- Yet another new site for The Washington Post, this time aimed at aggregation
- Reddit makes AMAs more readable in new mobile app
- Building a bigger congregation: Why the Boston Globe is launching a site devoted to Catholic news
- This Week in Review: The danger of freelance foreign journalism, and Facebook goes after clickbait
- If BuzzFeed is a tech company, sure, I suppose GE can be a media company
- When it comes to chasing clicks, journalists say one thing but feel pressure to do another
- Here’s more pessimism for print advertising
- A new report looks for lessons in successful (and unsuccessful) Knight News Challenge winners
- This media company wants to own staffers’ Twitter and Facebook accounts, even after they quit
- Maybe the homepage is alive after all: Quartz is trying a new twist on the traditional website front door
- What is clickbait?
- What’s in a name? Three startups talk about the value of newsroom titles
- The newsonomics of Gannett’s “newsrooms of the future”
- The Verge threw a hackweek and invited everyone they know
- This Week in Review: Twitter and press intimidation in Ferguson, and a journalist’s brutal execution
- The Guardian and St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial pages are teaming up for Ferguson coverage
- The Huffington Post wants you to help pay for its future coverage in Ferguson
- This: Why Atlantic Media is funding a social platform for sharing links, one at a time
- How a Norwegian public radio station is using Snapchat to connect young listeners with news
- Scorecard for Sports Illustrated writers awards points for being “beneficial to advertiser relationship”
- This Week in Review: Ferguson and press freedom, and BuzzFeed’s $50 million boost
- Racist content forces Thought Catalog to put barriers between contributors and Twitter
- Ferguson and the power of a free Internet
- The TV network/affiliate relationship is ripe for change
- The newsonomics of life after newspapers go solo — and new intrigue in L.A.
- The Ann Arbor Chronicle, a quirky local news startup, is shutting down after six years
- Mastering the dark arts: Facebook has been the key to Mother Jones’ growing popularity online
- It turns out the 2000s were not a good decade for The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News
- Jezebel takes its Kinja problems public to fight the trolls
- Elizabeth Spiers on BuzzFeed and other “tech” companies: “You’re Still A Media Company”
Thanks in part to the recent Bezosian cash infusion, things have been busy over at The Washington Post.
In less than 6 months, the Post has launched @WaPoThing, @TheStoryline and @GetThereWP -- Noah Chestnut (@noahchestnut) August 26, 2014Today, another new website joins the ranks of these ventures. The Post's The Most will feature links to "most read" and "most shared" stories from around a dozen websites, including The Post's.
On The Most, you’ll find the stories other readers are clicking on. Popular reads from The Washington Post will be there, as will trending articles from partners like Time and The Atlantic, regional news hubs like The Denver Post and The Houston Chronicle, broadcasters like New York Public Radio and digital publications like Slate and The Dodo. [...] We have agreements with newsrooms that are providing us with RSS feeds of their most popular, most read or most shared stories. Every newsroom defines these lists a little differently. Here at The Post, our “Most Read” headline lists display the stories getting the most traffic in the past two hours.Each of the member sites displays three to five headlines in a banner at a given time. The site will be run by Katie Parker, deputy director of digital projects, who came up with the idea.
The Most is a sponsored product, in this case by Hyundai (or more specifically, "by the 3,000 Mile Test Drive featuring the all-new Sonata.") Since the content is selected by each publisher's individual algorithm, there's limited human curation, which most likely makes The Most an inexpensive venture for the Post. It's also a convenient way for them to expand on existing partnerships and continue the quest for national audience that began in March with free digital subscriptions for local newspaper subscribers. The idea of a website you can visit to see popular links that doesn't have the static of Facebook or Twitter certainly has appeal. But it remains to be seen if there's a significant audience for an aggregator that includes more regional content from partners like the Toledo Blade and Tampa Bay Times. But Greg Barber, digital news projects director at the Post, isn't worried. He writes in an email:
Geography isn't the differentiator that it used to be. As the AP has demonstrated for many years, and Reddit, Gawker and Buzzfeed have shown in recent times, stories that start out with local angles can have appeal to readers anywhere. We hope that The Most can drive discovery for readers, and that the value readers see in a single place that pulls together the web's popular stories brings them back for more.Other big news at the Post today — Katharine Weymouth steps down from her role as publisher. She's been replaced by Fred J. Ryan Jr., who expressed optimism about growing news consumption and the Post's ability to lead the charge in a newsroom address earlier today.
Ryan says local and national coverage shouldn't be mutually exclusive -- ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) September 2, 2014
Reddit has finally made its Ask Me Anything interviews a little more reader-friendly. Today the site released an official Ask Me Anything app for iOS that streamlines the Q&A series for reading and engaging on mobile devices. Users are able to access Reddit's archive of AMAs and participate in live interviews. The AMA series has grown in popularity in recent years as politicians, celebrities, and astronauts have submitted themselves to questions from the crowd. But anyone who has tried to wade into an AMA knows that the Q&As can be dense and difficult to read thanks to Reddit's archaic design. The app emphasizes readability and accessibility in an attempt to reach new users. It's a smart idea that allows Reddit a chance to grow while not alienating the site's more loyal and longstanding readers. This is not the first time Reddit has tried to launch a mobile app, but it comes at a time when the company is exploring ways to grow and find new sources of revenue. According to Variety, the app is also Reddit's attempt to reach a growing mobile audience:
In August, 40% of new users came from mobile, five times what it was in the same month three years ago. One-third of page views come from mobile web. How many more are coming in from third-party apps isn’t known. “We’ve found in the last year or so a huge uptick in people accessing Reddit from the mobile web, and we want to give those folks a great experience,” said Pao.
Looking at the newly launched Catholic news site Crux, you'll find plenty of stories on the travels and exploits of Pope Francis. This makes sense — he's the head of the church and easily one of the most charismatic leaders operating on the world's stage. What you won't readily find is an indication of who or what is behind the new site dedicated to "Covering all things Catholic." Only if you scroll to the bottom of the homepage, tucked in the footer, will you see the text: "A Boston Globe Media website." It's been almost a year since Red Sox owner John Henry completed his purchase of the Globe, and he's pushing forward on a plan he hopes will help broaden the company's readership beyond people who want a printed newspaper on their doorstep. Crux, as the site's branding makes clear, is aiming for a readership far outside the 617 area code to the more than 1 billion Catholics worldwide.
Crux joins a small, and growing, network of sites connected to the paper, including Boston.com, BostonGlobe.com, BDCWire, and the most recently launched Beta Boston. For newspapers like the Globe, diversification typically means finding a way to spin off parts of the existing business to niche audiences inside a geographic boundary. Crux shares a strategy more common with online publishers who want to tap digital audiences through interest areas. "We saw an opportunity to fill a need," said Globe editor Brian McGrory. "There's a real hunger. We're at a unique moment." That moment was kicked off by the arrival of a new pope who has captured the world's attention with everything from his statements on gay priests to his choice in soccer clubs. Crux will focus on Francis and his efforts to transform the church, but will also have features on Catholic life and culture, as well as stories that explore spirituality. "We want to be surprising, we want to be unpredictable, and at the same time we want to be a site of interest and common sense on the Catholic church," McGrory said. According to McGory, the Globe is invested in expanding its digital readership in topic areas that are connected to Boston, but not necessarily bound to the city. Crux will already have a built in local audience thanks to Boston's large Catholic population. The Globe has its own history with the church, having won a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the history of sex abuse in the Boston archdiocese. The idea for Crux was born at a Red Sox game, according to Jason Schwartz's Boston Magazine profile of Henry:
During a game against the Yankees on September 13—Henry’s birthday—the Sox owner sat down next to Barnicle and began to chat about how religion is covered in the news. “He was very interested in how the element of faith plays a role in all of our lives,” Barnicle says. “It was pretty interesting to listen to, but I was trying to watch the fucking ball game.” Henry asked Barnicle if he was familiar with John Allen, a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. Though not a household name, Allen is the Peter Gammons of the Catholic world—an impeccably sourced must-read on the Vatican. Barnicle says Henry then asked him if he had Allen’s email—it turns out, he did. Henry emailed Allen and, a few days later, they talked on the phone. “Then I called Brian [McGrory], and he was just as excited as John was,” Henry says. “So we all met in Boston the day after the World Series ended.”Crux launches with a small staff anchored by Allen. On a day-to-day basis he'll be writing news and analysis about the the Vatican, Pope Francis, and how the church interacts with global politics. Margery Eagan , joining Crux from The Boston Herald, will be the site's spirituality columnist. Inés San Martin is the site's on-the-ground reporter at the Vatican, and Michael O'Loughlin is a national correspondent. Teresa Hanafin, a former editor of Boston.com, is the editor of the site. Allen said Crux plans to bring a little more journalistic heft to their reporting, going beyond the celebrity of the "teflon pope" and examining how he deals with the continued fallout of the priest sex abuse revelations as well as the financial reforms he wants to bring to the Vatican. Allen has covered Catholicism for almost 20 years and he sees the future of the church in much broader stories, as places like Africa, Asia, and South America see a growing Catholic population. Even within the U.S., the face of the Catholic faithful is becoming increasingly Hispanic, he said.
Those stories only get passing coverage in most mainstream news organizations. While religion isn't exactly absent from the news landscape, the coverage tends to be piecemeal, Allen says. Reporting on the pope often gets reduced to AP coverage, which can strip out the religious contexts and nuance, he said. Newspapers that still have a religion beat tend to have reporters who are generalists that have to cover all stripes of faith. "The problem with the Vatican as a beat is it's too far away, too weird, and utterly unlike any institution people cover," Allen said. "It's hard to penetrate and it's expensive to have someone who has the luxury to focus full time on that beat." But Crux is entering a crowded field of Catholic news sites like the National Catholic Reporter, the National Catholic Register, and Commonweal. Allen said many religious news sites can be too close to the story, either backed by the church or sponsored by Catholic groups. Allen said they hope their independence and backing from the Globe will give Crux credibility and a distinct identity. "The trick is to be close enough to the story to get it right, but far enough away to be objective," he said. The hope is for Crux to become self sustaining, so the site will be largely independent from the Globe. The only Crux content that will also appear in the paper is Allen's "All Things Catholic" Sunday column. In addition to a separate editorial staff, Crux has its own ad sales staffer. Hanafin said their goal is to pull in different types of audiences, those looking for the tick-tock of Vatican coverage, people chasing all news related to the pope, and readers at different points in their own spirituality. That's why alongside the day-to-day coverage of the church you'll find quizzes, polls, and and an advice column titled "OMG." The sparse navigation bar for Crux speaks volumes about the site's aim. There are only three sections: church, faith, and life. Hanafin said the key is finding the right mix of stories to engage audiences and create repeat visitors. "It's one thing if all of us in here share Crux content. The real trick is you have to get other people to share your content. And the only way you do that is if they think it's interesting enough to share with their friends and family," she said. "You can run all the the social marketing campaigns that you want, but if your stuff is mediocre it's just going to be a waste."
The site was built with social sharing in mind, and that means making a site that works well on mobile devices, said David Skok, digital advisor for the Boston Globe. Skok said they wanted to focus on the article page as the point of discovery since so many new readers find websites through shared links. From start to finish the site took 10 weeks to build, and Skok expects they'll continue to tweak things as they learn about the audience. It's likely Crux will not be the last new launch from the Globe, Skok says, comparing the paper's digital expansion to the relationship between Quartz and The Atlantic. "You have to go out on your own and create your own audience with the hope being that if we get to a point in six months, a year, down the road, the people who read Crux may not even know it's affiliated with the Boston Globe," said Skok. "That to me is a big success." _Photo of Vatican City by Christopher Lance used under a Creative Commons license._
THIS WEEK'S ESSENTIAL READS: The key pieces this week are The New York Times' Nick Bilton on the shortcomings of Twitter and livestreams in news about Ferguson, and The Awl's John Herrman on Facebook's changes and how we define clickbait.FREELANCING, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENCE, AND RISK: The Islamic militant group ISIS's video depicting the murder of American journalist James Foley, released last week, has prompted an examination of the little-discussed issue of journalist kidnappings. Foley's family released a letter he sent them — by having a fellow hostage memorize it — during his captivity, and Philip Balboni, CEO of GlobalPost (the organization with which Foley was working) gave a tribute to Foley. Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, in prison in Egypt on a dubious conviction earlier this year, expressed his anger at Foley's death, and the Times of London (via Gawker) reported on experts who believe the video was staged and Foley was beheaded afterward. Meanwhile, the mother of the other journalist being held by ISIS, freelancer Steven Sotloff (whose life was threatened in last week's video), issued a video plea to ISIS to spare her son's life. Another journalist kidnapping ended safely this week, with American freelance journalist Peter Theo Curtis being released by an al-Qaeda splinter group in Syria after being held for two years. The New York Times reported that no ransom was paid by the family, but his return was made possible through extensive negotiation on Curtis' behalf by the government of Qatar. Both the Times and The Washington Post took a closer look at Qatar's growing role in mediating kidnapping cases like this one. As The Associated Press' Jessica Gresko noted, Foley, Sotloff, and Curtis are all freelance journalists, who make up nearly half of all the journalists killed in Syria since 2011. Gresko highlighted the plight of freelance foreign correspondents, who have very little institutional support and safety training. In The New Yorker, Steve Coll defended the right of hostages' employers and families to pay ransoms, even if the U.S. government won't. Coll also defended foreign correspondents against charges of recklessness, arguing that theirs is a job with a significant public purpose. "For the foreseeable future, freelance journalism will be vital to public understanding. It requires resources, not second-guessing," he wrote. At The New Republic, Tom Peter, who was briefly kidnapped in Syria in 2012, questioned the value of that public purpose in an environment in which so much of the American public questions the validity and credibility of virtually all journalistic work. "WHY RISK IT ALL TO GET THE FACTS FOR PEOPLE WHO INCREASINGLY SEEM ONLY TO SEEK OUT THE INFORMATION THEY WANT AND BRAND THE STORIES AND FACTS THAT DON’T CONFORM TO THEIR OPINIONS AS BIASED OR INACCURATE?" he asked. Regarding the images of Foley's video itself, the Columbia Journalism Review's Christopher Massie highlighted news organizations' difficult decisions on how much to publish, while Dan Gillmor at The Atlantic and Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept lamented the editorial control that social media giants like Twitter and Facebook have gained over what we see online. Gillmor urged readers to work to decentralize the web, and Brian Fung of The Washington Post argued for consistent standards on posting sensitive content on social media. USC professor Philip Seib examined the influence of images like ISIS's in the social media battleground over public opinion.
NEWS CONSUMPTION AND LOADED LANGUAGE IN FERGUSON: As the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, calmed down this week, there was some reflection on the way we consumed the story as it happened. The New York Times' Nick Bilton cautioned that what many users got from Twitter and live streams was a narrow, one-sided, and unconfirmed picture of what was going on. Twitter, Circa's Anthony De Rosa told Bilton, is "good for monitoring all the noise that is happening — and there are elements of truth in there — but you have to do a lot of work to authenticate what’s real and what’s not." The Pew Research Center's Jesse Holcomb used some survey data to examine the question of why Ferguson was missing from so many Facebook feeds, noting that a significant part of the news exposure on Facebook depends on whether users follow news organizations there. MIT's Ethan Zuckerman explained how Facebook's structure can lead to more of an echo chamber on stories like Ferguson than Twitter does. The main media-related story from Ferguson this week was The New York Times' publication of a profile of Michael Brown, the black teenager who was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson. The piece described Brown as "no angel," citing his dabbling in drugs and alcohol and his rapping with vulgar lyrics. That characterization was ripped throughout social media, and the Columbia Journalism Review contrasted the tone of the Times' profiles of Brown and Wilson. A Times editor initially defended the "no angel" phrase to The Washington Post's Erik Wemple — it was intended to be a reference to the article's lead, about an angelic vision Brown had — but the writer of the piece, John Eligon, expressed his regret about the phrase to Times public editor Margaret Sullivan. Like Eligon, Slate's Ben Mathis-Lilley said that while the Times clearly erred with the "no angel" phrase, the piece was positive about Brown as a whole and didn't imply that Brown deserved to be killed. A few other pieces on Ferguson this week: The Lab's Joseph Lichterman looked at the partnership between The Guardian and St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Ferguson coverage, and Poynter's Rick Edmonds looked at the sparse media coverage that Ferguson had gotten before Brown's shooting. Josh Stearns of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation noted the differing counts of arrested journalists during the protests and wrote about finding a better way to track journalist arrests in the U.S.
