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ProPublica’s new “50 states” commitment builds on a decade-plus of local news partnerships

"It’s a good time to be ProPublica. And it’s a good thing that we have ProPublica."

Hey, that's where I work!

The article continues:

"Spreading its journalistic wealth has long been core to its mission. The latest iteration of that is the 50 State Initiative, announced last month."

The 50 State Initiative is a commitment to publishing accountability journalism in every US state over the next five years. This is an expansion of the Local Reporting Network, which was already doing great work in partnership with local newsrooms. As this piece points out, there are actually only two states where ProPublica hasn't run some kind of an investigative story - but, of course, the 50 States Initiative goes much deeper than that. It's an exciting time to be working here.

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As clicks dry up for news sites, could Apple News be a lifeline?

"The free version of Apple News is one of the biggest news platforms in the world. It’s the most widely used news application in the United States, the U.K., Canada, and Australia, and boasted over 125 million monthly users in 2020."

And publications are becoming dependent on it.

I agree strongly with the journalist's view at the bottom of this piece:

"It incentivizes users to subscribe to Apple News+ rather than to publications directly, likely cannibalizing some potential revenue. It’s driving editorial decisions, meaning publishers are once again changing their content strategy to placate a platform. And of course the company could wake up one day and decide, like Facebook, that it no longer really wants to be in the news business, leaving news publishers stranded."

Newsrooms - say it with me - need to establish direct, first-party connections with their audiences. Anything else gives a third party too much supplier power over their businesses and presents an existential risk. Apple News is useful right now, but at its heart the dynamics that drive it are no different to Facebook or Twitter. There's nothing to say it's here for good, and there's nothing smart about letting Apple own your relationship with your readers.

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Facebook news referrals: no sign of the slow-down stopping

"Aggregate Facebook traffic to a group of 792 news and media sites that have been tracked by Chartbeat since 2018 shows that referrals to the sites have plunged by 58%."

I'll bang this drum forever: establish direct relationships with your audience. Do not trust social media companies to be your distribution.

That means through your website.

That means through email.

That means through direct social like the fediverse.

It's long past time that media learned this and internalized it forever.

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British newspaper groups warn Apple over ad-blocking plans, FT reports

"British newspaper groups have warned Apple that any move to impose a so-called "web eraser" tool to block advertisements would put the financial sustainability of journalism at risk, the Financial Times reported on Sunday."

Counterpoint: block the ads.

The web is designed to be a flexible platform that can be mixed and remixed however you need. One of the points of CSS was that you could have your own styles for a site and they would supersede the interface that came out of the box.

Relying on ads is a race to the bottom. There are plenty of other ways to make money and build deeper relationships with your audience - many of which don't require paywalls or any invasive technology at all.

Ad technology profiles and tracks users; slows down websites; wastes energy; obliterates the user experience; and isn't even all that profitable. It's hard to square an organization that claims to be acting in the public interest advocating for them.

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As TikTok ban threatens stability in social media ecosystem, some brands settle into the fediverse

Buried here: "Vox Media’s technology news publication The Verge says it also has plans to federate its own site to have more ownership over its content and audience, according to The Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel."

The fediverse is both the future of social media and the future of the web. It's something that every organization that regularly publishes to the web should be at least investigating.

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Amazon is filled with garbage ebooks. Here’s how they get made.

"Virtually every single part of the self-publishing grift world that can be automated or monetized has been automated and monetized."

This is a really depressing read: fascinating, for sure, but what's left unsaid is what happens to traditional publishing as these folks become more and more successful, and book marketplaces become more and more saturated.

Or perhaps it'll drive everyone to real-life bookstores? There, at least, I know I'm not going to run into the kind of trash sold by Big Luca or the Mikkelsen Twins.

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What’s next for me…

"I am absolutely convinced that journalism’s most essential role at this critical moment goes far, far beyond what it’s doing. The status quo in political (and related) coverage consists of sporadically noting that gosh-maybe-there’s-a-problem, while sticking mostly to journalistic business as usual. The status quo is journalistic malpractice."

A strong implied call to action from Dan Gillmor, who has long argued for a more principled journalism industry (alongside a more principled software ecosystem that supports it).

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Here's the column Meta doesn't want you to see

"On Thursday I reported that Meta had blocked all links to the Kansas Reflector from approximately 8am to 4pm, citing cybersecurity concerns after the nonprofit published a column critical of Facebook’s climate change ad policy. By late afternoon, all links were once again able to be posted on Facebook, Threads and Instagram–except for the critical column."

Here it is. And if this censorship is taking place, it's quite concerning:

"I had suspected such might be the case, because all the posts I made prior to the attempted boost seemed to drop off the radar with little response. As I took a closer look, I found others complaining about Facebook squelching posts related to climate change."

