A brief sketch of the “full stack” (intellectually speaking…) news and information company.

Meaning: it has its own way of doing things, its own ideas about what is worth doing, and it implements them from end to end.

21 Jan 2015 6:04 pm 12 Comments

I was talking to a media executive the other day and he mentioned his ambition to create a “full stack” company. This is a software term. Full stack refers to the different layers of tech that when combined make for a workable product. A full stack developer is competent at all these levels, from server technology to user experience. According to this Chris Dixon’s post, a “full stack start-up” is one that tries to control all the interlocking pieces. He names Buzzfeed and Netflix as two examples of successful full stack companies.

“Suppose you develop a new technology that is valuable to some industry,” Dixon writes. “The old approach was to sell or license your technology to the existing companies in that industry. The new approach is to build a complete, end-to-end product or service that bypasses existing companies.” A full stack start-up can “completely control the customer experience, and capture a greater portion of the economic benefits.” The hard part is that you have to be good at so many different things:

Software, hardware, design, consumer marketing, supply chain management, sales, partnerships, regulation, etc. The good news is that if you can pull this off, it is very hard for competitors to replicate so many interlocking pieces. (More on Dixon’s concept.)

As I listened to my media executive talk about owning the content management system, and the content itself, and the analytics tool that tells you how users are interacting with it, and the user experience layer, I thought: “full stack company… what a great metaphor.”

So let’s do that: Let’s push the metaphor. OriginalPancakesImagine a newsroom and information company, a journalism site, that is full stack, intellectually speaking. Meaning: it has its own way of doing things and thinking things, its own ideas about what is worth doing, and it implements them from end to end. From defining the editorial mission to deciding what constitutes “news” to designing the look and feel. Instead of borrowing what the industry does, it makes these products itself, and not just at one layer of the enterprise, but at all the “thought” layers.

Bear with me as I try to explain.

Grantland: what is the niche? You tell me! You can’t say “sports” because it’s more than sports. You can’t say “popular culture” because it’s so heavily grounded in sports. It’s more like: sports, plus what shows up when you map the gravitational pull of sports. That’s the niche. But that niche isn’t borrowed from anyone. The industry didn’t make it. Grantland made it. This is the beginning of a full stack company in news: not a borrowed beat, but an original one.

ProPublica: what is the mission? Not to be “the number one provider and news and information” in blah, blah, blah region. Not: everything you need to know about… Or “all the news that’s…” No. It’s more tightly defined than that:

Our work focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with “moral force.” We do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.

From whom is that statement of purpose rented? No one! They made it themselves. “Journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong” is a piece of pressthink original to the editors and reporters at ProPublica. People who work for the Associated Press or the Washington Post might like to think that they got into the business to “shine a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong,” but that is not how their responsibilities are defined.

So imagine if every (intellectual) layer in the newsroom “stack” were made that way: original to the editors and reporters involved. What would that even look like? Here it helps to imagine the extreme opposite, where every layer of coverage is derived from the industry standard, from current practice, from the way things have always been done, from what others are thinking or will soon think. Pack journalism, in other words.

A good example is Bloomberg’s new politics vertical. It’s almost impossible to find a more consensus mind than the mind of Mark Halperin, co-managing editor of Bloomberg Politics. (With an annual salary said to be north of $1 million.) His stock-in-trade is conventional wisdom, packaged for easy consumption. Halperin is like the first essential layer in a “collapsed stack” newsroom: the guy you would go out and get if you wanted to do exactly what everyone else would later think of doing.

The “full stack” (intellectually speaking) newsroom is populated by anti-Halperins: People who have their own ideas about what is worth covering. They command beats and produce stories that don’t obey pre-existing industry categories. The mission is different, too. The sections of a full stack news site will section off the news in a way you isn’t familiar to you from your grandfather’s newspaper. In a full stack newsroom, the code of conduct that prescribes and proscribes what individual journalists can do contains a lot of original programming— different from what students might learn in a typical J-school.

