Info

A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Frederic Filloux:

I’ve been in the industry for a long time and have heard over and over eloquent statements about “focusing on our most loyal readers”; I spend more than a thousand dollars per year in various digital subscriptions — which should qualify me as a loyal reader. But… I never had the impression of being considered as such, whether when struggling with a billing issue, or being spared from the most invasive advertising formats. My take is the news industry has never been actually willing to take care of its most precious users: it’s not part of their culture.

“Valuing our loyal readers” is, right now, a hollow form of words we’ve failed to live up to.

Zanny Minton Beddoes, editor of the Economist:

We have to be ourselves in social media. What does it mean to be the Economist on social media? I think a lot of what is characteristic of the Economist, its brevity and analysis, works very well actually. A very small number of articles, including the cover leader, are in front of the paywall [but] we tweet a huge number of articles.

It’s a subtle point, missed by too many titles whose social media presence is painfully generic. It’s social media, and you need to find a register, a tone, that suits your title online.

(In this instance, it might be a case of rediscovering it – Mark Johnson did good work with it, back when he was their community editor.)

Facebook engagement around publisher content is falling rapidly:

There was a dip between July and September 2015, with numbers slowing down for many of the sites since then. The top ten sites are made up of a mix of digital natives (the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed), major global news brands (the New York Times, Fox News, BBC, the Guardian), and others, such as the India Times and conservative site Breitbart.

The decline isn’t restricted to any single type of interaction. Likes, the dominant engagement type, saw a 55% decline for the top 10 sites combined from July 2015 to April 2016. Shares fell by 57%, and comments by almost 64%.

As predicted, Facebook has us hooked on the traffic flow, and is now turning down the tap. Ready to pay for more engagement? Or dance to the Zuckerberg tune by going all-in on video?

Digiday has published the confessions of a “senior publishing executive at a U.K newspaper”. And it’s all “mea culpa”:

The digital media industry has completely screwed up by pursuing scale for the sake of scale. There’s been a relentless pursuit for the biggest number you can get, which has partly been driven by what advertisers want, and partly driven by vanity. We have all chased unique users without really interrogating why we want those users. The way Google and social platforms in general have made us work, is that we want a new person at all points, regardless of whether that person engages with the site at all.

The interesting element of the story is not what this anonymous exec has to say – it’s nothing commentators haven’t been pointing out for years now – it’s the fact that they seem to have needed anonymity to say it. If this kind of commentary is so against the perceived status quo that the exec fears for their job by speaking openly, then at least one UK national newspaper is in a dangerous strategic and cultural mindset.

Troubling.

This either awesome – or a complete gimmick…

(I think it’s very responsible of the couple in the video to still be using the same cameras years from now… Apologies for the cheese.)

The EF-M 28mm f/3.5 STM is a macro lens – with a built in light? Neat idea – if it works. The fact that the light is actually two lights, each of which can be controlled individually makes this a really handy tool – potentially. It all depends on how it performs.

But at a fairly affordable $300 in the USwhich will mean £200-and-something UK~~ and £294.99 in the UK (odd exchange rate there, Canon…), I suspect I’ll be giving it a go when it ships in June.

[via PetaPixel]

Some good advice for journalists from Om Malik, even if it swims against the “volume over all” tide:

At Gigaom we didn’t push our reporters to do 10 posts a day. I always advised folks to write on an average 1,250 words a day. That could be a single piece, two pieces or four. More than 25 years of writing have taught me that if you keep writing more on a daily basis, you get sloppy and repetitive and lose your edge. You end up using the same words again and again. There is a blandness when you have to write 3,000 to 4,000 words a day.

I have had 6,000 days and even 10,000 days – but it’s just not sustainable. If I’m in writing mode regularly, around 1,250 to 1,500 seems right and sustainable – if you’re going to do anything than recycle the words of others.

Surprisingly fewer and fewer designers, regardless of their particular design discipline, seem to be interested in the detail of how something is actually made. With a father who is a fabulous craftsman, I was raised with the fundamental belief that it is only when you personally work with a material with your hands, that you come to understand its true nature, its characteristics, its attributes, and I think – very importantly – its potential.

Jony Ive

life in the algorithm

Gizmodo‘s Michael Nunez delved into the lives of Facebook’s contract journalists in a well-shared piece:

Over time, the work became increasingly demanding, and Facebook’s trending news team started to look more and more like the worst stereotypes of a digital media content farm. Managers gave curators aggressive quotas for how many summaries and headlines to write, and timed how long it took curators to write a post. The general standard was 20 posts a day. “We shared documents to see how fast everyone was working,” said one former curator. “They tried to foster inter-office competition to see how many topics we could complete every day.”

Rough work conditions? Incredible pressure? Contractors not employees? That doesn’t sound like the young, hipster Facebook workplace we normally hear about. It almost suggests that… journalists aren’t really important to Facebook?

That said, many former employees suspect that Facebook’s eventual goal is to replace its human curators with a robotic one. The former curators Gizmodo interviewed started to feel like they were training a machine, one that would eventually take their jobs. Managers began referring to a “more streamlined process” in meetings. As one former contractor put it: “We felt like we were part of an experiment that, as the algorithm got better, there was a sense that at some point the humans would be replaced.”

It would certainly make sense to keep employees you have no long-term plans for on short-term contracts, right?

Facebook: threat or menace?

An instant article, fodder for the algorithm

Facebook is not a friend of journalism. That’s the mistake too many publishers are making. Yes, Instant Articles are sexy and monetisable – but they’re an excellent way of Facebook keeping people in Facebook when they read our stories, rather than exploring our sites. Yes, Facebook is a hugely important route to readers, but the more dependent we get on them, the more they’ll be able to charge us to access that audience.

And, if you’re not already concerned, the news that Facebook is seeing an alarming (to them) drop in sharing of personal information should be ringing warning bells:

Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has spoken at Facebook staff meetings this year about the need to inspire personal sharing, the people said. Facebook has tried several tactics to encourage more of these posts, such as an “On This Day” feature launched last year that brings up memories from past years that users might want to talk about again, or reminders about special occasions like Mother’s Day. Facebook has also prompted users to post the most recent photos and other recently accessed content from their phones.

One likely implication of that is that we’ll see Facebook start to turn down the organic reach of news posts and up the reach of more personal posts again. That’s a dual win for Facebook:

  1. Encourage more people to share personal information. It’s Facebook’s heart blood – a news links sharing site is a commodity, a place to catch up with your fiends is not.
  2. It opens up the opportunity to charge publishers for the reach they’ve lost.

If the latter case sounds familiar, it’s because it’s exactly what happened to brand marketing pages a couple of years ago.

I’ve warned of this in the past – the case for it now seems clearer.

As Teddy Amenabar, comments editor on The Washington Post’s audience engagement team wrote:

Facebook wants to become “the” Internet.

We really don’t want that – because then we are all beholden to it for audiences.

The algorithmic view from nowhere

Facebook’s deep and abiding respect for journalism can also be seen in both the ways it treats its journalist “employees” and in the sweet candies it puts in the platform trap it is creating for us.

But can journalists’ news judgement really be billed down to an algorithm? Surely the human gut instinct for a story is something mere software can’t replicate.

Jon Gruber of Daring Fireball has some thoughts on that:

Progress in the industrialized world has always involved previously labor-intensive jobs being replaced by automated machinery. We’ve gotten to the point now where some of this work is white collar, not blue collar, and some journalists seem offended by the notion. Their downfall is their dogmatic belief in not having a point-of-view, of contorting themselves to appear not to have a point of view — which, as Jay Rosen has forcefully argued, is effectively a “view from nowhere”. The irony is that machines don’t have a point of view — they are “objective”. Over the last half century or so, mainstream U.S. journalism has evolved in a way that has writers and editors acting like machines. They’ve made it easier for themselves to be replaced by algorithms. Most readers won’t even notice.

This implies that journalism as a profession has an interesting – and narrow – line to walk.

On the one hand, being a “just the facts” reporter makes you commoditised. You’re easily replaced by an algorithm. We’ve already seen that emerging in sports and financial journalism.

On the other hand, the internet has made opinion writing so widely available that it really isn’t a valuable commodity any more – unless you’re in the very top rank whom people will actively pay to read. Part of The Times‘s secret paywall sauce is opinion writers on the level of Caitlin Moran whom people will pay for.

The PoV Path

So where does that leave us? Reporting – but with a strong point of view. We can’t just provide the facts, we have to contextualise them, explain them – and perhaps make them entertaining. This is, in essence, a challenge to up our game.

This shouldn’t be a surprise.

In an era when anyone can publish, standing out from the crowd is harder than it’s ever been. And that means the diversity of skills – research, writing, storytelling, multimedia – you need is growing.

Gruber again:

My job then, is to be a better writer — smarter, funnier, keener, more surprising — than an algorithm could be. When I can’t do that, it’ll be time to hang up the keyboard.

Adobe has bought comments system Livefyre.

Has the software-and-services giant suddenly developed a taste for community building? Not so much:

Livefyre, which was initially known for its technology that powers internet comments, now runs a marketing business for big brand clients that focuses on user-generated content, posts and videos created by regular people on sites like Facebook and Twitter and YouTube.

It’s getting harder to find platforms that aren’t just disguised marketing businesses. In this case, it seems Livefyre has been quietly morphing into a marketing-driven version of Storyful.

The problem is that products we’ve come to rely on for journalism or community development might be repurposed into marketing tools:

Livefyre CEO Jordan Kretchmer said that none of his company’s products, including the liveblogging service that grew out of its acquisition of Storify back in September of 2013, are shutting down. They will all be integrated into existing Adobe marketing services, he said.

Yup, Adobe now owns Storify. Which is part of the “Livefyre Engagement Cloud”, apparently:

Storify as the Livefyre Engagement Cloud

Ye gods.

Of all the things I expected to find in the WHSmith in Clapham Junction, this was not one of them:

Blogosphere Magazine on sale in WH Smith

Blogosphere? (Top shelf, right hand side.) There’s a word I haven’t heard – or used – in a long, long time. It’s a magazine that is

for bloggers by bloggers

Well, nearly 15 years in, I’m pretty sure I count as a blogger, so I picked up a copy. A £5 gamble based on nothing but a much-mocked piece of jargon. Get in there.

An indy mag at a mainstream price

It’s a curious beast this magazine. It has the feel and heft of an independent magazine – the sort of thing you’d find lining the walls of magCulture, and which you’d expect to cost around a tenner. But it’s very much priced as a mainstream mag. There’s a limited range of adverts – but some big brands are represented there, including Canon and Olympus, who seem like a good match for the target audience.

Talking of target audiences – who do they seem to be? I’d say it was clearly targeted at blogger and would-be bloggers, with a side order of blog readers. It’s a stark reminder that lifestyle blogging has become so pervasive that the audible of creators and wannabe creators (however oxymoronic that may seem) is sizeable enough to be a targetable niche in its own right.

If you want an example of this in action – check out a post on a major fashion blog, where all the commuters seem to be bloggers themselves. For example:

Wendy's Cookbook comment linkers

There’s an interview with the editor and founder on Passion Pods which I listened to this evening while preparing dinner for the family. It wasn’t a great surprise to hear that Alice Audley probably identifies more with the label “journalist” than “blogger” – she started blogging because she was told it was a good route into journalism, and she worked at The Telegraph before quitting last summer to run Blogosphere full time. The whole enterprise is a very journalistic take on blogging – right down to the absence of the magazine’s content on the website. That’s intentional, it transpires – Audley subscribes to a variation on the “original sin” theory about the tribulations of journalism: we shouldn’t give away what we expect people to pay for in another medium.

Regular readers will know what I think of that…

A slice of the blogosphere

Incisive wisdom on choosing your friends

Despite the title, Blogosphere is very much just about a small slice of the blogosphere. Don’t expect to find any trace of political, business or science blogging between its quality stock paper pages. This is lifestyle blogging all the way. In fact, I wonder how aware of the wider history and role of blogging the core team are. Audley describes a blogger who kicked off in 2006 as a “pioneer” in the Passion Pods interview – I wonder how the 1999-era pioneers whom inspired me to start back in the early 2000s would react to that idea.

But, this really doesn’t matter. This is a quasi-independent magazine with a mainstream price, targeting that band of aspirational lifestyle, food, fashion and travel bloggers that are much of the growth in blogging at the moment. It’s almost like Bloglovin’ came to life, and was then incarcerated in the pulped corpse of dead trees.

And the general design ethos of the magazine reflects that audience. There are some lovely sketches used to differentiation some sections:

Blogosphere's agony aunt

It’s got that young, urban, almost-hipster-but-not-quite vibe of lifestyle blogging, even if some of the featured bloggers are nearly as old as me…

Blogging with ink and paper

Profiling bloggers

A surprising chunk of the magazine is taken up with single page profiles of various bloggers. On one level this is fascinating – each is a mini-interview in its own right, and so you get some interesting insights into motivations and interests. On the other, it’s slightly frustrating. You end up sat there with the magazine in one hand and your iPad in the other, typing in URLs to check out the sites. This is where I longed for better online version of the content. It would allow you to separate the “lean back” enjoyment of reading the print product from the “lean forwards” checking out links.

The majority of the content is as lifestyle-y as its target audience – profiles of significant players. for example. This should give you a taste of the general tone:

There’s some advice on blogging, too, of variable quality. Some of its is sound and good practice while, for example, some of the SEO advice is at the very least, questionable, if not actively wrong.

It’s split into six sections:

  • beauty
  • fashion
  • food
  • travel
  • lifestyle
  • photography

Each is curated by a blogger know for their work in that space.

But the surprising thing about it is the sheer heft of the magazine – this is a 162 page behemoth, with only a small number of ad pages. It’s published quarterly – and that’s probably a good rate given the sheer amount of content on offer.

Verdict

Will I buy more of Blogosphere? Oh, yes.

Look: I’m not in anyway part of the target audience. The tag line “for bloggers by bloggers” would be more accurately rendered as “by a subset of bloggers for a subset of bloggers who aspire to be like that first group”, and I’m not any part of that. But the magazine sits at the heart of that cultural zeitgeist in blogging, and it’s useful to me in my work because of that.

Plus, it’s a bloomin’ lovely magazine. And magazines were my first love, personally and professionally. It’s nice to see my two passions, one former, one current, mingle in this way.

Further Reading