Kevin Spacey knows what’s up: The audience won, so knock off the nonsense

“Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price, and they’ll more likely pay for it rather than steal it.”

   — Kevin Spacey, James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture.

That’s a single quote from this fantastic compilation of Spacey’s recent speech:

The full text from Spacey’s speech is here.

Via Gawker

Jeff Bezos gives The Washington Post something better than hope — now it’s got potential

Jeff Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post has inspired lots of “Why would he buy that“? analysis — some of it is quite good and some of it is really funny.

But this single tweet from Adrian Holovaty explains why Post staffers, subscribers and anyone else who cares about the institution should feel good about the move:

Bezos’ involvement gives the Post potential. Now there’s a chance that something interesting is going to happen there; something that’s not just a repackaging of content or yet another paywall or some other half measure driven by desperation.

The Financial Times shows how data-driven is done

The Financial Times launched its metered model years ago, which puts it way ahead of the current paywall curve.

After reading through this Mashable piece, it’s clear that all of the FT’s paywall experience — and, importantly, all of its related data — has made the organization quite savvy. For example:

Looking through some of the reader data — the FT’s data team now numbers more than 30 across three groups — the FT was able to recognize the kinds of patterns readers display before purchasing subscriptions. “We would see the sort of articles they were reading and the frequency they were reading those articles, for instance, and we began to map those,” [CEO John] Ridding explains. “People do behave in predictable ways.”

“… the FT was able to recognize the kinds of patterns readers display before purchasing subscriptions.”

That, right there, is how you put data to use.

The full article is worth a read.

The state of native advertising in 45 words

Native advertising is all the rage, but there’s still so much work to do, so many lessons to learn, and so many mistakes to make. That’s why I love this line from Adweek’s Charlie Warzel:

For native advertising to succeed, its practitioners need to be mindful that it’s not yet universally accepted, and traditionalists need to unmoor themselves from the idea that native is a corrosive practice that undermines great journalism and see that it could even be its savior.

Freelancers and editors, we will figure this out

Whose fault is it?

That’s the question that’s rattling around my head after the dustup between freelance journalist Nate Thayer and The Atlantic.

For those who may have missed it: Thayer was asked by an editor at The Atlantic if he could condense his feature story “25 Years of Slam Dunk Diplomacy” into a 1,200-word version that would run on The Atlantic’s website. The catch was that he’d be doing this extra work for exposure, not money. (That’s quite a catch. Editing 4,000-plus words down to 1,200 is no easy task.)

Thayer’s blog post chronicling the exchange inspired a lot of follow-up. Of particular note:

  • The comments on Thayer’s post morphed into a virtual support group / troll target.
  • Reuters’ Felix Salmon used the moment to note differences between print freelancing and digital freelancing. (This was my favorite of the fallout pieces.)
  • Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic wrote … you know, I’m not sure what he wrote. He was angry and passionate and I think he meant to defend his colleague and his publication. His response was a jumble of thoughts — many of them smart — but my real takeaway from his piece was that everyone is anxious about this stuff.

At first, I read these posts because they’re gossipy. I enjoy watching journalists go after each other because a snarky journalist is often an entertaining journalist. Anger leads to focus and focus leads to excellent word choice. These folks do know how to turn a phrase.

But as I read more and felt my own anxiety rising, I tried to understand the bigger pressures at play.

And that’s when I picked up on the weird blame thing that runs through all of this.

We’re all so incensed. Freelancers think the editors are low-balling on purpose. Editors complain that freelancers don’t understand the economics of digital.

Pointed fingers. Thumped chests. Pitchforks and torches.

Yet, there’s nowhere to march. The rage can’t be released.

Why? Because the question I posed at the beginning — Whose fault is it? — has two answers:

1. It’s no one’s fault.

2. It’s everyone’s fault.

Digital evolved out of a stew of history and context, propelled by a fundamental catalyst: information exchange always chooses the path that’s faster and easier. In that sense, there’s no one to blame. It all just happened because that’s how information works.

But we — all of us — also made digital what it is through our collective adoption. We’re the ones who commoditized content. We turned to digital services and devices because they offered better options than their ancestors. In that sense, everyone is to blame.

Now, this is supposed to be the “so what?” part of the piece. It’s where I outline my brilliant five-step plan for the thoughtful advancement of the journalism and content industries.

Well, I don’t have a plan. No one has a plan.

I’m optimistic, though, and that counts for something. (Stop rolling your eyes.)

