Nov 12

Google and the difference between information and knowledge

I am a regular reader of Frederic Filloux’s weekly commentary on media, The Monday Note. I cannot recommend it too highly for its trenchant originality.

Triggered by a new wave of complaint about Google in Europe, today’s note looks at Google’s interest in legacy news media. Why, Filloux asks, has Google maintained Google News for so long when it makes no money and when news sites are so relatively insignificant as sources in Google’s gigantic search business?

He thinks that the answer lies in Google’s planned move from being a search engine to being a knowledge engine: the ability to deliver more sophisticated and useful answers than most of us can dream automated search can now deliver. At the heart of that effort is something called Knowledge Graph. And the key to that is the boring-but-important issue of the structure of data. News media connect bits of information to make it knowledge people may want and need.

As Filloux points out, pure-play web news sites are often better at this than the ones built by established mainstream media – despite the fact that the legacy media often hold richer, bigger databases. New media’s data is easier to find because what is stored is better labelled and can be made sense more easily.

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Jan 12

Paywalls, niche, mass and “general interest”

Here are two posts for anyone at all intrigued by what kind of income keeps journalism – and particularly journalism institutions – in business.

  • Clay Shirky on payment “threshold” schemes which are becoming more and more common in the US, particularly since the New York Times porous paywall looks as if it’s delivering on at least one aim of preserving the online audience while collecting some revenue from committed online users. Whether that’s enough revenue – Shirky thinks not – is another question.
  • Frederic Filloux on what we don’t yet know about the NYT scheme and on the striking price rises just announced by both the NYT and the Financial Times for their print editions. Filloux sees this, rightly I’m sure, as evidence of both titles trying to drive their readers online.

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Jan 11

Filloux on Le Monde

Anyone at all familiar with the French daily Le Monde will want to look at this trenchant takeout by Frederic Filloux, who reports that he was informally approached about whether he might be interested in the editorship. He decided not to be interested because the paper’s present mess is so bad.

If people are shying away from jobs which until quite recently they might have killed to get, things must be bad. On Filloux’s view, the new owners aren’t very smart, the consultative procedures with the staff don’t work and the paper’s internet strategy is awful.

Filloux’s account prompts three quick observations:
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Oct 10

Lessig, El Pais, science reporting and Filloux

Occasionally I have to collect a series of bits and pieces into a roundup/catchup because I can’t find a thematic string on which I can thread the beads I’ve collected. This is one of those posts.

  • Of all the media stories across the globe in the past week, the hedge-fund pair who have taken a rescuing and controlling stake in the debt-crippled Prisa group, whose flagship is the Madrid daily El Pais and which operates throughout the Spanish-speaking world, look like the most important. The background history is here and a look at the new owners is here. “Industry agnostic” owners who don’t want to be media moguls have a mixed history with news media. They can be hands-off and allow the talent to flourish. But, because news media isn’t just another business like soap manufacture or semiconductors, hands-off can mean disconnected and under-informed. We’ll see.
  • Whether or not you see “The Social Network”, the movie about the creation (and subsequent lawsuits) of Facebook, read Lawrence Lessig’s reflection on the film.
  • I was on a panel a few months back with the science blogger Martin Robbins. Most of what he said seemed to make sense to me. The other day he wrote a blog post spoofing science reporting which deservedly went viral. This is his more serious – and more useful – follow-up.
  • There was a neatly-angled Monday Note this week from Frederic Filloux comparing the recent dealings of two papers, Le Monde and the Daily Telegraph, with their respective governments over leaks.
  • Lastly, a short shameless blast of the trumpet for my City University colleague Ann McFerran, who last night organised a panel discussion on the lessons of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. If you enjoy reading discussions reported in Twitter fragments, it’s here. Roy Greenslade has summarised the debate here. (Disclosure: both Greenslade and I teach at City).

Aug 10

“Web Death”, the fallout

While I was away, the argument about whether or not the web is dead, killed by the rise of apps (as argued by Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff – see here), boomed back and forth. Mostly wrong as it was, the original piece nevertheless dislodged some illuminating ripostes. Some of the better pieces:

  • A good new-readers-start-here summary from The Observer.
  • Some expert debunking here from John Naughton.
  • A different angle from Frederic Filloux of the excellently quirky Monday Note.
  • Lastly, an upbeat lateral route outwards from this debate and towards the cheering idea that portable, wireless devices – be they called smartphones, tablets, e-books or whatever – are now getting so neat that and useful that long-form journalism may be better and better read. From Bobbie Johnson of The Guardian and with links to new sites specialising in promoting long-form.

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May 10

Is the future…possibly…bright?

The future for printed daily papers has looked gloomy for so long that people have forgotten what sunlight looks like. I’ve seen a cluster of pieces in the last few days which stare into the future and they share two striking characteristics: they are more optimistic than pessimistic (about news publishing if not about print) and they see a role for something definable called journalism.

If you only have time to look at one of these, read James Fallows on Google and journalism. The history of news media shows that journalism is always being turned upside down and Fallows talked to the top Googlies about how they see the latest revolution.

To whet your appetite here are two short passages to illustrate why this piece is upbeat and required reading. Google-bashing is daft: the Google thinkers may not be right about everything but they are smart enough to be worth arguing with. Fallows noted that people in Google are finding it easier to think about how to sustain journalism because they are not in the newspapers business. He illustrates it like this:

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