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The Download: On the web, traffic still rules

Posted in: Current Affairs   Boston politics   Energy   Education
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The recent sale of the Huffington Post to AOL and the New York Times’s implementation look like very different moves by very different media entities. But scratch below the surface and they have more in common than one might think. When it comes to news and information sites on the Internet, traffic is still king.

To much fanfare, the Times announced it would be imposing a pay wall plan aimed at generating revenue from heavy users of its website. However, the pay only wall kicks in after 20 article clicks in a given month, and important exemptions exist, effectively shielding many readers from ever hitting it. For instance, clicks via social media sites like Twitter and Facebook don’t count toward the user’s monthly count. Users can also gain free access through Google searches, to a limit.

With all these pathways in place, the Times estimates that 85 percent of its online readership will never see the pay wall. The admission seems to underscore the fact that the paper still puts a bigger premium on maintaining its enormous web traffic than squeezing money out of the greatly reduced online readership that would result from a sturdier pay wall.  

The Huffington Post, of course, is all about traffic, with no talk of pay walls.  With its emphasis on gaming search engines by peppering articles with keywords and quick production of cheap content through the use of unpaid bloggers, the site has amassed a huge following (the press release on the sale claims the site has 25 million monthly unique visitors). HuffPo’s $315 million price tag in the sale to AOL is a testament to the value of such a large audience.  Some of the HuffPo’s former writers were impressed by that figure, too, and are now part of a Newspaper Guild effort that is encouraging writers to stop giving their content to the site for free.

Both the Times and HuffPo still have to figure out how to monetize all that web traffic.  In the meantime, one big difference, of course, is that the HuffPo is a low-cost “internet newspaper” (as its masthead proclaims), aggregating content from other sites and featuring lots of unpaid bloggers, while the Times operates a costly worldwide news gathering organization. 

                                                                                                                                                                        --CHRISTINA PRIGNANO

EDUCATION

Students at Salem State University will see a 6.5 percent tuition hike in the fall of 2011, reports the Salem News.

The most tangible accomplishment of the Michelle Rhee/Mike Bloomberg/Waiting for Superman crowd? Turning teachers from saints into demons. Or so argues New York magazine. 

Two sensible takes on teacher evaluation on the Globe editorial page

Boston City Councilor John Connolly tells Emily Rooney about his surprise visits to city schools that found outdated foods in cafeterias and started the upheaval in the school department’s food service division.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Gloucester Times reports a public hearing with EPA officials on their decision require Gloucester to build a secondary wastewater treatment facility met with dozens of residents voicing opposition over the potential cost to taxpayers.

State Rep. John Keenan is calling for a meeting with regional nuclear officials to discuss emergency plans and the safety of New England’s nuclear power plants.

Cape Cod towns will still receive $6.5 million in remaining stimulus funding for water projects. Some towns were concerned that Washington might not release the money.

TRANSPORTATION

State Transportation Secretary Jeff Mullan, whose future looks a little shaky right now, gets tossed a bouquet by Boston.com politics editor Glen Johnson

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Fidelity Investments tells Gov. Deval Patrick that it's not coming back to MetroWest.

Mother Jones
 looks at the ongoing war against the middle class.

Next target, unemployment benefitsMichigan moves to cut the number of weeks that the jobless can receive benefits. Florida and Arkansas are considering similar moves.

The cost of gas could hurt President Obama chances in 2012 the same way prior presidents’ fortunes have risen and fallen with the availability or price of a gallon, according to US News & World Report.

MUNICIPAL

Dracut police are issuing warnings to residents with out-of-state license plates that they could face fines if they don’t register their cars in Massachusetts. State law requires registration of vehicles after 30 days of residency.

The assistant executive director of the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council is set to take over operations temporarily following the resignation of Philip F. Laverriere for spending afternoons at an Elks Lodge. The agency is under review by the Northeast Institute for Quality Community Action.

The state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission raided several social clubs in Lawrence looking for illegal gambling operations, the Eagle-Tribune reports. Speculation ensued as to whether the Elks Lodge frequented by Laverriere was among those raided.

