Digidave http://blog.digidave.org Journalism is a Process, Not a Product Fri, 28 Aug 2015 04:18:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 What is possible with “Structured Journalism”? A response to critiques of Circa http://blog.digidave.org/2015/08/what-is-possible-with-structured-journalism http://blog.digidave.org/2015/08/what-is-possible-with-structured-journalism#comments Thu, 06 Aug 2015 16:00:36 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4415 Continue reading What is possible with “Structured Journalism”? A response to critiques of Circa ]]> Columbia Journalism Review did a great dive into “structured journalism” recently. It’s nice to know that this new-fangled space, which is still nascent. is getting some nods.

Circa of course was part of this growing space. And I hope will be looked at as a project that tried to break new ground.

There was also some good criticism of Circa in the post. They were indicative of other critiques I’ve heard/read and so I wanted to respond to them. It should be important to note, however, that while I’m providing some devil’s advocate here – it doesn’t mean I don’t understand the initial criticism or their merits.

The back/forth in my mind is not some deep ideological “are bloggers journalists” debate where tribes should be created. My respect for Adair and Reginald who made the critiques in the CJR post is unequivocal. I also suspect they respected Circa and all the folks who worked on it.  So with that aside – let’s jump into it.

From the CJR post:

Bill Adair, creator of Politifact and one of the early proponents of structured journalism, says one of Circa’s flaws was that it wasn’t structured enough. “Circa was like traditional journalism with a good workout for your thumb,” says Adair. The app deconstructed a story, but still  reassembled it in the linear format of a news article.

Adair and other structured journalism proponents would like to upend traditional journalistic formats. Structured journalism, they say, could evolve into a unified theory of digital journalism—though no one yet knows what that might look like.

This is an excellent point from Bill Adair, who in may ways is a godfather to structured journalism. And he is right about upending traditional journalistic formats. In fact, this was something Circa had on its radar.

Every “card” in Circa had a creation date. It also had a “retirement” date (when we pulled it from the public view because it was moot or no longer true). We always imagined a scenario where a person could come to a “storyline” and with a time-scrubber at the bottom move to see the evolution of the story through time. A ‘blowing up’ of the article in relation to time.

And of course – we also wanted to create bubble-maps of sorts where you could see how various stories were related to others through “bridges.” One would see where facts were used in multiple stories – or where stories forked/merged with others. A kind of moving through space/time manipulation of information.

So why didn’t we start with this? It was a philosophical decision. We wanted to do something different, but not require the average reader to change their behavior. People read articles from top to bottom. Therefore – our story lines would read from top to bottom as well. In fact, it was the goal of Circa to make it so that any first time reader would be able to jump in and not have to learn any new behavior. If we had to educate them in the first few steps, they’d never get past it. Everything focused on the “follow” feature as the first “new step,” because all it meant was somebody reading the story without even realizing it was “structured” and hitting a button that basically meant “keep me informed.”

Now obviously there is a critique that we didn’t lead with our most radical possibilities because of this philosophy. But that was the thinking behind the decision. We didn’t want to make people work. We wanted to go for the “average” consumer of news and they are used to certain patterns and work our way up.

All that said. I am a HUGE proponent of, as Bill Adair says, “upending traditional journalism formats.” Perhaps Circa should have done that more. It certainly was possible with the way we had set things up. No way to know now.

The next critique comes from Reginald Chua, who has been a champion of this space since before it really had a name.

Reginald Chua, an executive editor at Reuters and an early developer of structured journalism, says that structured journalism doesn’t only offer better ways to tell certain stories, it introduce new forms of journalism not considered before, which can create tension in newsrooms. Aside from the practical challenges of newsroom adoption, the question of what gets lost in structured journalism will need to be addressed. “Frankly, the narrative outcome [of structured stories] is not as exciting,” says Chua, “That was one of the big complaints over the death of Circa.”

This may have been the most common criticism of Circa. And it goes without saying – you have to have compelling content if you want to gain a loyal audience. There are two things I think are important to focus on in a response to this. One is about “structured journalism” as a genre. The other is about Circa specifically. Let’s start with the latter.

Circa consciously went with a “voice from nowhere” approach. It definitely bucked the trend. Circa was, more than anything else, a re-thinking of the wire service. If the AP were to be created today, I think it would look more like a grand visions of Circa than its current structure based off a cooperative formed in 1846. And as pointed out in this Nieman article:

“I would note, though, that Circa was not so much ‘The Future of News’ as a mobile-oriented rethinking of wire services, which have never really functioned as a consumer-facing product. Circa’s lack of traction in developing a user base was no exception.”

In short – if you wanted to compare our stuff to Buzzfeed. It was boring. If you compared it to the AP – it was on par. And we also discovered that some people absolutely loved a “wire service” voice. Interestingly enough – the most vocal people who disliked it were journalists.