My point is: if you want to succeed in news and information provision, a smart play is to go “full stack” on all your competitors, intellectually speaking. That means defining the beat the way no one else defines it, and coming up with a mission that differs from the industry standard. If you’re not willing to go it alone, your best bet is to admit to this up front and then compete for scoops with dozens of others who are trying to score in the same way that you are trying to score. If that’s your game, then own it.

Photo credit: Jack and Jason’s Pancakes.

 

A (brief) banking theory of newsroom trust.

The less help you give me in the tricky act of extending my trust to you, the more likely you are to wind up with a negative balance.

16 Jan 2015 7:11 pm 14 Comments

In this short post I want to clear something up about how trust operates in a news operation. I am going to use examples from the New York Times, which is risky — because the Times is singular — but I don’t believe the calculus is much different at the Los Angles Times, the Times of India or the Times of Trenton in Central New Jersey.

I will introduce a quick “banking” theory of trust, in which some acts of publishing deposit trust in the newsroom bank, while others are more revenue neutral and still others draw trust from previous deposits. To frame the same point another way, some decisions that editors make put stress on accumulated reserves of trust, while others add to those reserves. From this point of view, trust — credibility! — is not something you have or don’t have as a news provider. Rather, the way you operate can build up or draw down the “reserves” of trust.

Let me sketch three simplified trust scenarios, not because they represent the full range of possibilities but only to get the basic point across. They are presented in order: from most transparent to most opaque, and therefore from trust-producing to trust-consuming.

1. “Don’t take our word for it. Judge for yourself.”

This is when a news organization renders a judgment, and then provides the users with the tools and information to “check” that judgment by conducting essentially the same operation themselves. If I summarize what Senator Rand Paul said on ‘Face the Nation’ this week, and then link to the transcript so you can assess for yourself whether my summary is fair and accurate, I’m not asking you to take my word for it. I’m allowing you to discover on your own how faithful my summary is to the original. If my paraphrase is tendentious, you have everything you need to find me out and dock me points for distorting what Senator Paul said. But if my description is confirmed by the transcript I showed you, that’s points for me.

This is what I mean by a trust deposit. The manner in which the news is presented allows for trust to accumulate in the presenter. A good example from the New York Times is this feature by the Upshot: who will win the Senate? It’s a forecasting model. Not only does the Times show its work by linking to the code and data on Github, but it also allows users to create their own forecast. Here, the Times is so confident in its calculations, it allows readers to re-run those calculations and compare what they get to what the Times concluded.

That’s trust-building— unless, of course, you’ve cooked the books. Then it can be devastating. Which is another way of saying: there is risk in being transparent.

2. “We had to make a call. Here is our reasoning.”

A busy news operation is full of judgment calls. That is what editors get paid to do. Wise editors will explain themselves when their judgment is called into question. If they level with the users (readers, viewers, listeners) and lay out their reasoning, they won’t satisfy or convince everyone, but they can at least achieve a “trust neutral” result. Meaning: we can see how the decision was made, even if we do not agree with it.

A good example is Times editor Dean Baquet’s recent decision not to publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Lots of disagreement about that. But through the intervention of the public editor, Margaret Sullivan, Baquet had to explain himself, which is good.

Mr. Baquet told me that he started out the day Wednesday convinced that The Times should publish the images, both because of their newsworthiness and out of a sense of solidarity with the slain journalists and the right of free expression.

He said he had spent “about half of my day” on the question, seeking out the views of senior editors and reaching out to reporters and editors in some of The Times’s international bureaus. They told him they would not feel endangered if The Times reproduced the images, he told me, but he remained concerned about staff safety.

“I sought out a lot of views, and I changed my mind twice,” he said. “It had to be my decision alone.”

Ultimately, he decided against it, he said, because he had to consider foremost the sensibilities of Times readers, especially its Muslim readers. To many of them, he said, depictions of the prophet Muhammad are sacrilegious; those that are meant to mock even more so. “We have a standard that is long held and that serves us well: that there is a line between gratuitous insult and satire. Most of these are gratuitous insult.”

“At what point does news value override our standards?” Mr. Baquet asked. “You would have to show the most incendiary images” from the newspaper; and that was something he deemed unacceptable.