The new president of the Fall River City Council wants to stop using cabs to deliver the weekly meeting agenda to other councilors at $75 and start using on-duty police or the Internet to save money, according to the Herald News. Two councilors, though, have not given the city clerk their email addresses and one, Leo Pelletier, who owns two Internet cafes, says he doesn’t know how to operate the Internet or email.

WASHINGTON

The Tea Party insurrection against House Speaker John Boehner hits homeOhio activists are calling 1,000 of the Speaker's donors to agitate against an increase in the nation's debt limit

The Springfield Republican is "encouraged" that US Sen. Scott Brown has thrown out the Republican talking points on Planned Parenthood and other family planning issues.

BEACON HILL

A little noticed amendment in the budget dumped the responsibility for technical reviews of solid waste sites from the state onto the cash-strapped cities and towns.

Keller@Large ain’t buying what Gov. Deval Patrick is selling, saying too often the governor’s words don’t match reality.

On his Mass Market blog, Jon Chesto says time is running on Patrick, who has already missed several key deadlines, to appoint a commission to analyze the feasibility of a state-owned bank.

State Sen. Mark Montigny adds the CEO of Evergreen Solar to the guest list for a legislative hearing that was not designed to attract any media attention at all. 

The retirement package for outgoing Massport CEO Tom Kinton doesn't stop with more than $400,000 in sick time buyback. 

Treasurer Steve Grossman kicks off his small business lending tour in Wrentham

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Sal DiMasi, accused of violating the public trust and pocketing thousands of dollars in an illegal scheme involving state contracts, has successfully petitioned a federal judge to have taxpayers pick up the tab for his legal defense, claiming he is without the means to do so. The ubiquitous freshman state rep from Norfolk, Dan Winslow, skips over any high-fallutin legalese on Gideon v. Wainwright and is quoted in the Globe story saying the taxpayer-funded defense is the right thing to do – just like Joe Friday used to explain on Dragnet.  See also the Herald’s take.

The state Ethics Commission found that three Middlesex Sherriff’s Office employees violated conflict-of-interest law when they used public resources to plan a fundraiser for the late Sheriff James DiPaola.

HEALTH CARE

The number of state residents opting for high-deductible, lower- cost health insurance plans has doubled, according to a new study reported in the Globe.

CENSUS

The Globe takes a look at the Massachusetts towns that showed the biggest population gain (Upton) and loss (Lincoln) over the past decade.

ARTS AND CULTURE

Artists on the Cape discuss how the flight of young people and families with small children from the region will affect arts programs.

ELECTION 2012

Mitt Romney is telling donors that he intends to concentrate on New Hampshire, Florida, and Nevada rather than spending money in places like Iowa and South Carolina.

Why a Michele Bachmann candidacy would be good news for reporters and comedy writers and bad news for the Republican Party. Especially if she decides to hire birthers to run her campaigns, as she is expected to do in Iowa.

Salon's Steve Kornacki bets every penny in his savings account – all $184.27 of it –  that Donald Trump's presidential posturing is a bluff and a scam

Several failed rabble-rousers who have no love for the president join forces to headline the year's most ridiculous fundraiser (so far).

CHUCK TURNER

Not going quietly in to the good night, former Boston city councilor Chuck Turner spent his last night of freedom before heading to federal prison in West Virginia talking about government frame-ups and the like to supporters at gathering at Northeastern University. The Globe has a field day mining the thousands of emails Turner sent and received from his City Hall account in his final weeks in office.

Peter Gelzinis finds some charm in Turner's farewell act, and while he has no illusions about the "moral bankruptcy" of the Boston FBI, Gelzinis is quick to add that Turner's own greed did him in.

The Phoenix shows no such nuance, blasting the Turner prosecution as a show of force by a government that has "the power to destroy any who won't cooperate" with its agenda. 

TAXES

The New York Times examines General Electric's success in dodging taxes. It made $14.2 billion last year, yet claimed a US tax benefit of $3.2 billion. Last year, the company offered to agree to limit layoffs at its Lynn aircraft engine plant, in exchange for $25 million in tax credits. 

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Ed Glaeser uses Detroit'population crash to argue that urban transit projects can't save cities, unless they're accompanied by investment in entrepreneurial human capital.

BUDGETS AND HUMAN CHEMISTRY

The state treasurer in Illinois knows what it takes to fix states' budget woes - testosterone

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