The New York Times needed info. Then they needed a scapegoat.

Driven insane by unjust captivity, I have unexpectedly emerged to exact revenge against the wicked and mediocre

In search of the elusive press apology

Barrett Brown

I suppose you remember me from 2011?

I was with Anonymous, and you came to me for info on OpCartel.

Then you ran an article stating the kidnapping as fact, which, as is now better established, it actually was.

At the time, I wrote to you, regarding the question of whether such a thing should be reported as fact, “Obviously if I were functioning as a journalist, that wouldn’t be sufficient.”

Barrett Brown
Later you expressed regret on Twitter that you’d reported it as fact.

Barrett Brown
A few days after that you wrote another article with Ravi in which you note that there’s been contradictory information about all this, etc, and it’s all quite a mystery, though you never get around to stating that you yourself reported it as fact, and did so after talking to some of the same people I did, whom I’d directed you to.

Barrett Brown
Then, based on ideas you note to have seen on Twitter, you claim me to be the “self-appointed Anonymous spokesman”, which is not actually a fact, as I’d noted for months and months, in magazine articles and TV interviews, etc; and suggest that my “book contract to write about Anonymous” is relevant to my attempt to do something with whatever materials I could get from the Mexican Anons.

Barrett Brown
Technically I did have that contract, but it was to serve as co-writer on a book about Gregg Housh, the guy who originally asked me to help deal with the press, and his own life and history with Anonymous, as could have been determined rather easily from the book announcements and articles from other reporters who actually did manage to determine that. And that might well have made it clear that I obviously had little to gain in that instance from things I did myself.

Also, this passage: “Why, some might wonder, would Mr. Brown, presumably a real person using his a real name, go public with this information, given the risk?” … seems to imply that you’re not entirely certain that I’m a real person with a real name, even though I was, at that time, a journalist who’d written for a large number of publications, in addition to the work I was doing for free, like trying to get NYT to pay closer attention to Palantir and Archimedes and other firms I’d been researching which later went on to undermine the 2016 election.

Anyway, I went to prison, got out, and found that Adrian Chen was somehow now writing about these same subjects.

Barrett Brown

Despite this:

[Link to 2014 piece on Adrian Chen showing his attempts to buy stolen emails from hackers, whom he’d later criticize without noting this]

Barrett Brown

Anyway, I hope you’ll try to be more careful in the future. Also if there’s someone at The New York Times who might be interested in a heads-up, I’ve found several demonstrable errors in his work — aside the half-dozen articles he wrote about me, some of which he admitted not to believe in a recording I’ve made public — and I’m in talks with The New Yorker today to give them a chance to do an internal review of his work for them, since I’m writing at length about it in my upcoming book from FSG.

Also: [Excerpt from the convo we had when he approached *
me for info in 2011]

***
5:37 PM [redacted]: Ha — I can understand your frustration, but the NYT’s news sense and yours will not always align.
me: That’s true.
***

Barrett Brown

That’s for fucking well sure, isn’t it?

[No reply…]

October 2011 — The Original Exchange

  1. [redacted]: Hey , hope you’re well.
  2. me: indeed
  3. [redacted]: Just wondering if this Mexico thing today is bullshit. Have you heard anything?
  4. me: it’s not at all bullshit
  5. 5:19 PM [redacted]: I mean the rumour that a woman has been released by the Zetas.
  6. me: I don’t know about it being a woman, necessarily, but the release did apparently occur, but not in response to the op; the person was not known by the Zetas to be the Anon
  7. 5:20 PM This person can tell you more
  8. [e-mail redacted]
  9. I’m not sure what other details I can give out at this point
  10. [redacted]: Who is that person?
  11. The email address, I mean
  12. 5:21 PM me: a Mexican Anon whom I’ve been working with on this
  13. [description redacted]
  14. 5:22 PM [redacted]: Can you tell me, off the record, any details about the person who was taken? I’m not going to publish even the hint of a detail, as I don’t want to endanger a life. But it would help in researching.
  15. me: and perhaps more as other informants come to me as a result of the media coverage
  16. I cannot, you’ll have to ask this Mexican Anon
  17. 5:23 PM [redacted]: What evidence have you seen that the kidnap really happened?
  18. 5:24 PM me: None, nor would I have expected to as we have no intention of providing a chance that the person could be identified
  19. however, this other person might be able to tell you more.
  20. [redacted]: But if the person couldn’t be identified, how could the Zetas respond to the threat?
  21. 5:25 PM me: These Anons assumed that the Zetas knew who it was
  22. But obviously they had no way of knowing the exact situation
  23. 5:27 PM [redacted]: So, just to clarify: an Anon was taken by the Zetas. The video was released, then the Anon was released, but because the Anon was never identified it is not clear if it is linked to the op.
  24. me: That’s basically it, yes. But you really should check with [redacted]
  25. 5:28 PM [redacted]: I definitely will, thanks for the email address.
  26. me: no problem
  27. [redacted]: I’m going to ask a stupid question.
  28. If no one has any evidence a person was kidnapped, how do you know a person was kidnapped?
  29. 5:29 PM me: I’m relying on the account of someone I’ve known and worked with in the past and whom I believe to be telling the truth based on the nature of her responses as well as other details I can’t go into due to the present situation
  30. 5:30 PM Obviously if I were functioning as a journalist, that wouldn’t be sufficient. But in this case…
  31. 5:31 PM We already have journalists looking too fucking closely into who the person is, including a review of Mexican records, and as such we’re very reluctant to assist them in finding out more.
  32. [redacted]: But a responsible journalist won’t run the name.
  33. So what difference does it make?
  34. 5:32 PM me: If you take a few minutes to think about the process by which such a name would come up and the nature of the situation in Mexico, and concede that mistakes occur in journalism, you can probably guess.
  35. [redacted]: True.
  36. 5:33 PM me: Again, this would be of greater concern to me if the U.S. media bothered to pay attention to those larger issues on which I have already produced evidence.
  37. As it is, we don’t really need the trust of the media insomuch as that most of our operations are fait accompli when reported
  38. 5:34 PM So, we are confronted with the decision between risking someone’s life and proving that a person exists to reporters with whom we already have an ambivalent relationship
  39. [redacted]: I can see your argument.
  40. 5:35 PM But if you take me, for example, I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that might make you think I’m not trustworthy with sensitive information.
  41. me: At any rate, even I have few details on this, so even if I wanted to — and of course I’d be happy to have this confirmed rather than have my outlets deem me untrustworthy — there’s nothing I could do.
  42. 5:36 PM No, you’re the exact opposite.
  43. The Times can be trusted to withhold even information that is of public concern.
  44. 5:37 PM [redacted]: Ha — I can understand your frustration, but the NYT’s news sense and yours will not always align.
  45. me: That’s true.
  46. [redacted]: But sometimes it will, obviously.
  47. 5:38 PM me: But again, I have few details to provide anyway, so I don’t want to waste your time on that particular issue.
  48. 5:39 PM [redacted]: Fair enough. Any details whatsoever — however minor — would be appreciated if you are so minded.
  49. me: Nothing more I can say about the kidnapping victim. I suggest you talk to [redacted] about it.