Even after this, a great many users are going to find themselves in tension with the New York Times over its judgment call. But they are able to see what the reasoning is. They know it was considered carefully. This I am calling trust neutral. No deposit, no withdrawal.

3. “Look, you’re just going to have to trust us.”

When the newsroom can’t provide the data and tools so that we can re-run the experiment and see what we get, when it can’t explain its reasoning so that even if we disagree we can see where the editors are coming from, when it has to conceal how it came to its conclusions and simply gesture at the complications involved without permitting us to enter into them… under conditions like these, the operation is drawing on deposits of trust put there by earlier acts of journalism that turned out to be trust-worthy.

Two examples from this recent front-page story in the Times:

American counterterrorism officials said on Wednesday that they now believed that Chérif Kouachi, the younger brother, was the aggressor in the attacks — not Saïd Kouachi, the older brother, as they first thought — but that Saïd may also have traveled to Yemen, as American and French authorities have said.

Who are these officials? We don’t know. What evidence leads them to this conclusion? We don’t know. That’s “trust us” journalism. Risky, in a different way.

A member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who spoke to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity, said the joint timing of the two operations was a result of the friendship between Mr. Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers, not of common planning between the Qaeda group and the Islamic State.

Wait: an Al Qaeda source was granted anonymity? How did that happen? From this account we do not know. What makes the Times think this source speaks for Al Qaeda? Again, we don’t know. “Look, you’re just going to have to trust us.” That’s a withdrawal slip.

By operating this way, the Times is drawing on the reserves of trust built up by operating in a more transparent and believable fashion on other occasions. For if we are to trust the account, we have little to go on that is given by the account itself. If it materializes at all, our trust draws on previous reportage by the Times that earned our trust.

I’m not questioning whether the Times has a track record that can be trusted. In many ways it does. I’m trying to point out that some news stories put a heavy strain on the trust I extend to the Times, while others add to that feeling of confidence. Smart editors will avoid putting undue strain on my trust— like when anonymity is extended to sources for trivial reasons.

As it happens, the public editor took a look at this story, as well. And the editors tried to say: “Here is our reasoning.” Standards editor Philip B. Corbett explained:

“It is not as if we are allowing Al Qaeda to spew propaganda or make threats,” Mr. Corbett said. He told me that “the bar is set very high” for using any such information and that it requires particular skepticism and efforts to corroborate.

The bar is set high, but we don’t find out what those special efforts were. So this is “you’re just going to have to trust us…” in slightly different form.

The banking theory of newsroom trust draws attention to the fact that some acts of journalism are easier to trust in than others. The harder you make it for us to trust you, the more likely you are to wind up with a negative balance. The solution is to build up your reserves by operating in a transparent fashion most of the time. In other words: Journalists, show your work.

When to quit your journalism job

When the sales people are happy to sell what the newsroom is happy to make, there you have a well-run editorial company. So measure your own newsroom's misery by its distance from that (ideal) state.

19 Dec 2014 2:46 pm 78 Comments

These notes were inspired by recent events at the New Republic and First Look Media, articles like this one, and some not-for-publication talks I’ve had lately with young staffers who were troubled by what they saw happening at their place of employment. They also build on this series of tweets about “product” and on conversations I have with my students all the time.

1. If you work in any kind of editorial organization, it is your job to understand the business model. If you feel you can’t do that, you should quit. By “understand the business model,” I mean you can (confidently) answer this question: What is the plan to bring in enough money to sustain the enterprise and permit it to grow? Can’t answer? You have the wrong job.

2. If your instinct is to say, “that’s the business side’s problem,” sorry: your instinct is wrong. That whole way of talking, in which the business “side” takes care of the business model so the journalists can just do their journalism… that’s wrong, too. It’s infantilizing you. The more you believe it, the more likely you are to be placed at the kids table— organizationally speaking. And properly so, because you’re a dependent.

