Blendle to Expand Its ‘iTunes for Journalism’ with $3.8M Investment

The New York Times Company and German-based publisher Axel Springer SE agreed to invest $3.8 million in a Dutch journalism startup company.

Blendle, an online platform that allows it’s readers to search and read content on a per-article basis for mere pennies, launched only six months ago.  Although the company is currently only operating in the Netherlands, the multimillion dollar investment on behalf of The Times and Axel Springer would allow the company to expand to other countries in the near future.

Users can set up search options for subjects and journalists they are interested in following.  Once a new article is published the reader receives an email notification.  More than 130,000 users have signed up for the trial period of the app in the Netherlands, 20% of whom have added funds to their accounts beyond the free trial period.

“With Blendle, the Dutch can read all quality journalism in the country, and see instantly what’s popular right now and what friends have shared,” it read on the company’s website.  “And the best thing: they only pay for the articles they like.”

Blendle has already secured contracts with a number of top newspapers and magazine publishers in the Netherlands and Belgium.  Publishers keep 70% of the revenue collected from articles that run on average about 25 cents each for readers.

The pilot program described as the “iTunes for journalism” is mutually beneficial for the startup company and the more established Times and Axel Springer, although those publications will not receive any preferential treatment, according to The Wall Street Journal.  By backing Blendle, The New York Times Company and Axel Springer hope to spread their reach to other countries.

Alexander Klöpping, Blendle’s co-founder, said the investment is key to further expand into Europe.  For their investment, The New York Times and Axel Springer will jointly received a 23% stake in Blendle, according to an announcement late Sunday, which gives the startup a valuation of around 13 million euros, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Axel Springer has been making strides over the past few months to expand their presence in the United States.  Earlier this month, the publisher paid $20 million to increase their stake in the online magazine Ozy, and in September it collaborated with Politico.com to start a European version of the Washington, D.C.-based news outlet.

“As a publisher we want to convince users to pay for great journalism; also in the digital age,” said Axel Springer Chief Executive Mathias Döpfner to The Wall Street Journal.  “Blendle has the potential to attract young, Internet savvy readers.”

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Stephen Burgard, Northeastern Journalism School Director, Dies

Stephen D. Burgard, the director of the Northeastern University School of Journalism died earlier this week while on sabbatical, school officials announced Tuesday.

Bruce Ronkin, interim dean of Northeastern’s College of Arts, Media and Design, addressed the community in an email expressing his “deep sadness” with the passing of Burgard, according to The Boston Globe.  Ronkin did not offer any more details on how or when Burgard, 66, passed but wrote of Burgard’s imprint on the school and larger Northeastern community.

Burgard joined the Northeastern faculty in 2002 after a decorated career of 26 years as a reporter and editor.  From 1990 to 2002, Burgard worked as a member of the editorial board at the Los Angeles Times where he contributed to the newspaper’s coverage of the Rodney King trial and the “Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the 1994 Northridge earthquake,” reported The Boston Globe.

“He was a vital part of our community, and he will be dearly missed,” Ronkin wrote in his letter to students and alumni.  “I hope that we can draw strength from each other and from the larger Northeastern community.”

Dan Kennedy, the acting director of the journalism program at Northeastern, spoke to The Boston Globe saying that Burgard was on sabbatical for the fall term but planned on returning as director of the program in January.  Kennedy credited Burgard with helping transition the journalism school to a more digitally focused program to meet the needs of the changing profession.

“We saw the interest was there,” Burgard said in an interview last year with New England Newspaper & Press Association last year, referencing the shifted focus towards digital journalism.  “Now we have moved toward requiring multimedia courses in the whole curriculum.

He continued to explain, “we began by recognizing that the Internet was here to stay, and then began making changes.”

The journalism school at Northeastern is regularly listed as one of the best in the country partly due to their commitment to matching students with employers to gain “real-world reporting experience.”

Burgard leaves behind three adult children.

“He [was] kind of a big, blustery guy, but he [was] also somebody who clearly cared about the people he worked with,” Kennedy said to The Boston Globe.  “He was more than a mentor.  He was a friend.”

