Talking About LBC, Opinion and Content Experimentation

I’m pleased to say this year we’ve been invited by those wonderful folk at Newsrewired to talk about audio ‘shareability’. I always love attending this event, it’s a great chance to network and gauge what we’re generally thinking about as Journalists across a whole range of topics.

In the podcast I talk about why opinion is central to LBC and how we format choice moments to give them their best viral potential.

I look forward to seeing everyone in July.

Friday #content reads 24.3.2017

Here’s a selection of some of my favourite articles from the week:

Chris Sutcliffe wrote an interesting piece looking at how the economics driving  journalism influences editorial quality:

“From an outsider’s perspective, it looks as though the UK news media didn’t have a problem with ‘fake news’ until they lost their monopoly on it. They benefited from the system that rewards the creation of heavily partisan, shareable articles by feeding the confirmation bias of their audiences. That was the case before the internet started disrupting their business models, too, but now less truthful news who don’t even pay lip service to truth had proved themselves to be just as adept at abusing that digital advertising paradigm.”

Continue reading

Basically, Depeche Mode Is My Spirit Animal

Back in the day I used to be the ultimate Depeche Mode fan. I spent most of my teenage years hunting down numerous rare vinyl remixes, paying extortionate amounts of money for obscure bootleg recordings and generally annoying mates by playing tracks  that didn’t fit in with our previously established repertoire of Guns and Roses and Ozzy Osbourne. I was basically THAT kid in the corner listening to the same track on repeat and not talking to anyone. And it was great.

Then it all went a bit pear-shaped.

One day, I met one of the band members at a Nitzer Ebb gig and they got a bit peeved when asked for an autograph. No big deal, we all need our space. But shortly after, I had another ‘Never Meet Your Heroes’ moment at one of their album launch listening parties and, let’s just say, it was a complete disaster as one of them was completely wasted.  Again, no big deal, but after that I sort of walked away and never listened to them again.

Well, almost. After a brief spat and after listening to their new album ‘Spirit’ I’m glad say we’re BFFs again. Their new political focus suites them with my top tracks being ‘Scum’ and ‘So Much Love’. A timely release.

To celebrate I thought I’d dig up some of my favourite Mode moments. Enjoy the self-indulgence.

Observe the dance moves:

Observe the hair:

Observe one of the best acid basslines in alt-pop history:
;

Observe one of the best producers of all-time talking about one of the best acid basslines in alt-pop history:

Observe this photo:

Observe this collection of vinyl. Observe their smooth, plastic sleeves. OBSERVE!

 

Observe the use of light and smoke in this video whilst also observing one of the best synth melodies in synth melody history:

This

Also, THIS:

And this. Always this.

and, lastly: this, this, this:

Friday #content reads 3.3.2017

Here’s a selection of my favourite articles from the week that was…

Axois published a great feature looking at The recent explosion of right-wing news sites and why this has occurred:

“Why it matters: According to experts, digital technology has made it easier to exploit the political divisions that have always existed. Sarah Sobieraj, associate professor of Sociology at Tufts University, told CNN there has been an increase in political polarization in the U.S., but not nearly enough to account for this development. “The technological, regulatory, and media space has shifted into one in which this is profitable, and profit is the driving force.”

How they profit: Google and Facebook’s algorithmically-driven news distribution platforms have created an environment in which:

  • a) partisan news sites can easily reach fringe audiences, and
  • b) news sites are financially incentivized to tilt one way or another.

Facebook, in particular, algorithmically favors content that appeals to user bias and interest. According to comScore Vice President Andrew Lipsman, to elicit high engagement and repeat visitation, “sites must usually speak to a very specific audience.” Although this limits the appeal to a broader readership, it creates a sustained and engaged audience that appeals to advertisers.”

Buzzfeed’s Craig Silverman looked at this in more detail by examining two US news websites with conflicting political views but owned by the same publisher. That’s not itself an issue, but when you see how similar these stories are (apart from tone and political bias) you can understand why trust in the media is at a current low.

“Liberal Society and Conservative 101 are among the growing number of so-called hyperpartisan websites and associated Facebook pages that have sprung up in recent years, and that attracted significant traffic during the US election. A previous BuzzFeed News analysis of content published by conservative and liberal hyperpartisan sites found they reap massive engagement on Facebook with aggressively partisan stories and memes that frequently demonize the other side’s point of view, often at the expense of facts.

Jonathan Albright, a professor at Elon University, published a detailed analysis of the hyperpartisan and fake news ecosystem. Given the money at stake, he told BuzzFeed News he’s not surprised some of the same people operate both liberal and conservative sites as a way to “run up their metrics or advertising revenue.”

“One of the problems that is a little overlooked is that it’s not one side versus the other — there are people joining in that are really playing certain types of political [views] against each other,” Albright said.

