Category: journalism

Nieman Predictions For Journalism 2014: ‘Connecting The Dots’

Thanks, Joshua Benton, for including me in what has become an annual tradition at Nieman Journalism Lab.

One of the most popular new games of 2013 was an addictive mobile app called Dots: A Game About Connecting from Betaworks. It’s deceptively simple: a white board full of evenly spaced colored dots worth points when connected in a short amount of time. You can play instantly without reading the rules, or you can get immersive and obsessively strategic. You can play against yourself or against an expanding universe. You can play for free or you can buy ways to improve your game — but the choice is up to each player: earn your way to advancement or pay for it.

The game launched on iOS in May and had a million users within days. Now also on Android, it passed 15 million installs in November. By early fall, it had been played a billion times.

For the media in 2014, connecting the dots has to be more than a game. We have to connect the fragments of information that flood the zone daily. We have to connect with our communities. We have to connect with each other.

Please continue reading at the Lab, where you can find an abundance of thought about the year ahead from many people smarter than me.

Why This George Tames Picture Of JFK Is My Favorite

Why This George Tames Picture Of JFK Is My Favorite

New York Times photographer George Tames captured this image of John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office on Feb. 10, 1961, only weeks after he was sworn in as president. Captioned ‘The Loneliest Job,’ Kennedy looks as though he is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders in utter solitude. In one image you can see everything you need to know about the isolation and responsibility of the presidency.

In reality, it’s an object lesson, a reminder that the 1,000 words a picture speaks can be our projection. Kennedy broke his back in World War II and despite the glorious football photos that showed an agile, athletic young president, he was in constant pain. He stood at the table behind his Oval Office desk to read the papers — leaning down with his weight supported by his hands to get a closer look.

Knowing that doesn’t change the power of the image, which presages some of the days Kennedy would have in that office during the Cuban Missile Crisis and other moments of personal or public crisis.  When I think of JFK, this is the last picture in my personal slideshow.

It’s also a reminder that what we see isn’t always what it is.

Atlantic Media Loses Its ‘Mary Poppins’ To Bloomberg Media

Justin B. Smith didn’t spend his whole career at Atlantic Media but there were times in recent years where it looked as though he might stay there for the rest of it as long he could keep growing, innovating and pushing out new brands. In the end, it really wasn’t big enough for someone who hits just about every tick on the list for a major media company in need of a top executive in the digital age — and who deserves a chance to see what he can do on a bigger playing field. Smith has that bigger field now: Bloomberg Media Group, where he will be the new CEO. David Carr broke the story Sunday evening. [I rarely quibble with David’s writing choices but the kicker quote from Google’s Eric Schmidt is unnecessary; Smith doesn’t need Schmidt to establish his digital cred.]

So what does this have to do with Mary Poppins? The comparison never occurred to me but it did to Atlantic Media Chairman David Bradley — and it works, although whether it will turn out literally to work in practice is a different issue.

Bradley wrote an extraordinary staff memo, provided by the company and included below in full, about Smith’s role in dragging Atlantic Media into a profitable modern age and what his departure means. The mix of details and genuine emotion illustrate much about what makes  Atlantic Media different; imagine Politico owner Robert Albritton writing anything like it.  

At the end of Mary Poppins, the Banks family has learned it can live quite happily without a nanny as long as everyone pulls his or her weight, lessons that couldn’t have been learned without the outside influence who quickly became integral yet not irreplacable. In this case, the staff Smith built and leaves behind will report directly to Bradley.

Compare that to Bloomberg Media, which will now be run by someone from the outside. That doesn’t mean Dan Doctoroff is hiring Mary Poppins or that Bloomberg Media needs a spoonful of sugar, but he has opted for an outsider who knows both how to launch and how to change from within without wrecking the foundation or leaning on it too much. His hands-on involvement in the 2012 launch of Quartz, a digital global finance publisher, adds another layer of expertise that should help at Bloomberg and may have made him more attractive.

Unlike Mary Poppins, which leaves us with the feeling that Mr. Banks can make a go of his new life and that the family will be just fine flying their own kites, we’ll get to keep watching what happens with Bradley and Atlantic Media — and Smith at Bloomberg Media.


