Left Bay’s Musings on the Media

Searching for answers in sales and marketing

Archive for April, 2009

Do Newspapers Matter?

There’s a been a lot of talk about the death of newspapers, and how this impacts the very foundations of our democracy. The thinking goes something like this: Newspapers are the watchdogs over government. If newspapers go away, so too, will responsible government. Not all of it, of course. Just the few who might otherwise be smoked out by aggressive reporting.

But do newspapers also encourage citizens to get involved with local government? That seems to be the conclusion of a study by Princeton University’s Sam Schulhofer-Wohl and Miguel Garrido. Their study, Do Newspapers Matter? Evidence from the Closure of the Cincinnati Post suggests “fewer candidates ran for municipal office in the suburbs most reliant on the Post, incumbents became more likely to win re-election, and voter turnout fell.”

The authors are careful to note that their results are “statistically imprecise,” and that they simply looked at one suburban municipality, and that more work needs to be done. Nonetheless, it does give us a data point to begin a discussion. Also, as other others are suggesting, “It would also be interesting to see of the trends continued or were simply short-lived effects until new information sources filled the void.”

What might replace the newspapers? Bloggers, perhaps. The problem I see is that while bloggers offer an alternative voice to newspapers, it’s akin to reading only the editorial page: there’s no original research. Who’s going to do the work of digging into courthouse records and filing stories, ie, who’s going to “create” the news, unless they’re paid for it? Advertising is providing some of that revenue, but not enough. There have to be other means for journalists to get paid.

One such solution might be Kachingle, one of the companies I’m working with. It provides a credible, crowd-funding alternative that allows users to support any site they want, and get social recognition for doing so. If open source sites like Wikipedia can be supported with voluntary dollars, then maybe journalists can, also.

Facebook’s Terms of Service

I’ve been watching the discussions about Facebook’s process for revising their Terms of Service, and I have to say, I’m impressed with the manner in which they’ve solicited user input. For those who haven’t been following the matter, the uproar started in February when Facebook made changes in their TOS that made it seem it was claiming a perpetual license to material uploaded to the social network. After a huge backlash by bloggers and others, the company backed off and said that wasn’t really what they meant. What evolved was a new process that included soliciting input from users.

On the company blog, Facebook’s Simon Axten says that on April 16, the company will post revised versions of the documents based on the feedback they’ve received. “We’ll also be sharing a written response to the main concerns people have expressed. This will explain in clear language why we did — or did not — make certain changes. This is similar to how U.S. federal agencies create regulations.

“At the same time, we’ll be asking people to vote on the new revised documents.”

Terms of Services are amazing documents. I’m writing one now for one of my clients. Basically, they set out the site rules — what users can expect by accessing a site and what they have to give up by doing so. While I’ve found it fairly straight-forward addressing privacy concerns like the use of cookies, I’ve been more challenged deciding how content can be used when it wasn’t originally created by my client. Heck, can I even say that I have specific customers who are using my client’s product? While good manners would suggest that I always ask for their permission to use or say anything about them, can I do so anyway? To me, that’s the crux of the Facebook problem: Who owns what’s posted on their site?

In the case of Facebook, you have from April 16 to April 23 to comment on it.