Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


Dec 01

Solutions to Fake News 1: Deny Lie Merchants Access to Premium Ad Revenue

Posted: under adsense clickfraud, advertising, Digital Migration, journalism, new media, Politics & New Media.
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Is a market-based solution the best way to solve the fake news problem?

There’s been a sudden realization outside the cozy confines of digital business model nerds, that the open nature of the web has allowed an entire class of scammers to establish themselves, grow, and flourish.

journalist taking notes rather than creating fake news stories

Actual journalists take notes and try to verify information before publishing. Fake News sites just make stuff up.

The end result of this has been that a substantial percentage of the U.S. public can no longer distinguish fact from fantasy. And they then vote accordingly. This is generally seen as a Bad Thing. Not just because one particular political party lost the recent election – if anything, the GOP is as up in arms over this as the Democrats, because they see their voting base as unruly and detached from reality, due to their reliance on fake news stories. The end game of an entire voting population lost to fantasy is that the country, already borderline ungovernable, becomes so splintered that it starts making really idiotic decisions (“Let’s invade Guatemala! They’re sending us Snake People disguised as immigrants!”).

A lot of journalism pundits have started to pile on, as the stories about scammers (and let’s just coin this phrase right here and now: LIE MERCHANTS) surface, and their behavior becomes more and more brazen. The last few weeks have seen:

  1. Lie Merchants using “typo-squatting” to impersonate the USA Today or ABC news, in order to promulgate fantasies, such as protesters getting paid $3,500 apiece by George Soros to protest Trump’s election.
  2. Two nitwit brothers in Long Beach who gleefully seize on actual news events, and create elaborate, hateful conspiracy theories around them, which they then promote on Facebook, all to drive traffic to their LibertyWritersNews site, making up to $12,000 a week on ads.
  3. Unemployed Macedonian musicians exploiting the anti-Clinton hatred whipped up by Fox News and talk radio, fabricating “exposes” about child sex rings and devil worship so they can pay for amps and guitars.

A history of fake news reporting here on Sips

I’ve written about these kinds of scams here on Sips.

I even wrote an entire book about the tabloid industry back in the 90s, because I saw the entire news industry going off the rails, and pursuing lurid stories in their desperate efforts to satisfy the corporate profit imperatives.

Lately, I’ve been writing about the vast Clickfraud industry that steals an estimated 33% of online ad revenues from honest content producers.

All these trend lines have converged this year, and resulted in a toxic mess. We now have the worst of both worlds: the Lie Merchants are making coin hand over fist, because they spend nothing on reporting, research, fact-checking, interviews, verification, travel to personally witness events, or any of the other costs of an actual, functioning news organization.

Meanwhile, actual journalists are being fired in droves, because the public has become so addicted to these fantasies, that they now reject any hint that the disgusting lies they are fed via rabid AM-radio hosts, email chains, Facebook, Breitbart comment threads, etc. etc. — are not based in objective reality. From the BuzzFeed investigation:

Pages like Freedom Daily play to the biases of their audiences — and to those of Facebook’s News Feed algorithm — by sharing videos, photos, and links that demonize opposing points of view. They write explosive headlines and passages that urge people to click and share in order to show their support, or to express outrage. And in this tense and polarizing presidential election season, they continue to grow and gain influence.

There are a lot of solutions being bandied about, but today I will focus on one that to me, shows a lot of promise: cutting these Lie Merchants off from the advertising revenue that sustains their operations. This will necessitate some kind of human intervention; we are going to need to come up with a human-intermediated way of validating people who produce actual, factual, news.

The opening shot in this burgeoning war was fired by online ad-tech outfit DoubleVerify, with their DV Digital Impression Quality product, which purports to be able to block advertiser’s money flowing to fake news sites by blocking their ads from being displayed on Lie Merchant sites via the (broken, but that’s a different subject) ad exchanges.

Can a market-based solution to Lie Merchants work? Well, one of the biggest obstacles is going to be the public’s appetite for such ugly, idiotic brain fodder. But if we choke off the reason these fake news sites exist in the first place – that they are wildly profitable – then we are going to take an important step towards cleaning up the online news space.

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Oct 19

12 Steps to Media Sobriety: the Storify is the First Step (sorta)

Posted: under journalism, newspaper crisis, Newspaper Deathwatch, Politics & New Media.
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OK, this is going to need a bit more work to turn into something that rivals the Cluetrain Manifesto, but there is definitely something here.

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May 18

Five classes. Two years. One graduation day.

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism.
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The kids are all right. Despite my best efforts…

On Friday, I had five cohorts of students graduate from Annenberg-USC. Three graduate student cohorts (broken down into two cohorts that attended USC for two years, and one in the brand-new one-year accelerated Master’s program). One group of quirky, hardworking undergrads. And a summer school class of “Specialized Journalism” grad students.

happy grads all in a tent

USC-Annenberg class of 2015, right after the ceremonies ended – and reality started to sink in (at least for a few of them). The rest were ebullient, as evidenced by student Yingzhi Yang in the foreground, grinning and waving at me.

