Data journalism is everywhere. Specialised digital outlets are constantly reporting about it, several books have been published and articles about data journalism are frequently popping up in scientific journals. Data journalism is undoubtedly one of the hottest trends in the journalism as well as in journalism studies. Yet, there is a certain “boosterism” related to the phenomenon, which can be regularly observed in popular and technological writing: At first glance, it seems that data journalism has already entered the journalistic mainstream and has also been accepted as an equally appreciated and respected practice among traditional journalists. This is not the case. Data journalism is still confronted with issues regarding its status and value within news organisations across multiple market segments.
Two recently published papers look at the problems from different angles. The findings allow to draw a more complete and thorough picture of how data journalism is performing in two specific countries.
In the first study, Alfred Hermida and Lynn Young from the University of British Columbia tried to map data journalism and to evaluate its impact on norms, practices and cultures in different Canadian news organisations. The two authors carried out 17 interviews with the most important data journalists and freelancers working in legacy newspapers as well as private and public broadcasters. They specifically focused on the question of how emergent professional identities, such as data journalists, are affecting the collaboration within and outside news organisations – challenging professional boundaries as well as the “interplay of legacy and emergent journalistic roles within organisational structures”.
Data journalists see themselves as multi-skilled specialists
The scholars discovered that there is a clear “hierarchy of hybridity” between the different news organisations in the sample, as some have already developed a blended techno culture that amalgamates technological adaptation with journalistic agency, while others are still struggling to create well-resourced data teams.
A first indicator of the different levels of hybridity can be seen in the professional labelling of data journalists. Most news outlets adopt labels that focus on technological characteristics, using different descriptors such as “interactive, mobile, digital, Web and data, attached to general professional categories such as coordinator, manager, editor, producer and developer”, which shows evidence for a field that is still pretty fluid. However, unlike findings from other national studies such as the UK, where clear separations between technologists and journalists emerged, most interviewed journalists see themselves as techno-journalists or “unicorns” – the fabulous specialist that is able to write an article, to code and to analyse data on its own.
Data journalists can transcend organisational boundaries
Similarly, there are clear differences with regard to norms and practices of data journalists. They show an increased inclination towards informal types of collaboration rather than competition. This kind of “Macgyvering”, as one of the interviewed journalist called it, consists in drawing on resources from different parties, both within and outside the news organisations. The fact that data journalists transcend the organisational boundaries and interact with the their community (including data science scholars) and collaborate in “pan-media connections” due to a strongly developed shared identity is a good example of how current networked journalism looks.
The news firms’ ability to blend technological and journalistic competences is also reflected by the organisational status and context of data journalists. In some news outlets – particularly the public service broadcaster and two legacy newspapers with some background in computer-assisted reporting – have been able to develop a techno culture by establishing interactive or data science teams. These highly specialised groups are able to infuse their technological expertise into the whole newsroom, fostering the cultural shift towards a digitally-led news production. Other newsrooms assign a “service role” to data journalists, restraining their contributions to technical aspects, thus limiting their journalistic authority. Others again rely on the data journalistic “one-man-show”.
Content or curation?
In the second study, Eddy Borges-Rey from the University of Stirling analyses, through 24 interviews with data journalists, data editors, news managers, a programmer and one designer, whether and to what extent data journalists use databases and algorithms to hold data brokers to account. Given that data and algorithms increasingly govern our lives, there is – in the words of Borges-Rey – a growing but yet unfulfilled “demand for journalists able to investigate the power dynamics underpinning data”.
The findings show that the interviewed data journalists do not see uncovering the power dynamics and data wrongdoings of data-broking corporations as one of their core tasks. Specialised technology or science reporters cover these topics far more often. Data journalists nevertheless contribute as specialists for curating databases, but not content-wise. Given the immense expertise of data journalists in handling and extracting data, this is somehow surprising. However, most data journalists acknowledged problems when they have to deal with the issue of the inaccessibility of the data held by data brokers.
Data journalism has ‘disrupted traditional logic of journalism’
In this case they still rely on traditional investigative methods such as leaks or whistleblowers, which underscores once again the enormously important role of people willing to disclose information of public interest (and why they deserve protection).
In contrast to Hermida and Young’s findings, Borges-Rey draws a more cohesive picture of British data journalism: It has disrupted the traditional logic of journalism not only by infusing computational thinking into the newsrooms, but also by changing the linear storytelling into a more interactive and engaging way to offer content.
In this respect, data journalism practices are seamlessly ingrained into the different newsrooms and have, over time, diversified into three main forms: a) a brief and daily form of data journalism; b) an extensive and investigative form and c) a gamified data journalism aimed at entertaining the audience. However, the overly positive statements might be due to the fact that Borges-Rey has interviewed newsworkers from leading data journalism hubs such as the Guardian, the BBC or the Telegraph – while the integration of data journalism in several regional and local news outlets is still lacking.
Overall, the two country specific studies add relevant findings to the rapidly growing body of scientific literature regarding quantitative forms of journalism. They both show that data journalism, to some extent, has not yet reached its full potential mostly due to organisational constraints and because the field is still quite fluid.
Some news organisations still struggling to find the right use for data journalism
Even the British media system, where data journalism is generally well embedded into the news cycle, suffers from a central-regional divide due to scarce human and economic resources in smaller news outlets. This leaves room for external collaborations, which is confirmed by both studies. Particularly in the Canadian case, the “freelance data wrangler” is an increasingly requested individual that works with different news organizations – by the way a surprisingly similar situation to Italy, where the freelancer is the dominant category for data journalists.
In the end, the two papers show not only that some news organisations are still struggling to find the right use and place for data journalism, which translates into enduring structural problems. But at the same time they both demonstrate that data journalism is a great asset, as it allows news organisations to establish networked relationships throughout the journalism ecosystem. A vital quality if news organisations want to cope with their incessant de-institutionalisation.
Pic credit: Yosuke Muroya, Flickr CC
Here’s a sentence few would have expected to read in 2016, if ever: Gawker Media and Fusion are now owned by the same company.
Univision has purchased Gawker Media and all of its sites and assets for $135 million, according to a report from Recode, which has since been confirmed by both sides. With the bid, Univision beat out tech publisher Ziff Davis, which had made the initial stalking-horse bid. Those were the only major bidders for the company, Bloomberg reported earlier on Tuesday. (Lifestyle site Little Things also made a late bid for Jezebel’s assets, which wasn’t up for separate sale.) Univision won’t, however, take over Gawker Media’s lawsuit with Hulk Hogan, which is still ongoing.
The news, while bittersweet, should come as some solace to Gawker’s staffers, who have struggled with the uncertainty facing the company over the past few months. But while many on Twitter were been relieved to hear Gawker has found a new home, there’s also a lot of grief about what Gawker’s exit means for the the site’s fiercely independent coverage, which might be expected to wane somewhat under the company’s new, more buttoned-up corporate ownership. And then there’s a question of how the news will affect the larger media ecosystem, in which Gawker played a significant role.
felicitaciones to all the people I know and love at gawker media, they’ve earned a long period of calmness and stability now
— Sam Biddle (@samfbiddle) August 16, 2016
When you compare Fusion to Gawker/Jezebel/Gizmodo/Kotaku you really start to see the depth of what is lost here. sad day for indie media.
— ⤵︎ (@CodyBrown) August 16, 2016
10: healthy and durable. For all its sins and faults, Gawker won’t be the same with a corporate parent. And that’s one of the major …
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) August 16, 2016
Whether or not you always agreed with what Gawker published, @nicknotned made a thing that challenged power. That is journalism. Mazel tov.
