This week’s essential reads: Only have a minute? The essential pieces this week are Felix Salmon and Jay Rosen on Newsweek’s Bitcoin story, Emily Bell on diversity in new news organizations, and Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile with surprising web readership data.
Newsweek and showing your work: The cover story of Newsweek’s return to print was supposed to be a bombshell revelation of the identity of Bitcoin’s mysterious creator Satoshi Nakamoto, but it’s been unraveling ever since it was published late last week. The man Newsweek identified as Bitcoin’s creator, Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto of California, denied involvement with Bitcoin to The Associated Press, and the story’s details were widely questioned.
After publication, we got some more details about the forensic analysis that led Newsweek’s Leah McGrath Goodman to Nakamoto and the interview she conducted with him. Newsweek issued a statement standing by its story, and its editor-in-chief, Jim Impoco, appeared to both revel in and express outrage at the criticism the story was receiving.
The story was picked apart, paragraph by paragraph, by several people, including former Grantland editor Jay Caspian Kang and Priceonomics’ Rohin Dhar. The Guardian’s Michael Wolff chastised readers and commentators for being so shocked at the flimsiness of Newsweek’s story, saying that much of that outrage was predicated on the false premise that this is the Newsweek we’ve always known. “The new Newsweek is hoping to pass itself off as the old and real Newsweek, but, really, that is less its fault than the fault of the gullible,” he said.
The sharpest commentary on the story came from Reuters’ Felix Salmon, who wrote a pair of posts — the first breaking down Newsweek’s evidence and concluding that it should have presented its story as a thesis rather than a scoop, and the second with Goodman’s description of her reporting techniques and suggestions of how Newsweek should better engage its critics.
NYU’s Jay Rosen highlighted a few of Goodman’s statements to Salmon appealing to Newsweek’s reputation and referring to evidence she hasn’t made public. “Sorry, that was 25 years ago. Today: Show your work. Don’t tell us how much work went into it. You publish your story, you know it’s going to come under attack, you prepare for battle and when the time is right you release the evidence you have,” Rosen wrote. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum also expanded on Salmon’s posts, pointing out the increased accountability for news organizations.
Diversity in personal franchise sites: The three most prominent of the new wave of personal franchise sites each made announcements this week, and came under some criticism for lack of diversity as well. Ex-Washington Post journalist Ezra Klein’s project for Vox Media will be called simply Vox, and revealed a bit about how it’s going to approach explanatory journalism on all types of subjects. PandoDaily’s David Holmes looked at the current market for news explainers and how Vox might push the genre forward, and Gigaom’s Laura Hazard Owen discussed why Vox could become essential reading for people trying to catch up on current events.
Nate Silver’s data journalism site, FiveThirtyEight, will relaunch on Monday and will be housed with fellow ESPN projects Grantland and ESPN Films in a new unit called Exit 31. He gave details of its new mission in a Q&A with New York magazine. Meanwhile, The New York Times explained the purpose of its data-oriented replacement for FiveThirtyEight, which will be called The Upshot, and the Columbia Journalism Review looked at the future of Klein’s former Wonkblog at the Post.
And The Intercept, the subsite of First Look Media centered on Glenn Greenwald’s work and surveillance issues surrounding the Edward Snowden documents, hired Gawker editor John Cook as its new editor, as well as two new writers.
But former Guardian editor Emily Bell criticized these new well funded startups for hiring staff and leadership that’s overwhelmingly male (and white, too). For being hailed as a new vanguard of journalism, Bell said, these projects look a lot like the old guard. “Remaking journalism in its own image, only with better hair and tighter clothes, is not a revolution, or even an evolution. It is a repackaging of the status quo with a very nice clubhouse attached.” FiveThirtyEight’s Silver responded that his site doesn’t have a “bro-y” clubhouse mentality and tries to make the best hires possible from an applicant pool that’s 85% male.
Snowden speaks: The news stemming from Edward Snowden’s leaked U.S. National Security Agency documents continues to flow — this week’s biggest story came from The Intercept, which reported that the NSA and the British spying unit GCHQ are using automated tools to install malware onto computers, including programs that pose as Facebook servers to smuggle out files and email spam that installs malware to secretly record users with their computers’ microphones and webcams. The New York Times also reported on decade-old secret court rulings that dramatically expanded the U.S.’ ability to share information obtained from spying on its own citizens.
As stories from Snowden’s documents have dominated the news over the past year, Snowden will also be at the center of the Pulitzer Prizes when they’re decided next month. As Politico’s Dylan Byers reported, the Pulitzer board will consider teams from The Guardian and The Washington Post for their reporting on the Snowden documents, and a decision either way will likely be read as a political statement — perceived timidity on one hand or a repudiation of numerous government officials on the other.
Snowden addressed a crowd at SXSW this week via video from Russia, defending his leaks, criticizing the U.S.’ surveillance practices, and urging tech companies to tighten their security and be more discriminate in their data collection. Barton Gellman, the Washington Post reporter who has reported extensively on the documents, also spoke at SXSW, calling for more widespread encryption and security technology.
Reading roundup: A few other stories that popped up this week:
— The World Wide Web turned 25 this week, and its creator, Tim Berners-Lee, called for a digital bill of rights protecting its freedom, openness, and neutrality. He spoke in particular about his concern over net neutrality and also gave an Ask Me Anything on Reddit on the topic. Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing also urged Berners-Lee to reconsider his support for digital rights management technology in web browsers.
— Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile wrote an illuminating article at Time drawing some surprising conclusions from web tracking data, including that what people share doesn’t correlate with how long they spend reading it and native ads don’t get nearly the engagement that un-sponsored content gets. Recode’s Peter Kafka looked at the implications for native advertising, and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis examined ways to measure web use better.
— The New York Times previewed its new NYT Now app at SXSW this week, giving a glimpse of its cheaper, more simplified version of its main app. Times public editor Margaret Sullivan gave some of the details of the app and the paper’s goal behind it (including the nearly 20 editorial staffers working on it), and Mashable gave some more information on the app.
— The BBC launched a redesigned version of its iPlayer and announced it’s planning to launch online-only channels. It was also reported to be considering scrapping the license fee that funds it through licenses on TVs in the U.K. in favor of a subscription plan, though it denied that report.
— Finally, Stuart Dredge at The Guardian wrote a smart piece on the ascendant gatekeeping role of algorithms in determining what news reaches us and how.