Yikes and holy cow. It’s been a while since I updated this blog but I wanted to let you know – I have the perfect alibi. You see, I’ve spent the last few months having a kind of mid-life crisis – only it’s been a very peculiar kind of crisis and probably a very British one at that. It doesn’t involve women, fast cars or huge quantities of fizzy-pop. No, dear reader, I stand here shamefully confessing that I have finally become addicted to… creative writing.
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.”
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:
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.
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…
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.
Happy 2017 Y’all!
It’s been a sensational start to the year with Trump’s first press conference in six months, the general confusion around the term ‘Fake News’ and Section 40 discussions here in the UK. What an exciting time to be a journalist!
I’ll kick off then with Margaret Sullivan’s campaign to ditch the term ‘Fake News’. This was discussed at the end of 2016 – as a catch-all, the term is rapidly losing meaning and significance:
“The speed with which the term became polarized and in fact a rhetorical weapon illustrates how efficient the conservative media machine has become,” said George Washington University professor Nikki Usher.
As Jeremy Peters wrote in the New York Times: “Conservative cable and radio personalities, top Republicans and even Mr. Trump himself . . . have appropriated the term and turned it against any news they see as hostile to their agenda.”
So, here’s a modest proposal for the truth-based community.
Let’s get out the hook and pull that baby off stage. Yes: Simply stop using it.
Instead, call a lie a lie. Call a hoax a hoax. Call a conspiracy theory by its rightful name. After all, “fake news” is an imprecise expression to begin with.
Elsewhere, Laurie Penny wrote a great call to arms in The New Statesman:
There is a certain kind of stupid mistake that only smart people make, and that is to assume that a sober set of facts can step into the ring with an easy, comforting lie and win. We have entered a new moment in public and political conversation, a moment which many pundits have dubbed the “post truth” age. I prefer to think of it as the age of bullshit.
In the Guardian, Lindsey West wrote an extremely funny and poignant article on why she’s left twitter. I have to admit, I’m still hooked:
I talk back and I am “feeding the trolls”. I say nothing and the harassment escalates. I report threats and I am a “censor”. I use mass-blocking tools to curb abuse and I am abused further for blocking “unfairly”. I have to conclude, after half a decade of troubleshooting, that it may simply be impossible to make this platform usable for anyone but trolls, robots and dictators.
On 29 December, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted: “What’s the most important thing you want to see Twitter improve or create in 2017?” One user responded: “Comprehensive plan for getting rid of the Nazis.”
“We’ve been working on our policies and controls,” Dorsey replied. “What’s the next most critical thing?” Oh, what’s our second-highest priority after Nazis? I’d say No 2 is also Nazis. And No 3. In fact, you can just go ahead and slide “Nazis” into the top 100 spots. Get back to me when your website isn’t a roiling rat-king of Nazis. Nazis are bad, you see?
Still on the subject of Twitter, The NYT’s Pagan Kennedy wrote about about a group that are flagging to advertisers ads that are being served programmatically on Breitbart News. The team simply screengrab the ad and tag the advertiser in the tweet:
More important, the screenshot activists are forcing companies to pick a side. After pressure from consumers, Kellogg’s became one of the first big brands to announce that it would remove its ads from Breitbart News. In retaliation, Breitbart called for a boycott, and the cereal brand seems to have suffered from the uproar on social media. At the same time, it received lots of good press for taking its stand; in early December, many consumers announced that they would reward the company by making all-Kellogg’s donations to soup kitchens.
I expected that other companies would want to trumpet their own Breitbart departures. It seemed an easy win for corporate P.R. to distance itself from Klan-rally-like riffs like this one — “every tree, every rooftop, every picket fence, every telegraph pole in the South should be festooned with the Confederate battle flag.” (Telegraph poles!?)
But when I reached out to several organizations that seemed to have joined the ban, they didn’t want to talk about it. A bank and a nonprofit group did not respond to my queries. Two companies — 3M and Zappos — declined to talk about the matter. A Patagonia spokeswoman said that her company did not advertise on white-supremacist sites — but she would not comment on the screenshots that activists had sent to Patagonia in early December showing the company’s logo on Breitbart’s Facebook page. Warby Parker was the most forthcoming; a representative pointed me to a statement that thanked a Twitter activist for inspiring its own ban on Breitbart.
In the behavior of some of these companies, you can detect the way our norms have already shifted. In the old normal, it would have cost little to stand up against neo-Nazi slogans. But in the new normal, doing so might involve angering key players in the White House, including the president-elect, Donald J. Trump, who has hired the former editor of Breitbart as his senior adviser. Mr. Trump recently proved the damage he could do to a company by criticizing Lockheed Martin on Twitter; soon after, its stocks prices tumbled.