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Why we invented a new metric for measuring readership

"One particular piece of the journalism model that is broken? How news organizations measure their readership."

Pageviews are not a million miles away from hits - which is how we measured success in 2003. This is much-needed innovation from The 19th. Alexandra Smith, who wrote this piece and works on audience there, is brilliant and is a voice who should be listened to across journalism and beyond.

The trick isn't convincing a newsroom to consider these ideas. The real trick is to get funders and the broader ecosystem on board. But it's work that must be done.

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Russell T. Davies on Why Doctor Who's Disney Partnership Is So Important

"You’ve also got to look at the long-term, at the end of the BBC, which somehow is surely undoubtedly on its way in some shape or form. What, is Doctor Who going to die then?"

This is a pretty clear-eyed quote from Russell T Davies. And there's more here, which is all about finding ways to tell these stories using whatever tools and vehicles and funding are available right now to do it.

Doctor Who is the best TV show ever made - and I'm grateful that he keeps finding ways to make it work.

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Facebook and X gave up on news. LinkedIn wants to fill the void

"All of this has led to some pretty serious soul-searching among America’s journalists. Is the future email newsletters? Will podcasts save the news? Does everything need to be short vertical video now? Well, here’s a question that it might be time to start asking: What about LinkedIn?"

More evidence sits below:

"According to a Pew survey released last November, a little under a quarter of LinkedIn users say they get their news on the site. According to that same survey, LinkedIn news consumers are fairly evenly split between men and women, are overwhelmingly liberal, and almost 70% of them are under 49. So even though the platform may feel like an artifact from a different era of the web, where social networks functioned primarily as directories of personal contacts, that does appear to be changing."

I don't particularly like it, but I understand why LinkedIn might be a good partial solution. My eggs remain in the decentralized social web basket: I think the Fediverse remains the ecosystem with the best possible outcomes for publishers, both in terms of potential audience and how publishers can own their relationships with their communities.

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Big Journalism’s hopeless myopia

"One way you know that it’s business as usual for journalists is that so many have remained on Twitter, a platform whose owner has taken right-wing trollery to extremes lately. He loudly supports people who want to install a fascist government in the United States, and it’s clear enough that he would support fascism if and when it arrives."

"[...] If fascism arrives, a lot of these journalists will be fine. After all, they’re helping to create the conditions for a new Trump presidency. But a lot more will not be fine — and even the ones that are in favor under a Trump government will eventually realize that their safety and livelihoods are at the whim of the extreme right-wing cultists who’ll be in control."

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“I've Rediscovered A Mode Of Expression That Was Important To Me As A Kid”: A Talk with Jordan Mechner

A lovely interview with the creator of Karateka and Prince of Persia. (Karateka in particular was a formative game for me.)

"If you'd asked me at age 12, I’d probably have said that my dream job would be comics artist or animator." Me too. So much of this resonates.

I'm really excited to read his new book, about Mechner's family history as migrants during WWII and beyond. I strongly suspect that it, too, will resonate strongly.

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The weird world of altruistic YouTube

This is such an interesting trend:

"It seems like a pretty well-worn path at this point. Start a YouTube channel with some compelling videos, and when you amass enough views/revenue, use that money to entice strangers into helping you make more videos that get more revenue."

Mr Beast is the most well-known, but there are lots of them. I feel pretty uncynical about it: although there's definitely something icky about profiting from peoples' poor fortune, there's also real good often being done.

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A smackdown over programmatic ads and why reader revenue is crucial

"There’s a reason that some 2,900 newspapers have closed since 2005, and that reason is the ad revenues publishers were hoping for to support what were initially free websites never materialized."

What's left: paywalls and patronage.

I've become much more bullish about patronage than paywalls for journalism content, and working for two non-profit newsrooms with exactly that model has only solidified that opinion. The Guardian is an illustration of how well it can work - as are ProPublica and The 19th.

What the decline of programmatic ad revenue does make me wonder is: what's going to happen to the platforms that are sustained the same way?

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A socialist writer skewered the Formula One scene. Then her article vanished.

"It’s almost unheard of for a news outlet to retract an article without explanation, especially a story of this size whose accuracy has not been publicly challenged." And yet, this brilliant article was.

One pet peeve: this article describes Kate Wagner as "socialist". Not that there's anything wrong with that word or with being a socialist, but it seems to be used very freely in America on just about anyone who presents as left-of-center. Similarly, the disclaimer "I'm not a socialist but ..." seems to flow freely.

It was a good article that represented the Formula One scene with a lens that it isn't used to. There's no reason in the world why it should have been pulled. Both the event and the coverage serve as reminders of how conservative this country can unfortunately be.

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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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