Introducing Newspeg — A New Way to Look at News

Do you get the feeling you're awash in a flood of news?

The internet has unleashed a torrent of news sources, old and new, that we're all scrambling to make sense of and sort out. The old convenient package of news that landed on the driveway each morning or played on TV at dinnertime has been replaced by a cacophony of sources that can be overwhelming.

Newspeg logoTo try to make some sense of the news torrent, a group of us created Newspeg, a Web and mobile social news platform that anyone can use to collect, curate and share news with others. 

You can use Newspeg to create a collection of stories for yourself on a particular topic, or to share your news interests with your friends and other Newspeg visitors. Each story you "peg" to Newspeg displays a headline, a photo and the story's source. With a click, you can read the entire story on its originating site. You can add comments or like a story, or repeg a story from someone else. 

Naturally,  Newspeg is integrated with Twitter and Facebook, so stories collected on Newspeg can be quickly and easily shared even more broadly. 

We won't lie: Newspeg is unabashedly inspired by Pinterest, which has some utility for sharing news content but really is better suited for favoriting and sharing photos, fashion, designs, recipes and other non-news items. Newspeg, as the name implies, is purpose-built for curating and sharing news. 

Newspeg home

Some of the people who've seen Newspeg have described it as "Pinterest for news." That sounds good to us. 

There are plenty of other news-curation platforms out there, but most of them are algorithm-driven newsbots. That's fine as far as it goes, but we believe the human factor is critical. Newspeg draws from the wisdom of the crowd to create an ever-changing display of news that reflects what real people think is interesting, and to allow for the creation of deep, human-driven collections of news on specific topics.

Newspeg draws on a lot of the work I've done over the past couple of decades in searching for new models for news distribution, particularly in the area of curation and aggregation, which I think is very important in helping people sort through the huge flow of information we're all dealing with daily on our phones, tablets and desktops. In creating Newspeg, I've been greatly aided by longtime friends and colleagues Bobby Phillips, Jeff Aiken and Amra Tareen, who played critical roles in conceiving and building the Newspeg platform. Many thanks to them.

Newspeg is designed to be publisher-friendly:  we're giving branded credit to the sites that produce stories and sending traffic directly back to the original stories. Some publishers we've talked to even have  contemplated using Newspeg to create vertical topic pages on the fly, curating their own content and stories from other sources. We're looking forward to seeing that happen, and to working with publishers to help customize and brand those pages and to find other interesting uses for the platform.

All that said, Newspeg still is a bit of an experiment, a work in progress. We can't wait to see how people use it, what they find, and what they tell us about how we can improve the experience.

So please try it out. Peg a few stories (and come back tomorrow and peg more!), add the Peg It button to your browser, give us feedback, tell your friends. We hope Newspeg will give you a new way to navigate the rushing river of news.

 

When the News Gets Old

Post Front

It's no secret that in a world of news at Twitter speed, print seems to be getting left farther and farther behind. Like others, I've written about this a couple times previously, and of course there was the Daily Show's fabulously snarky take on "aged news" a couple of years ago.

But the stunning, thrilling events of the past few hours in Egypt have highlighted, yet again, how much the news business has changed, and how bad newspapers look as a result. Newspapers were printed last night—barely making deadline as it was, because the story broke fairly late—with headlines blaring that Hosni Mubarak was refused to step down in Egypt.

But with the ink still drying this morning, those papers quickly became woefully out of date. Their Web sites have been updated with the news of Mubarak's resignation, of course, but the papers were still selling print editions that were, well, wrong. Guess they'll correct it in tomorrow's paper. (To give credit where credit is due, incidentally, Rupert Murdoch's iPad news app, The Daily, has quickly broken free of the strictures of its name and begun offering more frequent updates.)

This wasn't really a problem for newspapers a generation or so ago. Back then, they were pretty much the only source of news, save for TV coverage (at least of important events) and radio news. But the advent of the Web, Twitter, mobile news apps, multiple cable news channels and any number of other new competitors is more and more rendering print newspapers, in their traditional form, obsolete.

