Indian Election Fact-Checkers: ‘sifting grains of sand from a toxic beach’

A pile of sand with a sifting frame, by Peter Griffin, publicdomainpictures.net

Happy Easter Monday for my readers in the UK. For the rest of us, it’s back to work.

And if you think you have it bad at work, give a moment’s thought to the small army of fact-checkers working to try to root out misinformation in the Indian election. Bloomberg looks at one of the groups contracted by Facebook to help monitor misinformation cross 10 of the countries almost two dozen languages.

A visit to Boom’s offices makes clear that the scale of Facebook’s response in India so far isn’t enough. The small team appears capable and hardworking almost to a fault, but given the scale of the problem, they might as well be sifting grains of sand from a toxic beach. “What can 11 people do,” says Boom Deputy Editor Karen Rebelo, “when hundreds of millions of first-time smartphone-internet users avidly share every suspect video and fake tidbit that comes their way?”


How 11 People Are Trying to Stop Fake News in the World’s Largest Election, by
Saritha Rai, Bloomberg

In addition to that, we look at just one of the many tributes that poured in to slain Northern Irish journalism dynamo Lyra McKee. This one is from my friend and one of her journalism professors, Paul Bradshaw. And there is more in my international media newsletter today.

Germany’s Axel Springer continues to battle ad blockers. Why is LinkedIn producing original journalism? Is Google creating an Internet of Places? The history of influencers, from Shakespeare to today. Why newsroom metrics should have an expiration date.

If you spot a good story about the business of media, especially digital, feel free to send it to me @kevglobal on Twitter. If you don’t get my international media newsletter in your inbox, you can get a taste of it and subscribe here

Can the ‘Wisdom of the Crowd’ fix disinformation?

eam members assemble a puzzle during the problem solving phase of the "Whacky Relay" at the base track 2 May.
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Team members assemble a puzzle during the problem solving phase of the “Whacky Relay” at the base track 2 May. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Dennis Rogers)

Thank goodness it’s Good Friday. In today’s newsletter, I highlight a project from my friend Claire Wardle that she hopes will allow researchers a new tool to fight disinformation. She is currently the director of Civic, the Coalition to Integrate Values Into the Information Commons , and she has proposed a project that she called:

“a Wikipedia of Trust,” a back-end contributor model where regular people could volunteer to flag, decipher, and catalog fake memes and bot activity, and add crucial cultural context to images and information that might be a zombie rumor.

“A Wild Plan to Crowdsource the Fight Against Misinformation”, Wired, by Emily Dreyfuss

It is the information equivalent of capturing virulent memes for study. The challenge as Claire highlights is that disinformation is moving from being out in the wild on the open web – or what remains of it – and public social networks to places hidden by algorithms and inside messaging platforms where they can spread in ways resistant to observation and rebuttal.

I also highlight CNN’s use of a new Snapchat service, called Curated Stories to cover breaking news. The tool has helped lure CNN back into Snap’s Discover. Will this be enough to stem Snap’s slide? I doubt it because what might be useful for media won’t necessarily address the fundamental user issues that Snap has.

Apart from those two big stories, we also have:

The ad tech bubble may be about to burst. US newspapers are struggling for cash in the rush consolidation. Sift launches ‘news therapy’ app. New media investment fund for LatAm. UK Telegraph aims for 1m subs.

Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you next week.

If you spot a good story about the business of media, especially digital, feel free to send it to me @kevglobal on Twitter. If you don’t get my international media newsletter in your inbox, you can get a taste of it and subscribe here

The Pivot to Paid in Podcasting and Vulture Fund, Alden Global, Under Investigation

The front view of what once was the the USA Today/Gannett Building in McLean, Virginia. It still houses USAToday and Gannett, but also Tegna, the former broadcasting division of Gannett, which was spun off in 2015.

The front view of what once was the the USA Today/Gannett Building in McLean, Virginia. It still houses USAToday and Gannett, but also Tegna, the former broadcasting division of Gannett, which was spun off in 2015. Photo: Patrick Neil, Wikimedia Commons

Right, it’s been a busy day in my newsroom as we handle the release of the Mueller Report, redacted, but still full of interesting tidbits. If you want to get a searchable version, let me recommend going to The Bulwark, an interesting site and podcast from some Never Trump US conservatives.