3. The business model is not the business only of the business “side” (a wretched metaphor) because a vital part of any such model is the way in which the editorial staff creates value, earns audience, wins mind share, generates influence, builds brand. These are the sorts of goods a good sales staff sells. It’s your job to understand the business model, because you have to know what kind of good you’re being asked to create, or you won’t be any good at creating it.

4. Take Politico. One part of its business model is a print edition distributed for free on Capitol Hill, but only when Congress is in session. Those who have business before Congress advertise to reach the people who work on Capitol Hill, especially the ones who work for members of Congress. The famous “metabolism” of the Politico newsroom and its “all politics, all the time” coverage make it a must-read among Washington insiders, which Congressional staffers aspire to be. The editorial staff creates value by being relentlessly “inside” DC politics. (Which is also what makes Politico so annoying to outsiders.) The sales staff — get ready for a word you hate — then monetizes the newsroom’s creation by selling ads in the print edition.

5. If either staff misunderstands the other’s work, Politico is in grave trouble. But Politico is not in grave trouble. It is expanding, conquering new worlds— lately, it’s Brussels and the EU. The journalists who work there understand what kind of value they’re being asked to create. The sales people are happy to sell what the newsroom is happy to make. This describes a well-founded and well-run editorial company. So measure your newsroom’s misery by its distance from that (ideal) state.

6. Speaking of words you hate: get over it. Understanding the business model may require you to learn some terms to which you don’t immediately cotton. BFD. Since when are journalists allowed to back away from language they don’t instantly understand? That was never the deal. If you report on corporate finance, you can’t say: don’t give me this debt-to-equity bullshit. No way. It’s your job to understand what is meant by these terms. That requirement doesn’t disappear just because it’s your own business at stake.

7. When I see journalists throw up their hands at new media or Silicon Valley “buzzwords,” I smile. Because my students aren’t permitted to do that, and they’re going to eat your lunch. I teach them to find out what terms like pivot, native advertising, microtargeting, value-added and, yes, “vertical integration” mean. They aren’t allowed to cry “buzzword!” unless they understand what was originally intended by the phrase before it was degraded by overuse or picked up by poseurs. If they blanche at the word “brand” I make fun of them.

8. “Product” is one of those terms. What technology people mean by product is something editorial types have to learn. Product is the built thing that users actually interact with, which includes the front-end technology, the editorial content, any ads or commercial material that users encounter, plus the experience of using the thing. It’s all that. When Steve Jobs said design is not how it looks, design is how it works… he was talking about products.

9. In tech, “what should the product be?” is a hard question, and the answer is constantly shifting as technology advances, platforms rise and fall, and user behavior shifts. What works keeps changing, so you have to keep asking yourself “what should the product be?” For journalists, “what should the product be?” is an easy question to answer. The product should be great journalism! Break news, lead the pack on big stories, find brilliant writers and pay them so they don’t go to someone else. That’s how you make a great product. It’s hard to do, but easy to define.

10. Make fun of Buzzfeed and Vox all you want (though I would advise against it.) One thing those companies have accomplished: everyone is on the same page about product. This is a huge advantage for them. For if the tech people keep using “product” the way they define it, and the journalism people hear it the way they understand it, the news organization that employs those people will eventually come to grief. So if you work in a company like that, I have a link for you.

11. There is a person who is supposed to prevent that. Traditionally, that person is called “the editor.” Nothing has yet been invented to take The Editor’s place, so if your site doesn’t have one — which is said to be the case at boston.com — your site is dysfunctional. Most people think The Editor’s job is to hire, fire and supervise the editorial staff, set standards, direct coverage and be the final word on what is published. And that’s correct, but there is more.

12. The Editor has to come to a clear agreement with the publisher and commercial staff on: a.) what the business model is, meaning: how are we going to sustain ourselves and grow? b.) exactly how — in that model — the editorial team creates value for the business, and c.) the zone of independence the editorial team will need to meet those expectations. Not only does The Editor have to secure that agreement, he or she must agree with it, as well. And be able to explain it to anyone who asks. There can never be a situation where The Editor doesn’t know what the business model is, doesn’t accept it as appropriate and doable, or can’t articulate it. A situation like that cannot last, as Franklin Foer of the New Republic learned this month.

13. Every successful publication that does journalism operates with a kind of contract between The Editor and the people who own the joint. (Unless they’re the same people.) If the contract is unclear, if different people have different ideas about what it says, if the staff doesn’t understand it, then neuroses will set in. The result will be an unhappy place to work.

14. If you work on the commercial “side” (misleading image) of an editorial company and you cannot explain the kind of value the journalists have to add for the business model to click on all cylinders, or if you see them as merely an expense item — and a whiny, entitled one at that — then you too are in the wrong job. Please leave as soon as possible.

15. But what about separation of church and state? I already said: the editorial team requires an agreed-upon zone of independence to do its work. That’s a key separation. But separation of church and state has no value as an intellectual principle. Meaning: it’s a dumb and risky situation for you when you don’t understand how your organization plans to sustain itself. Want more? Separation of church and state — for all the good it did in a previous media era — also meant “no seat at the table when the key decisions were made.” Is that really what you want?

Updated from the original to add number 14.

“I had just arrived in the Chicago bureau and I needed a story…”

Many years ago I was sitting around in a hotel bar with some journalists who were telling tales, and one of them started an anecdote this way:

6 Dec 2014 9:19 pm 45 Comments

“I had just arrived in the Chicago bureau and I needed a story…”

I stopped listening at that point, but not because he was boring. Something struck me about that phrase, “I needed a story.”

I knew what he meant, of course. He had an editor. His editor would want to know: now that you’re all settled in Chicago, when can I expect some production from you? But a good reporter doesn’t need to be told told this. I’m new on the beat and I need a story. Completely reasonable, from the journalist’s point of view. But from the public’s point of view — or even a truthtelling point of view — the same phrase sounds kind of weird.

“I had just arrived in the Chicago bureau and I needed a story…”

Okay, you needed a story. But was there a story that needed to be told?

Or, less charitably: Who cares if you need a story? What we need is a good signaling system to know what’s going on. If it fits the shape of a story that can be counted toward your production quota and keep your editor in New York happy, great! But keep this in mind: your need for a story may clash with the public’s need to be alerted only when there is a story.

I don’t have a big point to make here. It’s a small point. A need for story is something that journalists should watch out for. It could be a trap.

Here are two passages from Eric Wemple’s analysis of the Rolling Stone story about rape on campus. The editors now say they have lost confidence in its primary source, a woman called Jackie who described a horrific gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house:

On Slate’s DoubleX Gabfest podcast last month, reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely explained why she had settled on the University of Virginia as the focus for her investigative story on a horrific 2012 gang rape of a freshman named Jackie at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. “First I looked around at a number of different campuses,” said Erdely. “It took me a while to figure out where I wanted to focus on. But when I finally decided on the University of Virginia — one of the compelling reasons that made me focus on the University of Virginia was when I found Jackie. I made contact with a student activist at the school who told me a lot about the culture of the school — that was one of the important things, sort of criteria that I wanted when I was looking for the right school to focus on.”

Doesn’t it sound like she needed a story, which fit certain “criteria?” Does to me.

Wemple also quotes from Paul Farhi’s Nov. 28 account in the Washington Post, for which he interviewed the author:

So, for six weeks starting in June, Erdely interviewed students from across the country. She talked to people at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. None of those schools felt quite right. But one did: the University of Virginia, a public school, Southern and genteel, brimming with what Erdely calls “super-smart kids” and steeped in the legacy of its founder, Thomas Jefferson.

Wemple comments: “A perfect place, in other words, to set a story about a gang rape.” A Rolling Stone story about campus rape needs to be set somewhere. But think about it: is this need legitimate?

Judith Shulevitz in CJR:

Erdely told Rosin that she’d gone all around the country looking for rape survivors and was delighted when she stumbled on Jackie. She was obviously traumatized, and her story illustrated everything Erdely knew to be true—that frat boys rape girls and universities are indifferent to rape survivors.

In non-fiction a need for story and what the story “needs” in order to work — to sing, to have a hook, to jump off the page, to fit genre requirements — these are all danger zones.

Almost no word has more prestige in journalism than “story.” It also has way too many referents. Story = the thing that appears in the newspaper, the thing that you chase not knowing if it will appear in the newspaper, the thing you drop when it turns out “there’s no story,” the larger thing (the #Ferguson story) made up of many stories, the exposé plus the controversy about the exposé, the ongoing thing that over years generates multiple articles, the thing you try to keep alive by finding another angle, another reason to update, the two inch item, the twenty-two inch item.

When all are represented by a single word, story, which is fused to professional identity — as in journalist as storyteller, a sacred equation — confusion, hidden danger and fatal fuzziness are likely. Watch out, journalists. You need story. We need truth.

NPR’s Congressional reporter, Ailsa Chang, did it Wednesday morning. About Mitch McConnell, soon to be Senate leader, she said:

If he wants to see the Republicans retain the majority beyond 2016, he has to be able to prove that his party can be more than just the party of no. That means reasonable legislation that they can realistically expect the president to sign.

Peter Foster, Washington editor for The Telegraph (UK) did it too: Winning was easy: now Republicans must show they can govern.

To have a chance [in 2016] Republicans must use the next two years to show they are a party of government, not obstruction and ideology.

Jeremy Peters in the Washington bureau of the New York Times did it over the weekend. He reported that Republicans are in transition: “from being the opposition party to being one that has to show it can govern.”

These are false statements. I don’t know how they got past the editors. You can’t simply assert, like it’s some sort of natural fact, that Republicans “must show they can govern” when an alternative course is available. Not only is it not a secret — this other direction — but it’s being strongly urged upon the party by people who are a key part of its coalition.

The alternative to “show you can govern” is to keep President Obama from governing. Right? Keep him from accomplishing what he wants to get done in his final two years and then “go to the country,” as Karl Rove used to say, with a simple message: time for a change! This is not only a valid way to proceed, it’s a pretty likely outcome. Rush Limbaugh, certainly a player in the coalition, put it this way. The Republicans, he said, emerged from the 2014 election with

the biggest, and perhaps the most important mandate a political party has had in the recent era. And it is very simple what that mandate is. It is to stop Barack Obama. It is to stop the Democrat Party. There is no other reason why Republicans were elected yesterday.

Republicans were not elected to govern. How can you govern with a president that disobeys the constitution? How can you govern with a president that is demonstrably lawless when he thinks he has to be?

Limbaugh represents the populist wing of the party. How about the establishment? In a widely-cited editorial called “the Governing Trap,” National Review magazine was even more explicit.

The desire to prove Republicans can govern also makes them hostage to their opponents in the Democratic party and the media. It empowers Senator Harry Reid, whose dethroning was in large measure the point of the election. If Republicans proclaim that they have to govern now that they run Congress, they maximize the incentive for the Democrats to filibuster everything they can — and for President Obama to veto the remainder. Then the Democrats will explain that the Republicans are too extreme to get anything done.

Among the recommendations the editors had: “putting up legislation that Senate Democrats filibuster.” That’s not governing. That’s gridlock with intention.

As Paul Waldman noted on the Washington Post site, “this isn’t bad advice, politically speaking.”

After all, following the path of obstruction instead of governing has worked out pretty darn well for Republicans over the last six years. When Barack Obama took office, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress; now Republicans do.

Exactly. There is simply no factual basis for NPR’s Ailsa Chang to be telling listeners that Mitch McConnell “has to be able to prove that his party can be more than just the party of no.” He doesn’t have to do that.

Now keep in mind that for NPR correspondents like Chang, a “factual basis” is everything. They aren’t supposed to be sharing their views. They don’t do here’s-my-take analysis. NPR has “analysts” for that. It has commentators who are free to say on air: “I think the Republicans have to show they can govern.” Chang, a Congressional correspondent, was trying to put over as a natural fact an extremely debatable proposition that divides the Republican party. She spoke falsely, and no one at NPR (which reviews these scripts carefully) stopped her.

Similarly, Jeremy Peters of the New York Times has no business observing in passing that the Republicans are now a party “that has to show it can govern.” They don’t! They have other choices. It’s fine with me if the New York Times wants to loosen up and let reporters say in the news columns: “My take is that it’s going to be awfully hard for the Republicans to regain the White House if they don’t show they can govern during these two years.” But that’s not what Peters did. He went the natural fact route: the Republicans have to show they can govern because… because they do!

Why does this matter? Because reporters shouldn’t be editorializing in the news section? No. That’s not why.

Asserted as a fact of political life, “Republicans must show they can govern” is a failure of imagination, and a sentimentalism. It refuses to grapple with other equally plausible possibilities. For example: that declining to govern will produce so much confusion about lines of responsibility and alienation from a broken political system that voters can’t, won’t, or in any case don’t “punish” the people who went for obstruction. Behind a statement like Peter Foster’s: “Republicans must use the next two years to show they are a party of government…” is a prediction about price-paying that does not necessarily apply in a hyper-partisan and super-polarized era. Political journalists are supposed to know that. They are supposed to know that better than anyone else.

In raw ballot box terms, being against was successful in 2014. It could easily be successful in 2016. To declare otherwise is mushy, indulgent, insulated and lame. A reporter’s wish masquerading as an accepted fact.

After Matter: Notes, Reactions & Links


I had a frank exchange of views with NPR’s Steve Inskeep about this post. He accused me of withholding key facts from my readers.

Jonathan Capehart in the Washington Post:

This is vital for the GOP since it will have to run on a record of accomplishment at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue if it hopes to be entrusted with the keys to the White House at the other end.

No, it won’t “have” to. Stop saying that.

At NewYorker.com right now it says: “The Republicans figured out how to win. Now they need to show that they can govern.” Click that headline and you find that the piece by George Packer (from the Nov. 24 print edition) is slightly more nuanced. But that’s the point: “now they need to show they can govern” is a headset widely shared in journalism.

National Review likes this post. So does Digby. Need I tell you how rare an event that is?

The Brazilian press wants in on this. “Obama wants to leave a legacy and Republicans want to prove they can govern.” (Hat tip, Vinod Sreeharsha)

Associated Press, two days after the election:

Democrats suffered a drubbing in Tuesday’s midterm elections, and Republicans regained control of the Senate and widely expanded their majority in the House. In command in both chambers in January, Republicans maintained that they have to show they can govern or else voters will show them the door.

At least that one has Republicans saying “they have to show they can govern,” but I thought reporters are supposed to be more skeptical, more informed. As Politico observed the same day, the Republicans big win in 2014 “sets up a running argument within the party that’s sure to last through Obama’s final two years: Should Republicans prove they can govern? Or should they set up as many fights as possible, and settle them in the 2016 presidential election?”

Exactly. It’s a fight, not a fact.

Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog comments on this post: Republicans have no incentive to moderate or govern.

Frank Rich for New York magazine the day after the election: “Now that the Republicans have won Washington, they own it, and if it continues to be broken, they’ll be punished next time. As the maxim goes, they have to prove they can govern. Or prove they can do something other than bitch and moan.”

Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) comments on this post. “This stuff gets past the editors because they share the reporters’ sensibilities. And because they like a formulation that puts an additional burden on the GOP.”

John F. Harris, the editor in chief of Politico, feels he must

ruefully acknowledge the reality: A lot of what political journalists write as we try to divine larger meaning from election results involves a whiff of bovine byproducts. At least, that is, when we issue oracular pronouncements about how one party or the other is either poised for either dominance or irrelevance ‘for the next generation or more.”

“Much of what is served up as political insight in modern media—as articulated by reporters, political operatives, academics and assorted gurus—is likewise B.S.,” Harris writes. Look, he said it. I’m just reporting what he said.

“It may seem counterintuitive, but political science research suggests that Republicans have a stronger incentive to ensure gridlock on economic issues ahead of the 2016 presidential election, rather than pass legislation that President Barack Obama is willing to sign into law.” —Talking Points Memo, Jan. 6, 2015

How to be literate in what’s changing journalism

In my 'digital thinking' class, the goal is for students to emerge fully literate in the changes affecting journalism. Here are the main currents and trends that I expect them to master by the close of the term.