FACEBOOK, CLICKBAIT, AND ATTENTION: Facebook has become known over the past couple of years as the hub for clickbait content, and it took a step toward ridding itself of that distinction this week with a change to its News Feed algorithm that will take into account how long people spend away from Facebook once they click on a link. If people jump right back to Facebook, the algorithm will downgrade that content on the assumption that people found the content uninteresting. VentureBeat's Kia Kokalitcheva said bounce rate is an imperfect measure for engagement but an improvement nonetheless. Gigaom's Mathew Ingram said that the change won't necessarily hurt the reigning Facebook-sharing kings like Upworthy and BuzzFeed; they just have to improve their content to match the quality of their headlines. The Lab's Caroline O'Donovan also said those sites should be fine by Facebook's standards and noted that there might be a gap between what gets commonly referred to as clickbait and what Facebook considers clickbait. At The Awl, John Herrman went further with that idea, pointing out that producers and consumers have vastly differing (and very malleable) definitions of clickbait: "FOR MEDIA CONSUMERS, IT'S USUALLY SOMETHING ALONG THE LINES OF 'THINGS THAT I DON'T THINK ARE IMPORTANT, OR THAT I DISAGREE WITH.' FOR MEDIA _PRODUCERS_, IT'S USUALLY SOMETHING CLOSER TO 'THINGS THAT ARE NOT LIKE THE THINGS I DO.'" In addition, he pointed out that Facebook's metric of time spent on site is pretty easy to game, and many of these sites are already doing just that.
READING ROUNDUP: A few other things happening in the media and tech worlds this week: — The Pew Research Internet Project released a fascinating study applying an old communication theory called the "spiral of silence" — the idea that people who hold a minority opinion are less likely to talk about it, thus furthering others' perception that it's a socially unacceptable minority opinion — to social media. They found that people were less willing to share their views on the NSA surveillance story on social media than in person, and less likely if they believed others in their social network didn't agree with them. You can find good summaries and interpretations of the study at The New York Times, Columbia Journalism Review, and Techcrunch. — Amazon bought the live-streaming gaming site Twitch, which had been courted by Google among others, for $970 million this week. Analysis of the deal centered on Twitch's ability to capture the attention of some coveted demographics for long periods of time, giving Amazon some potentially lucrative new advertising opportunities. The best posts breaking down the deal came from Ben Thompson, Recode, ReadWrite, Wired, and The Guardian. — Turner Broadcasting, which owns CNN, TNT, and TBS, among other channels, announced it would offer buyouts to about 600 of its 9,000 employees as part of a broader cost-cutting program that will probably eventually include layoffs. — Finally, a few pieces worth a read this weekend: A new report by the Knight Foundation evaluating what's worked and what hasn't for winners of the Knight News Challenge, a post by Ken Doctor examining Gannett's strategy as well as newspapers' situation more generally, and the Columbia Journalism Review's Jihii Jolly on examining and giving more thought to your own media diet. Photo of James Foley in Syria by Manu Brabo from FreeJamesFoley.org.
There may be no greater sign of the topsy-turvy nature of today's media world than this: BuzzFeed thinks of itself as a tech company. GE thinks of itself as a media company. The BuzzFeed business is old news by now, and GE has been doing things that look media-like for some time. (Not even counting NBC.) But there's more detail about the company's self-image in this piece by Jasper Jackson in the Media Briefing. Here's GE global head of media strategy Jason Hill:
We are really looking at multiple touchpoints to reach a business decision maker audience. We have invested heavily in social, we've invested in some of our own channels and blog properties. [But] we believe that kind of taking a look at our media strategy when it comes to publishers and partners pays dividends. We believe there is still great value to that and some of what the great media companies have done is provided great, educational content for some time to certain audiences. WE LIKE TO THINK OF OURSELVES AS A KIND OF DIVERSIFIED MEDIA COMPANY. Ultimately audiences have more choice but they are behaving across all these different places and ultimately brands have to do the same thing. At some point the publishers and the media companies might not have dominance any more because there will be enough owned and social channels to augment those. They're still going to be a very important part of the strategy because I think they provide an enormously important service just in the overall consumption of content, news and information. It's just not the sort of hegemony any more.
Online media is made of clicks. Readers click from one article to the next. Advertising revenue is based on the number of unique visitors for each site. Editors always keep in mind their traffic targets to secure the survival of their publications. Writers and bloggers interpret clicks as a signal of popularity. The economic realities underpinning the click-based web are well documented. Yet much work remains to be done on the cultural consequences of the growing importance of Internet metrics. I conducted two years of ethnographic research (observing newsrooms and interviewing journalists, editors, and bloggers) exploring whether web analytics are changing newsroom cultures. The answer is a qualified yes, but in ways that differ from the ones we might expect. Let me start with an example from the pre-Internet press. As the historian Robert Darnton recalls from his time as a staff writer at The New York Times in the 1960s, “We really wrote for one another. […] We knew that no one would jump on our stories as quickly as our colleagues.” Darnton reminds us that, in the printed world, the quality of one’s articles was mostly assessed by one’s peers and superiors. Journalists had somewhat abstract representations of their reading public. The “letters to the editor” were often left unread. Then came the Internet. Journalists adjusted to this technological shock, inventing new practices and reconfiguring others (and in some cases changing nothing). Among the most profound changes differentiating print and online news was the arrival of web metrics. Journalists started to receive detailed feedback from their reading public. Editors began to track in real-time the number of clicks, uniques, likes, and tweets. Editorial departments increasingly relied on web analytics. One of the most popular analytics programs, Chartbeat, is now used by more than 3,000 sites in 35 countries. This irruption of web metrics in editorial practice did not go unnoticed. Some welcomed this evolution as the empowerment of the audience and argued that metrics constitute a healthy check on the worst habits of journalistic elite. Readers now have the opportunity to “vote with their feet,” or at least with their fingers. This feedback, many say, breaks the hierarchical flow of knowledge and authority from journalist to reader that characterized the printed press. But most reactions have been critical. Writers are described as being on a hamster wheel of incessant updates geared towards traffic maximization. Scholars have analyzed the negative effects of this “culture of the click.” The obsession with clicks is said to be responsible for a degradation of online content: clickbait headlines, listicles of best burger places, and videos of adorable kittens that do little to turn readers into enlightened citizens. Such a critical perspective is important and necessary. Yet my findings show that the effect of metrics is more complex than this. In my research, I analyze online news in two countries, the United States and France, which have different journalistic traditions. I rely on ethnographic methods, a mix of observations and interviews, to systematically compare what editors and writers say about their work with what they actually do when they are in front of their computers. After more than 400 hours of observation spent in the editorial departments of six online publications, as well as a hundred interviews with writers and editors, here is what I learned: * REAL-TIME ANALYTICS HAVE BECOME CENTRAL IN THE DAILY ROUTINES OF ALL MEDIA SITES. Editors check traffic numbers in real-time to manage the location of articles on the homepage and make headlines more appealing. Editors often describe themselves as “Chartbeat addicts.” * AT MANY WEBSITES, WRITERS ARE DIRECTLY ENCOURAGED TO THINK ABOUT TRAFFIC. Editors and data specialists send rankings based on traffic numbers to staff writers on a regular basis. * WEB METRICS ARE OFTEN USED AS A MANAGEMENT TOOL. This is sometimes a conscious decision, for example when websites rely on traffic-based financial incentives. In other cases it is less direct, but editors explain that they take metrics seriously when deciding on promotion and compensation. * THERE IS OFTEN A GAP BETWEEN WHAT JOURNALIST SAY ABOUT METRICS AND WHAT THEY DO. Many writers express cynical views about traffic and say that they do not care about page views. Yet they almost always check whether they are in the “top ten” most read articles list. * JOURNALISTS REACT IN DIFFERENT WAYS TO TRAFFIC NUMBERS DEPENDING ON THE CONTEXT. In some organizations, writers consider traffic a game at which they want to excel. At other sites, writers feel pressured by their editors to maximize traffic but find strategies to resist. One example: writing a clickbait piece every five articles to “reset the scale” in terms of traffic. * SEVERAL FACTORS EXPLAIN WHY JOURNALISTS REACT DIFFERENTLY TO WEB METRICS, including the size and age of the website, its financial situation, its editorial line, the age of the staffers, their career background (print or web), the management style of the organization, and the country in which this takes place. In other words, all media sites now rely on web analytics to make editorial decisions. But this does not mean that they all use and interpret metrics in similar ways. In fact, each editorial department makes sense of traffic numbers differently. There is not one but several “cultures of the click.” Take the example of the gap between what journalists say about web metrics and what they do when they check their own traffic numbers. I find that journalists are particularly likely to have conflicted reactions to metrics when working for publications with high editorial ambitions facing financial instability. In this case, writers criticize the chase for clicks, but also understand online success as a signal of professional value. This is more striking in France, where market forces were previously less strong and journalism less fully professionalized than in the United States. The main practical question becomes: what is the best way to manage web analytics for each publication? Should journalists be shielded from traffic pressures? Or should they be encouraged to maximize page views? In a period when many publications are creating traffic-based bonuses to increase the performance of their employees, my research suggests that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for handling metrics. Journalism has a double nature. It is both a public good and a commodity. With the multiplication of web metrics, good and bad, new strategies are needed to protect editorial independence from market forces. The need to find workable arrangements between editorial ambitions and economic realities is as old as journalism itself. It is also the only possible way to secure the future of the media, online.
Angèle Christin is a postdoctoral fellow at the New School for Social Research in New York. Her dissertation, entitled "Clicks or Pulitzers? Web Journalists and their Work in the United States and France," explores questions about the rise of "big data" and individualized performance measurements in journalism.
Photo by raneko used under a Creative Commons license.
Nathalie Tadena in The Wall Street Journal:
Magna Global cut its forecast for U.S. advertising revenue growth this year to 5.1% from 6% on Tuesday, because ad spending the first half of the year was weaker than expected. But the Interpublic-owned media buying and research firm expects the ad market to bounce back in the second half of the year, and see its strongest growth rate in a decade in 2015. [...] On a normalized basis, television revenues are expected to grow 2.2% this year. NEWSPAPER AND MAGAZINE AD REVENUE ARE EXPECTED TO DECLINE 8.9% AND 11% RESPECTIVELY, WHILE DIGITAL AD REVENUES ARE EXPECTED TO JUMP 17% THIS YEAR TO $50 BILLION. Radio sales are expected to contract 3% this year, a larger decline than last year. Outdoor media sales are projected to improve 1.7%, a slowdown compared to the mid-single digit growth rate seen in the past three years. [...] Meanwhile, the firm reduced its forecasts of TV ad revenue growth to 2.3% from 3.8% for 2015. Other traditional media formats will benefit from stronger overall ad growth, but will continue to lose market share and ad dollars to digital media next year. NEWSPAPER AND MAGAZINE AD SALES ARE EXPECTED TO FALL 6.2% AND 9.4%, RESPECTIVELY, IN 2015. Meanwhile, radio ad sales will improve slightly at 0.5% and out-of-home will rise 3.4% in 2015, Magna Global projects.For newspapers, continued print advertising declines will mean more pressure on circulation (print subscribers and paywalls) or new revenue (digital marketing services, events) to make up the difference. Most likely, they won't, and we'll see more cuts. If the rate of print ad decline does slow in 2015 (from 8.9 percent down to 6.2 percent down), that would be…semi-good news, I guess, after several years of drops in the high single digits? But there's nothing here to predict a leveling off, much less a return to growth. And for all the attention newspapers' troubles get, those magazine numbers are downright terrible — that's a predicted 19.3 percent decline in two years' time. ("MAGNA GLOBAL is the strategic global media unit responsible for forecasts, insights and negotiation strategy across all media channels on behalf of Mediabrands. Part of Interpublic Group (NYSE: IPG), MAGNA works with the brands within these respective holding companies on behalf of their clients.")
What makes a media innovation project succeed? That's the question the Knight Foundation has been asking about perhaps the most prominent program supporting media innovation, the Knight News Challenge. Since 2007, the competition has attracted thousands of people with ideas for an innovation project, and Knight has funded more than a hundred of them. Some have grown into successful, widely used tools; others have disappeared with barely a trace. Knight is out with a new report today that looks at the successes and failures of two cycles of the News Challenge, and what lessons might be passed on from them to other inventors and entrepreneurs. (Along with a visual summary, the full report is available as a PDF.) Arabella Advisors, surveyed News Challenge winners from 2010 and 2011, looking at their original applications, metrics around their projects, and other materials to see what behaviors and characteristics correlated with success.
This is the second time Knight has put together a report card on the News Challenge; the first focused on the 2009 round of winners. The findings will likely be used in helping to shape the program's future: Knight CEO Alberto Ibargüen has said the foundation is looking for new ways to support innovation in media and on the web. Over the time period being studied, the News Challenge featured 28 projects like FrontlineSMS, iWitness, and Zeega, among others. The document's worth a read to get an update on how those projects are faring today — some continue on, others have spun into something new, and others have closed their doors. Knight offers eight lessons for future innovation in the report; here are a few of the highlights. UNDERSTAND YOUR STAFFING NEEDS EARLY Many News Challenge projects are developed by people who already have a full-time job elsewhere, which means figuring out the best ways to devote time and energy to an idea can be tricky. Having a core staff from the outset is important for putting a project on the right footing, but so is identifying what things can be done by part-timers or volunteers, the report says. You can't just assume that your idea will find the right community of users and take off on its own:
In some cases, the News Challenge winners themselves benefit from using and sharing open source code. In other cases, it is the wider community of developers that benefits most. It is entirely conceivable that the winner might bear the cost of developing open source code, without receiving an equivalent or offsetting benefit, which might accrue to someone else entirely.GETTING INTO NEWSROOMS WILL BE A CHALLENGE A common desire among News Challenge projects is to build tools to help journalists in newsrooms. Some, like Zeega, wanted to build a platform that simplifies multimedia projects for local news outlets. Others, like ScraperWiki, wanted to make it easier for journalists to pull and store data from websites. But both projects were met with some resistance, as newsrooms were unwilling to pay for the service they created.
Fundamentally, unless an innovation addresses a pressing need, journalists and news organizations will not adopt it. In fact, innovators need to anticipate resistance, and create development and marketing plans that address it. Innovators may need to diversify their user bases beyond journalists and news organizations to promote wider adoption and project sustainability.AIM FOR A BROADER AUDIENCE THAN YOU MIGHT ANTICIPATE So convincing journalists to try something new is hard — that's why it's important look at what other users might have a need for what you are building. CityTracking had anticipated an audience of journalists for its public data display tools, but later focused on specifically serving developers. Game-o-matic, which lets reporters build games based off the news, shifted gears to reach users outside of newsrooms. PUSHBACK CAN COME FROM MULTIPLE DIRECTIONS Newsrooms with tight budgets and established ways of working aren't the only source of resistance. In many cases, News Challenge projects found themselves bumping up against established institutions, and some institutions don't like to be disrupted. resistance came in the form of lawsuits from the judiciary. GET THE USER INTERFACE RIGHT EARLY A lesson from the world of apps and game builders, applied to journalism entrepreneurs:
User interface can play a major role in determining whether a media innovation is actually adopted by its audience — an interface that’s fun to use or saves the user’s time can make the difference between a tool that’s used and one that gathers dust. Among the innovations developed by News Challenge winners, the most effective interfaces frequently have been those that appear simple or straightforward.EVERYONE NEEDS A LITTLE SUPPORT SOMETIMES One thing Knight has heard from News Challenge winners in the past was repeated in this report: They need more support, beyond funding. Because Knight has such a large network that touches into media, technology, government, and more, grantees said they want to be able to tap the expertise of others when it comes to developing their business plans and other strategies. In particular, the 2011 and 2010 winners said further connecting with other winners of the News Challenge would also prove helpful to learn from their experience. SUCCESS GOES BEYOND THE IMPACT OF A SINGLE PROJECT
The best barometer of success isn’t the outcome of individual projects but the effects projects may have on their sectors or industries. Funders should focus on building the capacity of innovators as leaders in their fields or strengthening their network of supporters and collaborators for long-term impact — regardless of the sustainability of particular projects.
Facebook too, according to this story in Quartz by Sruthijith KK.
Hundreds of journalists working at the Times of India and its sister publications have received a peculiar request from their employer: hand over your Twitter and Facebook passwords and let us post for you. Even after you leave the company. Under a contract unveiled to employees last week, Bennett, Coleman and Company Ltd—India’s largest media conglomerate and publisher of the Times of India, Economic Times, among many other properties—told staffers they are not to post any news links on their personal Twitter and Facebook accounts. This runs counter to many social-media policies in newsrooms across the world, which often encourage journalists to share content widely. But BCCL, as the company is known, is telling journalists that they must start a company-authorised account on various social media platforms. They also have the option of converting existing personal social media accounts to company accounts. On these, they are free to discuss news and related material. The company will possess log-in credentials to such accounts and will be free to post any material to the account without journalists’ knowledge. It is now also mandatory to disclose all personal social-media accounts held by the journalist to the company.In other words, use social media for work — but either give us permanent control of the account or set up a new one that won't benefit you personally after you leave. Control of personal social media accounts continues to be one of the more interesting labor/management battle lines in news.
