Monday, June 29, 2015

Ayn Rand Loves to Write About Sex

“Rand had a keen eye for the everyday eroticism of women: Ideal is a surprisingly sensual novel, rape scene notwithstanding, resplendent with beguiling lips, naked backs, taut breasts, curved necks, soft and supple shoulders. As an accidental documentarian of the flapper era, Rand had a remarkable ability to render tantalizing what would today seem tame—the slant of a bare shoulder, the thrill of a spine dipping beneath a backless dress.”

Altruism Shrugged

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Antonin Scalia Is No John Roberts

It was notable that Scalia’s opinion ridiculing Kennedy’s writing in the same-sex marriage case was endorsed by Thomas and Alito, but not by Roberts. In fact, Roberts did not sign on to any of his colleagues’ dissents ...

“I would be shocked if Roberts ever got near the invective that Scalia uses,” [University of Texas professor Lucas] Powe said.

Regarding tone, some prominent liberals also appreciated Roberts’s restraint—and reasoning—in his dissent in the same-sex marriage case, even though he ultimately rejected the notion of a constitutional right to marry for gays and lesbian couples.

“The two best opinions Roberts has written on the court are his opinion in the Obamacare and gay marriage cases,” said Walter Dellinger, who served as acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration. “While I don’t agree with his bottom line in the same-sex marriage case, he wrote the most respectful and best-reasoned argument for allowing the democratic process to run its course. None of the advocates defending bans on same-sex marriage at the court came close to articulating as good an argument as Chief Justice Roberts.”

Dellinger said he was struck by the difference in tone between Alito and Roberts. “Alito could barely contain his anger and foresees people opposing gay rights being marginalized and discriminated against themselves, whereas Roberts speaks with great sympathy of the desire of gay people to be married,” Dellinger said.

Supreme Court Justices Stop Playing Nice

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Hulk Hogan Loves to Sue People

“Hogan is easily aggrieved. When a woman accused him of sexual battery, he sued her; when his ex-wife Linda alleged domestic abuse in her memoir, he sued her; when a series of back surgeries stopped Hogan from inking a last-hurrah wrestling contract, he sued the surgeon; when his auto insurance failed to cover the cost of his tipsy teenage son recklessly driving his sports car into a tree, causing permanent brain damage to a passenger, Hogan sued his insurance company; when that didn’t work, he sued Linda, too, for not forcing him to be better insured; when Hogan’s lawyers sent the bill for their services, he sued them as well. Hogan initially sued sex tape partner Heather Clem and her now-ex-husband Bubba the Love Sponge alongside Gawker, claiming they’d made and released the tape. But after Bubba went on his radio show and called Hogan ‘the ultimate lying showman,’ Hogan quickly settled with his old pal, but he refused to release his grip on a nonfamous woman who was humiliated right alongside him. She insists she had nothing to do with the tape’s release.”

We’ll Always Have Paris

Monday, June 22, 2015

What It’s Like to Work at Bloomberg

“Whispering private thoughts and opinions is frowned upon. The company has no offices and prides itself on being “horizontal.” When the Mayor returned to his old headquarters, company chairman Peter Grauer wanted to have a private conversation with him in a conference room. Bloomberg resisted, Grauer insisted. Bloomberg reluctantly went in, Grauer closed the door. Early the next week, Grauer came to work to find that the doors to the conference rooms had been removed.

“Not surprisingly, then, few of the more than 30 current and former Bloomberg journalists and executives I spoke to for this article would go on the record. At headquarters in New York and in the newsroom in Washington, scores of cameras watch workers. Business cards don’t carry titles. Everyone is a citizen.

The Mayor and the Mogul

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Spectacular Rise and Crash of Upworthy

“Here, approximately, is how Upworthy became one of the biggest sites on the internet back in 2012 and 2013: It came up with a way to package preexisting YouTube videos in a way that made them appealing to people who wanted to project certain political and social values to their Facebook friends. This makes sense! Putting a compelling headline and a hard-sell introduction on a video that might have otherwise gotten lost is just good aggregation—the content is free, the payoff is big, and the politics are coherent. What made Upworthy especially explosive was that it was repackaging not just to appeal to people but to a mostly invisible quirk of its distributor—what is sometimes referred to as Facebook’s ‘long click’ metric. Upworthy headlines compelled people to click; long YouTube videos embedded on their site compelled people to stay; Facebook received three very strong signals—clicking, sharing, and time spent—that Upworthy’s content was vigorously engaged with, and treated it as such.”

John Herrman

Friday, June 5, 2015

How to Write Captions

The Journal runs down the rules:

● Avoid using the wire-service description verbatim. Write your own caption.
● Provide only relevant information. Use the nut graf from the story as a guide.
● Describe the action only if it is pertinent to the article.
● Double-check facts against the article, with the reporter or using Google. If the story alleges any misconduct or wrongdoing, please take extra care in confirming the person/people and details. Confirm the identity of alleged wrongdoers in the photo with the reporter, and don’t rely on the caption information from the provider.
● Avoid being overly descriptive with unnecessary details, such as product model numbers and time of day. (Descriptions of military equipment and guns have led to several corrections, so be 100% sure or avoid being specific.)
● If the figures in the photo are obviously shaking hands (or talking, hugging or high-fiving) there is no reason to mention it in the caption.
● Consider a time element, especially if it is an older photo. Readers will assume that a photo was recently taken unless told otherwise. Apple CEO Tim Cook, at the WSJD Live conference in October, discussed the design of the company’s new smartwatch.
● If the time element isn’t relevant to the action, the present tense or present-participle form is used: A boy watches a bulldozer prepare for the construction of housing units in a West Bank settlement. Or: A boy watching a bulldozer prepare for construction of housing units in a West Bank settlement.
● If the time element is essential, use the participle form or the past tense: A boy watching a bulldozer prepare for the construction of housing units in a West Bank settlement on Monday. Or: A boy watched as a bulldozer prepared for the construction of housing units in the West Bank on Monday.
● Use commas, not parentheses, around identifiers such as right, left or wearing hat.
● Add a period to captions that are more than a nameline, even if they are sentence fragments.
● Forgo the constructions above and shown.
● Use single quotes, as in headlines: Amy Adams starred in ‘American Hustle.’
● Add SEO keywords for digital captions.
● Keep it concise in one sentence, if possible.

Slate improves upon some real-world examples:

Bad: Bruce Miller of the San Francisco 49ers was arrested on Thursday for domestic violence.
Good: Bruce Miller of the San Francisco 49ers was arrested on Thursday for domestic violence. Above, Miller during a game on Dec. 15, 2013

Bad: Wyden
Good: Sen. Ron Wyden at a hearing on March 5, 2014, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Bad: Hannibal Buress, noted Internet spirit animal.
Good: Hannibal Buress, noted Internet spirit animal, performs on May 19, 2013, in Culver City, California.

Bad: Digital spray painting.
Good: Digital spray painting at the new Google store in [location] on [date].

The Right Way to Correct a Tweet

The Wall Street Journal:

We are tweaking the way we correct our mistakes on Twitter. If you’ve sent a tweet that needs to be deleted, either because of a typo, an incorrect link or a more-serious error requiring a correction, the social-media team asks that you take the following steps.

1. Take a screenshot of the incorrect tweet

2. Delete the incorrect tweet

3. Send a new tweet, with the correct language/information and a link to the story you’re sharing, and attach the screenshot of the previous tweet.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

This Is Why Quartz and BuzzFeed Are Today’s Smartest Publishers

Not because they necessarily create the best content, but because they market their content better than anyone else. Put another way, they meet readers where they are, not where they want us to be.

Consider Quartz’s e-newsletter, the Daily Brief. According to Zach Seward, Quartz’s head of product, “Its success is due to writing the email as its own thing ... The purity of that mission is what makes the Daily Brief shine. We’re not trying to drive traffic to; it lives natively in your inbox.”

Why does this matter? Mathew Ingram explains:

“Instead of seeing all of the various formats or platforms that it uses as just a way of driving more clicks to a website, Quartz sees them as worthwhile in and of themselves. While the site’s content may not be monetized directly on that platform, it helps build the company’s brand and its knowledge about other platforms and social tools, which in turn allow it to monetize its content better on the Quartz site, which it does through native advertising ...

“This is very similar to the way that BuzzFeed looks at its content, and why it created a unit called BuzzFeed Distributed, which creates content that lives on specific platforms like Snapchat and Instagram rather than always pushing for clicks ...

“This strategy is one reason why BuzzFeed isn’t as concerned about a deal like the one that Facebook is offering with Instant Articles, because unlike the New York Times and other media outlets, it doesn’t live or die on whether it gets people to click through to its site. The content it puts on Facebook succeeds or fails on its own terms, and then BuzzFeed uses those lessons to make what it does on its own website better. And one of the big benefits of this approach is that it makes BuzzFeed and Quartz and others like them a lot less reliant on external platforms as a means of driving clicks.

Addendum (5/28/2015): Digiday’s Lucia Moses picks up on this thread:

“Many publishers are already treating email newsletters, often used a way to lure people back to publishing sites, as platform-like publications themselves, designed to be read entirely in email without readers having to click through to the host’s site. That means creating content specifically for the email experience, often more conversation and text heavy than standard email newsletters that act as reproductions of websites.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Never Miss an Opportunity for a Semantic Nudge

When submitting an update to Apple’s App Store, a company is required to specify the reason for the update.

An engineer looks at this as a burden. But a writer sees an opportunity. An opportunity to separate his brand from the pack, to forge a voice.

A few recent examples:

This update includes minor improvements.

Bug fixes

- Redesigned devices view, showing devices as cards with backdrop and casting status
- Added setting to change backdrop speed
- Browse through history of backdrop images recently shown on your Chromecasts
- Improved reliability and performance of backdrop cards
- Improved multiuser and multi-Chromecast backdrop settings
- New backdrop content: Street Art from Google Cultural Institute

There’s an iOS app we call Medium
‘Tis a great cure for your tedium
You can highlight in story
Add tags for more glory
And many more people be reading ‘em

(Oh yeah, and we fixed a particularly nasty bug that was causing a lot of crashes.)

NBC – Watch Live
- We identified and smashed a few technical bugs like we were the Hulk (did we mention we offer classic TV shows?)
- We told Airplay to continue streaming when you lock your device. Because your binge-watching shouldn’t have to kill your battery.

Related: How Semantic Nudges Can Humanize Your Website

Addendum (6/12/2015): Just spotted this lovely update from NYT Now:

- Snippets: Share snippets of New York Times articles by selecting text within the article
- Handoff Support: Continue reading stories on your Mac or other iOS devices

- Reduces the amount of space the app uses on the iPhone
- Improves scrolling performance
- Makes visual tweaks to the feed and share cards

Bug Fixes
- Fixes an issue where in certain cases swiping on an alert would not open an article
- Fixes an issue where readers were unable to save to Safari Reading List

Addendum (6/21/2015): And how about this gem from Tumblr?

- Real blocking of real jerkwads. Really! Block someone and they won’t be able to follow, message you, or interact with your posts. They won’t even see you in search results. Good riddance.
- Share blogs with whoever might interested in those blogs. Friend, followers, countrymen. Lend them your blogs.
- A thinner sidebar for iPads in landscape mode, for a more relaxed fit where you need it most.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Which Headline Would You Click On?

  1. The Headlines We Wanted to Run but Just Couldn’t
  2. Inside Slate Editors’ Heds
  3. Headlines: You’re Doing it Wrong
  4. Headlines: How to Do Them Right
  5. How Many Kittens Died in the Making of This Headline? (Seven.)
  6. Headlines Suck, but Not for the Reasons That You Think

Winner here.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Every Bio Should Be This Peppy

“Erica Leibrandt is a certified Yoga instructor, Reiki practitioner, student of Buddhism, vegan chef and mother to six heathens who masquerade as innocent children. She aims to apply the principles of Yoga to real life. Between teaching Yoga, holding vegan cooking seminars, writing and cycling she spends her time as a taxi service to her children, being walked by her dogs and trying to dream up an alternative to doing the laundry. If she occasionally finds herself with a fried egg on her plate or dancing until dawn, she asks that you not judge her. Life is short, she knows the chicken that laid the egg and you can never dance too much. You can connect with Erica on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.”

Erica Leibrandt

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why BuzzFeed Ads Can’t Target Certain People

“Marketers cannot tell BuzzFeed to only show branded videos to segments of its audience who fit a narrow demographic or have previously purchased a certain product. Instead, BuzzFeed offers to draw on its wealth of data showing which people share which content to create content designed to appeal to that target audience.”

BuzzFeed Pushes Data, Scale and Miracle Berries at NewFront

Related: The Real Genius Behind BuzzFeed: Data

Monday, April 27, 2015

What It’s Like to Edit Wikipedia

“The tensions can sometimes resemble those that roil political parties in transition. It can be an inhospitable place for new editors. A neophyte editor who hits ‘edit’ on an article will be presented with text that looks more like code than prose. If she still manages to make her edit, she then faces the high likelihood that her change will be reverted back [sic] by a cadre of veteran editors policing for so-called vandalism but also for edits that don’t align with the community’s extensive set of norms. Finally, if she continues to edit and even participates in discussions, she will often encounter raucous, male-dominated debates.”

Saving Wikipedia

Sunday, April 26, 2015

How to Oppose Gay Marriage Without Being a Jerk

Take it away Will Saletan:

If you’re a Republican running for president, prepare yourself. The next reporter who corners you at a diner might pop the question. No, she doesn’t want to marry you. But she might ask whether you’d attend a gay wedding. In the last week, that question has been posed to at least five candidates: Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Govs. Scott Walker and John Kasich, and former Sen. Rick Santorum. In general, their answers have been weak. Here’s what they’ve said, and how you can handle the question better than they did.

When Hewitt posed the same question to Santorum on Thursday, the former senator flatly said no:

Q: Would you, Rick Santorum, attend a same-sex wedding of a loved one or a family friend or anyone who you were close to?
A: No, I would not.
Q: Well, why not?
A: Because ... as a person of my faith, that would be something that would be a violation of my faith. I would love them and support them, but I would not participate in that ceremony.

Santorum gets points for candor. And he draws the approved Christian distinction between loving and condoning. But for listeners who have gay friends or family, Santorum seems to offer nothing. Compare his answer with this one, delivered by Walker on Saturday night:

Q: Would you attend a gay wedding?
A: Well, in terms of—that’s certainly a personal issue. For a family member, Tonette and I and our family already had a family member who’s had a reception. I haven’t been at a wedding. But that’s true even though my position on marriage is still that it’s defined between a man and a woman, and I support the constitution of the state. But for someone I love, we’ve been at a reception.

Doesn’t that sound better? Substantively, Walker gives no more ground than Santorum does. He opposes legal recognition of same-sex marriage, he’s never attended a gay wedding, and he isn’t saying he ever would. But for people who disagree with him, he can say—and does say—that he’s been to a reception. Apparently he’s referring to his wife’s cousin, who married another woman last year. According to the New York Times, “The governor was away on business when the wedding occurred, but he later attended a reception for the newlyweds.”

See how nicely that works out? Schedule your travel to miss the wedding but make the reception. Then you can sound like a decent guy without losing support on the religious right.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

BuzzFeed’s Core Demographic Isn’t Millenials

“Although it has a reputation as a media product for young people, it doesn’t actually operate as though it has one core demographic. BuzzFeed instead taps into a number of different existing networks—distinct groups like new parents, or people from northern Michigan, or children of immigrants, or people named Ashley—and then capitalizes on the distribution platforms the people in those groups use to connect with one another.”

