Monday, October 3, 2016

When Is a Video View Not a View?


The Online Video View: We Can Count It, but Can We Count on It?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Why You Should Always Read the Fine Print

Van Halen’s contracts for concerts stipulated that the band would be supplied with a backstage bowl of M&M’s, with the brown ones removed. David Lee Roth, Van Halen’s lead singer, said the request was not whimsical; it helped to show whether a contract had been carefully read and, therefore, whether the band’s complex, and potentially dangerous, technical requirements were likely to have been met.

Pete Wells Has His Knives Out

Sunday, September 4, 2016

This Is How You Roll Out a New CEO

In the days before Satya Nadella was named Microsoft’s CEO, leaks to selected tech bloggers changed the discussion around the succession from disappointment at the prospect of an in-house replacement to a sense that it was only natural for Microsoft to elevate a veteran who had been at Bill Gates’ side for 22 years. When the announcement came, it sweetly told us that this was as long as he had been with his wife.

But with the traditional press release came an “asset pack” that Microsoft PRs shot out to century-old newsrooms and influential one-man blogs alike. It contained high-definition images of the new CEO looking relaxed but in charge, wearing a hoodie or purposefully clenching one fist as he addressed staff. And it included a biography describing him as a poetry-loving cricketer who “brings a relentless drive for innovation” to the job — good fodder for the “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Satya Nadella” listicles that followed.

Then came the videos: testimonials from Gates and outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer about what an ideal successor he was, and an unchallenging interview by an in-house blogger, conducted as they strolled casually around a people-free section of Microsoft’s headquarters. “How did you feel when you were offered the role?” asked the smiling employee. “Honored, humbled, excited,” the newly minted boss replied. Nadella’s first interview as CEO ended with the blogger posing the softball question: “Why do you feel Microsoft is going to be successful?”

It was a masterclass in PR spoonfeeding and news organisations simply had to drag and drop. With no press conference or one-on-one interview in which to ask tougher questions about the challenges Microsoft faced, and no chance to send news photographers or videographers of their own, that’s what they did. The Financial Times was among those that embedded one of Microsoft’s videos in its reporting that week (noting that it had been produced by the company), linked to and analyzed Nadella’s blog and used the company-issued photographs.

The “asset pack” contained no mention of the thousands of planned job cuts that followed a few months later.

The Invasion of Corporate News

RelatedWhy CEOs Need Media Training

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Life Lessons: Be Persistent

“Keep sending out queries. If the agents and the publishers turn down the first thing, send them a second thing. Then send them a third thing. Then send them a fourth thing. Then send them the first thing again to see if they like it better the second time. Keep pitching. Keep asking. Just don’t quit.

“Keep a list of everything you send out, along with the date you sent it and the date you expect to hear back. Customize your pitches. Learn to write proposals. Pitch everybody. Tell people you’re looking for representation and a publisher, because you never know who may be able to help you. Add to your list every day. In six months if you’re not getting two or three rejections in the email or snail mail every week, you’re not doing your job. The idea is to find someone who either a) recognizes the quality in your work or b) figures your persistence will have some value in their marketing.

—Michael Long

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Why Do I Give Away My Presentation for Free? Warren Buffet Explains

“Buffett could easily have decided that the numbers speak for themselves — especially when they’re enunciating as loudly and clearly as his do. Buffett took over Berkshire Hathaway in April 1965, when the shares cost $18. By the time of his 50th-anniversary letter to shareholders, in 2015, the shares were trading for $223,000, an annual gain of about 21%. No other investor matches that record over that period of time. In the world of hedge funds, secrecy about investment methods is de rigueur: if the sauce weren’t secret, you wouldn’t be having to pay two percent per year, and 20% of the profit on top, for your serving of it. Buffett, by contrast, doesn’t miss an opportunity to explain his ideas.”

How Should We Read Investor Letters

Monday, August 29, 2016

When does the New York Times decide to use hyperlinks?

Here’s an email I sent yesterday to the Public Editor of the New York Times:

Good evening Liz -

I enjoyed your recent column on news alerts that I thought I’d propose one on hyperlinks. Here are a few questions to whet your appetite:

1. How does the Times decide when to link to a person or subject’s internal “topics” page? Is it done automatically by the CMS?

For example, in, see “Andrew Breitbart” in the eighth paragraph and “Tea Party movement” in the 10th paragraph.

Also, the same article mentions “the ‘Saturday Night Live’ actor Leslie Jones.” Why the link to SNL but not to Jones?

2. Do reporters insert links when they file, or do editors usually add them?

3. What’s the official criteria for a link? Is there an informal policy?

For example, if you mention a YouTube video, surely it behooves you to link to it — if not embed it. But too often in straight news articles, links you’d expect are MIA.