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Al Jazeera Buys Full-Page Ad in New York Times Calling for Release of Jailed Journalists

Nearly 300 days have passed since the arrest and imprisonment of three Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt, but the publication doesn’t want you to forget.

Last week while world leaders gathered for the UN General Assembly, Al Jazeera took out a full-page ad in the New York Times calling on the Egyptian president to release Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed who were arrested in December 2013.

The ad read:

Al Jazeera’s journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed have been jailed for seven to ten years in Egypt for doing their jobs of reporting the news.

Human rights organizations, news networks, and the US government have joined the call for their release. But nearly 300 days later they still languish behind bars,” the ad read.

Egypt, isn’t it time you give them back their freedom?

A “FreeAJStaff” hashtag campaign was created when the men were first arrested to continue the awareness of what is considered an unjust detention of seasoned journalists.

The detention of these journalists has garnered substantial criticism internationally with The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urging authorities to “promptly release” the Al Jazeera staff. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was also highly critical, saying that he had met with President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi but that he seemed unmoved. Sisi later said that he would not interfere with the judicial rulings.

The entire judicial process in this case has been criticized from the beginning with many questioning the validity of the claims.

The three men were reporting in Cairo when they were arrested and charged with reporting news that was “damaging to national security.”   All three men were found guilty and sentenced to between 7 and ten years in prison.

Most recently, President Barack Obama met with Sisi to talk about issues in the Middle East including the “rights to free speech and the rights of journalists,” said U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes to Al Jazeera.

“The president expressed his view that those journalists should be released,” he continued to say.

In addition to Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed, eleven other defendants were tried in absentia, including one Dutch and two British journalists. All of those who were absent were given 10-year sentences.

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Where Free Press Stands in Hong Kong Protests

Freedom of the press is a luxury that many take for granted. It’s easy to turn on the television, check your favorite website or browse social media for any inkling of news, but what if that wasn’t the case?

Under the leadership of newly elected President Xi Jinping, access to uncensored news coverage in mainland China is essentially non-existant. Residents of Hong Kong have enjoyed more liberal rights to free speech since becoming an autonomous city in 1997 after more than 100 years as a British colony. But what if that all changed?

Protestors have amassed in the streets of Hong Kong over the past few days in protest of the increasing control of the Chinese Communist Party. Protestors are calling for direct control of the 2017 elections for the leader of their city without Beijing intervening, which wants to approve of the candidates before the vote, according to U.S. News.

This one issue is more representative of the growing fears that residents of Hong Kong have. It’s the concern that mainland China is slowly encroaching on their liberties and tens of thousands are taking to the streets to ensure that their voices are heard. As journalists have become increasingly censored over the past few years in China with some notable media figures being fired from their jobs or denied entry to the country, many are heading to Hong Kong. As protestors clash with the government over maintaining their freedoms the rights of journalists is caught in between

Jinping’s predecessor, former Chinese President Hu Jintao was considered to be ruthless when it came to media censorship. During his tenure between 2005 and 2013 when social media became increasingly popular, Jintao built an immense internet censorship system that regularly blocked anti-government speech. His system, nicknamed “the Great Firewall of China” pails in comparison to the aggressive tactics implemented by Jintao.

In the lead up to the June 4 anniversary of Tiananmen Square, 91 writers, activists and lawyers were arrested or forced out of Beijing for their criticisms of the government. Further regulations have blocked online content, including Google, from operating in the country because of an implemented “communications lockdown,” according to U.S. News.

As of Sunday, Instagram was blocked in mainland China to prevent images of the Hong Kong protests from spreading throughout the country. The hashtags “Occupy Central” referring to the protests, and “Hong Kong” have also been blocked on Weibo.

Even with the increased censorship the word is getting out. News is spreading throughout the world of the protests in Hong Kong and the attempts of the government to censor this seems to only be backfiring.

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Diane Sawyer Signs off From “World News”

After five years behind the anchor desk at ABC’s “World News”, veteran journalist Diane Sawyer signed off this past Wednesday with a thank you to her viewers and a reassurance that the show will be in “strong and steady hands” with new anchor David Muir.

Sawyer concluded her broadcast by taking some time to speak of the “great priviledge it has been to sit in the anchor chair,” once taken by the late Peter Jennings. She continued to say that “‘World News’ will continue to be dedicated to what informs you and what makes life better.”

