Bloomberg Names First Chief Digital Officer; New York Times Readies Online Paywall


Rachel Sterne, a 27-year-old child of New York City’s burgeoning start-up scene and a citizen journalism early adopter, has been named the city’s Chief Digital Officer by the Bloomberg administration. What on earth does that mean? Find out inside Press Clips, our afternoon media round-up. Plus: can The Huffington Post fire people they don’t pay? What’s up with Harper’s? And did you know the Sunday edition of the New York Times costs $5.00? Get indignant. And be sure to email with tips, curses and funny YouTube videos.

Chief Sterne of NYC: Capital New York reports on this morning’s hiring announcement, taking us back six months to when the Digital Officer position was announced as someone who would “help develop forward-thinking policies on social media, digital communications, web 2.0 initiatives and other tools to better serve the public” for between $75,000 and $125,000 a year. Let’s assume she’ll do more than run a Twitter account.

According to Capital’s Gillian Reagan, “Sterne will also serve as an advocate for the city’s digital media and tech scene,” a role she’s well prepared for as the founder of GroundReport, a citizen journalism website, and an adjunct professor of social media and entrepreneurship at Columbia Business School. Sterne writes to Capital:

“The focus of my role is to help the city use technology to better serve citizens, and to save tax payers money by making our services more efficient and accessible online. In more concrete terms, I will start with a listening campaign that asks citizens and City agencies for their ideas, requests, and complaints on the City’s digital resources. This will be part of a 90-day report that analyzes our city’s current digital and social media resources, and outlines next steps for both policy and initiatives.”

Bringing bloated bureaucracy online is never a fun task, but we’re all @rooting for her.

Huffy as Hell: Joe Pompeo at Yahoo’s The Cutline has the story of Mike Elk, “a 24-year-old freelance labor journalist who secured press credentials to the event through his affiliation as a blogger with the Huffington Post,” getting him removed from an unpaid blogging gig in the process:

“I’m sorry to say we are revoking your access to our blog and ending our association,” Peter Goodman, HuffPo’s business editor, wrote to Elk in a Jan. 20 email obtained by The Cutline. “I appreciate that what happened yesterday was a poor decision on your part, one made on the spur of the moment, but it was simply over the line from an ethical standpoint and it would compromise our integrity to have you continue to write for us or represent us in any way.”

Elk, who said he has contributed more than 100 posts since being recruited as a blogger in 2009 by the website’s national editor, Nico Pitney, sees it differently.

“I never lied to anybody at any step in this process,” he told The Cutline on Friday. “There is a tradition in labor journalism to be active participant journalists,” he added, citing Michael Moore, who also blogs for HuffPo. “This is a tactic union organizers use all the time.”

Now, HuffPo is obviously not a bastion of objectivity, so the politics are not the problem. The issue is in self-identification as a member of an organization in order to secure perks like a press badge: “We are simply not OK with anyone accrediting themselves as a Huffington Post reporter without prior clearance from an editor,” said an editor from the site. And yet, the man is not being paid; all he has is a menial title. Sure, he was a tad sloppy with it, but it’s ridiculous to ban him altogether. Elk wasn’t fishing for a table at Michael’s! He was trying just working on the more rewarding half of the citizen-journalist hybrid.

UPDATE: To be clear, Elks did not have his blogging privileges revoked for gaining the credentials without asking, but because he used those credentials to assist a protest in which “200 union members stormed into a Mortgage Bankers Association conference in Washington, D.C., and held a guerrilla-style demonstration for about 10 minutes.” Goodman, HuffPo’s business editor, assures us that had it just been about the credentials, Elk would have merely been reminded of company policy (approval from an editor) and not removed completely. What Elk did was give his press pass to a union activist who then led a protest.

In Pompeo’s piece on the matter he notes, “you’d be hard-pressed to find a news organization that would condone one of its reporters doing what he did,” and he’s right. Yet for a volunteer, and one who claims the rules were not made clear, the shit-starter in us, one who appreciates some balls on a blogger, wishes some leniency were in the cards. More from The Cutline:

Which raises the question of how effectively HuffPo articulates those guidelines to its bloggers. “I was never asked to sign a contract of any type,” said Elk. “Their editors offered me … not much guidance on what I could and could not do as a Huffington Post blogger.”

Paywall Comin’: The long-awaited second generation of the New York Times paywall is coming next month, according to the Wall Street Journal, which usually has a paywall of its own except when it comes to this article about the paywall for a competitor. (So there!) According to the Journal, “the Times will sell an Internet-only subscription for unlimited access to the Times site, as well as a broader digital package that bundles the Times online with its application on the iPad, according to a person familiar with the matter. Subscribers to the print edition of the paper will get full online privileges at no additional cost, Times executives have said.”

In anticipation of less liberal rules for free online reading, I almost bought the New York Times yesterday at my local bodega before I saw how much they charge. I know it comes with a magazine, but it does not come with a bacon, egg and cheese bagel.

Luckily, New York‘s Daily Intel points out a special detail in the Journal article: “Times Co. executives say people who arrive through search engines like Google won’t be blocked from viewing the first page of a search result regardless of how many visits they’ve made.” Think of it as “an open side door.”

Anchor vs. Anchor: Dan Abrams (who in his time away from the airwaves has signed a few paychecks for me in the past) is “in talks” with ABC News, after years with NBC, to appear more on Good Morning America and possibly do some anchoring, according to Women’s Wear Daily. This becomes interesting in the nerdiest parts of our imagination, in which a newly free Keith Olbermann, who does not get along with Abrams, as per press about the press, will also be looking for new work soon. Competition breeds excellence (and blog posts). For historical reference:

“Dan never really ran it,” Olbermann tells me [of MSNBC]. “He’s always tried to ride my coattails.” Staffers were in near open revolt after Abrams proposed a new tagline, “MSNBC: Keepin’ It Real.”

Hard Times at Harper’s: As noted earlier by our own Tom Robbins, writers both past and present have presented Harper’s publisher Rick MacArthur “a sharp letter” for laying off employees who helped the staff unionize: “Novelists Jonathan Lethem, Madison Smartt Bell, Robert Coover, William Gass, Breyten Breytenbach, and poet-critic Eliot Weinberger are among the 84 signatories who include Harper’s contributors and former editors.”

But Jeff Bercovici at Forbes has MacArthur’s response, which begins:

I understand that you care deeply for Harper’s Magazine and that is the reason why you were willing to put your name to the letter. It is my feeling, however, that many of you signed this letter without all the facts, including the incorrect information that I am not negotiating in good faith with the union.

And ends with a promise to “do our utmost to come to an agreement that would continue the fair treatment of our employees, which has always been, and continues to be, my policy.” Read the rest here.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 24, 2011

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