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Help! Facebook is eating journalists

Tuesday, 8 March, 2016 0 Comments

Facebook is not the pet crocodile that journalists thought it was. Those are not tears; they’re teeth. So writes Emily Bell, more or less, in the Columbia Journalism Review. While reporters were examining the morphology, behavior and ecology of the Crocodylidae family (Zuck branch) they failed to pay attention to two significant things, says Bell:

“First, news publishers have lost control over distribution.

Social media and platform companies took over what publishers couldn’t have built even if they wanted to. Now the news is filtered through algorithms and platforms which are opaque and unpredictable. The news business is embracing this trend, and digital native entrants like BuzzFeed, Vox and Fusion have built their presence on the premise that they are working within this system, not against it.

Second, the inevitable outcome of this is the increase in power of social media companies.

The largest of the platform and social media companies, Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and even second order companies such as Twitter, Snapchat and emerging messaging app companies, have become extremely powerful in terms of controlling who publishes what to whom, and how that publication is monetized.”

So, do we surrender or fight? Remember what Churchill said: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” Alas, the blue crocodile has an insatiable appetite and Emily Bell is not sanguine about the future: “To be sustainable, news and journalism companies will need to radically alter their cost base. It seems most likely that the next wave of news media companies will be fashioned around a studio model of managing different stories, talents, and products across a vast range of devices and platforms. As this shift happens, posting journalism directly to Facebook or other platforms will become the rule rather than the exception.”

Aw, nice crocodile. Here’s a delicious morsel of news. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!


The Independent’s last print editor writes

Thursday, 18 February, 2016 0 Comments

“The business model for printed general news from Monday to Friday is kaput.” So writes Amol Rajan, the editor of The Independent. His entry in the Spectator Diary is titled: “From the start, I knew I’d be the Independent’s last print editor.” So what’s the future for journalism, if not print? Specialism, says Rajan. “Thriving periodicals such as the Spectator and Private Eye can pursue that. But for providers of general news in a landscape dominated by the BBC, free is the future.”

And the future of The Independent? Rajan points to i100. “It’s a kind of smart Buzzfeed that does concise, shareable, video-heavy news.” Typical stories:

  • Everyone’s in love with this man dancing in the cold and it’s not hard to see why
  • This young woman decided to use a paint roller to apply fake tan. Not a great idea
  • Husband asks wife (yes, really) for help with his Tinder profile, immediately lands two dates

Is this kind of bottom feeding the way forward? Michael Wolff threw a very heavy wet blanket on Rajan’s vision on Monday in USA Today: “… the effort to compete with native digital news outlets like BuzzFeed means traditional news organizations, with traditional share price values, must, like the venture-capital supported natives, pay more for traffic than can ever hope to be made back from advertisers. In this model, the digital natives can yet hope to sell to deep-pocket buyers, whereas the traditionals can only go out of business.”

Amol Rajan is right when he says that the business model for printed general news from Monday to Friday is kaput. What he needs to do now is make the Independent brand synonymous with a solution that makes digital general news profitable from Monday to Sunday. The odds are against it, but Yevgeny Lebedev has lots of cash, still.

Newspapers


Twitter vs. trolls vs. terror vs. markets vs. censors

Wednesday, 10 February, 2016 1 Comment

Twitter is going to war with trolls — people who spread hate anonymously on the internet — armed with a Trust & Safety Council, which will draw on the expertise of the Center for Democracy and Technology, EU Kids Online, GLAAD, the National Cyber Security Alliance and 40 other groups and individuals. Statement:

“With hundreds of millions of tweets sent per day, the volume of content on Twitter is massive, which makes it extraordinarily complex to strike the right balance between fighting abuse and speaking truth to power,” Patricia Cartes, head of global policy outreach, wrote in a blog post. “It requires a multi-layered approach where each of our 320 million users has a part to play, as do the community of experts working for safety and free expression.”

