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    Aug. 15, 2014, 10:38 a.m.

    This Week in Review: Ferguson and press freedom, and BuzzFeed’s $50 million boost

    Plus: The Gannett spinoff and the future of newspapers, dealing with abusive comments at Gawker, and the rest of the week’s journalism and tech news.

    This week’s essential reads: This week’s most important pieces are on Ferguson and algorithmic filtering,  on BuzzFeed, and on the failings of the ad-based business model on which the Internet runs.

    Press freedom and citizen journalism in Ferguson: The ongoing tensions in Ferguson, Missouri this week that followed a police officer’s killing of an unarmed black teenager became a major story about the media as well. without any apparent justification Wednesday night, and were tear-gassed or shot with rubber bullets by police. The two reporters, Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Post, were arrested as police cleared out a McDonald’s they were in. They were , after a phone call from a Los Angeles Times reporter alerted the police chief to their arrests. Lowery of the incident.

    In addition, and fleeing, followed quickly by a SWAT team dismantling their equipment. Law enforcement officials . Poynter’s and reported on the experiences of several local reporters on the scene, and Ellyn Angelotti on what police are able to do to journalists during protests.

    Journalism professor Jeremy Littau expressed over Lowery and Reilly’s arrests, and called on journalists to stand up for citizens’ rights alongside professional reporters’, especially since they have been so vital in disseminating information about events such as the Ferguson protests. Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram that in situations where traditional journalists can’t or won’t witness abusive police behavior, the crowd-powered platforms like Twitter can be an important check on authority, and Jezebel’s Kara Brown said the events in Ferguson to draw attention to abuses of power.

    Sociology professor Zeynep Tufekci about Ferguson bubbled up all week and then boiled over Wednesday night, then pointed out how quiet it was on Facebook at the same time, making the case that the algorithms that filter online information have significant (and unexamined) consequences regarding what issues get public attention. Sarah Perez of Techcrunch also why Ferguson was only rarely trending on Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday.

    Before Wednesday night’s arrests and confrontations, Twitter and Instagram also helped give exposure to criticism of media coverage of Ferguson with the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, in which black users showed contrasting pictures of themselves and questioned which one the news media would run. and the both covered the trend, and Poynter’s team of experts .

    A $50 million infusion for BuzzFeed: BuzzFeed took a big step forward beyond listicles this week, getting a  from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz that will fund a major expansion that includes new content sections, a technology incubator, and more funds for its video division BuzzFeed Motion Pictures. Chris Dixon, an Andreessen Horowitz partner who will join BuzzFeed’s board, why the firm is making the investment, and The New York Times’ Mike Isaac what BuzzFeed will do with the money, while the Lab’s Caroline O’Donovan went into more detail about its new, more autonomous divisions: Buzz, BuzzFeed News, and BuzzFeed Life.

    One aspect of the announcement that caught quite a bit of attention was Dixon’s statement that his firm views BuzzFeed as more of a tech company than a media company. Gawker and New York Observer alum Elizabeth Spiers objected to that description, and tech writer Ben Thompson , concluding that while BuzzFeed is still primarily a media company, it has a disconnect from traditional media logic and an ability to cheaply scale that make it uniquely valuable.

    Recode’s Peter Kafka and said that if BuzzFeed is a media company, then that number is a huge overvaluation, but if it’s a tech company, it’s a steal. And for everyone saying “$850 million for a bunch of listicles and cat GIFs?!” Fusion’s Felix Salmon that BuzzFeed is different from other media companies in that it doesn’t sell audiences to advertisers, but instead sells its expertise in creating content that young, mobile audiences love. The best way to think of BuzzFeed’s various products, then, is probably as a proof of concept: it’s a way to show advertisers that the company is able to reach a large, young, mobile, social audience in a multitude of different ways,” Salmon wrote.

    Wired’s Marcus Wohlsen what it means for BuzzFeed to be, as Dixon called it, a “full-stack” startup, and investor Om Malik for BuzzFeed, specifically its reliance on Facebook and the continued success of native advertising. The Awl’s Matt Buchanan that BuzzFeed is moving even deeper into Facebook and other social networks, creating content that only exists there, rather than on BuzzFeed’s site. And TechCrunch’s Josh Constine said the native ads on which BuzzFeed depends .

    As Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram , BuzzFeed’s investors are betting that it can scale into a massive media company without losing the agility it has so prized, and Bloomberg Businessweek’s Felix Gillette that its cost of production and scale of competition are about to increase just as dramatically as its cash on hand. The New York Times’ Claire Cain Miller BuzzFeed’s move toward higher-quality content and the larger accompanying shift online from search to social.