And all it takes to turn a liberal partisan story into a conservative one is to literally change a few words.”

Joseph Bernstein wrote a great feature on YouTube’s role in the spread of misinformation. Basically, YouTube needs to do a lot more promoting ‘good’ news over ‘bad’:

“YouTube does “demonitize” videos that it deems “not advertiser-friendly,” and last week, following a report in the Wall Street Journal that Disney had nixed a sponsorship deal with the YouTube superstar PewDiePie over anti-Semitic content in his videos, YouTube pulled his channel from its premium ad network. But such steps have tended to follow public pressure and have only affected extremely famous YouTubers. And it’s not like PewDiePie will go hungry; he can still run ads on his videos, which regularly do millions of views.

Ultimately, the platform may be so huge as to be ungovernable: Users upload 400 hours of video to YouTube every minute. One possibility is drawing a firmer line between content the company officially designates as news and everything else; YouTube has a dedicated News vertical that pulls in videos from publishers approved by Google News.”

Elsewhere, I was really inspired by James Tyner’s recent work looking at how young audiences think about online newspaper design and content. Some of the feedback included:

“I don’t find it super appealing all the time to sit down and read a huge article online, but you don’t get all the nuance from just a breaking news headline on Twitter. I wish there was some medium between the two.”

“I don’t like the news stories that are basically slideshows in the format of an Instagram video or something that is 30 seconds long and plays 5,000,000 times on Facebook. I feel like it just leaves out a lot of details and I almost instantly don’t trust those as much as a full news story I read.”

“I always fall for the clickbait, every time.”

That last point is particularly important for younger audiences – the simply won’t put up anymore with your clickbait. You see this with older audiences too now, where commenters bond together to reveal the point of the article, saving you that click.

I also wondered if the students had read Axios as part of this research. They seem to be doing a good job in creating small ‘snackable’ updates around quite complex topics. After some initial reservations about their approach, I do think they are onto something. BUT, if you aren’t a fan of their site, or this kind of editorial strategy, you may still be interested in their newsletter for all its delicious White House gossip.

And lastly, next week one of the best UK synth bands that’s ever been release their new album. I’m currently feeling very conflicted about this – and next week I’m going to tell you why.

Until then.

Friday #Content Reads 25.02.17

Greetings.

Over the last two weeks we’ve read a lot about Mark Zuckerberg’s post/manifesto discussing Facebook’s role in ‘Building a Global Community‘. In response, some were concerned by the lack of apparent detail from Zuckerberg on how to fund good journalism:

“A strong news industry is also critical to building an informed community,” Zuckerberg wrote in his manifesto. “There is more we must do to support the news industry to make sure this vital social function is sustainable—from growing local news, to developing formats best suited to mobile devices, to improving the range of business models news organizations rely on.”

There is more Facebook must do. But what? Lip service to the crucial function of the Fourth Estate is not enough to sustain it. All of this is the news industry’s problem; not Zuckerberg’s. But it’s also a problem for anyone who believes in and relies on quality journalism to make sense of the world.

Zuckerberg doesn’t want Facebook to kill journalism as we know it. He really, really doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean he won’t.”

Contrast this point of view with Jeff Jarvis who recently wrote:

“Facebook, Twitter, and all the platforms should invest their considerable intelligence, imagination, and resources in helping reinvent journalism for this age. New tools bring new opportunities and new responsibilities. I would like to see Facebook help news companies understand how to serve communities and how to reimagine how we inform citizens’ conversations where they occur. I wish that Facebook would find more ways to introduce us to new people who can tell their stories in safe spaces where we can come to learn about each other. I would like Facebook and media to collaborate convening communities in conflict to informed and productive discourse. I would like to see Twitter finally address its and perhaps society’s key problem: Can we be open and also civil? I hope Google will be more transparent about those who would manipulate it and thus us. I hope they all help us invent new business models that no longer reward just clickbait and fame, cats and Kardashians, sensationalism and polarization (Zuckerberg’s words). The platforms should spend less effort trying to help journalism as it is — except insofar as it buys us time for innovation — but instead support journalism as it can be.”

There you go. Some food for thought.

Elsewhere, Google announced it was taking steps to prioritise fact-checked articles in its search results. Good to see both Google and Facebook taking steps to address the proliferation of Fake News, but the point raised by Emily Bell above remains – good journalism needs investment. However, according to this article from Politico, getting platforms to fund news might be a step too far.

In other news, Digiday published a great interview with Jeff Steinberg from Cheddar looking at how scale affects relevancy for publishers. Essential listening for anyone building a brand online plus he mentions a deal he has with Twitter that drives more traffic to his sites than Facebook. Hmm…

For those following the confirmation bias/echo chamber topic, New Yorker have published an amazing, thought-provoking article by   called Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds:

“A recent experiment performed by Mercier and some European colleagues neatly demonstrates this asymmetry. Participants were asked to answer a series of simple reasoning problems. They were then asked to explain their responses, and were given a chance to modify them if they identified mistakes. The majority were satisfied with their original choices; fewer than fifteen per cent changed their minds in step two.

