Sighs of relief from local TV news over Aereo decision? Plus Android’s ‘connected universe’

Here’s our roundup of the top digital and social media stories you should know about (and from Andrew Beaujon, 10 media stories to start your day):

— Google laid out its vision of a “connected universe” of Android devices — with the phone in the center and Android Wear watches and Android Auto-equipped cars connected to it — at its annual I/O conference. Re/code’s Liz Gannes has a report.

The Moto 360 by Motorola, an Android Wear smartwatch, on the demo floor at Google I/O in San Francisco on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The Moto 360 by Motorola, an Android Wear smartwatch, on the demo floor at Google I/O in San Francisco on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

— The broadcasters’ win over Aereo in the Supreme Court yesterday means “local TV news likely dodged disaster,” Sarah Laskow explains at Columbia Journalism Review.

— Medium has hired tech writer Steven Levy as Twitter co-founder Evan Williams‘ new site “moves from platform to publisher,” David Carr reports in The New York Times. (Happily, there’s no sign of the term “platisher” in that story.)

— “Worldwide, men hold 77 percent of top jobs” at Facebook, Chris Welch writes at The Verge. “That’s only slightly better than Google, where 79 percent of leadership positions are filled by men.”

— American Press Institute’s Lisa Zimmermann has a Q&A with Tom Negrete, director of innovation and news operations for the Sacramento Bee, which has partnered with Stanford and other universities “on using data to create personalized approaches and systems to better serve readers and advertisers.”

— As Snapchat debuts a public “Our Story” feature, PandoDaily’s Michael Carney says “it’s starting to look like Snapchat saying no to an almost incomprehensible $3 billion acquisition offer may have actually been a great idea.”

— Twitter users send more than 500 million tweets per day. But accessing historical tweets for research purposes is no easy — or inexpensive — task, Kelly Fincham explains for Poynter.

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European court rules Google must remove links in privacy case

Court of Justice of the European Union | The New York Times | BBC | WAN-IFRA

Europeans have a right to have some data about themselves removed from search engines, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled Tuesday. If results display pages that are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed,” the search engine operator must remove them, the court ruled, even if the “publication in itself on those pages is lawful.”

The ruling comes in a case brought by Mario Costeja González, a Spaniard, who asked Google to remove “an announcement for a real-estate auction organised following attachment proceedings for the recovery of social security debts owed by Mr Costeja González” published by the newspaper La Vanguardia in the late ’90s.

Last year the court’s advocate general recommended Google should not be forced to remove the results. Europe proposed privacy regulations in 2012 that include a “right to be forgotten” unless the information is “necessary for historical, statistical and scientific research purposes” or reasons of public health or freedom of expression. The judgment “is strong tailwind” for those proposed regulations, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding wrote on Facebook. “Big data need big rights.”

A Google spokesperson told The New York Times’ James Kanter it “was ‘very surprised’ that the judgment ‘differs so dramatically’” from last year’s recommendation. “We now need to take time to analyse the implications,” a company spokesperson told the BBC.

The ruling allows that a “fair balance” must be sought in such cases that may depend on public interest, “an interest which may vary, in particular, according to the role played by the data subject in public life.”

Tuesday’s ruling is not the only example of European countries grappling with the pathways to digital information. Spanish newspaper publishers are backing legislation that would force aggregators to pay “even for the reproduction of headlines and snippets of text,” Paul McClean wrote Friday. Read more


Cal State Chico student to join Poynter as Google fellow

Benjamin Mullin, a student at California State University, Chico, and former editor of its campus paper, joins Poynter this summer as its 2014 Google Fellow.

Mullin and 10 other students will work at journalism organizations throughout the country focusing on data-driven journalism, online expression, rethinking journalism business models and using technology to tell stories in novel ways. Read more


Flipboard acquires Zite from CNN as bigger players are moving into news aggregation

CNN Money

CNN has sold personalized news aggregator Zite to Flipboard for $60 million, CNN Money reports. Flipboard will also offer custom magazines for some CNN shows as part of the deal.