July 28, 2013

Letter of Appreciation

My Atlantic Media Colleagues,

As I settle into this writing, I think some will have heard by now of Bloomberg Media Group’s recruitment of Justin Smith as chief executive officer. In truth, Justin did hesitate before accepting the offer; he has loved his work with Atlantic Media. But, it’s hard to see how he reasons to “no”: global CEO, global brand and reach, television, radio, conferences, three magazines and burgeoning digital traffic.

 Though this will tax your time, I decided I would rather write a letter of appreciation for Justin than the traditional corporate press release. I want you to know what I hope Justin knows already—what a gift he has been to this enterprise.

Our First Meeting

 On reflection, I suppose our first meeting was a bit staged: dinner in Manhattan’s Carlyle Hotel dining room, seated beside the fireplace, talking for three hours. An aging owner, in an old-world setting, pitching a mid–19th century long-form literary magazine to a next-generation leader. I decided on Justin in one meeting.

Still, I seem to have gotten a detail wrong. I just assumed we were welcoming Justin into our storied magazine and its storied past. Justin understood—or at least decided—that he would time-travel the whole lot of us to media’s future state. Looking around now, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Correctly, Justin would give credit to Scott Havens, James Bennet, Scott Stossel, Bob Cohn, Jay Lauf, Elizabeth Baker Keffer, Zazie Lucke, Kevin Delaney and their many Atlantic colleagues. But, I also think it’s fair to name as “the Justin era” what Justin and those of you at The Atlantic and Quartz have accomplished: reversal of fortune for a magazine in a 60-year decline; doubling of revenues; return to profits; constant original creation including The Atlantic Cities, The AtlanticWire and Atlantic-initiated Quartz; growing events business; growing website; 25 million monthly Atlantic readers and visitors; and, just now, two more National Magazine Awards.  David Brooks once told me that, if I turned around The Atlantic, it would become the only thing for which I would be remembered.  Now, Justin has gone ahead and done it already.

An Intense Instruction

Justin led The Atlantic for two years and then Atlantic Media for an additional four. In one sense, my time with Justin reminds me of the time I spent with the Atlantic’s late editor, Michael Kelly—the everyday, dialed-up to intensity. After six years, and speechless, any of us might ask, “Wow, what was that about?”

In my frame, Atlantic Media was earning its doctoral degree in modern media from one of modern media’s master practitioners. What Justin believed, he taught, and, as with Michael again, Justin’s beliefs were fierce: That the revolution underway in media is more radical than we—the industry—appreciate. That the contest between legacy and insurgent players is mortal, with advantage to the insurgents. That surviving legacy properties will have had to learn the disciplines of the insurgents—and that they can. That velocity is first among the virtues. That the speed of change is unprecedented. That ideas have their season but not more. From search to social media to native advertising to the next advantage. And, that Atlantic Media could and would and has leapt to the frontier.

More personally, watching Justin taught me truths about media I’d failed to learn in my first decade in the sector: the centrality of brand; the importance of brand excitement; the very particular importance of New York and New York talent to creating excitement. Justin exhorted me to “go for my inner Don Draper;” as I didn’t have the least idea what Justin was talking about, this never really caught on.

As to Atlantic Media

Justin will leave us a changed—and much better—media company. That begins with his—and now my—Atlantic Media leadership team. Scott, Bruce, Tim, Jean Ellen, Kat, Zazie, Michael, Tom, Emily. As with Justin, I have complete confidence in this group. More generally, and as to “extreme talent” across the board, I think Atlantic Media is at its record high-water mark. After reflection, I’ve decided that, rather than appoint a Justin successor, we will let the current leadership continue independent of any reporting structure—save to me—and grow to fill the empty spaces Justin’s departure leaves behind. In fact, I found this an easy call.

As to Bloomberg

Here, I need to redouble my effort. I just can’t seem to find it in me to dislike the Bloomberg enterprise. I’ve always trusted and liked Justin’s new boss, Dan Doctoroff. Even now, I’m affecting a furious countenance. It just needs work.

As to Justin

Like Mary Poppins, if a little more euro, Justin came, changed the family and, when the work was done, moved on. I will miss him.

With my best wishes to all.


The Onion’s Edgy Oscars Humor Goes Over A Cliff

Seth MacFarlane delivered the kind of Oscars humor you’d expect from him. I laughed at some of his jokes and heard more than a few that made me cringe — misogynistic is almost kind — but I’m not a fan and I’m not in his target audience. If it had been Saturday Night Live, I may have changed the channel.  I hung in because it was the Academy Awards, probably proving the point to ABC and the Academy that there is an audience that will come no matter what in addition to the audience they’re trying to pull in with a host like the creator of Family Guy and Ted. I did mention one joke on Twitter that fell particularly flat for me — and predictably was accused of not getting that it was a joke.

Meanwhile, the folks at The Onion were doing what they do 24/7, churning out topical humor that taps into the zeitgeist of the moment with varying degrees if taste or lack thereof. Often that humor is simple parody that draws a quick laugh; sometimes it’s knife-sharp edgy. Sunday night during the Oscars, The Onion went off a cliff with the last tweet in the image below, using a coarse epithet that someone apparently thought would-be funny when paired aimed at nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis They quickly found out that even  some of their biggest fans have more boundaries than they do. Following an immediate uproar, the tweet was deleted nearly an hour later.


If the only people who cared were those who already don’t like The Onion, well, consider the source. But when people who like your brand feel betrayed, you have a different problem. They think they know what to expect, even if sometimes it’s not funny or the taste level of something that makes them giggle is below 1/8 of a tank. They don’t want to think they have anything in common with someone who would toss the C word at a child as a joke.

Deleting it doesn’t make that go away.

As for the notion that pushing back at humor equates to being humorless,

Update: The Onion deleted the tweet Sunday night. Midday Monday CEO Steve Hannah apologized to Quvenzhané Wallis and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences via its Facebook page. (The apology is now on too.) Hannah said new and tighter Twitter procedures are in place and promised disciplinary action.

It was crude and offensive—not to mention inconsistent with The Onion’s commitment to parody and satire, however biting.

No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.

The tweet was taken down within an hour of publication. We have instituted new and tighter Twitter procedures to ensure that this kind of mistake does not occur again.

In addition, we are taking immediate steps to discipline those individuals responsible.

Miss Wallis, you are young and talented and deserve better. All of us at The Onion are deeply sorry.

Hannah strikes the right notes, especially for a publication not known for apologies or retractions.

No one who enjoys The Onion wants its sense of satire to be degraded. Many who enjoy it think The Onion can avoid that without being degrading.

Not everyone thinks an apology was warranted or that the tweet should have even been deleted.

Some of the responses are worse than the original tweet. Not posting them here but you scan Facebook or search for the C word and onion on twitter.

One more thought for now: I didn’t see the initial tweet as racist but as Oscar satire gone awry. Here’s the “commentary” “by” Best Actor winning Daniel Day-Lewis that went up minutes later:

I still don’t think it was racist but I can’t ignore the number of people who quickly saw it as racist

or as an example of continued racism by The Onion. If someone at The Onion thinks it’s ok to use the word about a woman of any age or about a child, I don’t think race would have held them back. I’m not going to dismiss their response, though. It’s from their perspective, their experience and it’s not up to me to say it doesn’t hurt.

NASCAR’s Social Media #FAIL

horrific crash at Daytona Saturday afternoon sent more than a dozen fans to the hospital. The drivers involved walked away — almost unbelievably so in the case of rookie Kyle Larson, who emerged from less than half of his car after the rest went into the fence and the grandstand.  

It also sent a lot of fans to social media with video and stills of the crash and its aftermath; many of them taken as eyewitnesses from the grandstands where the wreckage landed. Tyler Andersen, who describes himself on Twitter as a sophomore at Providence, posted a video that captured the whole sequence, including a tire that spun into nearby seats injuring someone near him and efforts to get assistance. He asked for prayers for the injured man before alerting ESPN to the video.

Andersen’s video quickly ricocheted, recommended to me by disparate parts of my timeline. I watched it once and when I went back to check something minutes later, it was gone.



I don’t know if this was the automated YouTube copyright police at work or if it was taken down because NASCAR or a media rightsholder complained. If it was the former, NASCAR has a sophisticated enough social media operation to know that the video was yanked and should be back up. If it was the latter, NASCAR has a sophisticated enough social media operation to know that rights or no rights, the video wasn’t going away and they might as well avoid the criticism of it.

