Kindle 2.0 to Be Unveiled February 9

January 28, 2009

According to a blog entry on the New York Times yesterday (and according to Google, at 351 other sources), Amazon will be announcing the long-awaited (by its fans) new version of the Kindle on February 9th at a special event in New York City (obviously intended to coincide with O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference which runs in the same city February 9-11).

Well, it will add greater fodder to the Kindle fad, and move the eBook evolution along, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problems lie elsewhere, to be discussed in a subsequent blog entry.

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Investigative Journalism and the Future of Newspapers

January 25, 2009

I’m torn.

A twitter can alert us to breaking news at speeds far faster than any newspaper ever could.

Yet with its 140-character limit it surely cannot do much more than create an alert and a quick observation. There’s a huge gulf between a twitter and investigative journalism.

In a perfect world, Twitter would eventually interact with the in-depth stories that would follow important twitters. This isn’t happening yet. I don’t doubt that Twitter would welcome the connections, but as newspaper journalists are being sidelined left, right and center, there are far fewer folks taking on the task of finding out what might have been behind a earlier twitter.

There are numerous accounts that describe the decline in newspapers and journalism generally, but I think that as fine an article as I’ve encountered is by James Warren in the current issue of The Atlantic. The arguments are not dramatically different than those who have covered this subject previously encountered, but they are clearly and succinctly expressed.

We need to make decisions around where we’re going to find the investigative equivalent of what the print press traditionally handled better than any other medium. Warren’s article convincingly argues that there is no extant Web substitute. So will we forgo investigative journalism, or is there another solution?

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Ex-K.G.B. Agent Buys Famed London Tabloid

January 21, 2009

That’s the title of a perversely amusing story in today’s New York Times. Apparently a certain Mr. Aleksandr Y. Lebedev, whose former career including spying on Britain for the KGB, has seen his personal fortune take a surprising turn for the better. He know owns the National Reserve Bank, 30 percent of the Aeroflot airline and a newspaper (Novaya Gazeta) in Moscow. (A very amusing profile of Lebedev appeared also in the Times last September.)

At any rate, early today the owners of The Evening Standard announced that Mr. Lebedev and his son, Evgeny, had purchased the paper for a price described as “a nominal sum” (analysts estimate it to be one pound, or about $1.40 USD). The paper has a circulation of more than 280,000 copies a day but unfortunately also has losses estimated by analysts at up to $22 million a year.

But what amused me most in the article was a quote from Roy Greenslade, who writes a column on the media in The Evening Standard and blogs about it on the Web site of The Guardian.

“What you always have to ask yourself is, ‘Why is this person buying the paper?’ ” Mr. Greenslade said in a telephone interview.

“There are five reasons for owning newspapers, and all begin with a P: profit, propaganda, political influence, prestige and public service. There’s no profit in The Standard, so you’ve got to look at the other things.”

A memorable listing of reasons for owning a newspaper. With profits rapidly evaporating in the U.S. and elsewhere, and prestige turning into profound embarrassment, what will keep newspaper owners motivated in the future?

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SEC Opens Inquiry of Apple Disclosures

The Wall Street Journal has just reported that:

“The Securities and Exchange Commission has opened an inquiry into Apple Inc.’s disclosures about Chief Executive Steve Jobs’s health, a person familiar with the matter said.

“The inquiry comes after Apple disclosed on Jan. 14 that Mr. Jobs has a “more complex” medical condition than he earlier stated and that he would take a leave of absence until the end of June. The news caused a drop in Apple shares on following days.

“The week before, Mr. Jobs had issued a statement reassuring investors and employees about his health. In the earlier statement, he said he had a “hormone imbalance” for which he had begun “relatively simple and straightforward” treatment.”

The article continues (in part):

“Corporate-governance lawyers say companies are required to update investors if new information makes earlier public statements outdated…Investors and corporate governance experts have criticized the disclosures as inadequate, saying among other things that Mr. Jobs’s reference to a “hormone imbalance” was too general.”

In my December 2008 article on the subject, I point out that an article in Fortune magazine from last March noted that “the SEC requires that any public company disclose material information to investors so that they can include it in their calculation of whether to buy or sell a stock. But there are no specific guidelines governing health issues, and the SEC has never taken action against a company in this area.”

I concluded that while “I am not a lawyer…this strikes me as very clear proof that Steve Jobs’ health is absolutely material information that shareholders have every right to know about at the earliest possible moment. Clearly it’s time for the SEC to revise its rules.”

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The Future of Newspapers from the Perspective of History

This week’s New Yorker offers a gem of an article on the historic struggles that newspapers have endured to survive. While the article starts out in the present: “The newspaper is dead. You can read all about it online, blog by blog, where the digital gloom over the death of an industry often veils, if thinly, a pallid glee. The Newspaper Death Watch, a Web site, even has a column titled “R.I.P.”

From that intro it moves quickly into an incident from 1765, when the British “Parliament decided to levy on the colonies a new tax, requiring government-issued stamps on pages of printed paper–everything from indenture agreements to bills of credit to playing cards.”

The story continues.

Not necessarily an antidote to what ails newspapers today, but an historical perspective is always welcome.

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