Why are so many people running for president and so few for mayor? Blame the media (and the Internet)


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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You would need five cramped Priuses to carry all the Democrats currently running for president. Four years ago, you would have needed six Ford F-150s to carry all the Republicans running for president. (Okay, three if you upgrade to the SuperCrew.) It seems as if these supersized fields of candidates are the new normal; maybe in 2024 the out-of-power party can be the first to hit three dozen. Meanwhile, at the local level, it’s often getting harder to find anyone willing to run for office. A Rice study found that 60 percent of all the 2016 mayoral elections they looked at featured just one candidate running unopposed — a number that’s been on the rise since 2000. And both of these seemingly contradictory phenomena are, at some level, the media’s fault. Florida State political science professor Hans Hassell has a piece out today at The Conversation outlining the reasons
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So what is “digital journalism studies,” anyway? Is it its own thing?


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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One of the primary rituals of any new area of academic inquiry is what’s known as field building: working to establish — through publishing, boundary defining, and a little bravado — that your field should be recognized as its own thing. The study of governments, for instance, dates back to Machiavelli, Aristotle, and beyond, but the formal field of “political science” wasn’t accepted as a thing distinct from philosophy until the late 1800s; the first political science department was founded at Columbia in 1880. Around the same time, economics became a thing and graduated out of the departments of political economy, history, philosophy, and “moral sciences” in which it had been housed. It took campus-level activism in the 1960s and beyond for many universities to consider African-American studies, women’s studies, or queer studies each a thing. Digital humanities is somewhere along that path to thingness today. One field that Continue reading "So what is “digital journalism studies,” anyway? Is it its own thing?"

“Why should I tell you?” A new guide aims to make reporting on communities less “extractive”


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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“Extractive” is a tough word. “Extractive” evokes strip mining and mountaintop removal, age-old resources being burned for short-lived gains. It’s dirty work, in multiple senses of the term; the nature of “extraction” is that you’re taking something that doesn’t want to be taken. So some journalists may not take kindly to the idea that their work is extractive — and that it often should be less so. But that’s the argument put forth by a new guide published by the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin. It’s titled “Why Should I Tell You? A Guide to Less Extractive Reporting” and it’s by Natalie Yahr, a journalist and current fellow at the center. This is from her intro:
I’m still early in my journalism career, but I’ve already encountered a number of situations that have made me question the role journalists should play as they cover Continue reading "“Why should I tell you?” A new guide aims to make reporting on communities less “extractive”"

NPR debuts a new Morning Edition theme, and the fact that people care shows the continued power of old-fashioned, non-Internet radio


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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In an auditory move that no doubt ruined some people’s wake-up alarms this morning, NPR’s Morning Edition changed its theme music for the first time in its 40-year history this morning. The old theme, by public-radio-theme auteur B.J. Leiderman, was perhaps the single most public-radio-y thing on public radio — a few seconds of music that pushed every cultural association you might have with NPR top of mind. Instead of gently rousing you in a ’70s commune smelling of patchouli, the new theme is a little faster, a little more percussive, and significantly more focused on handclaps. Have a listen: J/k, here it is: The change is being made, of course, for the kids:
The new theme is intended to attract Continue reading "NPR debuts a new Morning Edition theme, and the fact that people care shows the continued power of old-fashioned, non-Internet radio"

Recode is officially part of Vox.com now


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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Recode — one of the original prominent-journalists-fly-solo-and-start-their-own-thing news sites — is now officially part of Vox — one of the other original prominent-journalists-fly-solo-and-start-their-own-thing news sites. Here are the sites’ two symbolic leaders, Ezra Klein and Kara Swisher:
The future of technology is a political story. The future of politics is a technological story. If we’re going to understand the changing world around us, the old coverage silos no longer make sense. And so we’re breaking them down. Recode and Vox are joining forces. Recode has its roots in business journalism, reflecting an era when the story of technology was told through product releases and OS updates, management shifts and turnovers, earnings reports and investment decisions. But its soul has always been the deep expertise and sourcing of its staff, and the skeptical eye it cast on Silicon Valley long before skepticism became fashionable. Vox has its soul in explanatory Continue reading "Recode is officially part of Vox.com now"

Want to see what one digital future for newspapers looks like? Look at The Guardian, which isn’t losing money anymore


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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The Guardian is a weird newspaper. Most newspapers don’t have nearly two-thirds of their readers coming from outside the country they’re based in. Most newspapers don’t start in one city and then move to another one. Most newspapers aren’t owned by a trust that mandates it promote “liberal journalism both in Britain and elsewhere.” And most newspapers don’t lose money year after year after year. Sure, there are some papers that are run by rich men more interested in influence than profit, and there are some families who have chosen to rank civic duty above the bottom line. But in the main, when revenues decline at a newspaper, costs get cut — cut to the point that whatever profit level the owner has set gets met. Most newspapers that consistently lose money die. And yet The Guardian is here again an especially noteworthy exception. It’s the sort of institution
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A doorbell company owned by Amazon wants to start producing “crime news” and it’ll definitely end well


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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When news organizations think about competition from tech companies, it’s usually in terms of the audience’s attention and advertisers’ dollars. But if Amazon has its way, a new sort of competition may be coming from a mixture of surveillance, fear, and doorbells. Amazon is currently looking to hire someone with the title “Managing Editor, News.” But it’s not for the entire Amazon empire — it’s for the small slice of it that makes security-focused doorbells, Ring. (Amazon bought Ring last year for more than $1 billion.) Here’s the job description, emphases mine:
The Managing Editor, News will work on an exciting new opportunity within Ring to manage a team of news editors who deliver breaking crime news alerts to our neighbors. This position is best suited for a candidate with experience and passion for journalism, crime reporting, and people management. Having a knack for engaging storytelling that
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Luminary says it’s not copying your podcast files and it’s no longer screwing with your stats — but it is killing all your show-notes links on purpose


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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I know what you’re thinking: Another story on Luminary? Well, they keep making news. Start here if you want some background on why they’ve angered the podcast community and had a rough first week. (Previous stories here and here.) Here’s the quick summary of where we left things yesterday. Luminary’s podcast app pulls in feeds from lots of publicly available podcasts. But a number of those shows have been asking to be removed. There are a number of different reasons, but the ones drawing the most attention yesterday were that: (a) Luminary seemed to be making copies of podcasters’ MP3 files and serving the copies to its users — something that might violate copyright and definitely screws up podcasters’ analytics; and (b) Luminary seemed to be editing podcasts’ show notes, the text that accompanies individual episodes, removing all the links — which are often important for fundraising, merch sales,
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L’affaire Luminary continues with more podcasts dropping out and allegations of technical bad behavior


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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The bigger their funding, the harder they fall — and it’s been a really, really, really hard fall for podcast startup Luminary this week. The $100 million paid-audio company launched Monday, but without a few popular shows like The Daily and Reply All, which said they did not want to be included in the free tier of Luminary’s app. (Luminary offers a set of its own shows that you can listen to for $8 a month. It also has a free tier, which works essentially like any other podcast app — Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts — in that it includes a lot of shows that are available on the open web.) Yesterday, another big show — The Joe Rogan Experience — also asked to be withdrawn, making it appear that opting out of Luminary might be a trend for the most popular shows. Then, after that
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Is it okay for a journalist to block a critic — not a troll, just a critic — on Twitter?


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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Blocking and muting on Twitter are common ways for users to deal with the less pleasant elements of the medium: trolls who attack, Nazis who incite, misinformation peddlers, and garden-variety jerks. And that’s certainly true of journalists, who come under far more abuse than the media Twitter user. But is blocking someone who is a respected member of the commentariat — and a frequent source for your news organization — okay if he’s tweeted something critical of you or your work? That question popped to mind when I saw this tweet from Michael McFaul. McFaul is a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Obama administration official, and Rhodes Scholar who has been a professor at Stanford for the past 24 years. Agree or disagree with him (and he certainly has his critics), he’s a serious person; the Times has quoted or mentioned him 16 times in the past year and Continue reading "Is it okay for a journalist to block a critic — not a troll, just a critic — on Twitter?"

Could those information boxes under YouTube conspiracy videos add legitimacy instead of reduce it?


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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Yesterday, I wrote about YouTube’s algorithmic screwup which somehow associated images of Notre-Dame Cathedral burning with the 9/11 attacks and embedded information about those attacks under news organizations’ live streams from Paris. And in that piece, I noted a number of other times YouTube’s algorithm — which is meant to put reliable information under conspiracy videos on topics like the moon landing, the Sandy Hook shootings, and yes, 9/11 — had screwed up. (At various points, YouTube has put 9/11 information under videos of 1970s New York at Christmastime, a rocket launch, a “Chill Music” streaming radio station, and a random San Francisco fire. It’s also done things like label a professor’s retirement video with a Star of David and the label “Jew.”) Anyway, amid these specific complaints,
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As Notre Dame burned, an algorithmic error at YouTube put information about 9/11 under news videos


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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It’s terrible news for anyone who values history, loves Paris, or read Victor Hugo: Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Gothic gem at the historic center of Paris, is on fire. It’s obviously far too early for anything conclusive, but early suggestions from officials are that the blaze could be related the ongoing renovations to the roof. There’s no indication at this writing that it’s a terror attack or related in any way to a terrorist group. So as people turned to YouTube to see live streams from trusted news organizations of the fire in progress, why was YouTube showing them background information about 9/11? I first noticed this when I went to France24, which produces an English-language feed, and saw the unusual box.

What will journalism do with 5G’s speed and capacity? Here are some ideas, from The New York Times and elsewhere


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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If there’s one thing you can count on in modern life, one truism that will never let you down, it is this: You want more Gs. That’s true in the thousands-of-dollars sense, and it’s definitely true in the better-mobile-networks sense. And from a media perspective, better networks tend to produce, or at least emphasize, different types of content. The first iPhone allowed only 2G data, which had roughly the throughput of passing a manila folder with one sticky note inside, and publishers stuck to the relatively basic webpages they were serving their still-partially-dialup desktop audiences. Then 3G came along and enabled the boom in podcasts: downloading shows over the air solved the usability problems attached to transferring MP3s via cable and dock, and podcast episodes were just big enough to be annoying over 2G but still small enough to not choke 3G. Then 4G and LTE made mobile video Continue reading "What will journalism do with 5G’s speed and capacity? Here are some ideas, from The New York Times and elsewhere"

Is Julian Assange’s arrest a threat to press freedom or an appropriate response to hacking?


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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One of the stranger parts of rewatching Page One, the 2011 documentary about media reporting at The New York Times, is the presence of Julian Assange, who was at that time in his earlier days of leaking classified or otherwise secret information — initially via open platforms like YouTube, later in partnership with some of the world’s top news organizations. The various journalists and talking heads debate the right way to think of Assange and WikiLeaks — are they a source? a rival publisher? journalists? activists? — but the overall framing is that this is a new player on the field, and journalism is going to have to figure out ways to integrate it, respond to it, or otherwise engage with the new reality WikiLeaks seemed to portend. Bill Keller, then executive editor of the Times, says at one point: “The bottom line is, WikiLeaks doesn’t need us. Daniel
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The world is on fire, and that makes for good #brand #synergy between a fashion brand and The New York Times


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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The conventional wisdom has long been that advertisers aren’t keen to pitch their wares next to hard news, huge catastrophes, or anything else that could make a target consumer bummed about the state of humanity when they should be contemplating the New! Shaving! Revolution! that Unilever now has the privilege of bringing you. As CNN’s Meredith Artley put it in a speech last year: “In these turbulent times, advertisers might not want to be associated with news that is just bad. You can kinda understand that.” But now — thanks to the odd way that corporations and performative wokeness braid into the tapestry of 21st-century consumer capitalism — one fashion brand is teaming up with The New York Times to sell t-shirts, celebrate journalism, save the world from climate change, or all of the above.

When local newspapers shrink, fewer people bother to run for mayor


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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What do strong local newspapers do? Well, past research has shown they increase voter turnout, reduce government corruption, make cities financially healthier, make citizens more knowledgable about politics and more likely to engage with local government, force local TV to raise its game, encourage split-ticket (and thus less uniformly partisan) voting, make elected officials more responsive and efficient, and bake the most delicious apple pies. Okay, not that last one. Local newspapers are basically little machines that spit out healthier democracies. And the best part is that you get to reap the benefits of all those positive outcomes even if you don’t read them yourself. (On behalf of newspaper readers everywhere: You’re welcome.) Now a new paper suggests that weakened newspapers hurt communities in a different way: by reducing the number of options voters have to choose from. The paper in Urban Continue reading "When local newspapers shrink, fewer people bother to run for mayor"

Asking Alexa for news no longer has to stop with the latest headlines


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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Hey, owners of an Amazon Echo! (Or hell, owners of that voice-controlled Amazon microwave!) Ever ask Alexa for some news? If you do, it plays the latest headlines from whatever news organizations you’ve set up in your Flash Briefing. But then…the headlines will stop. Time will pass. You will stand in your kitchen, alone with your thoughts. The heat death of the sun will grow nearer. That’s changing (not the heat death thing) with an update to Alexa, rolling out now, that will let you turn that top-of-the-hour briefing into infinite news programming. Asking Alexa for the news will no longer just mean asking for a five-minute MP3 file to be played — it’ll be like turning on the radio. Engadget had the news first:
Voice assistants usually only give you brief summaries of the news — helpful if you’re in a hurry, but that’s about it. Amazon Continue reading "Asking Alexa for news no longer has to stop with the latest headlines"

My quest to find Vox’s new Apple News Plus vertical: A UX parable in ∞ parts


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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Eleven days ago, Apple unveiled its premium news subscription service, Apple News Plus. And as I wrote at the time, it was kind of disappointing. Apple News Plus is based on Texture, a “Netflix-for-magazines” app built by the magazine industry — and thus structured to favor the default atomic unit of the magazine business, the individual issue. That’s fine, on a big-enough screen and when limited to the digital-magazine universe. But no one other than the magazine industry wants to be limited to the digital-magazine universe. Apple bought Texture a full year ago, which meant its engineers and designers had a full year to figure out how to fit, say, individual articles from digital-native and newspaper news sources in amongst the newsstand-ready PDFs. At least in 1.0, they haven’t pulled it off.

The Guardian’s nifty old-article trick is a reminder of how news organizations can use metadata to limit misinformation


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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This is a great idea: In order to reduce the number of its old stories that get recirculated as new, The Guardian is making a story’s age more prominent, both to readers and to those who might only see a link on social media without clicking through. Here’s Chris Moran:
For some time now we’ve been aware of certain issues around social sharing in particular. Shorn of context like the date, accurate and responsible reporting can mislead. As an example, almost every February we see a sudden spike in referral from Facebook to a six-year-old story about horsemeat in a supermarket’s meat products. Originally published in February 2013, it’s generally discovered via search, the reader notices the month of publication but not the year and kicks off an annual, minor viral moment.
I wrote about this problem back in 2015, when my Twitter feed was filled with RIPs
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Apple News Plus is a fine way to read magazines, but a disappointment to anyone wishing for a real boost for the news business


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab


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Apple announced its much-anticipated premium news service today. It’s called…Apple News Plus? Apple News+? News+ seems to be the official branding (a shift that began in iOS 12.2 beta 4), but the  character doesn’t show up on most non-Apple devices, so let’s go with Apple News+. (Ugh, that “+.” is ugly+. Make it Apple News Plus.) You can watch the keynote here; the Apple News part starts about 6:30 in. I’m disappointed, I have to say, though that may just be a case of my hopes being too high. Apple News Plus is based on Texture, the Hulu-for-magazines app that Apple bought last year. And “based on” is probably an understatement; it’s pretty much Texture squeezed into the Apple News interface. Texture isn’t bad! I’m a happy paying user, and it does some things well. But Texture’s origin story also limits what this
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