By the way, not everyone sees the Twitter Trust and Safety Council as a blessing. It’s a version of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth says Robby Soave at Reason. Quote: “For my part, I would feel more comfortable if the Trust & Safety Council included at least a few principled speech or tech freedom groups, like the Foundation for Individual Rights and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.” And Julie Bindel, perhaps.

To help draw the line between poisonous hate speech that deserves to be blocked and disagreeable free speech worthy of protection, alternative voices must be heard and heeded. “We are in danger of making censorship the standard response to anything that offends,” argues Julie Bindel. “Recent attempts to ban Donald Trump and pick-up artist Roosh V from the UK would have achieved nothing politically constructive.”

Last year, the former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo confessed that “we suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years.” Fighting the trolls is now a priority for the new CEO Jack Dorsey. “Twitter stands for freedom of expression, speaking truth to power, and empowering dialogue. That starts with safety,” he tweeted earlier today. Along with battling trolls, he’s trying to stop terrorist groups using Twitter to recruit followers, and then there’s the tricky business of that plummeting share price.

Security: “Trolls, Hackers and Extremists — The Fight for a Safe and Open Web” is the title of a discussion at the Munich Security Conference on Thursday evening.

Scandinavia: What’s a troll? The origins of this menacing word hark back to Old Norse, which spoke of strange beings that lived in caves and were hostile to humans. Given the Nordic roots of the term, it’s appropriate that the world’s most famous troll trapper, as it were, is the Swedish journalist Robert Aschberg, who has made a name for himself by exposing trolls on his TV show Trolljägarna (Troll Hunter).


The Daily Telegraph and the could/would jet

Friday, 29 January, 2016 0 Comments

Fancy flying from London to New York in 11 minutes? From New York to Sydney in half an hour? Read on. The Daily Telegraph delighted its readers earlier today when it greeted them with the headline “This private jet would get you from London to New York in 11 minutes.” Right at the get-go, Lauren Davidson tells us that “a seven-hour flight across the Atlantic can feel interminable,” which is very true, and then she delivers the good news: “But a new design for a luxury business jet could get you from London to New York in 11 minutes — and from New York to Sydney in half an hour. The Antipode is a 10-seater aircraft that would be able to travel at 12,427 miles per hour.”

This is all very exciting, but the presence of “could/would” there suggests that Telegraph readers won’t be able to avail of the service this weekend. And more “woulds” follow: “Charles Bombardier, the Canadian inventor, released a concept design last year for the Skreemr, a jet that would be able to fly at Mach 10. Travelling at 7,673 miles per hour, the 75-seater Skreemr would get from the UK to the east coast the US in around 30 minutes.”

Daily Telegraph news values We are into the seventh paragraph before Ms Davidson brings us back down to earth, so to speak: “However, Mr Bombardier confessed his concerns that materials ‘able to withstand the heat, pressure and structural stress’ of the aircraft had not yet been invented.” Whether she’s referring to the Antipode or the Skreemr in that sentence is unclear, however.

Although the Antipode aircraft has not yet been invented the Daily Telegraph seems to believe that this non-breaking story is homepage newsworthy. Why? Is there a shortage of “real” news? Is Charles Bombardier a friend of Sir David Rowat Barclay and Sir Frederick Hugh Barclay? The truth may be more mundane. Back on 16 January, Forbes ran a story titled “Exclusive: Fly From New York To Dubai In 22 Minutes On Board This Hypersonic Private Jet Concept.” Kristin Tablang’s article is far less sensational than Lauren Davidson’s one and it’s much better for that.


Paging Mr Page

Thursday, 28 January, 2016 0 Comments

In total, I have encountered Mr. Page three times for a total of five minutes or so. Once was at an off-the-record gathering where nothing interesting happened, and another was at a press event where he politely shook my hand before heading in another direction.

The other time, I was at Google’s Mountain View campus, talking to an executive, when Mr. Page rode up on his bike to say hello to his employee. I introduced myself as a New York Times reporter and he immediately pedaled away.

“That went well,” the executive said.

