Doom, gloom and podcasting

images (72)

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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 14.58.44

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)

Engaging the Audience


So how do audience engagement editors do their jobs?   This is a brand new job, and its remit varies from one organisation to the next.   In CJR, the Wall Street Journal’s audience engagement editor, Carla Zanoni, described her team as ‘shoe-leather reporters’,who in the wake of a fatal shooting incident, did a number of different things.

The team simultaneously verified information, promoted Journal articles and social media posts on the killings, managed reader comments, and shuffled online feedback and analytics to their colleagues. “The audience team is just like your shoe-leather reporters,” says Carla Zanoni, head of emerging media and audience development, “in that they feel like this is what they’ve been training for.”….They elevate a publication’s online persona by creating Web-friendly headlines, prioritizing when and on which social platforms stories are posted, and patrolling notoriously dicey comment sections.

For John Ketchum, at the Centre for Public Integrity, it’s all about analytics.   He spends two days a week crunching numbers.   And according to Mediashift, Will Federman at Fortune has one dedicated monitor for Chartbeat analytics.

“I’m looking at it constantly,” he said. “I tend to trust the data more than I trust my gut. People sometimes think we dabble in dark magic, but we are just looking at numbers.” Keeping up with changes in technology is another major part of his job. “With this job you can’t feel like you know everything,” Federman said. “One day Google or Facebook will alter their algorithm. You have to be totally open to change. If you don’t have an adaptive personality it’s a difficult job.”

Meanwhile, Mother Jones’s Audience Engagement Editor Ben Dreyfuss gives some advice about how to talk on social media.

The main operating theory has been that every headline we have and every tweet and every Facebook post needs to sound like a human would say it. Social media has made people better writers because of that.  The worst thing in the world is when you’re in college in a creative writing class and people write like a 19th century gay poet. The fact is affectation is a killer on social media. Just write the way you talk.

He was asked what would happen to him if the internet was down for twenty-four hours.  The answer is telling.

If the internet were down for 24 hours, I would freak out for 24 hours straight. However, I suspect my therapist would say that it would be the most emotionally maturing 24 hours of my life.

NPROne_rectangle_1READING: Out of Many, NPR One: the app that wants to be the Netflix of Listening gets more local (Nieman Lab)           Deciphering What the Next Generation of Public Radio Listeners wants Through NPR One (Nieman Lab) 

ASSIGNMENT  Write a 400-word blogpost reviewing the NPR One app.   To do so, please download the app on a mobile device.  It will not work on a laptop.   Then listen to an hour’s worth of material on the app, and play with tagging and skipping stories.  When you write the blogpost, please list the stories presented to you, noting the efficacy of the app’s customization and what you perceive to be the biggest differences with listening to local radio.  Did you feel the content offered was tailored to your interests?   In particular, how interested were you in the local content offered, and what other local content would you like to have?  How would you grade the app?

(for Jan 31 8pm, rubric here)


What We Learned

What did the live-tweeters of #c439 learn over the past week?   Some of the sessions that you live-tweeted were so germane to the class that it’s worth sharing your findings.  Chelsea Kubasiak went to a speech by ad exec and ‘social media influencer’ Jeff Barrett on personal branding.  Here’s what he had to say about online presence, which is true also of live-tweeting).

Several students live-tweeted talk Amanda Lotz’s talk on the digital disruption of television.

However, our intrepid live-tweeters came up against some opposition here.

While Josh Stern bravely chose to live-tweet Turned On, a WOLV-tv sex show.

If you want to know more, head over to Josh’s twitter, which includes an excruciating clip.   It’s not a spoiler to say that he was not a fan of Turned On.


Here are two extra articles that I referred to in class

The One Word Journalists Should Add to Twitter Searches that You Probably Haven’t Considered

Colorado College Suspends Student for Two Years for Six-Word Joke on Yikyak and here  (It was Colorado college, not Columbia.   And he was suspended.  My mistake, but the point remains the same:  Think Before Using Social Media) .


1) Predictions for Journalism 2016 (Nieman)

2) Untangling research and practice: What Facebook’s ‘emotional contagion’ study teaches us (Research Ethics)

Prepare two questions for Teresa Frontado, social media editor for Univision.