In step three, participants were shown one of the same problems, along with their answer and the answer of another participant, who’d come to a different conclusion. Once again, they were given the chance to change their responses. But a trick had been played: the answers presented to them as someone else’s were actually their own, and vice versa. About half the participants realized what was going on. Among the other half, suddenly people became a lot more critical. Nearly sixty per cent now rejected the responses that they’d earlier been satisfied with.

This lopsidedness, according to Mercier and Sperber, reflects the task that reason evolved to perform, which is to prevent us from getting screwed by the other members of our group. Living in small bands of hunter-gatherers, our ancestors were primarily concerned with their social standing, and with making sure that they weren’t the ones risking their lives on the hunt while others loafed around in the cave. There was little advantage in reasoning clearly, while much was to be gained from winning arguments.”

Well worth reading, although entirely pessimistic of course.

Lastly,  I popped along to Stationers Hall to listen to a great debate concerning Section 40 and press regulation. Hosted by The Society of Editors and chaired by the most excellent  Roy Greenslade, it was a good to hear the various points of view around this topic. I think there was general agreement that the press needed regulation and that the regulator needed to be independent; but that Section 40 was considered too harsh and would penalise the smaller publishers for the sins of some UK newspapers.

Our very own LBC presenter Stig Abell had an interesting take on the press regulation debate on last week’s Media show which you can listen to here. As a previous member of the PCC he points out that what Section 40 doesn’t really address the more pressing issue of fake news. Who, after all is said and done, is going to regulate the platforms?

And that’s it for now folks. Bye, bye.

Friday #Content Reads 10.02.17

This week I attended the News:rewired conference in London. Claire Wardle from First Draft News kicked off the event by delivering a brilliant keynote speech – in short, ‘We Are In an Information War’.

Claire referenced some great articles on Fake News in her presentation, most notable this one looking at how Fake News is going to become a lot more sophisticated in the months ahead. As someone who works in radio, this passage stood out for me:

“Audio advancements may be just as harrowing. At its annual developer’s conference, in November, Adobe showed off a new product that has been nicknamed “Photoshop for audio.” The product allows users to feed about ten to 20 minutes of someone’s voice into the application and then allows them to type words that are expressed in that exact voice. The resultant voice, which is comprised of the person’s phonemes, or the distinct units of sound that distinguish one word from another in each language, doesn’t sound even remotely computer-generated or made up. It sounds real. This sort of technology could facilitate the ability to feed one of Trump’s interviews or stump speeches into the application, and then type sentences or paragraphs in his spoken voice. You could very easily imagine someone creating fake audio of Trump explaining how he dislikes Mike Pence, or how he lied about his taxes, or that he did indeed enjoy that alleged “golden shower” in the Russian hotel suite. Then you could circulate that audio around the Internet as a comment that was overheard on a hot microphone. Worse, you could imagine a scenario in which someone uses Trump’s voice to call another world leader and threaten some sort of violent action. And perhaps worst of all, as the quality of imitation gets better and better, it will become increasingly difficult to discern between what is real behavior and what isn’t.”

Scary stuff indeed.

Elsewhere, Twitter has rolled out some new features to combat the trolls – but has this all happened a bit too late?

Best headline of the week must go to Richard Cohen who wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post entitled ‘Trump is a boy’s idea of a man’. So simple, but super punchy and really caught my attention in my newsfeed.

I found myself agreeing with David Zurawick at The Baltimore Sun who wrote Amid storm of Trump developments, a call for calmer, more centrist media. Obviously, there will always be two sides to an argument like this:

“As a columnist, I am not eager to say anything that might sound like I am calling for a tighter leash in language, attitude or latitude.

But even I was a little shocked last week to read Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus describing Trump’s behavior during his first week in office as “unhinged.” It came in a column that began: “Week One of the Trump administration was among the most alarming in the history of the American presidency.”

The primary definition of unhinged: mentally unbalanced or deranged.

Where do we go from here when the language in one of the nation’s most important newspapers is already at this fevered pitch just two weeks in? Will the impeachment columns start appearing next week?”

One thing to note about the article is this – it originally had no video at the top of this page but the publishers obviously saw it taking off and added it afterwards to drive moe video streams. A basic tactic but often overlooked – you don’t need to reinvent the wheel with video, just provide the message in a variety of formats.

Frederic Filloux wrote a great article this week looking at how publishers are failing to create long-term audience loyalty models. I pulled this out as a healthy reminder of how much we are currently worth to Facebook and Google:

 

And that’s it for the week folks, until next time…