Monthly Archives: February 2011

Facebook and the Future of Labor Unions

Tom Hayes examines the role of social media for members of labor unions:


If anyone in the world should be paying close attention to the grassroots political unrest in the Middle East, it is Big Business and Big Labor in America. The rise of self-organized groups of people toppling once-entrenched regimes is a harbinger of things to come here in the U.S. too.

For now, traditional battle lines are more immediate. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to break the public employee union there is being characterized by some as a last gasp test for Labor. It is not. The fate of big unions has already been cast. Like record stores and time-bound television, the labor union as an organizing device has outlived its usefulness: people simply don’t need intermediaries to organize them into groups anymore.

But Corporate America shouldn’t get too excited. In fact, the rise of organic self-organization–the powerful force behind social media and its massive communities like Facebook, LinkedIn, QQ and Twitter–has already changed the marketplace and is an emerging threat to all industrial-age institutions, be they governmental, commercial, political, social, or religious. When you empower individuals you necessarily weaken organizations.

While the hidebound institution of the union will become less relevant, organized labor as a force will become more powerful in years to come. Things will just happen differently. The nexus of the Internet and ubiquitous mobile communications makes collective action easier and more imperative than ever. As consumers, people have gotten a taste for their new power. They have already busted the backs of other big intermediaries, like the music industry and chain bookstores. The training wheels are coming off and soon people will turn their sites to other collective endeavors. All the same impulses that motivate people to join affinity groups for fun, shopping and hobbies will soon take a serious turn with political and economic implications. Think Groupon for social action.

Like all institutions trying to slow their decline in an age of networks, labor unions have scurried to get hip to the new media. But attempts to galvanize social network unionism through clone Facebook services like UnionBook have fallen flat. People don’t need others to tell them how to organize; they can talk directly to each other now.

Besides, the issue is much bigger than social media as a tactic. The Internet has fundamentally changed group-forming in our time. The presence of more than two billion people (and twice that many to come in the next decade) on the World Wide Web now means that for essentially every person in the developed world, and a sizable minority of everyone else, the rules of social organization have changed forever. We are no longer bound by proximity, social contract, tradition, or limited information in our selection of the groups we choose to join.

Continue reading:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

News Outlet Exclusively On Facebook

The Nieman Journalism Lab through Harvard University examines a new D.C. news outlet which will operate entirely on Facebook:


Say you run a community news site. In your spare time. And Patch has moved into your neighborhood. How do you, with limited resources but a desire to keep contributing to your community, stay competitive?

One site’s solution: Take the “site” out of “news site.” Starting March 1, Rockville Central, a community news outlet for the DC-area city of Rockville, Maryland, will move its operation to…its Facebook page. Entirely to its Facebook page.

“There are always two different conversations going on,” Cindy Cotte Griffiths, the site’s editor, told me — one on, and the other on the site’s Facebook page. Why force the two to compete with each other, when they’re actually, in general, the same conversation? Facebook is, Cotte Griffiths notes, “where the people are.” (Rockville Central currently gets about 2,000 of its average 20,000 monthly hits from Facebook, she told me.) “Everyone’s always trying to get people out of Facebook,” she says. “And we’re like, ‘Well, we’re already here.’”

There are some obvious benefits to the all-Facebook approach. Facebook, for one, has a huge built-in audience — one that is used to sharing and commenting on and contributing content. It has a built-in infrastructure — one that easily accommodates multimedia. It has, essentially, a built-in mobile app. For an outlet that’s run by people who do that running in their spare time — that is, publishers who have even less time than most to deal with concerns about site design, server capacity, and other logistical aspects of digital journalism — Facebook’s insta-infrastructure could free up time that may be spent on more traditionally journalistic endeavors: fact-gathering, conversation-guiding, content-aggregating, community-building, etc.

Continue reading:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Is Hyperlocal News Profitable?

This week longtime technology journalist Paul Gillin examines the rise and fall of the hyperlocal news operation TBD:

Wow, that was fast.

