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Meditations in a journalistic emergency

"The antitrusters are right. The publishers actually do need more power to maintain a workable bargaining position with the platforms, which now dominate how knowledge is transmitted over the internet."

This is a coherent argument for how the news industry needs to evolve in the face of unprecedented platform power. I think it accurately captures a lot of the power dynamics, both outside of news organizations and within them.

I thought this was an interesting point:

"Regulators should help publishers gain more bargaining power with Big Tech, but in exchange, they have to agree to payroll spending requirements that link these recouped revenues to the continued employment of journalists."

I agree with the need, but I've seen it more as for a collective bargaining entity for news organizations rather than government regulatory support. But perhaps that's the right approach, and there's an interesting hook here to prevent more catastrophic journalism layoffs at the hands of private equity owners.

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Team agreements, consensus and ongoing dialogue

This is lovely: the story of a news organization deliberately fostering a culture of care and equity.

"Mutante worked with three organizational psychologists to better understand the experiences of team members. The psychologists used multiple tools to assess the organization and align on the team’s needs. They interviewed every single person on the team and did a survey. They organized workshops, including one where they unpacked the psychology of team members’ body language when communicating with each other."

And the result is jarring in the best way:

"Mutante’s culture can be disorienting to newcomers, especially those who have been harmed from working in other places. Often, new staff are thrown off by how staff at Mutante respect each others’ working schedules, how they ask for consent and check to see if people have the capacity to help with tasks. They’re not used to colleagues negotiating timeframes that are sensitive to the capacity of the operation, or being mindful about how new work might impact existing projects."

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US newspaper circulation 2023: Top 25 titles fall 14%

Print newspaper subscriptions of the top 25 titles continue to steeply fall. But digital subscriptions are up. Newspaper is just a technology; the journalism it carries continues to be valuable.

One concern is how to maintain accessibility: a print newspaper can be read by anyone with access to the physical object once it's been bought, while a digital subscription can generally only be accessed by its owner. How can we best ensure that the most possible people get access to in-depth journalism that's relevant to them?

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New York Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger: “Our industry needs to think bigger”

I'm pretty critical of the NYT's coverage these days - I wish they'd do much better on trans issues and on being more critical on America's involvement in global conflicts - but this is a fascinating, illuminating interview.

It's honestly very refreshing to see news organizations pull back and think carefully about forging their own future, in a way that partners with tech platforms but isn't beholden to them.

Two pull quotes:

"I’d say that our industry is still thinking too small, and I think that’s fair: we've been absolutely battered for 20 years. But I think our industry needs to think bigger. [...] I don’t think that our industry can or should accept that we are going to collectively be smaller than an eighth-grade streamer."

"We are going to meet our readers first off-platform. But we now know [tech companies] are powerful companies. They dominate the flow of traffic and engagement in the digital world. You need to be on them, and to find ways to partner with them, but your interests are not aligned. You should be clear-eyed on that, treat this as a professional partnership and make sure it meets clearly articulated standards."

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Journalism Needs Leaders Who Know How to Run a Business

"We need people with a service mindset, who understand how to run a business, but a business with a mission that’s more important than ever. We need leaders who embrace new revenue models, run toward chaos, and are excited to build new structures from the ground up. We need leaders who are generous, who nurture the careers of their employees, and who are serious about creating diverse and inclusive workplaces. And we need leaders promoted for their skills and their thoughtfulness, not their loud voice, charisma, or pedigree."

A lot of these values have been championed by some of the more progressive organizations in tech that I've seen, as well as other kinds of workplaces that have thought hard about the conditions that actually lead to productive work that matters.

What doesn't work: reverence for old models, or treating journalism as if it's somehow completely special and different. There's a lot to learn from other sectors and people who have tried hard to improve their workplaces everywhere.

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Against Disruption: On the Bulletpointization of Books

"A wide swath of the ruling class sees books as data-intake vehicles for optimizing knowledge rather than, you know, things to intellectually engage with. [...] Some of us enjoy fiction. And color." Amen.

