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This is one of a series of articles and videos on the June 2017 conference “Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future” hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. Watch the full conference panel below. To read more about the conference and local news, visit:

Staff reporter

The disappearance of archived pages from the Internet Archive poses a threat to research and the preservation of news as the first draft of history, researchers heard recently during a Ryerson University conference on the state of local news.

The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with collections of books, movies, music and archived web pages from across the world. Its most popular feature is the Wayback Machine, which allows researchers to save webpages and search through their database of archived pages. Some pages that may have been previously accessible, however, have disappeared.

“If you are a site owner and you ask for something not to be displayed in the Wayback Machine that has been captured via automatic global scale crawling, then it will not be accessible,” Internet Archive’s web archiving director Jefferson Bailey said during a June 3 panel presentation hosted by the Ryerson School of Journalism.

Under copyright laws, he said, the Internet Archive team is legally required to make these pages unavailable to users upon the request of the page owner.

The two-day conference brought together about 100 journalists, educators and scholars. Bailey was featured on a panel organized by the News Measures Research Project, a major research initiative led by Duke University’s Philip Napoli. The project’s goal is to identify the factors that play a role in determining the health of local journalism in different communities.

Carrie Buchanan, a journalism professor from John Carroll University in Ohio who attended the panel, said she has discovered that archived pages she was counting on as part of her research on three hyperlocal news sources in Cleveland, Ohio have vanished from the Wayback Machine.

Buchanan noted, for example, that archived pages published by the Cleveland Heights Patch prior to 2014 have now disappeared.

In the case of Canada, the ability of site owners to remove archived pages presents problems on a larger scale with companies like Postmedia, she added.

“Somebody might attempt to take all of the old versions of Postmedia out of the Internet Archive…I think it’s a significant issue,” she said. “If this stuff is a public trust, maybe there needs to be some kind of movement to keep news in the public domain even though it’s privately owned.”

“It’s really not good when you think about how much of Canada’s history is in those old newspapers,” she said in an interview during the conference.

“Maybe all of that public material that was previously in the public domain could be removed, even from the Internet Archive. And that really scares me.”

Buchanan suggested that a transfer of ownership might be the reason for the disappearance of the Cleveland Heights Patch pages: AOL sold Patch to Hale Global at the beginning of 2014.

“If I were the new owners, I might not want people to see how good it used to be,” she said, noting she thinks the quality of journalism from Patch has declined. “I might not want people to know that there was very detailed local coverage by quite a few different reporters.”

Buchanan said she relies “extensively” on the Internet Archive and even though there are some challenges in using the Wayback Machine, “this is one of the great resources that we have for research into what’s happening to journalism.”

Research projects like the News Measures Research Project use the Internet Archive to curate archived pages and generate research datasets. After creating and testing a methodology that looks at the number of news outlets in each community and the quantity and quality of stories being produced, Napoli, the principal investigator of the project, said they are now examining local news across 100 random communities in the United States.

Two members of Napoli’s team, Rutgers University’s Matthew Weber and Kathleen McCollough, joined him on the panel to present their latest research. They have identified all of the online webpages for media outlets in those municipalities and with the help of the Internet Archive, have created a week’s sample of content to analyze.

Bailey said that research like this is a “great example of research intent” pairing with “preservation intent.”

This project alone, Bailey said, involves gathering content from 663 local news sites. Altogether that amounts to more than two terabytes of data and 19 million documents. Documents in this case, he added, means URLs.

While the rest of Napoli’s team have been analyzing the news content, Weber has been working on the network data by mapping hyperlink connections between sites.

“There are some really cool things you can do with the archive, in addition to just being able to utilize it to map connections that exist between websites,” he said. “It gives us this really unique snapshot of what content is and was on news media websites and related websites over time.”

Napoli says he hopes to have the analysis of the 100 communities completed and characteristics of an unhealthy local news ecosystem identified by the end of the year.

Staff Reporter

When Beyoncé released her latest album, Lemonade, exclusively on the music streaming service Tidal, new user sign-ups rose by 1.2 million. But since then, the service’s popularity has once again waned. The same effect can be applied to modern journalism, says Alex Watson, The Telegraph’s former head of product.

Events like elections and terrorist attacks can draw audiences to news sources, but they result in short bursts of engagement. Whereas significant, yet small, improvements in the interfaces and delivery systems of news organizations can result in long-term, generalized effects, says Watson, who recently took on a new role as the head of product at the BBC.

“[The product of news] is more than the journalism. The delivery system is doing far more than delivering content, it is shaping how people behave,” he said.

Audience behaviour was a central focus of Journalism Transformations, a recent colloquium organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. The day-long conference explored the major shifts taking place in journalism today in terms of audiences, education and technology. Researchers, academics and industry innovators from Europe, the United States and Canada gathered at the Ryerson School of Journalism in April to discuss these paradigm-shifting changes. (Click here for full coverage of the Journalism Transformations event.)

While the past decade has seen significant shifts in audience behaviour and interests, speaker Retha Hill, professor of practice at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism, says the news industry is still not taking an audience-focused approach to journalism.

“If news or storytelling is our product and that’s what we’re supposed to be focused in on, we have to do a better job of understanding our clients,” Hill said during the colloquium’s opening session. “It seems to me to be critical that [if] we understand more of audience behaviour and analytics … we could be better at providing audiences with relevant, actionable content.”

While other industries are tapping into modern audience research tools to better sell their products Hill, who teaches media entrepreneurship and virtual-reality storytelling at Cronkite, says journalists are still slow to do so.