Zite — whose algorithm always manages to surface customized content that I don’t come across anywhere else — was previously acquired by CNN in 2011. In December, AllThingsD reported that a new round of funding valued Flipboard — with its 100 million active users — at $800 million.

The consolidation by two of the largest news readers comes as major players like Google, Facebook and Yahoo have moved to compete in the space. Read more

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Poynter at SXSW: Algorithms, Journalism and Democracy

Editor’s Note: Poynter will be at South by Southwest, the annual music, movie and interactive festival, March 7-16, in Austin, Texas. Look for our Poynter faculty members, Roy Peter Clark, Ellyn Angelotti and Kelly McBride, and digital media reporter Sam Kirkland. Here is the third in a series of posts on what we’ll be doing at SXSW.

Algorithms control the marketplace of ideas. They grant power to certain information as it flies through the digital space and take power away from other information. Algorithms control who sees what on social-media sites such as Facebook and YouTube, through search engines such as Google and Bing, and even in defined news spaces such as The New York Times, with its lists of most-shared and most-commented features, and Yahoo News.

Just ask some poor guy who’s tried to get his old DUI photo removed from a scurrilous mug-shot site. Having your old mug shot out there in the ether isn’t so bad, except when it turns up on the first page of a Google search for your name. That mug-shot sites were able to make a killing by charging to remove information is a testament to the power of algorithms. That Google and other search engines were able to penalize mug-shot sites (after The New York Times and other news organizations drew attention to the scummy practice) is a testament to the mysterious power of the people who control the algorithms.

This used to be the job of editors, whom we described as gatekeepers. Those editors were flawed human beings, biased by their own perspectives. And it was hard to hold them accountable because their process for making decisions was a private one.

But algorithms are by their very nature biased, meant to give priority to some information and de-emphasize other information. And it’s even harder to determine the biases of an algorithm than it is to determine the biases of a human editor.

If you’re concerned with democracy, you’re in favor of holding algorithms accountable for their impact on the marketplace of ideas.

Nicholas Diakopoulos argues in a paper issued this month for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism that journalists are the natural check on powerful algorithms. His report is aptly titled Algorithmic Accountability Reporting: On the Investigation of Black Boxes.

How can journalists demystify algorithms? First by observing and describing how certain algorithms are working. Then by questioning the assumptions. And finally by reverse-engineering those algorithms to force more transparency into the system.

Diakopoulos offers a methodology for doing so, which includes isolating the algorithm, testing it with a valid sample, talking to sources, and then revealing newsworthy findings. His process requires a certain base of knowledge and familiarity with how algorithms work. But one need not be a computer programmer to do this work — the report cites several examples of such journalism and describes how the reporters arrived at their conclusions.

This method very much follows the scientific method, Diakopoulos writes. I would argue that certain communities and audiences could be enlisted to help with the work.

Deciphering algorithms is more than just determining how they work. It’s also describing why certain information or information providers are so much better at optimizing certain algorithms. For instance, Upworthy got really good at the Facebook algorithm late last year. Then Facebook changed its algorithm, apparently de-emphasizing Upworthy because it doesn’t create original content. As a result, another site, Mental Floss, saw a huge benefit.

Describing what’s happening in algorithms is a critical function of journalism. Why is this type of informed analysis crucial to democracy?

  • It informs citizens and makes them more literate. The more people know about why they organically get certain information and have to hunt for other information, they more they know what to hunt for.
  • It holds the powerful accountable. Most private companies are never going to reveal what values they prioritize. But helping citizens decipher the apparent values gives them the power to pressure companies to be honest brokers.
  • It levels the playing field, sharing information held by a few with the masses.

Betaworks’ Chief Data Scientist Gilad Lotan and I will team up for a SXSW session exploring Algorithms, Journalism and Democracy on Sunday, March 9, at 6 p.m. ET (5 p.m. CT), at SXSW in Austin, Texas.