I'm firmly on team fiction. A brilliant novel can teach you more about the world than a hundred AI "thunks"; as this article says, it's about the interpretation more than it is about data. Writing and reading are inherently human endeavors. They're a conversation that sometimes takes place over generations. There is no shortcut.

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Enough is enough—it’s time to set Julian Assange free

The former Editor in Chief of the Guardian on Julian Assange: "I know they won’t stop with Assange. The world of near-total surveillance, merely sketched by Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-four, is now rather frighteningly real. We need brave defenders of our liberties. They won’t all be Hollywood hero material, any more than Orwell’s Winston Smith was."

It's interesting that every description of Assange's actions needs to start with, "I'm not a fan of Assange." He's certainly a problematic character. But I do believe that the war leaks he helped release were an important insight into what was being done in our name. They were important, and it's also notable that they're being downplayed now.

Rusbridger's larger point - that his potential extradition has larger implications for press freedom - is also well-made. We need people to hold truth to power; sometimes that involves revealing the secrets that are being kept from us.

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What Medium's Tony Stubblebine has learned about tech and journalism

Tony is a smart, analytical person, which comes across strongly in this useful, transparent interview about the future of Medium. It's doing better than it ever has.

Also, I like this, which is very close to how my career has worked to date:

"The creator economy locked a lot of people into this passive income game that just doesn’t pay nearly as well as the other game, which is research something until you know more about it than anyone else, and then go get paid for that."

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Public Funding of Journalism Is the Only Way

"If your position is that public money will irrevocably taint journalism but the biggest companies in America buying ads will not, I submit that you have not thought about this issue very deeply."

I don't know how I feel about a publicly-funded media, although I couldn't be a bigger fan of independent public media entities like the BBC and Channel 4. What I do think is that we're a long way from a US government administration that will actually do that and guarantee freedom from interference.

"Today, I am just trying to make a singular, clarifying point: We need to build a large, continual public funding stream for journalism not because it is an easy task, but because it is the only way. Stop looking for magical alternative solutions."

This, on the other hand, may turn out to be true.

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Semafor reporters are going to curate the news with AI

"As social traffic collapses and Google makes ominous AI-powered sounds about search, publishers across the board have started to reemphasize their websites as destinations, and that means there are a lot of new ideas about what makes websites valuable again." A lot of which look like blogging.

Semafor Signals, described in this piece, may be AI-augmented, but it really comes down to a collection of links that form an umbrella story, with some context from an editor to link it all together.

What's groundbreaking here is the newsroom tool used to produce it, not the product itself. And that's where AI - and a lot of other technology - becomes more interesting. Not as a way to replace journalists or churn out content at speed, but as a way to give them more information to work with in order to produce work (written and created by humans) that might not have been possible otherwise.

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‘The Messenger’ Implosion Once Again Shows The Real Problem With U.S. Journalism Is Shitty Management By Visionless, Fail-Upward Brunchlords

"If you’ve spent any time in journalism, it’s completely wild to think about what a small team of smart, hungry journalists and editors could do with $50 million. It’s enough to staff a team of hard-nosed ProPublica-esque journalists for the better part of the next decade."

While we're here, might I suggest donating to ProPublica so those hard-nosed journalists can stick around to do exactly that?

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The Messenger Shuts Down—And Some Thoughts About Why It Ever Happened

Josh Marshall on The Messenger: "It really is like if you were on a parachute jump and some cocky idiot just jumped out of the plane with no chute saying he had it covered and, obviously, plummeted to the ground and died."

Beyond the well-deserved snark, this is actually a great breakdown of what went wrong here, and why businesses like The Messenger don't work anymore. The scale-advertising-social equation is obsolete.

Forgive me if it sounds like I'm banging some sort of drum, but you really do need to build deeper relationships through community, get to know the people you're serving, and build something that meets their unmet needs incredibly well. A content farm ain't it.