— Edmund Lee (@edmundlee) August 16, 2016
Denton himself confirmed the news, which he says is good news for Gawker’s writers:
I am pleased that our employees are protected and will continue their work under new ownership ― disentangled from the legal campaign against the company. We could not have picked an acquirer more devoted to vibrant journalism.
Univision’s acquisition also puts to rest the speculation on what would happen to Gawker.com, whose role in the Hulk Hogan suit had turned it into something of a toxic asset. The site, for example, wasn’t mentioned in a June Ziff Davis memo expressing interest in the company. Univision, it seems, is committed to keeping the site alive.
The victory marks the latest in a string of acquisitions for Univision, which has branched beyond its origin as a Spanish-language broadcaster. Back in February it acquired a controlling stake in Onion Inc., which runs the titular satire news site as well as culture site A.V. Club and viral parody site Clickhole. Univision also owns The Root (acquired last May) and Fusion, which it launched back in 2013 and which it now owns fully after buying out Disney’s interest.
This is all about diversifying the Spanish broadcaster’s portfolio before its long-anticipated IPO this fall: https://t.co/V6Lvm3aciI
— Ed O’Keefe (@edatpost) August 16, 2016
The irony here, which no shortage of people on Twitter gleefully pointed out, is that Fusion has been a periodic target of Gawker, which have poked fun at the site’s, shall we say, lukewarm reception with readers.
— Gawker (@Gawker) June 2, 2015
Many people want to catch up on the news and stay informed, but these aren’t the only reasons people consume news. They also search for news in moments of crisis, times of anxiety and urgent situations.
As a digital product designer for news organizations, I’ve often focused on user experience and visuals — and not enough on an individual’s personal circumstances that may affect how they perceive and comprehend the news.
First, a little context: I attended An Event Apart — a conference for people who make websites — where Eric Meyer gave a great talk based on the book he and Sara Wachter-Boettcher co-wrote, called Design for Real Life. The aim of the book is to influence designers and developers to create products that don’t intrude or make assumptions about users’ identities or personal circumstances. Meyer and Wachter-Boettcher state:
You can’t always predict who will use your products, or what emotional state they’ll be in when they do. But by identifying stress cases and designing with compassion, you’ll create experiences that support more of your users, more of the time.
They go on to identify plenty of examples where “helpful” products were also insensitive. One well-known heartbreaking example is the Facebook “Year in Review” tool, which offered to collect and share Meyer’s photos from the previous year. The tool showed illustrations of dancing people, confetti, and balloons jauntily placed around his profile picture — a photo of his young daughter who had passed away.
How could this happen? Teams need to test their products not only in terms of technical success but also in their commitment to compassion. Users are humans who are individuals with varying personal circumstances. As teams develop new products, we must continually:
During the process of creating a product, we generate assumptions about who our users are and how they behave. We identify the major use-cases, then the edge cases — that is, unusual or unlikely use of our product. However, when we categorize a behavior as an edge case, we ultimately spend less time solving problems for individuals who use the product in a way we didn’t predict. And in many cases, those are the individuals who need our consideration the most.
Meyer and Wachter-Boettcher propose that we should jettison the term edge case and replace it with “stress case.” Identifying stress cases helps us see the spectrum of varied and imperfect ways humans encounter our products, especially taking into consideration moments of stress, anxiety, and urgency.
Stress cases help us design for real user journeys that fall outside of our ideal circumstances and assumptions. Meyer and Wachter-Boettcher have detailed a number of great exercises for product teams who want to design with compassion.
So what is NPR doing about it? Our digital media teams work with a number of different products, including NPR.org, the new audio player, the NPR One app, experiences for smartwatches, gaming systems, and connected cars.
Since we are a public media news organization, designing with empathy is really important. We prototype early and often, and test with real people. During user tests, we encourage our guests to “Tell me more about that,” so that we can dig deeper into their perspective in an open-ended way. And we draw insights from how our audience uses our products so that we can iterate and make things better.
Currently we’re redesigning the News app. So far, our edge cases have dealt primarily with users looking for breaking news, but we realized we can push that further. We wanted to define as many stress cases as possible, and realized — hey, anyone in digital news can use these stress cases to make more compassionate design decisions for their human users.A human might be anxious about a breaking news event, and is:
1. primarily looking for the latest breaking news updates.
2. worried because it personally affects them or their community.
3. worried about a loved one who might have been involved or nearby.
4. worried about their own immediate safety.
5. forced from their home and wants to find out what’s happening there.
6. traveling to the area where news is breaking and needs to know what to do next.
7. having a hard time comprehending words because they are so upset.
8. hoping to find out how they can help.
9. forced to wait for news to download because everyone is accessing the same website simultaneously.
10. frustrated that typical download times feel like forever in a crisis situation.
11. bouncing between several news sources to get more information.
12. an English-language learner who may need less-nuanced phrasing.A human might be accessing several news sources about the same event and might feel:
13. upset with the media about a perceived lack of coverage.
14. upset with the media about perceived over-hyped coverage.
15. frustrated that they can’t find the same info everywhere.
16. anxious about only finding limited or unverified information.
17. worried that inaccurate information could endanger them.
18. angry at misinformation and mistakes.
19. disgusted by a perceived reporting-bias.
20. annoyed by information unrelated to what they sought.
21. upset by the tone of a headline or story when when their personal experience of a topic differs.A human might have some constraints on the technology available, or on their environment, such as:
22. doing research on an outdated public library computer.
23. using a school-issued tablet during class.
24. overhearing bits of news from a TV in a waiting room or airport.
25. having limited access on an office workstation with firewalls.
26. is in a place with no wifi and spotty cellular reception.
27. is in a place where cellular networks are overloaded during an emergency.
28. is in an unfamiliar area where they don’t want to have their device out.
29. is in a place that’s too noisy to hear the device.
30. is in a place that’s very bright, making the device hard to see.
31. is in a place where they would be endangered if their phone made noise.A human might have constraints on time, such as:
32. having only have a couple minutes to look for news from any source.
33. intending to spend more time but is interrupted.
34. wanting to go back and find something they saw before the interruption.
35. occupying a brief down-time as they wait, e.g., in line at a store or at the bus stop.
36. having limited time due to restrictions on using a device at their location, e.g., at the hospital.
37. needing information before a scheduled event, e.g., a local election.
38. is voting and wants to find information about local candidates.
39. knowing that their free time will end unexpectedly, e.g., the baby will wake any minute now.
40. only getting online on their phone during a quick break at work.
41. commuting on public transportation.
42. researching a topic for homework or a test before class starts.A human may have an unexpected personal reactions to news, such as:
43. hearing an emotional story that leads to a personal breakthrough.
44. wanting to find a story they heard but can’t remember the specifics.
45. knowing information that should be reported or corrected, and needing to know what to do next.
46. just moving to a new city and wanting to feel connected to local news.
47. discovering a rule or law was changed, and it personally affects them.
48. feeling upset that the story triggered a memory of a traumatic event.
49. being confronted with a graphic photo or video and wasn’t warned first.
50. being confronted with content that isn’t appropriate for their age.
There’s no way this is a complete list of stress cases for news consumers — but it’s a start. We’ll keep at it and work to make this a normal part of our design and development processes.
We have been entrusted with a special responsibility to deliver news to the public. We need to be accurate, fair and sensitive. Let’s treat our users as the humans that they are and design experiences that thoughtfully consider imperfect circumstances. Designing with empathy will make the delivery of news better for everyone.
Photo by Shane Horan used under a Creative Commons license.
Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is issue eighty-three, published August 16, 2016.