Just six months after it was launched as the most ambitious hyperlocal news operation in the US, Washington’s TBD has cut expenses deeply and narrowed  its mission to arts and entertainment. One third of the staff – or 12 employees – were let go this week. The apparent chaos at TBD is evidenced by the fact that general manager Bill Lord, who came on board just two weeks ago, said layoffs were only one of several options being contemplated at that time. Owner Allbritton Communications cited low traffic figures as the cause of the cutbacks. Considering that TBD racked up 6 million page views in January, it must have needed a lot of traffic to cover expenses.

Continue to story:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Following The Murdoch Money Trail

Allan Sloan examines how shareholder money funds Rupert Murdoch’s family deals:


The Murdoch family owns only about 12 percent of News Corp., but Rupert Murdoch sure runs the place like a wholly owned family candy store. The company, blurring the distinction between public and family business, makes deals with family members, using shareholder money to get them into the corporate fold.

The most recent example is the $675 million deal for News Corp. to buy Shine Group, a London-based TV production company majority-owned by Murdoch’s daughter, Elisabeth. As part of the deal, she’ll go on News Corp.’s board. In other words, News Corp. is buying Elisabeth, not just her company.

Once at News Corp., she’ll be competing with two board members, her brothers, James and Lachlan, to become the next leader of News Corp., the world’s biggest and most influential media company. Its properties include the Fox networks, the Wall Street Journal, BSkyB and the New York Post.

James has been at News Corp. since 1996, when the company bought an 80 percent stake in his start-up Rawkus hip-hop record label for an undisclosed sum. Rawkus closed in 2004.

James set up his company after dropping out of Harvard. Elisabeth had worked in the News Corp. empire, then stalked out to start her own business. But now, they’ve both been brought – and bought – into the family fold.

I have no idea whether the Shine deal is a good deal or a bad one for News Corp. Its properties include MasterChef, Law & Order UK and Biggest Loser, but $675 million is a lot of money. What I do know is that Elisabeth Murdoch is the Biggest Winner here. In case you’re interested – and why shouldn’t you be? – this deal is a payday of about $300 million for Elisabeth and her trusts, owners of a combined 53.5 percent of Shine’s stock, according to public records.

News Corp. says it’s paying 415 British pounds for Shine, including debt that it’s assuming. Subtract 45 million pounds for the debt, convert pounds to dollars, and the 53.5 percent stake is worth about $320 million.


This is the second time Elisabeth and Daddy have done business. The first time, in 1994, Rupert found two California TV stations for Elisabeth and her then-husband to buy, and he guaranteed the $35 million loan they took out to buy the stations. They flipped them less than two years later for a $12 million profit.

Did Rupert, who as chairman of News Corp. has a fiduciary obligation to his shareholders, offer the company the first bite at those TV stations? Did the company’s board approve the Rawkus deal that brought James into the company? News Corp. declined to comment. The company says that its attorneys vetted the tentative Shine transaction (which is an agreement in principle) and that the board approved it unanimously and will vote again after negotiations.

Four years ago, News did a multibillion-dollar deal to cement Murdoch family control: trading assets and cash to John Malone’s Liberty Media in return for Liberty’s News Corp. stock, including a hefty holding of voting shares that threatened the family’s control. But News Corp.’s public shareholders got the right to vote on the Liberty transaction. That’s not the case in the family deals.

How can Murdoch do this with only about a 12 percent stake in a giant public company? Because only about 30 percent of News Corp.’s shares have voting power, and Murdoch and a family trust own 40 percent of them. And because he’s Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch has turned an obscure Australian newspaper company into a global colossus. On the way, he ignored Wall Street’s opinions, took huge risks and generally succeeded. No matter how much you respect him, this all-in-the-family stuff just isn’t right for a public firm.

Continue to next page:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Great Paywall Debate

How will the paywall system play out for the newspaper industry in the coming future? Cary Spivak reports:

Newspaper publishers and executives these days can be divided into three groups:

First, there are those who charge readers to view at least some of their content on computers as well as smart phones or tablet devices like the iPad.

Second, there are those who are thinking about doing just that.

The third group? Executives who are watching the first two.