The “voice from nowhere” approach didn’t mean we couldn’t do stories with drama. It just meant the drama had to exist in real life without our commentary. Stories like Manti Te’o, Tim Armstrong, General Petraeus or even following the story of Bat Kid were incredibly dramatic – even if we didn’t add any explicit “snark” or insider analysis. Sometimes real life stories are all you need. This Circa story made me cry once (keep in mind – it was a story that developed over a year).

But most of the time Circa was a ticker type service. It served an audience that wanted “just the facts, asap.” And I still believe there is a decent sized audience which values that kind of content. Bottom line, Circa adopted a neutral tone on purpose – because it thought of itself as a wire service. It didn’t adopt that tone because of technical restraints.

And that brings us to the larger issue: Is structured journalism doomed to create boring/dull narratives? Could Circa have provided Gawker level snark or Atlantic level analysis if it wanted?

I actually believe the answer is: Yes….. sorta.

The challenge of Circa was taking the concept of structured journalism as articulated by sites like Politifact, Homicide Watch, etc. – and applying it to all future stories, regardless of genre or topic. Politifact restrains itself and says “we only cover statements made by politicians” and that restraint allows it to create structure via the Truth-o-Metter. Circa wasn’t covering any specific topic. We wanted to create structure for any kind of story. And the truth is – the world is a sloppy place.

But adding order to that chaos doesn’t necessarily mean stripping out drama, narrative, humor or more. I think about how we approach stacks in our App at AJ+ and it’s very different. We aren’t always looking for structure around “facts” “quotes” etc. But instead are looking for structure in the storytelling technique. One card is the lede. Another card is the nut graph. This card is the human angle. etc. The elements that make up those cards may change – but their role doesn’t.

This does mean there is some “sloppiness” because one writers nut graph is another writers kicker. And in video structure is lost (you can’t atomize on a video timeline). But I do think there is some space between the hard structure where cards are defined by their content (fact, image, name) and their storytelling role. To Reginald’s point – I haven’t seen it successfully navigated yet. But I don’t think it should be ruled out.

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What journalists can learn from Aristotle http://blog.digidave.org/2015/07/what-journalists-can-learn-from-aristotle http://blog.digidave.org/2015/07/what-journalists-can-learn-from-aristotle#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 16:11:13 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4392 Continue reading What journalists can learn from Aristotle ]]> I wrote a blog post about Circa shutting down and a lot of people glommed on to this sentence:

“The schadenfreude in our industry is thick and disgusting at times. People love to read tea-leaves. This is a whole other tangent that we can/should confront as a community sometime.”

I was also asked to write an article for SPJ’s July/August issue on failure. Below is a small part of that which focuses on an alternative to Schadenfreude via Aristotle. Pedantic much? Yes!

Note: Much of this is inspired by Alain de Botton – who I highly recommend. But first let’s get one caveat out of the way and then do a basic primer on Aristotle’s “Poetics.”

Caveat: Schadenfreude is a natural human emotion/reaction. It is not unique to the journalism community or the Germans. Perhaps it is heightened because competition is built into our industry and its folklore. Taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortunate is also a sign of jealousy. Being jealous doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you alive. But it’s good to contemplate jealousy because it tells us who has traits we admire. So the question is – when somebody fails – instead of taking joy in that, why don’t we reflect on why this person, who has qualities we admire, was unable to succeed and what can we learn from it?

But I’m jumping ahead. Let’s get nerdy!

“Tragedy” was the highest form of drama, according to Aristotle. And a good tragedy left somebody feeling pity and fear. Ideally after feeling those emotions the audience had a sense of “Catharsis” or release.

Essentially the Greek people were supposed to better appreciate the fragility of life (they could be that tragic hero) and feel empathy for each other (e.g. bad things befall good people). The characters in tragedies were victims of fate. Anyone could be a victim of fate, and therefore Greek viewers were meant to walk away with a bit more empathy and pity (not Schadenfreude) for when bad things befell people. There was an understanding that some things are out of mortal control — that even a well intentioned Oedipus will end up killing his father and there was nothing he could have done differently to avoid it.

It was a social lesson taught through storytelling.

A tragic ending for Romeo.

The story of modern capitalism (and dare I say journalism) is the opposite. You rise and fall completely on your own merits. You claw your way to the top. And if you succeed then all the glory is yours. If you fail, you have nobody to blame but yourself and your insufficient product.

There is an element of truth to the story we tell ourselves in capitalism. But we should also recognize that tragedies befall us all the time as well. Perhaps as a journalism community and industry we should recognize that in every failure is a potential tragedy. And as the Greeks showed us, tragedies can be good. So when a startup fails – we shouldn’t presume everything was fate or out of our control: But we should appreciate what we have and understand that every project/organization we work for is a few steps away from fated destruction.


