Few would argue that, in theory, the sharp increase in mobile access hasn’t been a good thing for individuals and society as a whole. A more connected public is a more informed one, and increased mobile penetration means more people are able to connect more often than ever before.
Johanna Dunaway, the report’s researcher and a recent fellow at Shorenstein, blames smartphones themselves. Thanks to a combination of smaller screens, slower connection speeds, and the variable costs of data, mobile devices are, in many senses, imperfect vectors for news consumption. Using eye-tracking software, Dunaway and her fellow researchers were able to monitor how people engaged with news on their phones. Their conclusion: “We found that, relative to computer users, mobile users spent less time reading news content and were less likely to notice and follow links and to do so for longer periods of time,” Dunaway said. Their findings are supported by previous data from Pew Research, which found that, while most sites now get more visitors through mobile than desktop, readers tend to spend far less time reading while on mobile devices.
Considering that two-thirds of all online activity is expected to happen on mobile devices by 2020, the implications of a mobile-dominant public are grim, the report argues. Dunaway ties the mobile risks to the many other challenges facing news organizations, which struggle to inform people in a media ecosystem dominated by choice, fragmentation, and news consumers gravitation towards sources that confirm their beliefs and enforce their biases.
Ultimately, all this means that while mobile is helping news organizations reach more people than ever, the problem is that those mobile news consumers are less engaged, less informed, and more likely to pay attention to sports and entertainment news than politics coverage. More, the rise in mobile adoption is most pronounced among Latino, black, and low-income Americans, which creates its own set of challenges, as Dunaway points out.
It may be correct to conclude, as some already have, that we are entering an era of second-class digital citizenship led by a mobile-only digital underclass.
A conceivable result is a widening disconnect between those who are politically interested and informed and those who are not. Given that this disconnect falls along income, racial, ethnic, and occupational lines, the effect could be an acceleration of the divide between America’s haves and have-nots — this at a time when that divide is already a source of political concern and unrest.
Mere hours after Facebook announced that its Trending section would become more algorithmically controlled, users noticed that the social network was surfacing a fake news story about Fox News host Megyn Kelly.
Facebook on Friday said it was making a change to its Trending feature by eliminating descriptions of each story and instead just listing a broad topic that’s chosen by its algorithm. Quartz reported that Trending will now be overseen by a team of engineers that are overseeing the algorithm, and that the move eliminated about 18 contract editorial jobs on the team that wrote the descriptors.
The social network came under fire earlier this year after Gizmodo reported that Facebook’s editors purposefully excluded conservative news sites from Trending. Facebook said it “looked into these claims and found no evidence of systematic bias.”
Still, it decided to give more power to the algorithm. By Monday morning, the fake Kelly story had disappeared from the site, but the stories that were trending — at least for me — weren’t necessarily news, or even particularly timely.
This has finally been removed. But Facebook should answer for this. Completely fake "news" should not be "trending" https://t.co/RbE0AFl1Ua
My top trending topic Monday morning was Go Topless Day, which was apparently celebrated on Sunday. The lead post was a story from the Canadian site DailyHive that was posted Friday to preview Vancouver’s Go Topless Day Parade that happened Sunday afternoon.
Other top trending topics were McChicken, which linked to a Mashable post that aggregated Twitter reactions to a video of a man having sex with a McDonald’s sandwich; LCD Soundsystem, which has plans for a new album; and Mila Kunis, for which the top story was a post from a page called That Viral Feed. Not exactly the highest quality results — especially given Facebook’s efforts over the past year to reduce the spread of clickbait in the main News Feed.
According to a Pew Research Center study from earlier this year, more than 40 percent of American adults get their news from Facebook.
Facebook — and its algorithm — are extremely powerful and exert huge amounts of control over what type of news coverage a significant number of its users see. So what does it mean when it’s promoting blatantly false news and clickbait aggregation? How can legitimate news outlets operate in this environment when they are becoming increasingly reliant on Facebook? Do users even care that they’re being fed stories from sites of ill repute?
In a story in this week’s New York Times Magazine, David Carr fellow John Herrman wrote that hyper-political pages have taken over Facebook, and thus much of the conversation around the U.S. election, without much thought about issues such as sourcing or accuracy.