Proponents and critics alike agree that 2011 will see many revenue-starved newspapers begin charging for online news. Some will lock up much of their local content, while others will use a meter system in which readers get a handful of pageviews free but have to pony up if they want more. Still others will charge only for certain types of stories, say, news about a particular pro or college sports team or a specific industry. Most will continue to make some of their content available without charge.

Continue reading:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Huff? Nooo! As Longtime Huffington Hands Cash In, Others ‘What If?’

A select few at the Huffington Post will be receiving compensation for their writing.  Mike Taylor at Media Mob details further:

A certain amount of grumbling is par for the course in the media business these days—an ambient hum so pervasive you almost forget it’s there. But that disconsolate keening seems to have reached a new pitch with AOL’s staggering $315 million purchase of the Huffington Post, an aggregation-loving site that, in the words of one Web editor, makes fellow page-view-hoarders Tina Brown and Nick Denton “look heroic.” The deal means hefty payouts not only for proprietress Arianna Huffington (rumored to have landed somewhere around $20 million) but also for some of her minions. Sources tell The Observer that a half-dozen or so original employees are expecting payouts of around $1 million each.

Continue to story:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

U.K. Papers’ Paywalls A Test Of Relevance

The Times and The Sunday Times in the U.K.  have recently launched digital paywalls on their websites. Will the U.K. experiment become relevant to U.S. newspaper publishers?  NPR reports:


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I’m Robert Siegel.

Conventional wisdom tells us that readers are only willing to pay for online news that, A, fuels their passion, or B, helps them make money. Across the Atlantic, though, two leading daily newspapers have ignored conventional wisdom, putting up an ironclad digital pay wall.

As NPR’s David Folkenflik reports, they’re testing whether they can remain relevant while telling readers the free ride is over.

(Soundbite of protest)

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: On a recent visit to London, I came across huge protests clotting the streets. College students were enraged by the government’s proposals to raise tuition. It made headlines everywhere including the Times of London. But if you clicked on, nothing. The Times of London and its sister paper the Sunday Times together have one of daily journalism’s most rigid digital pay walls.

Aside from a brief trial period, if you don’t pay, you can’t read their content on the Web, on the iPad, iPhone, wherever.

Tom Whitwell is assistant editor of the Times of London, with the responsibility for its website. He says making people pay is crucial.

Continue to radio broadcast:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The NYT’s journalistic obedience

This interesting article by Salon’s Glenn Greenwald details how The New York Times knew about the work of Raymond Davis for the CIA (including Blackwater) but concealed it because of pressure from the government.

Earlier today, I wrote in detail about new developments in the case of Raymond Davis, the former Special Forces soldier who shot and killed two Pakistanis on January 27, sparking a diplomatic conflict between the U.S. (which is demanding that he be released on the ground of “diplomatic immunity”) and Pakistan (whose population is demanding justice and insisting that he was no “diplomat”).  But I want to flag this new story separately because it’s really quite amazing and revealing.

Yesterday, as I noted earlier, The Guardian reported that Davis — despite Obama’s description of him as “our diplomat in Pakistan” — actually works for the CIA, and further noted that Pakistani officials believe he worked with Blackwater.  When reporting that, The Guardian noted that many American media outlets had learned of this fact but deliberately concealed it — because the U.S. Government told them to:  “A number of US media outlets learned about Davis’s CIA role but have kept it under wraps at the request of the Obama administration.”

Now it turns out that The New York Times — by its own shameless admission — was one of those self-censoring, obedient media outlets.  Now that The Guardian published its story last night, the NYT just now published a lengthy article detailing Davis’ work — headlined:  “American Held in Pakistan Shootings Worked With the C.I.A.” — and provides a few more details:


The American arrested in Pakistan after shooting two men at a crowded traffic stop was part of a covert, C.I.A.-led team of operatives conducting surveillance on militant groups deep inside the country, according to American government officials. . . . Mr. Davis has worked for years as a C.I.A. contractor, including time at Blackwater Worldwide, the controversial private security firm (now called Xe) that Pakistanis have long viewed as symbolizing a culture of American gun slinging overseas.