There is also something to be said about a kind of story we cover. My friend Monica Guzman showed natural horror in a Facebook post questioning why the story below even exists (it’s a great Facebook comment thread).

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 12.04.23 PM


Obviously the story is horrid. Anyone with normal moral fibers would be repulsed by the actions described. So what is gained by covering it?

While it’s easy to position this as “ambulance” chasing journalism – I think there is an ideal here where something more is gained. I’m not saying that every story of this nature reaches the ideal – just that an ideal exists where these stories aren’t about the sick/twisted mental state of the perpetrators, but are actually about the precious and fragile lives that we all live.

One of the reasons a 20-car pileup on the freeway is news – it reminds us that no matter how good of a driver we are – our lives are somewhat out of our control when we drive. Here’s an action that we take every day. Without thought. And yet in a moments notice it could be our downfall. To really be touched by a story like the one above or a 20-car pileup is to experience the kind of Catharsis that Aristotle thought was integral to living a good life.

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Quick thoughts as Circa shuts down http://blog.digidave.org/2015/06/quick-thoughts-as-circa-shuts-down http://blog.digidave.org/2015/06/quick-thoughts-as-circa-shuts-down#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 18:57:42 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4390 Continue reading Quick thoughts as Circa shuts down ]]> The news has broken – Circa is essentially shutting down.

While I haven’t been with Circa for the last 10 months, I was its first editorial hire and Chief Content Officer for almost three years. I am proud of all the work I did there and the editorial team I put together. I’d go to battle with them any day.

In early 2012, when I joined, mobile was still pretty uncharted territory. Circa was a pioneer. Discussions around structured journalism were nascent and ‘cards,’ ‘stacks’ or any ‘atomization’ as summarization/curation wasn’t even a thing. The idea of “following” a story was untested. This was even before the resurgence of the morning email newsletters. We offered a reading experience that was unique, innovative and despite its smooth surface veneer required deep editorial thought and expertise.

Some recognized Circa for what it was (or at least how I saw it: A product that made a statement about how things could be different). I still think product as cultural critique is an important role for a startup to play. That’s not to say Circa didn’t have its haters from day one (even more-so at the end). The schadenfreude in our industry is thick and disgusting at times. People love to read tea-leaves. This is a whole other tangent that we can/should confront as a community sometime.

I’m never one to shy away from moments of failure (cheap plug for a talk at ONA 2015 I am hosting “Fail Fest: I failed. It sucked. But here’s how I bounced back.”). But I’ve also learned that critical distance and hindsight from a failure helps put it in 20/20. I think I have that for Circa. But in respect to any ongoing conversations about Circa (to which I am not privy) – I want to reserve some thoughts for the time being except to say:

Timing is everything.

Circa was early and influential in a scene. There was a moment where the “iron was hot” and Circa was a hot commodity. There are a few key things that should have taken place during that time. They weren’t and as the metaphorical metal cooled the best that could be done was forming dents instead of angular shapes (to extend that analogy).

And now the space is very different. Other news apps have their versions of the “follow.” Conversations around push notifications have matured. And major players like Apple, Twitter and Facebook are going into the original curation space.

I have tons of thoughts on Circa, what it did better than anyone else. What it didn’t do well enough to survive. But I’ll save those for a conversation over a beer (you’re buying, right!?!).

I will say this: My hat is off to all who made Circa possible. The editorial team I worked with was top notch. I learned a ton leading you all. It was my privilege. And of course – Ben Huh, Matt Galligan and Arsenio Santos, it was truly an honor. I can’t express how much I learned working with you. More importantly – how much I enjoyed it. A startup has emotional highs and lows, but there was no other team I’d rather have gone through all that with. I loved every day and I know we made a difference. For that, I am in your debt.

And with that. There is really nothing to say except……….


p.s. Here’s a beautiful song……. but the video below always felt somehow like the artistic/video equivalent of atomized news. Each snippet is intoxicating – hard to turn away from. And even without knowing it – they add up to something greater than the sum of their parts.

Also – this Neiman post is one of the best Post-Circa posts out there.

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Felix Salmon’s report on the death of journalism as a career is greatly exaggerated http://blog.digidave.org/2015/04/felix-salmons-report-on-the-death-of-the-journalism-career-is-greatly-exaggerated http://blog.digidave.org/2015/04/felix-salmons-report-on-the-death-of-the-journalism-career-is-greatly-exaggerated#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 23:22:33 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4376 Continue reading Felix Salmon’s report on the death of journalism as a career is greatly exaggerated ]]> At Perugia this year Felix Salmon gave a talk: “The end of journalism as a career?”