All the anger and anxiety we’re feeling can be productive. It shows we care. We want to assign blame and move on. We want to figure this out because we like doing what we do and we want to keep doing it.

That makes me think we’ll get it together. Yes, this smacks of blind faith. I’m okay with that.

There’s more to it, though. There’s also a business here.

I believe digital publishers will find their natural revenue levels — and those levels are not at or near zero. In time, publishers will regroup and build those levels up. They’ll want to do more and get better, and that improvement will require finding and paying people to do better work for better fees.

We’re already seeing hints of this. Take a look at Quartz or BuzzFeed or Gawker. There’s no slideshows. Not a pop-under in sight.

These outlets still have revenue gimmicks, that’s true, but they’re new gimmicks. They aren’t clinging to old ad and sponsor methods. The people behind these sites are trying new things, and these new things are much closer to the mark.

That’s a small signal, but it’s a positive one. We’re circling closer to the sweet spot of content, audience value and revenue. Once we hit that, we’ll move into the building phase.

It’s important to take a step back. To look at where we were and where we are. The process isn’t fast enough and it’s still frustrating, but fundamentally we’re improving.

So that’s the only plan I can see. Keep getting better. Keep getting closer.

And if we do that, I believe we’ll figure this out.

What’s a bigger and bolder word for “empire”? That’s what ESPN is

In a New York Times article looking at Rupert Murdoch’s plan to take on ESPN (good luck with that), the word “empire” comes across as an understatement when describing the breadth of ESPN’s domain:

It [ESPN] is a true empire, with eight domestic cable channels; the ESPN3 broadband network; the Web sites and; a radio network; digital properties like ESPNw, which focuses on women’s sports; a magazine; the WatchESPN app, which enables viewing of ESPN on computers, smartphones and tablets; and ownership of the Global X Games, college basketball tournaments and seven bowl games.

Other ESPN bits and pieces:

  • There’s an entire corporate website dedicated to ESPN’s inner workings.
  • The Internet is a wonderful thing. I searched for “who is the guy who does the SportsCenter voiceovers” and discovered it’s Chris Kelley. You can see him here and listen to an interview about his rise to voiceover power here. (It must be unnerving to get a tour of this guy’s house. “This! … is the dining room. And this! … is the lanai” dun-huh-Nuh dun-huh-Nuh!)
  • One last thing: My O’Reilly colleague Joe Wikert wrote an interesting piece last year that deconstructed ESPN’s content strategy. It’s a good read.

Note to self: Twitter is by the people, not we the people

The Pew Research Center reminds us that Twitter is not a proxy for the majority.

That feels like an obvious observation. Perhaps it’s even unnecessary. Surely we all know that blowhards mouthing off on Twitter are not duly appointed representatives for The People. Right?

But we forget that sometimes. The adrenaline kicks in when we see millions of passionate tweets zipping about. Reason is subsumed by volume and velocity. “Wow! The world really loves/hates this person/product/policy!”

That’s not true though. And we need to keep that in mind as each of us, individually, filters the signal from all that noise.

That’s why the Pew findings are so valuable.

This particular paragraph really drives the point home:

Twitter users are not representative of the public. Most notably, Twitter users are considerably younger than the general public and more likely to be Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party. In the 2012 news consumption survey, half (50%) of adults who said they posted news on Twitter were younger than 30, compared with 23% of all adults. And 57% of those who posted news on Twitter were either Democrats or leaned Democratic, compared with 46% of the general public.

I write this mostly as a warning to myself. I’m older than the demographic noted in that excerpt, but I tend to align with the political perspectives you see on Twitter and Reddit and the like. When I think back to the heated moments of the 2012 election, I can see now that I fell into the trap of emphasizing the predictions and conclusions I wanted to see — and I favored outlets that provided those comforts.

$20,000 to speak at a journalism event. Wow.

Jonah Lehrer, he of the self plagiarism and fabricated Bob Dylan quotes, received $20,000 to speak at the Knight Foundation’s Media Learning Seminar.

Knight is now sorry about giving Lehrer all that money.

I don’t take issue with Knight inviting Lehrer. I appreciate the absurdity of this guy speaking at a “Media Learning Seminar.” I’m not offended by it, though.

My gripe is with the perception.

The traditional journalism business is bleeding out. There’s buyouts and layoffs and lots of hand-wringing about what comes next.

So why is anyone getting paid $20,000 to speak at a journalism event?

Specific disruption: A reporter screwed up on social media. What are you going to do about it?

Here’s the situation: A reporter with a high-profile position in the Jerusalem bureau has been a little too free with her thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, etc.

