On the PopSugar Moms Facebook page, PopSugar’s most popular page with nearly a million likes, most videos surpass 100,000 views. A few have cracked a million views.This video about milk-and-cookie shot glasses went viral, racking up more than 9.8 million views since its Feb. 25 post date.
You can read the full article here if you want but the essential takeaway is this: Cookies in the shape of shotglasses drove obscenely large amounts of traffic to a site that harnessed the power of Facebook native video.
That’s fair enough but, having listened to Andy Mitchell, director of news partnerships, Facebook, speak at the International Journalism Festival recently about how user choice and engagement would be one of the key drivers for ‘surfacing’ content on Facebook, I do wonder this: As most journalism – particularly regional news – has literally nothing to do with cutesy shotglass cookies and milk, are those stories going to sink without trace?
Mitchell spoke about Facebook’s future at the IJF (the video of his talk is at the end of this post) and it’s clear that video and native publishing is where he and Facebook see that future pointing (Buzzfeed and the New York Times are among those publishers who are in the first tranche of working with Facebook on this) and that Facebook’s algorithm was key to content flourishing in the Facebook ecosystem.
He’s obviously used to giving keynotes and was initially unruffled when the less-than-enthused audience questions started up. But he did start to get exasperated when various hacks started quizzing him about responsibility, integrity and censorship. George Brock has written a great post on his thoughts (and he was one of the questioners, too). My notes from the session at this point say “AM said a lot of words, none of which answered the question” – and I see George Brock came to the same conclusion in his post too.
So Facebook thinks it is a perfect platform, particularly with regards to mobile, for news brands but there are a few things that I wonder about:
1. If your audience growth strategy is tied to commercialising on your platforms, how quickly can a regional news publisher adapt (again) to make content commercially viable on Facebook? I believe in the idea of social media news, with its own commercial life support system untied to a platform, but I don’t see anyone pointing the way in how to crack that yet. And Facebook is not going to trip over itself to help publishers find a solution when it is competing in that very same space.
2. PopSugar’s cookies-n-milk video numbers are phenomenal. Not sure a crime scene in Leicester is going to be the same kind of draw, even proportionally. Lifestyle content – and the Lad Bible, of course – can be numbers monsters; regional brands who try to emulate that have to constantly reinvent how they are packaged, pitched and presented or the inevitable “slow news day” comments pile in. They risk damaging the brand’s reputation. Even apparently popular regulars, like property porn articles, start drawing criticism from jaded Facebookers after a very short time.
3. Cookies-n-milk stories aren’t journalism but they are informative, fun, sharable and popular so, if getting on people’s news feed is the goal, is Facebook – that monster mainstream sites rely on so much – descending into a Reddit/VideoJug repository of trivia and how-to-decorate cupcakes or how-to hairstyle time-lapse videos, with an occasional cryptic status update from an old school friend? Is the only way to buck the algorithm is to play by Facebook’s rules and post native video or text? That’s not so much a strategy as a distress tactic.
4. Facebook says it wants to help publishers – specifically news brands with their “slow mobile experience” get their content front and centre on a massive publishing platform, that said brands happen not to have any commercial stake in or ownership of. And that might just be ok, but Facebook effectively washes its hands of what happens next. It says the new feed algorithm responds to reader interactions, and that users should use other sources, not just news feed, to get a holistic view of the news. Personally, I’d say before a Facebook exec makes a breezy public statement like that again, he or she should read some of the comments under an average news story; they’d quickly realise most readers don’t even click-through to the article – they read the social media headline, look at the photo, form an opinion and type ‘slow news day’ or possibly post that damn photo of Michael Jackson eating popcorn. Very few go off to find a wider source of information to add context, nuance and depth.
Some commentators say journalists and mainstream news brands have moved past the point of reporting news, and are now curators and editors of news, verifying and checking the social noise to sort the clear signal. That’s a fair idea, but where does the Facebook strategy (and algorithm) fit into this? Can you edit and curate if the platform where content is being published dictates, on the interactions of the shot glass cookies crowd, whether that work is seen? And on that note, how long can Facebook resist calling itself a publisher?
International Journalism Festival video:
March 27 and 28 were spent immersed in the world of mobile, journalism, storytelling and content creation, courtesy of the first Mobile Journalism Conference held in Dublin and organised by broadcaster RTÉ.
It was the most rewarding, packed and inspiring event – filled with incredible journalists and storytellers doing wonderful things, often armed with just a few pieces of tech, some apps and a determination to get the story out no matter what.
I was lucky enough to be asked to attend by my boss, and then even luckier to be asked to participate as a speaker by organiser Glen Mulcahy, Innovation Lead with RTÉ, and author of this brilliant blog.
Richard Sambrook said the changing immediacy of journalism was a challenge, and that “first and wrong was not first”; he also warned that mobile journalism wasn’t so much about phones as about the end of the age of satellite. “It’s the age of IP news” he told his audience. He cited mobile, social and realtime visual as the three disruptions to traditional news, and warned that to survive a newsroom had to understand and do all three. “Mobile is about much more than reorganising desks,” he said.
Gerd Leonhard said broadcasting was over and ‘broadbanding’ was the new world: “If you want a job [in journalism] what you do has to be above the api, because if it falls below the api a machine can do it”, was his takeaway message. He also introduced me to a word I’ve never heard before: ‘Humarithams’. As in, ‘stories can be made by algorithms, great stories are told by humarithms’. Here’s an extra bit of Gerd bonus copy, for all those social media editors still traumatised by the recent Facebook upheavals: “Facebook is not in it for the journalism. It is not the reason Facebook exists… we should not be giving away our content to people who are not interested in news, but who are only interested in news as a commodity”.
The point I really took away from his talk was that the pace of change in most mainstream media is just too slow, given the speed of the innovations are happening away from our industry, in the world of tech and the world of the consumer – and we have to be faster, more nimble, and more open-eared/open-minded to trying new things.
Of course, as with any mobile conference I guess, you do come away wanting to do everything on a mobile phone and just bin off the desktop forever. But, in a world where the Nerd Herd was gathered in such great numbers, it was interesting that my presentation was the only one that day (as far as I can recall) to reference work that had been done in newsrooms with Google Glass. Occulus Rift didn’t get much of a mention either on day 1 (I can’t speak for all the day 2 workshops) and the most interesting wearable I saw was a Narrative camera that takes photos on a timer and which I now want so badly I’m ready to commit a crime for one.
The other talks that I found highlights from Day 1 were by Michael Rosenblum (aka the Father of Videography, according to his bio) who sucked all the air out of the room by informing journalists they were effectively “fucked” and that ‘editing, curating, publishing’ was the future for news organisations. I love a bit of agent provocateur, and I thought his talk was fascinating – designed to needle, provoke and make mainstream media ponder its role in such a world, and for indies to consider their responsibilities.
From the same panel, I really enjoyed Shadi Rahimi‘s talk on covering Ferguson with just mobile phones, what made AJ+ social media existence a faster, more fit-for-purpose news organisation than rivals. The answer, in a nutshell, is hitting the story out into the park on social as soon as you can verify it, and involving the audience as much as possible.
My panel was on challenging story concepts, boiled down to ‘what makes a good story?’ and as I’d begged to go first (my slides are at the bottom of this post, along with bonus content for reading that far – a video of @warrengatchell and I talking social media…) I was able to relax and actually listen to the rest of the speakers. Christian Payne was, as ever, compelling as he ran through the tech he uses for storytelling, dating back to 2003, and also somehow shoehorned a quick burst of harmonica playing into the session.
Here’s a link that’s worth a listen
— Mediacontact.ie (@mediaflash) March 27, 2015
Day 2 was a very special event – a group of us were taken around Dublin by two of the best mobile phone photographers in the business, and given a masterclass. But as this piece of writing is now reaching epic proportions, I’ll blog about that when I have a bit of time to do (hence ‘part I’ in this post’s title).
So I hope RTÉ get plenty of kudos for organising something so cool – they deserve all the plaudits going. Thank you for inviting me along to participate – it was an experience I am delighted to have been a part of. I met fascinating and cool people who do amazing things in mobile spaces, and I learned so much. I really don’t ask for much more from a conference.
So, Meerkat, eh?
It was, by all accounts, the darling of SXSW and digital acres have been given over to assessing its worth (and here I am, adding to them). Search Twitter at any given time and it’s everywhere, being [LIVE NOW]…
I downloaded it a few weeks ago when it still had access to Twitter’s social graph, which meant that as people I followed also joined there was an onslaught of notifications.
When I tested it in the BelfastLive newsroom, and later discovered my timeline was subsequently full of me @-ing myself, which was a puzzle until I realised it was a kind of reverse-publishing of my Meerkat conversations, back onto Twitter. This tweet-conversation feature did cause some controversy and at one point was switched off by Twitter, although it’s been reinstated.
I like the idea of another live streaming app (I liked the late, lamented Qik although I’ve always returned to Bambuser) but I just don’t know that I’m that sold on the idea of ephemeral livestreaming for news organisations, as unless you save the Meerkat video to your phone, it’s gone.
Your livestream has a mayfly-like existence, no matter how large your audience for the stream was, if you forget to save it down. In the heat of breaking news moments, I like to know my livestream is already safely stored, with an option to download or embed, on a site somewhere.
Of course, ephemeral conversations can offer wonderful opportunities for journalists (hello, Snapchat!) but I also think newsrooms should attempt to put down permanent markers of their work, because a) certain events that merit live streaming need to last, and b) with permanency comes authenticity and the opportunity for checks and verification. It’s harder to challenge inaccuracy if there’s no permanency, both in terms of the journalist and audience. It’s definitely easier for People With Agendas to call out journalists for errors if there’s that piece of work’s lasting testimony is this: So, yeah. Meerkat. It’s fun, it’s insanely popular, and it has a social cache right now that means most of us working in digital journalism are interested in trying it for new things. But, as with a lot of The Shiny (and, yes, I am guilty of loving The Shiny) it should also come with a caveat: When you’re planning to go live, don’t just think about trends, think about what is fit for purpose in the long term as well.
When it comes to critiquing others’ work, I am very much of the ‘there but for the grace of God…’ school of thought. I’m fairly sure, for example, there are enough spelling and grammar issues over the course of this blog’s eight or so years to make the average sub editor’s heart sink.
But.. there is a new-ish thing that is quietly driving me nuts and, as more titles latch on to the idea of Tweet+image+link = More Engagement it’s spreading like a weed.
It’s the phenomenon of Headless Subject Matter. Here are some examples (and I’m sorry, titles below, to pick you out – another time search would have revealed several different offenders I’m sure)…
The Headless Royal (thankfully not in the wives of Henry VIII sense)
The Headless-But-Clothed-So-That’s-Something Pop Sensation
The Headless Only People In The World To Have Married, Ever
The Headless My-Dress-Cost-Less-Than-A-Tonne-So -I’m-Spinning-With-Joy Model
And finally, two Cropping Crimes for tragic Jagger. Poisoned (allegedly) and now beheaded – what is this? The 13th century?
The thing is, even when it looks normal in the tweet, the preview (these examples are from Twitter and Tweetdeck) often doesn’t. I learned bitter lessons last week, as I selected, cropped, uploaded, posted, checked… and then deleted photos on both Twitter and Facebook posts because I’d sized them wrongly. Eventually Google (or Audience Review, to be accurate) provided me with a key: Use a 2:1 ratio, with the best upload size being 1024×512, as this scales down well to 440×220.
Links with photos in Facebook also have a nasty tendency to crop in unfortunate ways. I tend to get around this by uploading a specific image rather than going with whatever the link generates. I found this post very helpful in choosing sizes.
So, a minor gripe in the scheme of things but it’s something that takes just minutes to get right, and it makes all the difference in the world.