Continue reading:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Murdoch in Waiting

Tim Arango details the relationship between media mogul Rupert Murdoch and speculation over his son James’ eventual takeover of News Corp.

ON a night in late January when he should have been in the Swiss village of Davos, James Murdoch went to dinner here with his father, Rupert, and several journalists from The Sun, the tabloid that the Murdochs have owned since 1969.

In the private room at Wheeler’s of St. James’s, father and son politely argued about the lesser of the public controversies swirling around the Murdoch empire: the firing of Andy Gray, the chief soccer pundit for their Sky Sports network, for making sexist comments.

“Can we stop firing people for making a joke?” Rupert Murdoch asked.

James Murdoch defended the decision to fire Mr. Gray and later stood up, tapped a glass and reminded the gathering that it was 25 years ago that his father had busted London newspaper unions, a seminal event in both British labor history and the historical narrative of the Murdoch media kingdom, the News Corporation.

Unmentioned that evening was the deepening investigationinto the practice among journalists at The News of the World, another Murdoch tabloid, of hacking into the voice mail of the famous. The scandal alone would not have caused James Murdoch to cancel his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos. (It was not, as the British press would have it, Rupert Murdoch who was scheduled to be in Davos.) Rather, it was that the uproar might threaten the single biggest deal in the News Corporation’s history: a $12 billion takeover bid for British Sky Broadcasting. The deal has been facing opposition in both the British media and the government, and some of the criticism has come from some longtime Murdoch allies.

The perennial speculation is whether James Murdoch, 38, will one day run the News Corporation. But the pertinent fact is that as the chairman and chief executive of its businesses in Europe and Asia, he already runs a large and growing part of it. If the Sky transaction is approved, the businesses reporting to James Murdoch would account for roughly half of the News Corporation’s annual revenue.

James Murdoch has risen higher in the company than his older siblings, Lachlan, 39, and Elisabeth, 42, who went to work for their father and later left acrimoniously. With Rupert about to turn 80, the issue of succession has taken on more importance. He may never name a sole heir; his preference, executives say, is to have all three involved. He has unsuccessfully sought to bring Lachlan back to the company, but as soon as this week could announce a deal to return Elisabeth to the fold, by buying her television production company, Shine.

Now James faces his greatest test: whether he can put an end to the phone-hacking scandal — without the company facing more troubling revelations, an embarrassingly high amount in damages or the collapse of the takeover of Sky. The News Corporation already controls a 39 percent stake of Sky, and James remains its chairman after serving as C.E.O. from 2003 until 2007. (The takeover, if successful, would let the News Corporation finally consolidate Sky’s growing profits on its balance sheet.)

James Murdoch is trying to succeed at the company his father built, but he is a very different character: more blunt, more bureaucratic and less able to smooth ruffled feathers. He has his father’s aggressiveness but not his tactical sense or temperance.

Ultimately, the deal for Sky could be undone by the tabloid sensibilities of the News Corporation, a heritage for which he seems to have little affection. But he faces this challenge at a time when he has become a steadier presence in the company, having emerged from a period of corporate infighting, particularly in 2009 and early 2010. Then, his efforts to involve himself in News Corporation entities outside his purview alienated several longtime executives and raised tensions between New York and London, according to several executives who spoke on condition of anonymity to maintain relationships with the family.

JAMES MURDOCH declined to speak on the record for this article. He put forward numerous people who know him well to speak on his behalf, and he asked others, including longtime friends from his childhood in New York City and time at Harvard, not to speak. (One of his best college friends, after first agreeing to speak, e-mailed with the note: “Sorry for not getting back to you earlier. As you probably figured out, the P.R. people at News Corp are handling this.”) Many others spoke without first seeking James’s permission.

Continue to page 2:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

2 Platforms, With 2 Sets of Problems

David Carr details the ongoing battle between news publishers and Apple over subscription plans:


Digital subscriptions, a grail for the mainstream media that often seemed more like a mirage, took on some firm if not altogether friendly dimensions last week.