Related: Poynter at SXSW: The ins and outs of Twibel | Poynter at SXSW: Welcome back to the WED dance Read more

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U.S. appeals court orders YouTube take down anti-Muslim film

Associated Press | Reuters | EFF

In Wednesday’s decision on Garcia v. Google Inc., a three-judge panel for the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered YouTube to remove the video “Innocence of Muslims” from its platform. It also reinstated Cindy Lee Garcia’s copyright lawsuit against Google.

The 2012 video, created by filmmaker Mark Basseley Youssef, led to riots and deaths throughout the Middle East. The 13-minute film depicts the Prophet Mohammed as a “fool and a sexual deviant.”

President Obama and other world leaders had asked YouTube to take down the video, but YouTube resisted due to “unwarranted government censorship” that “would violate the Google-owned company’s free speech protections.” Read more

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Two biggest social networks

Facebook vs. Google, social media vs. SEO: Why BuzzFeed data shouldn’t declare a winner

Last week, the latest traffic referral report from BuzzFeed caught Marshall Simmonds’s eye. The data indicated Facebook delivered about 3.5 times more page views to BuzzFeed Network sites in December than Google did:



If that observation were broadly applicable to publishers across the web, it would be a game-changer. Simmonds, CEO of Define Media Group, thought it wasn’t, so he posted a rebuttal responding to writers who he felt interpreted the chart too broadly. Read more


Three simple Google tools journalists can adopt to draw traffic

Google is increasingly emphasizing the ways it can be of service to the media, and the company held a summit in Chicago last week sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists, the Online News Association and Northwestern University’s Knight Lab.

I won’t get into the weeds of how to build Fusion Tables or use the Maps Engine in this recap of the event — see Google’s new Media Tools site for detailed resources. Instead, here are three simple strategies for taking advantage of Google’s products that you can implement right away.

1. Sign up for Google+ Authorship

Google’s Nicholas Whitaker opened a session on Google+ by asking how many of us had a Google+ profile. Most of us raised our hands. Then he asked how many of us actually use our Google+ profiles. The majority of those hands went down, triggering laughter.

To be fair, a comprehensive introduction to any social network, including Facebook and Twitter, would likely be as overwhelming as this one was. The difference is that getting people to use Facebook and Twitter never required quite as much convincing — adoption happened more organically, whereas using Google+ feels like jumping through fiery hoops at a circus with sparse attendance.

I’m still not convinced diverting major social-media resources to Google+ posts makes sense, but news organizations and individual journalists should take a minute to sign up for Authorship. If you have an email address on the same domain as your content (e.g. an email if you write for, it’s easy to link your bylined stories that show up in Google Search with your Google+ profile and other articles you’ve written. That’s good for discoverability and doesn’t require any extra work once you’ve set it up.

Google is, of course, the dominant search engine. So that makes this hoop worth jumping through even if you don’t buy into the social sharing aspect of Google+. Noted Whitaker: “As a journalist, the best thing to do is take ownership of your Google+ profile and your authorship online.”

2. Try Google URL shortener

The folks at Google didn’t lead a session on this particular tool, but Fernando Diaz, the managing editor of Hoy, Tribune’s Spanish-language paper in Chicago, said during a panel that his publication uses Google URL Shortener. A big advantage over Bitly: It breaks down clicks by browser (such as Safari vs. Firefox vs. Chrome) and platform (such as Macintosh vs. Linux vs. Windows).

How many of your readers visit you via mobile devices? Which devices, and at what time of day? These answers can help determine the best time to tweet stories, and whether to use mobile-friendly links if you have them.

One caveat: These analytics are public, so if you want your click analytics to be proprietary, Google URL Shortener isn’t for you. But it’s a good option for journalists who want a very simple way to track what’s happening to their links after they tweet them or tout them with a Facebook post.

3. Become more visible on Google News

News organizations can’t afford to miss out on the referral possibilities from Google News aggregation, so Google’s Natalie Gross offered best practices for making sure the crawler picks up your stories as efficiently as possible — by submitting a Google News Sitemap, for example.