    Elsewhere, Mike Shields of The Wall Street Journal for one of BuzzFeed’s biggest competitors, The Huffington Post, and Forbes’ Eric Jackson made the case that . Gawker’s J.K. Trotter noticed that BuzzFeed has , and Slate’s Will Oremus : The posts didn’t meet its editorial standards for a variety of reasons, and they were created before BuzzFeed saw itself as journalistic. Poynter’s Kelly McBride looked at the  in light of the situation.

    Gannett’s spinoff and future of print: Gannett became the latest media company to spin its print properties off from its broadcast properties into a separate company last week, set to take place next year with the broadcasting unit assuming all of the company’s debt. The Lab’s Ken Doctor, who had suggested just a day before the announcement that Gannett could use such a split, gave several observations on the current wave of breakups, arguing that despite the initial cash infusion for newspaper units, they’ll ultimately result in less of a financial cushion for those properties.

    Journalism professor Jeff Jarvis that these newspaper companies are being spun off because the business is going to continue to get worse and they’re punting on the work of transforming it. “What these spin-offs signals is that media companies do not have the stomach, patience, capital, or guts to do the hard work that is still needed to finish turning around legacy media,” he wrote. The New York Times’ David Carr of the spun-off newspaper industry, but concluded that its decline is no one’s fault in particular. Jarvis that the decline of newspapers has indeed been journalists’ fault, and it should prompt not fatalism but renewed action and innovation.

    At USA Today, Michael Wolff was , seeing some potential for newspapers to rethink what business they’re in and reinvent themselves. And Poynter’s Rick Edmonds said before they even occur, and USA Today’s Rem Rieder said for newspapers despite print’s decline: Find enough in digital subscriptions and advertising to keep revenue flat after years of declines. The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson that while there’s no certain model for making money off of news, there are several promising avenues, many of them in digital-native outfits or organizations with substantial private funds behind them.

    Gannett also announced it’s to cut down on resources for editing and design while increasing the emphasis on analytics, as Poynter’s Sam Kirkland reported. Columbia Journalism Review’s Corey Hutchins of one of the papers about what the changes will mean, and Jim Romenesko of the news that journalists have to re-apply for their jobs, as well as the .


    Anonymity and abuse in Gawker comments: Writers at the Gawker blog Jezebel with their complaints about Gawker’s inaction on an anonymous commenter posting pornographic rape GIFs, upsetting both readers and the staff members who have to remove the comments. Jezebel editor-in-chief Jessica Coen  the staff published its post “to light a fire under management’s collective ass.”

    Gawker responded by first as a temporary solution, then , in which only comments from approved users are immediately visible, and the rest are put in a separate “pending” queue that’s visible only with an extra click. As both Business Insider’s and the Lab’s Justin Ellis pointed out, the tension here is between Gawker founder Nick Denton’s vision of its commenting platform, Kinja, as an open, collaborative, and anonymous environment and the practicalities of allowing that kind of freedom to Gawker users.

    BuzzFeed’s Myles Tanzer who expressed frustration at the disconnect between Denton’s vision for Kinja and the difficult, time-consuming reality of wading through comments looking for quality material. And PandoDaily’s Paul Carr between its handling of abusive content that affects its staffers and the content it posts about others.

    Reading roundup: A few other stories and discussions that have emerged in the busy last couple of weeks:

    — After making a bid for Time Warner earlier this summer, Rupert Murdoch his entertainment media company 21st Century Fox was walking away from negotiations with Time Warner, which had been taking a hard line and . As CNN’s Brian Stelter , media watchers still see the deal as in play eventually, even if it’s no longer seen as inevitable. The Guardian’s Heidi Moore whether we’re seeing the decline of the great media moguls, without anyone to take their place. Meanwhile, News Corp’s , but Murdoch on print.

    — The New York Times  that it would now refer to torture by that name, rather than the term “harsh” or “brutal” interrogation techniques. The Freedom of the Press Foundation’s Barry Eisler for finally using the term, and journalism professor Dan Gillmor for referring to it incorrectly for years. NYU’s Jay Rosen behind the Times’ refusal to use the term for so long and its change of mind.

    — In the ongoing battle between Amazon and the book publisher Hachette, more than 900 writers siding with Hachette and urging readers to complain to Amazon. Amazon , urging them instead to complain to Hachette. TechCrunch’s and the Times’ criticized Amazon for its misuse of a quote from George Orwell, and writers John Scalzi ( ), , and picked apart Amazon’s argument. Writer and Slashgear’s gave more “a pox on both their houses” analysis.

    — Two potentially useful posts: The American Press Institute’s Kevin Loker on the for using events to generate revenue for news organizations, and journalism professor Dan Kennedy with a guide to .

    — Finally, two thought-provoking pieces: Mat Honan of Wired on for two days, and Ethan Zuckerman in The Atlantic on as the Internet’s original sin (along with ).

    Photo of Wisconsin protest in support of Michael Brown by used under a Creative Commons license.

    POSTED     Aug. 15, 2014, 10:38 a.m.
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