In typical fashion, anytime a headline ends in a question mark the answer is almost always “no.”

Throughout the video you can tell how excited Salmon is to play the contrarian. He wants to “bring you down and make you depressed” (his words, not mine). This is the role Felix is increasingly happy to play. The “Golden Age” person who is still a naysayer. ‘This is the best of times for journalism – but you shouldn’t try to participate if you have any hope at survival.’

Throughout the video Felix makes references to ‘startups’ and ‘platforms’ as if the two are interchangeable. Most journalism startups are not platforms. Or more precisely – they are closed platforms. Even the NYT is a platform … for NYT writers! And Fusion is a startup – but it’s not a platform for anybody other than Fusion writers. Same for Vox, 538, Circa, Buzzfeed (which is slightly more open with their “community posts,” but not really).

Whenever Felix begins to talk about “platforms” and how the entrepreneurs behind them don’t care about good labor because they only want scale – he is talking about pure-play technology companies like Uber (a platform for drivers) or Twitter (a platform for open communication). But he’s implying that a critique about those platforms (one Uber driver is as good as the next) applies to journalism – one writer is as good as the next. But I don’t think that follows. It’s a fair critique of open platforms – but not of closed platforms. Most journalism startups are closed platforms where there is an investment in people.

It is with this misconstrued backdrop that Felix goes on to say that while startups and platforms are great – they are not amenable to careers. His theory: There is so much change happening that the only thing that’s constant is change and only young people are ready to succeed. Once you are old, you are being disrupted and can’t change. Therefore – you can’t have a career. Give up now!

To that I say “meh” or more precisely “bullshit.”

Salmon defines career as something where you become more experienced/skilled over time and therefore become more valuable. While it might be true that the users in a platform (let’s take Facebook) aren’t more valuable over time, the people who build platforms have honed skills that are developed over time. A seasoned programmer is better than a brand new one out of college. Entrepreneurs that screw up eventually go on and learn from those mistakes. They become more valuable in future endeavors as a result. That’s the whole “embrace failure” thing. It’s not that failure is good – it’s that you learn from them. And “learn” implies improvement.

Richard Gingras (who helped launch Salon and is now at Google) once told me – “it’s not that I’m a super genius, it’s that I’ve had the opportunity to screw up more.” (rough quote)

So yea, you won’t have a career as a professional Facebooker or Twitterati.

But you can have a career building platforms like Facebook or Twitter and your experience building those will add to your value as an employee at tech platforms.

Look at Medium, created by the founder of Twitter, created by the founder of Blogger. Is it a three time coincidence? Or could it be that a person gains valuable skills along the way and continues to become more valuable?

We don’t even need to focus on any of these examples because these are OPEN platforms – not journalistic enterprises which are often closed platforms. I only bring these examples up to point out that even in the most disruptive of spaces experience, wisdom and knowledge are valuable, just as much as youth and vigor. I expect it to become increasingly valuable as Web 2.0 continues without being a bubble that pops into nothing.

But let’s focus on journalistic “platforms” (again, I think Felix is being a little loose with terms here, but let’s ignore it for now). Felix thinks if you work in the digital journalistic startup space you won’t have a career. Why? Only young people can be good at digital. And digital is changing, so in a few years – you won’t be good at it. You can’t mature. You won’t become more valuable as you gain more experience. “In most areas of life the more experienced you are the more valuable you become” says Felix. But this is not the case for digital journalism.

Then this is said: “You can’t really hope that those skills which you develop over time are going to make you as a person more valuable over time.” This statement is absurd on its face.

Even if you leave journalism, the skills you gain will be valuable in your career. The journalist that won a Pulitzer Prize and has since left journalism can still point to their Pulitzer Prize winning work and in any job interview say “I am a valuable employee that can produce fantastic work, see my Pulitzer. I’ve honed skills and [insert plausible argument here about why employer needs these skills] makes me more valuable than somebody without said skills.”

Back to Felix: “Everyone wants to be a platform, remember that.” This still assumes that creating good platforms, user experience, user interface, etc. is not a skill you can develop over time. Your first crack at Javascript sucks. Your first time managing a project, things will get crazy. You get better, you develop skills and over time that makes you more valuable even in the technology space!

Fact: There is more competition. A good media company needs to be a “full stack” company (have good technology) but that doesn’t mean the journalists in a news organization are interchangeable with any 23-year-old that walks into the door.

Fact: I agree with Felix not everyone will be part of the top 1% of superstar journalists. There are only so many Nick Kristof’s that we need. I would also agree that being a journalist isn’t going to make you rich – but that’s nothing new. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a multi-decade career path. You can become more valuable over time.

