Nieman Lab Thu, 11 May 2023 18:54:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Google is changing up search. What does that mean for news publishers? Thu, 11 May 2023 17:06:30 +0000 At its annual I/O conference on Wednesday, Google announced a slew of “experiments” and changes that are coming to search.

It’s early days. But if these changes are rolled out widely, they’ll be the most significant overhaul of some of the important space on the internet in quite awhile. The shift could significantly decrease the traffic that Google sends to publishers’ sites, as more people get what they need right from the Google search page instead. They could also do some damage to the affiliate revenue that publishers derive from product recommendations.

On the bright side, a new search filter aimed at highlighting humans could help highlight individual journalists, columnists, and newsletters — maybe.

“Search Generative Experience”

Google will place AI-generated answers right at the top of some search pages. Here’s how the company describes it:

Let’s take a question like “what’s better for a family with kids under 3 and a dog, bryce canyon or arches.” Normally, you might break this one question down into smaller ones, sort through the vast information available, and start to piece things together yourself. With generative AI, Search can do some of that heavy lifting for you.

You’ll see an AI-powered snapshot of key information to consider, with links to dig deeper.

The Washington Post’s Geoffrey Fowler tested the feature and describes the way that SGE cites its sources:

When Google’s SGE answers a question, it includes corroboration: prominent links to several of its sources along the left side. Tap on an icon in the upper right corner, and the view expands to offer source sites sentence by sentence in the AI’s response.

There are two ways to view this: It could save me a click and having to slog through a site filled with extraneous information. But it could also mean I never go to that other site to discover something new or an important bit of context.

You see the top three sources by default, but can toggle for more.

AI-generated content will also be incorporated heavily into shopping results. Search something like “bluetooth speaker for a pool party under $100,” or “good bike for a 5 mile commute with hills,” and up pops an AI-powered list of recommended products to buy. I haven’t tested this feature, but in addition to keeping users off publishers’ pages altogether, it also seems as though it’s not great news for any publishers that make money from affiliate links.

Google cautions that SGE is still an experiment, and it’s not widely available yet. (If you want to try it and are in the U.S., you can add yourself to the waitlist here from the Chrome browser or Google app.) In addition to that limited access, The Verge’s David Pierce notes that there are supposed to be limits to what Google will use AI to answer

Not all searches will spark an AI answer — the AI only appears when Google’s algorithms think it’s more useful than standard results, and sensitive subjects like health and finances are currently set to avoid AI interference altogether. But in my brief demos and testing, it showed up whether I searched for chocolate chip cookies, Adele, nearby coffee shops, or the best movies of 2022.

For instance, when Wired’s Will Knight asked “if Joe Biden is a good president or for information about different US states’ abortion laws, for example, Google’s generative AI product declined to answer.” But even though Google’s AI is not supposed to have opinions, it seems as if they slip in sometimes. The Verge again:

At one point in our demo, I asked [Liz Reid, Google’s VP of search] to search only the word “Adele.” The AI snapshot contained more or less what you’d expect — some information about her past, her accolades as a singer, a note about her recent weight loss — and then threw in that “her live performances are even better than her recorded albums.” Google’s AI has opinions! Reid quickly clicked the bear claw and sourced that sentence to a music blog but also acknowledged that this was something of a system failure.

“Hidden gems”

Google is also expanding the use of a search filter called “Perspectives” that brings user-created content — think Reddit posts, YouTube videos, and blog posts — into search results. This change is coming at a time when Americans are increasingly seeking out news and information from individuals, not institutions — and TikTok and Instagram are eating into Google’s share of the search market. Here’s Google:

“In the coming weeks, when you search for something that might benefit from the experiences of others, you may see a Perspectives filter appear at the top of search results. Tap the filter, and you’ll exclusively see long- and short-form videos, images and written posts that people have shared on discussion boards, Q&A sites and social media platforms. We’ll also show more details about the creators of this content, such as their name, profile photo or information about the popularity of their content.

Helpful information can often live in unexpected or hard-to-find places: a comment in a forum thread, a post on a little-known blog, or an article with unique expertise on a topic. Our helpful content ranking system will soon show more of these “hidden gems” on Search, particularly when we think they’ll improve the results.”

“We’re finding that often our users, particularly some of our younger users, want to hear from other people,” Liz Reid, Google’s VP of search, told The Verge. “They don’t just want to hear from institutions or big brands. So how do we make that easy for people to access?”

As Perspectives rolls out, it’ll be interesting to see how Google defines “other people”: Do journalists or opinion columnists who work for newspapers count? Will Substacks be surfaced? The feature could potentially benefit larger news publishers as well as journalists going it alone, but we’ll see.

]]> 0
The Athletic’s live audio rooms bring sports talk radio into this century Wed, 10 May 2023 13:56:01 +0000 A curious media hole forms in the wake of a big sports game. After the final whistle, people are craving content about what they just watched, but many reporters are busy interviewing coaches and players and writing their stories. That’s a void just when fans are most desperate to process what happened and what it all means for the team.

Postgame is one of the times when The Athletic’s live rooms shine. The writer-hosted live rooms — which sometimes get called “live podcasting” because the finished results are often posted to podcast feeds — are a two-way audio platform for Athletic beat reporters to have conversations with subscribers. If you’re a longtime sports fan who has turned an AM/FM dial or two in your day, the format might feel familiar.

“Technology is cyclical in a lot of ways,” Will Bartlett, The Athletic’s senior audio development specialist, acknowledged. “It feels like we’ve just reinvented sports talk radio, just making it a little bit more accessible to people in the 21st century.”

“We try to encourage writers to do it around Moments with a capital ‘m,’” Bartlett added. “So when, you know, the Celtics lose on a last-second shot from James Harden and the Sixers, let’s try and get on there as quickly as possible. People are going to be on edge and wanting to vent to [The Athletic’s Celtics reporter] Jay King the way they would want to vent to [Boston-area sports radio] WEEI or something like that.” (Boston sports fans on edge? Can’t imagine it!)

The live rooms I’ve joined do replicate the fun ephemerality of sports radio and — more recently — certain struggling social audio apps. The Athletic’s live rooms are recycled into specific team podcasts and league-level feeds, but most are not exactly evergreen content. Anyone can listen in, but only subscribers can ask questions using the chat-like text box or being invited to speak by one of the hosts. Non-subscribers run into The Athletic’s paywall after clicking on one article, so live rooms are one of the only ways readers can sample the outlet’s content before getting their wallet out.

The Athletic’s first live room took place in September 2021. By January 2022, they’d done 100. Today, they’re closing in on 1,000 live rooms. Most have between 50 and 250 listeners. They tend to follow a similar format: the beat writer(s) give a “State of the Union”-like update about the team before opening the floor to questions, comments, and provocations from listeners.

“It’s sort of an in-app version of Twitter Spaces for us,” Bartlett said.

But, unlike Twitter Spaces, the live rooms exist on The Athletic’s app. With prominent cautionary tales about what relying on social media platforms can do to a newsroom ringing in our ears, The Athletic’s choice to build on its own turf makes plenty of sense.

The Athletic prompts all subscribers to follow a team or league and uses these preferences to build a user’s homepage — and to send push notifications when a live room begins. A user who has followed tags for football’s Cincinnati Bengals and the NFL at large, for example, might get pinged for a live room about Cincinnati’s draft picks as well as league-wide news like quarterback Aaron Rodgers being traded to the New York Jets — even if the breaking story discussed in the live room isn’t about their local team.

The majority of listeners make their way to the live rooms through those push notifications from the newsroom’s app, Bartlett said. Others find them through organic discovery (i.e. clicking around in the app) and social media.

When going live postgame, journalists and fans rehash missed opportunities, on-the-field celebrations, and more. During the offseason or in pregame coverage, the group can prognosticate and predict to their hearts’ content. The whole time, both writers and those invited to speak can assume they’re among fellow diehard fans. In my corner of the sports world, that means Jay King might feel free to mention the Kornet contest — a goofy vertical leap a certain Boston bench player attempts even when half a court away from the shooting player — one moment and, the next, dive into bigger-picture narratives like how two of the team’s brightest stars work together or how All-NBA selections could shape the team’s future.

There aren’t strict requirements or quotas for Athletic reporters around the live rooms. (“Our writers are writers first and foremost,” Bartlett said. “We want these to be something that writers want to do. There’s never going to be a mandate around these.”) But for new hosts looking for guidance, Bartlett encourages them to slot something in between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. or between 4 and 6 p.m. local time. Noon has also proven to be a popular option, presumably because listeners are tuning in during lunch breaks.

“We’ve definitely seen our highest rates of engagement around times that you would see in traditional sports radio, including those commuting times,” Bartlett said. “One advantage that we do have over traditional sports talk radio is the ability to send push notifications to all of our followers at different times.”

The largest audiences haven’t always been for rooms about teams in the largest cities. The beat writers who cover the Cincinnati Bengals host a popular live room every Monday at noon. Live rooms from a writer who covers NHL’s Minnesota Wild team were popular enough to break the app a couple of times. The beat writer for the St. Louis Cardinals also tends to draw a crowd.

“Not a lot of those [locations] are super-saturated markets in terms of news coverage,” Bartlett said. “This is a way for us to serve some of the markets [that] don’t have national writers living there or ESPN there every day — but we happen to have a very well-plugged-in writer in that spot.”

Katie Woo, the staff writer for The Athletic who covers the St. Louis Cardinals, said she likes being able to drop information and ideas she might not use in a story in live rooms.

“It’s a great way to make fans and subscribers feel connected to their teams,” Woo said. “Being able to have people call in and actually ask their questions in real time to a real voice, instead of debating online, has led, in my opinion, to productive conversations.”

A lot of listener questions are hypotheticals, “usually pertaining to roster moves, trades, or free-agent signings,” Woo said. She occasionally gets story ideas from the conversations, she added, “but the main reason I use the rooms is [that] it helps me feel more connected to the subscribers. Hopefully they feel the same.”

Saad Yousuf, who covers the Dallas Stars for The Athletic, recently held his first live room. (He has a side gig hosting a weekly radio show in Dallas, so he’s not exactly new to audio.) He described the live two-way audio form as a “great supplemental tool” for his written coverage.

“The fans who joined the live room are subscribers who read my work routinely, which differentiates it from something like Twitter Spaces, where anybody can join, even if they aren’t subscribers,” he said. The rooms help him “get a pulse” on which topics readers feel most strongly about, and which questions he should make sure to answer in his next article.

Bartlett said the live rooms can be a type of training ground — an opportunity to get some audio reps in — for writers who may eventually launch a podcast or earn a hosting gig on an existing show with The Athletic. “It’s one way for us to identify talent down the road,” he said.

With more than 800 live rooms completed, The Athletic has had roughly 2,000 people get “on stage” to ask questions live. Hosts have moderation tools, similar to the ones Twitter Spaces offers, but Bartlett says said they’ve had “zero trolls” thus far. From what I’ve heard, plenty of subscribers “call in” with a question-that’s-more-of-a-colorful-rant that brings legendary sports radio meltdowns to mind but, overall, there’s less casual racism and sexism.

“It’s one of the more positive places on the internet, for the most part,” Bartlett said. “People are just there to talk sports.”

Basketball radio image generated by Midjourney

]]> 0
In Spain, a new data-powered news outlet aims to increase accountability reporting Tue, 09 May 2023 18:32:26 +0000 In March, Spain passed a gender quotas law aimed at raising the number of women in leadership roles across the country. Among other requirements, the law calls requires political parties to put forward equal numbers of male and female candidates in municipal and national elections.

After months of extracting and analyzing information from parliamentary websites, documents, and other public records, Demócrata — a recently launched news outlet focused on Spanish government and public policy — published a series finding that in general Parliamentary sessions, the ones that get the most attention, men gave nearly two-thirds of the speeches. Women were underrepresented on congressional committees related to “state matters” like defense, economic affairs, and budgeting, but make up the majority of members on committees focused on equality, gender violence, and children’s rights.

Stories like these are what Demócrata aims to provide news consumers in Spain: Data-based journalism that helps to holds politicians accountable. That series, for example, included a methodology of how the journalists obtained the data, organized it, and decided what to include. (For instance: “Participations of less than one minute duration have also been left out. They mostly deal with oaths to take possession of seats, questions of order, requests to speak…They accounted for less than 1% of the total interventions collected.”)

“It brings a lot of transparency to the legislative process,” said Pilar Velasco, a veteran investigative journalist and Demócrata’s editorial director. “When the noise of politics occupies the entire news cycle, it generates a space for opacity that isn’t reported on.”

The site fills a gap in Spain, which will hold its general election in December. “It’s a good year to launch a news outlet with a focus on politics and policies,” said Eduardo Suárez, the head of editorial for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. “[Demócrata’s] value proposition is to report on public policies and Parliamentary debates in much more detail than mainstream publications. Newspapers in Spain are much more focused on politics than on public policies, and this might provide an opening for a publication like Demócrata, whose goal is to cover those policy debates in a more nuanced and granular way.”

Demócrata is the country’s only news outlet that specifically covers Parliament and public policy from an accountability lens daily, according to the Iberian Digital Media Map by Iberifier, a European Commission–funded initiative. (Another initiative in Spain, Civio, was founded in 2012 and focuses on data-powered watchdog reporting on the environment, healthcare, and the justice system.)

Demócrata has a team of seven. It’s funded by an initial investment from its board of directors and from advertising, though Velasco wants to expand into sponsorships, paid events, and subscriptions. The site has multiple sections: Agenda (an archive of the weekly newsletter that summarizes what’s happening in Parliament in the coming week), Actualidad (updates and play-by-play of laws and amendments), Políticas (news on proposed and ongoing policies), Quieren Influir (economy stories), and an analysis and opinion section. The site’s initial target audience is political insiders and politics junkies, but Velasco said the stories are written so that general audiences will be able to understand them as well. The Agenda newsletter has around 2,000 subscribers.

Demócrata’s goal is to use its data expertise to tell stories that other outlets can’t. Leading up to the outlet’s launch, the data team spent months building the software it uses to scrape and analyze data that, while technically public, is disorganized and difficult to parse. When the country’s far-right party, Vox, called for a vote of no confidence against the current ruling socialist party this past March, Demócrata published an analysis of Vox’s legislative footprint in the current parliamentary session, finding that the party has so far failed to pass any laws.

Velasco, who was an investigative reporter for Spain’s largest radio network Cadena SER, where she investigated political corruption cases, experienced first-hand the challenges of telling data stories for radio, where it can be difficult to delve into numbers. As a 2018 Yale World Fellow and one of the co-founders of Spain’s Investigative Journalists Association, she also saw American sites like Politico cultivated audiences for in-depth political reporting. When Demócrata founder David Córdova (who is also the director of a public affairs consulting firm, Vinces) approached her for the project, she saw it as a chance to experiment and try something new. (Demócrata is editorially independent from Vinces.)

“The mission is permanent scrutiny of institutions,” Velasco said. “Through continuous supervision of the work of politicians and legislators, information transparency, we believe, can strengthen institutional credibility. [The news] that comes to us from Parliament is often the political discussion, statements, politicians fighting with each other, and press conferences. But the legislative branch is a pillar of the State where many things happen that regulate life in society. It is what orders us and regulates us. And all of that wasn’t being covered in Spain with the specialization it deserves.”

One of Velasco’s goals in the next few months is to continue the work on a platform, already in progress, that will monitor updates to every piece of legislation in Parliament in real time. Down the line, she hopes to launch a chatbot that can answer reader questions. Demócrata has also partnered with Political Watch (a group of academics who monitor Parliament), design studio Flat26, and the think tank Ethosfera, which is helping Demócrata with its own ethics and transparency policies.

“We sort of feel like a hub for people who already had innovative ideas about parliamentary information,” Velasco said. “We get a lot of pitches for [collaborations]. When that you’re a small outlet, to grow you have to put springboards in places to get to the next level, and you can’t get there on your own.”

Image generated using Midjourney.

]]> 0
Get amped up for this piece on the twisted journey of Google’s AMP, its ersatz savior of news on phones Mon, 08 May 2023 18:05:26 +0000 If you’ve got the attention span for 6,340 words about an outré web component framework — and don’t lie, you do — I suggest you check out this piece by David Pierce just out at The Verge.

Okay, let me sell that a little better: If you want to understand the relationships between tech companies and news publishers over the past decade — how they have sprouted and shrunk, been tainted and curdled — read this piece on the birth, life, and death of Google AMP. AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) isn’t dead, technically, since it can always be forked into eternal life. But for web publishers, it’s dropped off their developers’ to-do lists.

The story of AMP involves a tech giant worried about being outflanked by its tech giant peers and a news industry anxious for any Silicon Valley sunshine it could get. Google said publishers should start making their web pages in a new way that would make them load more quickly on phones — while centralizing Google’s control of the web. It was part carrot (C’mon, your mobile site sucks, we’ll make it better!) and part stick (It would be a real shame if something terrible happened to your search traffic, wouldn’t it?). The tradeoffs were baked in from the start, and as I wrote at the time, it was “another stop on the path to powerlessness for publishers — another case of tech companies setting the rules.”

In telling the AMP story, Pierce lays out all the forces at play and why many of us were nervous about creating what amounted to a web-within-a-web, where the fundamental architecture of a website is determined by Google. (Not to mention the obvious problem with abusing its market power in search to force those changes on publishers.) You should read the whole thing, but here are a few tasty bits to whet your appetite.

“If Google said, ‘you must have your homepage colored bright pink on Tuesdays to be the result in Google,’ everybody would do it, because that’s what they need to do to survive,” says Terence Eden, a web standards expert and a former member of the Google AMP Advisory Committee.

This “we care about publishers!” dance is a staple of Silicon Valley. Apple briefly promised to save the news business with the iPad, convincing publishers around the world to build bespoke tablet magazines before mostly abandoning that project. Facebook remains in a perpetually whipsawing relationship with the media, too: it will promote stories in the News Feed only to later demote them in favor of “Meaningful Social Interactions,” then promise publishers endless video eyeballs before mostly giving up on Facebook Watch.

The platforms need content to keep users entertained and engaged; publishers need distribution for their content to be seen. At best, it’s a perfectly symbiotic relationship. At worst, and all too often, the platforms simply cajole publishers into doing whatever the platforms need to increase engagement that quarter.

But while publishers had long been wary of the tendency of Big Tech companies to suck up ad dollars and user data, they had seen Google as something closer to a partner. “You meet with a Facebook person and you see in their eyes they’re psychotic,” says one media executive who’s dealt with all the major platforms. “The Apple person kind of listens but then does what it wants to do. The Google person honestly thinks what they’re doing is the best thing.”

“[Google] came to us and said, the internet is broken, ads aren’t loading, blah blah, blah. We want to provide a better user experience to users by coming up with this clean standard,” says one magazine product executive. “My reaction was that the main problem is ads, so why don’t you fix the ads? They said they can’t fix the ads. It’s too hard.”

“The audience people hated it because it was against audience strategy,” says one former media executive who worked with AMP. “The data people hated it because it was against advertising and privacy strategy. The engineers hated it because it’s a horrendous format to work with… The analysts hated it because we got really bad behavioral data out of it. Everyone’s like, ‘Okay, so there’s no upside to this — apart from the traffic.’”

]]> 0
Can AI help local newsrooms streamline their newsletters? ARLnow tests the waters Mon, 08 May 2023 13:32:53 +0000 Scott Brodbeck, the founder of Virginia-based media company Local News Now, had wanted to launch an additional newsletter for a while. One of his sites, ARLnow, already has an automated daily afternoon newsletter that includes story headlines, excerpts, photos, and links sent to about 16,000 subscribers, “but I’ve long wanted to have a morning email with more voice,” he told me recently in a text.

Though it could expand his outlet’s reach — especially, in his words, as email becomes increasingly important “as a distribution channel with social media declining as a traffic source” — Brodbeck didn’t think creating an additional newsletter was an optimal use of reporter time in the zero-sum, resource-strapped reality of running a hyperlocal news outlet.

“As much as I would love to have a 25-person newsroom covering Northern Virginia, the reality is that we can only sustainably afford an editorial team of eight across our three sites: two reporters/editors per site, a staff [photographer], and an editor,” he said. In short, tapping a reporter to write a morning newsletter would limit ARLnow’s reporting bandwidth.

But with the exponential improvement of AI tools like GPT-4, Brodbeck saw an opportunity to have it both ways: He could generate a whole new newsletter without cutting into journalists’ reporting time. So last month, he began experimenting with a completely automated weekday morning newsletter comprising an AI-written introduction and AI summaries of human-written stories. Using tools like Zapier, Airtable, and RSS, ARLnow can create and send the newsletter without any human intervention.

Since releasing the handbook, Amditis has heard that many publishers and reporters “seem to really appreciate the possibility and potential of using automation for routine tasks,” he told me in an email. Like Brodbeck and others, he believes “AI can save time, help small newsrooms scale up their operations, and even create personalized content for their readers and listeners,” though he raised the widely held concern about “the potential loss of that unique human touch,” not to mention the questions of accuracy, reliability and a hornets’ nest of ethical concerns.

Even when instructing AI to summarize content, Amditis described similar challenges to those Brodbeck has encountered. There’s “a tendency for the summaries and bullet points to sound repetitive if you don’t create variables in your prompts that allow you to adjust the tone/style of the responses based on the type of content you’re feeding to the bot,” he said.

But “the most frustrating part of the work I’ve been doing with publishers of all sizes over the last few months is the nearly ubiquitous assumption about using AI for journalism (newsletters or otherwise) is that we’re out here just asking the bots to write original content from scratch — which is by far one of the least useful applications, in my opinion,” Amditis added.

Brodbeck agrees. “AI is “not a replacement for original local reporting,” he said. “It’s a way to take what has already been reported and repackage it so as to reach more readers.”

]]> 0
“The news industry takes advantage of the hate-as-commodity ecosystem” Thu, 04 May 2023 17:21:03 +0000 A new study borrows from fandom literature to ask: What if some of our haters make us stronger?