Thus ends my weekly-ish update. Apart from my funniest #saltbae gif of the week of course…
When you use “thus” in an essay pic.twitter.com/LgC27qdzXe
— محسن (@SheikhMyBody) January 8, 2017
Since the US Elections we’ve read a lot about the topic of fake news and how journalism must adapt to ‘regain’ credibility and trust. I’m sure the debate will go on for some time, but in the meantime I thought it might be useful to gather all the different opinions I’ve read over recent weeks in one place. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Fake News Piñata!
From what I can see, this very special piñata is basically spit into three segments – publishers, platforms and people. I apologies in advance for the crude nature of what follows, this list is by no means exhaustive and I’m pretty certain to have over-simplified in places. But for now…
- We need to fight fake news with facts.
- We need to fight fake news with facts that are shareable.
- We need to fight fake news with facts, opinion and razor-sharp attention to the language we use.
- Facts don’t matter because audiences don’t ‘care’ – because they’ve been told journalists are experts and experts are not to be trusted. Journalists need to work harder to communicate the benefits of what they do.
- Facts don’t matter because audiences have been told journalists are biased (whereas politicians are not). Journalists need to work harder to communicate the benefits of what they do.
- “Facts get shared, opinions get shrugs.” Alt-right institutions get more attention online now because their stories appear to be more fact-based than rant-based. They have the semblance of truth. Journalism needs to address this development through fact-checking services/teams to understand why fake news stories have become so shareable beyond outrageous headlines.
- In the fight for ‘truthfulness’ publishers and journalists need to accept that they too make mistakes. Which is more damaging? A fake news story with a low audience or a slightly incorrect mainstream media story with a huge audience?
- 99% of all journalism is commercially funded. Go figure, we are all doomed.
- Are non-profit journalist organisations more truthful?
- Has the ‘pandering’ to Facebook (shareability over ‘substance’) backed us into a corner? Do we need to focus on new metrics of engagement which recognises quality journalism and can be monetised easily. Is this just a pipe dream or the start of a long journey of collaboration across the entire media sector?
- As an industry we should stop theorising, navel-gazing and soul-searching and get down to proper journalism i.e holding those in power to account and getting out there into the local communities.
- Hmm. We might need to invest more in local journalism…
- Er, what exactly is Fake News? “Does a falsehood only become “fake news” when it shows up on a platform like Facebook as legitimate news?”
- Facebook should help by filtering out fake news and extreme, politically biased websites – it should be an arbiter of truth.
- Facebook can never be an arbiter of truth because it is a commercial organisation.
- Facebook can never be an arbiter of truth because it is a technological organisation. Technology has screwed up everything.
- Facebook could suggest the perfect solution to fake news but this would never please the editorial community – because journalists and developers just don’t understand each other.
- Does it really matter if Facebook has a fake news issue? They are also supporting credible news organisations who would have disappeared without it.
- Facebook and Google need to do a better job at flagging up fake news because on Amp and Instant articles, all articles pretty much look the same.
- Why all this focus on Facebook all of a sudden? Google have been surfacing racist and sexiest websites since it started. Just do a search for….
- Oh, hai SnapChat! You have an editorial team that vets everything before it goes live? How interesting…
- Most people have a low level of media literacy. Blame lack of education and poverty.
- Most people have a low level of media literacy. Blame the government.
- Most people have a low level of media literacy. Blame the media.
- Most people have a low level of media literacy. Blame technology.
- Most people have a low level of media literacy. Blame procrastination.
- People lack the critical capacity to recognise what might be fake because they actively seek reflections of themselves. Confirmation bias.
- Facts don’t matter because we’re all basically selfish and can’t escape our prejudices.
I’ll leave it there for now, please feel free to add further points via the comments below. For those interested in what the journalist/tech community is doing right now to navigate this new landscape, may I suggest this excellent, collaborate resource initially recommended by Jeff Jarvis.
Washington Post fake news story blurs the definition of fake news
Google, democracy and the truth about internet search
The tech/editorial culture clash
The Man Who Made Radio Viral
Facebook Shouldn’t Fact-Check
Trump has already defeated the news media. And it’s unclear what we can do about it.