So writes Conor Dougherty, who covers Google for the New York Times. He’s been seeking an interview with Larry Page since August 2014 and the result is “Try to Interview Google’s Co-Founder. It’s Emasculating.” And it’s revealing.


Twitter and Medium warnings

Monday, 25 January, 2016 1 Comment

“Look at how slowly Twitter has improved their platform, and all the new features are for advertisers, not for writers. I suspect Medium will go down a similar path.” So writes Dave Winer in a terrific blog post titled Anywhere but Medium. It’s an urgent warning to writers about the dangers of building their houses on someone else’s land.

Launched by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams in 2012, Medium is a publishing platform that describes itself as “a community of readers and writers offering unique perspectives on ideas large and small.” After the announcement of Twitter’s IPO in 2013, one report speculated that Williams, with a 30 to 35 percent stake in the company, would see his wealth grow from $2 billion to $8 billion. Now, he’s in dangers of becoming a millionaire. Twitter is flirting with being the oil of the social media industry and its stock value has dropped more than 50 percent in the last 12 months.

Something had to go and in a remarkable coincidence last night, four top @twitter executives suddenly felt the pressing need to spend more time with their families. “Big Exec Departures at Twitter: Media Head Stanton and Product Head Weil Leaving” is how Re/code broke the story. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey responded with a tweet in which he sought to “set the record straight.” But nobody is being fooled by the “well-deserved time off” line.

Mark Little, who set up News Corp-owned social news agency Storyful, is the new Twitter vice-president of media for Europe and Africa and he proclaimed to be “heartbroken” by the leave-taking of Katie Jacobs Stanton:

All this heartbreak and gratitude brings us back to Dave Winer and his brave and valuable post about the dangers of a monocultural Medium monopoly:

“Medium is on its way to becoming the consensus platform for writing on the web. if you’re not sure you’re going to be blogging regularly, the default place to put your writing is Medium, rather than starting a blog on Tumblr or WordPress.com, for example. I guess the thought is that it’s wasteful to start a blog if you’re not sure you’re going to post that often. It’s something of a paradox, because blogs are not large things on the storage devices of the hosting companies…

… Medium is a startup, a well-funded one for sure, but they could easily pivot and leave all the stories poorly served, or not served at all. I’m sure their user license doesn’t require them to store your writing perpetually, or even until next week…

…You have a choice. Post your writing to places other than Medium. And when you see something that’s interesting and not on Medium, give it some extra love. Push it to your friends. Like it on Facebook, RT it on Twitter. Give people more reasons to promote diversity on the web, not just in who we read, but who controls what we read…

Can we reserve competition in the middle of the web, so we get a chance for some of the power of an open platform for the most basic type of creativity — writing?

When you give in to the default, and just go ahead and post to Medium, you’re stifling the open web. Not giving it a chance to work its magic, which depends on diversity, not monoculture.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times explains Twitter. It’s that man Trump, again:

New York Times


Newsweek has gone to the dogs

Friday, 22 January, 2016 0 Comments

One expects certain things from the Daily Mail site. Its “sidebar of shame,” a strip of thumbnail photos down the right side, which specializes in breasts and buttocks, sets the standard. It’s not surprising then that the Daily Mail would title a story “Indian boy, seven, is forced to marry a DOG to ward off evil spirits after his horoscope suggests his first wife will die young.” That headline alone contains more jaw-droppers than a week’s worth of the Telegraph, the Guardian and Newsweek combined.

Background: With Newsweek, one has, or had, different expectations. Founded in 1933 in New York City, Newsweek was one of America’s “big three” weekly news magazines, along with Time and U.S.News & World Report. It covered news, politics, business, entertainment, science, religion, sports and the arts with style and a liberal verve and had a circulation of 3.3 million copies in its heyday. But that was then. In 2010 , the Washington Post Company, its then owner, sold the magazine to 92-year-old audio pioneer Sidney Harman for $1.00. Newsweek merged with The Daily Beast website later that year and under the guiding hand of Tina Brown, the Beast’s editor-in-chief, it ceased print publication with the 31 December 2012 issue.

