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  • Mark 10:22 am on October 3, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Jill Abramson, ,   

    The acceleration of journalism 

    I’d tended to think of the acceleration of journalism as being a matter of fewer staff producing more copy. But this passage from Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth suggests the changing demands of editing are a factor as well. From pg 416:

    Before she left for ProPublica, Marilyn Thompson, the investigative reporter and proponent of “slow journalism,” found herself editing a slew of stories each day on the national desk. There was so much to edit that she often used one of her days off to work on the longer pieces that probed Washington’s underbelly of money and lobbying. With fewer editors and staffers engaged in story production (“the process people”), the responsibility for everything fell on the shoulders of editors who before the social media era had had time to brainstorm with reporters or change a story’s architecture and flow. Now they were expected to do and check everything, from writing the myriad headlines for different platforms to inserting hyperlinks referring to other stories—all at a sprinter’s pace.

  • Mark 7:32 am on September 26, 2019 Permalink | Reply
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    The first and second wave of viral publishers 

    From Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth pg 281

    While the new-media pioneers at BuzzFeed and Upworthy produced LOLs and cultivated trumped-up umbrage over the killing of poor Cecil, a second guard of new-media publishers set out to capture the loyalty of another psychographic swath of America whose disaffection far surpassed mere boredom. The new wave would employ the methods BuzzFeed had pioneered, but used partisan anger as their way of hot-wiring readers’ emotional responses.

    From pg 283:

    Breitbart, meanwhile, fixated on a more violent and direct overthrow of the mainstream media, a coup d’état more than a reformation. His aspirations were colored by the chip on his shoulder, and his approach was adversarial. “The idea,” 39 he told Wired , “is that I have to screw with media, and I have to screw with the Left, in order to give legitimate stories the ability to reach their natural watermark.” It was a lucrative idea. “When the entire media is structured to attack conservatives and Republicans, there is a huge business model to come in and counterbalance that.”

  • Mark 3:58 pm on September 25, 2019 Permalink | Reply
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    Vice’s ‘non-traditional’ working environment 

    From Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth pg 348:

    One abiding feature was the draconian nondisclosure and nontraditional workplace agreements staffers were required to sign before joining the company, 7 which demanded, “Individuals employed by Vice must be conscious of Vice’s non-traditional environment and comfortable with exposure to and participating in situations that may present themselves during the course of their employment.” These situations might include exposure “to highly provocative material, some of it containing extremely explicit sexual and controversial content,” as well as shoots on location that involved “unique and unusual situations which may be considered offensive, indecent or unacceptable by others.” Employees saw the agreement as barring them from complaining about lewd conduct and sexual come-ons from their supervisors, even if that wasn’t stipulated in black and white.

    The supervisors were almost all male, and sexual liaisons between bosses and young associate producers were common. (Smith’s wife, Tamyka, was once a junior producer at Vice.) There was a huge problem, too, with sexual harassment, incidents that unspooled after work at bars, often following long drinking sessions.

  • Mark 7:27 pm on September 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Jill Abramson, viral,   

    The gamification of virality and the pleasures it brings 

    A few creepy extracts from Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth about the office culture at BuzzFeed. The pursuit of virality has been gamified, with these ostentatiously fun undertakings matched by an underlying threat that those who can’t reach these standards won’t survive at the company in the longer term. In light of this we should be sceptical of attempts to make it fun but that shouldn’t entail a rejection that fun is possible.

    What are the pleasures found in virality? The energies involved in making something ‘a thing’ as BuzzFeed staff are reportedly prone to saying (pg 144)? What are their managers channeling in these exercises? How does it feed what Richard Seymour calls the Twittering Machine?

    From pg 38:

    Every so often, Peretti would announce an office-wide “sprint,” for which the staff would divide into two teams and race to publish as many posts as possible on a single topic—funny babies, say, or conspiracy theories. Each time a new post went up, the author banged a gong. It was one of the many madcap methods Peretti came up with to spur his staff to be maximally productive. On Fridays he would organize “game battles,” another competitive post-writing contrivance, all the wilder for the fact that it involved a steady intake of alcohol throughout the day.