Instead, news video taken by someone who narrowly missed being injured) was blocked — and as of this writing is still blocked. Meanwhile, Deadspin (of course, it was Deadspin), smartly grabbed a copy of the video and popped it right up

Yes, NASCAR owns the copyright, something spelled out on tickets to races just as it is for many other events.

(There are legal concerns here; I expect all of the video, stills and other records could be evidence in any case emerging from the crash.) And I can understand setting up rules applying it to live streaming or layering in length limits.

I agree with Anthony De Rosa:

And I’m not encouraging any fan to take video or pictures at personal risk or to do it instead of helping those around them if that is possible.

But this dynamic isn’t going away. For instance, at least one other video of this crash is up now (via SBNation


Taking high-quality images and instantly sharing them is only getting easier. If NASCAR wants the boost from social media, as it clearly does given its interaction on Twitter, Facebook and other places, it should go all in.

  • Work with media partners to encourage fans to share video and pictures.
  • Avoid knee jerk reactions and keep an eye out for response to automated takedowns. Narrow the parameters for takedowns.
  • Be as inclusive and as engaged as possible.
  • Give your team the power to respond quickly and make sure a high-level exec is available for quick high-impact decisions, espcially during events.
  • And always remember: you can’t control the internet or social media. You only think you can.

    As for the video of today’s crash, my initial response after the takedown, shared or favorited by dozens, stands: 

    Update: As I was posting this, The Verge published a statement from NASCAR that it took down the video out of respect for those injured.

    Information on the status of those fans was unclear and the decision was made to err on the side of caution with this very serious incident.

    See above.

    Meanwhile, Andersen, whose Twitter feed reflects being overwhelmed by the emotions of the afternoon,


    added this:

    Update 2: And YouTube saves NASCAR from having to reverse its decision by reinstating the video, telling the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple:

    Our partners and users do not have the right to take down videos from YouTube unless they contain content which is copyright infringing, which is why we have reinstated the videos.

    Will NASCAR try the copyright block again using the language on the ticket that claims it owns all rights? I hope not. Will other copyright owners get the message from YouTube that takedowns aren’t an accepted method of trying to control the flow of information? I doubt it.

    I also doubt NASCAR is at risk if losing its YouTube account but the Google video portal lists that as a possible consequence of misusing the power of DCMA:

    If you choose to request removal of content by submitting an infringement notification, please remember that you are initiating a legal process. Do not make false claims. Misuse of this process may result in the suspension of your account or other legal consequences.

    Related: NASCAR Exec Says Crash Video Takedown Was Exception, Not Rule

    Aaron Swartz, Eugene Patterson and the Legacy of Ralph McGill

    Beleaguered on so many fronts, the industry still shows evidence of an enduring public service mission and an apprentice tradition that lighted the way for editors like [Eugene] Patterson and those who followed. In Atlanta, Ralph McGill, a legendary anti-segregationist editor, tutored a young Patterson, sharpening his focus, prose and resolve. That man in turn grew up to teach and inspire future generations of editors, me included, even as the stories evolved from segregation to death penalty law, gender inequality, immigration and more.

    [Aaron] Swartz was not a journalist, but a programmer turned crusader whose work raises large and complex questions about who owns knowledge. And his ideals could be in conflict with the news industry’s business views on copyright and content control. But they are rooted in a historic journalistic debate that Patterson would have recognized, one made ever more urgent by the digital possibilities: Who controls access to information? When to publish and when not? What are the costs — financial, moral and personal?

    — Ann Marie Lipinski, Nieman Foundation curator, drawing a connection between the editor Eugene Patterson and hacker (in the best sense of the word) and activist Aaron Swartz, who died a day apart. You can — and should — read Ann Marie’s entire piece here.

    I was thinking of Ralph McGill, a personal hero of mine, as I read Ann Marie’s thoughts, in part, because it is reflexive to think of him whenever I think of Gene Patterson or certain other graduates of the McGill school. Then I ran into his name in the section quoted above and was reminded of how far his legacy has spread, how many people still believe that journalism can and must be used to challenge the worst in our world, to change the status quo. Even those who don’t recognize the name (my mother would call that a shonda) have learned from those who do like Ann Marie.

    Add to that another reminder: in today’s world, the power of one-to-many no longer belongs only to the media or the government. That doesn’t change the responsibilities of journalists; it spreads the responsibility of change.