The fast-breaking Mubarak story is an unfortunate example of how horribly behind the times newspapers can seem (and I don't just mean their management). But the truth is, smaller examples of print news obsolescence now appear multiple times throughout newspapers, as stories change after presstime. They simply can't keep up with the faster news competitors surrounding them anymore.

What are newspapers to do? A couple thoughts: First, maybe it's time for papers to stop trying to be the snapshot of the previous day's events. Rather than print information that's almost instantly out of date, they should concentrate on providing more analysis, perspective, context, non-news-pegged features and forward-looking coverage—much like a newsmagazine. That would require a major change in editor-think, but it would better reflect the new world. The whole "newspaper of record" thing is now pretty passé.

More fundamentally, this is an argument for papers to double down on their quicker digital news-delivery products. They need to finally come to grips with the idea that the product to which they still devote the vast majority of their resources—that print edition—shouldn't be getting primacy in management attention and resource allocation. Unfortunately, in just about every newspaper newsroom I know of, the digital version is very much a second-class citizen, while most of the attention still goes to putting out a product that's immediately out of date. That strikes me as poor priortization. The news—and the audience—now exist in a real-time digital world. Shouldn't that be where resources are focused? The print edition should be the afterthought.

One personal story from today's events in Egypt: Just after Mubarak announced his resignation, I tore myself away from watching Al Jazeera TV's terrific coverage to take my car down to a local service station for a state inspection. The guy who does the inspections is Egyptian—and he greeted me at the service bay door holding a smartphone tuned to Al  Jazeera TV. He had a giant smile on his face. "Did you hear the news? Did you hear the news?" he exulted. I told him I had, and congratulated him on the triumph of his people.

Of course, if he'd relied on the "news' in the printed Washington Post being sold a few feet away, he wouldn't have known about his country's liberation. 

 

PS: In some ways, this is even worse: The online version of The Wall Street Journal's print front page gives no hint that the news had changed since the paper was set in type last night. (This screenshot was taken nearly 12 hours after Mubarak resigned.)

Wsj

That's really inexcusable. Yeah, sure, that "In Today's Paper" page on WSJ.com is supposed to be the representation of the print edition. But it's an HTML page, not a PDF, and thus can be updated. Would it be so hard to add a line below the lead story pointing to the latest developments elsewhere on the site? That's just odd.

Reader Comments, Hawaiian-Style

The subject is civil unions for gay couples. So you can expect the tone of the reader discussion to be highly charged, and even shocking. Try this inflammatory reader comment on for size:

Everyone's so damn reasonable on this site.

Yep, that's pretty shocking. A high-friction, high-emotion issue like civil unions—and the reader discussion is, indeed, "reasonable." 

What's going on here?

Welcome to Honolulu Civil Beat, the new site covering Hawaii from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and veteran editor John Temple. It's got a cockamamie paywall, er, membership plan—you can't read much on the site without ponying up $19.99 a month (good luck with that business model)—but the reader comments are outside the paywall, and true to the site's name, they're very "civil" indeed.

How come? Well, at a time when a chorus of news business voices is rising against the idea of anonymous comments on news sites (and rightly so), Civil Beat's subscription model is providing a foolproof antidote to anonymity: you can't comment without subscribing, and thus registering with the site's operators. Real names—or at least initials—are required, and enforced by membership registration. That certainly cleans up the level of discourse. 

But there's somethine else going on at Civil Beat that I think helps keep the level of discussion intelligent and friendly: the site's staff is actively participating in the conversations. You don't see that often at news sites, even on reporter blogs—too often, the comments are just a reaction to the story, and the author watches from a safe remove rather than mixing it up with readers. The results can be ugly.

In contrast, Civil Beat refers to its reporters as "reporter-hosts," and that's the magic: they're acting as emcees and participants in the conversation. This isn't just comments moderation—it's active participation. Not being a nanny, but being a member of the community. That instantly changes the tone of the conversation.