Where does Felix end? Sure enough by contradicting everything he just said. Salmon says it’s a good idea to be a digital journalist that is good at the fundamentals: Focus on a beat. Understand it deeply. Learn how to tell a good story (I presume he would also advise you to be good at specific mediums like video or photojournalism or the written word, or audio, etc). Those are skills you can develop with experience and time – he says. And if you do that, Felix agrees that everything he said earlier doesn’t apply – you can have a career.

I’m glad we could agree.

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Get your startup funded: SXSW V2Venture! http://blog.digidave.org/2015/03/get-your-startup-funded-sxsw-v2venture http://blog.digidave.org/2015/03/get-your-startup-funded-sxsw-v2venture#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 18:41:44 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4373 Continue reading Get your startup funded: SXSW V2Venture! ]]> It’s that time of year again. I continue to be on the advisory board of the SXSW Pitch challenge and now its sister-challenge: The SXSW V2Venture pitch event. This is an opportunity to “showcase your emerging technology product or service in front of industry leaders… This event takes place on July 21 & 22 as a part of the SXSW V2V Event, during which you can improve your product launch, attract venture capitalists, polish your elevator pitch, receive media exposure, build brand awareness, network, socialize and experience all that SXSW V2V has to offer. The deadline to register is Friday, May 1, 2015, so visit http://sxswv2v.com/venture  to enter today.”

Some information from the organizers

1)      Launch date eligibility requirements:

  • A company’s product / service must have launched no earlier than July 22, 2015
  • A company’s product / service must not be launched after October 21, 2016.
  • Companies will be allowed to submit only one product or service to the SXSW V2Venture.
  • Companies who submit more than one product or service will not be eligible to participate in the SXSW V2Venture.
  • Founders of the applying startup must retain some portion of ownership in the company to be eligible to participate.
  • Must not have raised over five million in funds from combined funding sources.
  • Product or service must fall within one of the SXSW V2Venture categories.
  • Companies cannot have presented in any of the following events as a finalist: SXSW Accelerator, SXSW ECO Startup Showcase or LAUNCHedu pitch events.

2)      Applicants must be within one of the five categories:

  • Enterprise and Smart Data Technologies
    The Enterprise and Smart Data Technologies category encompasses applications and technologies that facilitate comprehension and application of information. These startups seek to improve productivity and management of data, analytics, text, documents, and engagement for business and individual use.
  • Entertainment and Content Technologies
    The Entertainment and Content Technologies category highlights applications and technologies for gaming, music, film, television, video, news and publishing, streaming and digital storytelling, as well as new and hybrid forms of entertainment. These are reinventing the ways in which we learn, relax and enjoy our time. This category also contains technologies that focus on other cultural sectors such as sports, travel, mapping, publishing and food as they pertain to entertainment.
  • Social Technologies
    The Social Technologies category includes applications and technologies that enable personal connections. With this category we’re looking for new and interesting uses, cases, products and services, as well as messaging that push the boundaries of how we find, follow and share our lives with others. If your business or service has a social component but is primarily focused on Entertainment, Health or Wearable Technologies, then you should enter one of these other categories instead.
  • Health and Wearable Technologies

The Health and Wearable Technologies category focuses on patient-centric health applications and technologies that connect patients, families, physicians, pharmacists, care providers (hospitals, clinics) and benefit providers to share timely, relevant health data and drive better outcomes at affordable and sustainable cost levels.

  • Innovative World Technologies
    Any creative and innovative technology that does not fit in another category is encouraged to apply here. We are currently seeing lots of innovation in the Internet of Things, payments and virtual currencies, data security and privacy, transportation such as autonomous vehicles, energy, space, robotics, and artificial intelligence, If your business / service / application applies to one of these fields (or something not on this list that is even more ground-breaking), then this is your category.

3)      Where can I get more information:

Visit the SXSW V2V website at http://sxswv2v.com/venture


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The vocabulary of TV news doesn’t translate to the web http://blog.digidave.org/2015/02/the-vocabulary-of-tv-news-doesnt-translate-to-the-web http://blog.digidave.org/2015/02/the-vocabulary-of-tv-news-doesnt-translate-to-the-web#comments Mon, 09 Feb 2015 14:00:04 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4336 Continue reading The vocabulary of TV news doesn’t translate to the web ]]> Five months ago, I left Circa and joined AJ+. As I mentioned at the time, one of my interests was in TV news; more precisely, what TV news is when released from the constraints of television.

I’m not the first to point out that TV news sucks. Like Jeff Jarvis, I don’t want to dwell on it. Instead, I want to write a series of posts to explore what can change — and how — about our understanding of TV news. But to figure out how we move forward, I will need to analyze (but hopefully not dwell on) what elements of TV news don’t translate to the Web.