[Note: Despite consistent explanations to the Times and other outlets that no one was in a position to confirm the kidnappings, they were reported as fact by the paper — a decision the reporter later expressed regret for on his Twitter account, thereby helping to spawn a narrative to the effect that the original claims were now somehow under dispute. They were later claimed to be a hoax by at least one outlet, Gawker. Months later, Anonymous Veracruz participants would reveal to the Mexican press why they were initially reluctant to provide identifying details about the kidnap victim, who had spoken via webcam with several prominent activists after being released — that he had been involved in selling marijuana and his kidnapping stemmed from a dispute with a “minor” Zeta operative]

The J-Word

By Alan Nero

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Journalism has become a dirty word in the Western canon. Journalists consistently face scrutiny, animosity, and suspicion from readers and critics alike.

The current administration carries a portion of the blame after popularizing the phrase “fake news” and attempting to destabilize public trust in the fourth estate. But, the greatest weight of responsibility rests on the shoulders of established news organizations that have repeatedly been found guilty of moral compromise, plagiarism, inaccuracy, and corporate and political bias. This trend developed as news organizations were acquired by private citizens and corporations alike with profit-driven aims that steam-rolled the ethical obligations of the press.

In his 2005 article, The Problem of the Media, Robert McChesney addresses this very issue. He discusses how the failings of the press began over a century ago. While privatizing the news industry originally prevented government manipulation of the free media, it also made news organizations vulnerable to the economic interests of their owners.

As companies identified their niches, ratings and sales figures increasingly dictated the stories that organizations would cover, the emphasis of importance on certain stories over others, and the angles with which they reported. Over the last century, these practices mutated into sensationalism, overt bias, and journalistic neglect to report on events inconvenient to the owners or their political affiliates. Networks such as Fox News, or CNN pander to the political interests of their audiences and, in some cases, to the interests of public officials with ties to media corporations.

As corporate interests and government corruption have infected mainstream media, it’s no wonder that public faith in journalism has fallen to such low regard. In their latest Gallup Poll, the Knight Foundation found that over 42% of U.S. adults, across all political affiliations, have lost faith in news media for these very failings, and these errors will continue so long as the actions of major news media are determined by quarterly gains.

The only means by which we can save the reputation of news media is to free it from the corporate shackles major news networks have resigned themselves to. As McChesney writes:

“A commitment to anything remotely resembling bona fide democracy requires a vastly superior journalism, and we can only realistically expect such journalism if sweeping changes in media policies and structures make it a rational expectation.”

A call has been sounded for journalists to reject the current media structures and develop new, reputable organizations focused on accuracy and transparency once more. In response, dozens of independent news networks have emerged to combat the overt commercialism of larger media conglomerates. Publications such as Propublica, De Correspondent, and Reuters derive their funding from individual subscribers, independent grants, and non-profit trusts in order to maintain their freedom from corporate and political interests.

As new methods of independent funding continue to be discovered, the lost freedom of the press is slowly being recovered. While we may currently struggle to press on amidst a grim landscape of corruption, hope is on the horizon.

5 Lessons On Power From Jill Abramson’s “Merchants Of Truth”

Jill Abramson

Jill Abramson’s new book “Merchants of Truth,” recently excerpted in New York Magazine, isn’t just a fascinating look at the transformations in the media industry over the last decade. It’s also insightful when it comes to the matter of women and power (and power more generally, no matter what your gender).

Here are five lessons I took from Abramson’s tenure as the executive editor of the New York Times.

1. Surround yourself with people who support your vision.

When I worked in magazines, I was always struck by how quickly publications transformed when they got a new editor in chief. Magazines I previously loved rapidly became terrible, ones I thought were mediocre became briefly magnificent, and always always within a few months you’d see an exodus of the staff who’d worked for the old EIC and an influx of staff who’d worked with the new EIC in her previous role.

This isn’t unique to publishing — friends in other industries (fashion comes to mind) tell me it happens there, too. And usually, it wasn’t a result of people being fired so much as old staff hating the new vision and the new boss wanting to bring on people they trusted. You can’t bring your vision to life without people on your team who support your vision.

When Abramson was offered the role of executive editor by then NYT publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr, she was given a microscopic window to choose her own 2IC.

“Who are you thinking about for managing editor?” Sulzberger asked.”

Thinking I wouldn’t get the job, I had not put together my dream team of other editors.

One beat later, Sulzberger was making his own suggestion for role: Dean Baquet, his second choice for executive editor.

“What about Dean?” he continued.

