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Former Politico Owner Launches New Journalism Finishing School To Try And Fix All The ‘Wokeness’

"There’s an ocean of problems with journalism, but the idea that there’s just too damn much woke progressivism is utter delusion. U.S. journalism generally tilts center right on the political spectrum."

This is a story about the founder of Politico creating a "teaching hospital for journalists" that appears to be in opposition to "wokeness". But it's also about much of the state of incumbent journalism, which is still grappling with the wave of much-needed social change that is inspiring movements around the world.

"In the wake of Black Lives Matter and COVID there was some fleeting recommendations to the ivy league establishment media that we could perhaps take a slightly more well-rounded, inclusive approach to journalism. In response, the trust fund lords in charge of these establishment outlets lost their [...] minds, started crying incessantly about young journalists “needing safe spaces,” and decided to double down on all their worst impulses, having learned less than nothing along the way."

Exactly. Asinine efforts like anti-woke journalism schools aren't what we need; we need better intersectional representation inside newsrooms, we need better representation of the real stories that need to be told across the country and across the world, and we need to dismantle institutional systems that have acted as gatekeepers for generations.

All power to the outlets, independent journalists, and foundations that are truly trying to push for something better. The status quo is not - and has not been - worth preserving.


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Columbia Law Review Board Nukes Website Over Palestine Article

"Eghbariah’s paper for the Columbia Law Review, or CLR, was published on its website in the early hours of Monday morning. The journal’s board of directors responded by pulling the entire website offline. [...] According to Eghbariah, he worked with editors at the Columbia Law Review for over five months on the 100-plus-page text."

Regardless of your perspective on the ongoing crisis in Israel and Palestine, this seems like a remarkable action: removing a heavily-reviewed, 100+ page legal analysis because it discusses the Nakba, the mass-displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 Palestine war.

The right thing to do would be to publish it - as the editors tried to do - and allow legal discussion to ensue. Instead, the board of directors chose to simply pull the plug on the website.

As one Columbia professor put it:

“When Columbia Law Professor Herbert Weschler published his important article questioning the underlying justification for Brown v. Board of Education in 1959 it was regarded by many as blasphemous, but is now regarded as canonical. This is what legal scholarship should do at its best, challenge us to think hard about hard things, even when it is uncomfortable doing so.”

If nothing else, this is a reflection of how sensitive these issues are in the current era, whose voices are allowed to be heard, and the conflicts between different ideologies, even on university campuses.


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UK broadcasters trade ad airtime for advertisers’ shares

This is an interesting business model: UK broadcasters are trading unused ad space for equity in digital media startups, turning them into venture-scale investors.

"The move comes as broadcasters continue to face a tough economic downturn where corporate clients have slashed spending on advertising – which is traditionally seen as a bellwether of the economic climate."

The thing about venture investing is that it doesn't have a short time horizon: exits could easily be a decade away. So this is either a deliberately long game or a really short-sighted move on behalf of the broadcasters, who might not be prepared to hold a basket of liabilities for that long. Of course, they could presumably sell the equity, but that pressure on the secondary market would have the potential to drive the startups' share prices down. Really the broadcasters need to hold onto their portfolios.

I'm very curious to see how this plays out. It's definitely an innovative way to use an otherwise illiquid asset (unsold ad space). I want these broadcasters to survive, and I like the ecosystem-building aspect of this, so I hope it all works out for everyone involved.


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“The way we raise the money at The Guardian is different than any place I’ve ever been”

"The way we raise the money at The Guardian is different than any place I’ve ever been. This is truly a jointly owned responsibility among the business side and editorial."

Every non-profit newsroom needs to move their center of gravity from large contributions to smaller, distributed support from its reader base. The Guardian is doing it incredibly well, and there's a lot to learn from how it's going about things.

I'm not sure about the idea of tracking revenue per article, but the idea of making the whole newsroom involved in its continued existence doesn't seem bad to me (even if it goes against accepted orthodoxy). The trick is not taking it too far, and being open to secondary or tertiary effects. There are some stories that are vitally important even if they aren't obvious moneymakers, and newsrooms must retain a strong argument for running them.

The Guardian's "epic" at the bottom of every article drives a ton of revenue for them, and I'd love to learn more about how they optimize it in practice.

Finally, this seems right to me, and something for all news (for-profit and non-profit alike) to emulate:

"Nine or 10 years ago, we did a lot of work to decide whether we should have a paywall or not. And we decided that we would both fulfill our mission better, but we would also generate more revenue, if there were no paywall. Now it’s part of our DNA and we talk about it every day."


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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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