For example: The same Brietbart article says, “The site refers to “migrant rape gangs” in Europe, and was among the first news outlets to disseminate unsubstantiated rumors that Mrs. Clinton was in ill health.”

If this were a blog post, I’d expect to see links on “migrant rape gangs” and “disseminate unsubstantiated rumors.”

Thanks, Liz.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Ultimate List of Media Choices for Celebrities

1. Vanity Fair cover: Still the most prestigious option, and one Jennifer Aniston has used to great effect herself in the past. The Caitlyn Jenner rollout remains the pinnacle of the form. Of course, it involves entrusting your message to a reporter, which can have disastrous results.

2. People cover: A nice get—remember Sandra Bullock’s “meet my baby” cover?—though sometimes veers dangerously into the reality-TV-o-verse.

3. New York Times op-ed: Prestigious and intellectual-seeming, a one-two punch. Angie landed one, not that we would ever compare Jen to her.

4. New Yorker humor piece: Unless it’s really, really good, will make anyone who’s ever wanted to write for the New Yorker resent you. No one else will see it.

5. Single cryptic tweet: Lets you retain plausible deniability when everyone knows exactly who you’re talking about, still kinda shady.

6. Tweet that is a screenshot of a “statement”: Even worse than the above. If you must, proofread.

7. Tweetstorm: Never really goes well, will be immediately aggregated by a bunch of news outlets.

8. Instagram post that makes a statement, not through words, but usually through a selfie of you with the person you were supposedly feuding with: Can be very effective when done correctly.

9. Lenny personal essay: Communicates that you are friends with Lena Dunham, which some people, but not everyone, will think is cool.

10. Piece for the Toast: Will earn you endless brownie points among a few librarians and grad students but won’t do much for your popularity with the general public.

11. Refinery29 essay: Will probably get you made fun of.

12. Slate personal essay: Will reveal to the world that in addition to being handsome, you are a good father and a good writer.

Heather Schwedel

Sunday, July 3, 2016

How Everyday Photos of Celebrities Are Transformed Into Clickbait

In Writing Headlines, As in Testing Them, Two Heads Are Better Than One

I love that the New York Times is now doing this!

For a short while on March 15, one reader might have seen this:

$2 Billion Worth of Free Media for Trump

While another saw this:

Measuring Trump’s Media Dominance

Any guesses which won the test, and by how much?

The top one got nearly three times as many readers.

A story might be 1,000 words long, but tweaking the tiny handful of words that promoted this one on our homepage gave almost 300% more readers.

In other cases, headline tests have increased readership by an order of magnitude.

When this:

Soul-Searching in Baltimore, a Year After Freddie Gray’s Death

was paired against this:

Baltimore After Freddie Gray: The ‘Mind-Set Has Changed’

The test showed a 1,677% increase in readership for the second one.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Slate Is Still Writing 3 Headlines for Big Articles. Yes!

The One Donald Trump Position That I Half-Agree With

Article Title
Trump Isn’t Entirely Wrong on Trade

Page Title
Trump isn’t entirely wrong on trade. But there’s a better way to help American workers.

Addendum (7/10/2016): New York, too:

Is This the End of Roger Ailes?

Article Title
Gretchen Carlson’s Sexual-Harassment Lawsuit May Allow Murdoch Sons to Finally Oust Roger Ailes From Fox News

Page Title
Has the Clock Run Out on Roger Ailes?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Read This, and You’ll Remember Why Correlation Doesn’t Equal Causation

Thank you, Roy Germano and Christopher Jon Sprigman, for explaining this much-loved but little-understood axiom:

Correlation is not causation. We hear this phrase all the time, but what does it actually mean?

“A famous example of the perils of using a correlation to suggest a causal relationship is the association between ice cream sales and drowning deaths. Like clockwork every June, ice cream sales go up, and so too do the number of deaths by drowning. Without a deeper understanding of how the world works, we might be tempted to use this correlation to tell a story about how eating ice cream causes people to drown — especially if we’re a company that makes snow cones and thinks that warning people off of ice cream will boost sales of our competing product.

“Now, most people are nowhere near gullible enough to fall for the argument that ice cream causes drowning — even if it’s made in a paper full of scientific-sounding metrics and graphs that show ‘strong to very strong’ correlations. Most people would realize that the correlation between ice cream sales and drowning is spurious. The only link between the two variables is that they are both independently related to the weather. When it’s hot, people look for ways to cool off. They go out for ice cream. They also go swimming. Unfortunately when more people go swimming, drowning deaths increase.

It’s Called Mental “Health” for a Reason

Consider six-time Olympic medalist, Allison Schmitt:

“With encouragement from coaches and teammates, Schmitt has come to think of therapy sessions like any other doctor’s appointments. Working on her mental health is no more embarrassing than rehabilitating a sore knee.”

