Doom, gloom and podcasting

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The End of Twitter is the title of a piece in the New Yorker last week, which writes

that a series of mediocre product changes at Twitter (such as the much-hyped but ultimately confusing Moments feature), a stagnant user base, and a massive executive brain drain have called into question whether Twitter can survive as a business.

It says Twitter is facing an existential crisis because its service is so confused and undifferentiated,

What should worry Twitter is irrelevance, and there is growing data to suggest that that is where the company is headed. If Twitter’s real-time feed is its most powerful asset (and it is), it’s not difficult to see a future in which Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or even a newcomer likePeach (yes, I am citing Peach) focus enough on real-time news that they obviate the need for Twitter’s narrow, noisy, and oft-changing ideas about social interaction.

One major problem, as in this listicle, is Twitter’s role as “Troll Central”, while Facebook looks like it’s about to muscle in on Twitter’s core strength: real-time sharing.  Meanwhile, gloom about the future of newspapers, with estimates that 1000 newsroom jobs are being lost every month in the US.   A former student, Paige Pfleger, wrote for NPR

Digital-only outlets are also pursuing local news. Last year, Pew counted nearly 500 digital news startups that launched within the past decade, many of which are local outlets. But these aren’t exempt from the difficult news climates that have killed local papers.

On the upside, 2015 was the year that we started to take podcasting seriously.   And noone so much so as WNYC, which spanned the divide between the public radio world and the podcasters.   And for an aural representation of built-in obsolescence, please spend time at the Museum of Endangered Sounds.  It’s just a click away.

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WEDNESDAY’S CLASS IS IN THE Faculty Observatory, 2F, Hatcher Library.  For reference, our NPR One document is here.  

READING:  1) Why Audio Never Goes Viral (Digg)                                                                                                                               2) What can make Audio Go Viral (Nieman)                                                                                              

ASSIGNMENT:  Radio project:  a recorded interview or a simple radio piece, of between 2’00 and 2’30.  The theme should be related to technology and digital disruption in your beat.  Rubric is here (for Feb 9)

Snapchat and #Sotu

Branden Harvey did the first ever Snapchat story from inside the White House, one of a select group of 20 instagrammers invited into the presidential digs.   But Wired writes – that despite having hundreds of thousands of followers who watch him as he goes shopping in ridiculous leggings or fills his mailbox with a 7-11 Slushies  – he’s actually really hard to find on Snapchat.

This points to a key problem with Snapchat: It’s really hard to find new things. This is a drag for users, particularly new users who are trying to figure out why the service is so popular. And it poses challenges for publishers, from Internet stars like Harvey to brands to legacy media companies, all of whom are anxious to crack Snapchat’s code and win the attention of its massive, youthful audience. More than 100 million users open Snapchat every day, says CEO and cofounder Evan Spiegel, and most of them are under 24 years old. And watch some 7 billion videos a day, according to Bloomberg.

The article argues that Snapchat is missing out on a major revenue generator in the form of promoted content, and that it hasn’t yet figured out what it wants to be.

But if Snapchat is comfortable relying on a ’90s media model for finding content on the service, the big question is whether it’s a media company or a tech company. Its $16 billion valuation would suggest investors, at least, believe it’s a tech company, with the ability to grow very large and use the data it collects to sell ads and new products. Media companies command smaller valuations. They stand out in the market for creating and distributing Zeitgeisty content themselves, not as makers of a new, innovative platform for others to do so.   So far, Snapchat is both.

But users don’t necessarily care.  There are over 100 million daily Snapchat users, including 60% of American smartphone users between the ages of 13 and 34.  Those facts were enough to push one of the highest profile Americans onto Snapchat the day before his big moment:  yes, the White House joined one day before the #sotu speech in order to “meet people where they are”.  Don’t expect any rainbow vomit selfies from the hippest administration ever, says the Huffington Post.  Do expect lots of Sunny and Bo. 

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News organisations were busy using Snapchat too, for snap reactions to #sotu.


  1. New York Times Innovation Report 
  2. Last Call
  3. Snowfall

ASSIGNMENT:  Write a 400-word post comparing the treatment of one story in the physical NYT with its online counterpart.   Pick a topic related to the beat that you have chosen.  What are the strengths and weaknesses of each presentation?  How long did you spend on each?  To what extent did the online story fulfil the aims as laid out in the Innovation report?  Please ensure you quote from the Innovation report in your blogpost.  What grade would you mark the NYT for reaching the aims set out in the Innovation Report based on your article?  (for Tuesday Jan 19 8pm)   NOTE: Physical newspapers can be found in the library or in the Comm studies foyer (5F North Quad).  Also in Starbucks.  The rubric is here

Welcome to COMM 439!

