2012 - %3, February

LA Times Joins the Paywall Brigade

| Sat Feb. 25, 2012 11:33 AM PST

I see that the LA Times will soon be putting in place a paywall — oops, I mean a "membership program" — for its online readers:

Starting March 5, online readers will be asked to buy a digital subscription at an initial rate of 99 cents for four weeks. Readers who do not subscribe will be able to read 15 stories in a 30-day period for free. There will be no digital access charge for subscribers of the printed newspaper.

....Other news outlets that have begun charging for online journalism include the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Dallas Morning News. Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper company, this week announced plans to launch a similar program at 80 publications, saying it could boost earnings by $100 million in 2013.

After the first month, the price goes up to $3.99 per week, which seems a wee bit steep to me. The New York Times charges me $2.60 per week and the Wall Street Journal charges me $3.99 per week, and meaning no offense, those are much better papers with far more content. It doesn't really matter to me, of course, since I already subscribe to the print edition, but I have my doubts that there are thousands of new subscribers itching to pay that kind of money for the LAT.

As it happens, the trend toward paywalls is a particular problem for me, since I'm a blogger and rely on access to lots of news sources on a regular basis. But I already subscribe to the Times and the Journal, since they provide content that's genuinely unique/valuable, and also to the LA Times, mostly out of habit and residual loyalty. But that's about all I can afford. I'd like to read the Financial Times more regularly too, but $700 per year in newspaper subscriptions has me tapped out. As other papers start erecting paywalls, it's going to make my job ever harder.

At the same time, although I think the LA Times is overpriced, I don't really blame them or anyone else for putting up a paywall. The conventional wisdom among the digerati, as near as I can tell, is that paywalls are always and forever bad things, but why is that? I'd say just the opposite: I've never entirely understood why most newspapers offer online editions at all. I've heard dozens of strained arguments about how online editions don't cannibalize sales of the paper edition, but come on. Of course they do. There's always been a strong whiff of special pleading to these arguments: we don't want to pay for news, therefore it must be bad to charge for news. Online editions are good PR! They draw in new readers! Etc. We heard the same arguments for years in the music biz, and guess what? Online piracy/sales cannibalized the hell out of existing channels.

The same thing is almost certainly true of newspapers, and as the digital generation grows up cannibalization will increase. But what do do? Even after more than a decade of dotcom experience, online advertising still doesn't cover the cost of producing your average metro daily. Not even close. I'm not sure online advertising even covers the marginal cost of running a website. So you either charge or die.

Of course, "die" is going to be the choice for a lot of news outlets. Most of them do a crappy job of reporting national and international news, and sports and gossip are available from a million places. That leaves purely local news, which is a pretty tiny niche.

But they might as well try. It's not like there's some cosmic law that says news outlets are required to give away their products for free. The advertising model isn't working, and maybe no other model will either, but they might as well start experimenting. It's either that or give up.

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Raw Data: How Registration Affects Comments

| Sat Feb. 25, 2012 9:51 AM PST

A few weeks ago we started requiring registration with email verification for commenters. So how has that worked out? Here are the basic stats from our tech wizards:

  • 22% decrease in total comments
  • 22% increase in Twitter logins
  • 257% increase in Facebook logins
  • 45% decrease in comments our moderators decided to delete

So there you have it. We're getting fewer comments, but not a lot fewer, and anecdotally, the tone of the comments section seems much more civil.

The moral of the story is: Register today! You can use your Twitter or Facebook login, but you don't have to. Just submit your name, you'll get an email address with a verification link to click, and you're good to go. You only have to do it once.

Film Review: If A Tree Falls

| Sat Feb. 25, 2012 4:01 AM PST

If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
85 minutes

One day in December 2005, documentary filmmaker Marshall Curry's wife came home with some surprising news: Four federal agents had arrived at the domestic violence organization where she worked in Brooklyn and arrested her coworker, Daniel McGowan, on charges of eco-terrorism. McGowan, a sweet, quiet guy who'd majored in business in college and was working towards a master's in acupuncture, seemed an unlikely terrorist, and Curry—whose first documentary, Street Fight, about Cory Booker's first mayoral campaign, was nominated for an Oscar in 2005—was intrigued. He and co-director Sam Cullman set out to figure out how McGowan had ended up in handcuffs, and discovered a fascinating, sobering tale of a sensitive idealist's gradual radicalization in the face of an unresponsive political system. Curry and Cullman's thoughtful film—currently in the running for an Oscar in the category of best documentary—couldn't be more timely amidst the debate over activist tactics that's been renewed since the Occupy Wall Street protests emerged last fall.

Heartland's Tips For A Taut Tummy

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 9:36 PM PST

Sure. From time to time we're all a little distracted by that stubborn Winter padding. Too much New Year cheer. Now it's nearly March! And goodness knows we've all done some light non-work-related Googling at the office desk on an otherwise quiet Friday afternoon.

But in the middle of an all-out international PR-offensive against alleged "fraud"; and "theft"; leveled at several quarters of the "lamestream media", maybe it's best to not only minimize, but close a few browser windows? Even if it was a pop-up ad.

A string of emails released Friday afternoon by the Heartland Institute, in the form of screenshots, details how scientist Peter Gleick obtained sensitive documents by posing as a board member.But they also reveal divided attention at a crucial moment in the Institute's PR campaign. An open browser window at the bottom of many of the screengrabs is titled "42 Best Ways To Lo..."

A quick Google reveals pages and pages of referring links to 42 Best Ways To Lose Stomach Fat Fast.

The Guardian also points to other areas of carelessness in the email release:

... it does not appear, from Friday's release, that Heartland has had a security overhaul. Despite redactions, one of the emails contained a list of board recipients, including one email address.

Corn on "Hardball": Culture Wars Seize Political Spotlight

Fri Feb. 24, 2012 5:49 PM PST

David Corn and Jennifer Donahue joined host Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the recent political spates over women's health rights and same-sex marriage. Despite predictions that the 2012 political season would be all about the economy, the discourse has returned to the familiar tropes of the culture wars.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Iran War Watch: New Senate Resolution a Step Toward War?

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 3:30 PM PST

Are the United States and Iran on a collision course over the Middle Eastern country's controversial nuclear program? We'll be regularly posting the latest news on Iran-war fever—the intel, the media frenzy, and the rhetoric.

Last week, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Robert Casey (D-PA), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced Senate Resolution 380, which emphatically rejects a containment policy towards Iran and promotes a more hardline stance on preventing the Islamic Republic from acquiring "nuclear weapons capability." The proposal also encourages increased diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran, and "urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability..." If adopted, the bill could make military conflict more likely.

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Texas Axes Health Programs for Women

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 3:08 PM PST

In the latest dispatch from the Republican war on Planned Parenthood, on Thursday the administration of Texas Gov. Rick Perry enacted a new rule banning state funds from going to any health center at all affiliated with anyone who offers abortions. The measure would effectively end the Women’s Health Program in the state, because federal law prohibits states from discriminating against specific providers in the allocation of Medicaid.

The Texas Tribune reports that the move bans Planned Parenthood clinics and other "affiliates of abortion providers" from taking part in the program:

The rule, signed by Commissioner Tom Suehs on Thursday, takes effect March 14. Unless some last-minute agreement is brokered, the program, which receives $9 in federal funds for every $1 in state funds, will be either phased out or cut off by the end of March. At least 130,000 poor Texas women will lose access to cancer screenings, well-woman exams and contraception.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richard said Perry has again "chosen politics over the lives of Texas women." This isn't the first time the Perry administration has cut women's health programs; last year, the governor and legislature axed two-thirds of the budget for those programs, as NPR reported in September.

The Making of an Agribusiness Apologist

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 1:18 PM PST

Earlier this month, Forbes.com published an op-ed by Jon Entine in which he purported to debunk Dashka Slater's must-read recent Mother Jones profile of Tyrone Hayes, the UC Berkeley professor who found that tiny doses of the widely used herbicide atrazine affects frogs' sexual development.

Entine, who describes himself as an "author, think tank scholar, leadership and sustainability consultant, media commentator, and public speaker on the DNA of human behavior," accused Slater of blatantly overstating the dangers of atrazine, which shows up at low levels in drinking water in farming-intensive areas in the Midwest and South. According to Entine, as it's currently used on American fields, atrazine poses no risks to people or farms. Entine called out Mother Jones for promoting "End of Days hysteria" and displaying "a devastating lack of respect for science." Now, Entine's critique of the science indicting atrazine is sophisticated and deserves to be answered. I have written critically about atrazine before, and much of Entine's critique of Slater's piece applies to my work as well. I'll be digging into that in a forthcoming post.

Malaria Cure for Mom Risks Child's Immunity

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 1:06 PM PST

Life cycle of malaria.

Being born with immunity to the diseases prevalent in your 'hood because you inherited the antibodies from your mother (who suffered and survived the disease) is an important factor in human survival and adaptability This is especially true in places where you're likely to be reinfected with the same disease/parasite multiple times in your lifetime.

But what happens if you treat the mother for the infection? Will her children inherit maternal immunity? The evidence remains inconclusive as to whether treating human moms for malaria improves the survival rate of their kids. But a new study in mice shows: not so much.

The paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B finds that:

  • Baby mice born to moms who had been infected by malaria had their mortality reduced by 75 percent compared to babies born to moms who had never been infected with malaria and had no antibodies to confer. 
  • Baby mice born to infected moms treated with antimalarial drugs received fewer maternal antibodies and consequently died at a rate 25 percent higher than babies born from infected, untreated moms.

The authors write:

We observed the same qualitative patterns across three different host strains and two parasite genotypes. This study...highlights a potential trade-off between the health of mothers and offspring, suggesting that anti-parasite treatment may significantly affect the outcome of infection in newborns.

I wrote in an earlier post how rising global temperatures are likely drive malaria into 'hoods where it doesn't live now. 

The open-access paper:

  • Vincent Staszewski, Sarah E. Reece, Aidan J. O'Donnell, and Emma J. A. Cunningham. Drug treatment of malaria infections can reduce levels of protection transferred to offspring via maternal immunity. Proc. R. Soc. B 2012 : rspb.2011.1563v1-rspb20111563.


Friday Cat Blogging - 24 February 2012

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 12:54 PM PST

This week doesn't really have a theme. Just a couple of cats enjoying the nice weather. On the left, Domino is rolling around in the sunshine and peering out from behind a potted plant on the patio. On the right, Inkblot obviously has some serious business on his mind as he strides purposefully toward the camera. As it turns out, that serious business was jumping down off the fence and going inside to see if the food bowl had been magically replenished. Sadly, it hadn't been. Maybe next time.