Sawyer, 68, will be headed to another full-time position at ABC News leading a new program that “tackles big issues and interviews while continuing to anchor and produce specials,” according to the New York Post.

Sawyer started her career as an assistant to the White House deputy press secretary Jerry Warren, under the presidency of Richard Nixon. After spending years working various positions in the White House, Sawyer took a job as a general-assignment reporter for CBS News. Sawyer held a handful of positions at CBS including political correspondent and co-anchor of their morning news show. But the role that garnered Sawyer the most notoriety was her five years as the first female correspondent for “60 Minutes.”

In 1989 Sawyer made the move to ABC with a two-year stint as co-anchor of 20/20 and in 1999 she made the return to morning news with her role as co-anchor of “Good Morning America.” In 2000, Sawyer returned to co-anchor Primetime, a position that she held until 2006. In 2009, Sawyer was announced as successor to Charles Gibson, who had announced his retirement as anchor of “World News” earlier that year.

On her final night with “World News,” Sawyer explained that she still has plenty ahead of her.

“I am not slowing down,” she said. “I am already at work on stories that take you into the world around us, the ones we rarely get to see.”

Sawyer, who joined the network in 1989 will be leaving the show “in strong ratings territory,” according to the New York Post. “World News” comes in second to NBC’s “Nightly News” with Brian Williams.

Muir will take over as “World News” managing editor and anchor on September 2 following the Labor Day weekend.

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Reporting the News or Spreading Propaganda

The dangers of reporting on international conflict are nothing new. Journalists have stepped into harms way to cover wars and uprisings for years, but with the advent of social media journalists and media organizations face a whole new problem. When tragedy strikes and news must be reported, the media walks the fine line of disseminating information that puts them in a whole new danger zone.

When photojournalist James Foley was killed earlier this month by a militant of the Islamic State, news quickly circulated of the gruesome video of his death that had been posted to Youtube. Jihadists of ISIS recorded the gruesome death of Foley and a message to President Obama. Although the video was taken down from Youtube shortly after being posted, it still managed to spread quickly thanks to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

The video, titled “A Message to Amerca” directly addressed President Obama, warning him and other Americans of further retaliation to the United States. The message comes after two weeks of US airstrikes in the Middle East that have prevented ISIS militants from advancing. By the beginning of this month the terrorist group had already seized nearly a third of Iraq, according to The Independent.

Most news organizations reported on the death of Foley in a respectful manner, telling of his past work and previous six-week capture while reporting on the uprising in Libya. When violent incidences like this have happened in the past, the criticism of the media usually focuses on their decision to air graphic photos or video. In this instance, thankfully the footage was generally kept off the air.

The issue that media organizations have to grapple with is that the reporting of the murder of James Foley leads to the dissemination of the ISIS message to the US. As it was put by Al Jazeera, ‘the American journalist had become a huge part of the story he was sent there to cover.’

There is no real answer to how media organizations should handle this dilemma as the news should be reported and the torture that Foley endured at the hands of terrorists should be known. I personally believe that the media handled the reporting of this story well and maintained respect for this talented individual without sensationalizing the story.

I don’t bring this question up for a retrospective answer but as an unfortunate acknowledgement the fact that similar stories to this will be handled in the future. My question has nothing to do with any mistakes that may have been made during the reporting of this story, but how the media will continue to report on the ISIS message of violent antagonism towards the West without spreading their propaganda? And in that respect, when reporting on any story in which a terrorist message is a predominant factor, is it possible to report without spreading their message?

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NBC Criticized for Pulling Veteran Journalist from Gaza

The tensions between Palestinians and Israelis have dominated the news over the past few weeks as thousands have been killed after being caught up in the long fought conflict.  There are stories to be told on both sides of the conflict and although dangerous, it’s important to have journalists on the ground telling those stories.

Earlier this month, NBC made the controversial decision to pull one of their veteran reporters, Ayman Mohyeldin, from the region citing “security reasons.”  The network declined to give any further reasoning for their decision, only releasing a short statement about the issue.

