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…

Friday #Content Reads 03.02.17

Sean Spicer

Here’s my selection of top reads from the last two weeks…

I have to admit when Melody Kramer wrote How do we design the news for people who are burned out? I sort of baulked. Do people really suffer from news burn-out? Do we really need to create tools so people receive less updates about important topics? Don’t we have a duty as editors to inform all of our audience all of the time?

But, the more I’ve thought about this, the more I think it’s an excellent idea considering the political events that have occurred over the last six months. Expect news audience ‘burn out’ to become a regular topic as we explore solutions proposed by platforms, publishers and people.

Elsewhere, there’s been some great discussions this week on the notion of objectivity in journalism. I recommend listening to this CJR podcast as they dissect the impact of the recent US elections:

This week this also happened: Objectivity is dead, and I’m okay with it.
This was followed by this which was a little ironic because this had happened previously.
Then Fusion published this:

A news outlet like Fusion, then, can never be impartial. We are proud to be the voice of theresistance, the marginalized, the underrepresented. We tell the truth, including the truth about ourselves. We will not be censored, we shall not be silenced.

UPDATE: On The Media covered the above topic on their latest podcast. This really is essential listening. 


The theme of objectivity was also tacked by David Greenberg who looked at The Perils of Calling Donald Trump a Liar:

Historians debate the reasons for objectivity’s emergence in journalism. Some emphasize economic motives, the desire to reach a wider readership. Others argue that the idea of objectivity was linked to a growing awareness of subjectivity—that the difficulty journalists faced in pinning down clear-cut facts led them to adopt regular practices that could assure readers of their credibility. Still others point to a new political ethos of the Progressive Era that encouraged citizens to think for themselves and not take cues from corrupt party leaders.

The embrace of the objective news model didn’t happen all at once. But a critical moment was undoubtedly Adolph Ochs’s purchase of the New York Times in 1896, when the new publisher resolved, in his famous credo, “to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved.” Over the next decades, news organizations championed objectivity, and with the development of radio and TV, network news followed suit. Not only revenue but—more important—credibility, prestige and influence flowed from being seen as a reliable source to all consumers, no matter their ideology.

It wasn’t long, however, before pitfalls became evident. No master text set down the tenets of objectivity and how to adhere to it. Journalists had to find their way. Some interpreted the idea as an adherence to factuality, seeking to strip out the writer’s personal voice. For others, the key was nonpartisanship—presenting the news so as not to favor one party or the other. Others emphasized the disavowal of advocacy. Most journalists probably operated—and still operate—with all these interrelated principles at play to some degree.

 

NPR’s Dana Fox had some great ideas around driving maximum return from Facebook for Publishers. I thought this was a healthy reminder that we need to really understand these platforms in order to reap the rewards:

If we are putting the audience first, consider how the average person on Facebook uses the network: It’s a mix of links, statuses, photos and videos. Different stories require different treatment. Facebook itself recommends this approach (and 11 other best practices for media organizations), and when we are talking about succeeding on Facebook, guidance from the platform itself is not insignificant. It is possible to both stay true to our journalistic integrity and respect the rules of the social space.

Do we need to dump the current economic model that fuels our journalism? Probably, but can it actually be done? And what would that exactly look like? These were the questions poised by Victor Pickard this week:

America’s commercial media system might be great for business, but it’s terrible for democracy. Uncoupling journalism from commercialism requires a structural overhaul. Alternative models from the American past and from other countries demonstrate that different systems are indeed viable. But they require policy interventions that establish safeguards and incentives for responsible and informative media. Ultimately, these policies must remove profit motives from the news.

So that’s it for this week folks, apart from this amazing PopBuzz quiz of course…

Sean Spicer

 

 

 

Friday #Content Reads 27.01.17

Here’s my selection of top reads from the last two weeks…

Buzzfeed have started to take a leading in the Fake News debate. Their feature suggesting that the UK newspaper industry has been peddling fake news for yonks was inspired and shows just how complex this issue has become:

BuzzFeed News has revealed how Macedonian teenagers could make tens of thousands of dollars fabricating stories about Donald Trump, how fake news is spreading to Germany and Italy, and how fake news stories outperformed real news outlets during the US election.

But equivalent analysis of UK social media habits reveals the most popular dubious stories on British politics were almost always the work of long-established news outlets and relied at most on exaggeration rather than fakery. The evidence suggests that rather than reading complete lies, British audiences appear to prefer stories that contain at least a kernel of truth, even if the facts are polluted or distorted.

“We have always had a partisan press that people enjoy and have become acclimatised to,” said Charlie Beckett, professor of journalism at the London School of Economics. “Hyperpartisan news has always been part of our audience’s culture – and we do it better in some ways than fake news.”

