Finding a way to save local news, but is it by plagiarizing?

GoLocalProv.com, a local website based in Providence, R.I., claims to have found a way to save local news, and indeed, the numbers do seem to tell a promising tale. According to an article written by Josh Fenton, the site’s founder, in Business Insider, the site, which launched in May 2010, has increased its traffic more than 100 percent in the last four months. And according to the article, the site attracted 410,000 “absolute unique visitors” in its first year, which, in a state with a population that hovers slightly above 1 million, is particularly impressive considering the report released by the FCC on June 9 citing a decline in the creation of online local news.

Fenton credits the site’s original reporting and “high-quality” videos as the reasons behind GoLocal’s success.

“For GoLocal the focus has been on content ─ as it is truly king. By breaking the biggest investigative pieces, covering core elements of the community, and integrating these stories into social media, GoLocalProv has been able to set the news cycle ahead of other news organizations over and over again,” Fenton wrote. “Unlike other new models for media, GoLocal doesn’t use third-party content aggregators or other news organizations like Associated Press to scrape stories.”

But are people really reading original content when they visit GoLocal?

In February, GoLocal published an article, with the byline GoLocalProv Features Team, about a new master’s degree program at Brown University. The story begins “Brown University has partnered with the University of Edinburgh and the Chinese University of Hong Kong to establish a new opportunity for students interested in international study. The ‘Brown Plus One’ international program, which begins this year, allows Brown students to spend one or two semesters at a partnering university during their junior year.” Earlier that day, Brown had posted a press release, which began, “Brown University has partnered with the University of Edinburgh and the Chinese University of Hong Kong to establish a new opportunity for students interested in international study. The ‘Brown Plus One’ international program, which begins this year, allows Brown students to spend one or two semesters at a partnering university during their junior year.”

GoLocal’s story goes on to include a quote from the university’s dean of the college, without citing the release, which is identical to the one that appeared in the press release. In fact, GoLocal’s story is the press release almost word-for-word ─ yet there is no mention at all that any of the information came from the release.

Fenton asserts GoLocal’s success is a testament to the over 8,500 “original stories” on the site, but if copying and pasting a press release is “original” reporting and the key to GoLocal’s success, then it’s unclear how his site could ─ and should ─ be a model for saving local news.

(Thanks to Talia Kagan)

Monday jolt: NY Times limits length of comments

On the homepage of the New York Times this morning:

A Note to Readers:
Starting today, the character limit on comments will be reduced from 5,000 to 2,000 characters. The shorter length will allow for an improved experience for commenters and readers alike. As always, we encourage you to share your opinions and reactions.

For longer comments, head to the blogs.

Maybe not in reading, but people still interested in newspapers

“Page One,” a documentary about the New York Times, averaged $16,500 in two theaters this weekend.

Among Sundance flicks released this weekend, “Page One” debuted at number one, eking out a win over “Buck” and trumping Fox Searchlight’s “The Art of Getting By.” According to indieWire, “Page One” took in $33,000 on two screens in New York, for an average of $16,500, while “Buck” claimed $64,400 on four screens, averaging $16,100. “The Art of Getting By,” however, did not do so well, taking in $700,000 on 610 screens for a paltry average of $1,148.

People may not be reading newspapers, but they’re still fascinated by them. Or at least, more fascinated by the media desk at the New York Times than by a horse-whisperer and a high-school boy.

As Zell scoops up real estate and sues, Chicago Tribune site to include real-time ads

The Chicago Tribune, one of the papers owned by the struggling Tribune Company, launched a redesigned website last week to focus more on breaking news and cater more toward local readers. The new layout is cleaner, with fewer colors because a “cleaner layout with new fonts, fewer colors and a faster load time allows readers to focus on the news of the day,” according to the website explaining the redesign.

At the same time Tribune introduced its new site, it also announced it would be adding 40-44 pages to its print addition per week. Despite the increased page count, the price of the print edition will stay the same. Could this be a genuine attempt to offer more content to readers, both in print and online? Is Tribune Company’s revenue finally significant enough that they “can do puppies and Iraq,” as Chairman Sam Zell talked about when he visited the Orlando Sentinel in February 2008?

Probably not. According to the Nieman Journalism Lab, the new Tribune website will soon feature real-time ads, which sponsors will be able to change whenever they want by pulling from twitter feeds, Facebook, Tumblr and blogs. Bill Adee, the vice president for digital operations for Tribune Media Group, told Nieman Lab that the ads would appear prominently on the website and that the ads were a unique opportunity for advertisers to integrate content with social media. The concept is not unexplored by other news sites, though right now Nieman’s best example of users are MinnPost and the Windy Citizen.

But perhaps Tribune is looking for revenue sources other than ads to generate some profit without hiking the price of the print edition. Last week, Zell joined other investors in buying a 90 percent stake in a 755,000 square-foot Chicago office building valued at $106 million. Zell’s insurance company is also suing a Los Angeles art gallery owner for over $5 million for selling three of Zell’s paintings and keeping the proceeds.

Looks like Zell needs some cash. And it looks like Tribune and Zell might not be so confident that the addition of real-time ads is the answer.

With help from readers, City Paper fights back

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder is suing the Washington City Paper for defamation, but the paper and its readers are fighting back. / mediaite.com

The idea that newspapers could survive on the wings of charitable donations from those who value the importance of print media is enticing to newspaper owners at a time when print is facing sludgy revenue streams and evaporating interest. But the Washington City Paper is using donations from readers to keep itself afloat not because advertisers have lost faith and the paper is failing to make a sizable enough profit to keep printing and not because readers are defecting to news aggregators or blogs. Instead, City Paper is asking readers to help pay for the legal fees involved in defending itself against a sports owner. According to an article in the Washington Post yesterday, readers have already donated $31,000 to help the paper with the cost of litigation.

In February, Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, sued City Paper — a “tabloid paper,” according to a column he wrote in April — and its parent company Atalaya Capital Management for defamation, alleging that the paper had printed untrue statements about him in a column by Dave McKenna called “The Cranky Redskins Fan’s Guide to Dan Snyder” that ran in November. Snyder has since refiled the case in Washington, D.C. — the suit was originally filed in New York — and, according to the Post article, is seeking $1 million in retribution in addition to an unspecified amount for punitive damages from the paper.

But City Paper is not backing down, nor is it going down easy. In addition to sticking with the facts in the column, City Paper filed a motion yesterday to dismiss Snyder’s claim. The motion is rooted in a new law that targets “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” also knows as SLAPP. These type of suits, like Snyder’s, use the threat of legal costs to force an opponent to stop criticism or public opposition, according to the Post.

And the motion is not unfounded. In a letter sent by David Donovan, Snyder’s lawyer, in November to the paper’s owner, Donovan wrote, “We presume defending such litigation would not be a rational strategy for an investment firm such as yours. Indeed, the cost of litigation would presumably quickly outstrip the asset value of the Washington City Paper,” according to the Post. Given that the last thing a newspaper can afford these days is to have to siphon money away from its newsroom, Snyder probably did see a golden opportunity for some easy cash: A defamation lawsuit for a weekly paper is like yanking the rug from under a puppy.

But maybe Snyder isn’t so punitive. In his April column, Snyder wrote, “Let’s be clear what this lawsuit is not about. It is not about money. I have already publicly committed to donate any financial damages I win to help the homeless.” But screw the paper.

Boston Herald offers buyouts to all employees

Though Boston is on the opposite coast, it may be heading in the same direction as Seattle. In March 2009, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, one of two major newspapers in Seattle, folded, leaving the city with the Seattle Times as its only paper.

Today, the Boston Herald offered buyouts to all of its employees. Though the paper’s publisher and president Patrick Purcell said these “financial efficiencies” (asking people nicely to leave before firing them) would “position us well for the future,” the “staff adjustments” may be a not-so-subtle way of saying the Herald is in dire straits.

At least the city will still have the Boston Globe. Although even the Globe’s future has been shaky — the New York Times wanted to sell the Globe in 2009 before deciding it was worth keeping. And if the Globe becomes the only paper, well, it might be only a matter of time before it, like the Times, puts up a pay wall. But hey, maybe the city can use its new Stanley Cup as a battering ram.

‘Page One’ hits theaters

It’s here.

The long-anticipated tell-all (some) about the New York Times is rolling out in theaters across the U.S. starting today. Reviews haven’t all been positive, but it definitely feels more real than Green Lantern. And it’s playing on far fewer screens, so seeing it will make you feel more indie and hipster. Especially if you see it tonight at the Angelika.