Dive into some of the site's comments areas to see what I mean: The civil unions discussion is here (along with some general talk about other topics—the site still has some work to do on focusing discussions around a topic). Here's one on homelessness, another hot-button topic on most sites. Note that the reporter-host—and even Omidyar and Temple themselves—are chiming in every few comments, reinforcing good behavior and gently guiding the conversation toward a level of constructive dialogue basically unheard of in most news-site comments areas.

News sites have found all sorts of ways to screw up comments over the years, usually by being incredibly naive about what it takes to run them properly. One of the biggest common sins is defaulting, all too often, to unregistered anonymity, which is why a lot of people now think that news sites need to go to much stronger levels of registration for reader participation. Why not? What have you got to lose? It can be as simple as simply asking commenters to register with their real names (yes, many will), or at least to use a consistent identity that can be confirmed behind the scenes—and policed if need be. Howard Owen has some smart things to say about this:

Real names may not prevent people from spewing misinformation and defamatory bile, but at least if readers trust that the person making such assertions is using a real name, they can judge it accordingly, or fact check the source themselves….I strongly believe that news organizations that allow anonymous comments are committing a grievous ethical blunder. There is no justification or excuse for it. They are tarnishing their brand and credibility at a time they can least afford to devalue either.

For sure, Civil Beat's membership model, which effectively ends anonymity (you need a credit card to register), helps a lot. And it's early yet—maybe things will break down and the trolls will arrive as more people join the discussions (and as reporter-hosts get busier and less able to participate. I hope not). 

But this is a huge step in the right direction, and points toward a way toward fixing the cesspools that most news site comments areas have become. Editor Temple has a lot of other great ideas  for the site, and it will be fascinating to watch it innovate and evolve.

Civil Beat's slogan, as elucidated by founder Omidyar, is a very Hawaiian "Be cool. Be you. Be civil." It seems to be working. Mahalo.

PS: Scott Rosenberg has a little cautionary tale of what happens when news organizations don't participate in—or even read—their story comments.

A Snow News Week

My Sunday Washington Post still hasn't been delivered. It's been four days now. But I'm not complaining.

Washington has been buried his week in a snowfall of biblical proportions. You may have heard about it—it's been in all the papers. (Or so I hear!) Here in the Washington area, we refer to it as Snowmageddon, or Snowpocalypse or—as the third storm in a week hit us—Snoverkill.

A fast-moving story of this magnitude just isn't particularly well-suited to the "aged" news of print. With conditions changing hourly, cancellations coming fast and furious and a pressing need for real-time coverage and information, this was a major story best told online (or via broadcast). The medium was a perfect fit for the message.

So forget the print edition of the Post: It was WashingtonPost.com that I relied on this week for news of the storm. And the site did a very good job of keeping up with developments and using a wide variety of Web tools to tell the story and to keep readers informed.

Foremost among these was the Post's Breaking News Blog, which provided a running account of the latest developments, updated almost 24 hours a day (other Post.com services, including its Twitter feeds, tended to dry up outside of normal newsroom hours). The blog smartly carried a prominent list of emergency phone numbers, plus a link to a comprehensive list of area cancellations and delays. Another blog tracked road and transit conditions as the storm snarled local transportation.

Post.com's most unique resource in the storm was the Capital Weather Gang, a group of local meteorology buffs—many of them pros—who provide spot-on weather forecasts and analysis for the site through a blog, Twitter feed and page of live maps. Great stuff. (I'm a particular fan of the Weather Gang because in their early days they were stalwart contributors to Backfence, and it's great to see them so successful in the Big Show.)

That's not all. The Post's usually lousy local home page was revived as a catch-all for just about all of the site's snow coverage and information (though it weirdly is thin on links to the Capital Weather Gang's work). Twitter feeds provided constant streams of info, though they needed to be updated more, and the site created some key hashtags, including one tracking local power outages. The site's excellent and underrated live discussion area was put to good use providing experts to answer reader questions about the storm and related topics. Even Post.com's usually erratic text-messaging service was a generally reliable provider of the latest storm news to cell phones—critical with power out in many areas.

