‘News About the News’ or … The Times (And Post, etc.) are a-Changin’

In case you missed it – that is, you momentarily blinked – the news about the news has been a’changin.

And fast. This is the news about the news, mind you, the title of a well-regarded journalism book by Leonard Downie Jr. and Robert G. Kaiser, in their case with the subtitle “American Journalism in Peril.”

A few tidbits as this update was about to be posted, some of these directly relevant to the feature pieces in this same September 15, 2009, update.

First, the Good News: NPR Transcripts Now Free

Remember all those self-proclaimed “driveway moments” National Public Radio always says keep listeners hanging in their driveways to hear to the end? Time was when transcripts of those “missed or maddening stories,” as NPR’s ombudsman calls them, used to cost $3.95 each.

Now, they’re available free at npr.org via the link to transcripts.

Once the domain of librarians and specialists, says NPR Senior VP Kinsey Wilson, the transcripts now can be more easily distributed via search engines and social media, giving the program content “an entirely different value than it did in the past.” Along with the free audio of NPR programming, the transcripts now also are available without cost, generally within four to six hours after airing.

And More Good News …

Check out MediaCloud.org, developed by Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, for a new – still emerging – tool that should prove useful for tracking coverage in key media outlets.

The site in time is expected to let users search by name, place, subject, and event. What were the top stories covered by this or that medium, etc? The public site now generally accessible, “still in early development,” is a great tease and come-on. Time will tell if the site can emerge as the invaluable research tool hinted at in its earliest days.

Still More Good News … Or Is It?

The omnipotent and ubiquitous Google – never heard of them? – September 15 launched a new experiment said to combine print and Web qualities to let online users “‘flip’ through pages online as quickly as flipping through a magazine or newspaper. Users of the new Google service can also “follow friends and topics, discover new content, and create their own custom magazines around searches,” the company says.

The service “is meant to duplicate the look and feel of perusing a printed publication,” Associated Press correspondent Michael Liedtke reported, without the usual delays in waiting for new pages to load. The site, initially at least, provides the first page of a story, offering a link to the original publisher’s site for those wanting to read more. The roughly three-dozen publishers initially providing their stories get revenues from paid ads Google shows in the new format, a break from Google’s past practices, which newspaper interests have criticized for cannibalizing their copy.

The A.P. story quoted participating a New York Times official as calling the new Google experiment “a balancing act …. a richer interface, which is part of its appeal. But creating a powerful new aggregator is not in the Times‘ interest.”

In its own story on the new Google service, Times reporter Miguel Helft quoted the chief executive of Salon Media Group, a Fastflip participant, as saying “I don’t look at this as the solution to the future of journalism …. But who knows? We will learn from it.”

Helft quoted the Times official as saying “Of course there is a concern … That doesn’t mean you don’t participate.”

And the Not So Good News about Nonprofit News …

A closely watched nonprofit local news outfit, the Chi-Town Daily News September 12 announced it is calling it quits on its nonprofit local/regional journalism venture.

The group envisions a new for-profit effort that “works aggressively to hold public officials accountable to voters and empowers members of long-ignored communities to tell their neighborhood’s stories,” Editor Geoff Dougherty blogged. “We’ve concluded that, as a nonprofit, we cannot raise the money we need to build a truly robust local news organization that provides comprehensive local coverage.” He said such an effort needs between one-to-two million dollars a year to adequately cover “a city as sprawling and complex as Chicago … we’ve never come close to that.”

With about $300,000 raised last year and perhaps less this year, “we’ve decided to turn our efforts toward a business model that will support the kind of vibrant public affairs coverage that Chicago deserves.”

Dougherty wrote that the group hopes to sell its existing website to local groups committed to citizen journalism. Meanwhile, he said the staff will use volunteers to update the site, along with news content provided by a Loyola University City News reporting class.

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