The Eternal Return of BuzzFeed

Monday, April 20, 2015

Why Simple Impressions As a Measure of ROI Are’t Going Anywhere

“The click is a poor measure of audience, applying the same value to an attentive reader and a drive-by visitor. They’re also easy to fake. At one point, corrupt marketers hired armies of humans to increase impressions with their mouse, but now the process has been outsourced to robots. These ‘fraudulent bots’ are responsible for about 36% of online traffic, according to data cited by the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

“Yet, since the advent of digital advertising, CPMs, a measure of cost per thousand impressions, has been the industry standard for selling digital advertising, which sets the measure of web traffic. Which means that, like it or not, analytics companies like Chartbeat have to measure impressions.

Can Tony Haile Save Journalism by Changing the Metric?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

U.K. Audiences Dislike What U.S. Audiences Love

Much of what works so well in American BuzzFeed posts—nostalgia, sentimentality, uplift—doesn’t work with British audiences. “That stuff just completely bombs in the U.K.,” BuzzFeed U.K. editor Luke Lewis said. “Nobody wants to be uplifted, particularly. But if you can make the articles funny, and a bit needling and a bit satirical, they do well.”

London Calling: A Look at BuzzFeed’s British Invasion

The Lobbyist’s Version of “I Know a Guy”

1. In December 2012, Uber had an urgent problem: its drivers in Milan were being menaced by angry cabbies wielding tire irons. Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick consulted with investor Shervin Pishevar, the politically connected venture capitalist. Pishevar happened to know that Jim Messina, the campaign manager for Barack Obama’s reelection, was celebrating the president’s victory in Italy. As Messina recalls: “I was getting engaged and drinking my ass off.” Still, he took Pishevar’s call at 2 a.m. in Italy, then called U.S. Ambassador David Thorne, who called Milan Mayor Giuliano Pisapia. City police began looking into the disputes.

2. For Beepi, which lets Californians buy and sell used cars online, Messina is navigating a maze of laws and introducing the company to regulators. He helped score a 48-hour’s-notice meeting with California’s secretary of transportation “that otherwise would have taken six months to set up,” says Beepi CEO Alejandro Resnik. “We consider him our silver bullet.”

The Many Hats of Jim Messina

The Best Rejection Letter Ever

Dear Jonathan,

Thank you for applying to the U.S. Digital Service. We’re inspired by the growing number of engineers, designers, and technology experts eager to tackle government's toughest problems and answer the call of public service.

The U.S. Digital Service is in its early stages, and we are seeking candidates with skills tightly matched to our current projects. Members of our team reviewed your application, and we don't have the perfect match for your background right now.

Thanks, again, for applying. We see the tremendous potential to improve services at all levels of government—from local to state to federal—and we encourage you to stay involved in this important work.

U.S. Digital Service Talent Team

RelatedMIT’s Washington Office Has the Best Job Rejection Letters Ever Because They’re a Lesson in Branding

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What Do Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Judy Clarke Have in Common?

Steve Jobs
“He ... came to like the idea of having a uniform for himself, because of both its daily convenience (the rationale he claimed) and its ability to convey a signature style.”

Barack Obama
“You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. ‘You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,’ he said. ‘I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.’ He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. ‘You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.’”

Mark Zuckerberg
“Zuckerberg’s willingness to be different and ignore social norms manifest itself in other ways. He wears a gray T-shirt every day, saying he wants to focus his decision-making energy on Facebook not fashion.”

Judy Clarke
“Knowing exactly what to put on each morning saved her from having to think about it.”

Addendum (5/3/2015): See also Why Zuck and Other Successful Men Wear the Same Thing Every Day and Why I Wear the Exact Same Thing to Work Every Day