With Her. Well, this is certainly something. Last Friday saw the launch of With Her, the official Hillary Clinton presidential campaign podcast, which both marks a milestone for the industry and, I suppose, is a sign of the times. The show also has the distinction of being Pineapple Street Media’s first launch, the podcast company recently founded by former BuzzFeed director of audio Jenna Weiss-Berman and Longform Podcast cohost Max Linsky. Linsky holds hosting duties on the podcast, which he ostensibly shares with Clinton herself, though one imagines that her extensive campaigning schedule will ultimately have a say in that.
The podcast is an absolute coup for the company and a strong, attention-getting start to its portfolio. The linkup between Pineapple Street and the Clinton campaign grew out of Weiss-Berman’s previous collaboration with the team, back when she worked on BuzzFeed’s Another Round podcast that booked Clinton on as a guest last October. “I stayed in touch with her digital team,” Weiss-Berman told me over email. “And shortly after Max and I started Pineapple Street, we started talking to them and we all loved the idea of a campaign podcast that focused on day-to-day life on the trail and not policy.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, that last point — the podcast’s focused on campaign trail life and not on policy — ended up being the point of critique for a few media outlets. Politico’s writeup of the podcast bore the headline: “Hillary Clinton finds another way to avoid the press: Her campaign launches a podcast with an on-payroll moderator whose first interview is the nominee herself,” highlighting the show as an extension of a long-running grievances held by the parts of the news media about Clinton’s tightly messaged campaign. That perspective was echoed by Michelle Goldberg over at Slate, who called the show “charming and gutless propaganda” and further argued that “a politician attempting to circumvent the media by creating media of her own sets a bad precedent.”
I don’t buy those critiques. For one thing, media creation — whether through tweets, a YouTube channel, creating a TV spectacle out of a convention, and so on — is an essential tool for a candidate’s political communication, and it’s one that’s part of a much wider set of tools, with messaging through the news media (either directly, e.g. sitdowns with Charlie Rose, or indirectly, i.e. free media) being only one within a larger toolkit. A candidate’s aversion to working directly through the press, as in the case of the Clinton campaign, may well be morally and procedurally frustrating for the press, but a perfectly fine outcome in this scenario is to make the absence of participation mean something as part of the candidate’s larger spectrum of political communication. (Which, indeed, is what is already happening, and we see traces of that in Slate and Politico’s analysis.)
So the media aversion/”propaganda” reading of the podcast isn’t one that really resonates with me, but I think the reason for that lies in an understanding that the podcast shouldn’t be read as anything too dramatically different from it actually is: a political ad.
Consider With Her as yet another example of a branded podcast — not unlike Gimlet Creative’s Open for Business or Pacific Content’s Slack Variety Pack. (Indeed, viewed this way, With Her is quite possibly the first major political ad buy in the history of the podcast medium.)
And because it’s a branded podcast, we should levy onto it the very same questions (of ethics and execution) that we would those projects from Gimlet, and Pacific Content. Questions like: Is the show successful in harnessing the format’s associations with sincerity, authenticity, and intimacy? (I.e: Do the interviews make her feel more real, the way the Longform Podcast and Another Round have drawn out people in the past? Also, just how real can a career politician, so hardened by decades of battle, feel?) Is the podcast able to be engaging while nulling the overarching context that the listener has opted to enter a space where the brand is trying to get them to think and feel a certain way? Is the project doing a good job being clear with its targeting — is it focused on deepening the candidate’s relationship with her supporters, or is it more engaged with humanizing Clinton in the face of on-the-fence supporters? And is the podcast, with its opt-in, on-demand, and high-involvement consumption requirements, appropriate for that?
That’s how I’d approach reading the podcast. Which is why I’ll say this: Based on the first episode (which runs short, at about 15 minutes), I’m not very sure whether With Her will answer these questions much beyond its novelty as the first presidential campaign podcast ever. To be sure, it’s a fizzy and fun listen, and longtime Hot Pod readers know I love love love me some Linsky interviews. But as a person already predisposed to the Clinton campaign, I didn’t feel like I gained anything particularly new or meaningful that wasn’t already telegraphed at the Democratic National Convention. And considering the broader messaging context, I also don’t think it’s clear yet who the podcast is for — and, by extension, how it’s supposed to carry out the aims of the campaign, which (and this isn’t a new thought at all) really struggles with connecting.
That said: It’s only been one episode, and I want to be clear that an assessment like this doesn’t quite honor the immense complexities that go into working with a campaign that aims to win the highest office of the land. (I can’t even begin to imagine the number of clearances that the production must go through.) The podcast is slated to run up until the election in November, and I have a good amount of faith that the team will figure out a way to take this powerful, powerful novelty — let’s not forget the fact that the first presidential campaign podcast is a major milestone for the emerging medium — and fashion it out into a genuine tool of political communication in the future.
What’s next for PSM? Weiss-Berman: “We’re working on lots of great stuff and something I’m really excited about is that we’re trying many different styles. So we’re doing a very heavily produced short-run serialized mystery show, a really fun chat show with The New York Times, Women of the Hour season two with Lena Dunham, and we’re developing a bunch of original shows. And so much more! And all the shows are really different, with amazingly diverse hosts, so I’m hoping they bring in audiences that are new to podcasting.”
The convention bump. The Republican and Democratic conventions were dramatic and often confusing affairs, and it seems like a significant number of folks turned to political podcasts to figure some stuff out. Indeed, several enjoyed noticeable jumps in downloads across the two-week period. Some highlights:
- The NPR Politics Podcast saw more than a 50 percent increase in weekly unique downloaders. (That metric tracks the number of individual listeners based on measurements of IP addresses.) The podcast dropped episodes every morning across the conventions, with each edition covering the goings-on of the night before.
- Panoply reportedly experienced a 35 percent increase in weekly downloads (over the average of the previous four weeks) among their set of political podcasts: the Slate Political Gabfest, The Gist, and Vox’s The Weeds. The Gist, which is already a daily podcast, opted to drop short review episodes every morning in addition to its normal episodes across the period. The other two shows maintained their weekly schedules.
- The FiveThirtyEight Elections podcast also saw “a big rise in downloads and rankings,” according to producer Jody Avirgan. A spokesperson later added that over the convention period, the team “saw consumption of the Elections podcast increase nearly 300 percent compared to daily consumption before the conventions.” The podcast also dropped episodes daily across the two events.
- The Ringer’s Keepin’ It 1600, which features former Obama administration staffers Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer, saw a bump of about 15 percent. Before the conventions, the podcast had steadily grown up to an average of over 200,000 downloads per episode, and went up to about 230,000 downloads per episode through the two events.
- BuzzFeed’s No One Knows Anything saw a “171 percent increase in downloads during the two weeks of the conventions, compared to the two weeks before the conventions,” said Meg Cramer, who produces the show. “But, it’s hard to make comparisons, because our convention coverage was different from our weekly show. (Several topical mini-episodes, vs. one big show.)”
These event-based growth bursts are extremely valuable, but the real question is whether the shows will be able to retain the influx of new listeners. Brent Baughman, who produces the NPR Politics Podcast, tells me that, while it’s still a little too early to tell, he estimates that about three-quarters of the podcast’s new listeners have stuck around since the conventions. He also notes that the podcast now enjoys an audience of over 560,000 weekly unique downloaders.
It should be noted that the bumps didn’t come from organic discovery alone. Around the convention period, FiveThirtyEight carried out aggressive cross-promotion efforts that hoped to draw in audiences that exist on its other platforms and on platforms controlled by parent ESPN. Those efforts included a refocus on embedding the podcast in FiveThirtyEight articles, adding language that welcomed new listeners to the show, featuring the podcast in the ESPN app, and working with ESPN Radio to run a spot on terrestrial stations promoting the podcast. “That’s going to start working into the rotation soon, I hope,” Avirgan added. “It’s not going to be a huge push, but frankly I imagine a lot of the kinds of folks who are just tuning in to the election are the types of folks who are listening to ESPN Radio, etc. So, we’re trying to be smart about targeting that group.”