“We [should] use more of the tools that are currently available to us, tools that are serving our competitors well, all the other content providers that are competing for our audience’s attention. If the point is to get our audiences to consume news, isn’t it incumbent on us to pull out all of the stops to get them relevant information whenever and wherever they’re in a position to consume it?”

This resistance to giving the audience exactly what it wants is a long-held viewpoint, said panelist and media researcher Philip Napoli, a professor and associate dean at Rutgers University.

“Journalism, as a community, has tended to have an aloof detachment from its audience, this paternalistic notion that it’s our job to know what [the audience] needs and that we need to maintain some independence and autonomy from what the audience says it wants.”

Napoli says there has been a fundamental disconnect in journalists’ understanding of audience demand for news, pointing out that for decades newspapers were sources of much more content. Even in the “golden age of journalism,” when circulation was high and people subscribed to multiple newspapers, he noted, much of the demand stemmed from the other information papers provided, such as job listings, coupons, movie listings and apartment listings.

“We have a much better sense of [the audience] now and realize now that this was probably not a time when people were much more avid news consumers, but that it was easier to connect news with other products – exactly the kind of thing that eBay and and Craigslist ultimately decoupled.”

Armed with this better understanding of consumer behaviour, news organizations are in a unique position “to figure out how to better directly connect the nature of the content that is produced with the nature of consumer demand [after] the luxury of generations of not having to do that,” Napoli said.

Napoli’s presentation also touched on his recent research, which attempts to uncover what audiences want from their local news coverage and examines audience behaviour and engagement with journalism.

In his study of three New Jersey communities, he found that the kinds of news people want varied vastly by community. While bigger cities like Newark demanded hard-hitting journalism from their news sources, smaller, upper-middle class towns had fewer pressing concerns.

He said his work on the news behaviours of participants found that many were self-reliant news consumers: people who understood that news comes from multiple sources and felt it was up to them to be informed. Some people recognized the need to actively search for news, but in many cases did not do so, he said. The research also suggested most people aren’t interested in being citizen journalists and pointed to the continuing significance and relevance of interpersonal sharing of news.

“People [often] mentioned the street corner, the coffee shop, the dog walking. This emerged over and over again… as something quite prominent,” he said.

Panelist Kim Schrøder, a professor of communications at Roskilde University in Denmark, presented the results of his research on which media forms are most consumed by Danish audiences. Participants in the study were given 36 news platforms and formats to choose from and asked to rank them by importance.

Six news media repertoires emerged from the results:

  • “online quality omnivores”: those who primarily read quality online news content
  • hybrid public service lovers”: those who primarily rely on public news organizations
  • “light news snackers”: those who occasionally read tabloid newspapers or watch 24-hour news channels
  • “mainstream networkers”: those who use social media and quality news sources
  • “intellectual/professional networkers”: those who primarily use social media, in addition to current affairs programs and professional magazines
  • “print addicts”: those who rely on print newspapers for local and national news needs.

Schrøder says that the future of the news industry is dependent on the changing interests and news consumption habits of users.

“The future shape of the news landscape depends on which technologies, softwares and platforms users appropriate and domesticate,” he said. “It is my observation that the users are playing a tremendously important role here. Of course, there are other factors which determine what kinds of news people will get, but the users are the ultimate decision makers.”

A live-blog transcript of the presentations can be viewed here.

Click here to see the live blog transcript for this event.

Special to the RJRC


Changes in how the public consumes news and the implications of these changes for journalism and journalism education will be the focus of an April 28 colloquium hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.

The meeting of international scholars, journalists and educators is the first in a series of Journalism Transformations colloquia organized by the RJRC. The morning lecture, which is open to the public, will feature presentations that examine changes in local news coverage, audience behaviour and technology.

The day begins with “The Audience Revolution,” a public panel with Philip Napoli, professor and associate dean of research at Rutgers University; Kim Schrøder, professor of communications at Roskilde University in Denmark; Alexis Lloyd, creative director of The New York Times R&D Lab; and discussant, Retha Hill, a professor at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism. Rich Gordon of Northwestern University and Carrie Brown of City University of New York will also be a part of the day’s events.

The panel discussion is an opportunity for journalists and non-journalists alike to hear how newsrooms are adapting to the evolving media landscape and the interests of their audiences.

Asmaa Malik, an associate professor of journalism at Ryerson’s School of Journalism, said the idea for the event grew out of a discussion with co-organizers Gavin Adamson and Ivor Shapiro, and other journalism professors on the changing value proposition of journalism school. As the industry changes, more prospective students (and their parents) question what comes after a journalism degree.

Malik said the job of educators now is to prepare journalism students for careers both inside and outside of traditional newsrooms: “It’s not like we’re training reporters or editors; we’re trying to train people who are fully-equipped for whatever’s ahead and we don’t know necessarily what’s coming down the pipe.”

Napoli, the principal investigator for the News Measures Research Project at Rutgers, will discuss how news has responded to audience behaviour, with an emphasis on how those changes affect local news consumption. Schrøder will contribute his research, the bulk of which was conducted before the digital era began, examining international news consumption shift away from traditional mediums to digital platforms. Alexis Lloyd will discuss her experience at The New York Times, reflecting on how technology engages news audiences and enhances journalism.

Update: Alex Watson, of The Telegraph Media Group in London, will replace Alexis Lloyd on April 28. He is The Telegraph’s head of product and a former technology journalist and led the team behind the creation of the newspaper’s new content management system