One of the comments on the Abramson’s NYMag article suggests that she might have fared better Baquet (who, spoiler alert, succeeds Abramson as executive editor two and a half years later) and Abramson had been made his 2IC. But it strikes me that the real issue here is that Abramson’s most important teammate was a competitor rather than an ally.

2. Always ask about money.

During that first conversation with Sulzberger, Abramson describes feeling “light-headed” at the news that she had been offered the role of executive editor. As a result, she doesn’t ask him about salary before accepting the position.

Later, after asking one of her masthead editors to study the issue of pay equity in the newsroom, she is told she is “exhibit A.”

The numbers showed that during my eight years as managing editor, my salary lagged behind one of the male masthead editors I outranked. My current salary was what [previous executive editor Bill] Keller’s starting salary had been in 2003, a full decade earlier.

3. If you don’t enforce your priorities, someone else will enforce theirs on you.

Years ago in a job interview, I was asked how I would manage competing requests for my time. I remember saying something about evaluating which tasks were the most urgent/important and doing those first. (Clearly not a terrible answer, since I ended up getting the job.)

A couple of weeks ago, looking at an inbox full of client requests that didn’t align with my schedule for the day, I reflected that it was equally important to not let other people’s priorities dictate yours.

Abramson’s essay is a case in point. Abramson was hired as executive editor largely for her reporting skills — which she put to use driving Pulitzer-winning stories like the NYT’s investigation of Apple’s business practices in China and David Barboza’s exposé of the vast wealth secretly acquired by family members of China’s rulers. But much of her day-today was spent in meeting rooms talking about “new digital products meant to generate revenue, like a cooking app.”

This isn’t to place the blame on Abramson: she was editing the NYT at a moment of enormous upheaval for the whole industry (which is what her book is about) and she clearly wasn’t surrounded by allies.

But it is a reminder that if you don’t set boundaries around how you spend your time, someone else will set them for you.

4. Stay open to new ideas.

At the heart of Abramson’s essay is the central conflict between her desire to maintain the NYT’s credibility as a news organization, and the desire of the new CEO Mark Thompson to make the newspaper competitive with new online competitors like Buzzfeed, Vice, and the Huffington Post.

Where Abramson wants to play to the NYT’s strength in news and investigations, Thompson wants to create monetizable subscription products. Where Thompson wanted to increase revenue through native advertising, Abramson wanted to maintain a strict division between journalists who wrote sponsored content and those who wrote for the rest of the paper.

At one point, during a meeting where Thompson suggests that news staff develop ideas for revenue-generating content, Abramson snaps and declares, “If that’s what you expect, you have the wrong executive editor.”

Ultimately, both Abramson and Thompson were right — the NYT needed to develop new sources of revenue and it needed to protect its credibility as a new source. And at the conclusion of her essay, Abramson graciously acknowledges that under then-publisher Sulzberger’s leadership the Times navigated the digital disruption better than most of its competitors.

5. Avoiding conflict will bite you in the ass.

Abramson learns that the Guardian’s Janine Gibson is returning to the UK, and wants to offer her a job at the NYT. “The idea of having a true partner, another woman who had made brave journalism decisions and was forging her way into the future, appealed to me immensely,” she writes.

There’s just one problem: Gibson and Dean Baquet, Abramson’s deputy, don’t get on. On the advice of CEO Mark Thompson, Abramson stalls on sharing with Baquet that she will be offering Gibson the job, telling him instead that she will be considering several people. Baquet soon finds out she lied to him, goes to Sulzberger to complain, and the next morning Abramson is fired and told that Baquet will be the new executive editor.

Wanting to avoid giving someone news that will upset them, or not wanting to own up to something that will make you look bad, is normal. Most people hate confrontation. But dealing with potential conflicts as soon as they arise is always better than letting them fester.

And as Abramson’s example shows, there’s no quicker way to escalate an unpleasant situation than to obfuscate in an attempt to avoid it.

Did you read the Abramson essay, too? What lessons did you take from it?

Print Journalism: Extant or Extinct?

As a millennial who is in love with things of the past, I have always felt out of place, even alone, when compared to my peers. I am undoubtedly an old soul. I love reading the New York Times in print. I like the crinkling sound as I turn the pages, I love the smell of the ink, and every time I hold a newspaper in my hands, it reminds me why I chose to pursue journalism in the first place. I would take the newspaper over internet news any day, and I would delete my Twitter account all together if I could.

But I know that I am the exception to the rule.

Students and faculty alike are always telling me to brace myself for change. They look at me and tell me that print journalism as we know it simply cannot last, that it is a dying medium. As an aspiring print journalist that is not only disheartening, but it is downright terrifying. No one wants to be told that their passion is going extinct.

So I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I conducted a survey of my fellow students to see what they thought the future of print journalism might look like, and fifty-four of them responded. Logically, I asked them about their favorite way to consume news right off the bat.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see that approximately two thirds of my survey pool preferred to get their news online. Print on the other hand drew a mere 7.4 percent of the vote. This aligned with what I had expected to find, given the popularity of technology especially among college aged students.

However, things started to look up when I asked my peers how frequently they consume any form of print media.

50 percent of students answered that they interact with print media either a few times a week or every day. Even more importantly, only one student replied that they never consume any form of print media. After looking at the results of this question, I began to feel hopeful that I was not the lone print journalism fan among students my age.

When I asked them what their favorite thing about print media was, I got some creative answers. Multiple students said that they prefer print news because it is easier to keep track of the stories without the risk of them getting lost in the deluge of information that can be found on the internet. Still more students said that they preferred print because they were able to interact with their news without the annoyance of advertisements constantly getting in their way. Students also said that they considered print sources to be more credible and trustworthy than the news they find online.

But the most common answer I received was that technology simply cannot replace the tactile satisfaction of actually holding a newspaper or book in your hands. In fact, 64 percent of the students I polled expressed some variation of this opinion as their answer to the question. One student echoed my own sentiment on the matter saying:

“I love holding it in my hands and actually flipping the pages. I can appreciate the immediacy and convenience digital media affords, but there is something about actually reading news on paper, that to me, makes things seem more authentic and credible. Although print lives in a dwindling market, I hope it never ceases to exist as a medium.”