But truly Facebook-native political pages have begun to create and refine a new approach to political news: cherry-picking and reconstituting the most effective tactics and tropes from activism, advocacy and journalism into a potent new mixture. This strange new class of media organization slots seamlessly into the news feed and is especially notable in what it asks, or doesn’t ask, of its readers. The point is not to get them to click on more stories or to engage further with a brand. The point is to get them to share the post that’s right in front of them. Everything else is secondary.
While web publishers have struggled to figure out how to take advantage of Facebook’s audience, these pages have thrived. Unburdened of any allegiance to old forms of news media and the practice, or performance, of any sort of ideological balance, native Facebook page publishers have a freedom that more traditional publishers don’t: to engage with Facebook purely on its terms. These are professional Facebook users straining to build media companies, in other words, not the other way around.
As Facebook continues to tweak its algorithm and these Facebook-native outfits continue to take advantage of the platform’s ever-changing rules, journalists have been debating where that leaves traditional news outlets.
How many weeks before Facebook hires new editors b/c its engineers can't figure out how to run a quality news product?
BuzzFeed may have always felt like two things, especially to non-media types: a viral entertainment powerhouse, and a Very Serious news division. Now BuzzFeed the company is officially splitting into two divisions, one to focus on entertainment and the other on news. Both divisions will place a huge emphasis on (what else) digital video.
In a memo — first obtained by Vanity Fair — announcing the company-wide reorganization on Tuesday, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti wrote:
In this new structure, video won’t be the job of just one department. Having a single “video department” in 2016 makes about as much sense as having a “mobile department”. Instead, it will be something we expand and embed across the organization. As digital video becomes ubiquitous, every major initiative at BuzzFeed around the world will find an expression as video, just like everything we do works on mobile and social platforms. Instead of organizing around a format or technology, we will organize our work to take full advantage of many formats and technologies.
BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith will oversee the news division, which will now include all of its health reporters, foreign correspondents, its other beat reporters, the breaking news team, and its investigations team. The expanding New York-based video news team, lead by Henry Goldman, will exist under BuzzFeed news division. (Back in May, Goldman told us that his news video team would be the “center of a Venn diagram” between BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, and that BuzzFeed Motion Pictures–produced news video would be following the newsroom’s editorial standards.)
Everything else will fall under a new division called the BuzzFeed Entertainment Group (BFEG). Ze Frank, previously president of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, will see his kingdom expand as president of the newly formed BFEG.
Observers took the news as another sign that BuzzFeed will be stepping back from the less profitable business of news (and is now better set up to spin off its news division in the future), a narrative that’s only grown since reports that the company missed its 2015 revenue targets and was cutting its 2016 projections.
Shorter: Remember how we said BuzzFeed news and buzzfeed video were one big happy family? Totes bullshit! https://t.co/ZWrBWZFC4s
BuzzFeed has been eager to refute such claims. Peretti told Vanity Fair that though the emphasis on producing more video was mutually beneficial for BuzzFeed reporters who thus far have primarily been writers: “Reporters and writers are the ones who call people to interview them, who get scoops,” he said. “Having more video-news capacity means that our reporters can write it up and also push that to our video team so they can reach an even bigger audience.”
@MikeIsaac i pass. but priority for news *remains* to, uh, break some in the way that best suits the story. beware of overly tidy narratives
By now you’ll have heard that after 14 years, Gawker.com will publish no more. Univision, the new owner of Gawker.com’s sibling sites, likely decided it didn’t want to deal with the Gawker Media flagship’s baggage. Gawker’s writers are being folded into other sites like Deadspin, Gizmodo, and Jezebel, or into other parts of Univision (though there’s no guarantee many of them will want to stay).
Gawker’s head of data and analytics Josh Laurito shared a post today with some numbers on Gawker.com as of Sunday morning (with the caveat that the site began publishing before reliable web analytics software, and that the metrics include stories from cityfile.com, which Gawker acquired in 2010).
Its most frequently covered topics concerned media (another caveat: due to misspellings and other tagging errors, actual numbers are probably higher):
In its lifetime, Gawker.com published 202,370 posts (3,311 were automated White House pool reports). A lucky 420 people (including groups and bots) have contributed posts to Gawker.com and its sub-blogs, with site veteran Hamilton Nolan topping the most-prolific list at 14,286 posts. (Nick Denton himself ranks No. 22 on that list.)