“NBC said only that its ‘deployments were constantly reassessed’ in the region,” wrote The New York Times just days after Mohyeldin was dismissed from Gaza.  NBC also praised Ayman Mohyeldin for his “extraordinary reporting throughout the escalation of the conflict in Gaza” in the statement.

Mohyeldin, who has years of experience covering major Middle Eastern events has worked for networks including CNN, NBC and Al Jazeera.  The Egyptian-American was aggressively pursued by NBC to leave Al Jazeera and was offered “more than the standard salary for its on-air correspondents,” according to The New York Times.

Mohyeldin had personally witnessed the death of four Palestinian boys on a Gazan beach earlier this month, and has been applauded for his intense coverage of the issue.  Through constantly updated social media posts Mohyeldin personalized the struggle of Palestinian families caught up in the attacks.

Some had speculated that Mohyeldin was pulled from Gaza because he showed too much empathy in his social media posts, according to The New York Times.  The decision to remove Mohyeldin was considered suspicious to some after a set of tweets from Mohyeldin’s account that blamed Hamas for the Gaza attack were deleted.  It was the second instance within the week that a reporter was thought to be taking sides regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict.  CNN correspondent Diana Magnay was reassigned to Moscow after she referred to Israelis who cheered the bombing of Gaza as “scum,” according to Talking Points Memo.

After only a few days Mohyeldin returned to Gaza to report and thanked the network on Twitter for their support stating, “thanks for all the support.  I’m returning to #Gaza to report.  Proud of NBC’s continued commitment to cover the #Palestinian side of the story.”

Those who believed that Mohyeldin would reign in his social media presence were proven wrong the day he landed back in Gaza as his first stop was to meet with families at the morgue.

“Ultimately, the public backlash played a role in the network’s decision to reinstate him, according to interviews with NBC News employees,” reported CNN’s Brian Stelter.

 

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Buzzfeed Editor, Benny Johnson, Fired for Plagiarism

Buzzfeed has fired their viral politics editor last week after discovering numerous instances of plagiarism in his writing.

Benny Johnson, 28, who began working for Buzzfeed in 2012 was found to have lifted “sentences and phrases” from other competing websites.

In an apology letter posted to Buzzfeed last Friday, editor Ben Smith explained that readers began to notice instances of plagiarism in Johnson’s writing last Wednesday.  After reviewing 500 of Johnson’s past stories, 41 instances of plagiarism were found and Johnson was let go.

Smith explained in his letter, that “plagiarism is a breach of our fundamental responsibility to be honest with you.”  He continued to explain, “plagiarism, much less copying unchecked facts from Wikipedia or other sources, is an act of disrespect to the reader.”

Smith also released an internal memo to the staff at Buzzfeed titled “What we’re doing about plagiarism at Buzzfeed.”  The memo explained that the decision to terminate Johnson was not taken lightly and that his plagiarism was “not a minor slip,” according to Politico.

“We should have caught what are now obvious differences in tone and style, and caught this early on.  We will be more vigilant in the future.  We will also change our onboarding procedures to make sure that the high standards of training that come with our fellowship program extend to everyone who arrives at Buzzfeed – and particularly to those without a background in traditional journalism,” Smith wrote in the memo.

Johnson, who does not have a traditional background in journalism – never having attended school for journalism, or having worked in the industry beyond a stint at Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, took to Twitter over the weekend to apologize to his readers.

“To the writers who were not properly attributed and anyone who ever read my byline, I am sincerely sorry.”

His apology garnered mostly angered responses from his followers with many criticizing his actions, but also, many questioned the quality of journalism that comes out of the publication.

Johnson is not the first in recent memory to either be fired or to step down from a position after being accused of plagiarism.  In the past few years there have been a handful of notable journalists who have been accused of stealing content from other writers.

As pointed out by Politico, “the Post has had two major plagiarism incidents in recent years.  The Times was home to Jayson Blair, the most notorious plagiarist in recent memory.  Politico experienced its own plagiarism scandal, which resulted in the resignation of an employee, in 2011.”

Smith finished off his apology letter to readers by stating, “we have more responsibility now than ever to get it right, to keep raising our standards, and to continue getting better.”