Buzzfeed Is Teaching Me to Cook

Cheese-Stuffed Pizza Pretzels

Posted by Tasty on Thursday, 14 January 2016

Admit it: you’re now ready to try this yourself.   Buzzfeed – long the master of virality – is conquering the foodies with its short wordless recipe vids.   Within 24 hours of posting, 37 million people had learned how to make cheese-stuffed pizza pretzels and 650,000 people had liked the recipe, according to Fortune.  Buzzfeed’s Tasty channel has now knocked Justin Bieber from the top spot of video creators,  having received a billion views in December.
What’s the secret?   One is that it’s content created specifically  – or optimised –  for Facebook, which make use of its Autoplay feature.  They’re so quick that you may as well finish watching them if you start.  According to Fortune, this strategy can be expensive, and risky,

On top of the costs, there’s a high risk for publishers that rely on a platform like Facebook or Snapchat to distribute their content. Famous YouTube stars have long complained that they don’t “own” their subscribers. In other words, if they left YouTube they’d have to build up their following again from scratch. The same is true of Facebook, which constantly tweaks its algorithm to favor or suppress certain kinds of content. Algorithm tweaks have tanked entire media businesses (ahem, Upworthy). Of late, Facebook’s algorithm has favored video posts above photos and text-only posts.

To many, outsourcing digital distribution is a repeat of what happened in the web’s earliest days. Everyone wanted their publications to live inside a web portal like AOL, and it seemed mutually beneficial: AOL had the audience but no content to give them, and media organizations (including Time Inc.’s former parent company, Time Warner), had the content but no audience. But those relationships soured and media companies decided it was better to control and operate their own websites.

“Every content provider, every production company, every publisher would like to have control over the pipe,” Cooper says. But since social media platforms are today’s “pipes,” BuzzFeed is working within that construct. The company has mitigated risk by using multiple platforms, giving the company “the distinct advantage of not becoming over-reliant on one platform,” Cooper says.

Buzzfeed has taken this one step further, by burrowing down and creating Proper Tasty, a channel specifically for British comfort food lovers, which turns out to be their fastest facebook page.   This is the Long Tail of the internet, allowing publishers to target niche populations.  And as a Brit, I have to admit that I may just end up trying bangers and mash sausage rolls.

Bangers And Mash Sausage Rolls

Posted by Proper Tasty on Sunday, 17 January 2016

READING:  1) Should Reddit be blamed for spreading a smear? (NYT)                                                                                       2) Ten Ways That Journalists Can Use Twitter Before, during and After a Story (Poynter)                                                     3) Digital Media Ethics (Uni of Wisconsin)


Live tweet a news event.  Ideally it would be something local that you are actually present at, though it could be a press conference or some other such event that you are watching live online.   It should be something that relates to your beat.   Paste each tweet into your wordpress site, so that others are able to view your live-tweeting experience.   Please do not paste teeny-weeny screenshots. (for Jan 24 8pm)    The rubric is here.   USE THE CLASS HASHTAG! #c439

Five Things You Could Live-Tweet

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. 

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 23.12.51

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

Peachy Keen

Big news:  there’s a new social network that’s blowing up, but everyone is kind of clueless about what it is and does.

Buzzfeed’s explainer is itself somewhat baffled.

Where did this app come from?
I have no freakin’ clue, bro. This thing came out of nowhere and now everyone has it.

In fact Peach was started by Vine Founder Dom Hofman, and one of its capabilities, according to Tech Radar is a host of magic words.

Typing “shout” lets you write in big blown up letters on a colored background with an emoji. “Draw” does what you think it would, “song” lets you share what you’re listening to with others, who can tap on it to listen themselves, and “rate” will let you rate literally anything between one and five stars.  GIF, here, goodmorning, goodnight, battery, dice, safari are also Magic Words, and Peach promises more are on the way.

However, the Next Web warns Peach is already being taken over by people using fake celebrity names.  So is it the next big thing?  It’s big among Tech Twitter – tech journalists, investors and entrepreneurs – but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will catch on.  “What does Tech Twitter’s early interest tell us about Peach’s future success?” asks Re/Code. “Not much”, it concludes.

READING:  How Americans Get Their News.  (American Press Institute)

ASSIGNMENT:  Write a blogpost of around 400 words introducing yourself, your media consumption habits and the beat that you will blog upon in the next semester.   How do you get your news?  Have your news consumption habits changed since arriving at university?   In describing your news consumption habits, please tie them into the some of the trends described in Post-Industrial Journalism.   How do your news consumption habits differ from those of your parents?   Explain what beat you will be focusing on in your blog over the next semester and why. (Jan 12 8pm)

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.