Publishers should also be aware of keyword metatags to emphasize subject matter that might not be obvious from certain headlines (see: “WALL ST. LAYS AN EGG”) and the standout tag, which can be used up to seven times per week for significant stories.

Related: Google gathers tools for journalists in one spot Read more

Google Play Newsstand, a new platform from Google for Android devices. (

Is Google Play Newsstand a viable alternative to standalone Android apps?

Google introduced its latest platform for consuming news on Android devices today, suggesting that news organizations’ native apps aren’t serving readers well — even as those apps continue to be offered in the Google Play Store.

The new Google Play Newsstand replaces Android’s Magazine and Currents apps and promises one central home for magazine and newspaper subscriptions on smartphones and tablets.

But fear not: This has nothing in common with Apple’s much-maligned and same-named Newsstand, which is little more than a forced hub for certain news apps. Rather, the Google Play Newsstand is an app itself, a Flipboard-style reader with content from major publications like the Chicago Tribune and free blogs like the Verge. Crucially — and here’s how it separates itself from Currents — Newsstand allows for paid, subscription-based access, bringing paywall publishers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal into the fold.

It’s a nice, simple way to consume newspaper and magazine content on Android devices, and it aims to learn what kind of content you’re interested in so it can help you customize which feeds you see. Still, it’s not quite the one-stop shop for news that it purports to be in a blog post:

“Staying up on the news can be a daunting task. You have to go to a different website or app for each of your favorite magazines, newspapers and blogs. One place to read and discover all of this would be a lot simpler.”

But here’s the thing: Those separate apps still exist inside the Google Play Store, and some of them, like the Journal, offer more robust features than Newsstand does. Moreover, some news organizations, like the Chicago Sun-Times (where I used to work), haven’t joined Newsstand yet, so you can only get its content via apps or the web.

Viewed on a 2012 Nexus 7, the Wall Street Journal in Google Play Newsstand, left, and in its native Android app, right.

So what’s the play here, if you’ll pardon the pun? Is Google hoping to steer news organizations away from native news apps altogether and bring all news content under one roof on Android?

As it stands, the different roofs are confusing. If a reader sees Newsstand and assumes that’s where she should search for the Sun-Times, she won’t find the newspaper’s native app, which only appears if you search the entire Play Store or only the store’s app section. Meanwhile, a reader looking for The Wall Street Journal sees two options: one in the Newsstand section and another in the apps section.

Michael Rolnick, head of digital at Dow Jones & Co., told Poynter via phone that the big advantage of Newsstand is that a large audience can stumble upon Journal content and sample it without downloading a separate app. If the Journal converts those readers to digital subscribers, it can point them to other products, like the app.

In that sense, the two platforms could be complementary, especially because the Journal’s app — which mimics print in terms of story selection and design — offers an experience distinct from what’s offered by Newsstand (although the Journal’s app is a much clunkier experience on lower-end Android tablets than it is on the iPad).

Viewed on a 2012 Nexus 7, the New York Times in Google Play Newsstand, left, and in its native Android app, right.

The New York Times in Newsstand, meanwhile, mimics the Times app to the extent that it nearly renders the app redundant. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Times abandon its native Android app in favor of a strong presence on Newsstand, which has the advantage of being a default app on new Android devices. And I’d expect smaller newspapers like the Sun-Times to start feeding content to Newsstand as well.

Why devote resources to maintaining a native app if Android offers a built-in platform that achieves much of the same functionality?

Read more


Google gathers tools for journalists in one spot

Wednesday, Google unveiled a new home for its products that might help journalists.

“What we hope is that it allows the journalists who already have some understanding of these tools to further explore them,” Daniel Sieberg, Google’s head of media outreach, said in a phone call with Poynter. “And for the ones who didn’t know, it gives them a place to start.”

The site offers stops for finding trends and surveys, sections on publishing, a maps engine — including a lite version that allows users to customize maps and add in locations — and even the company’s own Transparency Report, showing requests from governments around the world for removal of content during the past six months. Read more

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