At its publishing peak in 2008, Gawker.com was publishing over 70 posts per day. Laurito’s explanation for that peak, and its subsequent decline:
This ludicrous posting rate came at the tail end of the housing boom. By the end of that year, with the market starting to tank, Gawker laid off about 15% of its editorial staff. The decrease in headcount, plus a change in traffic patterns away from direct, homepage traffic, decreased the ability and incentive to post as frequently. The fact that Gawker stopped paying writers per post sometime around this time might have had an impact as well. By 2012 the site posted just under 10,000 times, or less than half the rate of 3 years earlier.
Kinja, Gawker Media’s (slash Nick Denton’s?) publishing and commenting platform, did end up encouraging over 16 million comments. Laurito also shared lists of the most prolific and recommended commenters, and the most recommended comments in Gawker.com’s history. One of these comments, on a story on the hypocrisy Josh Duggar having a paid Ashley Madison account, reads: “Fuck that. This is exactly the same thing as outing anti-gay politicians. No one is entitled to hypocrisy.” Sad.
When your news organization publishes data stories, does it always publish a “nerd box” alongside it, explaining the methodology behind the analysis and detailing decisions made along the way? Does it publish the complete raw data set, in its naked glory? Or does it publish a cleaned-up version of the data? Or nothing at all?
Christine Zhang, a 2016 Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Fellow based at the Los Angeles Times’ data desk, and Dan Nguyen, who teaches computational journalism at Stanford, want to hear from people working in newsrooms directly about the decisions behind making data public (or not). The (qualitative) survey is here, and tries to get at how data and methodology are shared (GitHub? Jupyter? Google Drive? Dropbox?), and why (Increases authoritativeness? Improves internal workflow? Ensures accuracy of the analysis?).
“Dan and I both have academic and journalism backgrounds. And for us, data journalism seemed to be very much tied to social sciences, and examining data to find stories definitely has parallels with the way that social scientists work with data to write papers and provide conclusions,” Zhang, who was previously a research analyst at Brookings, said. “We started thinking about how in social sciences, peer review is the way people check their work. How do we check our work as data journalists, as people in the newsroom who tell data stories? Our research is about that nerd box, examining the transparency and openness that goes with data stories.” (Zhang recently moderated a SRCCON session with Ariana Giorgi on peer reviewing data stories.)
Part of their research includes a quantitative analysis of GitHub repos from news organization-associated accounts. ProPublica’s Scott Klein created a bot that tweeted every time a news organization posted a GitHub repo, and Zhang and Nguyen pored over the list of organizations and the people affiliated with those organizations, filtering out non-data source repos like web development frameworks that might also be posted to GitHub.
“Our goal is essentially to look at general trends in data being put up on GitHub publicly, looking at which organizations are doing it more consistently and which are not, the types of stories that tend to merit that sort of consideration,” Zhang said. (BuzzFeed News, for example, regularly creates GitHub repos for its investigations and data stories.) “This is why we wanted to launch the qualitative survey as well: to get some commentary in addition to the data that we have. I don’t think this can be representative by any means, but we’d like to collect as many survey responses as we can get, to understand also how newsrooms are sharing their data outside of GitHub.”
Photo by JustGrimes used under a Creative Commons license.
Yesterday, Twitter rolled out a couple new enhancements that it says will “give you more control over what you see and who you interact with on Twitter” and help you “control your experience.” Two words that don’t appear in the announcement: “abuse” or “harassment.” But those are the underlying issues they’re trying to tackle.
The first change allows everyone to see only people they follow in their notifications and mentions:
Don’t want to see notifications from everyone? Starting today, everyone will have the ability to limit notifications to only people they follow on mobile and on twitter.com. Simply turn it on if you want to give it a go. If not, no worries — your individual Twitter experience will continue unchanged.
The second is a “quality filter” that was previously available to only verified users, who make up only about 0.06 percent of Twitter’s user base.
Turning on the quality filter can improve the quality of Tweets you see by using a variety of signals, such as account origin and behavior. When turned on, it filters lower-quality content, like duplicate Tweets or content that appears to be automated — it does not filter content from people you follow or accounts you’ve recently interacted with. Please note that the quality filter may also affect Tweets in other places outside of the notifications timeline, such as top search results and replies on Twitter.