I was shocked to see how many of my fellow students valued the feel and experience of reading actual printed work, and it was fascinating to see that such a simple thing held so much weight in their decision.

With that being said, I found the questions concerning their grievances with print journalism just as interesting.

We live in a society that is driven by a need for instant gratification, and there is no avoiding the truth: print media takes more effort to consume than online content does. Admittedly, print media is less convenient to interact with and reading stories on this platform is more of a choice than something that happens by accident. 15 students said that this extra effort and inconvenience prevented them from enjoying print journalism. The rest of the dissenters gave answers ranging from environmental concerns to a genuine love of technology.

However, the most fascinating bit of data generated by this question was that 50 percent of the students surveyed said that they liked print media and had no problems with it whatsoever. This took me by surprise, because when I have conversations about print journalism with my fellow students I am generally met with a laundry list of complaints. Therefore, it was refreshing to see such a high approval rating displayed in the results, and reading my classmates’ responses gave me hope for the future of print journalism.

Finally, when I asked the students about the future of print journalism as a medium, an overwhelming majority of them ( 61.1 percent) said they believe print journalism is not in danger of going extinct. Most of the remaining survey-takers believed that print outlets will find a way to transition into the ever-changing digital world, and only four people felt that print journalism will soon be a thing of the past.

Going into this survey, I was expecting the worst. I thought that I would be faced with a flood of negative information and opinions on the medium that I care so passionately about. Luckily that was not the case, and I was refreshed to see that others shared in my hopes for print media’s future. Now, while I am an idealist, I am also capable of being realistic. I realize that in order for print journalism to survive, it will most likely be forced to adapt at least to some degree. However, if print media continues to play to its strengths like physical ownership and tactile permanence, it will still remain marketable. Additionally, society’s love of all things vintage and retro bodes well for print journalism, and there may be an opportunity for it to develop as a niche market in the coming years.

In the end, I have a renewed admiration and respect for print as a medium, and I have a newfound confidence that I will be able to pursue the career and passion that I love in the years to come.

MedLeb Kicks off at LAU Highlighting Diversity

The Association of Media Educators in Lebanon kicked off its first conference at the Lebanese American University. The conference was promoted by guests who were educators, professionals, and policymakers from diverse media outlets, and having diverse points of view.

The conference was much of an informative one since the guests spoke about their experiences in journalism and had ideas on how to enhance the media curricula and media literacy among journalism, media and communication programs.

Journalism students from almost all universities in Lebanon attended the conference to benefit and learn from professionals and hear different points of view in order to establish a well based foundation for their learning outcomes.

For more details watch the video!
From the “Entrepreneurship, Investment and New Business Models”Session
LAU students were proud that this association kicked off at their university.

The two days conference had a successful media coverage, and specifically a Twitter one, where the attendees shared parts of the conference using the hashtag #medleb2017.

Post-linear journalism: Why the media needs to rethink the story

I recently wrote about the cultural battle around analytics that’s still raging in newsrooms around the world.

While writing that post I noticed that many of the things that we take for granted in digital newsrooms lack well-defined concepts and a conceptual base.

So here’s a few thoughts on that.

How the linear age shaped what the media does today

A lot of the news media we consume today on the web is the way it is because of its past. To understand why some of the news media sometimes feels so weird online, one has to understand how it got that way.

So first, lets look at four things that defined media in the linear age.

1. A fixed time of publication and media consumption

Think about the morning newspaper. The way it was used is pretty clear: in the morning, often while having breakfast or during the commute for about half an hour.

Thus, when producing stories for a newspaper, editors could reasonably expect that a news story was consumed within a very specific time window, most often in the morning hours.

The newspaper as a product and the stories in it were designed to accommodate this.

The news story is a snapshot of roughly the last 24 hours with a special focus on the late hours of the previous day.

A half-life of a classic news story was basically measured in hours. More in-depth reporting or analysis could last relevant for days, but not much longer (as almost all information was tightly tied to the news cycle).

The same is even more true for traditional tv and radio news. Their relevance was meant to evaporate in real time.

2. A relatively constant audience

In a mature linear media environment, the audience for a news product was by and large constant.

Quality print newspaper readers were, generally speaking, either subscribers or loyal buyers of single copies. TV and radio news were listened reasonably faithfully and were a part of the daily routine.

Thus, the news product was built around the idea that the reader would return tomorrow.

Because they returned, it could be presumed that they already knew the information provided in previous issues of the paper of previous broadcasts. This meant that information provided in yesterdays paper was not often repeated, at least not extensively.

This sounds trivial but has huge implications on how information was conceptualised in the linear age.

Information or context was always thought of as accumulating over time by reading a series of separate articles, not primarily from any single article.

3. Coverage as a metaphor for impact and context

The idea of information being accumulated by reading a series of articles from day to day lead to the concept of coverage.

Put simply, coverage meant the total sum of all the stories and the volume of those stories on an issue over a given period of time.

More and bigger stories equaled more coverage.

One could say, for example, that the Presidential race is getting more coverage in the local paper this year. This meant that there were more and bigger stories in the paper during the race than previously.

Coverage was always connected to the linear experience, because the only way to really observe it was to follow the publication from day to day.

Thus, the readers were expected to deduct what the news product thought of as important by following how much ”coverage” an issue was getting over time.

This also sounds trivial but points to two wider points.

First, in a linear environment signalling about the importance of an issue or the depth of the work being done by the media was often communicated implicitly over time, not explicitly in the story itself.

Second, newsrooms generally didn’t need to worry if someone reading todays story understood the wider context, as the context was provided yesterday or was to be provided tomorrow – and the reader could be expected to see those as well.