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Time Inc. Sells Off It’s Mexican Magazines

Time Inc., the owner of Travel + Leisure, Entertainment and Sports Illustrated, among others, announced earlier this week that they had sold their Mexican publications.

While details of the transaction were not released, Time Inc. did disclose that they sold Grupo Editorial Expansión, Mexico’s second-largest magazine publisher, to the Latin-American private equity firm Southern Cross Group.

Back in 2005 when Time Inc. bought Grupo for an estimated $60 million, then CEO Ann Moore called “international expansion a key element of our growth strategy.”  She continued to say that the acquisition “represents an exceptional opportunity to establish Time Inc. as a major presence in the dynamic Mexican magazine market.”

The news came only days after Time Inc. began trading publicly on the New York Stock Exchange earlier this month, when Time Warner spun off the underperforming publishing company.  As both newsstand sales and ad sales have dwindled over the past few years, and the fact that Grupo represented 2% of Time Inc.’s combined revenue last year, the publication house decided to focus on their U.S. and U.K. brands.

“Time Inc.’s prime focus today is on growing core assets in the U.S. and U.K.,” wrote Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp in a statement to Advertising Age.  “Therefore, we believe GEx will have better opportunity to maximize its value under ownership of Southern Cross.”

Founded over five decades ago in 1966, Grupo publishes 16 magazines and 10 websites in Mexico.  The company will continue to license certain Time Inc. brands including, CNNMexico, InStyle and Travel + Leisure, according to Advertising Age.

This transition is just one of many for Time Inc. over the past year as the publishing house settles into it’s new role as a freestanding publication house.  After a lengthy split from it’s namesake corporate parent company, Time Warner Inc., the U.S. print-media empire is shaking things up with the introduction of more visual journalism and a stronger focus on their domestic brands.

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Journalism Powerhouse Time Inc. Invests in Video

The future of journalism has been argued by many to be non-existent, that publications are dying and that readership is down.  But to those in the industry with the inside scoop, it’s only evolving.  As print becomes a memorable past time, visual journalism is on the rise.  Publications have started to invest heavily in multimedia journalism for the web as readers transition from print to the internet for news.

Time Inc., a trendsetting powerhouse in journalism, announced earlier this year that they plan to invest heavily in video for the web.

“Not that we’re ever giving up on print, but our print storytellers can now do it in video as well,” said Joseph A. Ripp, the chief executive of Time Inc., in an interview with The New York Times.  “We have the opportunity to take our storytelling and distribute it across more media.”

Ripp was among many executives from prestigious publications to attend the 2014 Digital Content NewFronts where visual journalism was the focus.   Many representatives from notable publications including Time Inc., Condé Nast, National Geographic, The New York Times, PBS and The Wall Street Journal, made presentations about their push to incorporate online video into their reporting to keep up with the ever increasing video journalism trend.

The push for visual and interactive journalism has been on the rise over the past few years with the success of other video focused organizations like Youtube, Buzzfeed and Yahoo.

Ripp explained that since the company’s spinoff from Time Warner earlier this year, that there will be more content creation “in multiple media.”

He explained future plans for video projects at Time Inc. including shows like “I ♥ My Closet,” where celebrities give a glimpse at their personal possessions, and “Eyesore,” a makeover show hosted by comedian Rachel Dratch and her childhood friend who is an interior designer.

Executives also shed light on additional video related products during the conference that they’re working on.  The Daily Cut, will offer a variety of lifestyle content on subjects like fashion, food and entertainment.  Their other project, 120 Sports, was just launched last week.  It’s a live-streaming digital sports network that caters to those with short attention spans.  With 240 video clips, each two minutes long, viewers can cram in as much sports coverage as they can stand over eight hours of daily coverage.

One of the most notable reasons for the increased interest in video journalism by publications is that readers are in an era of instant gratification.  People want their news and they want it fast.  It’s not about sipping your coffee in the morning while leisurely flipping through the paper anymore.  People are in a rush to ingest content quickly so they can move on with their day.

“It can’t just be what television is,” said Jason Coyle, president of 120 Sports to The New York Times.  “We have the opportunity to really push this beyond.  It has to plug into the soul of digital and move at the speed of Twitter.”

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