Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Snapchat wants to slip a little news into teens’ social smartphone time
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
March 4, 2014, 3:06 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   March 4, 2014

If you watched the Oscars Sunday night, you probably saw John Travolta screw up the name of Idina Menzel as “Adele Dazeem”:

It got lots of attention online, and Slate jumped on it with The Adele Dazeem Name Generator, which tells you how John Travolta might mispronounce your name. (If you’re interested, the Nieman Lab staff is made up of Jorja Brazent, Julian Edjans, Chantelle Orteez, and Jonah Warshington. Also, “Nieman Lab” is Niven Loing.)

The story went insane on social media and became the most popular story in Slate history. Which led Slate editor David Plotz to tweet:

That ambivalence, I’d wager, is a lot like the feeling some had in The New York Times’ newsroom when they realized the most popular Times story of 2013 was a dialect quiz made by an intern. Those reporters and editors get into the business to do certain kinds of work, but the factors driving today’s news web — the availability of analytics, the rise of social sharing, and what remains of the CPM-driven advertising model — mean it’s increasingly clear that popularity doesn’t always line up with the work you’d want mentioned in your bio.

I emailed Plotz to get a little more about that ambivalence, and here’s what he had to say:

Ambivalence is not quite the right feeling. Maybe bemusement. The Travolta name generator is a delightful piece of work that brings pleasure to millions — literally millions — of readers. It’s fast, fun, and on the news, and I am unbelievably proud of the clever work that went into it, and glad for the joy it has brought so many readers.

On the other hand, I have to giggle that this project is attracting millions of readers, and crushing stories about Ukraine or Obama under its boot. And on the third hand, one of the most popular Slate stories in the past six months before Travolta came along was Josh Levin’s The Welfare Queen, an 18,000-word masterpiece about the woman Ronald Reagan villainized for bilking the government, who turned out to be even more fascinating, and loathsome, than Reagan ever could have imagined.

So our readers go low with us, and they go high with us, and, like Pharrell, we’re happy either way.

Show tags Show comments / Leave a comment
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Snapchat wants to slip a little news into teens’ social smartphone time
“A 19-year-old may not come across what the Iran deal is, but if it’s in their face in Snapchat, where they’re living all day, I kind of see that as a social good.”
The Worcester Sun wants to bootstrap paywalled hyperlocal digital into a Sunday print product
“We could use Sunday print to boost us into the stratosphere, to get us into a stable orbit where we can launch other things.”
Slate is taking steps to reduce its page load time by 75 percent
Slate Group vice chairman Dan Check discusses how Slate plans to speed up its site, how it’s thinking about ad blockers, and why it’s participating in platforms like Apple News.
What to read next
As giant platforms rise, local news is getting crushed
The quest for scale, driven by the distribution power of a few enormous technology platforms, is killing the business case for local news. Will anything take its place?
890What happened after 7 news sites got rid of reader comments
Recode, Reuters, Popular Science, The Week, Mic, The Verge, and USA Today’s FTW have all shut off reader comments in the past year. Here’s how they’re all using social media to encourage reader discussion.
699Facebook woos journalists with Signal, a dashboard to gather news across Facebook and Instagram
Signal helps journalists find, source, and embed content from Facebook and Instagram.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Detroit Free Press and Detroit News
The Daily Voice
The Wall Street Journal
National Review
La Nación
The Sunlight Foundation
Investigative Reporting Workshop
Financial Times