Traditional print publishers have spent the past few years cast in the role of the nice old-fashioned girl in high school who was ignored while more recent arrivals got all the attention. But last week, print was suddenly the popular girl, with not just one but two of the big men on campus — Apple and Google — stepping up with digital subscription plans. Publishers, who have been stuck selling single issues rather than subscriptions since the iPad came out last April, suddenly had a way to electronically replicate their subscription business with the hope of bringing in much needed revenue from digital consumers.

Apple came knocking on Tuesday with a plan that did not so much offer terms as dictate them in granting access to Apple’s vast installed base of consumers in the App Store and growing cadre of readers on the iPad. In return, publishers would give up 30 percent off the top, control over pricing of their digital product in other realms (no undercutting the Apple price) and their direct relationship with consumers. With its enviable tandem of products that everyone wants and a store where everyone buys, Apple believes it has the leverage to tell publishers: They are our customers. You can rent them, but they will remain in our custody.

The very next day, Google unveiled its One Pass plan. It included a 10 percent cut on transactions but allowed publishers to set prices and terms. It also would enable consumers to use a single user name and password for access to content they’d paid for on a variety of devices. Publishers would share in the data supplied by consumers and be free to include any number of options — subscriptions, day passes, metered access, pay-per-article plans, multi-issue packages. One Pass has been hailed as a do-over for publishers, but it could also be a bit of a make-over for Google, which historically has not been on great terms with publishers. The company did, after all, play a primary role in turning expensive content into a free commodity. In the Google approach, the customers would be shared with the publishers.

For publishers, all this was, and is, a moment of reckoning. The new subscriptions would be lovely but dear. Apple demands a steep share of the revenue, but also denies publishers precious consumer data. Before the Web, print advertisers had to live with the fact that they were buying some share of an audience they didn’t want. That world has changed. Now advertisers are looking for more accountability and targeting from all forms of media. Apple was essentially offering the same terms to publishers who had spent decades building brands that it extended to any teenager who came up with an app a few months ago.

True enough, Apple said that if publishers were able to see a digital subscription on their own Web site, they could keep all the money and data, but by not allowing links to the publisher from the app itself on the iPad, that’s a big bag of empty. Anyone who has been near an iPad will tell you that the chances of people leaving that one-tap purchase environment to trundle over to a publisher’s Web site are tiny. (Those terms of engagement and the power over pricing were onerous enough to draw the attention of the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, both agencies had taken a “preliminary” interest in whether Apple’s approach to selling digital subscriptions was anticompetitive.)

As a bone to media providers, consumers could be asked to share information with publishers. That is what happened when I signed up for a subscription to Popular Science. “The developer would like your name, e-mail, and zip code so they can send you messages about related products in accordance with their privacy policy.” Gee, let me think about that. Umm, no thanks.

When Apple opened the door to subscriptions on Tuesday, publishers mostly stood pat, offering up only a few magazines — Popular Science, Elle and Nylon — as experiments. Apple’s announcement included no major partnerships, and big publishers like Time Inc., Hearst and Condé Nast were muted or silent in their responses.

It makes sense in a way. Mindful of the power of precedent when it comes to control over pricing — the music business is a most vivid object lesson — publishers are in no big hurry to hold hands with the folks from Cupertino.

“If you are a publisher, it puts things into a tailspin: The business model you have been working with for many years just lost 30 percent off the top,” said David Wertheimer, chief executive and executive director of the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California. “It will be a battle of wills.”

Because the iPad created an entire new category, in this case one that makes old media dazzle like new, it is difficult to tell how much of the market Apple will end up owning once it matures. Is the iPad analogous to the iPod, which essentially owns the category, or more like the iPhone, with which Apple opened a commanding lead only to have Google, through its Android software, close the gap through cheaper and more open alternatives? Significant competition among tablet makers could give publishers some room to negotiate.

“If I were a publisher, I would definitely take my time,” said John Squires, a consultant and former executive at Time Inc. and Next Issue Media, the industry consortium that was set up to create a digital newsstand. “Why agree to terms that you can’t live with in the future?”

Continue reading:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized