John Cassidy on the Business of Journalism: VC Funding and Online Subscriptions Show Promise

The New Yorker’s John Cassidy, who writes about economics and politics, on the current state of the business of journalism:

While many journalists have lost faith in the future of their trade, venture capitalists are taking the opposite view. Far from giving up on journalism, they are providing big chunks of funding to online news providers, such as BuzzFeed, Vice, and Vox. Some of what these publishers put out is mere click bait, but they also produce serious journalism, such as this story, from The Verge, a Vox site, which details how the N.Y.P.D. is using social media to lock up Harlem teens, and this interview that Vice scored with James Mitchell, the psychologist who helped the C.I.A. to develop its “enhanced interrogation”—i.e., torture—techniques.

And:

In addition, online journalism is thriving at many publications that are still widely regarded as “old media.” At the New York Times and other major newspapers, digital subscriptions are rising steadily. To be sure, the revenues from this source haven’t fully replaced all the lost revenues from print subscriptions and print advertising: in some parts of the industry, this may well never happen. But subscription-based journalism (encompassing digital and print) is rapidly becoming financially viable, at least for national publications. And that really is good news. Advertising-funded journalists are beholden to advertisers, page-view metrics, and social-media algorithms. Subscription-funded journalists are beholden to readers.

And:

The rise of online subscriptions isn’t confined to the Times. According to figures from the Alliance for Audited Media, the Wall Street Journal now has more than nine hundred thousand digital subscribers. (Its total circulation is close to 2.3 million.) The Financial Times, which helped to pioneer the metered-paywall model, which allows readers to read a certain number of stories a month before being charged, has gone further in this direction than any other major newspaper. According to Rachel Taube, a spokeswoman for the paper, it now has 476,000 digital subscribers, compared with 217,171 print subscribers. Although it is still known as the Pink ’Un, a reference to the pink paper it is printed on, it is now predominantly a digital publication.

And:

Of course, none of this means that journalism is out of the woods. Regional newspapers, which by definition have smaller markets than national ones, have been hit particularly hard by the decline in print advertising. Magazines, especially small ones, such as The New Republic, also face major challenges, which I’ll discuss in an upcoming post. Throughout the industry, job cuts and efforts to restrict wages and benefits will probably continue. Unless publishers can find a way to expand digital advertising and supplement the money they get from subscriptions, keeping costs in line with revenues will always be a demanding task. That means funding big, time-consuming investigative projects will continue to be a problem. But the argument that newspapers are dinosaurs, destined to be replaced by nimbler online competitors, looks a good deal less convincing than it did a few years ago. And considering where we have been, that qualifies as good news.

Read the whole thing. And subscribe to The WSJ here! :-)

Zalora Opens ‘Offline’ Shop in Singapore, and Bhutan Gets Google’s Street View Treatment

Those are the subjects of a couple of stories I wrote last week.

The first:

Amazon may be planning to open a brick and mortar shop in New York City, but Southeast Asia fashion e-commerce startup Zalora has beaten them to the punch in Singapore.

Zalora, which launched in 2012 and says it has served more than 2 million customers throughout the region, late last week unveiled its first physical store, a 4,000-square-foot shop in an upscale Singapore shopping mall.

It’s the first such physical store for an online retailer in the region, according to Zalora’s regional managing director, Tito Costa, who cited clothier Bonobos and subscription beauty-products service Birchbox as having used brick and mortar stores to good effect in the U.S. In China, meanwhile, Internet giant Alibaba has invested in a local department store operator.

And the second:

You can now take in dramatic vistas from the tiny, isolated Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan — via Google.

The tech giant Thursday unveiled Street View images — the Google Maps feature providing 360-degree panoramic images — for some 1,900 miles of roads in the remote country, which sits between India and China and is home to about 700,000 people.

That includes images of the Punakha Dzong administrative headquarters, which is one of Bhutan’s most beautiful buildings. There are also images from the capital, Thimpu, and the towns of Paro and Trongsa, as well as panoramas from a highway and photos of the country’s National Museum.