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Our Redesigned Byline Pages

"Research has shown that the more readers know about our reporters, the more likely they are to understand the rigors of our journalistic process and trust the results." So the NYT enhanced its journalist profiles to make them more human.

People trust people, not brands. The design makes sense: it deepens the relationship between a reader and the journalist whose work they're interacting with.

I think these are just the first steps of that humanization, though. Newsrooms need to transition from thinking about "audience" to "community": a one-way broadcast relationship to the kind of two-way conversation the internet was built for.

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Four years of The 19th News: The year in review and what’s next

Honestly, what a lovely thing: a nonprofit newsroom doing important things for news, media, and democracy, for the right reasons - with a women-led, diverse team. And thriving.

60% of the team is BIPOC; nearly 40% is LGBTQ+. And that diversity allows them to tell the sorts of stories that many other newsrooms struggle to reach.

And this allows those stories and perspectives to spread far and wide: "Our free distribution model led our stories to be republished hundreds of times, in national outlets like the PBS NewsHour and HuffPost; local outlets like MinnPost and Connecticut Mirror; and community- and issue-specific outlets like Capital B News and Inside Climate News."

I was once a member of the team; now I'm a cheerleader. I want to see much more of this kind of newsroom - and this newsroom in particular - in the future.

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The 19th News Network

The 19th News Network is "a collective of national, regional and local publishers seeking to advance racial and gender equity in politics and policy journalism."

Partners include USA Today, the Texas Tribune, Teen Vogue, The Nation, and Ms. Magazine. Partners get early access to 19th stories, which they can republish on their own sites, and partner stories will be featured on The 19th (and on each other's site).

The whole thing is made possible because of Creative Commons licensing: every story is released under a CC license and made available to republish as easily as possible. But it's made viable and vibrant by a dedicated editor who works to connect partners together and help identify stories to co-report. I think it's brilliant.

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How The Guardian raised a record amount of reader revenue in the U.S. | Nieman Journalism Lab

Roughly a third of revenue for the Guardian - a firmly British paper - now comes from US readers.

The Guardian is free for everyone to read online. There's the promise that paying readers see fewer calls to donate, but the real value proposition is the knowledge that you're supporting the journalism itself.

What this piece doesn't really discuss is the content of that journalism, and how it might appeal to US readers who want to go beyond an American lens. North American op-ed authors like Robert Reich and Naomi Klein say a lot about its lean - a left-wing positioning that it's hard to get from a mainstream US paper.

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The incredible shrinking podcast industry

The entire podcast industry's numbers were juiced by a quirk of how Apple Podcasts and other podcasting apps work. The actual number of listeners were far lower - as revealed when Apple Podcasts made a big update last September.

"For instance, The Daily and Dateline both publicly touted reaching over a billion total downloads. But representatives for these shows would not say if those numbers or other impressive daily or weekly download stats are still accurate."

Spoiler: they're not, and a lot of media companies are having to rapidly recalibrate how they report their numbers - many of whom could probably have been more openly honest about their popularity to begin with.

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Why Platformer is leaving Substack

It's feeling more and more like Substack will be toast if they don't significantly walk back their policy on Nazis. (And honestly, at this point, even if they did, who would want to be associated with it?)

"This was never about the fate of a few publications: it was about whether Substack would publicly commit to proactively removing pro-Nazi material. Up to the moment I published on Tuesday, I believed that the company planned to do this. But I no longer do."

Casey Newton discusses why Platformer is leaving Substack, bringing its paid subscribers with it, and why he selected Ghost (which really is an excellent choice).

As with Citation Needed and Garbage Day, I'm delighted to resubscribe at their new homes.

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Substack says it will remove Nazi publications from the platform

The headline here is a little misleading, because it should end: "... but not proactively, and with no changes to our content policy."