Thus, the main metaphor for contextual information in the linear age was coverage, which mainly meant a series of articles.

4. Automatic audience

In a linear environment, journalists could often expect to have a relatively large automatic audience for their work.

Once you were hired by a major newspaper, for example, it was pretty much guaranteed that your stories had a huge audience, measured in tens or hundreds of thousands.

Each story had automatic impact.

How this audience got there in first place was a complicated process. Reasons for subscribing to a newspaper, for example, were a combination of the news stories, classified ads, crossword puzzles, the tv guide and other, highly unpredictable things.

Also, the connection between stories and audience numbers was fuzzy.

If there were weeks or days with more mediocre stories, the audience mostly didn’t walk away. This was because subscribing was always about something more than single issues or single stories.

For the journalist, this meant that how a single story was produced was never directly connected to how much audience the story was getting.

This is not to say that the quality of the reporting had no impact on the overall audience numbers. Of course it did, but how this exactly worked was always a kind of mystery. At best, it was indirect.

But generally, for most people in the newsroom, getting the audience to use the product in the first place was someone else’s problem.

From linear to post-linear media environment

By now it should be clear that the web and social media are breaking down – or have already broken down – most of the mechanisms from the linear age.

And yet, many linear story forms and processes survive to this day.

This is because the linear products themselves also still exist and dictate much of what goes on in newsrooms.

To understand the depth of the change, let’s take a look at how the fundamentals are different in a post-linear environment.

1. No fixed time slots of content consumption

Social media has no fixed time slots.

When you share a story or a video on Facebook, it’s first seen by a small sample of people that have liked your page. If the story gets engagement (likes, comments, shares) it’s then showed to a larger group. It gets reshared and, if you’re lucky, reshared again.

If the story is successful, it probably keeps on spreading for days or even weeks. Different people become aware of it at different times.

This is a key difference between a post-linear and linear environments. The window of consumption for most stories is longer.

This is why a video meant for social media, for example, has to be less directly tied to the events of a single day, for example. Because the sharing loop is longer than the typical news cycle, the content cannot get old too fast.

This also spells trouble for the stereotype of the traditional news story. Written as a wrap-up of the last 24 hours and meant to be read during morning hours, is not ideal for a social media environment.

Of course, many newspaper stories never were exactly like this.

News analysis, in-depth reports or interviews age better. But in a linear environment even them are often tied to the news cycle in a way that makes them obsolete in a matter of days.

This can make a story that is just a few days old feel alienating and somehow out of place.

2. A relatively volatile audience

In many countries, social media and news aggregators are the main pathways to news. In some, people navigate to the front pages of media brands (this happens in Finland, my native country).

But for many outlets social (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) and aggregators (Google News, Reddit, Flipboard) are becoming more and more important sources of traffic.

This means that the audience is much more volatile than before.

Audience numbers are more dependent on single stories achieving virality or becoming hits and much less dependent on day-to-day readers.

Loyal digital readers exist, but even their pathways to the content are often more complex than before.

Also, the people who do end up in any given story can not reasonably be expected to have read the previous ”coverage” of the issue in the publication.

Nearly no-one reads a website by scanning through all the stories it has published.

Thus, understanding the wider context of the story as part of ongoing coverage is harder. Also, the reader cannot be presumed to have seen information provided in previous stories of the coverage.

Today, it is much more important to signal these things in the story itself.

Somehow, the story needs to communicate whether the publication considers the issue the story is about high priority or not.

It is also important to intelligently link the story to previous stories that provide context on the issue in general. If this is not done, the reader might not be aware of the wider coverage at all.

In a way, in the post-linear environment, a story becomes an entry point to the wider coverage.

3. Database as a metaphor for contextual information

In the linear age, the metaphor for contextual information was coverage, defined here as a series of articles. In the post-linear age the metaphor is the database.

This is best explained by looking at Wikipedia and the way it is linked to reporting current events.

Think about the war in Syria, for example.

Dragging on for years, many news outlets have covered the war thoroughly and with excellent quality. But a lot of their coverage has come and gone and is mostly sitting unused in a corner of the internet.

If news about Syria breaks now, the context at first is not there. To find that context, digital readers google ”war in Syria” and usually end up in Wikipedia.

Thus, more often than before, context is not learned by following coverage but by searching a database.

But, by and large, news media is organised around the concept of coverage, not database.

Then there are books.

Books are by design meant as vehicles of contextual information with a typical lifespan measured in years. Books still serve this function well.

But in the middle something is missing. The real-time news web is really good at keeping people up to date about what’s going on right now. It is much less good at. keeping people up to date of what all that means.

The linear idea of coverage needs to be complemented by something. Right now, a lot of that is left to Wikipedia.

4. Reach and engagement as measures of impact

As the focus switches from distributing products to distributing single stories, the measures for impact also change.

Circulation is replaced by reach and engagement – both things that were difficult to measure before.

Reach is about awareness.

On social media reach tells you how many people saw your stories in their feeds. It’s how many people opened a newsletter containing links to your stories. Reach is a measure of your passive audience – the people aware about you but not yet engaged.

As we’ve seen, to many newsrooms this audience used to be automatic.

But in a post-linear environment it needs to be constructed again and again, basically around each individual story. This is why distribution of journalism has become a central part of the job for digital newsrooms.

This is why sharing, tweeting and sending push notifications matter. It’s why real-time analytics matter: you can tell if people are even becoming aware of the existence of a story or not.

Engagement, on the other hand, is about active readers.

Measuring engagement has many phases, beginning with the portion of the passive audience that becomes a reader. Clicks.

Clicks are often dismissed as an irrelevant measure for newsrooms, but. this is mistaken: converting a passive audience to an active one is key in achieving impact, and clicks are a decent measure for this.

As a measure, clicks also are the closest thing to circulation: they are an approximation of the active audience but do not alone explain much of what or why the audience actually does.