Fans and anti-fans — the haters, in common parlance — have a lot in common, argues Dr. Jane Yeahin Pyo of the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Both groups amass immense knowledge, react with strong emotions, and have a strong passion for their object of love/hate,” she writes.

Her cross-disciplinary study, published in the most recent issue of Digital Journalism, was based on 40 in-depth interviews with South Korean journalists who have been featured on two (in)famous anti-journalist sites in South Korea — “Reportrash” and “Nolooknews” — that rank journalists weekly. The conversations were anonymized for publication.

South Korea has freedom of information laws that are “in line with international standards,” though legislation on national security and defamation causes media outlets to leave out key details in some stories, according to the 2023 World Press Freedom Index. (The country ranked #47 out of 180 countries; the United States, for context, ranked 45th this year.)

We’ve got to start with the obvious: there’s a wiiiiide spectrum of anti-journalist sentiment, and this study is firmly planted at the “not so bad” end. When Pyo quotes South Korean journalists recounting praise they received from news industry peers after being targeted, it brings to mind reporters who proudly make “blocked by [famous politician’s handle]” their header image on Twitter or share less-than-kind feedback they’ve received.

Some harassment, though, is part of coordinated campaigns designed to undercut public trust in journalism — or silence reporters entirely. (At least 67 media workers were killed in 2022, a sharp increase from the previous year that was driven by deaths in Ukraine, Mexico, and Haiti.) Comments can function as digital media criticism that provides reporters with “a lens to read how the field of journalism is being contested and challenged” by the public, as Pyo puts it — or they can be outright harassment of journalists from underrepresented backgrounds. Press observers — including The Washington Post editorial board — have pointed out online environments are producing “dark alleys of hate, misogyny, and violence aimed at female journalists” in particular. Journalists of color are also particularly vulnerable to online harassment.

In this study, Pyo focused on two types of hate that reporters receive: “aggressive” comments left under news articles and being ranked on the sites “Reportrash” and “Nolooknews.”

The journalists Pyo interviewed outlined some of the social and professional upsides to appearing on the ranked lists — from spikes in pageviews to stronger connections with their peers, audiences, and sources — even as they told her the negative attention after a particularly prominent story could be stressful at best. (Pyo is careful to note that “existing literature on media harassment suggests that journalists maintain an avoidance or ‘don’t care’ mindset to mitigate their stress,” and that harassment tends to be worse for female journalists.)

Some reporters told Pyo that appearing on the online lists had helped them establish a reputation that could be recognized by “loyal” audiences of fans and anti-fans alike. Others said the name-calling was “a verification of their journalistic hunch of understanding what is ‘newsworthy.'” From the study:

“When I received a lot of comments calling me names, I knew that what I published was an exclusive piece, getting good traction,” said Eunjin, a young political journalist who broke a controversial story about the former Korean president. To her, negative and hostile news comments directed at her meant she delivered a scoop that successfully brought audience engagement. Similarly, Minjung explained the culture of her company that equates being hated with being impactful: “For political news, an article that did not receive any negative comments is a failure — no one writes harassing comments [to journalists] if no one cares about what they wrote.”

Another reporter, named Jinyoung, echoed the point: “No one pays attention to people whose jobs can’t make any difference in the world.”

I traded emails with Pyo about her research, the media context in South Korea, and mismatched incentives between news companies and individual journalists. Our conversation, edited slightly for length and clarity, is below.

Sarah Scire: Can you tell me what piqued your interest in doing this research in the first place?

Jane Yeahin Pyo: I started this research because I was researching about the widespread culture of harassing journalists in South Korea: Calling journalists names (“giraegi” is the word that journalists are often called, a combination of gija, journalist, and tsuraegi, trash), writing hateful comments, sending emails, etc.

I first set out to interview journalists to ask how they responded to and coped with these attacks. Many were defensive, saying they don’t mind the trolls so much, which is a common reaction according to the existing literature. But soon, I realized that they were speaking in terms of potentially getting something in return from the trolls, like how celebrities become more famous as they are hated. This is how I came to think about the celebrity/influencer studies aspect.

Scire: You mention the professional rewards that can be gained from engagement from anti-fans. Does this “hater” dynamic change if the news organization has a business model dependent on subscriptions or reader-generated revenue (rather than advertising dependent on metrics like pageviews and clicks)?

Pyo: This is a really interesting question. I don’t think the dynamic would change radically, thinking about the broader attention economy and the trend in celebrity culture. For instance, haters may follow a celebrity’s Instagram account just to express their hate. Likewise, readers may subscribe to a newspaper to access the information they completely disagree with and spread it to their own community. To say that a subscription-based business model would only attract readers with favorable attitudes toward the news organizations would be assuming a strict echo chamber in news exposure, which studies have shown is not always the case.

More importantly, as the logic of the attention economy has permeated so deeply in the online sphere, I can’t possibly imagine a news organization’s business model that is completely separate from the advertising revenue driven by metrics.

Scire: How country-specific do you think these findings are? For example, would you say that the U.S. has something similar to these sites in South Korea that rank journalists as “trash”?

Pyo: The online harassment of journalists is a worldwide phenomenon, for sure. Some forms of harassment are similarly happening in the U.S., such as writing uncivil comments and emails, doxing journalists’ personal information, and calling them names. In the U.S., the online harassment of journalists also takes a collective form, as it is used as a right-wing strategy. Still, the culture of creating anti-journalist websites, sharing information, and ranking journalists is unique to South Korea because of the historical distrust in journalism [Ed. note: More on that below.]

The findings that hate works like capital due to the logic of the attention economy are also applicable beyond South Korea, as U.S. journalists are also pressured to make themselves more visible and accessible to the public.

Scire: In the paper, you mention a “decline in trust in journalism after a series of nation-level misreporting from major news outlets” in South Korea. Can you tell me more about those events? Were those responsible for those lapses featured on the sites “Reportrash” and “Nolooknews”?

Pyo: The misreporting event that I’m referring to is the Sewol Ferry Tragedy that occurred on April 16, 2014. On this day, a ferry with 476 people sank and caused 304 casualties, due to the mixture of problems of overloading, the captain’s incapacity, and the failure of the officials’ timely action.

As the whole Korea saw the ferry full of young high school students fall before their eyes, many were shocked. What left them in more chaos was the news media’s continuous misreporting. Right after the incident, two major national broadcasting television channels reported that everyone on deck was rescued. Minutes later, another breaking news broke out that there were still people trapped in the ferry, and the number kept changing, causing trauma and fury among citizens who were anxiously awaiting the rescue. Even during the rescue process, criticisms soared as journalists unsympathetically tried to interview the survivors and the victims’ families. Scholars attributed the press failure to the new organizations’ pressure for breaking news, competition for audience attention, and a lack of professionalism and ethics.

The use of the derogatory name “giraegi” increased exponentially after this. But [Reportrash and Nolooknews] were created around 2018, so these journalists’ names are not featured on these websites. However, the feeling of distrust and disappointment is the fundamental root of the websites.

Scire: It was fascinating to read the participants reflect on some of the upsides to receiving hate online. Ultimately, would it be fair to say that your work suggests the news industry benefits from haters and anti-fans, but individual journalists don’t benefit? You wrote, “While anti-journalist hate is detrimental to individual journalists, the news media industry is overlooking the threats and putting individual journalists at risk because it regards it as an opportunity to gain traction. In this way, this research is also a critique of how the news media industry is increasingly capitalizing on the heightened visibility and digital publicity of journalists, pushing individuals to expose themselves online.”

Pyo: Yes — the news industry takes advantage of the hate-as-commodity ecosystem! It’s not mentioned in this research, but in my dissertation, I demonstrate how journalists are pushed by news organizations to write news articles that will induce more hate. One memorable quote that I got from one participant — he was ranked first on Reportrash’s List — was that news organizations use journalists as “human bullet shields,” a Korean phrase often used to describe scapegoats. He explained that as “human bullet shields,” journalists were placed at the forefront, alluring trolls’ attention and receiving the attack and harassment, while the company stood back and made more revenues from increasing pageviews.

Scire: There have been calls for newsrooms in the U.S. to act and help stanch harassment of their journalists online. Are there similar calls for the news industry and/or individual newsrooms to take an active role in stopping harassment of their employees in South Korea?

Pyo: In South Korea, the protection of individual journalists is greatly lacking. My participants shared that at the senior and managerial level, there is a lack of proper acknowledgment that journalist trolling is a serious matter. Even for mainstream legacy news organizations, there are no systematic or legal protections. Because of the elitist, macho, and exclusive nature of the Korean journalism field, there is also [an expectation] that a journalist should be able to ignore harassment and criticism. I think news organizations’ awareness of the well-being of journalists is the most important thing.

Scire: Can you tell me more about what you learned about how “the consequences of journalist harassment have been harder for already marginalized journalists”?

Pyo: Numerous studies have already documented that female journalists are more likely to be digitally abused and more likely to suffer severely from the attacks. Female journalists across the globe face sexist and misogynistic comments that attack them based on their gender or sexuality. Female journalists are also more vulnerable to stress and trauma because gender/sexuality-based harassment is so daunting, sometimes even resulting in actual sexual and physical violence.

In my research [in South Korea], as in the U.S. and elsewhere, the attacks on female journalists were more severe and left more damage. Male journalists more often told me that they could cope with trolling, demonstrating a “just live with it” attitude. However, for female journalists, digital harassment viscerally impacted them because the attacks often led to sexual threats or comments that made fun of their appearances. Because of the fear, female journalists also shed away from taking a more active role in their reporting. They feared having their profile photos up on the websites. The fear of harassment also limited Korean female journalists’ work-related opportunities and experiences. For example, the attacks affected the topics and issues that female journalists could [cover], such as sensitive social issues (with feminism or progressive perspectives).

Graffiti photo by Steve Rotman used under a Creative Commons license.

]]> 0
The voices of NPR: How four women of color see their roles as hosts Thu, 04 May 2023 16:42:05 +0000

This story was originally published by The 19th.

Juana Summers is struck by “an incredible sense of responsibility.”

She took over one of the host chairs at “All Things Considered” in June 2022 after many years as a political correspondent for NPR. Now almost a year into her new role, she sees herself as a guide to making the news program — and NPR in general — a place where people can feel represented.

Part of that, Summers believes, starts with the audience knowing her.

“I am never setting at the door that I am a Black woman, I am a stepparent, I am a woman who grew up in the Midwest and lived in a low- and middle-income home growing up, and who went to private religious schools,” said Summers, 34. “All of those dynamics are things that inform how I do my journalism, and the degree in which I lean into any part of that varies from story to story.”

Summers is one of the four women of color — three of them Black — who have taken over hosting duties at flagship NPR programs over the past year. Leila Fadel moved to “Morning Edition” in January 2022, joined just over a year later by veteran NPR host Michel Martin. Ayesha Rascoe became the host of “Weekend Edition Sunday” in March 2022. Their roles extend beyond the voices delivering the headlines. Each are editorial leaders with immense influence over what and who is covered.

“It would seem that after NPR top executives and news managers saw its three most popular women of color hosts departed within the last year, they would have pondered seriously about why these stellar female journalists left, with serious determination to make progressive changes at the public network to recruit and retain women of color hosts,” said Sharon Bramlett-Solomon, an associate professor at Arizona State University and an expert on race and gender in broadcast journalism.

Bramlett-Solomon added that leadership at NPR now faces a unique challenge in showing their commitment “to move forward with dramatic and meaningful transformation in programming inclusion and not simply window dressing on the set.”

Whitney Maddox, who was hired for the newly created diversity, equity and inclusion manager role in January 2021, said that in her role, she has especially focused on women of color at NPR: “What’s happening with them? How are they doing? What do they need?”

She has created a monthly space for women of color at the organization to meet and share about their day-to-day experiences and voice what resources they need. Her work also includes consulting to the flagship programs and checking in on their workplace cultures and how people are supported, including how stories are pitched and edited.

Maddox also started Start Talking About Race, or STAR, which is a twice-monthly event open to everyone in the organization. From these conversations, Maddox said she’s already seen an impact.

“This is moving beyond this space into how people are pitching their stories,” Maddox said. “Editors have come back to me and said, ‘A point that somebody made in STAR — I used that when I brought up a point of how we should think differently about how to source this story.’ There is a process, there is time, there is changing people’s hearts and raising their consciousness to understand why this work is important.”

The leadership of Fadel, Martin, Rascoe, and Summers are key parts in acting on conversations surrounding equity. Their roles in the host chairs are a signal of NPR’s commitment to reflecting their audience, Marrapodi said. “Our job is to be public media for the entire public,” he said. “We’re here for everybody. Our job is to hold a mirror up to society. And this is what society looks like.”

Fadel, 41, is acutely aware that her in the host chair is a representation of what society looks — and sounds — like.

“I just never thought it could happen. Clearly women have held host seats at NPR long before me, and people of color have moved up through the organization, but I just never imagined it,” she said. “How could I have imagined this for myself? There was no one who looked like me, who was an Arab woman, who was Muslim, doing this job.”

“I think about that responsibility and I take it very seriously,” Rascoe said. She said she thinks about her late grandmother, a sharecropper from North Carolina, constantly as she works. “I think about her and I think about my whole family, and I never want to make them not proud of me. I never want them to look at what I’m doing and say, ‘What is she out here doing? How is she representing us? We didn’t raise her that way.’”

Even the sound of her voice has been true to Rascoe’s roots: As her executive producer Sarah Lucy Oliver said, “Ayesha sounds like herself. She says she sounds like a Black woman from Durham, North Carolina.”

Oliver described what she calls “NPR voice” — a low register, stripped of any regional dialects, that registers as white and male — as the prevailing sound of NPR. Rascoe, she said, is a disruption to that.

“For decades, listeners have been accustomed to a particular kind of NPR voice. You can run through the dial and figure out when you’ve landed on an NPR member station,” Oliver said.

Hearing a voice like Rascoe’s “is a definite change in direction, and is exactly the kind of voice NPR wants to bring to the air,” Oliver said. “This is part of the real world. People speak differently. People have different regional accents. People use different kinds of colloquialisms. NPR is trying to sound more like the real world now.”

But Rascoe has had to reckon with the way audiences — used to that staid, white, and masculine NPR voice — perceive her. She has received racist listener feedback: coded messaging urging her to “sound professional,” telling Rascoe about how they don’t like her voice.

Rascoe says this is “all just a way of saying, ‘You are Black, and you are a Black woman from the South, and therefore you are stupid.’” When she first arrived at NPR in 2018 from Reuters, where she was a White House correspondent, it was a shock. “I will not try to pretend that it didn’t hurt and that it wasn’t frustrating,” she said.

Though Rascoe said she has received nothing but support from her colleagues and managers, her experience speaks to the dynamic at play in newsrooms nationwide aspiring to evolve, change and grow in being representative in their journalism.

The work of “disrupting the whiteness that journalists of color so often feel in white newsrooms” is hard and real, Bramlett-Solomon said — but doable, especially when there is real, on-the-ground support from management, with actual dollars behind it to show it.

Rascoe is aware of the fact that by simply being on air in such a high-profile way, she is doing that work of not only changing NPR, but changing American audiences’ expectations more broadly on credibility within the news.

“I have a voice that is not a voice that people necessarily expect — but it’s mine…Hopefully, it helps expand their idea of what authority, what professionalism and what intelligence can sound like,” Rascoe said.

Martin, 63, first joined NPR in 2006 to launch “Tell Me More,” an interview-focused show that aired on NPR member stations nationwide from 2007 to 2014. She then became host of “Weekend All Things Considered,” a position she held until joining “Morning Edition” as one of the hosts in March.

After decades in journalism, and many years at NPR specifically, Martin is deliberate and thoughtful in her imagining of the organization’s future and her role in it. As someone with a long history with the organization — one that includes using her voice to help push NPR forward on how it thinks about and covers race — she brings to her new role the ability to hold the past in the present while continuing to look forward. She said she’s constantly thinking not only about her time at NPR, but the ways journalists of color have worked to serve communities throughout history in how she approaches her role today.

“I just want us to keep getting better,” Martin said. “I want us to keep getting better because if you aren’t, then you are not growing. If you are not growing, then you’re dying.”

Martin steps into leadership at the flagship program at a time when the political climate often makes it tough for journalists to report. Martin says she thinks journalists play an especially important role “to help us understand each other’s experiences.” Without helping audiences dig into the nuances of why people believe what they do — and why the political is so personal for so many — journalists aren’t doing the job they are charged with executing.

“Yes, the words are changing and we’re all having to learn to use different language and to recognize different identities that were perhaps not part of our own experiences before. But that’s life. That’s learning. That’s education. That’s the news,” she said.

Martin said she takes inspiration from the way that Spanish-language and Black newspapers have crafted their coverage strategies.

“The origin of these news outlets was not just to talk about the politics that particularly affected these communities, but also to help people understand how to live in the new world that they were in: telling people things like how to register to vote, how to register your kids for school,” Martin said.

It is exactly this kind of work — often dismissed by editors and audiences alike as “unserious” for being service-oriented or because its target audience is those from historically underrepresented backgrounds — that Martin has always prioritized, and sees as essential now more than ever.

“What I want the most is for us to keep moving forward and not lose sight of our mission, which is to serve the public…I want us to keep doing our jobs because I think the country really needs us,” Martin said. “I want us to get more honest and stronger and more clear in how we serve people by helping them understand the world that does not lead them to carry the baggage of waking up and saying, ‘Whose side am I on today?’ That’s not who we are and I think not being that is so important.”

To think about equitable journalism means to consider the weight and totality of experience that exists behind each voice that feels unheard. That’s something that Martin’s “Morning Edition” co-host Fadel thinks a lot about, too. Fadel said she sees a major part of her job as being someone who can actively make and support a “safe space” for a range of voices, opinions, and perspectives in the editorial process.

Being fully present as herself in the host chair is a critical element of that, Fadel said — while also acknowledging that simply sitting in the seat doesn’t mean her newsroom, or any other, is done with the work of thinking holistically about what representation means in journalism.

“Change doesn’t happen because one person sits in a chair,” Fadel said. “It requires action at every level. This is happening at NPR, but of course there is more work to be done. Diversity isn’t just who is in a newsroom, but whose voices are in a story, and there is still a lot of work to be done there. We have a very diverse newsroom, but we need to always make sure it is more than white men whose voices get to talk about what happened.”

Fadel said she thinks all the time about how her own journalism can help change other people’s — and predominantly white listeners’ — perceptions.

“I didn’t see myself and my family in the stories I saw on the news. My father is from Lebanon and I grew up in Saudi Arabia. Talking about people like my family in the news meant only talking about people who were ensconced in conflict. It was all conflict. But there are real people who exist in these places where there is conflict. And they are nuanced and may all experience pain differently and joy differently and have lives outside of the conflict going on around them.”

Sitting in the host chair at “Morning Edition” is a way that she feels she can change this kind of sentiment across journalism, writ large.

“Representation matters,” she said.

Jennifer Gerson is a reporter at The 19th, where this story was originally published.

Ayesha Rascoe, Michel Martin, Leila Fadel and Juana Summers, four women of color who have taken over host chairs at flagship NPR programs over the past year. Photo by Lexey Swall for The 19th.

]]> 0
A new fellowship, backed by Robert Allbritton, aims to shake up the Capitol Hill reporting pipeline Wed, 03 May 2023 18:27:14 +0000 In Washington, D.C., a new $20 million effort aims to produce more political journalism while making the profession more accessible.

Founded and funded by Politico founder Robert Allbritton, the Allbritton Journalism Institute (AJI) will launch a nonprofit news outlet that covers government and politics, with veteran journalists overseeing an inaugural fellowship class.

Breaking into journalism can be difficult; journalism school is expensive, and entry-level salaries tend to be low. AJI’s stated purpose is to be a training ground for “aspiring journalists from underrepresented backgrounds” to cut their teeth, according to Semafor, which first reported on the initiative.

“It takes time and repetition to get good at journalism — to build sources, to identify stories, to report them out and write them and present them in a way that actually serves the intended audience,” said Tim Grieve, the former Politico Pro and Protocol editor-in-chief who will lead the institute’s (as-yet unnamed) publication. “We want to give aspiring reporters that time, without asking them to take on student loans or find some other job to support themselves.”

The fellows will be paid $60,000 per year for two years, with benefits. AJI plans to hire 10 fellows to begin this September and add another 10 each year; by September 2004, 10 first-year fellows and 10 second-years will be working on a mix of assigned and self-created beats, Grieve said. The fellowship application (due May 31) asks questions like “Where and how do you get your news?” and “If you were going to change one thing about Washington journalism, what would it be, and why?”

This September, the selected fellows will take a four-week “immersion course in the practical application of journalism skills, from ethics and newsgathering to writing and distribution,” before they start reporting and writing. Throughout the two years, they’ll continue to attend seminars and workshops while also reporting. The teaching faculty so far includes Atlantic staff writer Tim Alberta, Washington Post local enterprise reporter DeNeen L. Brown, and The Independent’s Washington correspondent Eric M. Garcia. The newsroom will be led by Grieve, former BuzzFeed News politics editor Matt Berman, former Washington Post Magazine editor Richard Just, and former Axios senior editor Kate Nocera.

Why a journalism institute with a stacked newsroom attached instead of a new newsroom with a robust fellowship program? Allbritton may have his hands tied after selling Politico off to Axel Springer for more than $1 billion in 2021. As Semafor’s Tani reported, “the Politico founder said that while he agreed to some restrictions about his own next business moves as part of the deal (primarily not turning around and starting a Politico competitor), the two sides also agreed to carve out space for Allbritton to pursue nonprofit opportunities.”

With trust in the news media at an all-time low, Grieve said he hopes the fellows will help readers understand “why people in power (or people who want power) think what they think and do what they do — which all helps to explain what Washington does (or doesn’t) do.”

In addition to Politico, Allbritton has launched other news outlets. In 2010, he launched the Washington, D.C. local news site TBD, which ran for six months before being shut down. The tech-focused Protocol had layoffs soon after launch in 2020, then was shut down in 2022 after Politico’s sale.

But the stated purpose of AJI’s associated publication is to develop journalists who will go on to work at other news organizations. According to the site’s FAQ, “By the end of the program, graduates will have the background necessary to cover the inner workings of Washington — and will be ready to take on reporting jobs at the country’s best outlets.”

“A handful of newsrooms have great training programs, and we’d love to learn from their successes. But many don’t, either because they have no one to train or not enough people to train them,” Grieve said. “On an individual level, all the editors I know wish they had more time to mentor their reporters, but they’re under so much pressure to produce that they just can’t do it. We’re turning that on its head: Our editors’ first job is teaching and training their reporters; the journalism they produce will be the result.”

Correction: A previous version of this story suggested that Robert Allbritton shut down Protocol. It was actually shut down after Allbritton sold it with Politico to Axel Springer.

Photo by Jorge Alcala on Unsplash.

]]> 0
“A stately pleasure barge of a site”: For people who miss websites, there’s a new blog in town Wed, 03 May 2023 12:00:16 +0000 It’s been quite a week for people who like fun on the internet. First there was the sudden rise of Twitter competitor Bluesky, spurring headlines like “I regret to inform you that Bluesky is fun.” And now there’s The Stopgap, a new blog from writers Daniel M. Lavery (who cofounded, with Nicole Cliffe, the beloved and now-defunct The Toast and was Slate’s Dear Prudence) and Jo Livingstone (who previously wrote for The New Republic and Bookforum).

“I think anybody who has in the past enjoyed reading the internet purely for fun can see that there’s a real dearth of URLs to type into one’s address bar these days,” Livingstone told me in a chat with Lavery this week. We conducted the interview in a live Google Doc — my way of allowing both of their internet voices to operate at a maximum, and eliciting comparisons of The Stopgap to “a stately pleasure barge of a site” (Lavery) or “a burnish’d throne??” (Livingstone). The Stopgap launched Wednesday morning, and you can read it here.

Laura Hazard Owen: Hi both. How did you decide to launch The Stopgap, and how you are you envisioning it? Also, why did you call it “The Stopgap”?

Jo Livingstone: Danny texted me and asked if I wanted to make a website with him. Which is funny, because I had thought about it too, because it just seemed — obvious? Right? Inevitable?

Danny Lavery: This is incredible, because I would have sworn up and down that it was Jo’s idea. Was it seriously me who said something first?

Livingstone: Laura, clearly we haven’t conferred, so let’s say we thought of it instantaneously at the same time. I do take credit for the motto of “It’s better than nothing,” which seems to encapsulate a lot about why we came up with The Stopgap and what it’s for. And then the name went with the motto in a rhythmically satisfying way.

I think anybody who has in the past enjoyed reading the internet purely for fun can see that there’s a real dearth of URLs to type into one’s address bar these days.

Lavery: Two minds with but a single etc.! I certainly remember having conversations with Jo throughout the last year, often after news came out that Bookforum was closing, or Paper was laying off its staff — just along the lines of “We used to have so many websites. Who knew you could miss websites so much,” which eventually turned into joking about the idea of putting up something small and obviously inadequate just to sort of stem the tide. So the idea of a stopgap was there from the beginning. Obviously neither of us thought “Let’s resurrect Bookforum,” or anything like that. And like all the best decisions in my life, it sort of jumped over the “just kidding” line without my having realized it after a series of escalating dares. “We should do it,” “Someone should do it,” “Bring back websites,” “We have a meeting with two people, impossibly also named Daniel and Joe, on Thursday to start our website.” That felt like an omen, or at least a portent of some kind.

Owen: You’re not going to pay writers, they’ll just have tip jars — which, in an everything-old-is-new-again way, feels innovative. You’re going into this without a business model or worries about scale or, like, how you’re going to monetize, and you’re not promising writers will be paid well or at all. There’s an implication that this is being done out of joy, which has been so lacking from basically all media recently! Tell me how you’re thinking about money for this from both your side and the writers’ side — like side gig, pleasure blog, etc.?

Lavery: Right, we’re not even paying ourselves. I think we’re both looking for day jobs at the moment, as it happens, so if you hear about anything either of us might be a good fit for, please let us know. It will be a stately pleasure barge of a site, is my hope. It might be possible to make money from a general-interest blog, but it’s very difficult, and if my own experience has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t know how to make money from a general-interest blog. And I’d rather do this and make money elsewhere.

So the idea is that the vast majority of the writing on the site will come from Jo and self, but we’ll be able to publish at a comfortable rate — since we’re not trying to keep to a publication schedule that attracts advertisers — and occasionally put up a post from anyone else who cares to join us. The tip jar was very much Jo’s idea. Maybe it will result in all our guest writers being able to buy themselves a stamp or a cup of hearty soup or something! Who can say.

Livingstone: So for me the barge is more like a burnish’d throne?? Danny’s subtly alluding there to the website he founded and co-ran with Nicole Cliffe, The Toast, which is legendary and the reason that nobody would ever hesitate for even a moment to become a co-proprietor with him on an internet concern.

The money stuff is interesting. Put together, Danny and I have sort of madly comprehensive experience working in different types of publishing, at different ends of the process. Danny has published 10,000 books and run a whole publication in the past, and I’ve worked business jobs at literary nonprofits and writer jobs at “regular” magazines, and events at NYC hotels, and…every kind of job you can think of. Not to brag, but if there was an obvious way to make money here I feel like I would know about it.

There’s only one way that people on the social internet feel comfortable and well-practiced in sending money to strangers: When they know the other person’s name, have some basis for independently assessing whether or not they want to give them money, and they’re already familiar with the process. For some people, maybe that context is typing in their credit card details manually into The New York Times’ website. For most people, it’s throwing a few bucks to somebody who has earned it or needs it via Venmo, CashApp, PayPal, etc.

The tip jar idea encapsulates a lot of what has changed in the topography of the internet since the “golden age of blogging.” Those are heavy irony quotation marks because obviously people have always pumped disgusting shit into the world. There are better free or cheap CMSes available. Small financial transactions are in a different universe.

In short, we pictured what we wanted and then took the absolute shortest route available towards creating it. Right now, for example, I’m playing with a complicated subscription model built into the product we’re using, because I want to turn on comments. But that’s oddly easy, because the product thinks I want to make my living from emails! It’s interesting — we’re just throwing our needs and wants at the internet and seeing what’s sticking. The thing we need and want the most is to enjoy ourselves.

Owen: Ha, yeah, so speaking of making your living from emails! Talk to me a little bit about Substack and also why Jo said The Stopgap would “produce no podcasty newslettery bullshit.” Really, just feel free to vomit out your thoughts on Substack.

Livingstone: I was kidding! Because there are so many incredible newsletters and podcasts out there. Not least Danny’s fabulous one, and all the ones I’ve guested on. However! When a new product shifts from being an exciting available option to feeling compulsory, it’s like you can hear a gigantic creak resounding through the world from all the joy going out of it. Does that make sense? A blog can be a blog, and it doesn’t need to be anything else. Commercial imperatives change from year to year or month to month, but if you don’t have commercial motives there’s no reason you have to take them into account at all. I guess I meant “bullshit” like “work I could be doing right now but am choosing not to.”

Lavery: I’ve made good money at Substack! I have no complaints about making money. “If you like your newsletter, you can keep your newsletter.” Which I’m still doing, to be clear. But writing a newsletter is very different from a website — I missed having colleagues, someone else to develop ideas with. And I take Jo’s line about “podcasty newslettery bullshit” not to mean “half of Daniel’s output over the last five years has been worthless garbage” so much as a charming, off-the-cuff way of making it clear from the jump that this was about blogging for blogging’s sake! I think both Jo and I are very interested in a similar kind of productive idleness, or idle business.

Besides which, sometimes I want to write more often, but I don’t want to email my newsletter subscribers six times a week. If I were to imagine the Platonic ideal of a Daniel Lavery “guy,” who is my biggest supporter in the world and reads every single thing I’ve ever written, I don’t think even he would want to get a newsletter email from me every single day. You can only email people so much!

Livingstone: Danny could not publish garbage or speak it with his mouth if he TRIED.

Owen: Awesome, OK. is there anything else that either of you want to add?

Livingstone: I wanted to note that, personally, this might seem like a big strategic decision or whatever, but really it’s just about what felt necessary to create in order to even keep going. I got laid off from The New Republic, where I’d worked for five years, a little over a year ago. Then my visa expired and I applied for a green card. That means I’ve been unable to work for months, supported by my incomparably excellent partner, bereft of my nice comfortable spot in the media landscape, and generally I kind of lost direction and had no idea what to do.

Now that my green card finally got approved (!!) I feel able to look up and around me suddenly, to realize that my wonderful friend Danny helped me get to make a website that could have gotten me through the last shitty year of my life with a little more ease, and maybe will help someone else. You need to have papers in order to “work” in journalism. You do not need papers to blog. And for that I am so very grateful.

Lavery: Yes, the idea of working together with Jo was something I really wanted to do! And would gladly do for free. I just think this will be pretty fun. And if it’s ever too much work, we’ll just work less on it! But there ought to be a little website. People ought to be able to type a little something into their address bar and get to look at something interesting, every once in a while, else what’s a heaven for!

The Stopgap’s logo is designed by Hallie Bateman.

]]> 0
Behold: News outlets’ first skeets Tue, 02 May 2023 16:06:48 +0000 Several news organizations are on Bluesky, the app where “the people on it won’t shut up about it.” Here are their inaugural skeets. More to come, surely. (Follow Nieman Lab on Bluesky here.)

The Baffler



Dame Magazine

Detroit Metro Times

Discourse Blog

Hell Gate

The Intercept

Media Matters

Nieman Lab

The Onion

Sahan Journal


]]> 0
Micropayments. Elon Musk thinks he’s got a “major win-win” for news publishers with…micropayments. Mon, 01 May 2023 18:59:12 +0000 One of the remarkable things about watching Elon Musk “run” Twitter is the ability to observe his learning curve in real time.

People have been running social platforms and media companies for literal decades, after all, all while Musk was busy with cars and spaceships and whatnot. A fair number of lessons have been learned! But Musk — so resolutely convinced of his own genius — has dedicated himself to making old mistakes new again, compressing a lifetime of bad ideas into six short months.1 It’s his most reliable pattern: announce a crazy new policy, preferably on a weekend; face huge blowback from users; reverse the policy, claim you were misinterpreted all along or just pretend it never happened.

So when I saw this tweet on Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.

Since embeds of his new longer-than-280-characters tweets don’t show the full text, here’s what it says:

Rolling out next month, this platform will allow media publishers to charge users on a per article basis with one click.

This enables users who would not sign up for a monthly subscription to pay a higher per article price for when they want to read an occasional article.

Should be a major win-win for both media orgs & the public.

Fiiiiiiiiiinally, Elon turns his attention to micropayments. (Pretty sure this is in the Book of Revelation somewhere.)

The idea of news publishers charging readers by the article is not a new one. At least once an hour, someone tweets about “why hasn’t anyone figured out how to let me buy one article????” Literally dozens of micropayments-for-news startups have come and gone; dozens of publishers have run tests of various models; none have gained much traction.

Even today, well into the 2020s, you can find people saying the dream is an “iTunes for news” that — as the iTunes Store did 20 years ago — allows you to buy a single song (an article) rather than the full album (a subscription). (They say this despite the fact that approximately zero people still buy MP3s that way; instead, they pay a monthly subscription fee to Spotify or Apple.)

I’ve long been a micropayments skeptic. Not because I have any philosophical issue with the idea; I’m all for publishers making money and readers consuming news. My skepticism is driven by it being a strategy that sounds appealing but works poorly in practice. Others have written about the problems with micropayments at great length, but here are, to my mind, the most significant:

Friction at the story level.

What do people do when they hit a news site’s paywall? We have some data on that question, from a Gallup/Knight Foundation survey last fall. They asked American adults: “Suppose you were trying to access a news story online and had to pay to keep reading or watching it. Which ONE of the following would you be most likely to do?”

48% said they would “try to access the information elsewhere for free from a different news outlet.” 28% would “move on to something else or to a different news story.” 7% would “try to find information about the news story on social media.” 4% would “sign up for a free trial if available.” 3% would try to “get the story through friends or family who already have access.”

A measly 1% would “pay for access to the story or outlet.”

In the overwhelming majority of cases, a person faced with the need to pay a news site money will say “no, thank you.” You can view that as an artifact of subscription models, or you can view it as evidence of how transient most news stories are in people’s information lives. It’s hard to evaluate how much an individual article is “worth” before you’ve actually consumed it — and there is always free competition available, either on the same topic or in the broader universe of “things to click on in my feed.”

Friction at the payment level.

If an individual publisher sets up their own micropayments system, getting money will require readers setting up an account, attaching a credit card, and all the usual stuff that moving money online requires. Not many people will do that to read a single news story.

So maybe they sign on to one of the many micropayment startups that want to create an industry-wide network of news sites using a common payment platform — either as part of a pan-publisher subscription or on a pay-per-article basis. Unfortunately, none of them have the scale to be appealing or the appeal to build scale. (“Just sign up with your NewzBux account!” isn’t much of a pitch to your readers if they’ve never heard of NewzBux, or InfoCents, or FactCoins, or whatever.) And the companies that might be able to start with scale (Google, Facebook) are not ones that publishers trust with their money. And whoever owns the pipes, they’ll want their 30% cut.

Most paywalls aren’t that hard.

In a digital universe where every news story is behind a hard paywall — one impenetrable to the non-paying reader — then a micropayments model might make sense. But that’s not the digital universe we live in. The number of completely paywalled sites is low and typically either hyperlocal (a county-seat weekly with no competition) or high-end (think The Information or Politico Pro). Nearly all news sites will let a random web user read a story (or two, or five) for free. It’s only after a given number of clicks that the wall goes up.

If you want to think of that as “news sites already offer micropayments for those first five articles — they’ve just set the price at $0,” be my guest. And for those times when someone really wants to read just one article, that free allotment allows all the paywall workarounds that the savvy digital news consumer knows about. (We’re all adults here; we can talk about incognito windows.) If most paywalls aren’t that hard, there’s little pressure for a paid product to get around them on a single story.

No one agrees on what micropayments are.

Is a micropayment 10 cents for one article? That was the number Elon Musk was thinking about in this video from November, when he complained that he should be able to pay 10 cents to read an especially good Philadelphia Inquirer story despite not living in Philadelphia.

If there is a sustainable price for journalism, it isn’t 10 cents an article. A large scale data analysis from Medill found that digital news subscribers don’t even visit those news sites on most days. For small local news sites, the typical subscriber visits once every three days. At larger sites, it’s once every five days. Those visits can include consuming multiple articles, of course, but the point is 10 cents an article would be a radical price reduction for most subscribers — and thus a radical revenue reduction for most publishers. Price points will have to be higher — and thus less appealing to fly-by readers.

Publishers don’t want to cannibalize subscribers.

It’s not at all unusual for a business to insist on their product being purchased in a particular quantity. Try to go to the grocery store and buy one peanut M&M, or one tablespoon of ice cream, or a single Corn Flake. They’ll look at you funny, because the businesses that manufacture those consumer goods have been structured around selling bags, pints, and boxes of them, respectively. Go ask the people at Tesla if you can buy a Roadster that’s only for the weekends — at 2/7ths of the price. The economics of information goods (like news) aren’t identical to those of physical goods, but they both require sustainable business models, and for most quality news sites, that requires paid subscriptions.

And that’s the root problem, from publishers’ point of view: If you sell subscriptions for $15 a month, but you sell individual articles at 15 cents each, you’re telling any subscriber who reads less than 100 articles a month they’re an idiot and should give you less money. There aren’t enough payment-willing fly-by customers to make up the difference for even a few lost subscribers. You’re encouraging your best customers to think of you as an occasional treat rather than a service you pay for — and to pause before every headline they click to estimate its worth in cash. It shouldn’t be surprising than “we’ll charge you $10 a month until you tell us to stop” is more appealing than “we’ll charge you 10 cents now and maybe you’ll come back again someday.”

As Tony Haile once smartly put it, news subscriptions are like gym memberships. Imagine a gym that charges $50 a month for a membership — but also lets anyone pop in for a single workout for two bucks. Why would anyone pay for a membership again? “If you would take the micropayments version of a gym membership, it would be like, ‘I can turn up and I can pay a couple of quid, and I can go into the gym whenever I want to use it.’ No gym works like that.”

All that said — these problems are not insurmountable. Smart people might come up with solutions, even if they haven’t so far. Indeed, I’ve long believed that if anyone could create a micropayment system for news that worked, there were only two real possibilities: Apple and Twitter.

With iPhones, iPads, and Macs, Apple controls the devices that most paying digital news consumers use. They have hundreds of millions of users’ credit cards already on file and attached to your identity. And with Apple Pay, they have a nearly frictionless payment platform that has already been integrated into countless apps and websites. If they decided to offer a “Read With Apple Pay” button for news sites, the technical problems of micropayments would mostly go away. (Along with 30% of publishers’ revenue, no doubt.) And Apple News+ is the closest thing to an all=news subscription that currently exists.2

Twitter, meanwhile, is the center of the digital news universe. There is no place online with more news-curious users clicking links to new-to-them news sites. And it showed interest in the subject, buying Tony Haile’s Scroll and integrating its network of ad-free news sites into Twitter Blue and teasing some sort of paywall integration on the way.

But that was the old Twitter. One of Musk’s first decisions after taking charge was killing off the remnants of Scroll — the closest thing to a foundation for a pan-publisher revenue model anyone had.

Unless you are one of the few Twitter Blue subscribers, Twitter doesn’t have your credit card number. It has no ready payment platform for publishers to integrate into their sites. Twitter would likely only be interested in a payment system that goes through Twitter, not via links that go to a publisher site from Facebook, Google, or elsewhere.

But let’s be honest: The biggest problem is Elon. What mainstream publisher would trust Elon Musk with their money right now? The guy who refuses to pay the rent on his corporate HQ? The guy who has spent the past six months dumping on the media, banning reporters, declaring their work a “relentless hatestream” from “media puppet-masters” that you “cannot rely on…for truth“? This is the guy who says he has a “major win-win” for publishers? The same guy that complains “media is a click-machine, not a truth-machine” thinks the answer is tempting people to pay with a single headline?

(Not to mention that Musk has no deadline cred remaining, and saying that micropayments will “roll out” later this month could mean this summer, late 2024, or never.)

Maybe someone will figure out micropayments for news someday. I think it’s unlikely at scale — but I could be wrong! But I am quite confident the man who has spent the past half-year destroying the news media’s favorite online space won’t be the one to do it.

  1. I believe it was Techdirt’s Mike Masnick I first saw using this metaphor for Musk, specifically around content moderation.
  2. Pro tip: Apple News+ now includes, along with roughly all the magazines, The Wall Street Journal, the L.A. Times, The Times of London, The Globe and Mail, and the metro dailies in Charlotte, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Kansas City, Miami, Raleigh, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, plus a few more. If you run into a random local-news paywall, there’s a pretty decent chance that searching for the headline in Apple News might find it. It’s now a much better product for newspapers than it was at launch.
]]> 0
Searching for gold: Making sense of academic research about journalism Thu, 27 Apr 2023 14:32:00 +0000 Do academics know secrets about journalism that working reporters and editors don’t know?

For curious journalists like me, spending time reading academic research about journalism and democracy reveals a mixed picture.

There’s plenty of research to show that journalism is still a critical part of an engaged society. Decades of evidencebased studies show a correlation between news consumption and political engagement. People who read more news tend to vote more regularly and engage more in their own community.

Newer academic studies tend to look at very specific practices around types of journalism and find insights particular to certain beats or coverage areas — and there’s quite a lot of it. Just a few examples include how journalists use empathy in covering homelessness, whether fact-checking changes false beliefs, and how audiences react to watching coverage of terrorism.

But keeping track of all that academic research across subject areas is no easy task. Here’s where professors Mark Coddington and Seth Lewis have stepped up an email newsletter (hosted on Substack) that aims to showcase the most compelling research published each month. The newsletter is called RQ1, and Nieman Lab republishes it each month.

Want more? Subscribe to our newsletter here and have Nieman Lab’s daily look at the changing world of digital journalism sent straight to your inbox.

Coddington and Lewis are both former journalists who became academics. (For several years, Coddington wrote the “Week in Review” column for Nieman Lab.) They now study their former colleagues amid a changing digital news environment, tackling issues of data journalism, social media, news engagement and news aggregation. (Coddington is at Washington and Lee University, while Lewis is at University of Oregon.)

“We’ve had trouble ourselves keeping up with the constant flow of new research on news and journalism, and we want to help you keep up with it as we try to wade through it as well,” they write in the newsletter.

As editor-in-chief of PolitiFact, I have a high interest in keeping up with academic research on fact-checking, and as a Nieman Fellow I’ve been studying research about the connection between journalism and democracy, so I reached out to Coddington and Lewis with a few questions. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Angie Drobnic Holan: When you’re putting together the newsletter each month, is there just a gusher of research to go through? And have you noticed changes in the research over the years?

Mark Coddington: I feel at times overwhelmed by the gusher of research that is out there. Almost every major journal that regularly publishes sends out email alerts when they publish a study, so I subscribe to all of those. And then there are others that I check regularly as well. Any new research goes into a spreadsheet, and that spreadsheet runs to about 75 to 80 articles a month. And that’s a lot of research — a lot. For the newsletter, we select the ones that we think would be of most interest to journalists or researchers.

Seth Lewis: The study of communication has been around for about 100 years, but the focused study of journalism in this field that we now call journalism studies is really only about two decades old. And in fact, that began with the founding of the journals Journalism and Journalism Studies, which both appeared in 2000. The journal Journalism Practice came out in 2007, and then Digital Journalism was launched in 2013…So there has been a real flourishing of research about news in the last two decades, which, of course, kind of ironically tracks the period in which newspapers have contracted. The news industry has seen its fortunes crumble in the last couple of decades, while space and attention given to research about journalism has grown dramatically.

Holan: What are the areas currently in journalism research that are really robust and productive?

Coddington: One of those areas is sociology of journalism, especially the practice of journalism during this time of immense change. Since the late 2000s or so, a lot of strong research looks at how journalists do their jobs, and how it has changed in so many different areas. Researchers have studied the values journalists bring to their work, and how the values changed. A lot of these are practice-oriented sociological questions.

Holan: Do you think it’s helpful for working journalists to read this research?

Lewis: When I worked at the Miami Herald, I remember that sometimes I would wander over to different parts of the newsroom, and near the executive editor’s office there was a coffee table with various reading materials, probably for people who were waiting to meet with the editor. And on that coffee table was a copy of Newspaper Research Journal, which is another journal that covers research about news. And I remember, as a journalist, picking this up and flipping through it and thinking, “What is the purpose of this research? None of this seems very relevant to what we do.” It was a flippant response, and now it’s sort of ironic that I do research about news. But there is research about journalism that, depending on how it’s framed and conducted, can feel pretty detached from the actual working realities of journalism. As journalism research has become more established academically, it’s tended toward specialization and some degree of jargon and terminology that’s opaque.

But strong research does exist, and it has a lot of relevance for journalists. And nowadays, given all of the kinds of networks and social media and email alerts that exist, the opportunities for journalists to come into contact with that good research and find value from it are much greater than ever before.

Coddington: I think it’s partly a question of the level of engagement. As far as deep engagement with journalism research, I’m not sure that’s the best investment of time for an incredibly busy journalist. Because it’s hard for me, on top of my job that actually includes this, to deeply engage with and read and fully understand multiple news studies a month — and to actually understand what they’re saying and how they’re engaging with other areas of research. That’s beyond what a journalist should reasonably be expected to do, and I’m not sure it’s the best investment of their time, because it takes a long time to really thoroughly read and understand an academic study.

But I think some familiarity with research in the field is helpful for journalists to just understand and think a little bit more deeply about what they’re doing.

If you can get an introduction to at least some of the ideas of how people have thought about how journalists do their jobs, it can really help you think from a different angle of what is actually going on in your job, and potentially how to do it better.

Holan: When you write the RQ1 newsletter, what audience do you have in mind? Is it just journalists, or nonjournalists as well?

Coddington: When we started, my intended audience was journalists, but it was also busy academics who want to keep up with research but simply don’t have time. I also thought of it as written for first-year graduate students. That is still, in my head, sort of my happy medium, because somebody in their first month of a master’s program is still learning about this stuff.

Lewis: I also imagine that we might be able to reach people who are interested in news and journalism, even if they’re not actually working journalists. There are people who find news fascinating and interesting, or people who just like to be informed about what’s happening in the world of journalism, because they find it an intriguing space. We want to make sure that the really good stuff rises to the top and gets the notice that it deserves.

Social media has changed the game, and academics have used Twitter as a key medium to talk about their work — to get it noticed, not only by fellow researchers, but also by journalists. But we’ve also seen ways in which these social networks are kind of uneven and problematic. Many academics have pulled back on their use of Twitter. And so there’s a sense that email is the ultimate common denominator. An email newsletter is something that everybody can easily tap into.

Holan: I see a lot of research about journalism coming from a lot of different academic fields, from computer scientists or librarians or philosophers. It can be research that crosses a lot of academic borders. Do you see that?

Lewis: I would say that journalism has become more interesting precisely because its fortunes have become more uncertain. It’s the inherent instability in the space that makes it so fascinating to many researchers. Whether they’re coming from sociology, political science, economics, or computer science, each of them can find in this a highly dynamic space where there’s a lot of uncertainty as to what it’s going to look like in five years or 10 years, and what will happen to legacy players compared to emerging upstarts, and what will be the knock on-effects of losing newspapers in communities, and what the loss of news media means for declines in civic participation, and so on. I think there’s a growing interest in fields to look at the changing dynamics of journalism as a way to examine larger patterns in society.

Coddington: Fundamentally, it can be easy for academics in journalism studies to forget that journalism is actually an object of study rather than a field academically in itself. There is a field of journalism studies, but fundamentally, that’s not an academic discipline, like sociology or anthropology, or philosophy, or something like that. Journalism is an object of study. And I think the more disciplinary lenses through which we can look at it the better. And yes, most often it’s been looked at through a social scientific lens that is housed within communication as a field. But it’s equally legitimate to study it through an economic lens, or a political science lens, or an historical lens.

Holan: Some journalists are starting to do more research on themselves. I work in fact-checking journalism, and many fact-checking newsrooms have put out their own studies on how they see their field developing and what effects fact-checking produces. It might not be considered scholarly, but it is serious research.

Coddington: You asked earlier whether journalists should know about academic research, and I would say that if somebody is going into fact-checking, do they need to read all the research on fact-checking? No, that would take too long to read. You should just focus on being a better fact-checker. But, should you read Lucas Graves’ book, Deciding What’s True? Yes, you absolutely should read that book, if you are going to go into fact-checking in any form. It will help you think so much better about what you’re doing.

Holan: I keep running into sociologist Michael Schudson’s work every time I work on any project about journalism and democracy. His book The Sociology of News influenced me a lot. What books have shaped you?

Coddington: I think every journalism scholar has a book that they either read as a journalist, if they were a journalist, or early on in graduate school — there was a book that kicked open the door to a new way of thinking, and that they would probably recommend to every  journalist. For me, it’s Gaye Tuchman’s Making News: A Study in the Construction of Reality, from 1978. Almost every paper I write her work has influenced in some form that I have to cite. She’s a sociologist, and the way that she thought about how journalists know what they know, and how they put that all together within the thought-professional environment that they live in, on a day-to-day basis…It just felt like a new way of thinking about it, that honestly colors and informs so much of the way we talk about the way journalists do their jobs, whether people have read the book or not.

Lewis: For me, it wasn’t so much a book as it was blogging. In particular, it was Jay Rosen’s PressThink blog. I was working as a journalist, but when I had various breaks and downtime, I found that I was gravitating more and more to PressThink, around 2004 to 2005. He was in a sense kind of doing public scholarship through that blog. He was writing about news, although not in a research-driven way, but he was bringing a critical evaluative lens to it that I found really fascinating. It was prompting me to ask questions about the work I was doing, and about how those questions could be explored more fully. When Jay Rosen talked about people formerly known as the audience, as he famously did in 2006, that concept really resonated with me, in a way that ended up informing some of my early research into participatory journalism.

But I also remember when I decided to go back and do a Ph.D., I asked someone what I should read in preparation, and they recommended Herbert Gans’s book, Deciding What’s News, from 1979. That and Tuchman’s book stand as these two pillars of journalism research from the 20th century that still have such a shaping influence on the way we study the sociology of news today.

I do think there is real value in finding those important books that bring together the research on a given topic, either as one of the first key things written about the topic, or because it summarizes a lot of existing research. As an example, my friend and collaborator, Sue Robinson, has a book coming this year called How Journalists Engage: A Theory of Trust Building, Identities, and Care. It will be a book that tells the story of engagement and journalism, which has been one of the really robust areas of research over the past five to 10 years. And so she’ll both synthesize what has been done, but also bring her own new original research to it. That’s the kind of book that a journalist would benefit from reading at least a couple of chapters. They would get a lot out of that, as opposed to trying to summarize and skim 40 or 50 articles.

Holan: Final question: Why do you call the newsletter RQ1?

Coddington: When writing research papers, RQ1 is the shorthand for the first research question. So when you have multiple research questions you will shorten it to say, RQ1, RQ2, RQ3, and then hypotheses are H1, H2, H3. So it is a bit of academic shorthand that almost any academic in our field would get. And for anybody else, at least it wouldn’t turn them off.

Lewis: I think it’s appropriate we call it RQ1 and not H1, because in the field of journalism research, we tend to ask research questions rather than pose hypotheses. Hypotheses work well for studies of things that are well-established, where things feel stable and you’re looking for incremental forms of change. But the study of journalism tends to involve more exploratory, inductive forms of qualitative analysis. That generally begins with research questions as opposed to hypotheses. And that really speaks to the nature of this work right now, that the future of journalism is very much in flux. It’s very much this open-ended question. Our purpose is to point to the research questions that are being asked and answered, and to gesture to more questions yet to be explored.

Angie Drobnic Holan is editor-in-chief of PolitiFact and a 2023 Nieman Fellow.

]]> 0
How archivists are working to capture not just tapes of old TV and radio but the experience of tuning in together Thu, 27 Apr 2023 14:15:55 +0000 We’ve lived with broadcasting for more than a century. Starting with radio in the 1920s, then television in the 1950s, Americans by the millions began purchasing boxes designed to receive electromagnetic signals transmitted from nearby towers. Upon arrival, those signals were amplified and their messages were “aired” into our lives.

Those invisible signals provided our kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms with access to jazz clubs, baseball stadiums, and symphony halls. For a century, they have been transporting us instantly to London, Cairo, or Tokyo, or back in time to the Old West or deep into the imagined future of interplanetary travel.

The reception of those radio, then television, signals didn’t just inform us, they shaped us. Everyone experienced broadcasting individually and collectively, both intimately and as members of dispersed crowds.

Radio and television fostered an ephemeral and invisible public arena that expanded our understanding of the world — and ourselves. Whether it was the final episodes of radio serials like “Gangbusters”, or television’s “M*A*S*H” or “Seinfeld,” Americans often marked the passage of time by shared broadcast experiences.

Even today, more Americans use standard AM/FM radio broadcasting than TikTok. At a time when most Americans get their news from local TV stations and broadcast television networks, and radio remains pervasive, it might seem frivolous to express concern about preserving technologies so deeply embedded in daily life.

Yet a media evolution is occurring, as paid subscription video streaming and audio services climb in popularity, and fewer Americans are consistently tuning in to broadcast media.

Demise of shared moments

The broadcasting era is becoming eclipsed by new media technologies. In the era of TV and radio dominance, “mass media” was defined by shared experiences.

But now, new media technologies — cable TV, the web, and social media — are changing that definition, segmenting what was once a huge, undifferentiated mass audience. All those new media fragmented what were once huge collectives. Bottom line: We’re not all watching or hearing the same thing anymore.

With fewer Americans simultaneously sharing media experiences, the ramifications of this evolution stretch beyond the media industries and into our culture, politics, and society.

The shared moments that electrified and unified the nation — from President Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats to TV news coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and up through the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — have become more rare. Even national events, such as a presidential election, are different today in that our collective experiences now seem more individualized and less communal. People get their news about presidential elections from sources with radically different perspectives on what used to be shared facts.

The very idea of collectively tuning in to history as it happens has been altered, as the profusion of channels and platforms now funnels audience members into self-segregated affinity groups where messages are shaped more for confirmation than enlightenment.

How to remember

As we move into this new media world, broadcasting risks being relegated to the rustic past like other old media such as the rotary telephone, the nickelodeon, the 78-rpm phonograph, and the DVD.

That’s why, from April 27–30, 2023, the Library of Congress is hosting a conference, titled “A Century of Broadcasting,” that invites scholars, preservationists, archivists, museum educators and curators, fans and the public to discuss the most effective ways to preserve broadcasting’s history.

The goal of the conference, convened by the Library of Congress’ Radio Preservation Task Force, is to begin envisioning the future of this technology’s past. As a radio historian and member of the Radio Preservation Task Force, I was invited to serve on the conference organizing team. Panels, papers, and presentations will look at how broadcasting is currently being archived, and how we, as a society, can think more systematically and formally about how we’ll remember broadcasting. While the task force is primarily concerned with broadcasting’s inception as radio, aspects of television’s past will be included as well.

Preserving radio — and TV — is not as simple as storing machines or tapes. To understand broadcasting history, preservationists must try to describe an experience. It isn’t enough to show somebody the printed script from a 1934 Jack Benny radio program, or the theatrical stage set used when “All in the Family” was taped before a live studio audience in 1973. To comprehend what Jack Benny, Gracie Allen or Jackie Gleason meant to the people of the United States involves trying to imagine, and almost feel, an experience.

“Essential” first step

The Radio Preservation Task Force seeks to go beyond the big corporate commercial collections that already exist. NBC’s radio and TV archives, as well as the Radio Corporation of America’s and others, are already well-preserved and housed at repositories like the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution.

The Radio Preservation Task Force is concerned with the diverse universe of broadcasting, including the many types of stations and networks that defined American broadcasting.

“Millions of Americans listened to college, community, and educational radio stations that were less famous than CBS and NBC but still played an important role in daily life,” notes University of Colorado scholar Josh Shepperd, chair of the Radio Preservation Task Force. “Preservation projects associated with the Radio Preservation Task Force have revealed to us that African American radio stations played an important role in helping catalyze the Civil Rights Movement by fostering and inspiring community.”

Shepperd added that “those are just two examples of often-overlooked but essential components of our nation’s broadcast history.”

At the Century of Broadcasting conference, scholars will examine such varied topics as how gender roles were performed on the air and how Spanish-language radio maintained listener identity with the community while broadening outreach. The conference also includes discussion of international and global radio communities, with scholars presenting on broadcasting history from France, Germany, and Latin America.

“There’s even a panel on preserving the history of unlicensed and illegal ‘pirate’ radio,” says Shepperd.

Our media remains so atmospheric — it’s everywhere, all the time — that we too rarely pause to concentrate on how it evolves and how those transformations ultimately influence us.

Radio and TV might not technically be “endangered” right now; after all, we all still use telephones even if they look completely different and serve functions largely unimaginable 40 years ago.

Yet moving beyond the broadcast era holds important ramifications for all of us, even if we cannot precisely discern them in this moment. Recognizing the need to preserve radio and TV’s past marks an essential first step, so that the future will be properly informed about how we lived and communicated for over a century of American history.

Michael J. Socolow is an associate professor of communication and journalism at the University of Maine. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.The Conversation

]]> 0
Audience loyalty may not be what we think Thu, 27 Apr 2023 13:16:16 +0000

Editor’s note: Longtime Nieman Lab readers know the bylines of Mark Coddington and Seth Lewis. Mark wrote the weekly This Week in Review column for us from 2010 to 2014; Seth’s written for us off and on since 2010. Together they’ve launched a monthly newsletter on recent academic research around journalism. It’s called RQ1 and we’re happy to bring each issue to you here at Nieman Lab.

Loyalty is a concept that’s invoked quite often when news executives and researchers talk about audiences. We talk about loyal audiences who trust our journalism and are “engaged” with our products, who spend a lot of time on our sites and keep coming back, who are willing to subscribe or donate to our organizations. But it’s not always clear what exactly we mean by loyalty in itself, apart from those actions that it has been tied to.

Is loyalty even a distinct phenomenon apart from the behaviors — like giving continued attention, sharing, and subscribing — that are often thought to characterize it? Researchers Constanza Gajardo and Irene Costera Meijer of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam believe it is. In a new study in Journalism Studies, they argued that, at its core, loyalty to journalism is less about actions than about feelings within a relationship, one that is often obscured as we focus on only its most economically beneficial outcomes.

To determine what loyalty means to news audiences, Gajardo and Meijer used a lengthy, multi-part interview process with 35 regular news users in Chile. They wanted to give people open-ended questions to describe loyalty on their own terms, prompting them to compare their feelings about journalists and news organizations to interpersonal relationships.

One of their most striking findings was that loyalty to a news source was not always tied to regular use. Some interviewees described deep, abiding loyalty for news sources they didn’t regularly use. Said one participant of a Chilean TV journalist: “I don’t listen to him religiously, but when I do, I listen to him. I’m 40 years old and I don’t have to talk to my father every day.” Others described sources they regularly use but feel no loyalty for: “I know…I should say that the news site I visit the most is close to me and that I like it, but this is not the case. This has a purely functional purpose: to know what happened here, there and that’s it.”

Want more? Subscribe to our newsletter here and have Nieman Lab’s daily look at the changing world of digital journalism sent straight to your inbox.

In the latter cases, loyalty was inhibited by a lack of political like-mindedness or credibility. But even trust didn’t guarantee loyalty, as some participants described a lack of relationship with trusted investigative or longform news sources they used, characterizing them as too serious or distant or heady.

So what kind of behaviors did mark loyalty for audiences? It wasn’t always the clicks, shares, donations, and subscriptions we might expect. Instead, people discussed their loyalty in terms of adapting to changes those news sources made, tolerating aspects they didn’t enjoy, or forgiving mistakes they made. Perhaps encouragingly for journalists, these were all quite relational actions. But they were more about tolerating and adapting to perceived shortcomings than responding to news with pure enthusiasm.

Other, more direct actions that we often think about as tied to loyalty — liking, subscribing, donating, and so on — weren’t as evident to users as expressions of loyalty. Just as journalists tend to think about loyalty as something audiences possess, audiences in this study saw it as primarily built around what journalists provide. “Users seem to be clear about what to expect from journalism,” Gajardo and Meijer wrote, “but they are somehow unaware of what journalism expects from them.”

This could be a bleak takeaway for journalists — even our most loyal users don’t know how to support us in useful ways! But it could also indicate opportunity for growth, as news organizations try to tap into the deep (and complex) feelings of their loyal audiences to develop mutually beneficial relationships.

Research roundup

“‘They’re making it more democratic’: The normative construction of participatory journalism.” By Tim P. Vos and Ryan J. Thomas, in Digital Journalism. The idea that journalists are obligated to engage with their audiences and allow them to participate in the co-creation of news — well, it has become “something of an article of faith in journalism studies scholarship in the first decades of the twenty-first century,” Vos and Thomas argue in this piece. Such ideas about participatory journalism, which became normalized over recent decades, “synced with broader intellectual currents around ‘participatory culture’ and optimism about the democratizing potential of the internet.”

Optimism about participatory journalism is in retreat these days, as the dark sides of a participatory internet has come fully into view. But it’s worth reflecting, as these authors do, on an enduring question: How did participatory journalism become such a firmly established journalism norm?

Vos and Thomas examine the “metajournalistic discourse” about participatory journalism from 2002 through 2021, focusing on nearly 500 articles representing 20 sites representing journalism discourse that were identified via network analysis. In attempting to trace how participatory journalism came to be a journalistic norm against the backdrop of social, economic, and technological change, the authors find several things.

First, they demonstrate how, over time, key commentators “sought to legitimize audience participation in the news production process by imbuing it with tried-and-tested notions of journalistic mission. Thus, we are confronted with a discourse that addressed something new but is garbed in the normativity of something more traditional.”

Significantly then, they go on to note that “the transformations to the culture unleashed by participatory technologies were treated as both an empirical given and as unquestionably positive. It is, the discourse suggests, simply commonsensical for journalists to embrace these new realities — this has happened, and it is good” (emphasis added).

Notably, however, they find that the discourse about participatory journalism appears to have peaked in 2015 and declined in recent years.

“News can help! The impact of news media and digital platforms on awareness of and belief in misinformation.” By Sacha Altay, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, and Richard Fletcher, in The International Journal of Press/Politics. What should news media do about misinformation? Some researchers have suggested that reporters can inadvertently amplify false claims in their reporting on them — that merely attempting to debunk misinformation can serve to magnify its spread. And it’s true that news media can be manipulated by bad-faith actors masquerading as legitimate sources. But is it true, as some have argued, that “mainstream media are responsible for much of the public attention fake news stories receive”?

No, probably not. That’s the conclusion of this large-scale survey analysis, which involved a two-wave panel study (where the same groups of people are surveyed at Time 1 and Time 2, to check for differences) that was conducted in multiple countries (Brazil, India, and the UK) to avoid problems associated with focusing on one location in isolation. The surveys investigated the impact of media use on awareness of and belief in misinformation about COVID-19.

“We find little support for the idea that the news exacerbates misinformation problems,” the authors write. “News use broadened people’s awareness of false claims but did not increase belief in false claims — in some cases, news use actually weakened false belief acquisition, depending on access mode (online or offline) and outlet type.”

They note that results were not even across countries — “underlining the importance of comparative research to guard against unwarranted generalizations” — nor for all types of news use, but the results were straightforward in the main: “Overall, we find that news can help.”

This research underscores the vital role that news media perform — most of the time, though not always nor everywhere — in “keeping people informed and resilient to misinformation.” Of note as well: the findings suggest that news use via platforms was not associated with greater belief in misinformation, countering somewhat sweeping claims that are often made about platforms and their effects.

“The limits of live fact-checking: Epistemological consequences of introducing a breaking news logic to political fact-checking.” By Steen Steensen, Bente Kalsnes, and Oscar Westlund, in New Media & Society. Political fact-checking has become a global phenomenon during the past decade. Because it often involves going to great lengths to establish evidence-based evaluations of political statements, this form of journalism is assumed to require a lot of “epistemic effort,” or a high degree of time and energy to verify knowledge claims. On the other end of the spectrum of epistemic effort might be another genre of journalism: breaking news. When journalists cover breaking news, especially when they do it from their desk in the newsroom, it’s assumed to involve a lower degree of epistemic effort, because, as noted in this article, “the immediacy of breaking news prevents the journalists from investing time and resources for extensive critical assessments of sources and information.”

So, what happens when fact-checkers attempt to bring a breaking news style to covering political debates with live fact-checks? How do they bridge the gap, as it were, between higher and lower forms of epistemic effort?

Steensen and colleagues, using a variety of research methods, sought to answer this question by investigating the Norwegian fact-checker and its live fact-checking of political debates during the 2021 parliamentary election campaign in Norway. They found that live fact-checking, at least in the case of Faktisk, mainly involves strategies to reduce complexities in how claims are fact-checked, including a reliance on predefined understandings about the relative credibility of sources.

The upshot: live fact-checking of politics tends toward what the researchers call confirmative epistemology, in which fact-checks confirm rather than critique elite perspectives, reinforcing hegemonic views about what’s important, reliable, and true. This raises the “risk that live political fact-checking…might cater to the political elite more so than to the critical public. A potential consequence of this is that live political fact-checking, as performed by Faktisk, might add fuel to the growing criticism of mainstream media lacking diversity of perspectives and critical distance to elites.”

“‘Saving journalism from Facebook’s death grip’? The implications of content-recommendation platforms on publishers and their audiences.” By Yariv Ratner, Shira Dvir Gvirsman, and Anat Ben-David, in Digital Journalism. You’ve seen them at the bottom of many news sites: sections of “Around the Web” and “Recommended for You” articles that tempt readers with sensational photos and headlines (“37 Child Actors Who Grew Up To Be Ugly”) . These “chumboxes,” as they are derisively called, offer up attention-grabbing fare to lure in readers, and many news publishers allow them to live on their sites because they pay more than other forms of advertising. Research, however, suggests that such content leads people to take a dimmer view of news quality and credibility (no surprise!).

But is there a different way of looking at this phenomenon? For one thing, the clickbait aggregators — Taboola and Outbrain, chief among them — argue that they are sparing journalism from the “death grip” of Facebook’s ad dominance by allowing news organizations to work in revenue partnership with these content recommendation platforms.

So, what is the effect of these chumbox aggregators? Ratner and colleagues offer a large-scale analysis of that question, examining nearly 100,000 stories recommended by Taboola and Outbrain that were scraped from nine Israeli news sites. They find that “the spaces created by these partnerships blur the distinction between editorial and monetization logics” — in effect, muddying the waters between journalism and advertising as well as between news brands, and raising new questions about the role of sponsored content and algorithms in challenging journalism.

Additionally, the researchers discovered certain network effects that undermined some news sites: “While large media groups benefit from the circulation of sponsored content across their websites, smaller publishers pay Taboola and Outbrain as advertisers to drive traffic to their websites. Thus, even though these companies discursively position themselves as ‘gallants of the open web’ — freeing publishers from the grip of walled-garden platforms — they de facto expose the news industry to the influence of the platform economy.”

“Improvisation, economy, and MTV moves: Online news and video production style.” By Mary Angela Bock, Robert J. Richardson, Christopher T. Assaf, and Dariya Tsyrenzhapova, in Electronic News. If you’ve been around the journalism block since the early 2000s, you might remember those early hopes for “convergence” — for print and TV newsrooms to join forces in producing multimedia journalism. Those hopes never materialized, but the centrality of video in the digital news ecology has been profound (“pivot to video,” anyone?), and over the past decade digital-native news sites like Vox have worked to develop distinct styles of video storytelling.

Meanwhile, news consumption, to a large extent, has converged to a single screen (a smartphone). This leaves open an important question: Do newspapers, TV, and digital-native news organizations produce the same kind of video? Are they converging stylistically or, as Bock and colleagues wonder, “staying in their legacy lanes”?

Studying a randomized set of U.S. news outlets, the researchers found that “legacy print organizations continue to produce slower-paced videos without scripted narration; TV organizations use scripted narration with one correspondent; and digital natives produce stories with quick pacing and a mix of narrator types.” They argue that diffusion of innovations theory, which points to the role of culture, values, and other social factors in driving innovation adoption, “helps to explain why these organizations offer distinct production styles that are not converging in form.”

So, why isn’t there more similarity in video style? It appears to be at least partly a function of habit: longstanding, entrenched ways of doing things in legacy media routines. “Just because it is possible to create stories with quick edits, engaging graphics, or quality camera work does not mean all journalists are interested in or able to embrace these techniques,” the authors write. “As organizations turn, turn, and turn again to video, it will be important to consider which of these techniques are esthetic fads and which ones best serve the needs of the news audience.”

“Beyond the freebie mentality: A news user typology of reasonings about paying for online content.” By Arista Beseler, Mara Schwind, Hannah Schmid-Petri, and Christoph Klimmt, in Journalism Practice. With pay models popping up on site after site these days, what do news consumers think about being asked to pay for news that they previously accessed for free? While there have been studies on consumers’ willingness to pay, Beseler and colleagues wanted to go a step further in more holistically investigating people’s general attitudes, behaviors, and motivational reasonings around paid online news content.

Through interviews with 64 adults in Germany, the authors developed a typology of five main approaches: paying subscribersfree riderspromisers (“users who do not pay but announce to do so in the future”), occasional buyers, and convinced deniers. This typology, the authors suggest, is helpful for capturing the “extremely diverse” mindsets that may exist among consumers.

“On one hand, many respondents were skeptical or reluctant to pay for online news,” they write. “Even among the paying subscribers, some participants preferred printed news over online news, highlighting the reluctance to pay for something immaterial. On the other hand, some respondents were strong supporters of paid online news, whereby the majority of them have had experiences with or have been socialized with online or parental print subscriptions.”

Chairs of different colors, by Steve, used under a Creative Commons license.

]]> 0
“They have not been able to silence us”: Exiled Nicaraguan journalists go digital to keep their journalism alive Wed, 26 Apr 2023 15:00:01 +0000 Journalism across Central America is suffering at the hands of the region’s governments.

El Salvador’s El Faro recently announced that it’s moved its business operations to Costa Rica after years of attacks from President Nayib Bukele. In Guatemala, journalist José Rubén Zamora is imprisoned for publishing an investigation into 144 corruption cases linked to President Alejandro Giammattei; the newspaper he founded, El Periódico, was raided and its bank accounts were frozen.

In Honduras — a country that according to Reporters Without Borders has been “slowly sinking into nightmarish disaster for more than a decade” — the government dismantled an agency designed to protect journalists.

In Nicaragua, press freedom has faced attacks from all sides and is only getting worse under president Daniel Ortega, now in his fourth consecutive term. The country now ranks 160 out of 180 on Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index. At least 185 journalists have fled the country since 2018, with at least seven going into exile in the first three months of 2023, free press advocacy group Voces del Sur found. As of February, at least 22 journalists had been stripped of citizenship due to their reporting on Ortega’s regime.

Journalists who work through these precarious conditions emphasize that international coverage from mainstream media outlets can help pressure their countries’ governments to reverse course. Such coverage can also influence how humanitarian aid budgets are spent.

At the International Symposium of Online Journalism earlier this month, a panel in the Spanish-language Colloquium on Digital Journalism convened four of Nicaragua’s most prominent journalists, all of whom are living in exile, to discuss the harrowing conditions they’ve lived through — offices being burned down, embargoes on supplies like newsprint and ink, imprisonment for sharing information on social media — and how they’ve innovated to keep publishing.

Below is an excerpt of the discussion of how these Nicaraguan journalists pivoted after being forced into exile, and the challenges they face today. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity, but if you can, you should watch the entire recording of the session here.

The panel was moderated by Dagmar Thiel, the U.S. director of Fundamedios, a free press advocacy group that supports Hispanic journalists in the Americas.

The panelists:

Dagmar Thiel: Let’s talk about how you all have been reinventing yourselves. Anibal, you came from a traditional radio station that was in the commercial center of Nicaragua. Today you’re all digital. How are you reaching your audience?

Anibal Toruño: Since 2018, we saw the need to make a transition to digital. Since [the government] withdrew our licenses to be able to operate in Nicaragua in 2022, that [transition] is one of the great challenges. [As] a traditional medium like radio, which is mainly audio and not necessarily visual or digital, it was a huge effort to understand that we had to make a transition and that the formats had to change. We had to be more audiovisual and make sure our content resided on a web page. There were social media accounts that we had to feed, and for that we had to understand and generate content with new talents to reinforce this new way of communicating.

It has undoubtedly been a difficult and demanding experience. We were thrown into no man’s land. The truth of the matter is that you don’t know you’re not ready until the time comes. At that moment we realized that we had to make a home [online], that our news had to be audiovisual and not necessarily just audio. It was a very fast transformation. It takes a lot of effort and commitment, and also understanding that the struggle that we, the media in Nicaragua, have is Daniel Ortega trying to silence Radio Darío…just like with El Confidencial, just like 100% Noticias, just like La Prensa, just like all the media outlets that have had to reinvent themselves.

The great challenge and the great victory is that they have not been able to silence us and we continue to overcome censorship. We continue to reinvent ourselves to achieve good metrics in this world that is relatively new to us.

Dagmar Thiel: Juan Lorenzo, how did La Prensa reinvent itself with just 12% of its staff?

Juan Lorenzo Holmann: We had announced that we were running out of ink and paper but that we were still in the fight. When the embargo started [in 2019], we began to work hard on strengthening the digital side. When we ran out of paper, we said we would momentarily suspend our print editions, but we would continue [publishing online]. [The government] raided us, they robbed us, they confiscated [supplies]. But La Prensa continues to report.

They will never silence independent journalism. This is something that is not only the responsibility of La Prensa, but it’s the responsibility of the many independent journalists who have accepted this challenge and have done it with great courage. It is true that we are outside of the country, but that country has been kidnapped. But through our journalism, we have the duty to rescue that country — to return and start rebuilding the society we all dream of: A society in which we can all express ourselves freely, without the fear that someone is following us, that we will be persecuted, that we will suffer being exiled or imprisoned or even the loss of life.

Dagmar Thiel: Martha Irene, you have a small media outlet, República 18. As a colleague from Cambodia said, there’s a magical curse of being a journalist — that is, it makes you start a small media company when the big ones are suffering. How are the independent media outlets doing?

Martha Irene Sánchez: The decision to go into exile, which is not easy, in my case was motivated by two reasons. The first was for security, to protect ourselves and our families. Continuing to work in Nicaragua was a risk and an imminent threat to our families.

The second was because being in exile made it possible to continue practicing journalism. I remember my first days in Costa Rica. I said, “What do I do now?” because I came from a TV news outlet and I no longer had that job. I began to get together with other colleagues who were living in forced exile and we said, “We’re going to do journalism. How do we do it?”

We started with Facebook pages, but we continued telling stories about Nicaragua. Some of those stories are about migration from Nicaragua, because in exile we began to find other narratives and realities that perhaps we were not seeing at the time of the most acute crisis.

Leading a media outlet with a small team, [like] República 18, undoubtedly poses many challenges. There are about 30 journalistic initiatives that have been launched by [Nicaraguan] journalists in exile. They started with a lot of conviction, commitment, and volunteerism. However, we know that we need more than conviction, commitment, and volunteerism. We need resources. We have to move from surviving to living. We cannot continue to be victims.

This dictatorship has suppressed too many rights — not only those that concern us, like freedom of the press and freedom of expression, but it has even extended to our families. That is why we also make an important call that we want to continue practicing journalism, but continue doing so with conditions that dignify us as people.

Dagmar Thiel: Miguel, how are you reinventing yourself? Are you still a sports reporter in the United States where you arrived two months ago?

Miguel Mendoza: More than reinventing myself, I think I am continuing the work I was doing. I was released [from prison] on February 9 and from day one, I recovered the passwords of my social media accounts. I started to publish news and share my opinion about what was happening in Nicaragua. It was difficult because I had to catch myself up; I follow baseball and boxing a lot and I hadn’t even watched any sports in the last year.

One of the things I used to ask my wife while I was in El Chipote was if people had unfollowed me on social media. Once, I told her, “If I’m here because of everything I did through social media, it’s going to be a shame if people unfollow me now that I’m here.”

But when I got access to my accounts back, I realized that people had not unfollowed me, but that more had joined me. In the last two months on Facebook, on Twitter, on YouTube, my follower counts have multiplied, and that has motivated me to continue in the trenches — collaborating with my colleagues who are in exile and those who are still in Nicaragua, accompanying them in this struggle to overcome censorship.

I have a small space on YouTube called “De preso a preso.” Because I’m a journalist, it’s better that I ask those [who were imprisoned] about the inner workings of the prison. I have done four [sessions] so far, and with each one there are people who don’t want to talk, but little by little I am convincing them.

The dilemma I have now with my social media is: Which one do I share more? Do I report what continues to happen in Nicaragua or do I give more space to sports journalism? Some people who tell me to focus on sports, but more people tell me to continue doing what I have been doing because I already have been a political prisoner and I have to continue on that path. One dilemma I have is how to differentiate those topics in my social media feeds.

Dagmar Thiel: What are you asking of the international community? How can we help Nicaragua’s independent journalism in this difficult moment it’s going through and has been going through for several years?

Toruño: It has to be understood that we do not have a country. It’s out of our hands. Generally, media companies depended on advertising. La Prensa, which is one of the most important media outlets in Nicaragua, depended on advertising. If our news outlets were anything, they were competitive. Our articles, our programs, our newscasts, were and are still good. The big problem that we have is that we do not have a country, so we don’t have guidelines or a way to generate income from our work.

The only thing that we [want to share] is the importance of continuing to support journalism and independent media. Nicaragua’s problem is Central America’s problem. We are going to depend on the audience and create awareness around this to be able to support and contribute to news outlets.

Holmann: I ask big media outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, El País, not to forget about us. Keep the pressure on our country. Keep showing what’s happening to us so that [people] realize what’s going on in our society.

Obviously, we are going through a very difficult situation right now. We cannot sustain ourselves because in our country, those who want to advertise with us are persecuted in the same way that we are. So, unfortunately, right now we need support from government agencies, from private foundations, we need support wherever it can come from. In addition to the support that we must have, we need the support of our society who we owe our work to. That is a symbiosis, that I need you and you need me so that I can help you. Please support independent journalism in Nicaragua.

Sánchez: I would like to focus my appeal to the governments of the countries where we find ourselves exiled. I think it’s important that a real commitment be made for journalists who have arrived seeking international protection and who are in a waiting room with uncertainty of five, ten, or 15 years to have an eligibility interview. We have already been kicked out of our country. We need immigration security for ourselves and for our families.

I especially call on the governments of Costa Rica, Spain, the United States, and Central America, where most Nicaraguan journalists in exile are living now, and on the international community to support this initiative. I believe that it’s possible to advocate for a resolution as soon as possible. I would like to ask our colleagues in the region and around the world to continue to keep an eye on what is happening in Nicaragua, where everything unthinkable has already happened.

Mendoza: A couple of weeks ago I was with a Nicaraguan colleague in Houston. He went into exile in Costa Rica and is now in the United States. He worked on his own media outlet and at a certain point he had to stop because he had no more funding. He had to work to support himself and his family.

I’m going to give it a try. I’m going to establish my own outlet and the web page, and look for funding. I hope that my project does not die. I’m going to hold on until the end and see how far I go. It’s possible that I will do a combination of working a job here in the United States and work on [my news outlet] in my spare time. That [blank] front page of La Prensa when all the supplies were seized: God willing, it won’t be the front page of all Nicaragua’s journalism. Because if the people who are in charge of financing news outlets are the ones fighting while living in exile, then the dictatorship will win, because the media will go dark.

From left: Journalists Miguel Mendoza, Anibal Toruño, Juan Lorenzo Holmann, Martha Irene Sánchez, and moderator Dagmar Thiel during a panel titled “Nicaragua: Journalists Released and Banished” during the Colloquium on Digital Journalism in Austin, Texas in April 2023. Photo credit: Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas

]]> 0
Disney is shrinking FiveThirtyEight, and Nate Silver (and his models) are leaving Tue, 25 Apr 2023 18:58:43 +0000 FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver and at least some of the data-driven site’s 35-person staff are leaving ABC News as part of broader layoffs at The Walt Disney Company. (Or, in the words of ABC News, FiveThirtyEight is being “streamlined.”)

Silver said on Tuesday that he expects to leave the politics and sports news site when his contract ends this summer. Several others at FiveThirtyEight — including deputy managing editor Chadwick Matlin, sports editor Neil Paine, senior audience editor Meena Ganesan, senior science reporter (and 2015 Nieman Fellow) Maggie Koerth, business operations manager Vanessa Diaz, and senior designer Emily Scherer — announced they were affected by layoffs, too.

FiveThirtyEight — named, of course, after the number of electors in the U.S. electoral college — has its roots in the “Community” section of the liberal news site Daily Kos, where, in 2007, a 29-year-old baseball statistician named Nate Silver began writing posts about the 2008 U.S. presidential election under the username “poblano.”1

Silver launched FiveThirtyEight as its own blog in March 2008, and in the general election that year, his model correctly predicted the results in 49 out of the 50 states, as well as all 35 winners of the U.S. Senate races. The early, wondering coverage of Silver’s work frequently invoked magic. “Silver’s box of tricks sounds baffling, laced as it is with talk of regressions, half-lives and Monte Carlo analysis,” The Guardian’s editorial board wrote in 2008.” The New York Times, announcing its FiveThirtyEight “partnership” in 2010, referred to Silver a “statistical wizard.” FiveThirtyEight quickly became a massive traffic driver for the Times, where his presence provided fodder for then-public editor Margaret Sullivan. (He is now the frequent subject of discussion by the Times’ current public editor, Twitter.)

In 2013, Silver left The New York Times (Sullivan wrote about that, too) and took FiveThirtyEight to ESPN. Under parent company Disney, it was transferred from ESPN to ABC News in 2018 as ESPN sought to distance itself from political commentary, and has operated from there since.

When Silver leaves ABC News, he’ll leave behind the FiveThirtyEight trade name, but his models will go with him. “The models are licensed to them and the license term is concurrent with my contract,” he confirmed to Nieman Lab in a message. “They have limited rights to some models post–license term, but not the core election forecast stuff.”

Van Scott, ABC News’ vice president of publicity, said in a statement that “ABC News remains dedicated to data journalism with a core focus on politics, the economy and enterprise reporting — this streamlined structure will allow us to be more closely aligned with our priorities for the 2024 election and beyond. We are grateful for the invaluable contributions of the team members who will be departing the organization and know they will continue to make an important impact on the future of journalism.”

Not mentioned in that statement: Sports or science, both of which are key verticals on the current FiveThirtyEight.

“A 1950s-style cartoon illustration of a very sad fox,” Midjourney

  1. Bill Kristol, writing in The New York Times opinion section in February 2008: “An interesting regression analysis at the Daily Kos Web site ( of the determinants of the Democratic vote so far, applied to the demographics of the Ohio electorate, suggests that Obama has a better chance than is generally realized in Ohio.”
]]> 0
The first Substack dedicated to war correspondence launches Tue, 25 Apr 2023 17:30:37 +0000 “I’ve decided to go back into Ukraine to keep reporting,” war correspondent Tim Mak writes in his first Substack newsletter. “This time, alone.”

Mak says he was laid off from his job as an investigative correspondent when NPR cut its staff by 10% last month. On Tuesday, Mak launched The Counteroffensive, the first Substack dedicated to war correspondence. (Others have featured war correspondence from time to time, a Substack spokesperson noted.)

“The idea first occurred to me just a few weeks ago,” Mak told me. “I think one of the benefits of Substack is that it works right out of the box. I just signed up and started writing.”

Reporting from conflict zones is complicated, resource-intensive, and, yes, incredibly dangerous. News organizations often provide equipment, hostile environment training, special insurance, and other resources to full-time reporters headed to the front lines.

In his appeal to subscribers, Mak outlined some of the costs — body armor, medical kits, rental cars, emergency supplies, a Ukrainian interpreter, etc. — that he’ll now pay for out of his own pocket. He told me he expects his operating costs to be, at a minimum, around $7,000 per month. (Substack has offered Mak “guidance and advice, but no financial resources,” he said.)

“I need 1,000 paid subscribers in order to stop losing money,” Mak wrote to me. “Then more to be a little bit more ambitious than ramen and buses. Then after that I can pay myself.”

Mak, a former U.S. Army combat medic, arrived in Kyiv on the night the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, according to his NPR bio. He has been covering the war since. I asked him what he sees as his biggest challenge, now that he’ll be reporting from the country independently.

“The hardest thing will be discipline, I think. As an independent journalist I’ll be on my own, without an institution to pull me out when I need it,” Mak said. “I’ll need to have the discipline to make wise decisions to keep me and my team safe.”

On Twitter, Mak often shares behind-the-scenes photos and stories from Ukraine. He said he was looking forward to taking a more informal, conversation manner with The Counteroffensive — less AP Style, more “like a letter to a friend.”

In other dispatches, Mak has been posting variousdogs of war.” (He also reposts “dogs of peace” that folks back home in the U.S. send him.) He’ll continue the tradition in his newsletter with a mascot named Rex.

You can read the first post from The Counteroffensive here.

]]> 0
Tucker Carlson is out at Fox News, and what matters is why Mon, 24 Apr 2023 18:51:15 +0000 It was only 48 hours ago that The New York Times was saying we shouldn’t expect much change in how Fox News operates to come out of its $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems. The model — conservative grievance, stoked by targeted misinformation — was just too successful to change.

Anyone expecting that Fox’s $787.5 million settlement with Dominion this week would make the network any humbler or gentler is likely to be disappointed. And there probably won’t be much of a shift in the way the network favorably covers Mr. Trump and the issues that resonate with his followers.

In Mr. Trump’s recent interview with the Fox host Tucker Carlson, he implied that there was good reason to doubt the legitimacy of President Biden’s victory, saying, “People could say he won an election.” Mr. Carlson, for his part, has also dipped back into election denialism recently. “Jan. 6, I think, is probably second only to the 2020 election as the biggest scam of my lifetime,” he said on the air on March 14. (His private text messages, revealed as part of Dominion’s suit, show him discussing with his producers how there was no proof the results of the 2020 election were materially affected by fraud.)

Only time will tell if Fox News writ large will change. But one hour of its weeknight prime-time programming sure will.

Tucker Carlson is out at Fox News. The network’s biggest star — creator of what the Times once called “what may be the most racist show in the history of cable news — and also, by some measures, the most successful” — was ousted via terse press release late Monday morning. “We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor,” the network wrote. The Los Angeles Times is reporting the decision was made by Rupert Murdoch himself.

The suddenness here is remarkable. Carlson’s final show aired Friday, with no indication of an impending end. His final interview was his second of the week with a Pennsylvania pizza delivery guy who had tripped a suspect fleeing police after a chase in a stolen car. (The two suspects arrested, 17 and 19, appears to be Hispanic; Carlson’s chyron called one a “bad hombre.”)

Fox News reportedly didn’t even announce the departure of its biggest star internally: “Everyone outside of top executives, including Tucker’s staff, found out about his exit on Twitter.” The network’s own announcement of the move had, as Aaron Rupar put it, the “vibes of Stalin’s death being announced on Soviet radio.” Only minutes before, Fox News had been promoting an interview set for Carlson’s show tonight.

(Carlson’s ouster seems to have inspired CNN to match moves, dropping Don Lemon only hours (minutes?) after his morning show ended. Carlson and Lemon will now apparently share a lawyer; odd bedfellows.)

The timing of Fox’s move certainly suggests a connection to the Dominion settlement — but Carlson was far from the worst offender on the network, and no host had better ratings. (Why would you fire Tucker over Dominion when Maria Bartiromo is still around?) After all, producer Abby Grossberg’s two lawsuits argue Fox News tried to make Bartiromo a scapegoat for the entire network in order to protect hosts like Carlson.

Then again, Grossberg’s suits (which also names Carlson as a defendant) also describe his show as “a work environment that subjugates women based on vile sexist stereotypes” and says Carlson himself is known for his “derogatory comments towards women, and his disdain for those who dare to object to such misogyny.” It’s worth remembering that it was their treatment of women that finally forced out past Fox News goliaths Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly.

(The L.A. Times suggests the Grossberg suits were a driving factor in Carlson’s departure. The New York Times also reports that Carlson senior executive producer Justin Wells is also out at Fox. Wells is also a named defendant in Grossberg’s suits; at one point, she accuses Wells of asking her: “Is Maria Bartiromo fucking Kevin McCarthy?”)

Perhaps it was all the Dominion discovery revelations that did Carlson in — the ones that made it clear he didn’t believe the lies Fox was putting on air, or that he “hates” Donald Trump. Maybe — but Trump seemed to be happy to sit with him for an interview a couple weeks ago, and there’s been no sign of Fox viewers abandoning the show out of a sudden burst of self-respect. Carlson’s texts also included his low opinions of Fox management, which likely didn’t help his cause.

Of note: Fox Corporation stock lost 5.2% of its value in the 22 minutes after Carlson’s ouster was announced. That’s about $870 million in lost value — more than the $787.5 million Fox is paying Dominion, to which the market had a more muted reaction.

There seem to be two big questions now — one about Fox, one about Carlson.

For Fox: Is this about Carlson specifically or a shift more broadly? If indeed this is mostly about dealing with another in a long series of workplace issues, Fox News may not think its fundamental DNA needs updating. Will tossing Tucker lead Fox to move further to the right in order to keep its audience from straying — the scenario that got the network in trouble with Dominion in the first place? Will all of the bile Carlson was known for just move to new hosts and new timeslots? Or is this a sign that the market for it is shrinking? (I wouldn’t hold my breath.) This is still the network of Bartiromo, Pirro, Hannity, Ingraham, and Watters; a rebrand this ain’t.

And for Carlson: Where next? Carlson now has the rare honor of having been fired by CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. (RT is already sniffing around. Perhaps Viktor Orbán has an opening?) Would he settle for a right-wing also-ran like Newsmax? Set up shop on Rumble? Go back to his Daily Caller? Fly solo?

Like Bill O’Reilly before him, he seemed bigger than the network he was on. But when O’Reilly was bounced, Carlson was able to take his old timeslot and push ratings even higher. How much of his prominence was about him versus how much was about the grievance machine he worked for? Think about all the people who’ve left Fox News in recent years: O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly, Glenn Beck, Shepard Smith, Chris Wallace, Greta Van Susteren. None have been able to match their fame or reach on the outside. How diminished will he be? Will his audience follow him? And will we ever find out how much he believed and how much was an act?

Photo of Tucker Carlson by Gage Skidmore used under a Creative Commons license.

]]> 0
“Tell a more complete story” and other lessons from a new report on mistrust of news media Mon, 24 Apr 2023 14:08:04 +0000 There’s a new report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism that focuses on distrust of news media — and what news organizations might be able to do about it.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way: the news industry is unlikely to find a silver bullet. “There is no single trust problem, and therefore there is no single trust solution,” the first line of the report reads.

The report draws on a series of focus groups with 322 people from “disadvantaged or historically underserved communities” in four countries. (In Brazil, focus groups contained Black and mixed-race audiences. In India, Muslims and those from “marginalized castes or tribes” were interviewed. In the U.K., the authors focused on working-class audiences. And in the U.S., Black and rural audiences were in the spotlight.) Despite differences between and among the focus group participants, several familiar themes emerged. Participants thought the news could be unfair, inaccurate, sensationalized, and subject to “hidden agendas” they believed shaped coverage behind the scenes.

The report’s authors — Amy Ross Arguedas, Sayan Banerjee, Camila Mont’Alverne, Benjamin Toff, Richard Fletcher, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen — wrote they were motivated to highlight these particular perspectives following feedback from newsroom leaders, “many of whom asked how they could better engage with audiences who have been historically underserved or marginalized in their country’s news coverage.”

Many of those interviewed saw news media as an institution “as an extension of systems aligned to serve those in power — systems many felt excluded from.” Those institutions are, not coincidently, also seeing falling trust.

Confirming previous studies, the Reuters focus group participants were more likely to blame news organizations and financial pressures for shortcomings than individual journalists.

“Despite often seeing journalists as out of touch and rarely having shared life experiences,” the report states, “many also emphasized what they believed were considerable constraints journalists faced when trying to cover news stories.”

One American who participated in a focus group said she felt “there are good journalists out there” but that their news organizations were the ones calling the shots: “Like, if you have a journalist for The New York Times…they’re going to write the way that The New York Times wants them to.” (The U.S. ranks last in media trust out of 46 countries, tied with Slovakia, a 2022 Reuters Institute report found.)

Some of the concerns of those interviewed echo critiques expressed by members of majority groups or those currently overrepresented in positions of power in their respective countries. But, the authors note, the stakes can feel very different.

“Privileged audiences may be concerned about, say, sensationalism, but they rarely pay a personal price,” they write. “Disadvantaged communities do.”

The “first and most voiced complaint” from participants was that news coverage of people like them skewed toward negative stories or reflected them in a negative light. Many told researchers that people like them only appeared in the news when something bad happened. For example, in India, several participants brought up widespread news coverage about a religious gathering reported to be the country’s first Covid super-spreader event.

“If you look at the national news, the only time you hear about rural issues is if a tornado went through a trailer park, or if this whole section flooded, or if, whatever,” one American participant said. “I mean, it’s only when you have a natural disaster component that I think you get rural people in.”

But the examples that came up most frequently — and which participants spoke about in the most detail — were about crime coverage. Many said news coverage overemphasizes violence in their communities. “It’s death, crime, murders, shootings,” an American participant named Gabrielle said.

Ultimately, the participants were concerned because they believed news coverage could shape “how others perceived them or even how they — and their children — perceived themselves,” the researchers found. Several people pointed to racial bias in story selection and framing:

  • “‘The white person is never disrespected. They never say that your daughter was killed because you’re a criminal. Oh, and if it’s a Black person, they’re going to say, you know, your son or your daughter was killed because you were a criminal,’ commented Heitor [a participant from Brazil].”
  • “For Alexandra [U.S.], this grievance was especially personal, following the coverage of her own father’s murder, which happened in a public park while he was playing a game of dice: ‘The way he was portrayed, they just were so focused on the dice game and gambling. Everybody gambles. Like, you go to Prairie Meadows right now, you’re gonna see 1,000 white men in there gambling, [but] because he was outside shooting dice in a park, “He’s a gangster, he’s a monster.”…They always make it seem like they deserved to die.'”
  • “When a Black person goes to jail, they make fun of us. No one interviews those [people] or anything. When a white person goes to jail, ‘Oh, my God, poor person.’ They are interviewed and all that. They are treated respectfully,” noted Gabriel [Brazil].

Other examples that made participants distrust media involved a perception that journalists are “complicit with the political establishment” or “at the very least, populated by the same kinds of people.” For example, Timothy, an Iowan, described feeling as if news organizations only cared about people living in rural areas when they needed something…not unlike presidential candidates flying into his state for photo ops with corn dogs.

The report’s authors were clear that though trust is thorny and multifaceted, there are opportunities for newsrooms to improve their standing in underserved communities. Those opportunities include relentlessly rooting out bias and inaccuracies, telling a “more complete story” through news coverage that’s more positive and relevant, diversifying newsroom staffs, and being more engaged and present where people live and work.

“Taking these steps may require reallocating often scarce resources,” the report acknowledges. “This comes down to a question of priorities — just as not taking such steps is also a choice. In other words, there is no neutral path here.”

Tweaks are not enough

The researchers found little evidence that focus group participants would be swayed by “a few tweaks.”

“Just one or two participants specifically focused on the importance of news organizations highlighting their corrections policies or providing audiences with better labeling around separating facts from opinion content — approaches that have received some attention in prior studies on trust,” the report notes.

We’ve seen a number of news startups announce their brand-new newsrooms will tackle the lack of trust in media but it’s unclear if their approach will go beyond tweaks.

There’s more than a hint of frustration in the report’s conclusion:

It is also worth underscoring how similar issues have been raised by study after study after study for a very long time. More than half a century ago, in 1968, the Kerner Commission critiqued the U.S. news media’s distortions and inaccuracies in its coverage of Black people, its use of “scare headlines,” its dependency on inexperienced or prejudiced officials as authoritative sources in stories, its bias towards divisive racial framing of conflict, and a general neglect of the lived experiences and perspectives of Black people and the discrimination they regularly experienced.

While our report echoes many of these concerns in a wider variety of places and among a broader range of groups, the participants in our study are but the latest in a long line of people from marginalized and underserved communities voicing versions of the same frustrations about news media. Those who lead and manage news organizations may feel they are already making good progress towards addressing many of these concerns, but on what timetable and with what urgency? It is not at all obvious to the people who participated in our focus groups that there is any sincere reckoning in the news media, let alone commitment to substantial change.

You can read the full report here. It’s also been translated into Spanish and Portuguese.

]]> 0
A history of BuzzFeed News, Part II: 2017–2023 Fri, 21 Apr 2023 18:45:26 +0000 We’ve written about the ups and downs of BuzzFeed News since 2011, when BuzzFeed hired Ben Smith to launch what would become a Pulitzer Prize–winning news organization.

BuzzFeed News’s first few years were a time of global expansion and excitement. This is the era when Stratechery’s Ben Thompson called BuzzFeed “the most important news organization in the world.”

But there were warning signs. In 2017, BuzzFeed was receiving more than 50% of its traffic from platforms — setting it up for trouble when the algorithms changed and social traffic to news sites plummeted. And the public always seemed to have a hard time distinguishing the Pulitzer-winning BuzzFeed *News* from cat-video BuzzFeed.

BuzzFeed, like many other digital publishers, went through multiple rounds of layoffs. When the company went public, its stock price began falling almost immediately, and investors pushed for BuzzFeed News to be eliminated entirely.

“Investors can’t force me to cut news, and the union can’t force me to subsidize news,” CEO Jonah Peretti wrote in an internal memo in spring 2022. But, he added, “We can’t keep losing money.”

Just about a year later, he announced that BuzzFeed News would be shut down.

[Part I: 2011 to 2017]

• 2017 •
BuzzFeed News publishes a PDF of documents alleging that Trump has deep ties to Russia. The article notes that “the allegations are unverified, and the report contains errors,” but “BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the U.S. government.”
• 2017 •
BuzzFeed plans to go public. Peretti also talks about breaking news:

“So the Boston bombings happens, and immediately all of the most popular content on the site is hard news. Then there’s a slow news week, and the most popular content is lists or quizzes or entertainment, or fun content. When there’s huge news breaking, it becomes the biggest thing. But most of the time, it’s not the biggest thing.”

• 2017 •
BuzzFeed News is expanding into Germany and Mexico.
• 2017 •
BuzzFeed News’s Chris Hamby is a Pulitzer Prize finalist. “We’re so grateful to BuzzFeed for supporting investigative journalism on this scale,” says BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Mark Schoofs.
• 2017 •
Amid a flurry of news coverage about Donald Trump’s collusion with Russia during the 2016 election, BuzzFeed News partners with the Latvia-based online outlet Meduza to beef up its Russia coverage. BuzzFeed world editor Miriam Elder: “On our side, there’s an enormous interest in Russia we really haven’t seen since the Cold War.”
• 2017 •
BuzzFeed gets more than 50% of its traffic from distributed platforms. Here’s Nieman Lab reporting on a presentation by BuzzFeed data infrastructure engineer Walter Menendez:

It uses an internal formula that measures how much traffic every post gets from Facebook, Twitter, and so forth versus from the BuzzFeed homepage, and weights traffic from those other platforms higher than BuzzFeed’s traffic, according to Menendez: “We want to make sure our traffic gets to the farthest reach of people as possible.”

• 2017 •
BuzzFeed launches AM to DM, a live news show on Twitter. TechCrunch:

I was far from the only one watching after the show premiered last week. AM to DM was trending on Twitter, reaching No. 1 in the U.S. and No. 4 globally. In fact, BuzzFeed says the show averaged about 1 million unique viewers each day, with clips being viewed a total of 10 million times. And it’s a young audience, with 78 percent of daily live viewers under 35.

• 2017 •
BuzzFeed will miss its 2017 revenue target, The Wall Street Journal reports.

BuzzFeed…had been targeting revenue of around $350 million in 2017 but is expected to fall short of that figure by about 15% to 20%, people familiar with the matter said.

(BuzzFeed isn’t the only digital publisher having trouble: Around this same time, Mashable sells low and Vice also misses its revenue target. At the same time, subscription-supported publications like The New York Times and The Atlantic are seeing a Trump bump.)

• 2017 •
“The media is in crisis,” Peretti writes in a memo calling for a diversified revenue model. “Google and Facebook are taking the vast majority of revenue, and paying content creators far too little for the value they deliver to users.” The memo also outlines new possibilities for BuzzFeed News: A book club, “paid events,” “content licensing.”
• 2018 •
Netflix announces a “short-form Netflix Original Documentary Series” that “will focus on BuzzFeed reporters as they report stories.”
• 2018 •
BuzzFeed launches a new weekly news podcast “for news that’s smart, not stuffy.” It includes “Jojo the bot” to help listeners follow along.
• 2018 •
BuzzFeed News gets its own domain, Nieman Lab explains one reason the separation might be needed:

Despite BuzzFeed News’ remarkable journalistic success…the general public seems profoundly unable to distinguish it from its sibling quiz factory. When the Pew Research Center polled Americans about what news organizations they trust or don’t trust, BuzzFeed finished dead last, 36th out of 36. It was the only news organization tested that was more distrusted than trusted across the political spectrum — from strong liberals to strong conservatives. The LOLs have proven a big hurdle for the news brand to overcome.

• 2018 •
BuzzFeed shuts down its in-house podcast team and says it’s shifting more resources to video.
• 2018 •
Peretti calls for more digital publishers to merge: “If BuzzFeed and five of the other biggest companies were combined into a bigger digital media company, you would probably be able to get paid more money.”
• 2018 •
BuzzFeed News launches a $5/month membership program. New York Magazine:

Asking for readers to pay for access to a publication is not a bad idea (just ask us, lol), but it’s a somewhat different proposition for a website backed by venture capitalists hoping to turn a profit in a liquidity event like a sale or public offering.

• 2018 •
Nieman Lab:

Since branching out as its own, separately branded website this summer, has seen an increase of 30 percent in monthly average unique viewership, BuzzFeed says. That translates to 35 million unique visitors per month and 230 million monthly content views for BuzzFeed News, meaning the total traffic from News posts on the site and videos on Facebook, Twitter, Apple News, YouTube, and Instagram.

• 2019 •
Twitter renews AM to DM, which reportedly has a daily audience of 400,000 people, down from a reported 1 million at launch.
• 2019 •
BuzzFeed says it will lay off 15% of its workforce, about 250 jobs. The company “basically hit” its 2018 revenue target “of around $300 million,” but Peretti writes in a memo to staff:

“Unfortunately, revenue growth by itself isn’t enough to be successful in the long run. The restructuring we are undertaking will reduce our costs and improve our operating model so we can thrive and control our own destiny, without ever needing to raise funding again.”

• 2019 •
In New York City? Grab BuzzFeed’s first (and last) print newspaper.
• 2019 •
Peretti releases a memo about BuzzFeed’s path forward. BuzzFeed News gets a section:

“We are committed to informing the public and holding the powerful accountable. We published the dossier because we believe the public deserved to know about it. We reported that Donald Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about those negotiations. We exposed the WWF’s funding of paramilitary forces that have been abusing and killing people. We helped exonerate 10 men framed by a crooked cop in Chicago.”

• 2019 •
BuzzFeed says its international losses quadrupled in 2019.
• 2020 •
Ben Smith is leaving BuzzFeed to become the media columnist at The New York Times.
• 2020 •
Hoping to avoid more layoffs during the Covid-19 pandemic, BuzzFeed announces company-wide paycuts and Peretti says he won’t draw a salary until the crisis has passed.
• 2020 •
BuzzFeed shuts down AM to DM after Twitter stops funding it.
• 2020 •
BuzzFeed furloughs 68 staffers and stops covering local news in the U.K. and Australia. From The Guardian:

The company said that the cuts would also hit its flagship US operation as it looks to hit savings goals while continuing to produce “kinetic, powerful journalism.” “We [want to] reach the savings we need and produce the high-tempo, explosive journalism our readers rely on,” the company said.

BuzzFeed maintained that it was still “investing heavily” in its news operation, with a projection of investing $10m more this year than the division makes, and $6m in 2021.

• 2020 •
BuzzFeed announces that it will acquire HuffPost from Verizon Media. Peretti: “We want HuffPost to be more HuffPosty, and BuzzFeed to be more BuzzFeedy — there’s not much audience overlap.”
• 2021 •
BuzzFeed News wins its first Pulitzer Prize for its investigation into how China’s government detained hundreds of thousands of Muslims.
• 2021 •
BuzzFeed announces that it will go public through a SPAC merger. Its valuation is $1.5 billion.
• 2021 •
The BuzzFeed News Union goes on strike. The walkout is timed to coincide with a shareholder vote on whether BuzzFeed will go public.
• 2021 •
BuzzFeed goes public (BZFD on the Nasdaq). Peretti tells Recode’s Peter Kafka:

“I’m still comfortable [with BuzzFeed News losing money]. To a point. But it’s not the same point it was in the past. And so I think that people have this expectation that, what we’ve done in the past in terms of massive subsidies of news, is something that we will continue to do at that same level. And we can do it to a point. But we have to make sure that we build a sustainable, profitable, growing business so that we can do this journalism for years to come and have this great important impact.”

• 2021 •
BuzzFeed’s stock has fallen by about 40% since it started trading on December 6.
• 2022 •
Ben Smith is leaving The New York Times to launch a “new global news organization.”
• 2022 •
BuzzFeed News’s three top editors — editor-in-chief Mark Schoofs, deputy editor-in-chief Tom Namako, and executive editor Ariel Kaminer — are leaving the company. At this point, BuzzFeed News has around 100 employees and is reportedly losing $10 million a year. CNBC:

Several large shareholders have urged BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti to shut down the entire news operation…One shareholder told CNBC shutting down the newsroom could add up to $300 million of market capitalization to the struggling stock.

“This is not your fault,” Schoofs writes in his resignation email. “You have done everything we asked, producing incandescent journalism that changed the world.” BuzzFeed News will now focus on “the nexus between the internet and IRL,” according to Schoofs, and will offer buyouts to staffers on the investigations, politics, inequality, and science beats.

• 2022 •
Peretti in an email to employees, shared with Nieman Lab:

“Investors can’t force me to cut news, and the union can’t force me to subsidize news. I am committed to news in general and [BuzzFeed News] in particular. I’ve made the decision that I want News to be break-even and eventually profitable. We won’t put profits ahead of quality journalism and I’ll never expect [BuzzFeed News] to be as profitable as our entertainment divisions. But we can’t keep losing money…

For many years, News received more support than any other content division and over the years was allowed to spend 9-figures more than it generated in revenue. I still support News and value News, and I don’t want to have to cut back in News when we make new investments in other divisions. That’s why I want to transform News into a sustainable business, while continuing to do impactful, important journalism. I know this is a big shift and will require us to operate differently. We will set News up for success so News can become a stronger financial contributor to the overall BuzzFeed, Inc. business.”

• 2022 •
BuzzFeed News shuts down its app.
• 2022 •
BuzzFeed’s valuation is at $237 million, down from $1.7 billion in 2016. The Verge notes how much its Facebook traffic has fallen, according to NewsWhip data:

In 2016, BuzzFeed stories posted on the platform had 329 million engagements; by 2018, that number had fallen to less than half. Last year, BuzzFeed posts received 29 million engagements, and this year is shaping up to be even worse.

• 2023 •
BuzzFeed says it will start using AI to write quizzes and other content. However, “BuzzFeed remains focused on human-generated journalism in its newsroom, a spokeswoman said.”
• 2023 •
BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Karolina Waclawiak says the newsroom will need to increase the number of stories it publishes, even though it is “much smaller than it used to be.”
• 2023 •
BuzzFeed lays off 15% of its staff and shutters BuzzFeed News, which is down to 60 employees from 100 in 2022. Peretti writes in a memo:

“I made the decision to overinvest in BuzzFeed News because I love their work and mission so much. This made me slow to accept that the big platforms wouldn’t provide the distribution or financial support required to support premium, free journalism purpose-built for social media…

We will concentrate our news efforts in HuffPost, a brand that is profitable with a highly engaged, loyal audience that is less dependent on social platforms.”

Photo of BuzzFeed News in New York City in 2015 by Anthony Quintano used under a Creative Commons license.
]]> 0
A history of BuzzFeed News, Part I: 2011–2017 Thu, 20 Apr 2023 18:58:10 +0000 A little over a decade after BuzzFeed News came to life, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s willingness to run a prestigious but money-losing news division has run out.

In a memo to staff on Thursday, Peretti announced that BuzzFeed News would be shut down entirely, amid broader layoffs at the company. From now on, “we will have a single news brand in HuffPost, which is profitable,” Peretti wrote. As of Thursday afternoon, BuzzFeed stock was trading below $1 a share.

We’ve chronicled the ups and downs of BuzzFeed News since 2011, when the company hired a blogger named Ben Smith. Here’s part I of its history, from 2011 to 2017. (And here’s Part II.)

• 2011 •
BuzzFeed’s reported news age begins when the company, “in a move sure to surprise the political and journalistic classes,” announces a new hire: Ben Smith. He will do “reported blogging” and hire and edit reporters — a dozen to start. “The reporters will be scoop generators,” Peretti tells The New York Times’ Brian Stelter, and “by breaking scoops and drawing attention,” they will increase traffic and ad sales. “Great reporting and scoops will speak for themselves,” Smith tells Nieman Lab.
• 2012 •
Ben Smith: “I think we’re a competitive news organization. We’re going to cover the hell out of politics.”
• 2012 •
On BuzzFeed, Ben Smith breaks the news that John McCain will endorse Mitt Romney in the 2012 primary.
• 2012 •
BuzzFeed raises $15.5 million. Peretti tells TechCrunch, “The biggest shift for us is refocusing under Ben [Smith] as an organization that does real reporting and original content.”
• 2012 •
David Carr in The New York Times:

BuzzFeed is growing some serious news muscles under a silly, frilly skin, and added the header “2012” for election coverage. (More traditional news verticals will be rolled out in the coming months.) It’s gone well so far, with comScore showing 10.8 million unique visitors in December, more than double that of the same month in 2010…

It’s fun to watch them make all these hires,” said Choire Sicha, the founder of The Awl site and a veteran of the New York Web scene. “But it’s important that they don’t overspend. Web ad rates are what they are and that isn’t going to change.”

• 2012 •
Gawker’s Nick Denton:

Peretti’s craving for the quick viral fix will not be satisfied by the nourishing fare put out by prestige hires like Doree Shafrir and Matt Buchanan. Either before or after acquisition, Buzzfeed will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.

• 2012 •
BuzzFeed hires Jessica Testa as its breaking news editor. Smith tells Nieman Lab: “I feel in general the 800-1,200 word form of the news article is broken. You don’t see people sharing those kind of stories.”
• 2012 •
• 2012 •
BuzzFeed and The New York Times announce that they will collaborate around politics videos. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple:

Does that mean that we may see BuzzFeed’s Zeke Miller alongside, say, the New York Times’s David Leonhardt, chatting about Mitt Romney’s vice presidential selection? Yes, among other enticing combos, says Smith.

• 2013 •
The New York Times reports:

BuzzFeed, the media Web site focused on viral content, announced on Monday that it was again expanding its reporting staff, this time to introduce an investigative unit. A new team of about half a dozen reporters will be led by Mark Schoofs, who was hired away from the nonprofit investigative service ProPublica…[BuzzFeed] now has a news team of roughly 130 journalists.

• 2013 •
BuzzFeed hires The Guardian’s Miriam Elder to expand into foreign coverage. Elder: “BuzzFeed is the ideal outlet to deliver foreign news coverage in all its heft, fluidity and, at times, absurdity.” Nieman Lab later reports:

Elder would like to hire more issues-based, global reporters — perhaps one focused on global corruption — but for the rest of 2013, she’s focused on hiring a national security reporter in D.C. and a deputy foreign editor to be based out of BuzzFeed’s new bureau in London. (BuzzFeed also has a bureau in Australia, as well as content made in New York for audiences in Paris and Brazil, all of which functions separately from the foreign desk.) After that, she’d like to dispatch correspondents to Latin America and Asia, especially China.

• 2014 •
BuzzFeed releases its style guide. It’s been updated over the years, but from the time: “BuzzFeed publishes news and entertainment in the language of the web, and in our work we rely on a style guide to govern everything from hard-hitting journalism to fun quizzes.”
• 2014 •
Ben Smith gives a talk at the Nieman Foundation:

“Our DNA is as a tech company. There is a fantasy, and now a reality for places like Twitter, that you could create a media company, and hire no editorial staff and just make tons of money, because you wouldn’t have to pay anyone. That’s always the Silicon Valley fantasy, and sometimes reality.”

• 2014 •
BuzzFeed obtains and publishes a copy of The New York Times innovation report.
• 2014 •
BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti tells Felix Salmon:

“We see with our longform stories that, in some cases, the sheer length and rigor of a piece will make the piece have a bigger impact. Just the fact that it’s 6,000 words or 12,000 words.”

• 2014 •
BuzzFeed is building a new news app. Ben Smith tells Nieman Lab:

“There’s also, we think, people who want to have an app that’s primarily about telling them what’s going on in the world and what the big stories are. We felt like it made sense, given that we have this really strong news organization now, to really take advantage of that and build one.”

• 2014 •
BuzzFeed raises $50 million in new venture funding at a valuation of $850 million. Peretti: “As we grow, how can we maintain a culture that can still be entrepreneurial What if a Hollywood studio or a news organization was run like a startup?”

News also gets its own category on BuzzFeed’s homepage.

In a now-deleted tweet, Gawker founding editor Elizabeth Spiers remarks on “That Awful Moment When You Realize That Despite Sinking Millions Into Your CMS+Comments+Discovery Algos, You’re Still A Media Company.”

• 2014 •
BuzzFeed hires Stacy-Marie Ishmael away from The Financial Times as the editorial lead for its news app. “Smith says he expects Ishmael will hire somewhere around seven or eight journalists to work on the app, some of whom will be internationally located in order to allow for 24/7 coverage.”
• 2014 •
BuzzFeed deputy editor-in-chief Shani O. Hilton speaks at the Nieman Foundation:

“I think the thing that we’ve learned is that things conventionally you think you should have, like a sports desk, don’t necessarily make sense. We ended blowing that up a little bit and changing the structure of it, because you realize that, with sports, there’s not a thing that’s called ‘sports.’ There’s baseball, there’s soccer, there’s track, and there’s the Olympics, and all these other things. There’s not someone saying, ‘I want sports content.’ We think there is because that’s what newspapers do, but newspapers also focus in on particular teams.

We transitioned to having people who do what we call ‘buzz’ around teams, for example, instead of just doing this sport thing that happened today, because there’s no way we can cover all of it. Then we have one writer who just focuses on telling really long, winding sports stories, Joel Anderson, who wrote a story about Michael Sam, the first out gay football player who just got cut from the Cowboys. Then we were like, ‘We do actually need somebody to cover big sports events, so let’s just put a person on our breaking news desk.'”

• 2015 •
• 2015 •
Stratechery’s Ben Thompson:

“The world needs great journalism, but great journalism needs a great business model. That’s exactly what BuzzFeed seems to have, and it’s for that reason the company is the most important news organization in the world.”

• 2015 •
Nieman Lab visits BuzzFeed UK.

“The staff for the U.K. site now totals about 50 across all departments. It has an editorial staff of 35, though Lewis said he plans to grow the editorial staff alone to about 50 this year. Throughout 2013, Buzzfeed U.K. focused on what it calls Buzz, the lists and quizzes most identifiable with the site. But last year it began to scale up its reporting teams, including a five-person political staff led by deputy editor Jim Waterson, who interviewed Cameron on Monday. BuzzFeed U.K. also last year hired noted investigative reporter Heidi Blake to lead a three-person investigative team.

• 2015 •
The New York Times reports that Facebook “has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site…The initial partners are expected to be The New York Times, BuzzFeed and National Geographic.” At this point, BuzzFeed is getting 75% of its traffic from social.
• 2015 •
BuzzFeed’s news app launches for iPhone. Nieman Lab:

The focus on providing context has been a major talking point for BuzzFeed as its developed the app. Aside from adding background information in the main stream of the app, it has focused on contextualizing its push notifications as well.

• 2015 •
BuzzFeed UK hires Janine Gibson, a former senior editor at The Guardian, as its editor-in-chief. The New York Times reports that Gibson will “oversee an expansion of BuzzFeed’s news staff in Britain, adding more than a dozen employees to a newsroom that now has about 45.”
• 2015 •
BuzzFeed is valued at $1.5 billion, nearly double its valuation the previous year.
• 2015 •

BuzzFeed UK is “looking for reporters based in the north of England, Scotland and Wales, who have experience working on hard-hitting news stories and features that pop.”

• 2015 •
Peretti in a memo to employees:

We don’t have an existing model to copy, because we are building something that has never existed before and wasn’t even possible before social networks and smartphones became the primary way people consume news and entertainment around the world…We see a news story like artists reacting to the Syrian crisis originally by a reporter in our London office or a first-person essay about taking in Syrian refugees originally written in German from one of our Berlin reporters viewed over 3 million times because of translations to five languages.

• 2016 •
Ben Mullin writes about BuzzFeed’s investigative reporting team, which now includes 20 journalists across the U.S. and U.K., and its impact:

Campbell’s first major story for BuzzFeed News, a look at battered women imprisoned for failing to protect their children from their abusive partners, was a finalist for the Kelly Award. Arlena Lindley, who was imprisoned for 45 years for failing to protect her son, was granted parole in January after being featured prominently in Campbell’s article.

Other high-impact stories have followed: After the BBC and BuzzFeed News co-published an investigation into match-fixing in the upper echelons of tennis, the sport’s major associations launched an independent review of its anti-corruption program. An examination of the for-profit foster care company National Mentor Holdings triggered a U.S. Senate investigation. And a story that revealed inequities in the U.S. guest worker program led to a congressional outcry and earned BuzzFeed a National Magazine Award earlier this month.

• 2016 •
Fast Company declares BuzzFeed the most innovative company of 2016, kicking off a week of coverage. The company says now has 80 million U.S. visitors per month and gets 5 billion monthly views across all the platforms where it publishes content, with half of those coming from video. BuzzFeed now employs 1,200 people worldwide.
• 2016 •
The Financial Times reports that BuzzFeed missed its revenue targets for 2015 by 32% and has halved its 2016 revenue target. The company denies this but won’t release its own numbers. (Also: “A video stream of two BuzzFeed staff wrapping rubber bands around a watermelon until it exploded was streamed live by 800,000 people last week.”)
• 2016 •
BuzzFeed Canada closes its two-person Ottawa bureau, “in a move that suggests there are cracks in the social news company’s plan to expand its reporting capabilities outside the United States.”
• 2016 •
BuzzFeed splits into two divisions: One focused on entertainment, the other on news (and both with plenty of video, natch). Smith will oversee the news division, “which will now include all of [BuzzFeed’s] health reporters, foreign correspondents, its other beat reporters, the breaking news team, and its investigations team” as well as — again — video news. Some wonder if the move foreshadows a plan for BuzzFeed to ultimately spin off its news division entirely.
• 2016 •
BuzzFeed raises another $200 million from NBCUniversal at a valuation of $1.5 billion.
• 2017 •
BuzzFeed plans to go public. Peretti talks about breaking news:

“So the Boston bombings happens, and immediately all of the most popular content on the site is hard news. Then there’s a slow news week, and the most popular content is lists or quizzes or entertainment, or fun content. When there’s huge news breaking, it becomes the biggest thing. But most of the time, it’s not the biggest thing.”

Photo of BuzzFeed News in New York City in 2015 by Anthony Quintano used under a Creative Commons license.

]]> 0
The Harvard Crimson aims to fill local news gaps with a new Cambridge-focused newsletter Thu, 20 Apr 2023 14:57:20 +0000 Here in our backyard of Cambridge, Mass., The Harvard Crimson is breathing new life into the local news landscape.

On April 7, the Crimson sent out the first edition of its Metro Briefing newsletter, a new weekly roundup of coverage of the Cambridge-Boston area. The Metro Briefing includes summaries of the top local news and arts stories from the past week and a list of local events.

In recent years, student journalists have filled local news gaps around the country, covering statehouses and reporting on higher education to partnering local professional publications. Beyond the Crimson, Cambridge’s primary local news outlet is Marc Levy‘s nonprofit news site Cambridge Day. (Cambridge Day’s newly formed advisory board launched a crowdfunding campaign on Tuesday to raise $75,000; by comparison, the Crimson’s 2020 tax filings show the paper made more than $756,000 that year, 80% of it from donations.) The Gannett-owned Cambridge Chronicle serves the city in name only; on Thursday, there was not a single story on the site’s homepage about Cambridge.

The Crimson’s managing editor Brandon Kingdollar and newsletters editor Elias Schisgall answered my questions via email about the Crimson’s decision to expand its local news offerings. The interview is slightly edited for length and clarity.

If you’re a student journalist filling in local news gaps in your community in an innovative way, get in touch:

Hanaa’ Tameez: Where did the idea for the Metro Briefing newsletter come from? How many people work on it?

Brandon Kingdollar: In the past few years, the Crimson has worked to expand its newsletter offerings, launching new briefings focused on our magazine, sports section, and arts section. We began seriously discussing a metro briefing last year that would meet the needs of our Cambridge and Boston readership and developed the concept throughout the winter and spring before launching this month.

We want the Crimson to be a resource for local residents, and we felt it was important to offer a curated selection of stories most relevant to them each week.

Elias Schisgall: As the newsletters editor, I manage a team of three wonderful writers on our metro team who will be writing and curating the newsletter for the rest of the year and helping to brainstorm exactly what form it will take. Because the newsletter is still in its infancy, there’s a lot of room for growth, innovation, and creativity, and I’m excited to work with our metro reporters to see where everything goes.

Tameez: Why was it important for the Crimson to launch this newsletter now?

Kingdollar: Last fall, the Crimson moved from daily print publication to weekly publication as part of our shift toward being a digital-first newsroom. We view our newsletters as one of the “front pages” of a digital-first Crimson.

Moreover, as local journalism resources become scarcer in Cambridge, it is more important than ever for us to look beyond our campus and to our community and the issues facing it. With these two trends in mind, we felt the timing was right to debut a metro briefing newsletter.

Schisgall: The Crimson’s shift to a digital-first strategy and the expansion of our metro coverage coincided this year, creating a really exciting opportunity to produce a newsletter with a specific focus on local coverage.

Last year, I reported on local politics in Cambridge, and while I’m incredibly proud of that coverage, I was part of a pretty small team doing metro reporting on a regular basis. This year, we have a far larger team of writers doing deep reporting on a range of local topics — many of which, such as education in Cambridge, we hadn’t devoted many resources to before — and the volume of metro coverage is much greater.

Tameez: How has the Crimson’s metro coverage has changed, evolved, or expanded in the years that you all have been at Harvard?

Kingdollar: I spent all of my time as a reporter for the Crimson on our metro team, first covering government relations and subsequently police accountability, so the section holds a special place in my heart. In general, we’ve dedicated more resources to general metro reporting that doesn’t directly tie to Harvard, though we still seek a Harvard angle in most of our coverage. I’ve seen our metro team become larger and more engaged during my time at the Crimson — a change that I believe has benefited our ability to provide in-depth coverage of local news.

Tameez: Tell me about the Crimson audience’s interest in off-campus local news up until now.

Kingdollar: Two-thirds of respondents to our 2020 readership survey reported that the Crimson is their main source of Cambridge news. While readers primarily come to the Crimson for its coverage of Harvard and issues affecting students and faculty, local readers are a critical segment of our audience. We’ve consistently sought to provide reliable and informative coverage of Cambridge’s government, local advocacy, and Harvard’s impact on its surrounding communities.

Our metro briefing already has an audience of 1,300 subscribers, and we hope to grow it further by providing residents with consistent, diligent metro journalism.

Tameez: Who do you think the audience for this work is?

Kingdollar: With our metro beats covering local government, education, business, and advocacy, we hope our newsletter and coverage genuinely interest all Cambridge and Boston residents, especially those who live in the neighborhoods around campus, like Harvard Square and Allston. We also hope Harvard affiliates can rely on this coverage to learn more about the city they live, work, and learn in.

Tameez: Cambridge is sort of an odd news desert. How are you thinking about covering Cambridge local news going forward?

Kingdollar: We recognize that the Crimson has an important role to play in stepping in to supplement a shortage of in-depth news coverage of Cambridge’s government and the issues affecting the city’s residents. This year, we expanded our metro coverage team with a new beat, Cambridge education, which has produced extensive coverage of the work of the Cambridge Public Schools school committee and advocacy by Cambridge parents and educators.

In addition to the new metro briefing, we are always looking for new opportunities to reach Cambridge and Boston residents with our coverage. A Cambridge advocate emailed us today and said they were glad to see the new metro briefing launch, calling it “great news for us in the community.”

Tameez:Is there anything else that you think is important to know about this initiative?

Schisgall: One important aspect of this newsletter, in my view, is that it unites local coverage from multiple sections of the Crimson. Our magazine, Fifteen Minutes, and our arts section also produce really exciting and engaging content focused on local cultural and artistic happenings.

Until now, these different sections had been relatively isolated from each other. I believe the metro newsletter is a great opportunity to take Cambridge- and Boston-centric content from Arts, News, and the magazine and consolidate them in one central place.

Photo by Guido Coppa on Unsplash

]]> 0
On TV, skepticism about the science of climate change is dying out — but whataboutism is filling the void Tue, 18 Apr 2023 15:07:55 +0000 Any regular viewer of BBC’s Question Time could be forgiven for thinking that old-fashioned climate science denialism is alive and kicking. In a recent edition, panelist Julia Hartley-Brewer called the IPCC’s climate models “complete nonsense,” and dismissed the 2022 record U.K. heatwave and the floods in Pakistan by saying: “It’s called weather.”

But for some time now, researchers have suggested that the balance of arguments propagated by climate skeptics or denialists has shifted from denying or undermining climate science to challenging policy solutions designed to reduce emissions.

For example, computer-assisted methods applied to thousands of contrarian blogs or websites have found that since the year 2000, “evidence skepticism” — which argues that climate change is not happening, or is not caused by humans, or the effects won’t be too bad — has been on the decline, while “response” or “solutions skepticism” has been on the rise.

In the U.S. media and U.K. media, there is strong evidence too that the prevalence of these arguments may be shifting. By 2019, much less space was being given to those denying the science in newspaper outlets in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S., except in some right-leaning titles.

But what about television coverage? Recent survey work finds that in most countries, television programs, including news and documentaries, are by far the most used source of information on climate change compared to online news, print or radio.

In a new study published in Communications Earth & Environment, my colleagues and I looked at 30 news programs on 20 channels in Australia, Brazil, Sweden, the U.K., and the U.S. which included coverage of a 2021 report by the IPCC on the physical science basis of climate change. Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. were chosen for their long history of climate skepticism, whereas Brazil and Sweden were included for the more recent arrival of skepticism among key political parties.

These channels included 19 “mainstream” examples such as the BBC, ABC in Australia, and NBC in America, and 11 examples from a selection of “right-wing” channels ranging from Fox News, which commands a large audience, to more outliers such as GBTV in the U.K., SwebbTV in Sweden, Sky News in Australia and Rede TV! in Brazil.

We then watched and manually coded all 30 programs (around 220 minutes of content) for examples of the different types of skepticism present, following the broad distinction above between “evidence” and “response/policy” skepticism. But we also distinguished between “general response” skepticism — usually advanced by organized skeptical groups — and “directed” response skepticism, where country-specific economic, social, and political obstacles to enacting climate policies were mentioned.

Science skepticism is no longer mainstream

First, we found that on mainstream channels, the presence of science skepticism, science skeptics, and general contestation around the IPCC’s report was much less present in our sample than in the coverage of the previous round of IPCC reports in 2013 and 2014, even in countries that have historically had strong traditions of science denial.

Second, response skepticism was in some of the coverage by mainstream channels. But in most cases, these were examples of “directed” skepticism. In contrast, there was more non-specific response skepticism on right-wing channels such as right-wing politician and pro-Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage on GBTV arguing that “whatever we do here [in the U.K.], it’s China that needs to do far more than us,” or a commentator on Fox News suggesting that “only being able to fly when it is morally justifiable would lead to people having to entirely change their lifestyles”.

Also, on right-wing channels in four countries (Australia, Sweden, the U.K., and the U.S.), skeptics were combining evidence and response skepticism. For example, Fox News continued its historical record of skepticism by criticizing the IPCC report and hosting evidence skeptics, but it also included a wide range of examples of response skepticism (such as the infringement on civil liberties by taking climate action).

Finally, we looked at the sorts of arguments that were being made, following a useful taxonomy of climate skepticism or obstructionism published in the journal Nature in 2021. We found a wide variety of claims, but the most common concerned the high cost of taking action and “whataboutism” (typically questioning the need to take action when other countries such as China were not doing enough).

Why does this matter? First, how these arguments play out on television is hugely important because of its dominance as a source of climate information. Second, there is strong evidence that media has a very powerful agenda-setting effect, and in certain contexts, can exert a strong effect on attitudes and behavior change.

Legitimate policy discussion needs to be carefully distinguished from false claims put out by organized skeptical groups. But for those active in opposing organized skepticism, any definitive shift towards response skepticism across the media, such as vocal opposition to net zero policies, represents an important new challenge to climate action.

James Painter is a research associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.The Conversation

Image via Midjourney AI.

]]> 0
NPR may be “going silent” on Twitter, but it’s keeping its 17.6 million followers on ice Thu, 13 Apr 2023 15:57:56 +0000 Fed up at being slapped with a 100% false “state-affiliated media” label and then a still almost completely wrong “government-funded media” label (all because Elon Musk read a Wikipedia page!), NPR said this week that it is “turning away from Twitter.”

This doesn’t exactly mean that NPR’s 50 official Twitter accounts — @NPR, @allsongs, @altlatino, @jazznight, @LouderThanARiot, @microface, @morningedition, @nprhelp, @npr_ed, @npralltech, @npraskmeanother, @npratc, @nprbooks, @nprbusiness, @nprchives, @nprclassical, @nprcodeswitch, @nprdesign, @nprembedded, @nprextra, @nprfood, @nprgoatsandsoda, @nprhealth, @nprinterns, @nprinvisibilia, @NPRItsBeenAMin, @nprjobs, @nprlifekit, @nprmusic, @nprone, @nproye, @nprpolitics, @nprscience, @nprshortwave, @nprstations, @nprtechteam, @nprtraining, @nprviz, @nprweekend, @nprwest, @nprworld, @pchh, @planetmoney, @podcastsNPR, @roughly, @sourceoftheweek, @tedradiohour, @throughlinenpr, @UpFirst, @waitwait — are leaving-leaving Twitter, and the company has been careful not to use those words. The accounts — by my count have a combined 17,665,607 followers; NPR’s flagship account alone has 8.8 million — haven’t been deleted. We can keep arguing about whether Twitter actually drives traffic1, but a multi-million-person following is definitely doing something positive for your brand, and it’s taken years to build. NPR CEO John Lansing was careful not to rule out a return:

In a BBC interview posted online Wednesday, Musk suggested he may further change the label to “publicly funded.” His words did not sway NPR’s decision makers. Even if Twitter were to drop the designation altogether, Lansing says the network will not immediately return to the platform.

“At this point I have lost my faith in the decision-making at Twitter,” he says. “I would need some time to understand whether Twitter can be trusted again.”

In the meantime, NPR’s accounts have a “two-week grace period” to “revise their social media strategies.” On Thursday, some of the accounts tweeted infographics about non-Twitter places to find them. Others just aren’t tweeting.

Some of NPR’s Twitter accounts already hadn’t tweeted in weeks (@AltLatino) or months (@PodcastsNPR, @nprhelp) or years (@MicroFace, @nprchives).

While there’s been plenty of public cheering for NPR’s move, it’s unclear how many other media organizations will follow suit, especially without a fairly direct push. PBS, for instance, hasn’t tweeted since April 8, but its sub-accounts, like @NewsHour, remain active.

  1. For Nieman Lab, it definitely does.
]]> 0
This citizen-run organization is teaching thousands of Indonesians to fact-check Wed, 12 Apr 2023 15:45:41 +0000 Sitting on the sofa watching TV one night at home in Indonesia, Pak Yana gets a video call from his daughter. She tells him that he needs to get his Covid-19 booster shot so that he can visit her when her child is born. Irritated and skeptical, Pak Yana fumbles the phone into his wife Bu Iroh’s hands in exchange for the TV remote.

Bu Iroh is determined to see her grandchild and to get her husband to stop believing every WhatsApp forward over factual information. Dressed in a red trench coat and cap with a giant magnifying glass in hand, she takes her husband around town listening to people’s false ideas about the vaccine and debunking them.

This story — from a 22-minute sitcom-style video on YouTube — is one of the tools Mafindo (an acronym for the Indonesian Anti-Slander Society) is using to combat misinformation and elevate media literacy in Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy.

Mafindo has a core team of nine people, with thousands of volunteers across Indonesia helping conduct trainings, fact-check, and get more members of the public connected with the organization’s work.

Mafindo offers lots of resources beyond video that aim to be conversational, relatable, and meet people where they are. Its Facebook group — more on that below — has 98,000 members; on, Mafindo keeps an archive of all of the debunked misinformation from that group. The organization runs trainings on the real-world dangers of election disinformation and incitement. It’s also created a WhatsApp chatbot to check dubious information and a hoax-busting app. It’s a Facebook third-party fact-checking partner and received Google News Initiative funding to run a media literacy program.

Indonesia’s media environment is complicated. Though independent news outlets are technically free to operate, the country’s laws on libel and defamation are vague, putting both journalists and uninformed citizens at risk. Last year, Indonesia’s parliament passed legislation that bans “insulting” state institutions, “regulates the criminal act of broadcasting or disseminating false news or notifications,” and “regulates criminal acts against anyone who broadcasts news that is uncertain, exaggerated, or incomplete.” The United Nations has warned that the law could suppress free speech and silence dissent, and Human Rights Watch called it “an unmitigated disaster for human rights in Indonesia.”

In 2022, 68% of Indonesians said they primarily got their news from social media, and only 39% said they trust the news media overall. In the country’s 2019 presidential election, nearly half of the false information shared about candidates originated on Facebook, the BBC found.

These laws make the stakes for sharing misinformation, even accidentally, incredibly high. (In 2019, Mafindo ran several fact-checking workshops for Indonesian housewives after a few women were arrested for sharing fake news.) They also don’t address the root problems, like platform algorithms that boost false content because it’s engaging, said Harry Sufehmi, Mafindo’s founder. Instead, they punish people who aren’t digitally savvy.

Most “hoax spreaders are not criminals,” Sufehmi said in an email. “They are actually victims. Don’t put them in jail, instead rehabilitate them, and make a better effort to educate the public. Target the hoax actors instead, especially their sponsors. Follow the money.”

That’s why Mafindo’s focus is on citizens. One of the group’s key tenets is that the spread of false information is a societal problem, not something that can be fixed top-down by government. At a World Health Organization event in 2021, Mafindo board member Santi Indra Astuti outlined the organization’s overarching belief that solutions to misinformation should “avoid government intervention as much as possible.” (Mafindo has partnered with the Indonesian government’s Covid-19 task force on fact-checking initiatives, but it doesn’t accept government funding.)

Mafindo was borne out of a misinformation-debunking Facebook group that Sufehmi created in 2014. After seeing family members and friends argue over the false information they were sharing about that year’s presidential election, he wanted to do something to help. The group, whose title translates to the Anti Defamation, Incitement, and Hoax Forum, grew by tens of thousands of members in its first two years, which led Sufehmi to found Mafindo as grassroots organization in 2016.

Eight years into this work, Mafindo is going into the next presidential election in 2024, along with its current programs, focused on pre-bunking, meaning encouraging users to think critically about the information they’re receiving and consuming, especially before they share it.

“With debunking, it’s like the house is already on fire and we are doing the firefighting,” Sufehmi said. “But with pre-bunking, we are hoping to be able to actually prevent the fires.”

Mafindo’s goal is to be fair, neutral, and empathetic in its work and with its community, according to its code of ethics. That principle was reinforced in 2020, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. During that time, Astuti said, Mafindo was equipped with frameworks and tools to debunk misinformation — but facts were not enough.

“People didn’t want to listen to us when we [just] warned them about misinformation,” Astuti told me in an email.

Instead, Mafindo representatives worked with communities to help meet their most immediate needs.

“We joined forces with [people] to collect donations, food, meals, medicine, and anything that could make them help them and suffer less,” Astuti recalled. “During these activities, windows of opportunity to talk about misinformation suddenly appeared. It was during a casual conversation in an informal setting, people would listen to us again.”

Working with communities in crisis on their most immediate needs also builds trust in Mafindo’s other work, the organization has found. People need basic supplies before they need fact-checks. But, Astuti said, “Without immersing in everyday life, I think we’ll lose opportunities to listen and to feel people’s emotions, perceptions, and why such perceptions did exist.”

Mafindo board member Santi Indra Astuti, right, leading an interactive workshop at a World Health Organization forum in March. Photo courtesy of Mafindo.

]]> 0
Why news outlets are putting their podcasts on YouTube Tue, 11 Apr 2023 18:51:24 +0000 It has recently come to my attention that some people prefer to watch podcasts. In my house, podcasts are for multitasking, like walking the dogs or doing the dishes — but it turns out I’m in the minority, according to Morning Consult data.

The research firm found that more podcast listeners in the U.S. prefer to watch podcasts on YouTube than listen to audio-only versions.

A different study found watchable podcasts attract more podcasting newbies — those discovering podcasts for the first time — and that people listening to podcasts on YouTube are more likely to be younger (18 to 34 years old) than regular listeners elsewhere. (Cumulus Media, which conducted the survey, took care to ensure that none of the survey’s 604 respondents worked in fields that would presumably be disproportionately full of podcast listeners, like media, advertising, marketing, podcasting, or public relations.) Some podcast viewers report actively watching the videos to catch facial expressions while others minimize the video to listen in the background while doing something else.

YouTube starts to generate ad revenue for creators sooner than many other social platforms. And these video podcasts don’t necessarily have to be pretty or a heavy lift in the production department. Plenty of podcasts are uploaded with less-than-crisp videos showing hosts and guests in Zoom-like boxes. Others feature a static image and maybe a sound wave animation, if you’re lucky.

YouTube has published resources on bringing journalism to the platform, but those guides tend to be written for individual journalists — er, “news creators” — rather than news publishers. The platform recently rolled out a dedicated “Podcasts” tab and upgraded featured podcasts to include shows from The New York Times and NPR. Several news organizations stressed to me that YouTube appears, to them, to still be refining its podcast strategy, and said they’re waiting to see what shakes out before jumping on with their own content.

“We’re committed to supporting the future of journalism, and that means continuing to create opportunities for the industry to harness the latest technology and techniques for growth on YouTube,” Elena Hernandez, a YouTube spokesperson, said in an email. “Whether it’s long form video, Shorts [more on those below], or podcasts, we’re always working to improve the experience and support multiple formats for news creators.”

Here’s more from three news publishers on choosing to bring podcasts to YouTube.

Just last month, Slate announced it would partner with YouTube to bring its shows — including extensive archives — to YouTube. (A program called Headliner will allow the company to automate much of the process, a spokesperson noted.)

YouTube has more than 2.6 billion active users per month. The video platform enjoys a remarkably global audience, with more than half of internet users worldwide visiting YouTube at least once a month. Those numbers, ultimately, convinced Slate.

“Discoverability has become one of the biggest challenges across the podcast industry, and we see this as a real opportunity to build scale and reach a new, untapped audience on YouTube, which has become the world’s most-used podcast platform,” Slate president and chief revenue officer Charlie Kammerer said. “We’re excited to make our diverse collection of podcasts available to YouTube’s global audience, and to experiment with new formats and content ideas on the platform.”

Some of those experiments will include testing which Slate shows lend themselves to a visual medium and trying to envision what the next generation of a “video podcast” looks like. Slate also plans to use the videos on their site and experiment with Shorts to create “behind the scenes” content to promote the channel.

Other lenses to help determine whether putting effort into YouTube is worth the lift for NPR included research and development (NPR wants to feel like it’s learning about best practices for things like thumbnails, metadata, and discoverability) and reaching new audiences.

“We want to make sure we are reaching new audiences, and not recycling existing audiences,” Sucherman said. “Do we have evidence, if we are reaching new audiences, that they are younger, more diverse? And that these are ultimately public radio listeners [and] viewers of the future for us? Our mission is to reach as many Americans as possible with high-quality, fact-based journalism and information, however they choose to tune in.”

NPR, which recently laid off 10% of staff and cancelled podcasts amid a budget shortfall, leans toward producing content that can become a YouTube Short and a TikTok and appear on Instagram. “We use every part of the buffalo,” Sucherman noted.

The NPR team was frank about YouTube’s place in its overall social hierarchy. Audience teams have been more focused on Instagram and TikTok, where news about Ukraine and short-form videos from NPR Music have been doing especially well lately.

“We’re just trying to get a sense of what the audience might like, and not necessarily trying to build an audience around this content right now,” Jenkins said. “Our audience-building efforts are really taking place on Instagram, where we have a very robust NPR presence with our news content, as well as NPR Music.”

“We don’t do this in isolation. We do this as part of our overall podcast strategy and part of our overall content strategy. We’ve got levers that we’re pulling and pushing and this is one of them,” Jenkins added. “We are open to seeing it build over time — and we’re also open to changing course, depending on what makes the most sense.”

]]> 0
Student reporters are filling a crucial gap in state government coverage Mon, 10 Apr 2023 16:24:03 +0000 The local news business is in crisis. The nation is currently losing two community newspapers a week, on average, and 70 million Americans live in news deserts, communities with little or no local news coverage. In much of the remaining territory, all that’s left are decimated newsrooms and advertisement-heavy publications with little local news, sometimes called “ghost papers.”

The problem is even more acute when it comes to covering the nation’s statehouses. The total number of full-time statehouse reporters declined by 6% from 2014 to 2022. Yet state legislatures handle key issues, including abortion rightsvoting rights and educational curriculum standards.

Where full-time staff reporters have disappeared, university-led statehouse reporting programs have stepped in, according to research from the nonprofit, nonpartisan Pew Research Center. More than 10% of statehouse reporters are students, and in some states they are a significant presence in the statehouse media corps.

Journalism boosts democracy

An informed citizenry is vital to a thriving democracy. Researchers have found strong ties between the availability of local news and community engagementvoting participation and number of candidates running for local office. Less local news leads to increased polarization and higher municipal government costs to taxpayers as accountability reporting declines.

Statehouse reporting programs are part of a larger commitment by universities to connect student education with local news needs. Through classes, newsrooms and media collaborations, these programs give students essential opportunities to use skills they have learned in classrooms – and provide badly needed local news coverage. Emerging scholarship finds partnerships between news outlets and universities are effective at both teaching students and serving the public.

I lead a national effort to document these programs around the country as part of the Center for Community News. As of early 2023, we had cataloged more than 120 programs in which university-led student reporting is contributing to local news coverage. Here’s our map showing university-affiliated local news programs around the U.S.:

Among those, we found 20 instances of university-coordinated statehouse reporting, covering 19 states; Florida has two.

How the programs operate

These programs are not internships but statehouse reporting bureaus led by veteran journalists who assign, edit, and vet student work to ensure it meets ethical and professional standards.

Once ready for publication, the students’ work is shared with media platforms around the state, almost always free of charge. During 2022, about 250 student reporters produced more than 1,000 stories for 1,200 media outlets across 17 states. The remaining two states’ programs, in Texas and Vermont, started in 2023.

Under professional direction, student reporters are producing important state-government stories across the country.

For example, at the University of Missouri, student stories on lack of high-speed internet service in rural areas in 2018 built momentum for lawmakers to pass new legislation that has provided millions of additional dollars to increase access to broadband.

In early 2023, the University of Florida’s statehouse team broke the story of a $300,000 private swimming pool being built at the mansion occupied free of cost by the university president just before Ben Sasse, a former U.S. senator, assumed that role.

In Louisiana, 92 publications run stories from Louisiana State University’s statehouse reporting team. In a companion effort, called the Cold Case project, students dive deeply into racist murders from the state’s past. In late 2022, a series of stories about the police killing of two students at Southern University led to a public apology by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

In Montana, a student statehouse reporter wrote a probing story in early 2023 questioning spending in a state fund focused on mental health and health prevention. The story was republished widely, including in small papers like the Ekalaka Eagle, serving a town of 400 people, as well as the statewide news outlet the Montana Free Press. A week later, Gov. Greg Gianforte announced $2.1 million in new spending on universal mental health screening from the fund.

As far back as 2016, series of stories from the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service generated a lot of attention about the lack of state oversight of nursing homes. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh cited the students’ work in his pursuit of new regulations; legislators passed two laws addressing issues raised in the series.

New programs launch

In Vermont, the University of Vermont’s Community News Service started a statehouse reporting program this spring with three students who each receive six credits and a stipend of $1,000. Together the students have already published 23 stories on issues as wide-ranging as diversifying agriculture and child marriage.

For our university, the program meets several needs: Students get experience, media outlets get content and the university meets its public-service mission.

Clearly, more colleges and universities can step in to fill statehouse reporting gaps. We found that in just eight states — Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island — there are 42 colleges and universities with more than 200,000 students within 10 miles of the statehouses.

Public universities, with their public service mission and long-standing journalism programs, provide most of the student reporters in our study. Private colleges are largely missing.

But in Indiana, some of the 1,000 students at tiny Franklin College staff the Statehouse File, producing stories like a deep dive into the KKK’s effects on the state and an examination of pregnancy-related deaths due to new abortion laws.

Student journalists in these university-led programs are filling local news gaps, adding legislative stories that are lacking while also building skills, polishing their clips and learning how government works.

I believe more public and private universities need to follow their lead. Democracy depends on an informed public.

Richard Watts is a senior lecturer of geography and founder of the Center of Community News at the University of Vermont. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.The Conversation

Devon Sanders, a statehouse reporter and student at the Lousiana State University Manship School of Mass Communication, interviewed State Rep. Katrina Jackson in 2018. Photo by Richard Watts being used under a Creative Commons license.

]]> 0
R.I.P. Fuego, 2011–2023: You were a good bot Mon, 10 Apr 2023 16:23:55 +0000 Back in 2018, the far-right influencer Steve Bannon shared his theory of American politics. “The Democrats don’t matter,” he told journalist Michael Lewis. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

It’s not hard to see the Bannon strategy at work at Elon Musk’s Twitter. Each day brings a new fistful of outrages. Just from the past few: Twitter starts promoting Vladimir Putin’s tweets. Twitter blocks tweets critical of the Indian government — not just in India, but worldwide. Twitter stops putting labels on Chinese propaganda — but starts adding labels to the BBC. Twitter starts a dumb feud with Substack, throttling tweets to Substack articles, telling users they’re “unsafe,” and redirecting searches for “substack” to “newsletter.” And oh yeah, Elon’s inner child is rebranding “Twitter” as “Titter.”

But I wanted to get one more Musk-driven obituary on the record. Twitter’s API restrictions have killed off Fuego, a little side project we’ve been running here at Nieman Lab since 2011. Here’s how I described it at the time:

Fuego is all about right now — what people in our field are talking about at this very instant. Every hour, Fuego searches through thousands of Twitter accounts related to the future of news, sees what links people are sharing and talking about, does a little math to favor fresh stories, and spits out the 10 links that are getting the most attention, with sample tweets for each. It’s like spending your day reading Twitter — but without having to actually spend your day reading Twitter.

In other words, it was a lot like Nuzzel, which launched the following year and which, after being acquired by Twitter in 2021, lives on as Twitter Blue’s Top Articles. (Fuego in turn took its inspiration from an earlier experiment called Hourly Press by Lyn Headley and Steve Farrell.) Credit for its construction goes 98% to our old friend Andrew Phelps and 2% to me fiddling with fonts. We open-sourced it in 2013 so you could build your own Fuegos, focused on any topic you chose.

Fuego was an early example of the sort of thing the Twitter API enabled: an alternate interface for your network. If you read every single tweet posted by a group of digital-media-savvy people — for an hour, a day, or a week — what are the links you’d see most often? And what are people saying about them? The old rules let us do it for free; now, Musk wants to charge us $42,000 a month. We will, unsurprisingly, not be paying. And with that, Fuego joins the tens of thousands (likely hundreds of thousands!) of projects killed by Musk.

Civilization will somehow survive the loss of Fuego, I imagine. But its death is yet another sticky-note-on-the-bathroom-mirror reminder that you can no longer depend on Twitter for anything. Building something there is like building on sand — and you never know when the next wave will come rolling in.

Top photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel.

]]> 0
Twitter appears highly bothered by Substack’s existence Fri, 07 Apr 2023 16:01:06 +0000 In the first episode of Season 4 of Succession, Kendall Roy describes his would-be media venture, The Hundred, as “Substack meets Masterclass meets The Economist meets The New Yorker.” Perhaps feeling as if Substack is getting a little too much attention, especially since the company announced an upcoming short-form content feature called Notes1, Twitter over the past couple days has taken steps to make sharing Substack content more difficult. You’d be completely forgiven for assuming this is Elon Musk–directed and intentional, but it’s worth mentioning there could also just be a…weird bug…or something.

The changes coincide with Twitter officially shutting down its free API, and also with Twitter inaccurately labeling NPR as “state-affiliated media” (a label also given to propaganda outlets like Russian broadcaster RT and China’s People’s Daily newspaper).

On Thursday, Twitter made it impossible to embed tweets in Substack posts. Paste a Twitter link in a Substack post and it simply doesn’t work, giving you this pop-up message:

Twitter is also not allowing users to take actions on tweets that contain links — as of Friday morning you can’t like, reply to, or retweet them. (Quote-tweeting still seems to work.)

The block on RTs/likes/replies also doesn’t appear to apply to tweets that include Substack sites with custom domains:

A current workaround is using a link shortener so “” doesn’t appear in the link you’re sharing.

Substack’s statement:

Twitter’s move against Substack isn’t totally unprecedented; Instagram and Twitter squabbled in pre-Musk times, though more recently the relationship appears to have mended.

  1. Substack, at least until recently, was also burning money. The Information, referring to recent SEC filings, reported Friday that the company “Substack’s expenses skyrocketed as a result of its expansion in 2021, causing enormous losses,” and that year “Substack reported negative revenue, which is unusual.” You can look at the SEC filings here.
]]> 0
NPR says it won’t tweet from @NPR until Twitter removes false “state-affiliated” label Fri, 07 Apr 2023 13:39:37 +0000 Looking for NPR stories on Twitter? Look elsewhere.

NPR has not tweeted since Twitter slapped a “US state-affiliated media” label on its main account on Wednesday, a designation that lumps the news org in with propaganda outlets like Russian broadcaster RT and China’s People’s Daily newspaper. And it doesn’t plan to until the label is removed.

The @NPR account — which has more than 8.8 million followers — has an updated bio: “You can find us every other place you read the news.” The header image now includes the words: “Always free and independent. Always at”

The changes were made on Thursday, NPR spokesperson Isabel Lara confirmed.

“We stopped tweeting from the main @NPR account after they attached that false label to it because each tweet we publish would carry it,” Lara said. “We have paused tweeting from that account until we hear back from Twitter on this. We’ve continued tweeting from other accounts that aren’t mislabeled.”

Abstaining from Twitter is less of a hardship than Twitter owner Elon Musk might like to think. Twitter doesn’t drive much traffic for most news publishers, even though it’s a platform many journalists can’t seem to quit. (And that’s before the “state-affiliated” label downranks your content.)

Also on Thursday, Musk told an NPR reporter that the designation may have been a mistake.

“Well, then we should fix it,” Musk wrote in an email to tech reporter Bobby Allyn, who had pointed out government aid accounts for roughly 1% of NPR’s finances.

Allyn said he “provided Musk publicly available documentation of the network’s finances showing that nearly 40% of its funding comes from corporate sponsorships and 31% from fees for programming paid by local public radio stations.”

Twitter defines “state-affiliated” publishers as ones where the government “exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution.”

Until Wednesday, Twitter’s own policy on the “state-affiliated” label specifically noted that “state-financed media organizations with editorial independence, like the BBC in the UK or NPR in the United States, are not defined as state-affiliated media for the purposes of this policy.” Twitter removed the reference to NPR after giving its account the “state-affiliated” label.

Photo of a NPR member station mug by Elvin W. used under a Creative Commons license.

]]> 0