Privacy — Europe to fight the printer “secret watermark”

For several years (it seems it started around 2000) most printers and photocopiers sold in the US have marking every page with an almost invisible set of yellow dots. This wartermark can be used by law enforcement to identify the owner of any machine. What could be useful to track down Al-Qaeda can also be used against political dissidents. Last week, a European Union commissioner issued an official statement questioning the legality of such practice. This, he states, is a possible violation of privacy rights guaranteed by the European Union’s Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
> story in ArsTechnica
> The Electronic Frontier Foundation is leading the campaign against the yellow dots.

Top 30 Most Popular Newspaper Sites

Now let’s have a look at the raw data, i.e. the US newspaper’s performance in January. It remains impressive.
On the table below, the first number is the audience in unique visitors for the month, the second is the year-over-year change in % :

NYTimes.com 20,461 — 45.1%
USATODAY.com 12,314 — 19.4%
Washingtonpost.com 9,902 — 14.6%
Wall Street Journal 6,962 — 81.4%
LA Times 5,715 — 4.7%
Boston.com 5,194 — 23.7%
San Franc Chronicle 4,255 — (-3.9%)
New York Post 4,027 — (-3.5%)
Newsday 3,764 — 59.2%
Chicago Tribune 3,185 — (-15.7%)
Village Voice 2,686 — 116.4%
The Politico 2,371 — 253.4%
Int. Herald Tribune 1,789 — (-15.0%)

As for the magazines, in Q4 2007, guess the ratio between the growth of their Web sites traffic and the growth of the internet audience in the US. Magazines grew three times as fast as the US Internet audience.
> details in the Magazines Publishers of America.

Are US newspapers doing so well online ?

Well, US papers are doing good in absolute numbers, confirming a shifting model (not necessarily for the best since an online readers brings a fifth or a tenth of the revenue a print readers does). Now, if we put the Internet in the picture, American newspapers are not doing so well. In 2007, the average Web user loaded 51% more Web pages in 2007 than three years earlier, and spent 23% more time online. The equivalent increases for newspaper Web sites were just 24% and 20%, respectively. So newspapers were losing share of the average reader’s total Web activity says Carl Bialik, the “Numbers Guy” columnist of the Wall Street Journal.
> story here

MainStreet, biz site, too “people”

When it came out, TheStreet.com Network’s new spin-off had a promising baseline : “Where Life and Money Intersect”. Good idea, in theory, to inject tabloid distance into dry business news coverage. So far, something’s not working in MainStreet.com, however: too light, too “people”. Let’s see how much time they need to find the right balance. The site’s mother company is a very clever one. You can judge by yourself.
> MainStreet.com here{

Journalism — Snapshots of a legend

Last Friday, Carl Bernstein (one of the two Watergate heroes, Bob Woodward being the other) gave a speech to an audience of a students at “Sciences Po” (the high-falutin Institut National des Sciences Politiques) in Paris. Bernstein was promoting his new biography of Hillary Clinton. Facing a full amphitheatre, he had a heated exchange with members of the interviewing panel that included a sociologist, supposedly a specialist of American media. The argument centered on the blogosphere: Has it become the agenda-setter in journalism? Unsurprisingly, Bernstein was adamant: Journalism is still ruled by serious media outlets such as the New Yorker. They are the ones which lift the veil on the Abu Ghraib scandal and others public system or political abuses. He’s right. It is very surprising that, in spite of the increasing availability of good journalism on the internet, many (including sociology scholars) remain fascinated by the blogosphere, mistaking noise for relevance. Undigested novelty.

Carl Bernstein also displayed concern for the low competitive metabolism of the current generation of journalists. He kept reminding the young audience of Sciences Po that the best stories are pursued outside of regular business hours. When he covered the legislature, the great stuff came not from the tedious, need-to-be-printed news he was supposed to follow, but from after-hours chitchat with staffers… Then as now, the journalist must rely on his skill and judgment to get, what he calls, “the best obtainable version of the truth”. (For that matter, The New York Times, ever so modest, calls itself “the first draft of History”).

> Watergate era nostalgics can go to this special section on the Washington Post website. The investigative unit of the Post is still led by Bob Woodward.

At the NY Times, job cuts and outsiders pressure

The New York Times caught between Wall Street and Wall Street. On one side of the The Street, the group faces a major offensive of the Harbinger/Firebrand hedge fund which now owns 10.5% of its stock. The attacker is pushing hard for a board upheaval. In response, the Times made some changes on his board by nominating an internet expert (Dawn Lepore, CEO of Drugstore.com and an eBay board member) and a seasoned financier Robert Denham, former CEO of Salomon. But the Times board has no intention of letting Harbinger representatives in.

Activists-led campaigns are on the rise in the United States, and media groups are good targets with their great brand, shifting business model and trailing stocks — the NYT Co’s share is at a 11 years low. (Plus, this comes after Morgan Stanley’s decision to end its two years campaign for change at the NYT by dumping its 7% stake).

On the other side of Wall Street, the Times is facing an increasing competition with the “The Journal”. Rupert Murdoch, its new owner, makes no mystery of hos goal: taking The New York Times’s position. To beat Rupert back, the NYT can’t forever rely on its well-worn hauteur. It must remain on the offensive on both print and digital fronts. This is detailed in Bill Keller’s speech before his troops last week. In it, the editor of the New York Times outlines an impressive list of product-related actions undertaken in the last five years, the integration of the newsroom – with print and web being produced seamlessly – remaining quite an achievement. At the same time, he announces a 100 jobs cut in its 1300 plus staff.

> read Bill Keller’s speech

Actvists investors campaigns are at al time high.
> story in the Wall Street Journal

> a recent Bloomberg story about the Times situation

“Shareholders in general do not have the ability to run a company. They are fickle and irresponsible. They only take on a limited responsibility, but they greedily demand high dividend payments.” Who says that ? Takao Kitabata, the vice-minister of Japan’s powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) does.
> He is quoted in a story about Japanese rebuttal of foreign activists investorsin The Economist.

US election — Follow the (money) trail

Remember the legions of staffers crowding electoral campaigns in TV series like The West Wing ? How much could they make ? The online magazine Slate did some research. Clinton’s campaign manager is making the equivalent of $164,000 a year, less that her counterpart in the McCain’s team ($200,000). Full-time speechwriters make $50,000 to $90,000, but it is much better to be a free-lance speechwriters helping the staffers (their fees can go as high as $15,000 per speech). But the real money is in the media and poll consultants who are taking a cut on the space they buy.
> Details in Slate

The Cloud, according to IBM

Imagine the entire internet fitting into ONE (big) computer. That is IBM’s vision as defined in its Kittihawk Project. As for now, the biggest computer in the world is controlled by – you guessed it – Google. It assembles roughly a million of pizza-box-size PC, in dozens of datacenters across the world (this is called the “Cloud”). Works fine for you and me, but as viewed by IBM computer scientists, it is like building an electric power plant out of portable generators (unfair : computers can be programmed, generators can’t). Anyway, those clusters of cheap computers are extremely demanding in terms of power, cooling and interconnection. By comparison, one computer containing thousands, or even millions, of processors can do a better job more efficiently.
> see this white paper (at least he first half is accessible)

Spooks hooked at Second Life

On Second Life, same rules apply to anyone : anonymity, global access (50,000 people are on the network at any moment), and possibility to quickly setup businesses – including illegal ones. This is why the US intelligence community is getting involved in Second Life. According to the Intelligence Advanced Research Project Agency (Iarpa), features in avatars crowded games can be efficient tools for terrorists : from recruiting, to planning, to money laundering
> story in the Washington Post