Time spent on an article is a much better measurement for what the audience actually wants or does.

For a product, the times a person returns in a week or month is also relevant. Understanding how users navigate within the product is also important.

But the main point is that the more non-linear the media environment becomes, the less automatic the audience is.

If a story is not spreading on platforms, many readers will not even be aware of its existence. Without reach, a story is more or less dead.

If the passive readers (reach) are not converting into active readers (by clicking), the experience and connection to the story remain superficial at best.

The audience is not ”simply there”, it needs to be reached, engaged and created, often again and again.

For newsrooms, this is a very different reality than before.

So how could journalism adapt?

As media further transforms from the linear environment to a post-linear world, the distribution and story forms probably will evolve as well. Here’s a few thoughts on what that means and could mean in the future.

1. Stories and products need much more context

As we’ve seen, for an overall picture of a news process, Wikipedia is often better than even the best global news sites.

The same goes for the publications themselves.

It is devilishly hard to find information on what a publication is or what it does from the publications themselves. Few have thorough about pages and even fewer provide a description of themselves on article pages.

But for a reader stumbling on a story from social media, this means that the publication just feels like a ”general news site”, not a brand with a story and worthy of trust.

All this points to a need of more context, both in individual stories and in the publications in general.

2. Stories need to live longer (and get update histories)

Because the sharing and distribution cycles in a non-linear environment are longer (one can find a story on Flipboard, for example, days after its publication) stories need to have longer update tails.

Perhaps news organisations even need to produce more content that has a lifespan of months instead of days. Think about the podcast Serial or long-form articles sold even years after their original publication.

When reporting news that’s spread on social media, reporters could stay on a story longer than just a day or two and work to keep it up to date – either by updating the information or by making sure that links or other elements provide the necessary context.

To keep things understandable, stories could be thought of as having update histories with update descriptions, much like Wikipedia or the apps on App Store do.

This would increase transparency and make older stories feel fresh in a post-linear environment.

An extreme for of this would be a completely separate ”issue page”.

It might look like a combination of encyclopaedic and journalistic information, bringing together all the reporting an outlet has done on an issue.

It could also be modular, attached to the end of other articles to provide context.

3. Analytics matter

Because the audience is not automatic, understanding audience creation, community and story distribution is a key skill in the non-linear environment.

Yet, still, web analytics is seen in many newsrooms as a threat when in fact it is the only viable way for navigating the environment.

Sure, analytics can be abused (if you’re using it to see that people click on Trump stories, you’re using it wrong). But in general, it’s a vital part of the new environment.

4. Stories need marketing plans

It’s not enough to just hit publish in a post-linear environment. Already news desks are pushing stories via social media, tailoring photos for Instagram or using push notifications to bring in readers.

But it’s rare to see this done as a part of the editorial process, something that’s an integral part of every (major) story. Thinking about the way the story looks like on Flipboard, Instagram or Snapchat should be an integral part of the entire production process.

5. Information as a library or database, not coverage

Changing metaphors is also important.

To understand what this means, just compare Netflix, Wikipedia and Spotify to their linear predecessors.

In the linear age, one talked about showtimes, broadcast programming, radio playlists and prime time. On Netflix or Spotify the main functions are search and browsing. There are no showtimes but updates. On Wikipedia, a person looking after a page is not a gatekeeper but an administrator.

Similarly, before one merely ”published” a story. Now the story needs to be delivered as well and the audience built or created.

The way we talk or think about what we do has an effect on what we actually do.

Is ”coverage” the right way to conceptualise information in the post-linear age? Is ”a story” a fragment of coverage or an entry point to a contextual database? Do we ”write new stories” or ”make updates”? Are our job descriptions up to date?

Perhaps thinking in post-linear terms would help us grasp the changes around us a bit better.

How A.I Affects Mass Communications

Last year China unveiled their first two A.I news reporters on the New China News Agency. The A.I reporters according to the Chinese news station are very life like, express basic facial expressions, and emphasis important words. The video below shows the debut of China’s first A.I news anchor.

Watching the video above, its clear to see that A.I reporters are fairly efficient and definetly have the ability to be a huge asset for news companies. A.I doesn’t rest, nor does it think on its own, it simply regurgates what it has been told to say by its manufacturer, and this leads to the main point of my post. I’m gonna talk about how A.I may very well be the driving force of mass communications in the near future. The New York Times published an article today titles Is Ethical A.I Even Possible”.

I dont think A.I is unethical, but I thinking it will inevitably be used unethically in society (U.S). I dont think society at a whole, especially huge buisnesses and corporations are responsible enough to implement and maintain ethics in their A.I technology. Why? Simply because American companies still have a capitalist mindset, which is to do whatever it takes to increase profit.

What are the negative effects? A.I drones according to journalists and protesters mentioned in the NYT article violates privacy, and leaves humans vulnerable to deception. Many oppossers forsee A.I news anchors becoming as reliable as the curropt manufacture behind it, misleading viewers and taking jobs away from people

A.I supporters beg to differ. Clarifai (Mentioned in the NYT article) states that they have made it there mission to make sure that their A.I technology is safe and that it can be used for good like tracking down hackers, alerting people, and stopping the spread of fake news. Many A.I companies like Clarifai justify their A.I by promising a high standard of ethics in their products. But the problem lies within the convuleted definition of ethics itself. Everyone has their own idea of what is ethical and not. Some believe in strict privacy rights, some believe A.I drones should be in constant survelliance.

Photo by Owen Beard on Unsplash

I personally believed A.I is a double edged sword, there is no black and white answer to whether its ethical or not. I do know that people are the puppet masters to A.I and that the dilemma between ethics and profit regarding A.I in companies are a real problem. A.I by itself, like the Chinese news reporter for example is just an empty shell waiting to have information stored within it.

How does this affect mass communications?

