We are all Buzzfeed Now

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That was Brian Morrisey at Digiday’s conclusion after the twin banal obsessions gripped the internet for a good twenty-four hours.   Everybody was aggregating and reaggregating.   It was – as Neetzan Zimmerman put it – the Viral Singularity.

BuzzFeed’s post was a litmus test for publishers. You didn’t need Chartbeat to know that there was good viral traffic to be had, even if it meant simply ripping off BuzzFeed. But would such a re-aggregated aggregation really fit with a storied brand like, say, Time? Who cares. Time did a copy and paste job. So too did Cosmo. Gawker, a digital publishing brand that’s suddenly feeling very old, cast aside its identity crisis debate over viral popcorn to post a quick rewrite, bank the pageview and not dwell on it. Slate live-blogged the Internet kerfuffle like it was a presidential debate.

But others had a different take: crowdsourcing the news creates a more democratic newsgathering environment, argued the CJR.  While Slate too saw the llama/dress virality as a sign of journalistic strength, not infirmity. 

For decades, back when print and broadcast media monopolized news coverage, “newsworthiness” was determined in top-down processes, by editors and reporters who were only minimally accountable to the communities they served. Readers could write letters to editors, and could offer story tips, but that was the extent of their involvement in the news process. Journalists produced the news, readers consumed it, and if the reader didn’t like the news being produced, well, tough luck, because the reader needed the paper more than the paper needed any individual reader.

The disaggregation of news in the Internet age has inverted this relationship, and made news outlets hypersensitive to the interests of their readers. This is a positive development. It’s good that the media covers stories that its constituents are interested in and want to read about. It’s good when news outlets are connected to the communities they serve.

Blogs of the week are Austin Davis on network news, and Maddie Kimble on satirical news shows.

For your mid-term presentations (20 mins per group please), here are some tips for the non-Buzzfeed groups.

Vox got a big interview lately.  Gawker’s founder is going it alone.  The Skimm’s founders have been sharing their secrets.  Vice is going girly… and Mashable is going to India.

March 10th: The Skimm, Buzzfeed, Vox

March 12th: Huffpo, Mashable, Gawker

Assignment 2:  Tell a story relating to your beat through photo gallery, a series of at least five photos which tell a story.   Make sure there’s a person in at least one of your pictures. There needs to be plot development, rather than a number of photos of the same thing from different angles. (for March 17)


Data, snapchat, photo stories: it’s all here.

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For the sake of comparison, here are three different charts made by class members using the same data.  The third chart comes courtesy of Jenn Calfas, who had the advantage of using Infogr.am which is a slicker format than onlinecharttools.

Interesting piece in Nieman lab about how news organizations are using Snapchat Stories.   And since we are talking visuals, do check out this story about photographer Shehab Uddin who embedded himself in a poor community.   One searing body of work that is also worth looking at is Family Love by Darcy Padilla.

READING: 1) Does Satire News Influence Elections? (Huffpost)

2) Last Week Tonight Does Real Journalism no Matter What John Oliver says (The Daily Beast)

3) How Americans Get TV News At Home (Pew)

4) IN Digital Age, What Does Watching TV Even Mean? (WSJ)

Bonus extra: America is a Joke (New York Magazine)

ASSIGNMENT 1: Write a 300 word blogpost on a segment of a satirical news show, possibly on a topic related to your beat.   Analyze what makes it different from straight news in terms of tone and content. How much knowledge is expected on the part of the news consumer?  Did the segment lead to you going online and finding out more?  How much credence do you give to satirical news shows – do you trust them more or less than network news shows?  (Thursday Feb 26th)

ASSIGNMENT 2: Tell a story relating to your beat through photo gallery, a series of at least five photos that tell a story.   Make sure there’s a person in at least one of your pictures. There should be plot development, rather than a number of photos of the same thing from different angles.   Try to make the photos tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. (for Mar 17)

The beginning of the end for Page One? A Sign of the Times

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So central was Page One to the New York Times that a 2011 documentary about the Grey Lady was called just that. But no more.  The Times is continuing its unstoppable march to digital.  The system of pitching stories for Page One is now being replaced by a move to pitch stories for digital (“web, media, social and others yet to come”).   Poynter has the memo:

“These changes are intended to ensure that our digital platforms are much less tethered to print deadlines. We need to be posting more of our best stories not in the late evening, but when The Times’s digital readership is at its height:between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

This new system will, in particular, give us more flexibility in targeting readers on mobile (which now receives more than half of our traffic) and on platforms like Facebook (where we are rolling out new strategies for presenting our journalism).”

I hope you all enjoyed the Data Vis session.   Today I came across this visualization of China’s sneaky land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea.  It’s basically a more advanced version of what we learned to do.

Reading for Tuesday: What’s a Picture Worth? The Digital Disruption of Photojournalism (The Media Briefing)

Visual Journalism (Nieman Reports) in particular Photojournalism in the New Media Economy (NR) and Journey to a New Beginning (Ed Kashi)

Is Instagram’s Social Network Dumbing Down Photography (Poynter)

ASSIGNMENT: Watch a network TV newscast on ABC, NBC or CBS. In a blogpost analyse the choice of stories, the type of treatment given to them and your assessment of the role of network TV news in the digital era. (500 words by Tuesday 24th February).

And finally, because we’re talking visuals, here’s a bonus extra from this morning.  Stay warm!

