Audit Notes: Off the Hamster Wheel, The Dumb Money, iPad Newspapers

I like this Nieman Journalism Lab piece on how Salon hopped off the hamster wheel and saw site traffic increase dramatically.

Salon’s traffic jumped 40 percent even though it posted a third less than it had a year earlier. Adrienne LaFrance talks to Salon editor Kerry Lauerman:

“I remember we had aggregated a Charlie Sheen story, and I saw it tweeted a lot,” Lauerman said. “It wasn’t a really interesting essay, just the latest news breaking. I saw TweetDeck, and I was watching all of our peers — either before or after us — tweet the exact same story. I thought, ‘This is how it ends. This is grim. We’re all just sort of regurgitating the same thing over and over again.”

Soon thereafter, Salon welcomed back founder David Talbot, who again became the site’s CEO last July. Talbot’s return marked another step away from aggregation. “It seemed totally logical to him, and he really wanted us to be ambitious and aggressive and break stories that really matter to our readers,” Lauerman said. “Focus less on doing pieces that could be found anywhere else”…

But ultimately, Lauerman said, the time it takes to aggregate really well is still time away from original reporting. “It’s kind of the worst of both worlds,” Lauerman said. “You’re spending a lot of time on someone else’s work. You’re more motivated when you’re pursuing your own work.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Christian Berthelson reports that, while BlackRock chief Larry Fink “thinks investors should be 100% invested in stocks right now,” his own firm is hardly following his advice:

The remark raised eyebrows around Wall Street, where traders have been noting the major stock indexes have already risen about 20% since early October, with many market indexes hitting three-year highs, and how the market now appears over-bought on technical charts.

But a spokeswoman for BlackRock said Fink’s opinion was his own and didn’t signal any change in strategy on the part of the firm, which lists 25 different fixed-income product strategies alone, in addition to real estate, cash management, currencies, commodities, and equities.

Nice catch.

— Alan Mutter writes that the newspaper industry, once again, is fumbling a digital opportunity: Tablets.

Because newspapers seldom invest in creating bespoke digital content for their apps, their iPad offerings pale in comparison to those produced by any number of competing magazines, broadcasters and native digital publishers, including - to name but a few - Bloomberg BusinessWeek, France24, BBC and News Corp.’s The Daily, which, though journalistically anemic, is pointed in the right direction. All of these apps, like the most of the 140,000 others available at the Apple store, feature interactive tools, rich graphics, audio, video, maps and much more. That is to say: They fully leverage the power of this new medium.

Newspapers, on the other hand, largely have punted, letting readers use the incumbent Safari web browser on the iPad to plumb the dense, user-unfriendly websites where publishers dump their print output for consumption on the web. In contrast to the crisp, graphically engaging and highly interactive apps flooding the Apple store, the typical newspaper site is filled with gray, meandering columns of text requiring multiple swipes to get to the bottom of the page. That is to say: Newspapers don’t come close to leveraging the power of this new medium…

In Silicon Valley of all places, The San Francisco Chronicle concocted a paid app that includes a smattering of up-to-date news and sports but relies heavily on such archival material as old - and I do mean old - columns from the late, great Herb Caen, who died in 1997, pounding his Loyal Royal typewriter to the end. How could the paper be more out of touch?

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,