Best of all: The Post site published a handy schedule of local mass snowball fights on the first day of the storm. Excellent! (Unfortunately, it wasn't really updated after that, and Twitter and Facebook took the lead.)

Post.com's coverage of the snow wasn't perfect. It could have used a lot more reader contributions. Beyond the usual user-submitted photo galleries (more than 2,800 photos strong), it would have been great to see reader vignettes about the storm (hint: start by mining the story comments). There were many missed opportunities for crowdsourcing, including maps of things like plowed and unplowed streets (the Capital Weather Gang did crowdsource a map of snowfall totals). There wasn't nearly enough aggregation and curation of reports from other local media (though a mashup of key local Twitter feeds was good). More video (with fewer damn preroll ads!) would have been nice—alas, the Post laid off most of its superb video team, including Emmy-winner Travis Fox, a few months ago. And there were storm stories that showed up on local TV—including an epidemic of roof collapses—that the Post didn't really seem to cover well (though there was a map on the site showing some of the collapses).

Still, WashingtonPost.com did an admirable job covering a big, complicated, fast-moving local story, using a lot of different tools, and its work should be a model for other news organizations in similar situations. I certainly didn't miss my printed paper (though I hope I get a credit for it on my next bill).

Excuse me now: I need to go shovel three feet of snow off my driveway. And the Capital Weather Gang is hinting that there's yet another storm coming Monday…

One Story, 450 Words, Three Bylines

Old habits die hard. And that's one of the things that's made it very tough for newsrooms to adapt to the online age. There are hoary, industrial-age ways of doing journalism that just don't make sense anymore, but they still go on, leading to silly inefficiencies even in newsrooms that are trying to cut to the bone.

There's a great example of this in today's New York Times: A medium-length story, buried deep inside the paper and Web site, that carries two full bylines plus a "contributed" line from a third staffer. All that for about 450 words of copy on page A37. And get this: The story appears to be mostly a rewrite of an AP story!

Maybe we can figure out why it took three reporters to assemble this story, headlined "Suspect in Ft. Hood Shootings to Remain in Hospital." It's bylined Liz Robbins and Scott Shane; "Sarah Wheaton contributed reporting," is tagged onto the bottom. Judging from a search of their Times bylines, Robbins is a New York-based generalist; Shane is one of the Times' key reporters on terrorism and the Ft. Hood story; Wheaton is a Web producer who contributes to The Caucus blog about Congress. That's a lot of talent to throw at a 450-word story on a Saturday. What did they all do?

Let's go to the newsprint and pixels for an annotated dissection of the story. Here are the first two paragraphs:

The Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in a mass shooting this month will be confined until his military trial, a magistrate ruled on Saturday, The Associated Press reported.

In the first court proceeding for the psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the judge decided he would not yet be moved from the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where he is recovering from his gunshot wounds, to the A.P. quoted his lawyer as saying.

That's pretty much a straight rewrite of the AP story (which is here, if you're interested). In fact, there are some notable similarities between the first two grafs of the Times story and the AP version. Ahem. 

The third and fourth grafs are basically background:

The shootings at the base’s large medical and processing center left 12 soldiers and one civilian dead and 43 other people injured, while Major Hasan was struck by four bullets fired by military police.

Major Hasan, 39, has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder. At the hearing Saturday, the magistrate decided there was probable cause he committed the Nov. 5 shootings, his civilian lawyer, John P. Galligan, told The A.P.

Ah! There's the AP again. So far, this is nothing but a rewrite, at best. Time for the Times reporting team to swing into action and do some reporting themselves. Or at least try to:

Mr. Galligan did not immediately respond to phone or e-mail messages seeking comment. Mr. Galligan previously said Mr. Hasan is paralyzed from the waist down. Speaking to reporters after the ruling, Mr. Galligan expressed concern that the judicial process would negatively affect his client’s treatment.

In other words, even thought the AP managed to interview Hasan's lawyer, Galligan, the Times' efforts to reach him were unavailing, as the Times used to preciously put it. The rest of that graf appears to come from the AP story. And then we plunge back into the clips—or maybe just the b-matter from the AP story, plus another failed attempt by the Times reporters to get something the AP doesn't have:

The hearing on Saturday was closed to the public and the news media. A spokesman for the Army at Fort Hood did not answer messages. The ruling came as more concerns emerged about Mr. Hasan’s connection to a radical Muslim cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, and whether counterterrorism officials did enough after intercepting e-mail messages Mr. Hasan sent to Mr. Awlaki.

Nobody's answering the phone in Texas, apparently. Maybe a change of venue will help:

In Washington, several Congressional committees are assessing whether counterterrorism officials from the Defense Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation should have opened an investigation this year after intercepting the messages.

Again, background from the clip file. But wait, somebody on the three-person Times reporting team finally manages to corner a source for comment: Sen. Carl Levin (who's hardly reticent):

Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said after a closed briefing by Defense Department officials on Friday that the committee was considering whether officials on the Joint Terrorism Task Force who examined the e-mail messages were negligent in not alerting Army officials and others to the exchange.

“That’s one of the many, many things we’re going to look into,” Senator Levin said. He also suggested the government might have intercepted other e-mail messages sent by Major Hasan, saying the committee was studying “whether or not other alleged e-mails that existed were properly handled as well.” Senator Levin declined to elaborate on the possible additional e-mail messages that the F.B.I. intercepted, which The Washington Post disclosed on Saturday.

There we go! Nine grafs in, the Times finally gets to a live person and adds some semblance of original reporting to the story. Except that the Times has to cite The Washington Post as the source for the juiciest bits, about the FBI e-mail intercepts. Curses! The Times doesn't appear to have tried to match the Post story, which itself had three bylines plus a contributed-by, but represented some real digging. Maybe this story was the teeth-gritted acknowledgement of the scoop.

Now to the final graf, which owes a lot, yet again, to "reports," no doubt aka the AP story:

The magistrate’s ruling changed Major Hasan’s status to a pretrial confinee, from a restricted patient, according to reports. The decision gives the Army greater flexibility in moving him around, though it remained unclear when or to where that might happen.

Did it really take three reporters to write this story? Let us count the ways, with a best-case scenario: One to interview Levin, one to make the unsuccessful calls for comment to Hasan's lawyer and the Ft. Hood flack, and one to take that reporting—plus the AP and Post stories—and write it all up in a compact 450 words.

That's a lot of newsroom resources to bring to bear for a story that seemingly could have been "reported" and written by a single Times staffer—or just as easily been picked up whole from the AP. And newspapers complain about the AP rewriting and redistributing their stories? Of course, we haven't even taken into account the number of people who were involved in assigning, editing and laying out the Times story.

Multiple bylines, especially on shorter stories, always make me raise my eyebrows. Sometimes they represent bizarre newsroom politics—I once wrote a story that for very complicated internal reasons appeared under
two other reporters' bylines; you really don't want to know why. I also recently saw a one-paragraph newspaper Web site bulletin that ran under two bylines—a neat trick. And I had a conversation with a publisher recently who assumed that more bylines meant more reporting and more quality, but that just isn't necessarily so. These days, with newsroom efficiency more important than ever, you have to ask whether three reporters working on one simple story would have been better put to use spread over three stories. It's not that simple a decision. But a three-byline rewrite of an AP story shouts that something ain't right.

The Times, like other papers, is going through tough times, and cutbacks in its newsroom—it's in the process of cutting another 100 journalist jobs, in fact. But when you see stories like this, with three staffers spending time on something that seems quite routine and simple, you really wonder if those cuts are deep enough—or if the Times needs to think harder about how it's using increasingly precious staff resources.

Either that or we need to revise an old joke: How many reporters does it take to change a lightbulb?

(Incidentally, I've probably gone beyond the bounds of fair use by quoting the entire story here, but then again, I'm not sure how the Times can claim a copyright on a story with so little original content in it.)