NPR marshalled similar efforts of their own. On July 14, Gimlet’s Reply All dropped an episode containing a guest dispatch by NPR reporter and Politics Podcast cohost Sam Sanders (who, by the way, is an absolute star) that focused on the shooting in Dallas. And in the following two weeks, NPR director of programming Israel Smith coordinated a strong cross-promotion push across the organization’s other podcasts, acutely focusing attention onto the Politics Podcast and its presence on the convention floors.
Key national events like these conventions are essential opportunities for podcasts — or any new medium, really — to prove their worth as possible additions to the world’s wider information architecture, and the onus is on them to make themselves known in times when collective reality feels increasingly distorted.
“I think you build news consumption habits in a year like this,” Baughman said. “It’s a time when you generally want to be more informed than you are.”
An audio newsletter. It’s always a wonder to find a place that’s doing strange and wonderful things.
One such place is Boston public radio station WBUR, which will be launching an experimental 21-day fitness podcast project called The Magic Pill next month. Here’s how it works: People who sign up will receive daily Magic Pill newsletters, with each missive — that can be consumed right off their inbox — containing a short podcast episode that contains exercise tips, stories about fitness, and even some music to get that body movin’. Participants move through three-week-long sequence on their own, as they’re given the ability to initiate the challenge cycle at any time, and their relationship with the podcast will be tightly managed through their interactions with the newsletter.
“In a way, you could call this an audio newsletter,” said Lisa Williams, who holds the title of engagement director at the station. “It’s a real hybrid.”
The challenge is one of the many projects being developed in WBUR’s Public Radio BizLab, a Knight Foundation-funded initiative that seeks to explore possible new business models that can help sustain public radio stations in the future through rigorous experimentation and design. (And let me tell ya’, some of these experiments are fascinating, including a blockchain-powered emerging music library.) The lab is a smart, deeply needed enterprise and, quite frankly, I’m amazed that such a thing exists in the first place.
Like all other BizLab projects, The Magic Pill was designed to answer very specific, testable questions: Could you create a tightly-design podcast experience that plays out within a subscriber’s inbox (as opposed to, say, an RSS feed)? Can the process of creating that experience increase the level of data literacy among the operators at WBUR? And, perhaps most importantly, are listeners who take part in an ongoing experience more likely to donate or become members?
That last question, which focuses on discovering new fundraising avenue within the public radio system, is a crucial pillar for the BizLab initiative. And much of the project designs are guided by tangible, and often frustrating, past experiences. “We did this great project once on Whitey Bulger,” Williams said. “It was just such amazing work, but we didn’t do anything to package it in a way that would get people to support the station more. But when we packaged and sold it as an ebook, about 11,000 people bought it. We left money on the table.” (Interestingly, the ebook, “Whitey on Trial,” is generally available for free, but it’s priced at $1.99 on the Amazon Store — the lowest possible rate — because ebooks can’t be listed there for free.)
When I asked Williams what conversion rates she would consider a success, she guided me to focus more on the balance between outcome and effort. She noted that relatively low conversion rates would still be considered fine, given that the amount of work that goes into making The Magic Pill is significantly less than the huge fundraising efforts that involve heavy participation across the whole station. In Williams’ mind, the emphasis is on the tightness of workflow and a rigor in pushing specific sets of audiences down the fundraising funnel. It is a valiant, refreshing prospect, and I’m curious to see where this goes.
You can sign up for the newsletter here. The Magic Pill project goes live on September 1.
Bumpers. I believe I’ve been on the record before as not particularly enthusiastic about social audio apps and any relevant enterprise that seeks to make podcasts more shareable on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook more broadly. For me, the arguments largely takes two forms: (1) a sense that the rendering of a piece of media into something more shareable threatens to deconstruct, atomize, and commoditize that piece of media for a whole other purpose — and for podcasts, that fundamentally means a stripping it of its original value proposition, and (2) a general feeling that social platforms are universes upon themselves whose activities should be native to the very structures of those platforms. Plus, there’s a whole square peg/round hole bit to such efforts, and I just find it all rather inelegant.
That said, I’ve still made it a point to keep an eye on new social audio apps like Anchor (my write up here) and Rolltape (R.I.P., my write up here) because I figured there’s always something to learn from such experiments.
Which is why I’ve been tracking a new app called Bumpers for some time now and, I have to say, it’s perhaps the audio-oriented app that comes closest to deconstructing and replicating the original value proposition of a podcast. Where apps like Anchor and Rolltape focused on communication, Bumpers firmly trains its eye on creation and expression — and that, I think, is where it gets the association right.
Here’s how it works: Users record a session through the app, which then automatically segments the recording based on sentences that users can stitch together into a podcast (referred to as a bumper within the app’s universe, for obvious reasons) by selecting and sequencing those sentence units into a whole through the app’s rather intuitive mobile audio editing interface (which, goodness, is key to the whole experience). There’s a library of preset sounds that you can throw into the mix, the additions of which greatly influences the feel of the bumper — not unlike, say, how an Instagram filter alters the feel of a picture.
That evocation of Instagram is not accidental. “I think a good analogy is Instagram for podcasts,” said Ian Ownbey, one of Bumpers’ creators, when I asked him to describe the app, which I had trouble articulating. “Instagram’s goal wasn’t to replace professional photographers — it was to let everyone else easily take and share high quality photos.”
Ownbey, who was an early engineer at Twitter and is also responsible for the OneShot app (which I’ve written about in relation to the theory behind screenshorting audio), has been paying close attention to the dynamics of the podcast space to build Bumpers, and thus is privy the complexities associated with the distribution and listener-end of the ecosystem. A lot of those considerations inform the development of the app.
“The problem isn’t solvable as long as the community is fractured over all these different consumption mediums,” he said, reflecting on the distribution question. “Even if I went out and created a consumption client that had the best discoverability in the whole world, it would be impossible to get adoption high enough that it was useful…If all the listening happens in Bumpers itself (or in an embed from bumpers), we can start to solve these problems.”
For now, though, it’s still early days for Bumpers, and so tackling the distribution angle will have to be a future preoccupation. “Creation is our entire focus right now,” Ownbey said.
- A little more on the NPR Politics Podcast: Producer Brent Baughman believes the experience producing the daily convention episodes have given them a roadmap for possible breaking or morning news podcast projects in the future. “Someone’s going to plant the flag on the morning news podcast, and I think it can be us,” he said.
- I am super, super psyched over Castro 2, a new podcasting app that shifts the user experience paradigm in such smart, wonderful ways. (Supertop)
- After the Cleveland Browns, another NFL team has launched their own official podcast: the Baltimore Ravens. (Official Ravens website)
- According to Current, “the audience for NPR’s newsmagazines and its member stations has been growing,” bucking a recent trend. The organization credits the rise to a bunch of different factors — much of them internally driven, but also one that involves a change in how Nielsen collects listening data — but as Tape’s Mickey Capper tweets out, “wouldn’t the main factor be the election?” Be sure to check out the ensuing thread.
- “The (Future) Queens of Podcasting.” (The Ringer)
- This is super cool: “Introducing 1,000 Words, a podcast that describes internet pictures in binaural audio.” (The Verge)
This version of Hot Pod has been adapted for Nieman Lab, where it appears each Tuesday. You can subscribe to the full newsletter here. You can also support Hot Pod by becoming a member, which gets you more news, deeper analysis, and exclusive interviews; more information on the website.
Editor's Note: Eliot Higgins and his citizen journalists at Bellingcat have attracted global attention for their open-source investigations into the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine. In this piece, originally published in First Draft News, he shares his advice for getting started in online research and verification.
Image via Bellingcat
At First Draft, we frequently receive emails from a whole range of people asking how they can start doing the sort of online open-source investigation and verification that they’ve seen us doing. The skills and methodologies used are all something that can be learnt through a little persistence, but here are a few pieces of advice to get you started.Get on Social Media and Take Part
When I first started my work I thought Twitter was a place where celebrities shared photographs of their food. After years of experience I now know that place is in fact Instagram, but to achieve that level of social media mastery I actually had to take the plunge and get on social media.Over the last few years there’s been a growing community of online open-source investigation fanatics on social media.
Joking aside, over the last few years there’s been a growing community of online open-source investigation fanatics on social media sites, and on Twitter in particular. There’s no better way to start learning than by finding some of the people discussing open-source material, and follow those discussions to get a feel for what people are already doing. This Twitter list of various experts and interesting people working in the areas of verification and online open source investigation is a great place to get started.
Once you feel brave enough, you can leap into some of the ongoing discussions with your own ideas, and even begin to build your own reputation among the communities that exist. Just keep in mind some of the groups involved with these discussions are less interested in facts and more interested in pushing an agenda. They are a minority, but they won’t take kindly to anyone applying evidence and logic to their claims.
A great example of where positive discussions can go is the recent ISIS social media campaign which, thanks to Twitter users, ended up being a PR disaster. ISIS supporters across Europe were encouraged to take photographs with the social media campaign’s hashtag on a piece of paper but inadvertently gave away their positions, allowing Twitter users to track down the exact location where each photograph was taken and inform the local police.
— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) May 21, 2016Geolocation, Geolocation, Geolocation
If there’s one skill that I believe is core to verification and online open-source investigations, it’s geolocation. Geolocation is using clues in photographs or videos to find the precise location it was captured, therefore verifying it is in the location claimed by the person sharing it (or finding the location if none is given in the first place).
There are many examples of this in all sorts of investigations, and you’ll often see people on social media sharing their attempts. This will usually take the form of a pair of images: one is the image being geolocated, the other will be satellite imagery of the area, with lots of coloured boxes showing matches.
Start by reading “A Beginner’s Guide to Geolocating Videos”, then check out other articles such as “Stunt Geolocation – Verifying the Unverifiable” and “Searching the Earth: Essential geolocation tools for verification”, and test your skills with First Draft News’ geolocation challenge.Check the Work
Beyond following the chatter on social media, you can also check out the growing number of websites and blogs that are publishing their own online open-source investigations. The conflicts in Syria and Ukraine have produced a number of these sites, and my advice to anyone writing about their open-source investigations is try to include each step of the process you used to come to your conclusions. That means anyone reading your work should be able to follow those steps and arrive at the same conclusions without making any leaps of logic.My advice to anyone writing about their open-source investigations is try to include each step of the process you used to come to your conclusions.
For a beginner this is a good chance to get some practice by reviewing the work of other people, and going through the same process to see if you come to the same conclusions. This doesn’t have to be fact-checking the sort of 50-page reports that Bellingcat produces, but something as small as an individual photograph or video being geolocated. You might find that beyond being able to recreate the investigation you can also discover stuff the original author has failed to notice.Learn How Lucky You Are
When online open-source investigation first became popular there were no online guides or case studies for anyone who wanted to learn how to do it themselves. Since then, Bellingcat, First Draft, and others have produced an ever increasing number of guides, case studies, and how to guides on various aspects of verification and online open source investigation. These cover a wide range of topics, and are perfect for anyone who wants to teach themselves how to do these investigations.
A good place to start is the Verification Handbook, which covers a range of different types of verification and investigation, and is available in multiple languages. From there, check out Bellingcat and First Draft, and take a look at what people are sharing on social media.Just Blog It
When I first began, I found it most useful to turn what I was looking at into a blog post, giving it structure, and giving myself practice at writing these things up. Plenty of websites now allow you to start a blog, and you don’t even have to make the posts public (or share them on social media if you do), but it will give you a chance to see if you can put together a coherent analysis, that explains your findings step by step. If you’re feeling brave you can share these on social media, and begin to build up your own reputation, and build on the skills you’ve learnt.
Following that advice, I suggest you begin by checking out the rest of the First Draft website, and the Bellingcat website which has more investigations and resources for those wanting to learn.
This article was first published in First Draft News and is reprinted with permission. First Draft News is a nonoprofit initiative created and supported by nine member organisations that make up the First Draft Coalition.
Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog. Eliot focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques. He is a visiting research associate at King's College London and Nonresident Senior Fellow.
Civil society groups have been having a tough time in Cambodia.
On 10 July 2016, Cambodian activist and political commentator Kem Ley was shot dead in Phnom Penh, the attack believed to be linked to his work and critical position against the government. A few days before his killing, Kem Ley appeared on a radio show to discuss an exposé by Global Witness that reported on Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family's stranglehold on many key economic sectors in the country.
Colleagues and observers say that Kem Ley was a respected political activist who had worked tirelessly to support grassroots advocacy. The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM) were among the many local non-governmental organisations that condemned Kem Ley's murder, raising concerns over the deteriorating spaces for civil society and deadly attacks against free expression. IFEX members signed a letter calling on the Cambodian government to support civil society and ensure investigations into the killing.
Activist Ou Virak, himself a target of defamation charges by the ruling party for his commentaries in May, tweeted this following reports of Kem Ley's killing:
“It’s going to have a chilling effect, and I don’t think there will be anyone who will replace him any time... https://t.co/GxCKhDlTOs
— Virak Ou (@ouvirak) July 11, 2016
Threats to NGOs and civil society actors have escalated in a number of countries across Asia and the Pacific, among them the arrests of activists opposing the referendum in Thailand andsupporters of the West Papua freedom movement in the Pacific.
The UN Human Rights Council made a strong stand this July as it adopted a resolution calling for more protection for civil society. Among others, the resolution commits states to ensure access to justice and accountability and to end impunity for human rights violations and abuses against civil society actors. International NGOs, including ARTICLE 19, welcomed the resolution.Press Freedom
In India, police raided media offices in Jammu and Kashmir on 16 July and prevented them from printing their newspapers. The ban was put in place after a major anti-India protest following the shooting of a young rebel leader in the disputed region of Kashmir.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the Indian Journalists Union (IJU), strongly condemned the raids and ban, which prevented the public from accessing crucial information, and argued that the moves were unconstitutional.
Online media reported that the ban was lifted after three days, with officials saying it was a mistake, but editors and owners remained uncertain as there were no clear guarantees their operations would not be affected. Read more here.
Shujaat Bukhari of Rising Kashmir, who was affected by the ban tweeted that he was not surprised by the excessive handling of the situation by the authorities:
— Shujaat Bukhari (@bukharishujaat) July 18, 2016Freedom of Expression Laws
While the Philippines president has come under fire for his anti-media stand in relation to impunity and the "endorsement" of extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and drug offenders, he drew applause for announcing an Executive Order for the implementation of freedom of information (FOI). The IFJ said it welcomed the announcement with caution.
— IFJ Asia-Pacific (@ifjasiapacific) July 26, 2016
Both the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) noted that while the Executive Order met a number of the FOI principles, a legislation detailing full disclosure with limited exceptions was still needed.