And, of course, Michael Phelps:

“Regardless of how life experiences, genetic predispositions, and random events mixed together to create the emotional pain that lead Michael Phelps to drink too much and drive too fast, we know that the result was nearly catastrophic — and most likely avoidable. And isn’t it ironic that had he suffered from a physical injury or condition that in any way threatened his ability to compete, an entire team of world-class experts would have been at his disposal to address his physical pain.”

And actress Kristen Bell:

“Mental health check-ins should be as routine as going to the doctor or the dentist. After all, I’ll see the doctor if I have the sniffles. If you tell a friend that you are sick, his first response is likely, ‘You should get that checked out by a doctor.’ Yet if you tell a friend you’re feeling depressed, he will be scared or reluctant to give you that same advice. You know what? I’m over it.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

How to Ride the Stock Market

The Washington Post’s Paywall Is Smarter Than You Think

Another project analyzes reader behavior in the days leading up to when they subscribed, so that, instead of putting up a universal paywall of a certain number of free articles per month, the Post can better target potential subscribers. For instance, if a reader clicks on mostly articles on health, then he would be asked to subscribe after reading a fifth health article, when he’s most likely to want to keep reading.

The Good News at the Washington Post, Trump’s Least-Favorite Paper

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Why Celebrity Endorsements Matter

Nicholas Kristof

“Walmart or McDonald’s shapes the living conditions of more animals in a day than an animal shelter does in a decade.”

Caity Weaver

Keeping Up With the Kardashians has done much more to raise awareness of the Armenian genocide than Mad Men ever did, and Mad Men is an Emmy-winning drama no one was embarrassed to admit they watched.”

The Newsroom

Charlie: Today she [Lady Gaga] broke her silence and Tweeted in support of — in defense of — in support of overturning the Defense of Marriage Act. Sloan’s going to interview her manager.

Mac: You’re still able to hear yourself when you speak, right?

Charlie: Yeah.

Mac: I’m glad Lady Gaga wants to engage people —

Charlie: She has 40 million Twitter followers.

Mac: Does her manager bring expertise to the table on marriage equality?

Charlie: What kind of expertise is there on that subject?

Mac: Someone who’s familiar with state legislatures, for example.

Charlie: Hey, you know what, Mac. How about she brings 40 million people to a civil-rights debate. I don’t think gay couples who’d just like to move the fuck on with their lives are as choosy about that discussion.

Why You Should Always Place Your Link *After* Your Hashtags on Twitter

Which Tweet looks better?

Here’s the view from the stream:

And here are the individual Tweets:

Here’s another pet peeve. Put a period, or a colon or a hyphen or some sort of demarcation, between the end of your words and the start of your link.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Why You Should Publish Your Important Writing on Medium: Because It’s the Op-ed Page of the Internet

This, from a job description:

“Medium is the place for tech and business leaders to make or break news, share advice and expertise, offer insight into the nuances of their crafts, tell a personal story, and converse with others in their fields. The platform has emerged as the new op-ed page, where people who have ideas of consequence publish; interact meaningfully with an impassioned, engaged, and influential audience; and drive conversation forward around issues of import in the world and that matter to them.

“It’s where Google CEO Sundar Pichai pleads for inclusive values, Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou writes about diversity in tech, and Ellen Pao launches an initiative devoted to the same topic. Where Amazon spokesman Jay Carney refutes a New York Times expose on the company, and Times executive editor Dean Baquet responds. Where Facebook’s Julie Zhou regularly shares her expertise on design, and Instagram’s Ian Spalter reveals the internal process behind the company’s new logo. It’s where Dov Charney expounds on American Apparel’s bankruptcy ruling, and Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield shares management advice. Where a powerhouse group of women from Twitter and Slack who have banded together as investors publish en masse. And it’s where venture capitalists like Greylock’s Sarah Tavel muse on product, and Andreessen-Horowitz’s Scott Weiss reflect on working parenting.

And this, from the Washington Post:

“Political journalists will remember the evening well.

“It was around 8:45 p.m. on Jan. 20, before President Obama gave the State of the Union address, when the White House released the full text of his speech on a three-year-old website called Medium.

“The move broke convention, and the Washington press was surprised. Many reporters were afraid to admit their ignorance about the site. Obama aides could barely contain their delight at, in the words of White House Chief Digital Officer Jason Goldman, ‘changing a SOTU tradition forever.’

“Since then, Medium has muscled its way to the front of the line as the blog platform for Washington leaders who want to put a fresh veneer on their messaging. After heavy use by the Obama White House, the San Francisco start-up has ambitions to be a player in the 2016 political debate by becoming the venue of choice for candidates to bypass the mainstream media and air their thoughts online.