Publishing in the post-truth era
FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE MAKE LIES AS PRETTY AS TRUTH
The Cynical Gambit to Make ‘Fake News’ Meaningless
Why Snapchat And Apple Don’t Have A Fake News Problem
Some hastily scribbled thoughts following the recent US elections. What do US journalists (and perhaps all of us) need to do going forward?
- Don’t get too hung up on this whole echo chamber/filter bubble analogy. Although its been important to acknowledge the narcissistic nature of social media, we now need to be careful that these kind of convenient and simplistic metaphors don’t obscure the good work journalists are doing every day to ‘break on through’. When you start talking about people being ‘trapped’ in their own ‘bubbles’ it starts to sound like ‘What’s the use?’ We need to engage, listen and speak a language that the majority understand.
- Take as a given that advocacy ‘journalism’ websites is only going to get bigger and bolder. They will continue to attack academia and mainstream media for being elitist/disconnected from the populace/ordinary man/forgotten man.
- The answer? Become excellent, amazing journalists. Let’s get better every day at what we do.
- Let’s take another look at local news where investment has slipped.
- Help Facebook become the responsible publisher it needs to be.
- Challenge the notion that free news probably isn’t worth reading. Don’t hide the truth behind a wall.
- Find news ways of funding good journalism – like getting Google of Facebook to pay for it.
- Work with UX/Design to create experiences that facilitate comfortable reading of complex issues.
- Reject the notion readers are only interested in surface skimming over depth.
- Fight the titillation of fake news with well-researched, annoying details.
- Listen more, comment less.
You know the drill by now folks. Here’s my best reads from the last week or so. Enjoy and have a fantastic Christmas and New Year. See you all in 2015!
Bad community is worse than no community
“By coupling a format that encourages intimacy with a network design that encourages out-of-context amplification, Twitter has evolved into something fundamentally volatile. It’s fun, fast and powerful, but remains highly risky for anything approaching honest conversation, or even satire.”
“Smart news organizations know that in 2015, the value of our attention will continue to eclipse the value of our clicks. The best way to harness attention in the digital ecosystem is to service the consumer’s needs rather than simply repackaging content to fit the form factor of her various devices. A deeply engaged consumer is easier to monetize. She is a good ambassador for the news organization. And, ostensibly, she’s a better informed citizen.”
The news mixtape
“If the rise of podcasts and newsletters has taught us anything this year, it’s that there’s value in consuming bundled content.“
The rise of the jacktivist
“…news outlets will have to do more than merely report what’s going on. Journalists will have the added responsibility of giving people a pathway to act, to improve their lives and the lives of others.
Again, I understand this may seem anathema to some, but people today need more than headlines and stories. They need more than data, visuals, and explanations. They need more than journalism. They need an empathy-driven service to improve their lives, their communities, and our world.”
16 reasons why this research will change how you look at news consumption | Online Journalism Blog
“The value news has in people’s everyday life seems to hinge less on the increasing technological, social and participatory affordances of the informative platform than on time- and place-dependent user needs …
“News wants and needs, place, moment of the day and especially the convenience of a particular news carrier appear to be defining factors in what people do with news. As Rosa (26) explained, she checks the news on her smartphone and her work computer during the day, snacks the news on her laptop and in the newspaper after work, and reads her newspaper’s weekend supplements on Saturday morning at home.”
(PS I loved the 16 consumption trends spotted here…)
Andy Carvin launches social-media reporting team for First Look
“Because the idea of Reportedly is to have journalists or anchor/producers embedded in different social platforms and engaging directly with users there, the project doesn’t have a website yet, although it will be getting one. Carvin said that to begin with, the team will be using a Medium collection to talk about how the experiment is unfolding, and to brainstorm about the kind of journalism they want to do. But in the future, he hopes there will be a site that can act as a “central dashboard” where readers can see everything.”
The gender split in news consumption: A case of discovery?
“It could simply be, then, that the seeming disparity between the equal amount of women and men who have access to connected devices and the fact that men actually consume more news on those types of devices could be explained by the following statement: Women in the UK prefer to discover their news through social means, and certain types of digital content (that of BuzzFeed and Upworthy etc.) are simply more shareable than others.
Ultimately, the difference in the type of news content men and women consume could be as much about how they find news as what they are intrinsically interested in.”
The newsonomics of the newly quantified, gamified news reader
“The trick here is in inferring reader likes and dislikes, as in the Cosby story example. Says Frons: “Subject-based personalization limits serendipity — one of the main pleasures of social feeds in particular and the Internet in general…For content creators, I am not sure that slicing the report up into micro-individuated bundles is ever going to make business or product sense. But a little bit of personalization within a product can go a long way.”