The Chinese A.I news anchor I mentioned in the beginning of the blog, I believe is a glimpse of the future for America.A.I news reporters I believe will be more convent, consistent and cost effective news companies. Its very possible that in the future your local weatherman will be a weather bot and that newsphotogrophers will be taken over by drones.

We already see A.I’s prevalence on social media and smart phones like Siri and Alexa. Advertisers have taken advantage of A.I which have changed the whole complexion of the advertising field.A.I has changed the game for media marketing, making it easier for marketers to target their audiences, and gain their attention through online recommendations, targeting trends, using the audiences search history to predict what they might be intrested in.

Our Spring 2019 urbanist journalism fellowship is now open!

Photo credit: Shutterstock

The Island Press Urban Resilience Project (URP) is excited to continue our urbanist journalism fellowship this spring in collaboration with Greater Greater Washington (GGWash)! It’s a part-time, paid position for two DC-area budding journalism professionals who are interested in the forces that shape how Washington grows and develops. Fellows will primarily report and write stories focused on equity and urban resilience.

This fellowship is designed to help local journalists launch their careers, gain more of a background in urbanism, and provide readers with an even richer array of stories from underrepresented voices. Fellows must have prior experience in journalism (graduate students preferred). They will be expected to write short stories regularly and will also pitch, report, and write two longer-form pieces. Fellows will work closely with GGWash and URP editors to take a deeper dive into how the region is growing and changing, and will gain the opportunity to hone their journalism skills, deepen their urbanism knowlege, and publish a variety of pieces.

Here’s who we’re looking for

Can you sniff out a great story? Are you able to take wonky and esoteric subjects and make them relatable to a broad audience? Can you find and highlight the human impact of a policy? Do you have a unique perspective that is currently missing from regional conversations about urban planning? If that sounds like you, you just might be a great fit!

People who reflect underrepresented voices within the Greater Greater Washington community are encouraged to apply, including (but not limited to) people of color, women, and/or non-gender conforming individuals, and people from or who currently live in areas of the region that are under-resourced or have been negatively impacted by historic urban planning policies.

If you know someone who may be a good candidate, please send them the fellowship announcement, and share this post widely with your networks.

How to apply

See the full fellowship description here. Please send the following to jobs@ggwash.org by 5 pm on Sunday, March 10, 2019:

  • Resume
  • Two clips
  • Cover letter explaining your interest in and your qualifications for the fellowship, two relevant story ideas, and why you want to be a part of our team
  • Two references

Journalism needs a new business model and it’s based on trust

Picture by Bench Accounting

Everybody knows online journalism has a problem. In the era of populism, the lack of trust in newspapers and broadcasting news is all too apparent. People are just not sure anymore if what they see on TV or read on Facebook is actually true.

Why is that? Why not trust journalism? Aren’t reporters and news people still more independent than most other profession? What has changed?

Well, everything. Since it’s forced to make money almost exclusively from ads, journalism has not been its former self. It’s become too fast and too noisy. It looks like all the other stuff on the web — including the ads. It is made for clicks, not for users. As a product, journalism sucks.

A plethora of books have been published on these questions in the last year, such as J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy”, George Packer’s “The Unwinding” and John B. Judis’ “The Populist Explosion”; and a few more library loads are being written right now. A lot of them are intelligent and insightful, but one piece of the diagnosis is missing in almost all of them: the business model of news has played a huge part in the deterioration of trust in digital media.

Depending on clicks and page views to make the online ad revenue grow took journalism down the clickbait road. And instead of creating readable content, many outlets became PowerPoints that users had to fight against to actually find value within articles. On top, social media distribution didn’t make things better, since emotional content and sensational headlines get the engagement needed for achieving reach.

And while journalists are probably just as independent as in the past, their style has worn off. The language of news reports, features and interviews misses the conversational style of the internet. To many readers and users, it just sounds arrogant, it lacks the human voice that they get from their friends in Facebook, their acquaintances on Twitter, even their Airbnb contact that they are willing to share basically everything with. Why trust a TV character or the guy shouting too much in the opinion columns?

In such a landscape, truth, analysis and debate remain out of sight. After years of disconnect and erosion, the relationship between the public and the press needs a reset. Users patience is reaching a breaking point, the credibility of mainstream media is at stake and only the ones who are able to create a formula that brings together trust and dollars will survive.

What could journalism change to regain trust? In my opinion, several things, all of which would be radical steps, so don’t hold your breath.


First and foremost, media outlets need to get independent from ads to survive. If digital newspapers change their incentives, their product will change with them. Only if users are your most important customers will you focus on their needs. And only then they will be able to trust you. So the business model of news needs to be subscriptions, subscriptions only.

While a few decades back the Holy Grail of subscriptions seemed like a pipe dream, the fog is disappearing. Slowly, readers seem to be ready to pay, at least in countries like the US, where already 53% of adults pay for news, and the growth within young readers is the fastest; or Germany, where in the last 15 years the percentage of Internet users willing to pay for online content rose until 73%. And still, for many outlets it looks like mission impossible to convert their free readers into paying customers.

Source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017

Source: American Press Institute

Not only the stats suggest that the tide is changing, though. For the first time in decades, big newspapers can boast growing numbers where it matters. The New York Times counts with 2.3M paying subscribers, The Wall Street Journal with 1.7M subscribers and The Washington Post recently announced passing the mark of 1M subscriptions.

Source: UMH

These incoming dollars allow these outlets to defy the dictatorship of clicks and page views. But how are they converting casual readers into engaged and paying supporters? Mostly by investing in prestigious journalists, craftsmanship, technology, making quality prevail over quantity and moreover, speed. Being the first is not anymore what makes the difference, but collecting all the facts, stories within the story and adding the value of having a voice that counts.


Which brings me to the second point: in order to regain trust from readers, journalism needs to slow down. Publish less. Get a perspective. There is too much content in the world. Journalism as a product need to focus on excellence. It’s role is not to add noise, but to add meaning to the never-ending discourse of society with itself.