In Pakistan, civil society groups have expressed concern over the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill that was eventually passed by the Senate on 29 July, as they claim it retains draconian provisions despite the inputs provided to strengthen safeguards and free speech guarantees. The Senate has passed the law with amendments which will now be sent back to the National Assembly for their deliberation.
Digital rights groups like Bytes for All and Digital Rights Foundation say the latest version of the bill ignored civil society inputs on matters such as surveillance, impact on free speech and the unclear definitions of hate speech.
— Shahzad Ahmad (@sirkup) July 27, 2016
Senators who had worked closely with civil society managed to include amendments to the law to ensure judicial and parliamentary oversights.
Still an imperfect #CyberCrimeBill but standing committee and other senators added 53 amendments adding unprecedented parliament oversight
— SenatorSherryRehman (@sherryrehman) July 29, 2016Reports
The Hong Kong Journalists Association released its annual report for the period ending June 2016, noting major setbacks to press freedom in Hong Kong as a result of the "spillover to Hong Kong of mainland Chinese ideological control."
The report investigates the ways in which mainland China under the leadership of Xi Jinping has increased controls over the island's media and the increase of online news websites to counter critics of pro-establishment media.
In relation to this trend, the Committee to Protect Journalists expects that the new director of the Cyberspace Administration of China – Xu Lin – will tighten the government's grip on the country's information and internet controls, including online news sites.
— PENamerican (@PENamerican) July 25, 2016
This story originally was published by IFEX, the global free expression network, and is reprinted with permission.
Gayathry Venkiteswaran is a PHD Candidate at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus where she focuses on media reforms in Southeast Asia. She is also part-time content curator for Asia and the Pacific for IFEX. She is former executive director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.
The Wall Street Journal is changing up its paywall, offering guest passes and expanded link-sharing on social
The Wall Street Journal’s proposition has, for many years, been clear: Pay for our journalism, including online.
Many do: The Journal recently hit 948,000 digital-only subscribers, according to owner News Corp, and it’s nudging its way toward the internal goal of 3 million subscribers across all of parent publisher Dow Jones’ properties by 2017.
But as a business-focused publication, the Journal has an affluent readership, and subscriptions are expensive, even with introductory offers or summer sales. With most of its stories under lock and key, casual readers have limited opportunity to try out Journal content, especially when paywall changes that catch the attention of these non-subscribing readers are tests to further tighten up access.
Now the Journal is trying to make its paywall neither stricter nor leakier, but bendier. It’s now testing 24-hour guest passes for non-subscribers, an offer that pops up when readers access a story shared by a subscriber or a Journal staffer. (If you don’t enter your email address, you just get to read the one story.) Down the line, the Journal may also be testing other time increments for the guest passes.
It’s also opening up opportunities for subscribers and members, as well as Journal staffers themselves, to share full articles for free through social media. If you click on any link shared by sportswriter Jason Gay, for instance, you’ll now definitely be able to read the story. These more significant paywall tweaks were first implemented last Friday, informed by experiments with distribution over the past several years, according to Dow Jones chief customer officer Katie Vanneck-Smith. (I asked about experiments like the closing of the Google search loophole, but she declined to go into specifics about previous tests but said in general tests have helped grow the Journal’s paying subscriber base.)
“We’ve been successful at having a digital paywall, but we haven’t innovated it in a number of years,” Vanneck-Smith said. “Now we’re making sure that instead of a one-size-fits-all approach for customer groups, we have a more sophisticated approach that’s dependent on customers and the stories they’re previously reading.”
— Elizabeth Bernstein (@EBernsteinWSJ) August 8, 2016
“Everything our journalists and members share through social channels will act as an invitation and is the beginning of a personalized journey for the guest member,” Vanneck-Smith said. Depending on the reading profile of each referred guest, the recommendations and offers will vary — if I’m always coming to the Journal for earnings reports, for instance, I might start getting directed to specific relevant newsletters. “In some instances, we won’t know anything. This may be our first contact. Where we have a profile of a customer coming in, be that through first- or third-party data, if they have read on the site before, we will know the stories that appeal to them, and we will make sure they’re aware of all the great things they’re missing out on by not being a member of the Journal.”
Such personalization and recommendation tactics might be Marketing 101, Vanneck-Smith said, but paywalls of so many media outlets are relatively “blunt tools,” whether hard or metered. With its new change, the Journal is taking the line that the best way to add long-term subscribers is through referrals from other Journal readers and Journal reporters. (Not every paid news site is using a blunt instrument, of course. Tech site The Information allows subscribers to share a story with non-subscribers — provided they enter an email address. The Financial Times has seen success with paid trial subscriptions.) The Journal’s now expanded social sharing doesn’t mean it’s deferring to social media, Vanneck-Smith said, emphasizing that the company’s overall distributed content strategy has still been a very cautious one.
“The destination has become a very hard place to protect,” she said. “The big players — the Facebooks, the Googles — have in many ways become the default for many customers. As publishers, our job is to strike a balance between understanding how we protect the destination that is our brand, and also work with the consumer behavior of using distributed platforms as a gateway into news and information, and into the wider web.”
While other major publishers have flocked to Facebook’s Instant Articles and its heavily promoted livestreaming feature, News Corp has made no deals so far with Facebook to use Facebook Live. It deliberately publishes only its technology stories to Instant Articles, having found that to be a good “warmup” to paid subscriptions. And while the Journal has a seemingly out-of-place channel in Snapchat Discover, Vanneck-Smith reiterated that the Snapchat partnership was a “longterm play,” and that it, too can’t be ruled out as an eventual avenue to subscriptions.
“We’re still a destination. The Journal will always be a destination,” she said.
Photo of a hole in the wall by jasleen_kaur used under a Creative Commons license.
PHILADELPHIA — Political candidates should not “depend on large contributions from the wealthy and the powerful,” Democrats on Monday declared while kicking off their national convention.
But the rest of the week made this clear: Democrats have a light year to go before ever reaching that goal.
Banners decorating lampposts along major thoroughfares carried the names of top convention sponsors, such as Comcast, AT&T and Amalgamated Bank.
Corporations such as oil giant Chevron sponsored state delegation lunches.
And the swank lobby of the Ritz-Carlton, with its marble columns and soaring, domed ceiling, was packed all week with the Democrats’ most stalwart bankrollers.
The irony wasn’t lost on anyone.
At the Ritz, which housed elite contributors, donors mingled with lawmakers, shaking hands and greeting their benefactors and other acquaintances.
A long line of dark SUVs lined the sidewalk outside the Ritz, waiting to ferry deep-pocketed contributors from luncheons to cocktail hours to special briefings with top officials.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, while surveying the Ritz lobby, said he and many other lawmakers live a “dual existence.”
By day, Wyden said, he crafts and fights for legislation that would require more disclosure and transparency in campaign finance and reduce the influence of big donors.
And then, he said, “my staff sends me home at 7 or 8 o’clock at night with a bunch of call sheets to call people on the West Coast … and I’m calling with my little tin cup out.”
“After you’ve done that for a couple of hours you want to drown yourself in the bathtub.”
Reform the system, just not tonight
Both U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agitated during the Democratic presidential primaries against the unbridled influence of money on the political process.
Sanders and Clinton have, for example, both called for the overturning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the door to unlimited political spending by corporations, unions and other special interests.
But the Democrats’ week in Philadelphia also highlighted other, more traditional avenues of big-money influence that have made a comeback of sorts during 2016.
Democrats this election cycle reversed an Obama-era ban on accepting lobbyist and corporate political action committee contributions for use by the Democratic National Committee and Democratic National Convention. Freed from restriction, professional political influencers may fully participate in a parade of perks, parties and access opportunities.
Lobbyist Tony Podesta, whose brother, John Podesta, is Clinton’s campaign chairman, hosted brunches on Monday and Tuesday for clients and friends at Barbuzzo’s, a chic Mediterranean restaurant downtown. The bar was laden with marcona almonds, prosciutto and other goodies. Attendants passed pan-seared gnocchi and meatballs in polenta.
On Tuesday night, law and lobbying firm Dentons welcomed guests to a reception at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, the home of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Two former heads of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean and Joe Andrew, held court as guests noshed on sliders and sipped drinks from the open bar.
Hillary Action Fund, a joint fundraising committee that raises money for Clinton’s campaign and for the Democratic National Committee, feted donors at a Tuesday night reception at Reading Terminal Market, a trendy, bustling food hall next to the Pennsylvania Convention Center offering everything from Chinese food to chocolate-covered pretzels and — for that particular event — former President Bill Clinton.
On Wednesday night, law and lobbying firm DLA Piper hosted an intimate dinner at Del Frisco’s, a tony steakhouse downtown that boasts interior balconies and a three-story wine tower.
On Thursday morning, big donors to the Democratic Party’s Senate campaign arm trickled into the same Del Frisco’s, this time for a brunch celebrating retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
The brunch itself was up a short flight of stairs that were framed by enlarged black-and-white photographs of Reid as a young boxer.
Super PACs and outside political groups also made Philadelphia their playground.
Corporate sponsors also courted convention delegates at every turn — although not always with the luxurious touches afforded to lawmakers or prominent influence peddlers.
“Yesterday, I ate a lunch at a Pennsylvania delegation lunch that was sponsored by Chevron,” said Daniel Doubet, a Pennsylvania delegate from Erie.
Doubet, who is an organizer for Keystone Progress, an organization that campaigns for progressive policies in Pennsylvania, said he would like to see a system of public financing for campaigns and conventions.
But on Tuesday, he ate the cheese steaks and pasta, because “I’ll do what I have to do to survive” and attending the convention is expensive.
The 'unilateral disarmament' argument
Campaign finance reform advocates, political donors and current and former members of Congress acknowledge the tension between the money-in-politics policies Democrats advocate for and how they conduct themselves at events like the Democratic National Convention.
But most chalk it up to political necessity. Several of them parroted liberals’ favorite campaign finance trope — Democrats can’t be expected to unilaterally disarm in a world of super PACs and secret money — and insisted Democrats must play by existing rules until those rules change.
“As it is now, you operate by one set of rules that incentivizes behavior that involves getting large gifts from donors,” said Nick Nyhart, the president and CEO of Every Voice, a group that advocates for campaign finance reform.
The answer, he said, is to make sure candidates publicly commit to changing it.
Sandy Newman, head of Voices for Progress, another group that advocates for money in politics reform, said, “No one should expect Democrats supporting reform to fight with one hand tied behind their backs by restricting their own fundraising while the other side is fighting a no-holds barred attack with big guns.”
Democrats “will continue to fight for campaign reform and citizen-funded elections while Republicans will work to further erode our campaign finance laws,” said millionaire investor Sean Eldridge, who himself ran for Congress in New York in 2014.
Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts said it was important to elect Clinton because, as president, she could nominate a Supreme Court justice who would “overturn Citizens United and all the other bad decisions that freed up money from any restriction.”
The Democrats’ official party platform endorses a “small donor matching public financing system.” It also calls for Citizens United to be overturned, as well as a 1976 Supreme Court case called Buckley v. Valeo that voided some campaign spending limits enacted following Watergate on First Amendment grounds.
In contrast, the Republican Party’s main campaign finance reform-related platform plank calls for raising or eliminating political contribution limits altogether.
"Overturning Citizens United is not going to solve the problem of money in politics," said Jonathan Soros, son of billionaire financier George Soros, a top Democratic funder who has so far given $7 million to the main pro-Clinton super PAC this election, but reportedly plans to spend upward of $25 million aiding her and other Democratic candidates and groups.
A major Democratic donor in his own right, Jonathan Soros in 2012 helped create the Friends of Democracy super PAC, which aimed to “stop the power of big money.” He has also called for the adoption of public funding systems based on the government matching people’s small-dollar contributions to political candidates.
Raising money ‘at every level possible’
Other left-leaning donors say they, too, are supporting candidates who they believe will change the current system for the better.
For now, said donor Laetitia Garriott de Cayeux, the founder of Entrepreneurs for Hillary and a member of the campaign’s national finance committee, “we do what we can to raise at every level possible.” She highlighted the campaign’s efforts to give donors who raise as little as $45 access to events.
Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, with his wife, is the top individual donor at the federal level this cycle, according to campaign finance data tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics. They’ve together given more than $31 million, nearly all of it to NextGen Climate Action Fund, the super PAC Steyer founded.
Steyer, in an interview with the Center for Public Integrity after a panel event sponsored by NextGen Climate on Wednesday in Philadelphia, said big money in politics is “a huge problem.”
"But we also understand that these are the rules right now,” he said. “And so we’re participating in a system, and we’re trying to do it in a very transparent way, not hiding anything that we’re doing.”
Daniel Simon, a New York City-based donor who advises Voices for Progress, said Democrats have attempted to sponsor legislation calling for campaign finance disclosure and reform. Meanwhile, Republicans have done everything they can in an attempt to block it, Simon said.
Simon, who took the train from New York to Philadelphia to attend party events for donors held during the convention, said lawmakers often bring up how much they dislike having to spend so much time fundraising.
“I believe this is a bad system, but I also think that this is the system we have until we have the votes to change it,” he said.
Until then, the high-dollar hobnobbing among those in power and those who seek access to it continues.
On Thursday night, after Clinton ceremonially accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, three super PACs — Senate Majority PAC, which works to win a Democratic Senate majority; House Majority PAC, which does the same for Democratic House candidates; and Priorities USA Action, which supports Clinton’s presidential bid — co-hosted a “unity concert” featuring rapper and event headliner Snoop Dogg.
Together, the super PACs have already raised money into the nine-figure range.
This story was co-published with PRI.
Reaction to the EU referendum result in three British national newspapers immediately after the vote was overall negative towards Brexit, according to a review of articles published in daily print titles, the Daily Mail, The Telegraph and the Guardian. Even the Daily Mail and The Telegraph, which had enthusiastically backed the Leave campaign before the vote, had a neutral, “pragmatic” response.
Of the 489 articles about Brexit that appeared across the three papers (including Sunday editions) between 25 June and 1 July, the highest number (39%) were negative towards the UK’s vote to leave the EU, 34% of articles were neutral and 27% were positive.
The cautious coverage reflected that the vote to leave the UK was unexpected, even among pro-Brexit newspapers. It was not a time to ‘gloat’, according to one, but a time for ‘sober, realistic’ reporting. Commercial priorities also influenced editorial decisions. Newspapers admit to being reluctant to alienate readers who voted Remain, at a time when the UK was deeply divided over the result.
The review of UK newspapers, part of a wider study conducted by the European Journalism Observatory, looked at three questions: how Brexit would impact Britain; How Brexit would impact the EU and whether the EU was better off with, or without Britain as a member.
Pro-Leave newspapers uncertain whether Brexit ‘good for Britain’
Most of the Brexit-related articles that appeared in the UK newspapers after the referendum focussed on how Brexit would impact Britain. The Daily Mail published 50 (30%) articles arguing Brexit would be ‘good for Britain’ in the seven days of the study, The Telegraph published 52 (38%) – the Guardian published six (3%). Articles that concerned whether Brexit would be ‘good’ for Britain were coded as positive when they included language and phrases such as ’this will strengthen Britain’s economy’, ‘Britain can now choose who it trades with’; ‘no more EU migration quotas’, ‘Britain can now control its own borders’, ‘Britain regaining its sovereignty’ etc.
However, the Guardian published 113 articles (56%) arguing the opposite – that Brexit would be bad for Britain. These articles contained headline or phrases/language such as ‘the pound will weaken’, ‘investors will pull out’, ‘businesses will leave the UK’, ‘unemployment will rise’, ‘racism will increase’, ‘this will widen divisions in society’ etc. The Mail often agreed. It published 25 articles (19%) indicating that Brexit would be bad for Britain in the seven days studied; The Telegraph published 18 (10%), with 81 (46%) neutral.
Is Brexit bad or good for the EU?
On the question of Brexit’s impact on the EU: the Guardian argued that Brexit was ‘bad’ for the EU (10% of total number of Brexit articles). The Mail had no articles arguing it was bad for the EU (perhaps reflecting its mainly domestic coverage) and The Telegraph had four articles (2%). ‘Brexit is bad for EU’ articles included language such as Brexit will ’cause economic chaos in Europe’ or ‘threaten peace in Europe’, or ‘this is a victory for right-wing extremists’, ‘Brexit will increase divisions in between Europe’s rich and poor’ etc).
Does the EU need Britain?
On the question of whether the EU as an institution would benefit from Britain’s departure The Telegraph had an equal number of articles arguing that the EU would be better off (four articles) and worse off (four articles) without Britain. In one, Peter Foster, Europe Editor, wrote on June 26: “Angela Merkel made no attempt to evade the seriousness of the situation, admitting candidly that the departure of the world’s fifth largest economy and key Nato contributor was a “blow” to the European unification process that could not be ignored.”
The Guardian had three articles arging that Britain was a key member of the EU and no articles saying the EU would be better off without Britain. The Daily Mail was slightly more convinced that the EU needs Britain to succeed, although the number of articles was low (four articles argued this, compared to three against).
Language and phrases such as ‘Britain was blocking EU integration’, ‘Britain was considered the naughty school child of Europe’ were judged as pro-Brexit, while those that argued that Britain was a key member of the EU and important to its success were judged anti-Brexit.
Proceed with caution
The Telegraph’s neutral coverage in the days after the referendum reflected an editorial decision to “proceed with caution”, according to a source at that newspaper. “It would have been wrong to start gloating and saying ‘we told you so’. It was a momentous event and we had to treat it seriously.
“We were pro-brexit before the referendum but we were also pragmatic, we wanted to put both sides of the argument to our readers. The pragmatic attitude continued after the vote. While the newspaper believed leaving the EU was best for Britain, the result had divided the nation and we felt strongly it had to come back together. The decision had been taken and we needed to make sure the next step was right.”
The Telegraph did not want to alienate readers who voted to remain. “We had to carry the 48% of the population and the 30% of our subscribers, who were anti-Brexit, with us. So our editorial decisions were based on narrow commercial interest and a feeling that a sober, realistic approach was best for the country,” the source told the EJO.
Anti-Brexit newspapers have also had to review their editorial stance following the result. While the Guardian shows few signs of changing its views, (on August 14 its sister paper the Observer wrote about the “big, bad, lonely world beyond Brexit” where “predators of many varieties roam”), the EJO understands the Financial Times, which also supported Remain, has recently decided it needs to take a less negative, more constructive editorial approach towards Brexit.
Immediately after the vote some newspapers started talking about compromise. Coverage was characterised by an attitude of ‘lets sort this out’. Ambrose Evans Pritchard, commented in The Telegraph: “Remainers and Liberal leavers, to use a loose term are suddenly on the same side.”
All newspapers reported post-vote divisions between pro and anti-Brexit voters. Those who voted to remain in the EU accused those who voted ‘Leave’ of being “xenophobes”, while ‘Leavers’ accused the approximately four million people who signed a petition asking for a review of the outcome of the vote of being “elitist” and “spoilt”.
One feature of the Brexit events was that key players were either former journalists still writing columns (Michael Gove and Boris Johnson) or related to or married to journalists. Michael Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine writes a column in the Daily Mail and Boris Johnson’s sister, Rachael Johnson also writes for the Daily Mail.
This meant the public debate between the two sides often appeared personal. In her column, Sarah Vine often wrote about behind-the-scenes details of the Leave campaign, including her own views about the way the ‘Remainers’ dealt with losing the vote: “[they] are used to getting their own way and their rage is shocking,” she wrote.
Rachel Johnson, Boris’s sister and a “Remainer” described the referendum result as a “peasants revolt”. “This still feels wrong in my stomach,” Johnson wrote. “Leavers are take control freaks.”
Many of the anti-Brexit articles published after the referendum focused on the rise of racist attacks and abuse. Newspapers mostly agreed this was a negative impact of Brexit, (one Guardian headline ran: ‘A frenzy of hatred – how to understand Brexit racism’).
In the second half of the period studied, a high number of articles about the internal politics of the Conservative and Labour parties were published. These were only counted in this review if they specifically mentioned Brexit and many were judged neutral.
During and after the Brexit campaign a number of national newspapers, including the Mail and The Telegraph were reported to the The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) accused of misleading , biased coverage.
IPSO received a particularly high number of complaints about coverage in the Daily Express, a tabloid newspaper not included in the EJO’s review. It ran a series of negative, very prominent front page stories about migrants in the weeks leading to the referendum.
While tabloids were accused of being one-sided, many complained the BBC was too balanced. Ivor Gabor, professor of journalism at the University of Sussex believes the BBC misjudged its Brexit coverage. In an article Bending Over Backwards, the BBC and the Brexit Campaign, Gabor echoed the view of many when he wrote: “The problem was that virtually every BBC radio and television news bulletins that I heard or watched contained a format of ‘balanced’ news that was stupefyingly predictable. A claim by the Remain or Leave campaign was automatically contradicted by a rebuttal from the other side. First, it made for tedious listening and viewing, second, it probably left much of the audience confused and third left them vulnerable to simplistic slogans.”
Are Britain’s newspapers still influential?
Does it matter what newspapers think any more? Not really, according to Stig Abell, a former managing editor of The Sun newspaper, writing in the New York Times recently. Abell, now editor of the Times Literary Supplement, argued that Britain’s decision to leave the EU could be regarded as a “final, Pyrrhic victory for British print journalism” and that the country’s “fiercely partisan, predominantly right-wing newspapers” had both fed and responded to the anti-immigration and pro-nationalist mood in Britain in the run-up to the referendum.
The widely unexpected vote to leave the EU might have caused some British newspapers, already struggling with declining circulations and revenues, to reflect more deeply on its likely impact upon the press itself. Recent predictions that Brexit could cause a further reduction of £200m in media advertising revenue may also have had a sobering effect on post-Brexit coverage.
The study was part of Will it Kill Us, Or Make Us Stronger? – a review of opinion-forming print newspapers in 14 countries across Europe and the US. Newspapers, chosen to represent a broad range of political views, were analysed in Albania, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Switzerland, Ukraine, the US and the UK.
Coding for this journalistic collaborative research was based on the predominant theme that framed each article. Each was judged according to a pre-determined coding criteria as either negative (anti-Brexit), positive (pro-Brexit) or neutral. Questions were: the impact of Brexit upon the EU, whether the EU was better off with, or without Britain and also on the perceived impact of Brexit upon the UK.
pics: Graphic: Sara Bellicini;
Main pic: Flickr Creative Commons, Duncan C
Guardian and Telegraph front pages – screenshots
The post ‘Proceed With Caution’: How Three UK Newspapers Covered The Brexit Result appeared first on European Journalism Observatory - EJO.