Twitter and Breaking News

Twitter can be maddening in many ways, a cacophony of voices with a lousy signal-to-noise ratio—does anybody really care what somebody else had for breakfast?

But one thing that Twitter excels in is breaking news. Its broadcast, real-time, 140-character headline nature makes it a perfect vehicle for the latest news, whether it's being generated by on-the-spot observers (or participants) and retweeted far and wide, or whether it's being used by news organizations to blast out their latest headlines.

The latter seems a slamdunk use of Twitter by news organizations—it's just a great headline distribution medium. You'd think that news media outlets would be taking advantage of this functionality to increase their reach and influence. But that's not necessarily the case.

Sure, just about every news organization has a Twitter feed or two. But not all of them promote them well (or tend them well). As a result, a list of breaking news feeds on Twitter shows a large disparity in the number of followers for the various sources. This list isn't meant to be comprehensive, though it includes most of the major news brands. But it is representative:

Source       Followers
New York Times  1,993,474
Time  1,670,519
NPR Politics  1,585,066
Breaking News Online  1,325,832
CBS News  1,286,393
Newsweek  925,910
ABCNews  787,833
CNN  547,785
HuffingtonPost  247,841
ESPN  180,473
NPR News  130,433
Fox News  107,818
Wall Street Journal  99,291
Reuters  43,886
MSNBC Breaking  36,228
WashingtonPost  34,556
Google News  24,576
Politico  22,089
YahooNews  4,004
AP  1,552

As you can see, there are some well-known news brands at the top—and some equally well-know news brands at the bottom. The New York Times, Time, NPR and CBS are reaching vast new audiences via Twitter; The Washington Post, Yahoo News and the AP (which should be a natural for a breaking-news headline product), not so much. Some big Web-only names like HuffingtonPost are doing well; others, like Google News, Politico and Yahoo News (the #1 Web news site), are also-rans.

But one of the big names on the list is not like the others: Breaking News Online, the upstart Twitter-only news headline service that has muscled its way near the top of this list, with more than 1.3 million followers. Run by a 19-year-old Dutch entrepreneur, Michael van Poppel, BNO has become an invaluable neutral source for news headlines as soon as they happen. Van Poppel and his small team scan major media sites (and do some of their own reporting) to produce BNO's breaking news feed, pumping out bite-sized news breaks in a manner that will bring a smile to any wire-service or news-radio junkie. They seem to have pitch-perfect news sense, which is essential for any good headline service.

The result: A startup news company with an audience that rivals those of the big traditional news sites on Twitter. Not too shabby. You have to wonder what also-rans like The Washington Post and MSNBC are thinking when they see a teenager beating them qualitatively and quantitatively in distributing breaking news to Twitter's news-junkie-heavy audience. As PaidContent recently wrote, "Hey Media Company. Buy BNO News. Now. Really."

Is there a business model for breaking news on Twitter? At first blush, you'd think not, since there doesn't seem to be any sort of business model for Twitter at the moment. But van Poppel may be a step ahead here, too. BNO now has an iPhone app that sells for $1.99—plus a 99-cent-per-month subscription fee. That might be a decent model to convince breaking news buffs to pay, gasp, a subscription fee for news on their phones (a natural mobile app). It will be interesting to see if BNO can make its subscription model work. At least it's trying.

In the meantime, Breaking News Online is another example of mainstream media being outflanked by an aggressive online startup. You'd think, given the popularity of Twitter among news types, that every major media outlet would have a mega-popular Twitter news operation. But only some do—and the rest are taking a backseat to a clever 19-year-old kid. Tweet that.

Addendum: Some Twitterati argue that inclusion on Twitter's Suggested User list—which new Twitter members see after signing up—skews the popularity of certain sites. Sure, the list—which has hundreds of suggestions, in random order—is probably one factor in driving popularity. But there are many others, and a big news organization that can only garner a few thousand Twitter followers is clearly just not taking advantage of the medium or marketing its feeds well (including lobbying Twitter for inclusion on the suggested list!). And now it appears Twitter is considering eliminating the Suggested Users list. That would level the playing field.

And That’s The Way It Is

With the passing of Walter Cronkite, it will be interesting to see if there's a media frenzy that's anything like the over-the-top orgy of coverage and tributes the accompanied Tim Russert's death last summer. Cronkite was 10 times the journalist and historic figure that Russert was. But I suspect he won't get one-tenth the coverage. How sad. I hope I'm wrong.

R.I.P. Walter.

PS: Sitcom writer/sportscaster Ken Levine has a terrific and appropriately terse appreciation of Cronkite.

Doodlebuzz

Doodlebuzz 

And now for something completely different: I'm a sucker for interesting ways to visualize news and typography. So I'm a sucker for a new site called Doodlebuzz, which lets you pick a topic, draw a little doodle, and then plots headlines about that topic along the lines of the doodle. "Huh." you say? Go try it for yourself. It's fairly useless, but still great, cool fun with technology.

(Hat tip to 10,000 Words for this one.)

This Just In: Michael Jackson, Still Dead

There's been a nagging suspicion in many enlightened journalistic quarters that the Michael Jackson story has been massively overplayed in the media, especially by TV news (even NBC Nightly News led with the story most nights last week, which was ridiculous). 

It was quite apparent that Baby Boomer media managers—out of touch with popular culture and audience interest, but obsessed with a performer from their youth who hasn't been relevant for years—were staying with the Jackson story even though they didn't understand that people really were over it. Indeed, Jeff Jarvis supplied some great data last week that showed that, measured by hard data on Internet searches and blog conversations, interest in all things Jackson had dropped precipitously after the first couple of days.

But the TV talking heads and cameras and helicopters droned on, providing unrelenting coverage on most of the major networks of a story that basically was over once the coroner declared the singer dead. This culminated with live coverage by most networks today of Jackson's funeral, in LA, replete with breathless predictions that hundreds of thousands of mourners would pack the streets around the Staples Center for his memorial service.

Um, not so much. The AP reports:

The traffic snarls and logistical nightmares that had been feared by police and city officials had not materialized. The thousands of fans with tickets began filing in early and encountered few problems, and traffic was actually considered by police to be lighter than normal.

"I think people got the message to stay home," said California Highway Patrol Officer Miguel Luevano. "When you have people staying home, it clears up those freeways."

Deputy Police Chief Sergio Diaz, operations chief for the event, said authorities had expected a crowd of 250,000. Besides reporters and those with tickets to the memorial service, the crowd around the Staples Center perimeter numbered only about 1,000, he said.

Only 1,000 people? When 250,000 were expected? That's some lousy predicting, but it was doubtless fed by media hype. We haven't seen the ratings yet on today's wall-to-wall coverage, but I suspect they're going to be similarly paltry (there's some indications of heavy Web traffic to streaming video of the memorial service, but that may reflect a curiosity factor that's going on while people are at work). Jackson's death was a big story, but it was over in a day or two. By sticking with it and flogging it, big media showed, once again, that it's out of step with its audience.

Update: Turns out the Jackson memorial service was boffo on the Internet. Go figure. But I suspect that had a lot to do with it happening while people were at work, and streaming the video on their office PCs. (Hell, I watched it, out of morbid curiosity.) As Dan Woog notes in the comments, Facebook saw a bunch of MJ-related activity, too, though nothing close to the Obama inauguration. But I think the lack of crowds in LA was very telling. And I hope that the story will just go away now. At least until the toxicology report is in!

A Couple of Good Reads

It's hard to keep up with everything worth reading about the state of the journalism business, but here are a couple of good ones I found today. 

First, veteran Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus, writing in CJR, surfaces some unpleasant truths about what's wrong with journalism today (he gets fuzzier when he talks about the Web and the future of news, but his basic diagnosis is very good).

Second, Ryan Tate on Gawker eviscerates journalist-turned-Hollywood-auteur David Simon's ridiculous testimony before the Senate's grandstanding hearing yesterday on the future of newspapers. Splendid stuff.