Google says the effort, which was undertaken with the cooperation of Bhutan’s Ministry of Information and Communications, required snapping more than 200,000 panoramic shots with one of its camera-equipped cars.

Belatedly, my story on Singapore startups

I’ve been remiss in sharing some of my recent stories here.

In case you you missed it last month, I wrote an in-depth piece on Singapore’s increasingly lively startup scene.

Click through for an interactive feature on some Singapore-specific apps and a rundown of some local tech companies — and some potential challenges to the industry.

2014 03 26singaporestartups

(The story is for WSJ subscribers only — if you don’t already, subscribe! — but here’s a non-paywalled blog post introducing the piece.)

Next up: How I’ve helped out with Malaysia Flight 370 coverage. Stay tuned…

Bangkok Post — in 3D

Given my previous dispatches pointing out interesting tidbits from the Bangkok Post, I would be remiss if I failed to note that yesterday’s edition featured 3D images. E&P explains here.1

Yesterday was the Post‘s 64th anniversary, and the paper was delivered with accompanying 3D glasses affixed to a special outer advertising supplement. 3D photos were used in the supplement as well as throughout the paper itself.

Here’s a cell phone pic:

Bangkok Post in 3D

So how did the 3D effect work? It seemed, well, fine to me — though I must say that I have never seen a newspaper in 3D, so I have nothing to which I can compare the experience.

  1. Related (kind of): On the Media‘s excellent episode, from July 16, about the future of newspapers. []

Some thoughts on audio recorders

I’ve been meaning, for some time, to write a post about audio recorders. Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to play with use several recorders for casual and professional purposes. And I thought it would be helpful to compile a few tips and suggestions in one place. So here goes:

olympus_WS-321M.jpg

For interviews and non-broadcast use

For everyday recording I suggest a simple, relatively inexpensive Olympus unit, like the Olympus WS-500, similar to the unit pictured here. This device costs about $70 at Amazon.com. I have a slightly older version of this recorder. Some features:

  • These devices work well for interviews, as the recorders are easy to use, non-obtrusive, and lightweight.
  • They have copious amounts of internal memory, so you can record hours and hours at a time. The WS-500, for example, has 2GB of internal memory, which according to Olympus is enough for 545 hours of recording time.
  • The single AAA battery lasts for a very long time — I use my Olympus several times a month and have only had to change the battery a handful of times in three years.1
  • For transcribing interviews, the internal speaker on units like these are fine for playback, though the device also has a jack for headphones. If you want to transfer the audio files to your computer for storage or editing, the unit has a convenient built-in USB port. For playback directly from the unit, a button allows you to listen to recordings at a slower or faster speed. This is especially helpful when transcribing interviews you’ve conducted with fast talkers.2
  • Note that the Olympus units record in Windows Media Audio (WMA) format. That means that if you’re on a Mac, you’ll need to use a special application to covert the WMA audio files to mp3s. I recommend the easy-to-use EasyWMA audio converter.

So how good does the audio sound? The quality you’ll get with a unit like this is fine for casual use, but the quality isn’t high enough for radio or Web broadcast. That said, you can plug an internal mic and grab some decent sound.

For example, here’s a 21-second mp3 I recorded of traffic in Hanoi a couple of years back with my trusty Olympus:

hanoi_traffic.mp3

For Web or broadcast use

pcm_d50_2.gif

If you want to record audio for professional broadcast, you’ll have to spend a bit more money. For the past couple of years, I’ve been using — and really love — the Sony PCM D50.

This unit typically costs about $600. But the relatively high price tag is justified by its top-notch recordings. This model is particularly popular with radio journalists, as it’s a less expensive version of the Sony PCM D1
, which costs upward of $2000.

The PCM D50 has been out for a few years, and you can now find it on Amazon.com for $440.

Here are some of the PCM D50’s features:

  • The audio quality is excellent: 96 kHz/24-bit.
  • The unit has built-in dual condenser microphones that can be angled for various purposes.
  • The device is rugged, with an aluminum — not plastic — shell, and though I don’t recommend treating it roughly, it can withstand some serious jostling.
  • The PCM D50 has 4GB of internal memory, so there’s plenty of room for recording many hours of audio.
  • The unit has an easy to use recording level dial, so that you can ensure that what you’re recording isn’t too loud.
  • The unit has a divide track button, so that you can create a new track on the fly. That is, you don’t have to press stop, and then press record again. Just press divide track, and you’ll continue recording in a new track.
  • The PCM D50 takes four AA batteries and records in the uncompressed WAV format, which works on PCs and Macs.

You can find reviews of the PCM D-50 here [O’Reilly], and here [Transom.org], and here [BradLinder.net]. And here’s a video review of the PCM D50 and D1.

One thing: I suggest purchasing the optional windscreen, since the mics are so sensitive that they pick up wind noise very easily, even from simply walking across a room. This windscreen is a bit pricey, at over $40, so if you don’t want to spring for the official Sony version, you can always fashion your own out of an old sock (preferably a clean one) or some other sound-absorbing material.

How does the audio sound?

For a sample of the PCM D50 in action, you can check out an audio slide show I created called scenes from Calcutta. I also used the device to create a CNNGo.cm audio slide show about chef David Thompson.

In the last few months, a new Sony model has caught my eye: the Sony PCM M10. It’s currently under $400 at Amazon.com.

Two notable features: The unit can record in mp3 format (so format conversions aren’t necessary), and it has built-in speaker, which makes for easier playback. (In order to play back audio from the PCM D50, you have to listen with headphones.) Here’s a video review of the PCM M10 on Youtube.

Perhaps, in a future post, I’ll discuss external mics and audio editing software. But I’ll leave it at this for now.

Happy recording.

  1. One more note on batteries: Many small audio recorders, as well as larger, more sophisticated ones, use AA or AAA batteries. Environmental concerns aside, disposable batteries are preferable to rechargeable ones because you can replace disposable batteries in the field. If you’re off in the wilderness, let’s say, and your rechargeable batteries run out of juice, far from an electrical outlet, you’re out of luck. []
  2. Also, a note about evolving technologies: In my experience, few people use mini disc recorders these days. It’s all digital, all the time. That said, I think there’s a place for older technologies. Take the simple, cheap cassette recorder. For documenting interviews, these work just fine. Cassette recorders are actually better than digital voice recorders in one way: You can look at cassette recorders and see that their wheels turning, so you know they’re functioning. Yes, digital recorders have lights that illuminate when they’re running, but sometimes — especially in hectic situations — these lights can lead to confusion. As in, is that the power light, or is the unit actually recording? []

Self-promotion: a roundup of some recent stories

think_piece.tiff

I have devoted numerous posts to Thailand’s ongoing political instability of late, often linking to various media reports. But I realized that I have neglected, in recent months, to point to some of my own stories. So here’s a re-cap:

In addition to filing pieces about breaking news in Thailand for ABC News Radio in New York,1 I am now covering business and economics issues in the region for BNA, in Washington, DC.

I cannot link to my BNA stories here since they’re subscriber-only, but some recent topics I have covered include:

  • Thailand’s Map Ta Phut industrial estate issue2
  • Labor issues and economic governance in Vietnam
  • Asia’s economic recovery
  • How exporting firms in Thailand are using the country’s various free trade agreements

I also recent wrote a recent story for AFP about Thai rice farmers and free trade. You can see the piece on the Jakarta Globe site here. It ran on March 7.

And, finally, I have written a number of fun travel/lifestyle stories for CNNGo.com of late. Here are a few:

(Cartoon via.)

  1. I’ll try to give you a heads up next time a story is due to run. I’ll most likely mention it quickly on Twitter. []
  2. Hence my interest and subsequent posts on the topic here at Newley.com []
  3. You’ll recall that I blogged about the Siam Sunray here a while back. []

Around the Web: improving college rankings, Federer’s footwork, inventors killed by their own inventions, and more

Some links that have caught my eye of late:

Around the web: August 25th to August 30th

Some links that have caught my eye of late: