Are nuggets the future of online journalism?

For my last blog post, I thought I would explore a topic tied to the future of digital media and online journalism. This article from Vanity Fair breaks the news about a new venture called Axios from Politico co-founder and former C.E.O. Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, the founder of its Playbook newsletter.

As part of the PR spin used to announce the new publication, the company says that its mission statement is: “Media is broken—and too often a scam.” It’s hard to argue that journalism isn’t broken right now, bogged down by plummeting revenues, an aura of mistrust, and the epidemic of fake news. The partners argue that online journalism is monopolized by industry giants like The New York Times with outdated technology and advertising models, and the digital media start-ups of the last decade that are based on “just give me a lot of traffic, I swear to God I will find a business model.”

VandeHei describes his new media enterprise as what you would get if the “Economist mated with Twitter.” Although the news venture doesn’t launch until January and the final details are still secret, they have hinted that it will specialize in business, technology, politics, and media trends in short, high-quality news items designed to be shared on Snapchat and Facebook. Some people have theorized that the venture might take its direction from We the People, a news channel on Snapchat.

So do news ventures like Axiom signal the future of journalism? Will it be dominated by headlines and nuggets of news that we absorb by scrolling through social media? It’s food for thought, especially as the growth of social networks seem to show no evidence for slowing down.



Twitter: Mike Godwin of Godwin’s Law

Before this assignment, I am embarrassed to say that I had never been active on Twitter. I created an account years ago and then ignored it in favor of other social networks. I started working on our assignment a few weeks ago, sending out tweets to a few celebrities who I thought would make interesting connections, but the silence was deafening. So this week I took a new approach by deleting my old Twitter account and setting up a new one with a fleshed-out profile.

At the same time, I was working on a case study on ridesharing in Austin for my Seminar in Advertising and Public Relations class. While I was recruiting participants through Facebook for a focus group, my plea reached attorney and author Mike Godwin through mutual friends. He told a friend that he had written a paper titled “Catching the Third Wave: A Tale of Two Tech-Policy Battles” for the R Street Institute, a public policy research organization in Washington, D.C.  His paper compared the defeat of the Proposition 1 ridesharing election in Austin to a regulatory defeat suffered by Facebook in India, and it proved to be very useful for my research. I did not personally know Mike Godwin, but we were both University of Texas alums, and he had served as editor of The Daily Texan campus newspaper after I graduated.

In later years, Mike Godwin became famous for the creation of “Godwin’s law,” an Internet adage that claims that as an online discussion grows longer and more heated, regardless of the topic, the probability of  someone comparing someone or something to Hitler increases. His theory got a lot of traction on the Internet, and in 2012 Godwin’s law was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

I reached out to Godwin on Twitter, praising his paper on ridesharing, and asked him if he had based his research on an analysis of media coverage or if he had also conducted interviews.


In his response, he named a person he had interviewed who we knew in common because she had worked as an advisor at The Daily Texan during both of our tenures there. Surprisingly, she also had taken part in my focus group on ridesharing. (I have deleted her name in the screenshot to keep her anonymous.) I then commented about the connection in his paper between India and Austin, and he responded with a thread of great background information.


So, while I didn’t hear back from the bigger celebrities I stalked, I was successful in getting interesting feedback on a topic I am currently researching, and I made a personal connection with a notable alum of my alma mater. And, at the same time, I learned how to use Twitter and ended up with a much better profile for the future.

For anyone interested in more information about Mike Godwin, here is an article he wrote in The Washington Post about the birth of Godwin’s law.

December 12 Update: Just went into Twitter and found that he had sent two more tweets to me last week. I think he enjoyed discussing his paper on Uber and Lyft.

Meetup: Opinion Writing in the Age of Twitter

In October I attended a special event at the Belo Center for New Media at The University of Texas featuring Ernesto Londono, who serves on the editorial board of The New York Times. He gave a speech as part of the Mary Alice Davis Distinguished Lecture in Journalism titled “Opinion Writing in the Age of Twitter.”

img_1255Sixteen journalists sit on the editorial board, and their job is to write the editorials for The New York Times. Londono was surprised when he received an email a little over two years ago asking about his interest in the position. He had amassed impressive experience at The Washington Post, but he didn’t feel like a relatively young reporter from Bogota, Colombia, was really who the Times was seeking. It turns out that the paper wanted to break the mold and bring in new voices to counter the editorial board’s traditional, stodgy image.

In his lecture, Londono gave tips on how opinion writers and journalists can rise above today’s “incessant chatter of opinion” and “never-ending stream of information” on the Internet. He suggested trying to stand out from the crowed by choosing issues to cover that no one is paying attention to yet. His example came from October of 2014, when he chose to write about Cuba relations in an editorial series that began with a piece img_1256urging the Obama administration to end the embargo on Cuba. The editorial stance seemed surprising at the time since no one was openly talking about Cuba, but within two months the Obama administration announced that it was working to restore full relations with Cuba.

He also spoke about the current crisis facing the news industry – the lack of public trust in the news. He said there is a dire need to rebuild the trust that has eroded in recent years and seems to be at an all-time low. He suggested striving for transparency in reporting because it dispels suspicion and builds trust. For example, Londono traveled to Cuba on a reporting trip to meet with ordinary citizens and government officials while working on the Cuba series. While the editorials published in the Times are written anonymously, he documented his trip in photos and shared them with the public in the hopes that the transparency would build trust in the United States and Cuba as he gathered information on the controversial topic.

In another first for The New York Times, he suggested a series called “Transgender Today” after reading about a transgender woman img_1262who had committed suicide. Instead of appearing as though it had moral superiority by publishing an editorial, the paper invited people to share their own stories about being transgender and upload video testimonials. The Times received more than 300 submissions and posted them without editing them. “This is an example of crowdsourcing at its best,” Londono said. “There is something so visceral about letting people tell their own stories.”

Just before he traveled to Austin for the lecture, The New York Times published a lead editorial urging Latinos to vote, and for the first time in the history of the paper it appeared in English and Spanish. Then, on the afternoon of his UT lecture, Londono interacted with readers through a Facebook live chat on the New York Times Opinion Section page, answering questions in both English and Spanish. It seems as though the one-time young reporter from Colombia really is breaking the conventional mold at The New York Times.


Show me the money!

Several of us have posted about fake news, but I thought I would also share this story from today’s Washington Post. It explains how lucrative it is to be in the fake news business on Facebook. Teenagers in Macedonia have been making $5,000 per month peddling hoaxes according to BuzzFeed. And even more shocking, the story says that the sharing of a fake story by the Trump campaign during the campaign could net an additional $10,000 for the hoaxer. Zuckerburg may say that he is hesitant for Facebook to become an “arbiter of truth” since it is not a media company, but it is clear that the social network has a responsibility to rein in a deceptive industry that it is financing and profiting from.


The battle against fake news

There has been a lot of finger-pointing since Donald Trump’s election, and many have been pointed at Facebook. A growing number of critics – even in the tech industry – have criticized the social media platform for having a negative influence on the election because it spreads fake news.

While Mark Zuckerberg has argued that Facebook is not to blame, this week news headlines announced that both Facebook and Google have unveiled new policies to fight the growth of fake news.  The idea behind the policies is to hit fake news sites where it hurts by not allowing them to make money through advertising tools.

Here’s a Wired UK story on the new efforts:

And here’s a CNet story about the controversy surrounding fake news and the election:

Hopefully dust from the swirling debate will settle and by next election we won’t feel like this:






The propaganda medium?

“It’s a propaganda medium!”

Which news source do you think this quote describes in today’s Los Angeles Times? Maybe Fox News, Huffington Post, Breitbart, or MSNBC?

Actually, it’s social media, and this quote is from Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups. In an angry outburst at the Web Summit in Lisbon, he spoke about the election of Donald Trump and the tech industry’s responsibility to regulate fake news posted on social networks that reach hundreds of millions of people. He said social media is now spreading propaganda in the same vein as talk radio and cable networks.

The article in the Los Angeles Times focuses primarily on the influence of Facebook, and it quotes the figure we discussed last night in our talk about online journalism. According to the Pew Research Center, 44 percent of Americans now get their news from Facebook. And Facebook reports that there were 716.3 million posts, likes, and comments about the election on the social media platform.

So Facebook might now be one of the most powerful platforms in the country for swaying public opinion – holding the position that newspapers and news networks once did. What responsibility do you think Facebook has to the public?

Click here to read the entire article, “After Trump’s win, even some in Silicon Valley wonder: Has Facebook grown too influential?”

Online journalism links

For our discussion on online journalism tonight, here are a few links to review if you have time about the rise of online journalism:

First, a television news report from 1981 about the first newspapers in San Francisco to provide electronic delivery of news directly to home computers:

Also, here’s a Pew Research Center report from 1998 that showed Americans were beginning to get their news from the Internet at an astonishing rate:

Finally, here’s the latest Pew Research Center report on the State of the News Media 2016. It explores recent changes in how the public is accessing news, including the fact that the majority of U.S. adults now get their news through social media. This has been especially true during the current presidential election.


Checking in at Standing Rock

As we consider the power of mobile media this week, one of its well-known features has made the headlines. In the last few days, the “check in” feature on Facebook has connected people across the country in support of the Standing Rock tribe members who are protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-10-22-35-pmOver the weekend, social media posts claimed that police were using Facebook check-ins to track Standing Rock protestors. They urged people across the country to check in remotely to the protest camp at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to confuse the police. Although Snopes reported that it is not clear whether or not the police were actually using the tactic, by the evening of November 1 more than 1.5 million Facebook users had “checked in” to Standing Rock.

In our reading for the week, “Mobile media: Coming of age with a big spalsh,” author Ran Wei argues that no medium beats the mobile telephone for its ability to connect people and give them the sense of being together, regardless of their location. As the news this week shows, mobile media brought people together in support of the Standing Rock protestors while also bringing attention to the cause across the country and even internationally.

Here’s the full news story as featured on NPR.




The rallying cry of #NastyWomen

The aftermath of the final presidential debate was fascinating to watch, especially the backlash from women who seized on Donald’s Trump description of Hillary Clinton as “such a nasty woman.”

Social media came alive with #NastyWoman and #NastyWomen hashtags – and my favorite, #ImWithNasty. The BBC calculated that a quarter of a million tweets mentioned “nasty woman” within an hour of Trump’s comment.

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-1-19-59-pmAlmost immediately, themed T-shirts and hats were being sold online, with the sales of one “Nasty Woman” shirt benefitting Planned Parenthood. And Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” was suddenly popular again, inspiring a flood of memes featuring Hillary Clinton. According to Spotify, streams of the 1986 song jumped 250 percent following the debate.

By the next morning, Vox was reporting that “nasty woman” had become the feminist rallying cry that Hillary Clinton was waiting for. “For young women especially, for whom the label “nasty woman” seems like vintage sexism, almost archaic, the insult has become a badge of honor,” reported Vox writer Liz Plank.

I think this outpouring of support is fascinating, especially in light of our class discussion on women in tech. It also reminded me of previous discussions earlier in the semester about how the Internet and mobile technology are helping to close the technological gap between men and women. That was certainly evident last night, as women proved that they have a strong voice on the Internet and stood together to fight against misogyny with a new brand of nastiness.





Getting fingerprinted online

With this week’s focus on browsers, it seemed fitting to share Online Trackers Follow our Digital Shadow By ‘Fingerprinting’ Browsers, Devices, from NPR’s All Tech Considered.

In the interview, two Princeton researchers explain that modern-day tracking is sophisticated enough to track the “fingerprints” left by our computers and mobile phones when we go online. This is different from Internet cookies that can be deleted or prevented from being installed. Many of our devices have a unique fingerprint based on such factors as our browser settings, battery level, or perhaps even what fonts we have installed on a computer.

Once your fingerprint has been identified, a tracker can secretly piece together everywhere you have been online and use the information to create a profile of you. Then algorithms can be applied to deduce your personal interests and target you with ads or specific political messages.

Though they consider it to be a Band-Aid fix, one solution suggested by the researchers is Privacy Badger, a project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Click here for information on the browser extension and the work performed by EFF to defend civil liberties in the digital world.

For a look at the entire All Tech Considered piece: