There will always be another Alex Jones, a glitch in the American system

Confrontational characters spouting conspiracy theories and promoting fringe ideas have been with us since the invention of American broadcasting. First on radio, then on television, the American audience has consistently proven eager to consume the rants of angry and bitter men. Before Alex Jones and InfoWars, there was Glenn Beck. A decade ago, Beck was hawking his conspiracy theories on HLN and Fox News. Beck eventually left HLN and lost the Fox News job, just as the inflammatory Morton Downey Jr. had lost his lucrative syndicated broadcast decades earlier. And before Morton Downey Jr., there was Joe Pyne, the war hero who eventually ended up railing against “hippies, homosexuals, and feminists” on the airwaves in the 1960s. Before Pyne, there was Father Coughlin, “the radio priest.” Coughlin was eased off CBS in the 1930s when he refused to allow the network to vet his
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How The Wall Street Journal is revamping its newsletters — and trying to add some whimsy

The Wall Street Journal is not exactly known for its sense of whimsy — but that’s what the folks revamping its newsletter system are aiming for. When Cory Schouten and Annemarie Dooling (formerly of CJR/Indianapolis Business Journal and Vox Media, respectively) joined the Journal’s newsletter team earlier this year, they embarked on the journey of whittling down the paper’s 126 newsletters. Some were automated but didn’t generate many clicks; others had a little more voice, but a pretty dry voice nonetheless. That whittling has led to what are now around 40 streamlined, audience-driven emails. They can now feature market information updating in real time (even after a newsletter is sent), and coaxing non-payers toward a subscription is core to their mission and design. (This process began under product designer Cory Etzkorn three years ago and accelerated through a migration to the Campaign Monitor platform since last fall.) “When
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In Germany, a news site is pairing up liberals and conservatives and actually getting them to (gasp) have a civil conversation

If only online dating could go as smoothly. As an attempted antidote to sociopolitical polarization in its country — particularly all the hateful logjams that play out online — the German national news site Zeit Online has developed a seemingly simple mechanism of matching up people who live near each other but have different views on policy, and encouraging them to meet offline to hash out their disagreements. The site, the digital home of national weekly paper Die Zeit, likened its My Country Talks initiative to “political Tinder.” The idea of trying to temper animosity through in-person interaction isn’t entirely original, but My Country Talks successfully seized a moment. In its inaugural edition, about 12,000 people completed Zeit Online’s short survey of yes-or-no questions around politically divisive issues (such as the number of refugees the country was accepting, or whether the West was treating Russia fairly). Of those, 1,200 Continue reading "In Germany, a news site is pairing up liberals and conservatives and actually getting them to (gasp) have a civil conversation"

If Facebook makes a safe harbor for journalists and researchers, would it help?

If The New York Times hadn’t reported on the fake Twitter follower factories. If ProPublica hadn’t investigated targeted Facebook ads discriminating against users based on race, disability, and gender. If Gizmodo hadn’t uncovered the way Facebook’s “People You May Know” feature can create shadow profiles for non-users. If the Tow Center and The Washington Post hadn’t analyzed the depth of the Russian disinformation campaign on Facebook. If journalists and researchers stopped investigating activity on social media platforms — especially Facebook, one of the most closed platforms and also one of the most widely abused — the “thens” are too important to sacrifice. That’s the argument Continue reading "If Facebook makes a safe harbor for journalists and researchers, would it help?"

Podcasting’s next frontier: A manifesto for growth (beyond the already converted)

Editor’s note: This piece is based on a talk by Tom Webster, the vice president of strategy for Edison Research, which (among other things) is probably the leading research firm for the podcast industry. It advances a number of arguments that I think you’ll find interesting — and which have wide applicability to the digital media world beyond podcasts. Nick Quah discussed some of these arguments in today’s Hot Pod column; here’s the whole piece.

This is a long article. It will be challenging to some, especially those that have been in podcasting a long time (which, for the record, I have). I’ll make a deal with you, however — I’ll back up every assertion in this post with credible research data. You, in return, keep an open mind. Deal? Last week I gave an opening keynote at Podcast Movement,

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A big shakeup at Audible has left the audiobook giant’s podcast strategy unclear

Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is issue 172, published August 7, 2018. Huge shakeups at Audible Originals. I can confirm that the Amazon-owned audiobook giant announced internally last Thursday that it was eliminating a considerable number of roles within its original programming unit. Sources within the company tell me that the role eliminations span a number of different teams within the unit, but most notably, they include nearly the entire group responsible for Audible’s shorter-form podcast-style programming, like the critically acclaimed West Cork, The Butterfly Effect with Jon Ronson, and Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel. That group was previously led by former NPR executive Eric Nuzum and his deputy, the public radio veteran Jesse Baker. NPR’s Neda Ulaby first reported the development in a newscast on Friday evening. In the spot, Ulaby noted that about a dozen employees were affected and that the changes Continue reading "A big shakeup at Audible has left the audiobook giant’s podcast strategy unclear"