The sitcom moment that doesn’t translate

Ever watch an old TV show online? I don’t mean “Modern Family” on Hulu. I mean an OLD TV show. Last year, in order to up my nerd game, I watched all seven seasons of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” I’m not proud. But I also wasn’t tired (“Star Trek: Voyager” was pretty good, too).

Captain Pickard

The traditional TV show was beautifully crafted for its medium. Watching it outside that medium (the TV set) allows you to appreciate the craftsmanship, perhaps the way an archeologist appreciates ancient artisan bowls. It gives you meaningful insight into how the world worked at the time — but you sure as hell wouldn’t eat out of those ancient bowls now.

You can always tell where a commercial break once existed

If you watch an off-network show on Netflix, the script comes to a momentary emotional pause or small cliffhanger. Then, seemingly for no reason, an establishing shot is made (the Starship Enterprise circling a planet) and the “captain’s log” voice-over begins, reminding you what happened only seconds ago. Indeed, I’m convinced the captain’s log was invented by Star Trek writers as an aid to deal with the return after a commercial break.

Captain's log

In the world of TV, this made sense. The viewer had to watch commercials and be brought back into the story. In the world of online shows, this moment is artificial. It breaks the fourth wall. It sounds like a fake laugh track. What served a purpose then and fit the visual/story vocabulary needs of TV watchers doesn’t translate to the Web. With shows like “Orange is the New Black,” “House of Cards” or “Marco Polo,” the concept is taken even further — the breaks between episodes hardly exist. One can finish an episode and the next episode will pick up almost exactly where the last one left off. Enter the Netflix binge.

In TV news, the commercial break has been used as the teasing moment to the point of ridicule: “Stay tuned after the break when we play this segment about how there is a common household product that will kill you in your sleep.”

Nobody respects this. It’s a cheap trick but also one of the most successful — hence why it is so common. I’m not convinced this trick will work online. And that’s a good thing.

Why won’t it work? As Variety Senior TV Editor Brian Steinberg wrote in December, “Replenishing this crowd with younger viewers becomes tough when millennials and the generation behind them seem more comfortable with streaming video that does not require a subscription to a satellite or cable distributor.”

What moments like the commercial break currently exist in TV news?

Freed from the constraints of time and commercials, how should a programmed video news organization meet a customer’s needs? “Programmed” is a key element here. It’s the part of TV that I think should be preserved.

In a world where television is digital, the product isn’t “broadcast” news, but it’s still programmed. That’s the difference between Justin TV (reality TV born of the Web) and nonfiction storytelling (news): It’s the programming, stupid.

But the tropes of storytelling that broadcasters are so familiar with — the stand up, the walkie-talkie shot and the b-roll of people walking — don’t translate to the Web. All of these are very familiar. But they are anachronistic. The proof is in the satire.

TV journalists: You don’t work for a TV or broadcast news organization, you work for a video news organization. You always have. TV has just been the conduit. And a limited one at that.

TV is the No. 1 source of news in the United States. So the question arises — what changes and what doesn’t about how we understand TV news? What opportunities present themselves when we restructure “broadcast” programming for the Web?

Up next: Video without sound.

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I’ll say whatever I goddamned please. http://blog.digidave.org/2015/01/ill-say-whatever-i-goddamned-please http://blog.digidave.org/2015/01/ill-say-whatever-i-goddamned-please#comments Thu, 08 Jan 2015 10:00:45 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4350 Continue reading I’ll say whatever I goddamned please. ]]> If I am to be labeled any kind of extremist, it might be that I am a “free speech extremist.”

This does not mean I am a free speech “absolutist.” I recognize there needs to be limits on speech.

  • One should not be able to falsely yell “fire” in a crowd.
  • One should not be able to make  threats of violence.
  • Child pornography, no thank you.
  • Lying under oath. Bad form.
  • We can come up with more I’m sure……

This list, however, should be short and limited to moments when speech creates tangible victims based on the real world (including market impact ie: Copyright/Trademark) consequences of speech. The examples above cause real harm to real victims.

The current list of exceptions to the first amendment  is a pretty good list. Notably – many European countries have laws against hate speech. The U.S. does not. As despicable as I may  find a racist rant, complete with burning flag in the background, I won’t stop somebody from doing it. Even if I find it….. gasp…..  offensive.

Bottom line:  No idea is sacred to all. No idea is free of criticism. 

It’s freedom of speech as explained by Ghostbusters

Do I recognize that it’s ‘Dickish’ to go out of your way to offend. Sure. But nobody should be forced to “play nice” with an idea, especially if it’s one they think is stupid or want to criticize.

Just as they have the right to be critical of something you hold sacred, you can respond with your own speech. Point out how they are being an asshat. Or better yet – offer a rebuttal or critique their own speech/comment/criticism. In the open marketplace of ideas – may the best meme win.

Anyone who points out that Charlie Hebdo was being offensive is missing the point. Of course they were being offensive. There is and never should be a limit to how offensive one can be with speech. No idea is sacred to all. No idea is free of criticism.

As Jeff Jarvis put it:

Standing for free speech is not American. It is logical. If one allows a government to control—to censor—offensive speech, then no speech will be allowed, except that which government approves, for any speech can offend anyone and then all speech is controlled.

Speech is a human right.

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I have the Plague http://blog.digidave.org/2014/12/i-have-the-plague http://blog.digidave.org/2014/12/i-have-the-plague#comments Mon, 29 Dec 2014 15:00:06 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4340 Continue reading I have the Plague ]]> This weekend I caught the Plague.

I’m not sick – just using an app of the name. It’s a simple and somewhat addictive app and anyone interested in the dissemination of information (journalists) should pay attention to it. There is always talk about “gamification” of news and 9 out of 10 times we think that means there should be a game with a journalist as the main character and we follow them along on their investigation.

WRONG (only journalists think this is a fun game concept)

The Plague gets it right: The “game” isn’t about how you get information – it’s how you spread it. The app takes the meme concept and uses a virus as an analogy. You share information and it goes to 4 people close by.

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 7.47.11 PM













They then choose to spread it further or not. Your meme can end up spreading all over the world, or just die in your backyard.

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 7.47.36 PM










Here are the elements of the app I find enjoyable.

Simple “Tinder-like” swipe.

  • A “passive” user of the app can swipe up to squash a meme or down to spread it. Super quick and easy. A tap brings you to a detailed view to see comments. The comments are rather good because it’s focused on a single idea/photo/etc.

Elements of Secret/Whisper – without anonymity 

  • Everyone is connected to everyone. What you share will go to ‘local’ users first and you don’t necessarily know them, but it’s not anonymous. While there are no profiles to “follow,” you can click into a user profile. As a person who shares – you don’t run the risk of annoying your “followers” – you don’t need to overthink. There is no social media performance. Worst case scenario 4 people you share with will squash your content. But because it’s not purely anonymous the app isn’t filled with the same kind of content Whisper/Secret are – sex confessions/gossip/etc.

Level up

  • In addition to a transparent view of how things get shared (percentage of people who re-share your content, where they are in the world and total numbers) you are given an “infection index” score. The higher it is – the more initial people you get to ‘infect’ with your information.


Needs improvement on

  • Too much content is re-shared and the app isn’t smart enough to know whether I’ve already passed on(or not) information
  • Too many high-res photoshopped images from “top ten amazing things” blog lists are shared. There are only so many awesome mountain range photos I can stand in one sitting.
  • Minor UI/UX things – but overall the app is pretty sleek. I rather like the loading logo even though it reminds me how morbid the game concept is.

There is something here for journalists to ponder. 

  • What is ‘our’ role vs. the ‘amateur’ role of spreading information
  • The game mechanics of spreading information
  • What will/won’t work in The Plague or other future apps of the same nature
  • The simple intuitive force of the app. It’s not about news – it’s about information –  but each bit is quickly digested and passed on.
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Atomized news: As a music video http://blog.digidave.org/2014/12/atomized-news-as-a-music-video http://blog.digidave.org/2014/12/atomized-news-as-a-music-video#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 15:10:17 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4332 Continue reading Atomized news: As a music video ]]> Here’s a post that I’ll admit is a bit ephemeral.

Circa, Vox, AJ Plus, Timeline, Newsbound and others all play in a similar space with atomized news. It’s one that I helped pioneer at Circa but is spreading. They all do news snippets or news atoms that are threaded together to provide context. I distinguish this from, Inside.com or Techmeme (just snippets) because it’s the combining of these bits of information that provide meaning over time.

As noted in a recent Neiman piece: “If the now much-maligned inverted pyramid — the foundation of AP-like “new top” writing, ironically thrust on the news industry of the time by an earlier tech upheaval, the arrival of the telegraph — is being replaced here, we might call it a diverted pyramid.”

We are playing in a space where we are deconstructing the news in the hopes of putting it back together.

It’s a small but growing club. And I suspect we share a lot in common – including mutual respect for the editorial work that goes into this type of storytelling. Each “atom” is deceptively simple.  Yet it has to be enticing enough to keep your attention – so you continue watching. And in the end – somehow they have to combined to mean something.

And that brings me to the video below. It’s a beautiful song but the video – it feels somehow like the artistic/video equivalent of atomized news. Each snippet is intoxicating – hard to turn away from. And even without knowing it – they add up to something greater than the sum of their parts.

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When truth and fact collide. Which side do you take? http://blog.digidave.org/2014/12/when-truth-and-fact-collide-which-side-do-you-take http://blog.digidave.org/2014/12/when-truth-and-fact-collide-which-side-do-you-take#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 15:00:41 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4293 Continue reading When truth and fact collide. Which side do you take? ]]> There is a tension in journalism. It is not new – but it is expressing itself in different ways. Like water to fish, the tension is so ever-present we forget it is there.

It is the tension between truths and facts. The two don’t always align.

A great example of this in recent years is the Mike Daisy incident with This American Life.

Mike Daisy had a great story about Foxconn, the company that manufactures Apple Inc. products in China. We learned about the exploitation of workers. Their horrid working conditions. Their low wages. Their struggles. It turned out – much of the story was a fabrication.

From the correction by Ira Glass (emphasis added)

I have difficult news. We’ve learned that Mike Daisey’s story about Apple in China – which we broadcast in January – contained significant fabrications. We’re retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth.

Here’s the thing. This American Life probably could vouch for the truth of the FoxxConn story. I don’t think there is anybody who could earnestly deny the truth of worker exploitation in China. To dedicate a show about factory workers in China who suffer these working conditions is a good thing. But the specifics of Daisy’s story were all a mess. The facts. The accuracy. The details. They weren’t just wrong – they were lies. It was a tall tale Daisy spun. He did not do this to be evil, but to get the truth across. For him the purpose of the story was to share a truth, not the facts.

Again, this is nothing new. But the speed and quantity of stories with this tension (fact vs. truth) have increased. Marketers and meme makers have used this, I would argue, to their advantage.

Some of you may have recently seen a viral video of a woman pretending to be drunk to see how men would treat her. The video went viral with many appalled at how various men tried to take advantage of the girl.

The video was a hoax.  Everyone, including the men, were actors. The men were told to play along with a kind of practical joke. They didn’t realize it was going to be shared on the web in the same nature as the woman being cat-called while she walks in New York for 10 hours. They didn’t sign up to be the evil-doers in a culture war.

Certainly there is some “truth” to the scenario the viral video was portraying. It shocks us to our core to confront that aspect of humanity. The same can be said with the cat-calling video.

But the drunk-girl video does not accurately capture the aspect of humanity it claims to show. There is nothing factual about the original video. If you give it a bit of scrutiny it becomes painfully obvious the video is staged.

I can recall watching the video for the first time thinking: “this video looks like bullshit.” And yet, who was I to spit in the face of this truth while it was going viral? Would I be a patriarch if I called the facts of that video into question? It was only 24hrs later that one of the male actors came out on Facebook upset at the negative attention he was getting.

It’s easy to pass this off as just a viral mishap. But I think it goes deeper than that.

Where do we square the potential gap in truth/fact in the recent Buzzfeed/Ubergate scandal?

Sure, it might be true that Uber is a libertarian, even ‘cutthroat’ company. But what are the facts behind this story? Some of them seem legitimately in question.

Here’s the situation we find ourselves in.

  • Stories move fast. Faster than ever before.
  • The internet as a medium of information exchange is neutral on the tension between truth/facts.
  • Journalists, I would argue, should have a strong bias (if not an ultimatum) to fall into the ‘accuracy’ side of this tension.
  • Other actors will have a bias (if not ultimatum) to fall on the ‘truth’ side of this tension.

And we need to figure out how to think about players that want it both ways.

Buzzfeed, for example, does some serious and great reporting.

They also share platitudes like: “This Teacher Taught His Class A Powerful Lesson About Privilege.” This post draws out a lesson plan where students must try to shoot crumpled paper into a trash can. Students at the front of the room have an advantage over those in the back. This is how the teacher explains “privilege” to the students. It’s an excellent little platitude and it certainly has some truth to it.

But does this teacher really exist? Did this lesson really happen? Are the quotes really quotes or a general accounting of the incident? And, most importantly – for a post like this, does it really matter? We don’t fact-check stories from Chicken Soup for the Soul because their purpose is to convey truth, not fact. This story falls into that space. And that’s not a bad thing. These stories do indeed feed the soul. I’ve told my fair share of campy moral filled fables.

But I would never pass them off as journalism. And if they were being published by an organization I ran that does journalism – I’d want to clearly define when switching from fact to truth. As a dated analogy: If a newspaper’s satirical cartoons were difficult to distinguish from editorial copy – that paper would have a serious charge against it. 

Otherwise they could run the headline: Extra Extra: You’re Perfect The Way That You Are – and they’d sell tons of papers.

Speaking of “You’re Perfect in the way that you are” check out this awesome video of a guy doing 29 impersonations while singing a catchy original song.


OH CRAP! The video above is not a fact. But it is true!

p.s. Mashable was taken along for that ride and is a great example of another post: When we correct ourselves and turn that into an opportunity to write another post/article/etc. Something about it feels dirty, like double-dipping.

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