Elsewhere, in What does a news organization optimized for trust look like? Melody Kramer wrote:

Perhaps that means thinking more closely about design and editorial choices in terms of media literacy. Maybe that means indicating to readers how many sources were used, or how facts were obtained. Or, if you’re using algorithms to make editorial decisions, maybe that means making that clear and obvious to the reader on every page where the technology is used. Or maybe it means developing more tools like the one The Wall Street Journal made, so that people can realize that what they’re seeing may not be what everyone else is also seeing.

Snapchat have become more vocal about their editorial guidelines:

The new rules more clearly state that publishers should not use overly sexualized or violent images as the initial visual that users are exposed to when they look at Discover and that content intended simply to shock or disgust is not allowed. Some exceptions are made for otherwise-forbidden material that has news value.

For the first time, the guidelines have a dedicated section detailing the warnings that publishers must run when graphic images are deemed newsworthy, as well as when to age-gate that content.

Meanwhile, Axios has launched. I’ve already subscribed to their excellent newsletter and their editorial strategy (Twitter meets The Economist’) is worth keeping an eye on:

The overall feeling these features create is that of a nesting doll, with individual articles nestled within excerpted summaries within a larger news stream. This idea runs counter to the principles of news design on many major websites, which put greater emphasis on article pages. But because every excerpt can be shared on social media, readers are left with a single page that’s composed of dozens of mini-articles.

The design was based on a listening tour undertaken by Axios’ co-founders, who wanted to better understand how people were consuming the news, Schwartz said. The prevailing response: People felt inundated with news and information and spent too much time deciphering what was worth reading and what wasn’t.

Remember photo galleries? That’s right, those things we were told to avoid because it’s all about video now. Well, apparently, people are still clicking on them.

Lastly, in other news, I recently presented at the London Agile Content Meetup group. You can find out what happened here.

Thanks y’all.
 

How To Dramatically Improve Your Presentation Skills

Steven Wilson-Beales: Agile Content Strategy

This week I was invited to talk at the London Agile Content Meetup group, as part of a team collaboration and stakeholder management session. As part of the deal, I had to attend several presentation workshops beforehand which were hosted by Jonathan Kahn (who I’d throughly recommend). The whole process took about 3 weeks and I wanted to share what I’d learnt along the way.

I chose to participate in this programme because I felt I could make some improvements to my presentation skills. I’d recently presented at a whole series of events and wondered if I’d really landed my key points with the audience. How could I make what I wanted to say as enticing and as relevant as possible to a specific audience? Well, I was about to find out.

I should note that during this period I was also reading the Ted Talks book which I also recommend.

Tip 1: Don’t overcook it
One thing I’ve realised is that, if given the option to ‘wing it’ or over-prepare for a presentation,  I’m always going to do the latter. I’ll probably detail everything I want to say until I have several pages of text, even for a ten minute presentation. I’ll then try to edit this down but the whole process is  a constant process of elimination, and it’s very text-orientated. At its worst, this can result in copying said notes onto presentation slides. Result: ONE EXTREMELY BORING PRESENTATION.

It also means I’m trapping myself into a very regimented presentation style with the slides dictating the outcome. With very little room for adjustment, there’s often no interaction with the audience. Again, another opportunity to engage, missed.

So it was a relief to try something complete different in our workshop group, which started by riffing loosely around your chosen topic with no slides at all. That forced you to really think about your core story and what you could actually fit in the allocated time (five minutes). It made me focus on making sure my meaning was landing with my audience and not using the slides as a ‘crutch’.

Tip 2: Invite criticism
If you’re planning a presentation, make sure you get to rehearse the format in front of colleagues/friends, ideally with people that don’t know your subject matter. Being part of a small group preparing presentations for the same event really helped because you were all trying to achieve the same goal. That meant trust was forged fast and suggested improvements offered without fear of offending anyone. We all need constructive feedback in everything we do and I felt this set-up worked brilliantly.

Tip 3: A question of time
Preparing for a short presentation (in this case ten minutes) can often take longer as you realise you can’t say it all, and need to make every word count. Even if you have a thirty minute presentation to plan, starting initially with ten minutes is a good place to start as it’ll give you a good sense of how to pace yourself and how ‘deep’ you want to go into your topic area.

Tip 4: Narrative
There’s many different ways of doing a presentation and lots of information out there about how you can combine all your points into one neat story arc or narrative flow. I’ll sign off with one final tip – think really hard about how you can make your presentation relevant to your audience. I don’t mean: ‘oh, my presentation will be relevant because everyone will want to know how this project was successfully delivered’. I mean providing real learns that the audience can take away and apply that day. If you can’t then don’t expect your audience to be engaged with what you have to say.

In short, give ’em what they want.

Thanks again to Jonathan Kahn for organising the session.