It was only a couple months ago that Quartz was making a bold proclamation: "The homepage is dead, and the social web has won." The behavior of news consumers online was shifting rapidly away from the old way — going to a news site's homepage, looking for an article that interests you — to one fueled by the streams of links found in social media.
This argument wasn't a new one for Quartz, which launched two years ago without a traditional homepage. Type qz.com into your browser and you'd be thrown directly into the site's top story. Rather than the usual back-and-forth of website navigation — _homepage, click, back arrow, click again, back arrow_ — Quartz wanted you to scroll from story to story. So if you went to qz.com yesterday morning, you could be forgiven for being confused. With a new redesign that launched late Sunday, Quartz has gone retro and built an actual homepage. And they did it for the reason just about every other news site has a homepage — to build up reader loyalty. But Quartz still has a twist. Rather than the usual arrangement of links to top stories, the new Quartz homepage is centered on The Brief, a tailored summary of business and international news under the rubric of "Your world right now." (It's also sponsored, currently by Comcast.) "It’s intended to be read straight through, like a well written memo from a trusted advisor," Quartz senior editor Zach Seward wrote in a post announcing the site's redesign. The Brief is modeled after Quartz's successful email newsletter, The Daily Brief, which similarly offers quick hits of what readers need to know. But unlike the email, which is sent out every morning, the Brief will be updated regularly throughout the day. "There's something very convenient about getting something in your inbox that you want to be receiving on a regular basis," said Seward, a former Nieman Lab staffer. "The one thing this isn't is that — obviously you have to come to it instead of having The Daily Brief come to you, but they're somewhat complementary and we expect that readers of one are likely to be readers of the other." Pre-redesign, 90 percent of visitors to Quartz's website arrived through article pages, with just 10 percent coming through the qz.com front door. Part of that is Quartz's focus on social distribution of its stories, the idea that every story starts with an audience of zero. But Seward said it's also a chicken-and-egg scenario: "If you don’t build a homepage for people to go to, they’re not going to come to it." Any news site aims to build up user loyalty. For most, that means return visits to the homepage, but Quartz found an unusual route to habit-building through its daily email, which gets open rates north of 40 percent. The new homepage approach merges the two. Quartz doesn't expect the shift to significantly change the percentage of visits that start on the homepage; rather, Seward said the site hopes to grow overall audience while creating an experience that will encourage users to stay longer on Quartz. "The intended use of [The Brief] is loyal return visits. We need to gauge whether we see that happening at all, and then at what frequency." Seward said. "The frequency is less about measuring the success of it — frankly, I actually think we don’t know yet. It's so new, and there aren’t enough analogous products out there to really tell if we should be expecting people to just be twitchy and checking it all the time, or if they have one time in their day when they check it and it's just that once a day. That’ll inform what we should be doing with the writing of the briefs in the first place." Glass, a subsite Seward launched earlier this year that focuses on television. Headlines on Glass are presented in an outline format where users can click on them to get more information or added context that drops down. Quartz has taken the same approach on the Brief, with arrows you can click on to get more information about some stories. Beyond the front page, the redesign cleans up what was already a relatively uncluttered site by news standards, stripping out clutter. Article pages now give even more room for visuals. The old look featured a menu of other Quartz stories, internally called the queue, on the left side of the page; that's gone now, with users needing to click a hamburger button in the top left corner of the page to make it appear. Only 20 percent of readers who went onto read a second story on the site used the queue, Seward said. The rest just utilized Quartz's continuous scroll which brings up the next story at the end of the current one you're reading. As has been true since its launch, Quartz is designed primarily for mobile devices. Initially, the primary target was the tablet, then ascendant, but phones have been persistently more popular in its traffic logs, so smaller devices were the focus on this redesign. (Seward noted that the distinction between tablets and phone is decreasing as phone screens continually increase; new iPhones with 4.7″ and 5.5″ screens are due on Sept. 9.) This was the first time one of Quartz's redesigns have been done in-house, its previous two iterations were designed with the assistance of outside firms. Other new features include new pages for obsessions, topics Quartz has taken a particular interest in covering, as well as new presentations for charts and graphs. Quartz's business side was intimately involved throughout the redesign process, publisher Jay Lauf told me, noting that many of the ways the redesign will benefit the editorial staff will also be a boon for advertisers. Quartz previewed the new site to advertisers, and Lauf said their reaction was "overwhelmingly positive." Quartz doesn't run traditional banner ads, instead offering what it calls Engage ads, which appear as you scroll between stories, and Bulletins, its name for sponsored content. As part of the redesign, native ads on Quartz will have access to all the changes the site is implementing, and Engage ads now stretch to the edge of the page. They're also three times as large as they used to be on smartphones, Lauf said. "The increase in real estate tries to leverage the functionality of these devices that sort of foster interaction when the content presents itself well," Lauf said. "People who use their phones love to tinker with tapping and swiping and just exploring things that are interesting to them. It’s hard to do that in small chunks of real estate."
Facebook announced a tweak to its News Feed today that aims to reduce unwanted "spammy" content in user feeds. Good news for readers frustrated by those stories, bad news for the publishers that have been making money by promoting their websites via "clickbait." But what exactly is clickbait?
@greghoward88 lol clickbait now just means "things I don't personally like" -- Charlie Warzel (@cwarzel) August 21, 2014Clickbait is in the eye of the beholder, but Facebook defines it as "when a publisher posts a link with a headline that encourages people to click to see more, without telling them much information about what they will see." But they won't be demoting links based on verbal clues.
So how do we determine what looks like click-bait? One way is to look at how long people spend reading an article away from Facebook. If people click on an article and spend time reading it, it suggests they clicked through to something valuable. If they click through to a link and then come straight back to Facebook, it suggests that they didn’t find something that they wanted. With this update we will start taking into account whether people tend to spend time away from Facebook after clicking a link, or whether they tend to come straight back to News Feed when we rank stories with links in them. Another factor we will use to try and show fewer of these types of stories is to look at the ratio of people clicking on the content compared to people discussing and sharing it with their friends. If a lot of people click on the link, but relatively few people click Like, or comment on the story when they return to Facebook, this also suggests that people didn’t click through to something that was valuable to them.
In other words, if people aren't reading or talking about your content, soon they might not see it on Facebook at all. Lots of people assume that sites that pull in huge traffic from social media — like BuzzFeed, for example — achieve those figures by using "clickbait." But in reality, original content, even in list format, is something people are likely to read and share and comment on, which means Facebook is probably fine with it. Even lower brow sites that try to churn out viral headlines might evade this new News Feed obstacle if they can get people to spend a few minutes on site. As The Awl's John Herrman points out on Twitter, that doesn't jive with how people in the media define clickbait.
@kevinroose I think time-on-site favors a lot of stuff that media people equate with "clickbait" -- John Herrman (@jwherrman) August 25, 2014Facebook doesn't have any editorial obligation to promote breaking news or think pieces or longform; their obligation, as they've repeatedly stated, is to satisfy their users. Apparently, the company feels the best way to determine if users are satisfied is by measuring the length of time they spend looking at something. Facebook is a platform with enormous power over publishers. If they're making moves toward time on site as a lead metric, you can bet content strategists across the web are already coming up with ways to hang on to your eyeballs.
Gannett is right: Newsroom job titles do matter. The largest newspaper company in the United States is revising its job titles, bringing in some that would have seemed foreign to newsrooms not all that long ago — including content coach, community content editor, and engagement editor. Gannett is making these changes as part of a broader initiative to create "newsrooms of the future." So what do those heading up newer digital-only news sites think about them? Rob Wijnberg, editor of the Dutch crowdfunded De Correspondent ("The newsonomics of European crowds, funding new news"), sees real value in job titles — but wants his staff of correspondents to pick them themselves:
When I started The Correspondent, I consciously chose not to introduce traditional titles. Instead, I let every correspondent come up with the job title that matched their personality and journalistic mission the most. Now we have job titles that seemed peculiar at first, but really fit the journalist very well, like Correspondent [for] Progress (he writes about how the world gets better every day); a Correspondent [for] Privacy and Surveillance; we even have a Correspondent [for] Peculiar People. Those titles are very important because it reinforces the mission a correspondent sets for him or herself.Tried-and-true titles have their place in Amsterdam as well, with another twist:
We do have some traditional titles like editor-in-chief [Wijnberg] and publisher [Ernst Jan], but only because the outside world has to know who is in charge of what. Internally, those titles are less important. The title "editor-in-chief" is even applied to all editors, because I say to them that they are editor-in-chief of their own blog (which reinforces the responsibility for their publications: they don’t write for the platform, they write for their _own audience_, which is very different).This unconventional thinking about titles derived from Wijnberg’s stint at the morning daily NRC Next. There, he saw how conventional titles placed unnecessary limits on reporting:
One of the first things I did when I became editor-in-chief for NRC Next was to get rid of the newsroom titles like "foreign desk," "economy desk," for two reasons: (1) These desk names reflect the world as it was in the '70s and '80s, with the cold war at its height, when countries, borders, and "national economies" mattered a lot more than they do in a globalized world. (2) People tend to use these desk names as judicial borders: "We" only write about economy because "we" are the economy desk, "we" don’t write about that, because that’s in a foreign country, etc. In that way, it stimulates tunnel vision. I wanted non-economy journalists writing about economy, and foreign correspondents writing about Holland as well.At two-year-old startup Quartz, reporters’ titles look fairly traditional (as do BuzzFeed’s). The beats correspond somewhat with the site's “obsessions” identity; that’s similar to De Correspondent’s notion of news people following passions. Interestingly, it is editors’ titles that have been more flexible. Says Gideon Lichfield, an Economist hand who helped shape Quartz:
I was global news editor until recently and that meant editor of most everything that wasn't op-ed. Now I'm just called senior editor, but my job includes being features editor, overseer of the Daily Brief, and house style guardian. The new global news editor, Heather Landy, has a somewhat narrower job than I did because our staff has grown. Zach Seward is senior editor and creative director, and that means part product development for the site, part head of the "Things" team (interactives and data journalism), and various other things. I'd say our titles have served more as placeholders than as descriptors. Each role, especially the more senior ones, has had to be pretty flexible to suit changing needs. That's the nature of a small and growing outfit as much as it is the nature of a digital one. I'd say we pay more attention to the things that need to be done and figuring out who should "own" them, rather than trying to define roles. But I would assume any startup is like that.Finally, we can look to another veteran of the traditional press, former Philadelphia Inquirer editor Robert Rosenthal, who has pioneered a groundbreaking new model with the muscular Center for Investigative Reporting. Rosenthal sees the same thing that Gannett execs see: the need to create new jobs that meet the demands of the digital world.
Nearly five years ago we came up the job of distribution editor and engagement specialists. That role has morphed for us into…one job because of our strategy. We not only distribute the content, we engage with the publisher, their audience and our audience. It’s not something I would have thought about very much when I was the editor of The Inquirer…The digital content creators are again clear titles that reflect their skills. I can remember thinking we needed new titles as we added staff and were creating jobs that did not exist in the traditional newspaper newsrooms I had spent my career in.Coming up with the titles is, in a sense, the easy part. From his experience, Rosenthal precisely lays out the challenge that Gannett, Advance, and all new re-shapers of newsrooms face.
The _first_ step is thinking about what you need and then creating the new jobs. Then, having the vision, commitment and strategy to make sure they succeed and that everyone in the newsroom understands what they do and their value to them. And, of course, that they have the skills to deliver.
Photo of imaginary org chart by Jim Parkinson by Nick Sherman used under a Creative Commons license.
announcing "newsrooms of the future" — at the same time it was separating print assets from broadcast and digital ones and launching new rounds of buyouts and layoffs. It's harder to divorce the ideas behind the newsroom redo — many of which make some basic sense, and indeed are being used by highly regarded news startups — from Gannett's own on-again, off-again innovation history. Real questions of corporate authenticity and staying power bedevil any grand pronouncements. Let's look at this tangled web of newsroom change and try to make sense of it. Even when Gannett has done good and smart things, its achievements can be obscured by how it operates. An example: Years ago, Gannett emerged as an early leader in newsroom diversity, on its staffs, in management, and in the content of its papers. While Gannett's peers — Tribune and Knight Ridder, among them — _urged_ and _cajoled_ editors to do better, Gannett enforced its mandates, down to counting the race, ethnicity, and gender of all faces appearing in its papers' photographs. It worked, at least to a degree. The papers indeed looked more like the communities they served. But at the same time, this approach to the craft of journalism counted only the most basic of things, enforced through rote counting — a very Gannett approach. Now Gannett — like Advance in its revolutionary capitalist fervor ("Gannett cribs from Advance Publications playbook for struggling newspapers") — seems intent on a new cookie-cutter approach to change, no matter how well intended. The list of job descriptions (courtesy Jim Romenesko) now being imposed in five Gannett newsrooms — The Tennesseean in Nashville, The Asbury Park Press in New Jersey, The Greenville News in South Carolina, The Pensacola News Journal in Florida, and The Asheville Citizen-Times in North Carolina — are in many ways commonsensical, including content coaches, community engagement editors, and producers. In total, there are 16 job descriptions that are intended to be used company-wide, and to connect with a new set of metrics, including traffic and other digital countables. Even if the ideas seem a little paint-by-numbers, the internal name for this restructuring project is Picasso. It's this penchant for grandiose naming that invites disdain. It doesn't help (as Romenesko pointed out) that Gannett has already announced such "newsroom of the futures" projects over the last decade, from crowdsourcing to "Information Centers." In journalism, we don't buy and sell futures like hogs. At our best, when we make mistakes, journalists own up to them and move on. News companies that blithely ignore their pasts strain their own future believability. Consider that after a decade or so of huffing and puffing about building the future, one Gannett editor could promote the latest initiative by saying: "Readers are going to notice very quickly that we're not just shoveling out printed copy up on the website…The biggest change for us is going to be a hugely expanded [team of] digital producers." Still shoveling after all these years? After all these great pronouncements of change and digital leadership? How could that possibly be? What does it tell us about the likelihood of this newest newsroom of the future is to work? Lost in the many shuffles within Gannett in the last month — separating into two companies, buying Cars.com, announcing the new newsrooms — is its next major round of newsroom job cuts. After years of shrinking, Gannett has decided to get yet another jump on the revenue declines to come. Figuring that print advertising will continue to decline annually in the high single digits — as it has for the last three and is this year — the company is taking about 15 percent out of many, if not all, of its 81 community newsroom budgets now, preparing for 2015 and 2016. That 15 percent is in dollars, not jobs. So it makes sense for publishers and editors to take out the highest-paid jobs, as many companies have done. Translation: _More_ than 15 percent of editorial and community knowledge is being lost. It's easy to paint the laying off/buying out of veterans as simply getting rid of the digitally clueless. There's some of that, of course, but this is mainly a _financial exercise_, as is most of the change we see sweeping the American news industry this year. Gannett's editors (and some are quite good) are left to make sense of their smaller deck of cards and work around the edges of a one-size-fits-all reshuffling to preserve the integrity of their work. Gannett's cut is notable because it's so large — on top of more than a half-decade of cuts — and because it anticipates the scale of a "rightsizing" of these newsrooms for next two years. That's optimistic, given that the print slide is accelerating in certain ways. There are several reasons for the downward spiral of local news companies. One, though, is very apparent but seldom acknowledged by publishers: Most news publishers are providing lower quality products year after year and charging more for them. That's not Gannett's _announced_ strategy, but it's been its de facto one. And unfortunately, it's not alone. Within the last month, we've gotten new numbers on newsroom loss. By the latest ASNE counting, 20,000 jobs have been lost in U.S. daily newsrooms over the last decade, a drop of over 35 percent. There are 36,700 remaining daily newspaper jobs in the U.S, a drop of 3.2 percent year over year. (By way of comparison, local TV stations employ 27,300, according to recently released annual Bob Papper benchmark survey, down 1.4 percent. In local TV news, as in local newspapers, employment is in a seven-year slide. Add up the number of local broadcast news jobs and those in daily newspapers, and they still don't equal print newsroom employment of a decade ago.) Not all jobs are being cut equally. Both Gannett and Advance, among others, have thinned the ranks of both managers and editors generally. As someone who's both managed a multi-editor-layered metro newsroom and depended on myself for editing of some of my Newsonomics work, I understand how the world has changed. The blogging revolution (remember that?) changed our sense of how many touches copy needed. At the same time, readers notice the epidemic of typos and, more importantly, incomprehensible stories, especially when they are being charged 10 to 50 percent more than they were three years ago. They think they're paying for a "professional" newspaper or website. Certainly, we need the engagement people, the audience development people, the multimedia producers and more. But let's not try to kid anyone — ourselves or the readers — that the old-fashioned institution of the knowing, checking editor is a vital role in the food chain. Knowledge, expertise, judgment: We value all those qualities in editors. Sure, we can add in coaching — mentoring has always been a key ingredient in the best newsroom cultures. Coaching and editing, though, don't equate, especially in newsrooms increasingly populated by underpaid, _relatively_ inexperienced younger journalists. Even as we recognize the value of the more amorphous community intelligence, and attempt to add it to the news report, greatly diminishing editorial intelligence is a recipe for disaster — and business failure. In a whisk of a Gannett second, "managers" and "editors" have been lumped into single category. Relatively late to the game of whacking middle management, a swath of newsroom intelligence has been redefined as "layers" and discarded. Take the words of two of Gannett' editors, leading the new newsrooms. Here's Hollis R. Towns, Asbury Park Press executive editor/vice president news:
We are flattening our management structure to be more nimble, with fewer hierarchical reporting lines and fewer managers. Reporters will be able to post to APP.com directly, cutting layers to give you the news more quickly and efficiently. Reporters will be empowered to roam for news and listen to you in a more self-directed way. The stories they write will be based on what you read and click on.And Stefanie Murray, The Tennessean's executive editor: One major goal of the reshuffling is to have more "self-sufficient reporters producing publication-ready copy." _Less_ editing can make sense in the digital age. The idea of _none_, especially in less and less experienced newsrooms, is a silly one. Again, this isn't craft snobbery: Editing is part of why people pay for newspaper company content over other news. Gannett papers' public pitch, inasmuch as there is one, can be summed up in a word: _More_. There's neither evidence that readers want more, nor that these diminished staffs can really create more, at least more of any meaningful quality for readers. Yet a third part of this particular reimagining, along with the job cuts and the new job titles, is a greater emphasis on counting. As we've seen the hamster wheel put into effect here and there, counting pageviews seems ascendant. That's ironic, because in 2014, the direct relationship between pageview (or unique visitor) growth and digital advertising growth is becoming increasingly weaker. (Though, to be fair, the quest for clickbait has gone truly global, now including the Chinese government press. Facebook alert: Please label appropriately.) This set of restructurings, then, is as likely to obscure the fundamental issues of our times as it is to solve them. "More," as expressed in Nashville and more widely, isn't a winning market idea. Further, the reading public — a.k.a. customers — could care less about internal shuffling. They want better products and services, and that's not what Gannett is announcing. The lack of product acceptance isn't an abstract issue for Gannett. The company's paywall strategy has stumbled, as it has seen double-digit loss of print circulation volume in some markets. Why? It raised prices in double-digits while failing to offer paying readers a reason to stick with their papers. Its introduction of USA Today content in its local players, a higher quality/lower cost plan, may make good financial sense, but it's unlikely to sway local readers who buy papers for local news. How are these new plans going to deal with that big issue? That's the big commercial question for Gannett: What will these reduced, lesser-experienced staffs offer their communities of sufficient value? impact metrics movement offers one way to count value beyond commodity pageviews, to get at this more elusive question of the value of news products and services the business is delivering. In a world that rewards journalistic product by volume, we go back to the divide between Who/What/When/Where journalism and the higher-value How/Why, with the latter clearly more useful to citizen readers as they try to make sense of disconnected facts ("The newsonomics of how and why"). Ask readers, and many will tell you they want smarter, deeper, and wider — and that they're willing to pay for it. The best case scenario of our era: The New York Times' success in signing up both all-access and digital subscribers. We do have a few regional models — more on them in the months to come — that, Times-like, have kept their newsroom staffing and community knowledge capacity high, and invested in the product against the odds. What the smarter publishers are focusing on is that kind of meaningful engagement with their news brands, better serving a smaller stratum of readers _willing to pay_. Those relative few, though, pale against the tide of now-standalone newspaper chains trying to cut their ways into the "newsrooms of the future."