9 Nov 2014 6:00 pm 30 Comments

For each, they should understand: What it means, why it’s important, and where things are going with it. I’ve added a link or two to help get you started. And I’m happy to receive your comments about what’s missing from this list.

1. The social media habit and sharing-as-distribution. As social platforms take greater command of the relationship with users, especially Facebook. (Link.)

2. The shift to mobile devices and on mobile to apps. Now happening with stunning speed. (Link.)

3. New business models for news. Beyond the usual method of generating audience to sell subscriptions and ads, including:

* Capturing data… to better target ads and personalize products.
* Selling specialized research… by subscription as Giga Om does or via conversation as Techdirt does.
* Events… leveraging a news brand into convening power. (One link.) (Another.)
* Native advertising and the agency model… The way Buzzfeed and Vice do it. (Link.)
* Non-profit models… as with ProPublica, Minn Post and Texas Tribune. (Link.)
* Crowd funding and membership… as with Beacon, De Correspondent, The Guardian, Voice of San Diego.
* Go it alone… One-person operations can work.

4. Analytics in news production. Learning from audience behavior without becoming enslaved to the numbers. (Link.)

workingwithproduct5. The “product” focus in news companies. Bringing tech, editorial, business and user experience together. (Link.)

6. Interaction design and improving user experience (UX). Toward an ergonomics for news. (Link.)

7. Data journalism. In all senses: collecting data sets, connecting to data through API’s, data visualization, finding stories in the data, making cleaned-up and searchable databases available to users, sensors in news work. (Link.)

8. Continuous improvement in content management systems and thus in work flow. As an engineering culture takes hold in some news companies. (Link.) (Another.)

9. Structured data. To capture more value from the routine production of news. (One link.) (Another.)

10. Personalization in news products. Why send everyone the same report? (Link.)

11. Transparency and trust. As “trust us, we’re professionals” gives way to “show your work.” (Link.)

12. Open journalism Including: the verification of user-generated content, networked journalism, crowd sourcing, and social media as reporting tool. The people formerly known as the audience in fruitful collaboration with journalists across the production arc— from story idea to sourcing to finished work. (Link.)

13. Automation and “robot journalism.” If machines can do it cheaper and better, human journalists can move up the value chain. (Link.)

14. Creating an agile culture in newsrooms. So that adaptation, collaboration and experiment are not such an ordeal. (Link.)

15. The personal franchise model in news. Based around an individual journalist’s online following. (Link.)

16. News verticals and niche journalism. Doing one thing well and finding a market for it, as the unbundling of omnibus media continues. (Link.)

17. The future of context and explainer journalism. Providing the background needed to understand the updates. (Link.)

18. “News as a service.” Rather than a product appearing on the news company’s schedule, a service that helps a user do something. (Link.)

19. From scarcity to abundance. Used to be that journalists added value by publishing new material. Now they can also serve users by rescuing and organizing the best stuff from a daily flood of cheap content. Sometimes called curation.

20. Fact-checking and rumor control. The press used to deal with false information simply by not letting it through the gate. Now there’s an affirmative duty to track and call out false stories. (Link.) (Another.)

21. “We’re not in charge.” Back then, media companies produced the news and owned the distribution channels. Now other, larger players — platform companies and governments — get in the middle between users and journalists. Journalistic work circulates on sites that editors do not control. The publishers of news have to “go where the people are,” yet they often don’t know what is being done to those people. The public has to be alerted to that. (Link.)

What’s missing? If you know, hit the comment button and let me know.

UPDATE, Nov. 13: Items 19 to 21 came from suggestions I received after this was first published. Also see Steve Buttry’s annotated response to my list. He adds a great many more resources for understanding these changes.

This post is international. It has been translated into Italian and Spanish as well as French, German, Portuguese, Chinese, Russian and Arabic.

Photo credit: Jessica Strelitz and Catanify at #ONACamp. Used by permission.