Our Story on WhatsApp in Asia

Quick note to share a WSJ story I helped out on Thursday about challenges Facebook may face in Asia following its acquisition of WhatsApp:

Facebook Inc. ‘s $19 billion deal for WhatsApp in part is a move to bolster the U.S. company’s position abroad.

But in Asia—which has the world’s largest, and possibly most avid, social-media audience—Facebook still has its work cut out for it.

That is because in Asia, even more than on Facebook’s home turf, the big, growing social-media market is on mobile phones. And if Facebook wants to be as dominant on smartphones in Asia as it has been on personal computers, WhatsApp will need to lure users away from three popular apps in the region: Naver Corp.’s Line, Tencent Holdings Ltd. ‘s WeChat and Kakao Corp.’s Kakao Talk.

Visit WSJD for more stories on the deal.

Jim Stewart on the NYT’s Future Following the WaPo Sale

2013 08 11 wapo front page

I was lucky enough to study with Jim Stewart at Columbia this year, and I always look forward to reading his New York Times column, called “Common Sense.”

In his stories, Stewart often examines complex business and economics issues by focusing on facts and evidence and questioning conventional wisdom.

His latest column, which ran Friday, is especially intriguing, as it concerns the current profitability and long-term prospects of The New York Times, his very employer.

Following Jeff Bezos’s purchase of The Washington Post, Stewart asks: Would the Sulzbergers, the family that owns the Times, ever sell the paper?

The family says the NYT isn’t on the block, and Stewart highlights an important point — one which is often overlooked when people make assumptions about the newspaper industry: The Times, unlike the Post, is making money:

That The Times and its controlling family would be among the last survivors should come as no surprise, since it is the strongest of the great newspapers journalistically, and it is profitable. The Times has won 112 Pulitzer Prizes since 1918, including four this year, more than any other newspaper. A week ago, The Times reported quarterly operating earnings of $77.8 million, up 13 percent from a year earlier.

By contrast, The Washington Post’s newspaper division had losses of $53.7 million last year, with no end in sight.

With the Post owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos, “In stark financial terms, The Times is now a minnow in a sea of sharks” compared to companies like News Corporation, Facebook, Google, and others with huge market capitalizations, Stewart writes.

He continues:

Nearly everyone I spoke to this week praised The Times for what it has done with its resources. In contrast with Mr. Graham’s comment that he had no answers, The Times has articulated a strategy that addresses many of the pressing questions facing newspapers, and it seems to have been yielding results.

And:

Like The Post, The Times has tried to improve profitability by reducing costs, including the size of the newsroom. But that can go only so far before it begins to affect the quality of the news operation. It may be even more difficult if, as expected, Mr. Bezos invests in The Post’s national news operation. “The likelihood is that The Post and The New York Times will be competing head-to-head in a way they haven’t since the days of Abe Rosenthal and Ben Bradlee,” both legendary editors of The Post and The Times, Mr. Jones said.

The column is worth a read.

Meanwhile, for more on the WaPo sale and what it all means for the economics of journalism, see:

3 Digital Tools I Used to Write my Master’s Thesis

In April, after more than six months of work, I submitted the thesis I wrote for my master’s in business and economics journalism.

At more than 11,000 words and 41 pages long, it was the longest story I’d ever written.

I interviewed dozens of people, analyzed hundreds of pages of court documents, submitted and tracked multiple Freedom of Information Act requests, read several books on my topic, and composed perhaps twenty drafts of what became the final piece.

I’ll tell you more about the story itself in the weeks and months ahead, I’m sure. For now, though, I wanted to share the top three digital tools I used to organize my writing and research.

1. For writing: Scrivener

2013 04 24 scrivener

I’ve been using the Writing app Scrivener since 2007. It’s less a word processor than a tool for organizing all sorts of digital materials and creating an environment where you can more easily produce text.

I made ample use, for example, of the folders shown on the top left corner of the image above. These folders allowed me to organize various snippets of text; keep running lists of items to investigate; maintain outlines and timelines; and more. I could always keep my main draft open and navigate, with just a click, to another item — as opposed to having to open several Word files and toggle between them.

When conducting interviews, I also relied on Scrivener’s split screen function. I kept my questions in the top pane and typed my sources’ answers in the bottom pane as we chatted. Scrivener also has an excellent full screen mode, which is helpful when you simply want to focus on the text.

The Mac version of Scrivener is $45. For more information on the app, here’s a detailed review of the app’s many features. And here’s a post about using Scrivener for dissertation writing.

2. For organizing data: Excel

2013 07 27 excel mac

Excel? You better believe it. I used spreadsheets to keep track of:

  • Court materials — I listed dates of various documents, their titles, a description of contents, URLs if they were online, and even the files’ location on my hard drive.
  • Sources — I kept track of names, job titles, contact information, and more.
  • Timeline — My story spans several years, so I used a simple timeline to keep track of the chronology of events. This was helpful when it came time to construct my narrative.

Excel is part of Office for Mac. Microsoft’s home and student version is $139.99.

For more, see this overview of Excel for journalists.

3. For bookmarking: Pinboard

2013 07 28 pinboard

I bookmarked hundreds of items online while researching my story, and Pinboard was a huge help. The Web-based bookmarking site is a kind of “antisocial social bookmarking” service.

That is, Pinboard offers all the benefits of social bookmarking, like the ability to access your saved sites from any browser or computer. But unlike many such services, Pinboard allows you to keep your bookmarks private.

You can also assign your bookmarks tags, so they’re easily sorted by keyword, and use a browser bookmarklet to quickly save a site and apply a label like “read later.” So as I came across various news accounts, books, interviews, and other materials online, I simply added a bookmark in Pinboard and could later go back and filter the sites by keyword.

Pinboard is bare-bones, fast, and easy to use. It was approximately $9 when I signed up last year, I seem to recall, and now costs $10.16. This is a one-time fee that rises as more people join the site.

So those were my top three digital tools: Scrivener, Excel, and Pinboard.

What about you? Have some favorite apps for writing or data organization? Let me know on Twitter or leave a comment below.

Google Reader Dies Tomorrow. My Replacement: NewsBlur

2013 06 30 newsblur

We’ve known since March that Google Reader, the hugely popular RSS reader, is dying July 1.

That’s tomorrow! (Or maybe even today, depending on where you are.)

I’ve relied on RSS readers to keep track of various blogs and news sites since 2005, and have been trying out several Google Reader replacements in recent weeks.

I wasn’t crazy about Feedly‘s interface, though it’s free.

Feed Wrangler, which is $20 per year, is a hit among the tech elite and seems quite workable. But I didn’t like the folder-less, “smart streams” approach. (Unlike some folks, I’m not looking for RSS innovation. I just want a service that works well, in a Google Reader-esque manner, and looks decent.)

So, with just one day left to until Google Reader officially goes kaput, I settled on NewsBlur, pictured above. I like it a lot so far. The free version has limited functionality, so I sprung for the $24 annual subscription. Here’s a detailed review of NewsBlur.

Other resources: Here’s more on exporting your Google Reader data. And here’s a round-up of several other Google Reader alternatives.

Happy feed reading.

My 2 Favorite NYC Public Transport Apps

2013 03 24 nyc subway

Navigating New York City’s massive subway system, seen above, can be difficult. Especially for those, like me, who are new — or newish — to the city.

I use two helpful iPhone apps to streamline my various journeys.

Embark

The first is called Embark.

Opening this free app reveals a touch-responsive map of the city’s subway system:

2013 03 25 embark1

The stations are clickable. You simply 1) choose your starting point, then 2) choose your destination, as I’ve done in the screen shot above.

Then, when you click on the arrows at the top right of the screen, Embark will tell you which trains to take, when they’re arriving, and how long your journey will last:

2013 03 25 embark2

When beginning, if you know which station is closest, you can simply click that stop.

Or, if you need guidance, you can click a button and Embark will use your device’s GPS functionality to find the nearest station. Then the app will direct you, step by step, to that stop.

The maps are all built into the app, so you can use it underground, where there’s no mobile service. (GPS functionatliy, however, only works above ground.)

The maps showing your routes are simple and clean:

2013 03 25 embark4

One especially useful feature is that Embark will re-route you in the event of subway service interruptions.

So if, for example, a train stops running before you make your return trip, the app will automatically suggest an alternative route.

You can read more about Embark’s design and functionality here.

Exit Strategy

The second app I like is called Exit Strategy. It costs $3.99 and is available in iOS, Android, and Blackberry versions.

2013 03 24 exit strat3

The app contains detailed street-level maps of the city. But I primarily use Exit Strategy for what may seem like a trivial task: figuring out which subway car to ride in so that I’m closest to the exit when I reach my final station.

Some of the city’s stations are quite expansive, and have multiple exits. Knowing how to beat the crowds out of the station can save substantial time.

(Indeed, from a design perspective, I find it fitting that the icon, above, features a stick figure in mid-run. This feels like an apt graphical representation of NYC transport from a commuter’s perspective.)

Exit Strategy’s station maps look like this:

2013 03 24 exit strat1

And here’s what the street-level maps look like:

2013 03 24 exit strat2

Readers who navigate NYC’s public transportation system: What are your favorite apps? Am I missing any gems?

(NYC subway image: Wikipedia.)

New Court Filings on Apple CEO Tim Cook and the DOJ’s E-Books Suit

2013 03 12 tim cook

UPDATE: March 13: Judge Cote ruled today that Cook must testify, Reuters reports.

I have just reviewed some public court documents that provide more details on Apple CEO Tim Cook and the Department of Justice’s antitrust lawsuit against the company.

As you may have read in the news, the Department of Justice alleged in a suit filed in April 2012 that Apple and several book publishers illegally worked together to raise e-book prices in an effort to combat Amazon.com, which had gained dominance over the e-book market. All of the publishers have settled. The Cupertino, California-based company is the sole remaining defendant.

As Bloomberg reported on March 8 (Friday), recent court filings show that the government wants Apple CEO Tim Cook to testify in the case.

The newest court filings, posted today, provide additional insight into the case the DOJ is making to depose Cook, and the reasons that Apple’s lawyers are using to try to shield him from testifying.

In a March 6 letter to U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote, filed today, the DOJ argued that “While subsequent discovery only has confirmed the need for Mr. Cook’s deposition, Apple continues to refuse to make Mr. Cook available.”

The government says it has offered various “accommodations in order to minimize any burden on Mr. Cook,” such as “limiting the length of the deposition and providing him a list of examination topics in advance — all of which have been rejected.”

The DOJ letter says that as an “executive team member and confidant” of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Cook “is likely to have highly relevant information regarding Apple’s decision to enter the e-books market and its related strategies that are at issue in this case.”

The government says Cook received updates on Apple’s “efforts to move the entire e-books industry to an agency model, and even received boastful e-mails from Mr. Jobs that Apple had ‘helped stir things up in the publishing world.” The government adds that Cook and Jobs would likely have had private discussions about e-books that “cannot be discovered other than through Mr. Cook’s deposition.”

The DOJ says that Apple has countered that any discussions the two might have had would not be relevant because Jobs’s “statements themselves are not relevant to this action.”

Next, In an emailed letter dated March 11 (yesterday) to Judge Cote, a New York-based attorney writing “on behalf of Apple” opposed the DOJ’s request to depose Cook, cross-moving for a protective order.

The attorney cites a legal standard from past cases that “disfavor[s] apex executive depositions” where “the executive has no unique personal knowledge of relevant facts…lower-level executives can provide the same information…” and “the party seeking discovery has not exhausted alternative information sources…”

The letter references a declaration from Cook stating that he “has no unique knowledge about Apple’s decision to enter the e-books market and recalls no relevant ‘private conversations’ with Mr. Jobs.”

The letter continues: “The complaint does not reference Mr. Cook. None of the 29 witnesses deposed to date testified that Mr. Cook played any role in relevant events. And no publisher witness even mentioned Mr. Cook at his or her deposition.”

The letter goes on to argue that Cook had only a “tangental role as an outsider to the issues in dispute in this case.” The letter also notes that in all, 11 Apple executives will be deposed, and that “on March 12 and 13, the government will depose Eddy Cue, the senior Apple executive who reported directly to and communicated regularly with Mr. Jobs about the day-to-day development of the iBookstore.”

It continues, “Two days later, it will depose a member of Mr. Jobs’ executive team, former mobile software SVP Scott Forstall. And, as the court will recall, the government deposed Apple’s chief marketing offer Phil Schiller (over Apple’s objection) last December…”

“The government should not be permitted to depose Apple’s current CEO on a fishing expedition for what would be, at best, cumulative testimony.”

Note: I have bolded the names above for easier reading.

(Image: “Apple CEO Tim Cook,” via Wikimedia Commons.)

NY Times: Journalists who cover Myanmar may have had their email hacked

The New York Times reports today:

Several journalists who cover Myanmar said Sunday that they had received warnings from Google that their e-mail accounts might have been hacked by “state-sponsored attackers.”

The warnings began appearing last week, said the journalists, who included employees of Eleven Media, one Myanmar’s leading news organizations; Bertil Lintner, a Thailand-based author and expert on Myanmar’s ethnic groups; and a Burmese correspondent for The Associated Press.

Worth a read.