Now, when the quality filter debuted for verified users last year, the in-app description was quite explicit about the fact that among its most significant purposes was removing “threats” and “offensive or abusive language”:
“There’s a thematic through-line and a coherence that you get from reading the intro and the email all the way through. This is not something you’re going to create by just sending out a email RSS feed or using an algorithm.”
After agreeing to purchase all of the Gawker Media properties earlier this week, Univision has decided to shut down Gawker.com, the site reported Thursday. Gawker said the site will go dark next week.
In a short post, Gawker’s J.K. Trotter said staffers learned Thursday afternoon that the site would close:
Nick Denton, the company’s outgoing CEO, informed current staffers of the site’s fate on Thursday afternoon, just hours before a bankruptcy court in Manhattan will decide whether to approve Univision’s bid for Gawker Media’s other assets. The near-term plans for Gawker.com’s coverage, as well as the site’s archives, have not yet been finalized.
The New York Times reported that the site will remain online but won’t publish any new content after Monday.
Gawker Media filed for bankruptcy in June after it said it couldn’t pay the $140.1 million judgment it owed the wrestler and actor Hulk Hogan in a case that was funded and supported by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel.
CNN reported on Wednesday that Gawker founder Nick Denton was also leaving the company.
This also marks the end of Gawker’s flagship site, a blog founded by Denton in 2002. Gawker was deeply independent, publishing stories that more traditional outlets wouldn’t touch. The site greatly influenced the culture of online journalism, and it helped launch the careers of many of its former staffers who are now at publications such as Vox Media, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and others.
As news of the site’s closure broke on Thursday, users on Twitter mourned its loss and reminisced:
gawker is dead because peter thiel (w the help of charles harder) has succeeded in creating a world where owning gawker is simply not viable
The New York Times said Thursday that it is shutting down its NYT Now app. The app was an attempt at developing a mobile product aimed at a younger audience. The app will stop being available for download on Aug. 29.
The Times launched the app in April 2014 as a paid product aimed at younger readers, but the app struggled to attract subscribers and the paper ultimately made the app free to use. NYT Now averaged 257,000 unique users over the past three months, the Times reported. At its highest point, in May 2015, the app had 334,000 unique users.
In a memo, Kinsey Wilson, the Times’ executive vice president for product and technology, and David Perpich, the Times’ senior vice president for product, said that the lessons learned from NYT Now already influence other Times products:
While NYT Now attracted a loyal following, these broader gains demonstrated that we did not need a separate lower-priced or limited free offering in the marketplace to drive growth. And we can focus our energy and resources on innovation in our main New York Times products (including Cooking, Crosswords and Watching) and on targeting younger readers where they often are: on social platforms.
Last year, the Times’ digital subscriber base grew to 1 million, and the paper has made digital subscriptions a priority moving forward. In 2014, the company generated $400 million in digital revenue, and last fall the Times said its goal is to double that to $800 million by 2020.
In a series of tweets, Clifford Levy, the assistant masthead editor overseeing digital platforms and the original newsroom leader of the NYT Now effort, explained the thinking behind the move:
NYT Now was one of a series of standalone subscription products the Times introduced in an attempt to attract new paying readers. In June 2014, it also introduced NYT Opinion, an app featuring the paper’s opinion content, but it shuttered the app that fall after failing to attract an audience. “The sheer volume of people looking at it wasn’t enough to sustain it,” Andy Rosenthal, then the Times opinion editor, told the Lab when the closure was announced. This is not us saying it didn’t work as a journalistic venture; it did. It’s just not working as a business.”
Since then, the Times has introduced NYT Cooking, which highlights the paper’s catalog of recipes. The cooking site and apps are free to use, but earlier this year the Times said it would begin partnering with a meal kit service that would allow users to buy the ingredients for the recipes. It’s also created Watching, a movie and TV recommendation site.
While NYT Now may not have attracted a large enough audience to make it sustainable — and, as Levy wrote, much of its DNA lives on in the main Times mobile app — users on Twitter nonetheless lamented the app’s closure:
I used @NYTNow even though I'm a subscriber. Was just the better app. Gotta be others like me.