What do you do?

A. Tell her to knock off the social media stuff.

B. Have a colleague read and critique all of her social media updates before they’re published.

C. Allow this reporter — and others — to post what they want, when they want. Professionals don’t need babysitters.

The New York Times is going with Option B.

From NYT public editor Margaret Sullivan:

… The Times is taking steps to make sure that Ms. [Jodi] Rudoren’s further social media efforts go more smoothly. The foreign editor, Joseph Kahn, is assigning an editor on the foreign desk in New York to work closely with Ms. Rudoren on her social media posts.

The idea is to capitalize on the promise of social media’s engagement with readers while not exposing The Times to a reporter’s unfiltered and unedited thoughts.

Given the spotlight that the Jerusalem bureau chief is bound to attract, and Ms. Rudoren’s self-acknowledged missteps, this was a necessary step.

The alternative would be to say, “Let’s forget about social media and just write stories.” As The Times fights for survival in the digital age, that alternative was not a good one.

My initial reaction was to rake the Times over the coals for its perpetuation of the “objectivity myth” (this perspective is shared by others). And what’s this nonsense about “not exposing The Times to a reporter’s unfiltered and unedited thoughts”? That’s naive.

But then I re-read this part:

“The alternative would be to say, ‘Let’s forget about social media and just write stories.’ As The Times fights for survival in the digital age, that alternative was not a good one.”

The Times is in a tough spot — and it’s a spot that people outside the Times (like me) don’t immediately understand.

The Times can’t give up on objectivity. Objectivity is its lifeblood.

The Times can’t give up on social media. Social media is the attention generator.

So if you can’t turn your back on the past (objectivity) or the future (social media), what do you do?

What you do is institue an editorial filter that seems ridiculous to anyone outside the organization.

And it is ridiculous. Investing someone else’s time into the social media wanderings of a colleague suggests the Times’ profit margins aren’t as narrow as we’ve been led to believe.

But what choice do they have? Think about it. If you’re not going to fire her or silence her social media efforts, what’s your recourse?

This is why knee-jerk reactions don’t work when you’re discussing real and particular moments of disruption. It’s easy for those unencumbered by the unique pressures of a specific organization (like me, again) to tell that organization how it should handle its business. “Fire her!” “Delete her Twitter account!”

Easy, right? But it’s not. Not when you inject the context of a business and a person into the conversation. This isn’t theoretical. This happened. And what are you going to do about it?

Real conversations about disruption — conversations catalyzed by specific events — are far more important and instructive than the theoretical babble that spews out of journalism conferences. These real examples show just how complicated this stuff is.

To be clear, I’m not saying the Times did the right thing here (I’d take the reporter off of social media altogether and suffer the consequences). What I’m saying is that I understand why they did what they did.

To me, that understanding is an essential part of a post-disruption mindset. I’m done with the theories and the reports and the “future of X” stuff. The real future of our media industries will be formed collectively through specific and tough decisions. This is how we learn.

Journalism pet peeves [Ongoing]

An ongoing list of journalism habits that get stuck in my craw. Audience hatred — You are not better than your readers. You are not smarter than your readers. You can hate readers all you want in your off time,…

An ongoing list of journalism habits that get stuck in my craw.

Audience hatred — You are not better than your readers. You are not smarter than your readers. You can hate readers all you want in your off time, but while you’re on the clock you need to serve them with everything you’ve got. Find value. Create value. Seek viewpoints. Respond to comments. Give a shit. Without an audience, you’ve got nothing.

Killing (tech) — Technologies do not kill other technologies. One might supplant another. The market might choose another. But gadgets do not have homicidal urges (yet).

Lists of pet peeves — That’s right. I’m violating my own pet peeve. No one cares! (And yet, I continue …)

Non-linking — Please. Seriously. Please. If you include a URL in a story, and that story is posted on the Web, you must take the three extra seconds required to link it in.

Stand-in opinions — Squeezing a quote out of a source that just happens to dovetail with the exact point you sought to make does not make you objective. At best, you’re being opaque. At worst, lame. Just say it. Put it out there. I’d appreciate the honesty. Maybe all the time you’ve spent researching and talking with folks has given you — hold on, this is gonna hurt — an opinion of your own.

Stealing and/or non-acknowledgement — I realize journalists are supposed to live for the exclusive. That’s fine. Competition is a good thing. But when you get scooped, give credit where it’s due. Cite the original source and link to the story, even if it’s a hated competitor. They won this battle, maybe you’ll get the next one.

Got others? Please share them below.