free. (Smart Computing, for instance, charges $29 for an annual subscription online.)

But reading the company's website one gets the idea that the publisher also gives their magazines away to certain locations, so it is possible that Sandhills employs a mixed distribution model. That would help to explain why a company would launch apps into Newsstand but not charge for the issues or for a subscription.

The half-dozen apps are replica editions, but they are also somewhat different in that some layouts are modified to fit the display while in landscape. But each page is a simple jpg or pdf of the page, without any ability to adjust fonts, use pinch-to-zoom, or embed interactive material or links. Without pinch-to-zoom, some pages are simply impossible to read – even taking a screenshot in order to zoom in using Photoshop reveals only a blurry mess.

Without more information one must assume that the business rationale behind these new apps is simply to extend the reach of the brands, as well as the ads inside the magazines. For an alterative weekly, or a free city/regional magazine, this would certainly be a logical.

(It is possible that these apps were created by 3D Issue, the company contracted to produce Flash flipbooks for the magazines – but no mention is made of an outside vendor)

It is always tempting to bash these simple replica apps, especially ones that give away the digital product while continuing to charge for print. But I suppose it is possible that the simple explanation is experimentation, or the need to impress advertisers. Who knows. It is possible that over time these apps will get updates that add in very important features like pinch-to-zoom, or a paid subscription mechanism. Then one could look back at these early apps as simply getting ones foot in the door.

Sandhills, based on the look of their websites, is not a company I would look to when it comes to digital publishing (their own corporate home page looks like an homage to 1995 web design.) But they now have six tablet editions inside Newsstand, something a lot of print publishers can not claim, so let's see where they can go from here.

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