Behold the Emoji-Interview


Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop is the first politician ever to have conducted a political interview entirely in emojis.   Predictably, it was with Buzzfeed.   The limitations of the media are – ahem – quite clear, lending themselves to the squishy questions rather than anything with any geopolitical depth.

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But I enjoyed this satirical response from the Vine, who had their own version of an emoji-interview with Prime Minister Tony Abbott (not).



Meanwhile, blogpost of the week goes to Devin Schott for finding this fantastic visualization of CO2 emissions.  You’d need a supercomputer, however, to replicate it.  Also, a shout-out to Mallory Anderson for posting her thoughts on the role of social media in the Brian Williams scandal.

In other news, Sony has begun selling its rival to the now defunct Google Glass.  Behold the Smart Eyeglass, criticised by one user as a “chastity belt for your face”.  Anyone know how to say glasshole in Sony?


Next class is in the Shapiro Library room 4041.

Reading: Clay Christiansen Mastering the Art of Disruptive Innovation in Journalism (Nieman)

ASSIGNMENT: Watch a network TV newscast on ABC, NBC or CBS. In a blogpost analyse the choice of stories, the type of treatment given to them and your assessment of the role of network TV news in the digital era. (For Thursday Feb 26th)

Visualizing Data

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Here’s a great data visualization from the Wall Street Journal looking at the impact of vaccines state-by-state.  Click on the link for many more.

Blog of the week was Elizabeth McLaughlin, with her excellent audio piece, “How the President Reaches ‘We the People.'”

Reading for next week

ASSIGNMENT: Write a 400 word blogpost on a data visualization project on your beat. Why is it effective? What kinds of visual tools are used to present ideas, and how different is it from traditional journalism? Are there any shortcomings, and if so what? (for Feb 17 9am)

More Michradio

Very cool to see our field trip on Twitter.

And don’t think people don’t notice what happens on twitter, because they do.

But please don’t forget your manners IRL.  Ahem.

Michigan Radio


Thanks to the folks at Michigan Radio, especially Tamar Charney and Vince Duffy, to taking the time to show us around.   We learned how much digital disruption is affecting local public radio stations with the workflow changing markedly from just five or six years ago.   Duffy talked about the need for “convergent journalists” who can do audio, video, photography, social media, the works.   He also talked about how the station is crowd-sourcing ideas for its MI Curious slot.


Other big news stories about the news:  the departure of Jon Stewart and Brian Williams respectively.  For tomorrow, please read Crowdsourcing Done Right (CJR).   Also, post your audio projects on  your blogs by 9am.  Duration 2’30 or less please.   If it’s too long, cut it!

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Obama’s been giving an exclusive to Vox.

Felix Salmon has been giving advice to young journalists (tl; dr:  Don’t do it!)

And now#AdviceForYoungJournalists is trending, some more useful than others.


Lessons In Dissent

How does a 14-year old student mobilise tens of thousands of people to force a government to change policy? Interesting talk and film this Friday at UMMA at 6pm.  Meanwhile, on an only tangentially related topic, beware, your TV may be monitoring you!

Some interesting reading in The Guardian over the weekend, in the wake of our discussion on the ethics of  social media.  This piece discusses how anonymous posters used Yik Yak as a forum for misogyny after an alleged rape at Stanford:

While the messages have vanished from the record, students described the Yik Yak conversations about the alleged rape after the Kappa Alpha party as a mix of collective horror, tasteless victim-blaming and outright misogyny – “Where all the unconscious bishes at?” read one. The posts contained little big-picture dialogue about prevention, awareness or even the two bicyclists who say they caught Turner before he could escape. Administrators and parents are nowhere to be seen or heard in the secretive campus debate.

“Another #Stanford student wrote on Yik Yak that it was ‘sexist’ to charge the perpetrator, as both parties were drunk,” tweeted computer science major Sasha Perigo.

Gabriella Isabelle Johnson, an African American studies major, said she was “desensitized” by the volume of rape allegations on Stanford’s campus and called Yik Yak a “problematic and offensive” venue for discussion.

Reminder:  Tomorrow will be our field trip to Michigan Radio.  We meet at Michigan Radio at 1pm or just before. The bus, which will be a 10-seater selectride bus, will depart from the Commercial loading zone on the West Washington Street side of North Quad.

Buzzfeed literature?

From Nieman.lab

From Nieman.lab

In Nieman lab, Ken Doctor takes on the growing popularity of free email newsletters in his post The Newsonomics of Mixing Old and New.   Meanwhile, over at the Atlantic, Robinson Meyer calls the author of the Buzzfeed Today newsletter “one of the most beguiling figures in modern literature.”

On the NPR One blogposts, Amelia Zak had the post of the week.  Perhaps it’s totally coincidental that her surname begins with Z, but her audio listening habits – and views towards NPR One – totally chime with my theory.

Next class, catch the bus to Michigan Radio (Selectride) on Washington Street side of North Quad.  If you can make your own way there, please do so.  It’s in the Argus building at 535 West William street.  

  • ASSIGNMENT: Read: Why Audio Never Goes Viral (Digg)
    What can Make Audio Go Viral (Nieman)
  • Listen to Michigan radio and read the website. Prepare three questions for a visit to Michigan Radio. Make sure at least one of them refers to a real story that you have heard on Michigan radio or seen on its website in the past week. (for 9.29)