Now back to what we do here: Filter out the daily news and noise and get to the international media intelligence that you need. On days like this, it is actually harder. (Tomorrow will be even more challenging, but I’ve already got some great reads queued up.) I have two top stories in today’s newsletter.

  1. What the pivot to paid content means for podcasting , Digiday
  2. And news that the vulture fund, Alden Global Capital, wanting to buy Gannett (a former employer) is under federal investigation for investing nearly $250 m of its newspaper employee money in its own funds. (WaPo $$)

In addition to my two top stories, we also have:

The science of why humans are so susceptible to misinformation. How anti-Muslim disinformation spread after the Notre Dame fire. Journalists have nothing to fear from AI in the newsroom. Chinese Android apps from big developer committed ad fraud.

If you spot a good story about the business of media, especially digital, feel free to send it to me @kevglobal on Twitter. If you don’t get my international media newsletter in your inbox, you can get a taste of it and subscribe here

Zuckerberg’s Magical Garden of Horrors Has Another Bad Day

The statue of a dinosaur eating a smaller dinosaur.A metaphor for yet another bad day at Facebook.

A dino has dinner. A metaphor for yet another bad day at Facebook. Photo by Mike Bird from Pexels

Pick your adjective or metaphor when it comes to Facebook’s current run of horrible, awful, no good press. And this isn’t just an optics or PR thing. Facebook is embattled because it has:

  1. Screwed up, repeatedly.
  2. Can’t or won’t, or a mix of both, seem to fix its problems.
  3. And is in a footrace with Trump’s West Wing in terms of a petty, backstabbing leakfest.

In the newsletter today, we highlight a couple of stories yesterday that make for yet another shitty day in Zucklandia. Wired dropped a story with 65 sources talking about “15 months of fresh hell” at the anti-social behaviour network. And NBC reported a leak of thousands of documents that show that Facebook used data to reward its friends and punish or at least kneecap potential competitors. The second story is the kind of stuff that would instantly see Facebook in anti-trust court if the US actually enforced anti-trust laws anymore. Oh Europe, where are you when the world needs you?

But that’s not all today, we also have:

Scandi publishing giant Schibsted joins complaint against Apple’s app dominance. Vox Media acquires publisher with history of turning journalism into movie deals. Publishers turn to ‘expert networks’. UX lessons still be learned from print.

If you spot a good story about the business of media, especially digital, feel free to send it to me @kevglobal on Twitter. If you don’t get my international media newsletter in your inbox, you can get a taste of it and subscribe here

 

Austrian Publisher Finds Secret to Video Revenue

The homepage of Austria's Die PresseIn today’s newsletter, we look to Austria. Pivot to video became a much-maligned strategy, especially for digital pure plays that were focused on video as a way to grow organically on Facebook with the idea that they could somehow, some way monetise that audience. Nope. But now, Die Presse in Austria has found some new tricks that are at least driving revenue for their video efforts, Digiday reports. (I’m wary of saying something is profitable just because it earns money.) And that revenue came after six years of losses. Two of the tactics for the turnaround:

  • Autoplay but muted sound
  • They now add video to their own stories as well as licence it elsewhere using video platform Video Intelligence. That increased pre-roll impressions from 300,000 to 31 m.

In the rest of the newsletter, we have:

How Charleston paper grew subs by 250%. The best mobile journalism apps of 2019. The New York Times will sell ads based on the emotional response to an article. Facebook changes the News Feed in attempt to stop disinformation. What revenue streams work?

To get this directly in your inbox, subscribe here.

 

Newsletters are the “zero subscription”

The word newsletter on a page typed on an old typewriter. Photo by George Hodan, Public Domain

The word newsletter on a page typed on an old typewriter. Photo by George Hodan, Public Domain

At the risk of sounding repetitive, in today’s newsletter, I highlight newsletters. I am incredibly focused on this in my current role because of the overwhelming evidence that this is one of the best ways to growth subscriptions or membership. Today, we have another data point from Switzerland and NZZ. From a review of their efforts in Digiday:

The publisher has a data science team of nine people working on propensity models. A recent analysis looking at all registered users over the last eight months found that those who had signed up to two or more newsletters have the highest subscription conversion rate.

I was at the Google News Initiative Summit a couple of weeks ago, and one of their product managers called newsletters the “zero subscription” because their data has shown it is the most important first step that content companies can take in their efforts to grow subscribers and members. I’ll have more about that in my next piece for What’s New in Publishing.

And if you aren’t signed up for my newsletter, you can subscribe here.

Digital News Editor @ideastream; Come work with me!

I’m thrilled to say that there are a couple of opportunities for hungry digital journalists to join me at ideastream. The first opportunity is for a digital news editor who will report to our news director, Annie Wu. I’ve have had the pleasure of working closely with Annie during my first seven months here, and here is what she told me she’s looking for:

Ideastream is seeking to expand its web, mobile and social media content. To that end, we are looking for someone familiar with digital best practices and who has the vision for creating news content that improves the ideastream user experience. We need a journalist with strong editorial experience as well as the know-how to shape reporter stories that appeal to a local digital audience. Must be a solid writer and editor, able to respond to breaking news.

Let me build on that and convince you that, as a hungry digital journalism leader, you want to apply for this job.

Emmys, SPJ, Ohio and Cleveland Press awards for ideastream

Here’s our wall of awards, really just from the last few years. I’ll draw your attention to the haul of regional Emmys just for this year in the lower right.

ideastream is an awesome place to work

I joined ideastream for a number of reasons, one being that I love to be at the ground level of digital transformation. We have five TV channels and two radio stations, and now the organisation is pivoting purposefully to digital. We reach 2.8m people every month, but we know that to continue to achieve our public service mission that we need to meet audiences where they are at, on mobile devices, social media and smart speakers. The organisation is making bold steps so that we can innovate digitally while also elevating our journalism and storytelling in audio, video and what we call “platform intentional” content. Rather than re-purpose our award-winning broadcast content for digital audiences, we want to create experiences to authentically engage those digital audiences.

For the last five years of my career, I’ve brought my decades of digital media and journalism experience, including with the BBC and The Guardian, to bear on one of the most pressing problems in the 21st Century: providing news and information to local audiences. I see the challenges in the local news space as some of the most pressing, but also the most rewarding. When I found the position with ideastream, it impressed me that core to their mission was strengthening their communities, going beyond simply informing communities and into truly building civic capital.

When I was interviewing with ideastream, they were just winding up their Campaign for Community, and I was excited to see them quote disruptive innovation expert Clayton Christensen, the author of The Innovator’s Dilemma. They rightfully pointed out that, while we are often overwhelmed with national and international news choices in the 21st, communities are suffering from a decline in relevant local information. ideastream wants to fill the civic information void developing in the communities it serves, and with its strong financial foundation and focus on growing membership, it has the base to be achieve this goal. If you’re aware of the challenges facing local journalism and want to do something about it, this is your chance.

And we fill that void of local information with high impact, award-winning journalism. Check out our deeply reported series on the roots of segregation in Cleveland – Divided by Design – or this award-winning series on the opioid crisis, which has been one of many series we’ve done on this important subject.

Cleveland is an awesome place to live

I’ve lived half of my life in global cities – Washington DC and London – and Cleveland have been a revelation for my wife and me. It’s a city with so much to do regardless of what you’re into but with a cost of living so affordable that you can actually enjoy them. My wife and I have been to a sublime outdoor concert by Yo-Yo Ma and also a rollicking spoken word show by Henry Rollins. ‘Nuff said. The Cleveland Museum of Art is a jaw-dropping jewel – I mean, it’s got a commissioned Rodin. The Westside Market is a foodie’s heaven, and if you’re into craft beer or local coffee roasters, northeast Ohio is the place for you. The Metropark system offers a wealth of greenspace, and there are lots of outdoor opportunities if that is your thing. It’s definitely mine. And our offices are in the middle of Playhouse Square, “the second biggest theatre complex in America”.

If you want to play a leading role in an organisation charting its future and meeting the challenge of local journalism in the 21st Century, throw your hat in the ring. If you want to work in a great workplace with outstanding colleagues and great benefits, apply. If you want to move to a great, affordable city with so much to offer and building momentum towards its renewal, you need to check out this great opportunity.

Oh yeah, I said a couple of opportunities. Watch this space! My manager is still writing the job description for the other role.

Hire a journalist, you’ll get a lot of talent

As I walked in the door as a regional executive editor with Gannett in 2014, the features editor over the two newspapers I managed walked out the door, and so began the next 21 months during which only a couple of weeks I wasn’t recruiting. I wouldn’t have managed nearly as well as I did without a solid HR partner who helped me navigate the internal processes and also hone my skills as a manager. In the second year in the role, the recruiting crunch went to an entirely new level as I had nine open positions across four papers with a total headcount of 32. And of those nine open positions, three were for the four management positions at the papers.