Welcome to Comm 439 on Digital Disruption and the Future of Journalism.

As if to encapsulate the travails of the print media, this was the week that Boston Globe reporters were forced to get out on the streets to deliver their own newspapers by hand after a distribution deal broke down.   They had been enjoying the critical success of Spotlight, a film based on their coverage of sexual abuse within the Catholic church.

Pulitzer prize winning reporters were out delivering newspapers – and afterwards writing about the experience.

The lack of newspapers caused angry tweets from readers and profuse apologies from the management.


David Uberti, writing at CJR, had the following analysis:

The mishap is staggering considering that print still provides a large chunk of news organizations’ revenue. Sheehan insists the service change was in fact an effort to preserve the print subscriber base, citing internal analyses that pegged delivery problems as a leading cause for cancellations.

But Globe management is being battered with accusations that the switch to a new carrier was more about saving money than saving subscribers.

Poynter had this useful summary of the highlights and lowlights of journalism innovation in 2015.   Among the highlights were the New York Times virtual reality push:

Here we have a vision of things to come, another essential tool for storytellers. While we may not see many newspapers experimenting with virtual reality on a regular basis, I believe that the Times is right when it describes virtual reality as “a new frontier for journalism”. My suggestion: Add virtual reality to your bag of storytelling techniques.  Start modest. Plan for one virtual reality project this coming year.

Assignment:  Read ps 1-45 (Introduction and Section 1) of Post-Industrial Journalism.                                               Register yourself on WordPress and set up a site.   Decide what beat you would like to cover.  If you are unsure, bring at least two different ideas for beats to class on Monday.
Monday’s class will be in the Mac lab in the MLB building.

New York Times Failure…. In One Chart


From gigaom

From gigaom

Interesting chart from Gigaom showing that the average Buzzfeed piece is shared almost 8000 times, compared to the New York Times, which garners ten times fewer shares.    The piece points out that it’s more instructive to look at the median; the figure for the NYT is just 11 shares.   Check out the second chart too, showing that 14% of Buzzfeed articles go viral (ie more than 10,000 shares.)


Shout-out for Blog of the Week to Maddie Kimble.

READING for Jan 22

The Revenue Picture for American Journalism and How it’s Changing (Pew)

The End of the Printed Newspaper (Clay Shirky)

False Idol (CJR)

ASSIGNMENT: Live-tweet an event, whether it be a speech, a sports match, a TV show or a demonstration.   Make sure you tweet at least 10 times. Then post the series of tweets to your wordpress site.  USE the #c439 hashtag!

Separately post the most retweeted or favourited tweet (for Jan 27 8am)

The New York Times Wants to Know if You’ve had Dinner with Your Neighbours

The 'Race' Race mural, inspired by New York Times columns

The ‘Race’ Race mural, inspired by New York Times columns

On the subject of reader engagement, the above is a classroom mural inspired by Nick Kristof’s post-Ferguson columns, “When Whites Just Don’t Get It.”   Another example of reader engagement will be in the New York Times magazine, which is using the Times Reader Insight panel as guinea pigs for journalism.  It’s asking them questions such as whether you’ve had dinner with your neighbours, and “Let’s say you are at a party and people are talking about a particular book that everyone has read except for you. Do you admit you haven’t read it, or do you fake it?”  I’m curious to find out if NYT readers are dinner party frauds.

For Tuesday’s class, please spend some time looking at Snowfall, which we will discuss in class.   Also, read the leaked Innovation Report. In case you want to see them again, class slides are in the Ctools site, under yesterday’s date.

ASSIGNMENT: Write a 400-word post comparing the treatment of one story in the paper version of the NYT with its online counterpart.  You should make reference to the aims contained within the Innovation report, and assess to what extent the online presentation meets those criteria.  You should pick a story related to your beat.  What are the strengths and weaknesses of each presentation?  How long did you spend on each?  (for 8am, 20th Jan)

Notes: Please also ensure that you have a working twitter account before next class.  The updated syllabus is in Ctools.