Substack seems to want to have its cake and eat it: to offer content deals, promote writers, and shape its writer community, but also be treated as a neutral utility rather than a platform with its own editorial policy, content goals, and community management.

I don't think it should have that ability. Either it's a neutral utility - which is an impossibility because of its obvious community curation, but also because of rules imposed on it at the payment layer - or it's a platform. It can't be both. And because it can't be the former, the company needs to take real responsibility for its actions, rather than pin itself to this clearly cynical policy dressed up as principles.

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Citation Needed has a new home

Molly White, who has been one of the most important voices on technology and society, has moved her newsletter from Substack to Ghost because of the Nazi problem.

As she points out:

"To be very clear, we're talking about Substacks that are using swastikas, sonnenrads, and photos of Hitler in their branding, and publishing screeds about "white genocide" and other things I'd frankly rather not reprint. There are certainly conversations that can be had about content moderation and the difficulty of defining exactly where to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable content, but the Substacks identified in the open letter and in The Atlantic piece were nowhere close to any reasonable line."

I have resubscribed.

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Why Substack is at a crossroads

"Until Substack, I was not aware of any major US consumer internet platform that stated it would not remove or even demonetize Nazi accounts. Even in a polarized world, there remains broad agreement that the slaughter of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust was an atrocity. The Nazis did not commit the only atrocity in history, but a platform that declines to remove their supporters is telling you something important about itself."

I'm one of the people who canceled their Platformer membership - not because I don't appreciate Casey Newton's great work, but because I don't want to support a platform that behaves in this way. I'm hopeful that he'll relocate and that I can subscribe again - or that Substack will recant.

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Forget technology — politicians pose the gravest misinformation threat

"Of course there will be examples of AI-generated misinformation, bots, and deepfakes during various elections next year. But the key question is how politicians will be using these tools."

This is it: misinformation and disinformation threats are not some nameless force. Sure, there are people out there who will gamify outrage for profit, regardless of truthfulness - but that's always been true. The real harm is conducted by people with power. It's a human, societal problem, not something that can be fixed with technology.

The best fix? Great journalism that speaks truth to power and actually calls politicians out - both on their claims and on their truthless strategies.

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Disney's earliest Mickey and Minnie Mouse enter public domain as US copyright expires

Some said it would never happen: Mickey Mouse is in the public domain. Or, at least, the very earliest version of him is.

As the BBC points out: "It means creatives like cartoonists can now rework and use the earliest versions of Mickey and Minnie." Disney warns that it'll still protect its copyright on more modern versions, so artists will need to be really creative - but I expect to see some pretty subversive work over the next year.

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I’ll never stop blogging: it’s an itch I have to scratch – and I don’t care if it’s an outdated format

"I’d do this even if no one read it. Blogging, for me, is the perfect format. No restrictions when it comes to length or brevity: a post can be a considered and meticulously composed 3,000-word essay, or a spurted splat of speculation or whimsy. No rules about structure or consistency of tone. A blogpost can be half-baked and barely proved: I feel zero responsibility to “do my research” before pontificating. Purely for my own pleasure, I do often go deep. But it’s nearer the truth to say that some posts are outcomes of rambles across the archives of the internet, byproducts of the odd information trawled up and the lateral connections created."

Blogging, to me, epitomizes a lot of the promise of the web. I love it too. And I have no plans to stop.

(An outdated format, though? How dare you!)

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They Want You To Forget What A Film Looks Like

I enjoyed Get Back and They Shall Not Grow Old, but what's obvious to me after reading this piece is that these upscaled films will look as outdated in 20 years as CGI from 2003 does today. They'll look like cartoons. Not without value, but nothing close to the intended naturalism.

While I think there's still some value in pieces like those two - anything that makes the past more real so we can learn from it more closely works for me, even if it's not going to be as effective a few decades from now - I'm less excited by upscaled True Lies. Give me the imperfect film grain I remember from my childhood.

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