Photo of Gannett headquarters by Shashi Bellamkonda used under a Creative Commons license.
The idea for a Hack Week at The Verge was fairly simple, says editor-in-chief Nilay Patel. Looking at the example of how quickly sister publication Vox.com spun to life — nine weeks — and started building new story tools, widgets, and other products, Patel wanted to find a way to share some of the toys within the family. "We wanted to throw the doors open and bring some of that big, integrated spirit to The Verge," Patel told me. That was, of course, before his staff made this: "Touch my body: the top 10 Nilay Patel videos on the internet." Including, apparently, his turn in a feature film called "Paper covers rock: The rise and fall of Woodstock Willy."
Media companies, especially the more digitally-oriented ones, have started to make a habit of throwing hack events to MacGyver together new and interesting tools for storytelling. In the case of Vox Media, hack days and hack weeks have become a part of doing business. But this time they did it with a twist: They would do it out in the open, in front of readers, and people on the editorial side would be just as involved as developers and designers. The goal, Patel says, was to test out new tools, get immediate feedback from users, and get everyone from Vox Media playing around on the site. "We have a bunch of tools we want to use and we're overthinking, because we want everything we launch on The Verge to be perfect," Patel said. That's why you'll find quizzes on which sci-fi robot is right for you, and a listenable history of Kanye West samples complete with accompanying YouTube clips. There are photo sliders showing magazine covers from the year The Simpsons debuted, and a timeline showing the history of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. On the surface, the stories might seem trivial (I, for one, _am_ interested in things like Doctor Who and the egomania of Elon Musk), but Patel said the idea is to get the staff comfortable with all the elements at their disposal. "We're just going to try to use these tools so that the new ways of storytelling are ingrained in us when we want to do something that's not as much of a throwaway," he said. But they're also making more permanent changes to the site, including a rollout of a beta of a responsive design version of The Verge. They're also planning to create a hub for shorter, sharable materials on The Verge, similar to the GIF repository that is Lookit on SB Nation, or IDK at Eater. In throwing the doors open to the site for new types of storytelling, they also wanted to bring in more voices from across Vox Media. The effect is something like a crossover episode of your favorite shows, when The Jetsons meet The Flintstones, or when Steve Urkel showed up on Full House. Or, in this case, Ezra Klein of Vox.com writing about the future of politics, Spencer Hall of SB Nation on drugs and gambling in the future of sports, and Vox Media editorial director Lockhart Steele on getting back to the spirit of blogging. "I'm trying to push [Vox Media CEO Jim] Bankoff to write something," Patel says. "We'll see how it goes." Crossing site boundaries might be an expected result of The Verge's new leader, which did the same. Patel, who was a cofounder of The Verge, left the site in March to help launch Vox.com. He returned to The Verge as editor in July after Josh Topolsky left for Bloomberg. He said he wants The Verge to "become a better Internet property" by trying more dynamic methods of storytelling and finding new ways of engaging with readers. The quickest way to do that was to let Verge writers jump right in and start playing around. At the beginning of the week, staffers were given access to a dashboard of new tools to use on top of Chorus, Vox's vaunted CMS. Lauren Rabaino, a product manager for The Verge who is leading the hack week, said they gave staffers tools to create timelines, lists, and quizzes along with some training. That was Monday morning; after that, they were on their own to use the new toys anyway they like. That serves a couple of purposes, says Rabaino, as it helps test the tools for bugs and shows what features are missing. "We quickly found out as people played with them, they had ideas for them," she said. Putting the editorial and product people on similar footing, as well as in the same room, gives both sides a clearer understanding of each other, she said. So when a developer says no to a project, a writer might have a better idea of the reasons why, Rabaino said. Giving writers more control over the way stories are presented will eventually have the benefit of taking some day-to-day responsibilities away from developers. That means the product team can focus on bigger ideas rather than custom interfaces for individual stories, Rabaino said. One thing they hope to build by the end of this week is a better reader submission tool, that lets users offer photos or other content to be used in stories, Rabaino said. "It lets the community engage in way that the community hasn't done before, but always had the potential to do because we have such a strong, opinionated, tapped-in community," she said. "They know everything Nilay Patel has done and have a GIF of it." last fall's addition of the Curbed network of sites and launch of Vox.com, the company has reorganized the way its tech talent works. In the past, each site had a dedicated product team; now the company has one large team that can dispatch people to work on projects on a case-by-case basis.
Trei Brundrett, chief product officer for Vox Media, said the company wants to create as much cross pollination between the editorial and product teams as possible. As a digital media company that also considers itself a technology company, there's an emphasis on people who understand tech no matter what their day-to-day job entails. Hack events are a way to get both sides to work together because you're letting people out of their normal responsibilities and giving them free rein to come up with new ideas, he said. What that does is bolster a culture of experimentation and collaboration in the company — which could lead to new products and more hack weeks across other Vox Media sites. Brundrett said he thinks that process is already a success. "One of the things that's awesome about this to me is I'm actually not there," he said. "That's a total victory to me. This is just something the team is good at now."
Press Publish 4: Trei Brundrett on how Vox Media has built a web-native media company with editorial ambition
Photo from The Verge hack week by Thomas Ricker used under a Creative Commons license.
THIS WEEK'S ESSENTIAL READS: The key reads this week are The New York Times' David Carr on the role of Twitter in informing the world about Ferguson, a pair of posts by The Guardian's James Ball on the social media dissemination and censorship of ISIS' video of James Foley, and Clay Shirky on the endgame for newspapers and journalists there.POLICE AGGRESSIVENESS AND MEDIA COVERAGE IN FERGUSON: In the second week of protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police, the targeting, threats, and violence toward journalists only escalated, with at least six more journalists arrested, including Getty Images photographer Scott Olson. Ryan Devereaux, a reporter for First Look Media's The Intercept, spent the night in jail, being arrested (though not charged) because of "failure to disperse," as he explained in a first-person account. In addition to the arrests, at least four reporters caught police on tape threatening to mace, shoot, "bust your head," or kill them. (The officer who made the latter threat was suspended.) Forty-eight media organizations signed a letter protesting the violent treatment of journalists and the lack of information being provided about those incidents and Brown's shooting. As the week went on, journalists began being harassed and threatened by protesters as well when they attempted to record looting. Bob Butler, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, chastised the police for their disturbingly aggressive behavior, and The Huffington Post's Jack Mirkinson made the case for why the treatment of reporters matters: When police arrest or threaten journalists, it's not just about them. "They are trying to decrease the flow of information that the journalists can provide the rest of us. They are trying to keep all of us in the dark," he wrote. The Washington Post's Paul Farhi explained how reporters were adjusting to the stonewalling and danger in a situation that ranged beyond what many of them had ever been trained for, and on Medium, Quinn Norton gave some useful advice for reporters on covering civil unrest. Columbia Journalism Review's Jonathan Peters added a primer for journalists on their First Amendment rights in these situations. A few publications highlighted the stellar work being done by journalists in Ferguson: Columbia Journalism Review's Deron Lee gave a thorough review of the excellent coverage by local news organizations, and Time's Olivier Laurent went behind the coverage by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's photojournalists, while Poynter's Benjamin Mullin looked at the work the Riverfront Times, St. Louis' alt-weekly, has done on the protests. The Huffington Post announced it would establish a crowdfunded fellowship with the St. Louis Beacon to keep a reporter in Ferguson for the next year, though many, including The Awl's Matt Buchanan, Ad Age's Simon Dumenco, and 10,000 Words' Karen Fratti, wondered why such a massive media organization is crowdfunding a position it should be able to easily pay for itself. Gigaom's Mathew Ingram argued that it's a smart move for both HuffPo and the Beacon. There were some questions about the media's behavior in Ferguson, though. Photojournalist Abe Van Dyke explained why he was embarrassed to be part of the media in Ferguson — it reached a point, he said, where the media was "no longer simply reporting what is happening but rather becoming a hindrance and making the situation worse." Ryan Schuessler, who had been covering Ferguson with Al Jazeera America, also expressed disgust at the media's tone-deaf behavior, concluding that "IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS A RECOGNIZABLE NEED FOR MEDIA PRESENCE, BUT THIS IS THE OTHER EXTREME. THEY NEED TIME TO WORK THROUGH THIS AS A COMMUNITY, WITHOUT THE CAMERAS." Similarly, BagNews' Michael Shaw said the media presence has gotten so heavy that it's become difficult to tell what's the story and what's spectacle. Noah Rothman of the conservative blog Hot Air questioned whether the press was too closely identifying itself with the protesters, a point echoed by Politico's Dylan Byers. But Slate's Josh Voorhees countered that the press is siding with protesters because "what the people in the streets of Ferguson want is the same thing the journalists were sent there to find" — namely, the truth about Michael Brown's killing. M. Scott Brauer of the photojournalism blog dvafoto provided a good roundup of the discussion of both police brutality toward journalists and media coverage of the protests.
FOLLOWING FERGUSON ON TWITTER: Much of this action on the streets in Ferguson was reaching us through the filter of Twitter, which for many people was a nonstop feed of the latest reports, photos, and video from both professional reporters and protesters. The New York Times' David Carr argued that this story highlights one of Twitter's greatest strengths in its ability to capture the interests and informational needs of a broad range of news consumers that the traditional media often misses, including communities of color. Politico's Byron Tau explained that it took the arrests of two reporters last week for Ferguson to finally grab the establishment political press's attention, and a Pew study showed that while Twitter picked up the story before cable news, their attention rose and fell mostly in tandem. There are downsides to the way Twitter mediates events like Ferguson's protests as well: Politico's Alex Byers talked to several experts who said TWITTER'S FREE-FOR-ALL NATURE FUSED WITH THE CHAOS IN FERGUSON "TO CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT THAT SPOTLIGHTS STARTLING DEVELOPMENTS OVER MEASURED ACTION OR SOLUTIONS." Still, many users have remarked on how much better Twitter has been for following the situation in Ferguson than Facebook, which has been inundated with videos of people being dumped with buckets of ice water for most of the week. Gigaom's Mathew Ingram highlighted several reasons for the differences between the two platforms, focusing on Facebook's symmetrical following model and the algorithms behind its News Feed. Likewise, Poynter's Sam Kirkland noted that Facebook's algorithm has prioritized personalized relevance over newness, which hurts it for minute-by-minute stories like Ferguson. Digiday's John McDermott pointed to the social norms on Facebook that emphasize fun, light-hearted material at the expense of current events. The American Journalism Review's Lisa Rossi advised readers to spread their news consumption across platforms, and Mandy Brown of The Verge called for more transparent and sophisticated filters that can help us comprehend information at the same speed we're sharing it. The Guardian's Dan Gillmor praised the citizen journalism coming out of Ferguson, particularly the valuable documentation of police brutality. At the Local News Lab, Josh Stearns looked at what local journalists can do to aid community-driven information efforts like those fueling the Ferguson story, and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis emphasized the importance of journalists to start serving communities by listening to and understanding them, rather than charging in from the outside.
A BRUTAL EXECUTION, AND CENSORSHIP QUESTIONS: The Islamic militant group ISIS posted a video on YouTube this week of its execution of freelance photojournalist James Foley, who was kidnapped in Syria two years ago. As The New York Times explained, the video was meant to intimidate the U.S. into stopping its airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, and concluded with a threat to kill another freelance journalist. President Obama said he was appalled by Foley's beheading but declared he would continue the airstrikes, and Obama administration officials revealed they had tried and failed a secret operation to rescue Foley earlier this year. Reuters' Jack Shafer traced some of the history of videotaped murders of journalists and argued that ISIS will accomplish none of its goals regarding American policy and public opinion as a result of this video, though it may serve as an effective recruiting tool. The New York Times' Ravi Somaiya and Christine Haughney examined the immense dangers journalists are facing both at home and abroad. Foley's friends and colleagues paid tribute to his immense courage and selflessness. You can get a good sense of the kind of man he was through articles by Vox's Max Fisher, CNN's Brian Stelter, and BuzzFeed's Sheera Frenkel. The discussion also shifted to the spread of the video on social media, as journalists voiced their opposition to other journalists and news organizations who posted screenshots and clips from the video. In the U.K., police warned that sharing and even viewing the video could be grounds for arrest under terrorism legislation, something Techdirt's Mike Masnick scoffed at. News organizations that published images from the video, several of them tabloids belonging to News Corp, defended their decisions. As Foreign Policy's Shane Harris and The Guardian's Hannah Jane Parkinson reported, the social networks themselves, particularly YouTube and Twitter, scrambled to block the photo, with Twitter suspending accounts that post graphic images. Gigaom's Mathew Ingram objected to that decision, arguing that the decision over whether to view images or footage from the execution should be our decision as users. The Guardian's James Ball pointed out the departure of this decision from Twitter's very laissez-faire past on free speech. He concluded that "if Twitter has decided to make editorial decisions, even on a limited basis, it is vital that its criteria are clearly and openly stated in advance, and that they are consistently and evenly applied," and PandoDaily's David Holmes also called for consistency on Twitter's part. The Berkman Center's David Weinberger noted what a difficult decision this is for YouTube and Twitter, saying that by becoming used as a news distribution system, "Twitter has been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, it did not ask for." As for the personal decision to view, The Guardian's Ball urged serious self-examination before clicking on such links, while also wondering if we're disproportionately concerned about graphic images of white Westerners. And Charlie Warzel of BuzzFeed used this as an example of the downside of Twitter's (generally) unfiltered stream of news.
READING ROUNDUP: There were a few stories about the media this week that didn't have to do with violence and repression. Here's a sampling: — Gawker published an internal Time Inc. spreadsheet, obtained from a union representative, that showed that Sports Illustrated online staffers are being evaluated based on, among other things, producing "content that [is] beneficial to advertiser relationship." Those evaluations may have played a role in SI's recent layoffs. A Time Inc. exec "clarified" to CNN's Brian Stelter that that evaluation means "Does what they create or who they are capture the attention of Madison Avenue?" which, as Politico's Dylan Byers noted, sounds like kind of the same thing. Time's Norman Pearlstine gave a further defense to New York's Gabriel Sherman, calling the reaction overblown. — After experimenting with the change earlier this summer, Twitter officially added some favorited tweets from people you follow to users' feeds. It seems exactly no one liked the change, and The Atlantic's Robinson Meyer said that while we have already been seeing tweets from people we don't follow in our streams (those would be ads), this change is damaging because it breaks Twitter's "favorite" function, and TechCrunch's Natasha Lomas made a similar point a bit more bluntly. — The anonymous duo who busted BuzzFeed's Benny Johnson for serial plagiarism went after CNN's Fareed Zakaria this week, accusing him of lifting from a wide variety of publications. Zakaria was accused of plagiarism in 2012, and a spokesman for Time magazine, which reviewed his work at that point, said it would review his material again, though The Washington Post and CNN said they saw nothing in these new allegations to justify a new review. Zakaria offered his own defense to Politico's Dylan Byers, and Steve Buttry gave some tips for avoiding plagiarism through attribution and linking. — Finally, three smart pieces on where the news business is headed: Journalism professor Nikki Usher in Columbia Journalism Review with some insights into her research on the new wave of news aggregation apps, French newspaper exec Frederic Filloux on the future of mobile news apps, and NYU professor Clay Shirky with a warning call to journalists working in newspapers.
Photos of Ferguson protests Aug. 18 by AP/Charlie Riedel and AP/David Goldman. Photo of James Foley's parents addressing reporters Aug. 20 by AP/Jim Cole.
It started, like so many things now do, with a tweet. On August 12, three days after Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. and just as the protests there were beginning to garner national attention, Tony Messenger, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's editorial page editor, sent a message to The Guardian's U.S. opinion editor, Matt Sullivan:
@sullduggery Hey Matt, could you email me, please. I have an idea I want to run by you. email@example.com -- Tony Messenger (@tonymess) August 12, 2014Messenger was interested in some sort of collaboration to try and add a new dimension to the Post-Dispatch's editorial page coverage of Ferguson. "I realized that this was going to be so much more than a local and regional story, and was just brainstorming what could we do that expanded our local voice and that brought new voices into it both locally and nationally, beyond the normal things we do," Messenger said. To that end, the two editorial pages decided to collaborate on a project soliciting reader submissions about their own experiences with racial profiling from the police. They each put a submission form on their websites, sent out calls to readers to share their stories on social media with the hashtag #FergusonVoices, and also included links to the form in other stories on Ferguson.
We stand with the journalists. We've seen the hashtags. Let's hear more real #FergusonVoices: http://t.co/Lz48GuN3lg #Ferguson -- Matt Sullivan (@sullduggery) August 14, 2014"There were two things that they were very good at that we weren’t traditionally," Messenger said. "One is their digital focus — we do some things digitally that we do well, but generally that’s their focus and they do that very well. And two is their curation of others' work, and going out and getting good op-eds, and getting strong interesting voices that are outside the traditional syndicated column voices."
Messenger and Sullivan first met in May at the Scripps Howard Awards dinner in Cincinnati. The Post-Dispatch had won an editorial writing award, and The Guardian was accepting another award for its reporting on the NSA from the Snowden leaks. ("Journalists drinking is good, that’s what started the collaboration," Sullivan joked. "You can blame Edward Snowden for this one too.") And since then, Messenger said he had been following The Guardian's work and thought they might be interested in a partnership. When Messenger first broached the idea of collaborating with Sullivan, he said he didn't have any particular ideas in mind, but they quickly realized that with the Post-Dispatch's local readership combined with The Guardian's much larger national and international reach, they might be able to attract a mix of submissions from those near and far from what was happening on the ground in Ferguson. "I've said no to almost every old white guy from afar who's trying to explain the story, and I’ve said yes to people from St. Louis, or people who are from there or who have had similar experiences, and we're trying to mutually reinforce that an opinion page should be a voice of the people as anything else," Sullivan said. The Guardian is handling the submissions, though it wouldn't provide specific numbers for how many they've received. A spokesman would only tell me they've gotten "dozens" of submissions, with about half coming from individuals from Missouri. Both editors said they were still working out details on what the final product will look like from the submissions, but staff at both outlets are working to develop their own versions of interactives to publish on each paper's website. Guardian developers built the initial submission form and made it embeddable on the Post-Dispatch's site, but because of differences in how the two sites are run, each is creating its own format to present the submissions digitally. "It’ll look different in both places," Messenger said.
Other newsrooms are thinking of nonconventional ways to cover Ferguson, a big story located far from the coastal cities where most national and global outlets have staffers stationed. The Huffington Post this week said it was asking readers to pay for a local freelancer to stick with the story once the protests die down. The Guardian and Post-Dispatch are currently limiting their partnership to the editorial pages, but they are taking it beyond their joint call for submissions. The Guardian on Wednesday published an unsigned editorial written by the Post-Dispatch's editorial board after Attorney General Eric Holder visited Ferguson earlier that day. Messenger and Sullivan said that, while their main focus has been soliciting reader submissions, they hope to cross-publish more content. As we all spoke on the phone, Messenger was suggesting Post-Dispatch content that the Guardian could publish. "That reminds me, our artist did a nice Michael Brown drawing that we ran on our op-ed page, I’ll send you a link to that," he told Sullivan.
Photo of August 20 protest in Ferguson by AP/Charlie Riedel.
The media presence in Ferguson has grown steadily as the shooting of Michael Brown gave way to protests and, later, clashes with police. But now, with some signs that the demonstrations and conflict may be waning, news organizations have to make the calculation they always make during big events: Do we dig in or move out?
The Huffington Post is trying to find a way to do both. They're collaborating with Beacon Reader to fund an on-the-ground reporting project in Ferguson. Mariah Stewart, a resident who has been reporting on protests and journalists interactions with police, has been using the fund-a-journalist platform Beacon to help support her efforts. HuffPost wants to use Beacon to raise $40,000 for a more formalized ongoing reporting project with Stewart. The catch, of course, is that for the coverage to continue the project has to be fully funded by the crowd. A little under $5,000 has been raised with 20 days left in the fundraising period. With the Ferguson Fellowship, as they're calling it, The Huffington Post hopes to continue to follow the investigations into Brown's killing and the deeper issues that fed the protests. (On someone else's dime, of course — some reader may have questions about donating to a for-profit entity sold for $315 million just three years ago.) The funding will be used to support public records requests and skills training for Stewart. "She’ll use those skills to investigate the funding sources and uses of military gear in St. Louis County, follow efforts to reform police procedures aimed at curbing abuse and monitor the ongoing activity of local police and their unfolding relationship with the local community," according to the project description page. Huffington Post Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim writes:
Turn your followers into gold: Beacon won't be the Netflix of journalism, but it might help you make rent
Stewart will work directly with HuffPost's criminal justice reporter Ryan Reilly to cover the ongoing story of Ferguson, tracking the federal investigation into the killing of Michael Brown and reporting on the empaneled grand jury. She'll monitor the activity of the local and county police forces once the national spotlight dims, and will learn the intricacies of public records requests in an effort to divine the funding sources and uses of military gear in the county.For Beacon, it's another attempt to vary its funding models for journalism. Initially founded under a pay-for-one-of-our-journalists, get-access-to-all-of-their-work model, it's since added discrete multi-author publications and now partnering with an established outlet.
By now, you might have heard that Atlantic Media's Andrew Golis is incubating a small social network inside the company. Golis came to Atlantic Media as entrepreneur-in-residence a little over a year ago, eventually taking over The Wire as general manager in January. But for the last two months, he's been working on This, a social network that only lets users share a single link a day. (For more on that name, check out Kyle Chayka's "A History of This^, #This, and This." And though it officially uses a period at the end of its name — This. — _come on_.) So far, This has been invitation-only, open to a slowly growing handful of media types. But last week, Golis decided to tell the wider public a little about the project:
This. is an attempt to build on the rebellions against The Stream that are popping up all over. We love content recommendations from people we trust, but we can’t keep up, we feel constantly distracted, and are increasingly aware of how narrow "nowness" is a primary definition of value. The retro cool of newsletters, the success of niche #longform communities, the Explainer trend, Clickhole: they’re all reactions to our frustrations with The Stream. This. is an attempt to build a platform where influence comes from taste, instead of sheer volume (in both the quantity and loudness senses).The central gambit for This — that limited access to a platform can effectively elevate the digital dialogue — is an intriguing one. "One of the huge benefits of the one-a-day is it inflates the perceived value, both for the person sharing it and the person coming to it," Golis says. He likes to use a digital bookshelf metaphor to describe what This is — a place to collect and display media. But as we know, home bookshelves are often more about showing off than about reading books. The idea that your friends or favorite journalists necessarily share the best, most refined content might ultimately mute voices we're not preconditioned to think of as "good." That kind of incidental elitism is natural consequence of the filter bubble dilemma, but it's worth asking if "taste" is really a good thing. That said, I asked a few of the beta users (full disclosure, I'm one) what they thought, and the reviews are mostly positive. The New York Times' Jenna Wortham says it "encourages me to digest," though she wishes the links shared were "weirder" and "less expected." The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal sees This as part of larger trend toward slowing down the Internet, comparing the project to Electric Objects and Cowbird. Chalkbeat's Elizabeth Green has been using the site to bookmark articles for later reference, but says she also enjoys the high bar the site sets for what other people share. "I seem to be going to the site when I have time to read something and I don’t want to read crap," she says.
Building a social network that's meant to surface high quality content would seem to fit in with Atlantic Media, a company that has pushed the boundaries of what can be expected of a traditional publisher in recent years, from its aggressive web strategy to its moves into creative services and events businesses. Golis' new project is an opportunity to learn more about social distribution while maintaing their high-end, magazine-y brand, which is what Atlantic Media CFO Michael Finnegan says convinced leadership to fund the project. "We’re interested in any sort of innovative opportunity that contributes to our core focus on developing great content," Finnegan says. "I would say generally the appeal to a variety of senior leaders was the belief that it would be longer-form quality content." Golis wants This to be the social network users check not in the middle of the workday, but during that lean-back evening time when they might otherwise pick up a magazine. "The idea itself started initially because I was describing to a colleague of mine here my obsession with what I saw as the opportunity to get people link recommendations at 8 p.m. instead of the daytime, desktop bored-at-work community," says Golis. "I said to them, I wish that I got an email from Ta-Nehisi every night at eight o'clock that just said, "This," with a link." The network does power a newsletter, which is curated and captioned by Golis. It goes out in the afterwork hours with five of his favorite links. The email is popular among beta testers, with an open rate over 50 percent. As users adjust to the new network, the email is a good reminder to check what's been posted — Golis says it's a useful strategy for getting users to develop a habit. Says Wortham: "I find myself posting less, as time goes on, simply because I don't necessarily want another profile to maintain. But I look forward to the emails that cull together a list of some of the best links shared." As the network grows and splinters into clusters, Golis says the follow feature on This will become more important, and could eventually allow users to create custom email newsletters based on who they're most interested in following. "I think this is more in the model of the interest graph, instead of the friend graph." he says. "You might follow some of your friends if they have interesting opinions, but you might also follow journalists or celebrities or other people who you're interested in." (When I compared this model to LinkedIn's Influencer network, Golis said yes, but "I'm super happy if my Richard Branson is Ann Friedman.") Another inspiration for Golis was the social bookmarking website Delicious, popular in the early aughts. He enjoyed following public intellectuals like danah boyd and Ethan Zuckerman on the site, and wanted to bring back the "semi-public, semi-private" feeling of quietly keeping track of what people who you admired were reading. Wanting to know what your network is reading without having to wade through hundreds of tweets is fairly common feeling among content-drenched journalists. But whether a site like This will have a mass appeal remains to be seen. For Golis, creating a smaller network for a particular type of reader is just fine. "Maybe — and I'm happy to be wrong about this — but maybe there aren't a hundred million people who want to be this super self aware about curating this kind of media experience for themselves," he says. "I don't see there being some easy answer of, Oh, this is great at a million users or 10 million users or 100 million users. I want to play with the model and see what works."
Part of that playing around means testing new features. For example, Golis is enthusiastic about replacing the ubiquitous "like" or "favorite" mechanism with a new social reward — "thanks." "One of the things we've thought a lot about is the way favoriting and that kind of feedback produces incentives for people to share certain kinds of stuff," Golis says. By giving users the opportunity to thank their connections for sharing, Golis hopes to drive more meaningful interaction and a more thoughtful culture for the site. One element that This is missing is a way for users to interact with each other. There's no commenting system or messaging, no way to contact anyone about a link or start a conversation. Users can personalize the headline — for example, Vox's "Poll: White people think the Michael Brown investigation is going fine" becomes Susie Cooley's editorialized "Poll: White people are garbage." In the near future, Golis would like to add what he describes as a "Why this?" feature, a space for users to describe their choice in one or two sentences. But that's as far as he's willing to go for now. "The commenting and actual discussion — on the one hand, I'd love to do that," says Golis. "On the other hand, I know people who did Branch, and I've spent a decade now reading debates about comments on news stories, and I'm aware of how complicated and sticky that is." The site isn't open to the general public just yet — there's still a lot of product development to be done before it's ready. Golis is hiring an in-house team to work on the project — "a couple of brilliant developers and a designer and people working on analytics, some product management" — as Fictive Kin winds up their work on the project. But that doesn't mark the end of outside involvement with This. Atlantic Media is actively seeking venture capital to help turn the product into a company. Says Michael Finnegan: "We’re looking for a partner that has more experience with this sort of activity than we do. There’s a range of ownership and funding structures that would possibly exist with the right partner." Finnegan says that Atlantic Media's overall investment in This has been relatively small thus far, and characterizes the project as an experiment that is primarily about learning. "You’ve got all these media companies starting up incubators and accelerators," he says. "We’ve talked with partners about doing those sorts of things, but it’s not something we’re doing."
Would you click a "Respect" button more than a "Like" button? Experiments in tweaking news reader behavior for democracy
Image via szczel used under a Creative Commons license.
NRK set the world record for the longest single television show by broadcasting a cruise ship traversing the country's coast. The show was on the air for 134 consecutive hours, and 3.2 million people — more than 60 percent of all Norwegians — tuned in at some point. Last year, about one million people watched NRK's 12-hour broadcast of a burning fireplace, complete with color commentary. But NRK P3, one of the broadcaster's radio stations aimed at a younger audience, has taken a more ephemeral approach to broadcasting this summer, producing newscasts for Snapchat. The station has about 2,500 followers on its Snapchat account, Even Nielsen, a P3 producer told me via email. "P3nyheter want to present news to young people where they are," he wrote. "It is a challenge for news broadcasters today to reach young people, and we think social media is a good place to introduce news stories to them." I added P3nyheter (P3 News in Norwegian) yesterday on Snapchat, and was sent a 90-second-plus Snapchat story that covered a wide array of news. The story led with a series of snaps on the protests in Ferguson. ("Police used tear gas and shock grenades against protesters," one of the captions read in Norwegian.) It also covered the news of a 15-year-old soccer player being called up to the Norwegian national team, the delay in production of the sixth Resident Evil movie, and the first day of school for Norway's 10-year-old Princess Ingrid. P3nyheter's Ingvild Sættem Beltesbrekke explained to the NRK blog (in Norwegian) how the P3nyheter team goes about assembling the snaps. She explained (via Google Translate) the process was time-consuming in addition to their primary radio responsibilities, as well as posting on Instagram and other social networks:
We create images in Photoshop and video in Premiere, how we use templates suitable for the iPhone 4, where we design graphics, video, images and text to each item. When an update is ready it will be uploaded to Dropbox, and publish it via the Snaproll app on your phone, which provides the ability to add items to Snapchat stories.Snapchat is also a newsgathering opportunity for the station, as some users, for instance, sent P3nyheter pictures of helicopters battling forest fires earlier this summer, Beltesbrekke said. They now will occasionally ask listeners to submit photos via Snapchat. Snapchat recently added filters that show the current temperature over photos, so she said "we get many updates on the weather, especially during the heat wave now."
A number of news outlets in the U.S. and abroad have also begun using Snapchat and other chat apps. NPR sends snaps with various staffers reading a fact of the day, Bloomberg Businessweek uses the platform to offer previews of its weekly issues, and Mashable will often tell stories through its Snapchat account — earlier this week, they visited the pandas at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington and also reported on the protests in Ferguson through the platform. And The Wall Street Journal reported last night that Snapchat is in discussions with media and advertising companies to begin a product called Snapchat Discovery that would show users editorial and advertising content and is scheduled to launch in November. The Daily Mail is one of the participating organizations, the Journal reported. P3nyheter sends Snapchat updates between two and five times each day, Nielsen said, adding that they'll obviously send more if breaking news necessitates it, and they also send out a number of updates via Instagram in addition to Twitter and Facebook. Still, the response has been generally positive, Nielsen said, as "it is a quick and easy way to get up to date with today’s headlines. A lot of people check their phones before they get out of the bed in the morning, and they check social media before the news sites."
Gawker reports today that at least one Time Inc. property internally ranks — and fires — its editorial employees using a rather unethical calculation. Based on a spreadsheet made available to the Newspaper Guild, it would seem that Sports Illustrated has calculated the worth of staffers based on categories including "Quality of Writing"; "Impact of Stories/Newsworthiness"; "Productivity/Tenacity"; "Audience/Traffic"; "Video"; "Social"; "Enthusiasm/Approach to Work"; and "Produces content that beneficial to advertiser relationship." From Hamilton Nolan:
Anthony Napoli, a union representative with the Newspaper Guild, tells us: "Time Inc. actually laid off Sports Illustrated writers based on the criteria listed on that chart. Writers who may have high assessments for their writing ability, which is their job, were in fact terminated based on the fact the company believed their stories did not 'produce content that is beneficial to advertiser relationships.'" The Guild has filed an arbitration demand disputing the use of that and other criteria in the layoff decisionmaking process. In a letter to Time Inc., the Guild says that four writer-editors were laid off "out of seniority order" based on the rankings in the spreadsheet above.Time Inc. has recently laid off hundreds of employees and restructured internally such that magazine editors report to the business side of the company. Whether this rubric is actively used across other Time Inc. properties is unclear. Plenty of media companies — Gawker included — measure employee performance based on how much web traffic their writing drives, but the values on display in the Sports Illustrated spreadsheet have left lots of media folks on Twitter feeling deflated.
Some day we’ll all be hired and fired by an algorithm designed by capricious humans http://t.co/47KTuLodq1 -- Michael Roston (@michaelroston) August 18, 2014UPDATE: A Sports Illustrated spokesperson reached out to me with the following comment:
“The Guild’s interpretation is misleading and takes one category out of context. The SI.com evaluation was conducted in response to the Guild’s requirement for our rationale for out of seniority layoffs. As such, it encompasses all of the natural considerations for digital media. It starts and ends with journalistic expertise, while including reach across all platforms and appeal to the marketplace. SI’s editorial content is uncompromised and speaks for itself.”
THIS WEEK'S ESSENTIAL READS: This week's most important pieces are Zeynep Tufekci on Ferguson and algorithmic filtering, Felix Salmon on BuzzFeed, and Ethan Zuckerman on the failings of the ad-based business model on which the Internet runs.PRESS FREEDOM AND CITIZEN JOURNALISM IN FERGUSON: The ongoing tensions in Ferguson, Missouri this week that followed a police officer's killing of an unarmed black teenager became a major story about the media as well. Two reporters were arrested without any apparent justification Wednesday night, and numerous others were tear-gassed or shot with rubber bullets by police. The two reporters, Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Post, were arrested as police cleared out a McDonald's they were in. They were released about a half-hour after they arrived at the police station, after a phone call from a Los Angeles Times reporter alerted the police chief to their arrests. Lowery wrote a first-person account of the incident. In addition, video showed an Al Jazeera America crew getting hit with tear gas and fleeing, followed quickly by a SWAT team dismantling their equipment. Law enforcement officials claimed the gassing was unintentional. Poynter's Al Tompkins and Kristen Hare reported on the experiences of several local reporters on the scene, and Ellyn Angelotti provided some legal background on what police are able to do to journalists during protests. Journalism professor Jeremy Littau noted the outrage expressed over Lowery and Reilly's arrests, and called on journalists to stand up for citizens' rights alongside professional reporters', especially since they have been so vital in disseminating information about events such as the Ferguson protests. Gigaom's Mathew Ingram argued that in situations where traditional journalists can't or won't witness abusive police behavior, the crowd-powered platforms like Twitter can be an important check on authority, and Jezebel's Kara Brown said the events in Ferguson have shown how traditional and social media can complement each other to draw attention to abuses of power. Sociology professor Zeynep Tufekci noted how discussion on Twitter about Ferguson bubbled up all week and then boiled over Wednesday night, then pointed out how quiet it was on Facebook at the same time, making the case that the algorithms that filter online information have significant (and unexamined) consequences regarding what issues get public attention. Sarah Perez of Techcrunch also explained why Ferguson was only rarely trending on Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday. Before Wednesday night's arrests and confrontations, Twitter and Instagram also helped give exposure to criticism of media coverage of Ferguson with the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, in which black users showed contrasting pictures of themselves and questioned which one the news media would run. The New York Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution both covered the trend, and Poynter's team of experts weighed in as well.
A $50 MILLION INFUSION FOR BUZZFEED: BuzzFeed took a big step forward beyond listicles this week, getting a $50 million investment from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz that will fund a major expansion that includes new content sections, a technology incubator, and more funds for its video division BuzzFeed Motion Pictures. Chris Dixon, an Andreessen Horowitz partner who will join BuzzFeed's board, explained why the firm is making the investment, and The New York Times' Mike Isaac laid out what BuzzFeed will do with the money, while the Lab's Caroline O'Donovan went into more detail about its new, more autonomous divisions: Buzz, BuzzFeed News, and BuzzFeed Life. One aspect of the announcement that caught quite a bit of attention was Dixon's statement that his firm views BuzzFeed as more of a tech company than a media company. Gawker and New York Observer alum Elizabeth Spiers objected to that description, and tech writer Ben Thompson sifted through the claim, concluding that while BuzzFeed is still primarily a media company, it has a disconnect from traditional media logic and an ability to cheaply scale that make it uniquely valuable. Recode's Peter Kafka looked at BuzzFeed's $850 million valuation and said that if BuzzFeed is a media company, then that number is a huge overvaluation, but if it's a tech company, it's a steal. And for everyone saying "$850 million for a bunch of listicles and cat GIFs?!" Fusion's Felix Salmon argued that BuzzFeed is different from other media companies in that it doesn't sell audiences to advertisers, but instead sells its expertise in creating content that young, mobile audiences love. "THE BEST WAY TO THINK OF BUZZFEED’S VARIOUS PRODUCTS, THEN, IS PROBABLY AS A PROOF OF CONCEPT: IT’S A WAY TO SHOW ADVERTISERS THAT THE COMPANY IS ABLE TO REACH A LARGE, YOUNG, MOBILE, SOCIAL AUDIENCE IN A MULTITUDE OF DIFFERENT WAYS," Salmon wrote. Wired's Marcus Wohlsen examined what it means for BuzzFeed to be, as Dixon called it, a "full-stack" startup, and investor Om Malik looked at the potential hazards for BuzzFeed, specifically its reliance on Facebook and the continued success of native advertising. The Awl's Matt Buchanan noted that BuzzFeed is moving even deeper into Facebook and other social networks, creating content that only exists there, rather than on BuzzFeed's site. And TechCrunch's Josh Constine said the native ads on which BuzzFeed depends may be a fickle form. As Gigaom's Mathew Ingram pointed out, BuzzFeed's investors are betting that it can scale into a massive media company without losing the agility it has so prized, and Bloomberg Businessweek's Felix Gillette noted that its cost of production and scale of competition are about to increase just as dramatically as its cash on hand. The New York Times' Claire Cain Miller explored BuzzFeed's move toward higher-quality content and the larger accompanying shift online from search to social. Elsewhere, Mike Shields of The Wall Street Journal looked at the deal's implications for one of BuzzFeed's biggest competitors, The Huffington Post, and Forbes' Eric Jackson made the case that Yahoo should have bought BuzzFeed. Gawker's J.K. Trotter noticed that BuzzFeed has removed more than 4,000 posts this year, and Slate's Will Oremus talked to BuzzFeed's Jonah Peretti about why: The posts didn't meet its editorial standards for a variety of reasons, and they were created before BuzzFeed saw itself as journalistic. Poynter's Kelly McBride looked at the ethics of unpublishing in light of the situation.
GANNETT'S SPINOFF AND FUTURE OF PRINT: Gannett became the latest media company to spin its print properties off from its broadcast properties into a separate company last week, announcing a split set to take place next year with the broadcasting unit assuming all of the company's debt. The Lab's Ken Doctor, who had suggested just a day before the announcement that Gannett could use such a split, gave several observations on the current wave of breakups, arguing that despite the initial cash infusion for newspaper units, they'll ultimately result in less of a financial cushion for those properties. Journalism professor Jeff Jarvis argued that these newspaper companies are being spun off because the business is going to continue to get worse and they're punting on the work of transforming it. "WHAT THESE SPIN-OFFS SIGNALS IS THAT MEDIA COMPANIES DO NOT HAVE THE STOMACH, PATIENCE, CAPITAL, OR GUTS TO DO THE HARD WORK THAT IS STILL NEEDED TO FINISH TURNING AROUND LEGACY MEDIA," he wrote. The New York Times' David Carr painted a similarly depressing picture of the spun-off newspaper industry, but concluded that its decline is no one's fault in particular. Jarvis countered that the decline of newspapers has indeed been journalists' fault, and it should prompt not fatalism but renewed action and innovation. At USA Today, Michael Wolff was more optimistic, seeing some potential for newspapers to rethink what business they're in and reinvent themselves. And Poynter's Rick Edmonds said there's no reason to declare these newspaper spinoffs failures before they even occur, and USA Today's Rem Rieder said there's a way forward for newspapers despite print's decline: Find enough in digital subscriptions and advertising to keep revenue flat after years of declines. The Atlantic's Derek Thompson added that while there's no certain model for making money off of news, there are several promising avenues, many of them in digital-native outfits or organizations with substantial private funds behind them. Gannett also announced it's restructuring the newsrooms at five of its papers to cut down on resources for editing and design while increasing the emphasis on analytics, as Poynter's Sam Kirkland reported. Columbia Journalism Review's Corey Hutchins talked to an editor of one of the papers about what the changes will mean, and Jim Romenesko rounded up details of the news that journalists have to re-apply for their jobs, as well as the new job descriptions.
ANONYMITY AND ABUSE IN GAWKER COMMENTS: Writers at the Gawker blog Jezebel went public this week with their complaints about Gawker's inaction on an anonymous commenter posting pornographic rape GIFs, upsetting both readers and the staff members who have to remove the comments. Jezebel editor-in-chief Jessica Coen told Poynter the staff published its post "to light a fire under management’s collective ass.” disabling all images in comments as a temporary solution, then bringing back its old pending comment system, in which only comments from approved users are immediately visible, and the rest are put in a separate "pending" queue that's visible only with an extra click. As both Business Insider's Caroline Moss and the Lab's Justin Ellis pointed out, the tension here is between Gawker founder Nick Denton's vision of its commenting platform, Kinja, as an open, collaborative, and anonymous environment and the practicalities of allowing that kind of freedom to Gawker users. BuzzFeed's Myles Tanzer talked to Gawker staffers who expressed frustration at the disconnect between Denton's vision for Kinja and the difficult, time-consuming reality of wading through comments looking for quality material. And PandoDaily's Paul Carr pointed out the inconsistency between its handling of abusive content that affects its staffers and the content it posts about others.
READING ROUNDUP: A few other stories and discussions that have emerged in the busy last couple of weeks: — After making a bid for Time Warner earlier this summer, Rupert Murdoch announced his entertainment media company 21st Century Fox was walking away from negotiations with Time Warner, which had been taking a hard line and refusing to negotiate. As CNN's Brian Stelter reported, media watchers still see the deal as in play eventually, even if it's no longer seen as inevitable. The Guardian's Heidi Moore wondered whether we're seeing the decline of the great media moguls, without anyone to take their place. Meanwhile, News Corp's profits dropped, but Murdoch continued to express his bullishness on print. — The New York Times announced that it would now refer to torture by that name, rather than the term "harsh" or "brutal" interrogation techniques. The Freedom of the Press Foundation's Barry Eisler criticized the paper's reasoning for finally using the term, and journalism professor Dan Gillmor called for the Times to apologize for referring to it incorrectly for years. NYU's Jay Rosen analyzed the factors behind the Times' refusal to use the term for so long and its change of mind. — In the ongoing battle between Amazon and the book publisher Hachette, more than 900 writers paid for ad in The New York Times siding with Hachette and urging readers to complain to Amazon. Amazon responded with a letter to readers of its own, urging them instead to complain to Hachette. TechCrunch's John Biggs and the Times' David Streitfeld criticized Amazon for its misuse of a quote from George Orwell, and writers John Scalzi (two posts), Chuck Wendig, and Matt Wallace picked apart Amazon's argument. Writer Christopher Wright and Slashgear's Nate Swanner gave more "a pox on both their houses" analysis. — Two potentially useful posts: The American Press Institute's Kevin Loker on the best strategies for using events to generate revenue for news organizations, and journalism professor Dan Kennedy with a guide to blogging like a journalist. — Finally, two thought-provoking pieces: Mat Honan of Wired on what happened when he liked everything on Facebook for two days, and Ethan Zuckerman in The Atlantic on the ad-based model as the Internet's original sin (along with Jeff Jarvis' response).
Photo of Wisconsin protest in support of Michael Brown by Overpass Light Brigade used under a Creative Commons license.
There's no need to enumerate the breadth and variety of godawful content published by millennial angst engine Thought Catalog. The site's propensity for publishing garbage is so well known, they actually address it in the FAQs. But today, the site published and tweeted a short article so egregiously racist, it could not be ignored.
Ferguson, Missouri Looks Like A Rap Video http://t.co/RZgCqc90AD pic.twitter.com/GERC66l8LX -- Thought Catalog (@ThoughtCatalog) August 14, 2014The Internet responded emphatically. From the comments: "This 'article' is absolutely disgusting." "This is an absolute embarrassment." "This is some racist shit. Good Job TC — you are now a White Supremacist publication." From Twitter:
@ThoughtCatalog y'all should…..take this down probably. -- Dottie Ray. (@iWRIGHTmymemoir) August 14, 2014Though author Anthony Rogers wasn't the only person to point out today that looting is illegal, the offensive nature — not to mention incomprehensibility — of his post was enough to make me wonder how it could have gotten past a human editor or producer at Thought Catalog. In an email, Thought Catalog publisher Chris Lavergne told me that, in fact, "This particular piece was not screened by a producer." The bar is extremely low for becoming an approved Thought Catalog contributor — "basically just email us," according to Lavergne — and then you can publish whatever you want. Then, via SocialFlow, a tweet will be sent from the Thought Catalog account automatically. Writes Lavergne:
Today, in response, we deployed code that blocks community uploads from going straight to our social feeds without human approval. Only staff, independent contractors, and vetted community contributors will now be put into the SocialFlow queue.The inherent risk of giving contributors free rein of your publishing platform was raised earlier this week when Gawker Media was overrun by users posting abusive gore and rape GIFs on Kinja. Gawker responded, shutting down image posting or comments entirely on some posts. Thought Catalog, which hasn't taken down Rogers' post, would appear to prefer allowing the trolls to have their way.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Caroline tried very hard to avoid using the word "platisher" in this post, but it really does need to be mentioned here. _Platisher_.
In a piece posted to The Message collection on Medium today, University of North Carolina professor Zeynep Tufekci reveals how issues of net neutrality are altering the news coming out of Ferguson, Mo. First, Tufekci compares how the story is unfolding on different platforms. While Twitter catapulted Ferguson into the national media, she says, Facebook's algorithms obscured what was happening in Missouri early on. She goes on to illustrate how algorithms on social sites control the way a news story is brought to our attention.
This isn’t about Facebook per se—maybe it will do a good job, maybe not—but the fact that algorithmic filtering, as a layer, controls what you see on the Internet. Net neutrality (or lack thereof) will be yet another layer determining this. This will come on top of existing inequalities in attention, coverage and control. Twitter was also affected by algorithmic filtering. “Ferguson” did not trend in the US on Twitter but it did trend locally. So, there were fewer chances for people not already following the news to see it on their “trending” bar. Why? Almost certainly because there was already national, simmering discussion for many days and Twitter’s trending algorithm (term frequency inverse document frequency based) rewards spikes… So, as people in localities who had not been talking a lot about Ferguson started to mention it, it trended there though the national build-up in the last five days penalized Ferguson. Algorithms have consequences.Tufekci goes on to imagine a near future in which control over Internet access is used to control media coverage of breaking news stories like this one. For example, livestreams of protests require high-speed Internet connections, and in California, legislation that would make it easier to disable smartphones remotely is being considered. The issue of access to devices and the network is poignantly underscored by the arrest of two reporters who were charging their phones and using the Internet at a Ferguson McDonald's. Quartz's Adam Epstein writes today about how the fast and free connection at the fast food chain has an unintentionally democratizing effect — when news is breaking, free Internet has the power to bring people together in unusual places. Writes Tufekci:
I hope that in the coming days, there will be a lot written about race in America, about militarization of police departments, lack of living wage jobs in large geographic swaths of the country. But keep in mind, Ferguson is also a net neutrality issue. It’s also an algorithmic filtering issue. How the internet is run, governed and filtered is a human rights issue.
At Poynter, Al Tompkins notes an interesting development in the TV world:
CBS fired an opening salvo in what could become a disruption for network affiliated television stations. WISH TV, the LIN Broadcasting owned station in Indianapolis will no longer be the CBS affiliate starting January 1, 2015. CBS is moving from LIN owned WISH-TV to the Tribune owned station WTTV, currently the CW affiliate. Tribune also owns the FOX station in Indy. The move will cost WISH about half of its revenue, according to one media analyst, who added it will serve as a warning to other network affiliated stations. CBS is sending a signal that it is prepared to play rough when it comes to the percentage of revenue that local stations pass along from the retransmission fees that cable companies pay the local stations. In TV terms, the money that an affiliate pays a network is “network compensation” often called “net-comp.” Side note: A couple of decades ago, networks sent compensation to local stations and it is now the other way around.This is worth watching because of a few simple facts: — Despite the fact that discussions about the future of news are dominated by digital people and newspaper people, local TV news is still the No. 1 source of news for Americans. — Even though the Aereo decision at the Supreme Court came down in favor of the broadcasters, the threat of Aereo made it obvious that the traditional relationship between local stations and national networks is not carved on stone tablets. Just as NPR is slowly building a brand and products that have less need for local stations, it's not difficult to imagine a future where you watch "CBS" or "NBC" rather than your local CBS or NBC affiliate. The delocalization of media continues apace. — If networks keep trying to soak local stations, it likely only speeds up a more fundamental reshaping of their relationship.
SNL Kagan, a leading media research firm, says within three to five years local stations may be handing over 50-to-60 percent of their cable retransmission income to the networks. The cost of resisting could be high.And local news has become an increasingly important part of station revenue. Local TV news isn't as sexy as digital startups, and its decline hasn't been as dramatic (or important journalistically) as newspapers'. But there are real changes coming that could have a real impact on how informed people are about their communities.
that orphanage, as the quarter-by-quarter results of the standalone newspaper-only companies roll out ("10 takeaways from Gannett's blockbuster announcements"). New rounds of troublesome numbers could precipitate still more sales and combinations of properties. Southern California — ground zero for daily newspaper bankruptcy and turmoil — remains Exhibit A. This week's Tribune Publishing results are instructive. Tribune's eight papers, led by the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, were down 3.8 percent in revenue. The usual culprit: print advertising. Overall advertising is down 7.1 percent, with detail on print vs. digital performance unavailable until next week. Circulation revenues helped offset that drop; they were up 2.3 percent, due to higher subscription pricing. The thinness of margin is all-too-apparent: The company made just $15.2 million in net income, down from $21.9 million a year ago. (The first six months' net income comes in about $27 million, down from $43 million a year ago.) The Q2 profit is small in dollars, and represents a razor-thin 6 percent margin. Though the stated results are somewhat clouded by the second quarter being the newspapers' final reporting as part of the combined Tribune Company, it's the expense side that will probably see more split-related change than the revenue side going forward. The Tribune's revenue performance mirrors that of two other newly split companies. Time Inc's first standalone report, too, showed it staring into a small but nasty revenue hole. Time Inc. was down 2 percent year over year, attributable to 5 percent decline in circulation revenue; optimistically, its 12 percent digital ad increase helped swing advertising to a 3 percent positive. News Corp, which split last summer, has been similarly challenged. It reported a (currency-adjusted) 5 percent decline in news publishing revenues, largely due to ad dropoffs. (Meanwhile, even those more highly valued broadcast-centric companies emerging from the split are showing they're not necessarily high fliers — they're just in much better _relative_ shape than distressed newspapers. For instance, Tribune's broadcasting operations showed a small $3.8 million _decline_ in advertising, although that was more than made up by increased retransmission revenues. Gannett's recent broadcast ad results showed similar weakness. Both companies' acquisitions provide them good banner headline increases in revenue, but the underlying digital disruption of their core advertising businesses will become more noteworthy over time.) The splits offer the choice of your favorite pop tune — "Breaking Up is Hard to Do," or "One (Is the Loneliest Number)," perhaps. With an inflation rate of 2 percent, and revenues dipping 2-5 percent, news publishers will need a big shovel to dig out. They're at least a handful of digits away from just staying even, despite all the many publisher efforts at diversification or developing alternative revenue streams. At the L.A. Times, a surprising new publisher joined this struggling crowd. Tribune Publishing CEO Jack Griffin's first big appointment is a little bolt out of the blue: Austin Beutner. Beutner is hardly a household name, but he's a player in L.A. A venture capitalist turned one-dollar-a-year salaried L.A. Deputy Mayor for "jobs," the appointment of the 54-year-old Beutner signals an effort to shake things up — and maybe set things up for the future. First, he's not a newspaper guy by trade, a member of the brotherhood of usual publisher suspects. Second, he's a Los Angeleno (since 2000), glad to call himself a civic booster. Ever since 2000, when the Tribune Company bought Times Mirror and the Times, the civil war between Chicago and L.A. has simmered and occasionally boiled. Times leadership has bristled at corporate and Chicago authority, all of that exacerbated by the nonsense of the Sam Zell ownership years and the ceaseless wielding of the budget-cutting knife. Now Beutner, a guy who doesn't need a job, is poised to try to break barriers of past rivalries and past strategic thinking.
He, along with his new boss, Jack Griffin, will need help. Griffin lays out the right playbook. It includes modest increases in reader revenue (with a smarter, company-wide digital/all-access system finally rolling out within six months among all eight newspapers, which have haphazardly applied the wider lessons of paywalls) and marketing services (growing, but still small in revenue). But the issue for Beutner and Griffin, and for leaders of all the newly standalone companies remains _time_. Without those new revenues, only more cost-cutting — further weakening products — can maintain even those meager profits. Oaktree Capital Management, Angelo, Gordon & Co., and JPMorgan Chase currently own 40 percent of the company and control it. We've chronicled the will they/won't they sales odyssey of the past year or two ("The newsonomics of the Kochs: The impact on the L.A. news landscape"). Austin Beutner occupied a role in those dramas, expressing interest in buying the Times (or possibly all of Tribune) when it looked like the company would be sold, before it decided to first split its newspapers from TV assets last year. He's a smart guy, and now he's in the driver's seat at the Times. That's a perfect starting point for what could be a "management buyout" of the Times — and maybe more properties — as Tribune Publishing's tax spinoff clock winds down over the next couple of years. By then — or sooner — we may see rollups, or maybe rolldowns, in the 20 million-person population area ranging from Simi Valley to the Mexico border. Look to Orange County, to start. The news keeps coming out of Aaron Kushner's always shape-shifting family of Registers. It now looks like owner/publisher Kushner is getting closer to closing on the sale of the Register's headquarters building, at a sales price of about $27 million, as reported by the Orange County Business Journal. (The Register would then likely lease back space in the building. That would mean that none of the major dailies in southern California any longer owned its own building — another a sign of Splitsville: Real estate is being divorced from newspapers just as surely as broadcast is.) Further, Kushner's Freedom Communications finally settled one of three claims/suits against it. On July 31, the L.A. Superior Court approved a $4 million arbitration award to former Freedom execs Mitch Stern and Mark McEachen. That case, over contracted severance payments, gives the execs a lien on real estate parcels that Freedom owns — and which are also for sale. In this case and in another, Aaron Kushner has countered claims in part by blaming the "misrepresentations" of others. In an April 23 judgment, Judge Luis Lavin failed to find those claims credible. The misrepresentation defense could take on its own irony, as Kushner's own representations to those with whom he had financial dealings have come under fire. In that April 23 decision, the judge also considered the necessity of providing Stern and McEachen an attachment: "Petitioners' contend that Freedom will likely not be able to satisfy its severance payment obligations due to its perilous and continually worsening financing condition. The Court agrees."
What is that financial condition? Freedom is a privately held company, so we can only judge from fragments. In June, its seemingly rushed buyouts of about 70 employees and furloughs (forcing two-week unpaid leaves that all employees had to take within the following six weeks) screamed panic to many. While word of slow-paying key Register vendors is rampant, Kushner, characteristically, described the payment practices to me Tuesday as business as usual: "We're running our game." Further, he notes the company's "clean balance sheet." Freedom does have an obligation to the lenders who replaced previous financing, in December of last year. Silver Point Finance is owed $24,688,391.53, accordingly to July 31 Superior Court documents. It presumably has first call on real estate sales proceeds, given the language in the court ruling. Related to the Silver Point financing, the July 31 court ruling also indicates "The Freedom Parties acknowledge, for the benefit of the Agents and the Lenders, that (i) there exists one or more "Events of Default" under the Senior Lender Agreement, and that the Agent and the Lenders are entitled to exercise all rights and remedies in respect of such Events of Default……and (ii) the application of the sales proceeds of property constituting Claimants' Collateral as set forth with the exercise of such rights and remedies…." Then there's the heavy burden of pension obligations, which Freedom took on as it bought the Register and other properties out of bankruptcy proceedings two years. Freedom maintains certain early obligations to the federal Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation and retains responsibility for funding the plan going forward. I asked Kushner if the company had missed a summer payment obligation, and he only offered, "I'm not going to get into it. I'm not commenting on our pension fund." I also asked him to verify whether the pension fund, which he controls, had purchased shares of Freedom Communication stock last year, to help fund his fall acquisition of the Riverside Press-Enterprise. He acknowledged that the pension fund had indeed bought Freedom shares, but says that purchase was "unrelated" to the Riverside purchase.
Finally, there are two other lawsuits. Each, notably, includes litigants now involved with Tribune and its Los Angeles Times — the Times being both a head-to-head competitor (especially since Freedom launched the Los Angeles Register in April) and a key vendor, delivering Register subscriptions in its home Orange County. One lawsuit involves Angelo Gordon, which is suing Aaron Kushner for $17.45 million related to money he held back when he purchased Freedom in 2012; Angelo Gordon is one of those three major owners of Tribune Publishing. Finally, there is curious suit of Jack Griffin. Griffin, who formally became Tribune Publishing CEO last week, served as an advisor to Kushner when he tried to buy The Boston Globe and, he says, when Kushner's 2100 Trust bought Freedom two years. He is seeking up to $13 million, for related fees he says are owed. Griffin's suit now takes on a new color. After all, Griffin and Kushner are now the CEOs of the two largest newspaper companies operating in southern California. While a financial falling out may have torn them asunder, their current posts bring them back together, geographically at least. To be clear, Griffin's suit is a private matter, unrelated to his new tenure at Tribune. But the bad blood between the two brings a new edge to head-to-head newspaper competition in greater L.A. Which brings us back to the question of where all of this may lead. The new Tribune Publishing has already made the point that it's got an eye out to buy more print properties in its core eight markets. It says its recent acquisition of Annapolis-area papers (close to its Baltimore Sun) will increase earnings later this year. So it makes sense to see Tribune as a potential buyer for adjacent Southern California news properties. The opportunities are certainly within reach. Let's also remember that most of the daily press can be bought in this greater region. There's not only Freedom Communications, with its ever-changing strategies and questionable finances. In San Diego, owner Doug Manchester hasn't hung a "For Sale" sign on the Union-Tribune he bought three years ago, but he'll take calls. Digital First Media's Los Angeles News Group is all but for sale, as DFM's owners prepare their own auctions more widely. Tuesday, in fact, a rumor made the rounds in the Orange County Register newsroom: Freedom and the Los Angeles News Group could _merge_. I asked Aaron Kushner about it. He laughed and said, "We don't comment on rumors…It's a fluid market." In that flux, I asked, "Are you a buyer or a seller?" "We have a proven track record of being acquisitive," he said. On one hand, given tight money all around, deals seem tough to pull off. On the other hand, they seem inevitable. If somehow the new Tribune — constrained somewhat, by debt, lack of cash, and tight cash flow — could _finance_ a deal, its path to doing so seems to be clearing by the month. Who better to put together that deal than its new publisher, Austin Beutner? A founding principal in the Evercore investment banking advisory firm, he knows M&A inside out. He also knows the financial straits of the newspaper industry, and believes that intelligent, well-funded consolidation could be a route forward to successful, high-quality daily journalism. It all seems like a lot to consider for a one-week-old Tribune Publishing company and a neophyte publisher newly named. But then again, change in America's newspaper industry seems to picking up rapidly this year.
Photo of the 2014 L.A. Marathon passing in front of an In-N-Out Burger by Krocky Meshkin used under a Creative Commons license.
The post announcing the news was published late Thursday night: The Ann Arbor Chronicle, a local news site covering the home city of the University of Michigan, would cease publishing on Sept. 2, the sixth anniversary of the site's launch. (And, not coincidentally, the 25th wedding anniversary of the site's publisher Mary Morgan and editor Dave Askins.) The Chronicle specializes in in-depth coverage of local government, including exhaustive recaps and analysis of the meetings of local government bodies ranging from the city council to the public library board. In its current iteration, the Chronicle was financially viable, Askins wrote in his column announcing the closure. But like many small online local news outfits, it took a lot of labor from its founders, and Askins and Morgan could no longer put in the effort needed to keep the Chronicle afloat. "I'd like to stop before I am dead, because there's more I'd like to do in life than add to The Chronicle's archive," Askins wrote. The news of the site's impending closure caught many in Ann Arbor by surprise, but Askins told me that he and Morgan had been considering shuttering the Chronicle for quite some time.
A huge loss for Ann Arbor, leaving a vacuum of crucial govt. reporting. You will be sorely missed, @a2chronicle! ❤️ http://t.co/3Sqo6YYETf -- Andy Fowler (@andyfowler) August 8, 2014
I've been a reader of The Ann Arbor Chronicle for years. Sad to see it go. I wish Dave and Mary the best of luck in the future. -- Jeremy Allen (@JeremyAllenA2) August 8, 2014"There wasn't any particular thing that triggered the decision — in fact, the decision was made several months to possibly even over a year ago," he said. "And certainly the thinking behind it could be traced to two years or more ago. So it was not as if something happened and we said, 'Okay, that's it. That was the last straw.'"
The amount of revenue the Chronicle brought in grew steadily through the publication's early years, but over the past several, it's plateaued around $100,000 annually. That was enough to pay the Chronicle's expenses and to allow Morgan and Askins to make a living, but if they wanted to bring on additional full-time help to ease their workload, Askins estimated that existing revenue would need to increase by four times to fund a full-time staff of five. "The techniques we were using clearly were not going to yield that result," he said — 38 percent of its revenue currently comes from reader donations, with the rest coming from local advertisers.
"We sort of recognized that the kind of journalism that we were selling had a reasonable expectation of the kind of support we were enjoying, and that it would simply take an all-consuming effort on our part, so we needed to figure out how much longer we were going to do that," Askins said. (Askins said he generally works 14 to 16 hours every day.)
With a devoted if niche audience, the Chronicle was well loved in Ann Arbor, a college town of about 100,000 people. Though the Chronicle is a for-profit publication, some prominent nonprofit local outlets such as Voice of San Diego and MinnPost have turned to membership models to bring in additional revenue, offering events or other perks to readers who join the sites. The Chronicle does hold an annual awards dinner, but it isn't directly a revenue-generating event. And with only a two-person full-time staff, many of the options available to larger publications aren't as viable for the Chronicle or other small niche publications. Morgan and Askins haven't decided what will be next for them, but Askins said the couple has enough of a reserve to last a few months before they decide their next venture. But the Chronicle will live on in some capacity once they cease publishing. They intend to leave their archives online at least through the end of the year, and plan to also maintain their popular Ann Arbor events calendar. Askins also said he could potentially meet with some staffers at The Michigan Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Michigan, to help improve their coverage of Ann Arbor public affairs once classes begin next month. (Disclosure: I edited the Daily when I was a student at Michigan.)
A club that will have me as a member: Voice of San Diego and MinnPost are building out their membership models
The Chronicle was launched in 2008, and within a year of the site's founding, The Ann Arbor News, the town's Advance Publications-owned daily newspaper, ceased daily publication and transformed into AnnArbor.com, a web-focused operation that only printed the paper two days a week. Askins and Morgan, who formerly worked at the News, have never been shy when it comes to criticizing AnnArbor.com, which was retro-rebranded last year as The Ann Arbor News, and many of the Chronicle's readers were interested in granular coverage of city affairs that isn't offered by the News or other local publications. Take the August 6 meeting of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. The Chronicle published four brief news reports detailing the results of various votes the board took on the night of the meeting. Then, on August 12 — six days after the meeting — the Chronicle published a 6,500-word-plus story on the meeting written by Morgan. The Ann Arbor News only previewed the meeting.
The Ann Arbor News, or There and Back Again: Why the news world's first print edition of a website is coming to a close
"I have trusted that — even when I wasn't in the room — the Chronicle was there, recording the facts and (sometimes) offering a valuable point of view," one Ann Arbor city council member wrote in a comment on Askins' post announcing the Chronicle's closure. "No media has watched local government do its messy thing with a clearer eye. No better record could exist." Though the Chronicle has published stories as many as 10 days after meetings, it has taken efforts in recent years to speed up its turnaround time. About 18 months ago, for instance, the Chronicle began offering liveblog coverage ("I try to avoid the world blog," Askins says) of Ann Arbor city council meetings. The time-stamped entires, which offer a detailed play-by-play of meetings, have replaced the Chronicle's lengthy recap posts for council meetings. Ann Arbor held city elections on August 5, and the Chronicle provided live election results in a Google spreadsheet by asking readers to help them by visiting their local precincts after the polls closed to report the election results. Some of the campaigns assisted with the effort, and a number of school children also participated, as the Chronicle worked out an arrangement with the Ann Arbor Public Library to give any students who participated points in the library's summer engagement program. "The Ann Arbor Chronicle that is best known for writing super long meeting reports — this was the opposite of what people have come to think of us as," Askins said.
Photo of Dave Askins and Mary Morgan in 2012 by Michael Andersen.
Mother Jones has been around since 1976, but it really put itself on the map, digitally speaking, in September 2012, when David Corn published the now famous video of Mitt Romney talking about nearly half — or 47 percent — of the American citizenry. The video set a traffic record for the website and grew their digital audience considerably, growth that was the main thrust of an interview the Lab did with publisher Steve Katz a year ago.
Recently, the magazine managed to break its one-day traffic record again, with 3.1 million viewers on June 30, the day the Hobby Lobby decision came down. Katz says big traffic days like that tend to raise the baseline for average monthly views. "Partly that's good reporting — making good decisions about the right people to hire," he says. "And partly it's about doing our best to master the dark arts of social media and digital audience development." Mother Jones achieved the former in the mid-2000s, when the magazine opened its D.C. bureau and hired reporters and editors to build a daily news site. That office now has a staff of 16, in addition to 12 in New York and 55 in San Francisco. The latter — the dark arts of social media — has fallen into place more recently, thanks in large part to the hiring of engagement editor Ben Dreyfuss. "Ben is a pretty amazing guy," says Katz. "We're really happy he works for us. He's done really fantastic work in helping to develop strong patterns of engagement on key social media platforms, particularly Facebook and Twitter. He definitely has his own voice, a different voice from Mother Jones, and we're okay with that." Both Katz and Dreyfuss acknowledge that, while referrals from platforms like Twitter, Digg, Reddit, and Pinterest have grown, the greatest increase far and away has come from Facebook — and that was intentional. Asked what the biggest change he's brought to Mother Jones is, Dreyfuss points to his decision to double down on Facebook.
"Refocusing energy onto that, instead of other social networks where I could spend a time with very little ROI — shifting the social resources of Mother Jones towards that has paid off a lot. I think that's the biggest change," he says. Dreyfuss says that while other publications have been frustrated with declining reach on Facebook in recent months, Mother Jones is among those that have benefited from changes to the platform's algorithm. "From what we hear, Facebook is privileging certain kinds of content-rich sites. Mother Jones fits into that category," Katz says. "As a result, partly through whatever machinery that algorithm is putting into play, and partly because Ben is really good at what he does, and partly because we take social audiences really seriously, our social media traffic and our Facebook traffic in particular has really taken off." For comparison, Mother Jones has around 829,000 followers on Facebook and 403,000 on Twitter. The Atlantic has 922,000 on Facebook and 531,000 on Twitter, while The New Republic has just under 100,000 followers on both platforms. Mother Jones averages 7 million monthly uniques, while The Atlantic averages around 16.6 million. So what does Dreyfuss do? For starters, he takes the bulk of the responsibility when it comes to running Mother Jones' social accounts, posting stories to Facebook and Twitter with captions aimed at getting attention. Mixed Media, a blog where he shares aggregated video content and writes short posts about anything from wild weather to Beyoncé to selfies, plus a lot about books and music. When it comes to deciding what content and packaging will help Mother Jones to build audience, Dreyfuss says he uses himself as the bellwether. "The stuff I end up blogging about is stuff I think our readers would enjoy. It's stuff that I tend to enjoy personally," he says. "I normally use me for the example of a lot of this stuff. I think a lot of people share my tastes on things like this. So, I normally choose myself as a barometer for it." The motivation behind Dreyfuss's strategy is to bring new audience to Mother Jones content — a younger readership, people who might not be familiar with the Mother Jones brand but could one day become subscribers, or at least regular readers. But the Internet-native tone Dreyfuss uses to draw these new followers in doesn't always sit well with the more traditional Mother Jones readers. For example, on a post called "Here Is a Video Of a Crane Destroying a Truck," one reader comments: "There have been instances where my voice and my style have gotten pushback from some of the longtime followers," Dreyfuss says. "There's regularly people who are upset with either the light stuff I do or the snarky tone. I understand that, but there's always pushback when there's editorial change. I remember the first time that there was a 'Fire Ben Dreyfuss' movement. It was in October, and it was a post about vaccinations. I do remember seeing all of the angry comments and being mortified. I was like: Am I about to get fired?" Here's another, more recent threat, and the response from Dreyfuss:
Methinks @MotherJones needs to rethink “engagement”. @bendreyfuss’ tone deaf & tasteless Beyoncé piece should be a fireable offense. -- Brian Flores (@BigLebowski) July 23, 2014
@BigLebowski I don’t respect you or your opinion but it’s important to me that you know that I am laughing so hard at you right now -- Ben Dreyfuss (@bendreyfuss) July 23, 2014
@bendreyfuss Just another useless trustafarian masquerading as a “journalist”. @MotherJones can thank you being a twat for losing me. -- Brian Flores (@BigLebowski) July 23, 2014
@bendreyfuss @BigLebowski Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Ben, you’re fired. Please pack your shit and go. -- Mother Jones (@MotherJones) July 23, 2014Clearly, Dreyfuss is still around, which suggests that the attention his posts and tweets and headlines draw is what Mother Jones was looking for in hiring him. "Sometimes he's out there on the edge there a little bit, but that's okay. It works for that kind of setting," says Katz of Dreyfuss's voice. "We're not going to do something completely off the wall, but I think the definition of what that means is more open than what it might have been in the past. We're a little less locked down." But there's more to Dreyfuss's strategy than making a splash. Attention-getting posts and headlines bring in little bursts of traffic, but that's not Mother Jones' end game. The light content is meant to keep the audience in place so that when a heavily reported series or investigative story is published, there's someone there to read it. It's sort of the reverse tactic of organizations like BuzzFeed that started out silly but are moving into traditional news content.
"You gain more eyes with all this stuff that people want to read because it's candy, and then, once you gain their readership and their following, you can give them the more healthy thing," Dreyfuss says. "Our most shared stuff is never the candy stuff, it's not the dessert. It actually ends up being some of the magazine stories, some of the things we're really proud of, as opposed to being silly things." And indeed, it was the extensive reporting that went into the magazine's Hobby Lobby package that broke their previous traffic record. Unlike the 47 percent story, the Hobby Lobby decision didn't have a scoop to rely on — every outlet in the country got the news at the same time. But the reporting investment Mother Jones had put in ahead of time paid off, and was assisted by the editorial team's enhanced social skills. Says Katz: "When the story broke, there were several stories posted in the 24 to 36 hours right after that, number one. Number two was, when people came to the site and they read one story on that page, it links to other stories we had done…which led to more traffic on the site. The third thing was putting on top of all this editorial work — we really were testing which kinds of stories, which kinds of headlines, would work best for a social media audience. There was one story in particular, "The 8 Best Lines From Ginsburg's Dissent on the Hobby Lobby Contraception Decision," that just went through the roof. People started sharing it like crazy." The increase in traffic at Mother Jones has been mirrored by increases in philanthropic giving and in ad sales, according to Katz. The magazine plans to further expand its staff, starting with the sales team — they might even venture into sponsored content, though Katz says that's "a tricky issue for Mother Jones." There's also a redesign underway that includes an ambitious overhaul of the CMS and backend, work that will be both complicated and expensive. Events are another possible growth area that Mother Jones' public affairs team is looking at for expansion. Dreyfuss acknowledges that it's risky to rely on one social network for the bulk of your traffic. "Assuming that the growth would be anywhere near what it's been is probably a faulty assumption, just because they make changes all the time," he says. But Mother Jones has a few natural advantages online. The content's political nature is guaranteed to have emotional reverberations on the Internet, though Dreyfuss says he tries to limit the outrage. In addition, the magazine's content makes for a natural identity play on social. "People really like to share things that demonstrate who they are as a person. One of the things we like to do is give them the opportunity to do that," says Dreyfuss. "You might not live in a state that legalizes gay marriage, but you are a person who supports gay marriage, and that's how they end up liking and sharing those things."
We don't spend a lot of time focusing on what happened to the American newspaper industry in the first decade-plus of this century — what's past is past! — but this piece by Joel Mathis in Philadelphia magazine is a useful visual reminder. They obtained an internal document from the company that owns The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News detailing the decline in the papers' financial state from 2000 to 2012. (One presumes the document comes from the financial data distributed to potential buyers of the papers in that last year.) You can go there to see the plummeting totals and get some more context. But I think you'll get the point with these two charts: (One gloss on that first chart: You might see the difference between "Print Ads" and "Total Ads" and assume the difference is online advertising. That's part of it, but the significantly larger part is preprint advertising — mostly the loose circulars that get packed in with the Sunday paper. Yeah, that's all printed too, but it's not included in the "Print Ads" segment above.)
Continuing its tradition of airing its internal discussions outside the office, the staff at Jezebel today called out the higher-ups at parent Gawker Media today over some pretty disgusting trolling at the site. Dealing with commenters of all stripes is a issue at many media companies, and foiling trolls is a constant problem. Online harassment has become sadly commonplace for female writers online, but at Jezebel things have gotten pretty egregious:
For months, an individual or individuals has been using anonymous, untraceable burner accounts to post gifs of violent pornography in the discussion section of stories on Jezebel. The images arrive in a barrage, and the only way to get rid of them from the website is if a staffer individually dismisses the comments and manually bans the commenter. But because IP addresses aren't recorded on burner accounts, literally nothing is stopping this individual or individuals from immediately signing up for another, and posting another wave of violent images (and then bragging about it on 4chan in conversations staffers here have followed, which we're not linking to here because fuck that garbage). This weekend, the user or users have escalated to gory images of bloody injuries emblazoned with the Jezebel logo. It's like playing whack-a-mole with a sociopathic Hydra.Banning and blocking is typically the last line of defense for staffers who have to deal with comments. This is where Kinja, Gawker's publishing and discussion platform, has a strength that is also a weakness: The system is built for — and in some cases encourages — anonymity. "Burner" accounts were envisioned as the next evolution of the tip line, a way of surfacing information from readers who don't want to leave a trace of identity. That feature seems to be what is causing the ongoing GIF abuse on Jezebel:
During the last staff meeting, when the subject was broached, we were told that there were no plans to enable the blocking of IP addresses, no plans to record IP addresses of burner accounts. Moderation tools are supposedly in development, but change is not coming fast enough.To say that Kinja is important to the future of Gawker would be an understatement. The publishing/discussion/tipster platform, or something like it, has been a white whale for Gawker founder Nick Denton.
Denton has said repeatedly that Kinja is a vehicle for putting readers (and their writing) on equal footing as writers. The most recent example of that being Disputations, which opens a window into the day-to-day conversations of Gawker staff. As recently as June, Gawker staff were still bringing up issues with Kinja, and Denton reportedly said he underestimated the time and resources it would take to build out the platform. Not surprisingly, this caught the attention of Groupthink, a Kinja blog spun off by Jezebel readers, who have been trying to find workarounds for the troll campaign. According to Business Insider, Gawker editorial director Joel Johnson acknowledged the problem, but said a solution isn't available just yet. Johnson told the site he's not sure the anonymity Kinja provides is the issue:
We want to make sure that all readers can submit tips anonymously; security and anonymity are import to our vision of Kinja. I don't know that this boils down to that exactly, so much as it boils down to my as-yet inability to figure out how to filter image-based posts without at least one human seeing them. (Other sites or apps use hired proxies to sort through those submissions, which also seems suboptimal.) Nevertheless, I agree with the Jezebel staff that I haven't done enough to figure out a solution to this problem (a problem I don't have to deal with on a daily basis, while they do) and I'm proud to work with people who aren't afraid to call out my mistakes in public.
Re: Jezebel. 1. They rule. 2. I've dropped the ball and they're right to call me out. 3. I don't have a solution yet but that's my problem. -- Joel Johnson (@joeljohnson) August 11, 2014
Will someone explain to me how social distribution of your content makes your company primarily a "tech company"? http://t.co/VIdylzTRrU -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014
Elizabeth Spiers was the founding editor of Gawker, editor-in-chief of The New York Observer and Mediabistro, and a founder of Breaking Media. She's reliably smart about digital publishing, particularly its intersection with capital. (She was an equities analyst before heading to the web.) Here she's talking about BuzzFeed's infusion of funding from Andreessen Horowitz and some of the framing around it.
@IamStan Chris Dixon (one of their investors at A16z) calls it a tech company. In the article. -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014"Chris Dixon, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, who will join BuzzFeed’s board, said: 'We think of BuzzFeed as more of a technology company. They embrace Internet culture. Everything is first optimized for mobile and social channels.'" Dixon, also a very smart person, wrote up a blog post about it too:
We see BuzzFeed as a prime example of what we call a “full stack startup”. BuzzFeed is a media company in the same sense that Tesla is a car company, Uber is a taxi company, or Netflix is a streaming movie company. We believe we’re in the “deployment” phase of the internet. The foundation has been laid. Tech is now spreading through every industry and every part of the world. The most interesting tech companies aren’t trying to sell software to other companies. They are trying to reshape industries from top to bottom. BuzzFeed has technology at its core. Its 100+ person tech team has created world-class systems for analytics, advertising, and content management. Engineers are 1st class citizens. Everything is built for mobile devices from the outset. Internet native formats like lists, tweets, pins, animated GIFs, etc. are treated as equals to older formats like photos, videos, and long form essays. BuzzFeed takes the internet and computer science seriously.
@IamStan Not what he said to the Times. And if you think that a co that makes 75% of its rev from creative services is a tech co that's nuts -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014
Also: In terms of how it generates revenue, BuzzFeed is primarily an agency. And the services industry is even less scalable than media. -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014
@pkafka Yes! -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014
@benpopper Sure, but does BF exist without the content? No. Are people lining up to license the algos? No. It's a media & services company. -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014
@richardrushfield They do, because institutional investors don't fund media, services. Doesn't mean it's true. -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014(Rushfield was BuzzFeed's L.A. bureau chief, then wasn't.)
That Awful Moment When You Realize That Despite Sinking Millions Into Your CMS+Comments+Discovery Algos, You're Still A Media Company -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014
.@laureltouby 1st thought was VC overhang=industry-wide pocket-burning=everything looks like a tech co But don't see any data to that effect -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014
@jamyn Yes, but at half the industry! -- Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) August 11, 2014