    From pg 116:

    Management insisted on quantifying the popularity of its employees’ work using Nguyen’s dashboard. Every afternoon they sent out a company-wide “scorecard” and awarded virtual badges to the day’s winners. A running tally ranked the top-performing post-writers in terms of the eyeballs they won. Notching 10 posts with at least a million views each qualified you for induction into the Players’ Club, a distinction commemorated by a dinky plastic trophy and a handwritten letter of congratulations from Beastmaster Shepherd, in crayon. A few ascended to the Silver and Gold Players Clubs. Upon authoring his 100th million-view post, Matt Stopera was admitted to the Crystal Players Club. The only one on a higher rung was his younger brother, Dave, sole member of the Platinum Players Club.

    Pg 116-117:

    The quest for ever-bigger blockbusters kept BuzzFeeders glued to their computer screens. Someone would publish a post that went mega-vi and receive invitations to appear on a television talk show, but the staff joked that it was only worth doing so their parents could watch them on air. The pace of BuzzFeed’s growth meant employees faced consequences if they weren’t meeting traffic goals. One former staff writer, Arabelle Sicardi, whose essays on womanhood and self-image packed more substance than most content on the site, was reassigned when her numbers lulled. “They had me stop writing essays and only concentrate on viral,” she said. Posts like “This Piglet Dressed as a Unicorn Is Making Everyone Cry Rainbows” and “13 Emotions Everyone Experiences in Sephora” then took the place of her expositions on feminism. “That’s when I decided to leave.”

    There was a comparable system in place with Facebook’s (now ended) human verification of trending stories. From pg 291 of the same book:

    Of the roughly 200 stories editors vetted each day, the number they greenlighted was usually around 15 to 20, maybe 30 if they spent their entire shift in hyperdrive. The goal handed down from upstairs, editors said, was for them all to reach a daily rate of 50 verified stories. The number they produced each day was prominently visible to everyone who worked in the office and was frequently cause for conversation with the bosses. The editors who verified and produced the lowest number of news stories in a given month got last pick when it came time to sign up for the next month’s shift slots, meaning they got stuck with overnights on their weekends and the 4 p.m. to midnight shift during the week. Top performers were given “points” that could be spent on Facebook paraphernalia like T-shirts.

    • landzek 12:15 pm on September 20, 2019 Permalink

      I hate people. 🤣

    • landzek 12:21 pm on September 20, 2019 Permalink

      I think we need to start a new religion based in an ethics that defines who gets to exist. Like. : thou shalt not be an idiot. And then 5 priests sit in a large room their whole lives, as they are reincarnated from the precious priests. And they stay high on every sort of drug they might want or like, or none, and they decide who is sacrificed because they are idiots. 👽🙏🏾👽

    • landzek 12:24 pm on September 20, 2019 Permalink

      …the new religion would have human beings as low on the universal priority scale. 🌠

    • landzek 12:28 pm on September 20, 2019 Permalink

      It’s gonna be so cool when I die and get to be god of my own universe and hang out with the other gods and play keno all day.

  • Mark 7:12 pm on September 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: digital publishing, , , Jill Abramson, , , , ,   

    Staying small in order to grow 

    I thought this was an interesting extract from Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth about the rise of Vice. Limiting their circulation was a deliberate strategy to facilitate its expansion in the longer term, enabling them to side step some of the pressures they would have been subject to if they had dived headfirst into growth. From pg 45-46

    “We realized if we were going to try to go mass,” 10 Smith said, “and try to go for a million copies, we were going to have to dilute how we wrote and how we did everything.” Instead they doubled down on catering to the cool kids and consciously kept their circulation number lower than market demand. They printed 150,000 issues to distribute across the U.S. and similarly small batches overseas, in Japan, then the U.K., then Germany. “We got to a million copies that way,” Smith said. Each of those cool kids would pass their issue on to six or eight friends, expanding the magazine’s circulation by word of mouth.

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