Imagine journalism as a person. Why would you trust a chatty, gossiping, hyperventilating guy on the street? You would trust someone who’s well educated, well spoken, someone who thinks before they talk. Journalism needs to become someone like that again.


And third: journalism needs to understand we don’t live anymore in a world where information goes only top down, but embrace the reality of a conversation society we’re all just beginning to grasp. Media needs to listen, answer, learn and become an open community.

Journalists need to become better at talking with their audiences. It’s an open secret that someone among the audience knows more about a topic than the reporter. Why not ask them before publishing a story? Humility leads to trust.

While legacy media is struggling with a compromise between reach and subscriptions, there are a growing number of outlets who have learned their lessons already. Advertising is dying and the only way to make journalism a sustainable business is to generate trust and produce stories that will make people subscribe to your publication. Individual journalists and small teams are starting to use platforms like Steady to convert their audience into paying subscribers. And as their investor, I believe they are one top answer to tackle a problem that from my point of view will determine the world we live in the future. Therefore, I’m betting on them.

If you change the business model of journalism, you change journalism. Users who care are quality leads. As a logical next step, they will start to pay. Or as Washington Post’s owner Jeff Bezos says:

“When you’re writing, be riveting, be right, and ask people to pay. They will pay.” — Jeff Bezos

If journalists suddenly cared about audiences they will produce better stories that will lead to better conversions. Better stories mean high engagement, which equals better retention. At that point, you’ll have a much more reliable relationship, which means lower churn. That way, people will start trusting journalism again.


This article was riginally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on October 10, 2017.


Benjamin Rohé started his first company at the age of 17. He co-founded a public company amongst other startups and has worked in the tech, renewable energy and digital space since 1997. Now he is an active business angel and former partner in an European VC fund, and also the Managing Director of the German Tech Entrepreneurship Center (GTEC) in Berlin. You can find him on Twitter as @benjaminr

CALL FOR EXPRESSION OF INTEREST AS TRAINERS

CALL FOR EXPRESSION OF INTEREST AS TRAINERS

FOR THE TRAINING ON BUILDING CAPACITIES OF MEDIA PROFESSIONALS AND PUBLIC RELATIONS SPECIALIST FROM STATE AGENCIES ON INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM TO COVER HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES IN CLOSED INSTITUTIONS IN ARMENIA

  1. Background

In December 2017, “Public Journalism Club” (PJC) NGO in consortium with “Investigate Reporters” NGO launched “A Public Glimpse into a Closed World: Enhancing Public Information on and Awareness on Human Rights Situation in Penitentiaries and Psychiatric Residential Institutions in Armenia” two-year project financed by the European Union (EU) and co-funded by Open Society Foundations (OSF) — Armenia.

The overall objective of the project is to improve human rights situation at closed institutions through increasing public awareness and public debate to identify and publicly discuss relevant issues and possible solutions.

The specific objectives of the project are:

  • Enhance media professionals’ awareness of and ability to cover issues related to human rights situations at closed institutions;
  • Increase coverage and quality of reports on the human rights situation in closed institutions.

As a part of the project PJC is initiating a training course for representatives of Mass Media, as well as Public Relations officers from state institutions on covering human rights situations in closed institutions in Armenia.

  1. Call for trainer

We are looking for an experienced trainer to work together with the media representatives during the training of Media Professionals/Public Relation specialists within the “A Public Glimpse into a Closed World: Enhancing Public Information on and Awareness on Human Rights Situation in Penitentiaries and Psychiatric Residential Institutions in Armenia” project.

The training course aims to develop number of key knowledge and skills areas, i.e. building the media professionals’ understanding of HR issues in closed institutions and shaping their skills to investigate and report on these issues.

  1. Objectives and Results of the Training

The main objectives of the training are:

  • To learn main concept and techniques of investigative journalism in the context of closed institutions, coverage of human rights situations,
  • To facilitate the communication between journalists and public relations officers in state agencies on covering human rights situations in closed institutions,
  • To generate investigative journalism story ideas (considering also gender aspects of investigative reporting).
  1. Profile of attendees

The training course will invite participants from PJC and HETQ project teams, media agencies, human rights organizations/monitoring groups, public relations specialists from state agencies.

  1. Training timeframe

It is planned to organize a 4 days training from May 2–5, 2019 in Yerevan.

  1. Trainer’s Qualifications and Experience

We are looking for senior trainers who will prepare, implement and evaluate the training course.

The consultant/trainer should have at least the following qualifications:

  • Relevant educational degree in journalism and/or human rights,
  • Relevant training/teaching qualification,
  • At least 5 years of extensive experience in investigative journalism, human rights protection, as well as conducting trainings;
  • Quality presentation skills
  • Excellent communication and writing skills.
  • Conceptual and practical knowledge and training experience regarding investigative journalism, journalistic ethics, media and non-formal educational methodologies;
  • Conceptual and practical knowledge and training experience in the following fields will be considered a plus: human rights, hate speech and discrimination, communication;
  • International experience as a trainer/journalist will be considered a plus.

Candidates will be evaluated according to an assessment matrix, which includes the following features:

  1. Background and experience
  • Practical professional skills/ Years of experience
  • Education
  • Didactic skills experience in training
  1. Training module
  • content and relevance
  • reflection of the sensitivity to topics of the field
  1. Commitment
  • The candidate should indicate how much time he/she can dedicate to the training.
  1. Budget
  2. Required documentation and application procedures

Interested individuals/experts with required qualification should submit their proposal/application by 20th of March, COB.

The proposal/application should include:

  1. Financial proposal ;
  2. Technical proposal, including training curricula, as well as tools and techniques to be applied;
  3. CV(s) outlining previous qualifications and experience.

The ToR for the training is available here:

If you have any questions on preparation of the Proposal please contact: Monika Sargsyan, Senior Project Manager at Public Journalism Club (PJC) at info@pjc.am.