I lost count how many resumes/CVs I looked at. For the entry-level reporting positions, many were people in other industries hoping to get a break or simply applying to meet an unemployment benefit requirement, but for the management positions, I saw a lot of resumes where the stories were fractured. These were not the tidy resumes of someone effortlessly climbing a career ladder. Some had left journalism for a time or drifted in and out of the industry. I remember interviewing one woman who was working in communications for the state of Minnesota and had read some of my blog posts and was excited about the opportunity of getting back into the industry and working together. Unfortunately, I knew that the position she was interviewing for would most likely be closed not long after we could have offered it to her. And I remember one person – who I eventually hired – and that one of my HR partners said had a resume that didn’t make sense. To which I replied, “Show me a mid-career journalist who has a resume that makes sense.”

Failing to impress the algorithms

Journalism – especially print journalism – was only one of many industries that took a beating in the Great Recession, but what a beating it took. As Pew recently reported, newsroom – digital, print and broadcast – employment has fallen by 23 per cent since 2008. In the same period, newspaper newsroom employment fell by a stomach-churning 45 per cent.

From October 2015 until February of this year, I held two full-time jobs. I was building a successful international digital media consultancy, and I was a job seeker, albeit most of my job search took the form of trying out future employers as clients. It was by far the oddest job search I have ever had. (I’ll detail all of the really odd behaviours in another post.) I hadn’t sent job applications out into the ether since my first job, but I can understand why many people became discouraged. You send them out into the great void rarely to hear anything back.

Do a search on resume algorithms or ATS and algorithms, and you’ll find that you’re not having to impress HR staff or hiring managers, you’re trying to catch the attention of algorithms or ATS – applicant tracking systems. As Muse says:

Undoubtedly, this saves HR managers the time and trouble of sorting through irrelevant, underprepared, and weak resumes to find the golden candidates. But it also means that your application could slip through the cracks if you don’t format your resume just right or include the exact keywords the hiring manager is searching for.

I broke one of Muse’s prime bits of advice, I stuffed my resume with keywords. No, that didn’t work. And I did feel as if I was flying blind at times as I applied for jobs in digital fields outside of journalism. I have to thank a couple of friends and a few recruiters who gave me advice on how to re-format my resume for non-journalism jobs. But I rarely was interviewed by employers outside of media, apart from a couple of times. Those times were usually due to extraordinary interventions by people in my network.

Journalists’ transferable skills

Fortunately, I didn’t have to transfer out of journalism or media, and I’m incredibly happy that I found not just a job but very much the right job for me in the right place. But there are so many journalists on the market right now, that many will have to complete a career pivot.

And this is my plea to hiring managers: Hire a journalist. Journalists, especially those with digital experience, are incredibly valuable employees. We’ve had to fight for customers (audiences) in a highly competitive market. We know how to work Google and social media to reach customers (audiences), and we know how to communicate. Many of us have run marketing campaigns on Facebook or possibly using Google AdWords. They work in highly data-driven businesses and have used digital analytics packages including Omniture, Google Analytics, Chartbeat or Parse.ly to grow their businesses. Many of us have great multimedia skills and know how to create videos that engage social media audiences.

I am quite happy in my new role, but there are a lot of other journalists, editors and multimedia producers out there like me. If you want to hire one of them, please get in touch. I know a few who are looking.

Editorial experimentation on the fly isn’t necessarily sexy

People always ask what advice would you give a younger self, and I think one of the things that I’ve learned over the years working is that so much innovation is simple experimentation and execution. It’s not particularly sexy, but in the end, it works. And success is infectious.

In the past few weeks, I’ve learned a half dozen things that will help me make help ideastream, my current employer, make better decisions. We are trying things and testing them rigorously with data.