Foreground: But there was life in Lazarus and IBT Media announced it had acquired the title in 2013 and it relaunched a print edition of Newsweek on 7 March 2014. For those unfamiliar with the media scene, IBT Media is connected to the Korean pastor David Jang, who is not without controversy.

All that brings us back to dogs. “I ATTENDED A SWANKY WEDDING FOR INSTAGRAM-FAMOUS DOGS” is a recent headline in the new Newsweek. Zach Schonfeld’s article contains the following gem:

The dogwalker asked who I work for.

“Man, Newsweek is covering this?” he asked in disbelief. “Our society is so fucked, man. We’re gonna look back years later and be like, ‘Dog weddings? That was the end.'”

Indeed.


The debate on robots and AI illustrated

Monday, 18 January, 2016 0 Comments

There is little, journalistically or ideologically, that unites Britain’s Spectator and Germany’s Zeit, apart from the fact that both are weeklies. And yet, when it comes to their coverage of the digital economy one does detect a certain visual agreement.

The Spectator

Die Zeit


Visca el Barça vs. mia san mia on the second screen

Tuesday, 12 May, 2015 0 Comments

A number of initiatives have been started in recent years to encourage more women to learn about computing, such as Ada Developers Academy, and Google, for its part, says it has given more than $40 million to organizations working to bring computer science education to girls. The reality, though, is that tech is still very much a man’s, man’s world and this impression was reinforced last week at the EIT Innovation Forum in Budapest, where Emanuela Zaccone was the only female nominee for the 2015 Awards.

Zaccone is the co-founder of TOK.tv, a platform that lets users chat to their friends while watching a game, such as tomorrow night’s Champions League semi-final between Juventus and Real Madrid. As it happens, the two teams are TOK.tv partners and Zaccone pitches her second screen play as a win-win for both sides as their fans, scattered around the world, can sit on the same virtual couch during a match and the clubs can monetize this engagement. And what about tonight’s Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich game, which pits the Catalan Visca el Barça against the Bavarian mia san mia cultures? Zaccone smiles. “We’re talking,” she says. The two teams are global players in every sense of the term and their joint presence on the TOK.tv platform would add considerably to its reach.

Back in 2007, when Emanuela Zaccone was working on her PhD thesis at the University of Nottingham, she had a hunch that a combination of social media streams and audio-visual content would lead to to new forms of audience participation in entertainment. She was right. From her vantage point in Rome today and in her role as Social Media Strategist at TOK.tv, she’s proving that a woman can transform a man’s game.

Emanuela Zaccone


New York Times reports will consist of a sentence.

Wednesday, 1 April, 2015 0 Comments

Yes, it is April 1st, but this is not a Fool’s Day prank. The New York Times has developed an app to provide news reports for the Apple watch, which will consist of a sentence. “Readers can swipe through these stories and get a quick glance, if they only have a few seconds and want to get caught up,” said Andrew Phelps, a senior product manager at the newspaper.

BTW, he could have saved a word by using “catch up” instead of “get caught up” there.

Wikipedia disapproves: “One sentence does not an article make.” And the NYT should note that the one-sentence discipline is a tough one: “After nine years, I’ve decided to shut down One Sentence,” wrote the proprietor of One Sentence, 3,1932 minutes ago.

Finally, long before the Apple Watch was imagined at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, the Roman poet, Horace, warned: Brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio (“I struggle to be brief, and become obscure.”)

Apple Watch


The future of journalism

Friday, 27 February, 2015 0 Comments

If you haven’t heard of The Dress meme yet, don’t worry. You soon will. It all began with a simple photo of a dress posted on Tumblr yesterday that some people see as black and blue while others see as white and gold. In a world threatened by the nihilism of ISIS and Putin, there are serious issues to discuss, but at one point this morning BuzzFeed said the dress was accounting for more than half of its traffic. Such is journalism.

The dress

The other key story yesterday featured a llama drama in Arizona. Honest. You can’t make this stuff up.