Here are just a few things that we’ve learned:

  • We don’t have the biggest Facebook following in the world, and we’ve stopped boosting posts because we’re not comfortable with Facebook labelling our journalism as political advertising. Like everyone else, this has impacted our reach and to a lesser extent our referral traffic. Facebook Lives are helping us with organic reach, especially Lives that tap into the networks of those we’re doing the Lives with. However, viewing length isn’t brilliant. Facebook video audiences are still a mercurial bunch. They don’t stick around for long, but we got a lot of good engagement with the Lives so we’re going play around with them more. The next nut to crack is to get test ways to get people to spend more time with us.
  • YouTube is an interesting space for a public TV broadcaster to play in. This isn’t breaking news, but people do watch longer form content on the platform. And we’re mining our prodigious archives to engage YouTube viewers with that longer, lean back content.
  • And for the first time in a full-time position (I did do this with clients and loved it), I am working with our marketing department, and we’ve been testing YouTube ads. This has been really interesting because it’s helping us reach people we haven’t been reaching. Our video audience tends to skew older and, in terms of digital, more to desktops. With our YouTube ad campaign, almost 97 per cent of the audience we’re reaching is mobile and tablet based. And it’s cost effective for us.

This is just what I’ve learned in the last week, and in this position, I’m able to do this kind of experimentation all of the time. We try little new things and get better with them every day. As I said, it’s not sexy, but as anyone working in innovation and succeeding will tell you, execution is a large part of the game.

Hired: Driving digital transformation at ideastream

Idea Center at Playhouse Square

Idea Center at Playhouse Square

As I looked for a new job and potentially a totally new direction for my career, I didn’t just want any job but the right job, and not just the right job but also the right move for the next chapter in my life. I have now found that job: I have started as the managing producer for digital media at ideastream, a public media group that serves 18 counties in northeast Ohio. The group includes eight services that span radio, TV — including managing state political coverage for all of Ohio’s public broadcasting stations — as well as distance education and professional educational development services.

If I were to look back on my journalism and digital media career, my focus has really been about helping organisations transform digitally. And this role is all about that, and I couldn’t be more excited. Here is the start of the job listing:

In a time of rapid and disruptive change in the media landscape, ideastream is laying the foundation for its digital transformation and future. The digital transformation and future ideastream is pursuing is one based on an organizational culture shift; one that envisions an organization that operates on the principles of agility, iteration and experimentation while making content and product decisions on the basis of data and audience engagement. ideastream further envisions an organization where its staff, as a whole and over time, has the skills and orientation to produce digital-first content and products.

In that context, the Managing Producer, Digital Media, will play a pivotal role in driving the organization’s digital culture transformation.

As a number of friends said when I showed the job listing to them, it is almost as if the job description was written for me.

Meeting the Challenges of Digital Disruption

In the final stretch of this job search, I realised that if possible, I wanted to play an important role in solving some of the challenges facing journalism and media during this period of disruptive change. I have done a lot of work to help my clients adapt to this constantly changing digital reality over the last two years, and I knew that to really meet these challenges that I needed to be part of a team again.

The public media membership model, plus ideastream’s mission of “strengthening our communities”, can meet the challenge of rapid change and disruption and also to address the issues of declining trust and civic engagement. I am excited to be a part of their team.

Campaign for Community: Filling the Void

In the end, I had a couple of opportunities, and I chose ideastream because I think they are working to address one of the biggest challenges created by digital media: the nationalisation of media, and with it, the decline of local media.

When I was preparing for the interviews, I read ideastream’s Campaign for Community, their recent major fundraising campaign. The Case Statement for the campaign says that for Northeast Ohio to leverage its strengths and meet its challenges that we need engaged, informed citizens. You really need to read the entire thing. It was music to my ears, and I’m sure it would be to most journalists and a lot of news consumers craving for in-depth, local news and information as well as civil debate and discussion.

It didn’t hurt that the statement quoted Clay Christensen, one of my heroes in meeting the challenges of digital disruption, but what really drove me to seek this position was that one of ideastream’s goals was “filling the void”.

The ideastream team wrote:

There is no shortage of national and international content. Peter Diamandis, author and X Prize Foundation Chairman, observed recently that “a Kenyan on a smartphone has access to more information than Bill Clinton had as president.”   What most perceive as a precipitous decline in smart, critical, relevant content stems from a weakness in creating and curating content that is meaningful at the local level and is created in response to defined community needs that are solicited, understood and well-served.

Wow, just wow!

I started work just a couple of weeks ago, and I’m still learning the names of my new colleagues, still in the midst of a move, and still getting my head around northeast Ohio. But I am excited. I’m excited that 20 years after I joined the BBC, that I’m coming home to public media, and that I’m back in my element, driving digital change inside of an organisation. It’s great to be a part of a team hungry to experiment, committed to their communities and eager to elevate the impact of their digital work. We’re going to do some incredible things, and I’m going to take you along for the ride with us.