I had to start traveling at 4 a.m. in Sonoma County, to get to the graduation before all was over; but it was worth every second of sitting on runways and grinding my teeth while crammed into a coach seat (they get tinier every year, it seems). I got to see all my students, beaming and full of excitement, enthusiasm and hope. God knows we need those three emotional energy states in journalism these days.

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Mar 26

If the numbers don’t lie – what shall we put above the fold?

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism.
Tags: ,

When clicks drive coverage, what happens to hard news stories? Are we doomed to “hamster wheel journalism”?

kitteh sleeping is the end of good journalism

Sleeping kitteh, dying news industry.

Is the future only listicles and kitteh pictures?

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Mar 18

Mr. Mitchell’s Opus

Posted: under journalism, Online Video.
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Readings from “The Light on the Coast”

My very first case study on best practices in journalism was about Dave Mitchell and the saga of the tiny Point Reyes Light. It was a multimedia piece – which, back in 2005, was a real Big Deal for the Online Journalism Review. I shot so many hours of video of Dave explaining his philosophy for running a newspaper, that Dave said that “I don’t think I recognize you without a video camera in your hand pointed in my direction.”

It’s a bit hard to find the files, and I’m not guaranteeing that the video files will play – but they are still up on some hidden portion of the OJR site.

David signing books in the offices of the Point Reyes Light.

David signing books in the offices of the Point Reyes Light.

A little over a week ago, I went back to visit Dave, to celebrate the publication of his book “The Light on the Coast,” a compilation of stories culled from decades of the Point Reyes Light. These are funny, touching, quirky – really, just about any other adjective you could ever apply to the complex little pocket of rural intellectualism that is West Marin.

Many of Dave’s former reporters, editors and photographers traveled long distances to make it to this party. You could tell there was a real kinship between all the people who had worked at the Light over the decades. Journalists reminisced with each other, and mingled with locals in the current offices of the Light, and next door at Vladimir’s restaurant, where we took over the back room.

The entire event was a testimony to the lasting effect that Dave has had on the lives of everyone in this community; how his dedication, hard work, gentle spirit and shaped the evolution of the little communities sprinkled up and down this beautiful coastline. Dave’s stubborn belief in the power and virtue of providing a a good, reliable forum for a community to have a conversation with itself, has meant that West Marin still has a “sense of place” that is sadly missing in so many other areas of the country, where big chain stores and soulless luxury hotels have taken over.

If you are a good journalist, and live your lift with integrity, decency, and caring about the community you work in … if you are really, really lucky … you will get a day like what Dave Mitchell got. You will get a day when your community and your former co-workers all turn out to tell you how much you meant to them. How much your life’s work has positively affected the place that you love so much.

And now, check out some of the readings from Dave Mitchell’s book. You can order it online – I highly recommend it.

First up: Dave reads a Don DeWolfe column about how the Point Reyes Light got its name.

(Don is the editor/publisher who preceded Dave, and who reminisced about the printing technology he used – an actual Linotype machine, with molten lead pouring into molds to print the pages.)

Next up: Dave reads a story about how bar owners used to have to dash back and forth, due to local laws preventing “Lady Bartenders” from serving anything other than beer or wine.

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Feb 24

Gawker’s Nick Denton: “Privacy has never really existed”

Posted: under journalism.
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Thought-provoking take in a Playboy interview of Gawker Media’s Nick Denton, one of the most-hated men on the internet. Also, one of the most successful.

His premise may be a little self-serving, in light of his whole net worth being based on prying into people’s lives and then shaming the shit out of them on his web properties. Then again, you might also legitimately say that his web properties are devoted to outing/shaming/calling B.S. on people because that’s the ethos he lives by.

PLAYBOY: You’re more willing than most people to organize your life according to principle and see how the experiment turns out.

Nick Denton, displaying some of the “let it all hang out” spirit.
Photo credit: Village Voice Blogs

DENTON: You could argue that privacy has never really existed. Usually people’s friends or others in the village had a pretty good idea what was going on. You could look at this as the resurrection of or a return to the essential nature of human existence: We were surrounded by obvious scandal throughout most of human existence, when everybody knew everything. Then there was a brief period when people moved to the cities and social connections were frayed, and there was a brief period of sufficient anonymity to allow for transgressive behavior no one ever found out about. That brief era is now coming to an end.

PLAYBOY: That doesn’t jibe with your other theory about how we’ll judge one another more kindly when we have no privacy. Human history is not a history of tolerance for deviation from the norm.

DENTON: You don’t think there was a kind of peasant realism? You hear these stories about a small town, seemingly conservative, and actually there’s a surprising amount of tolerance. “So-and-so’s a good guy. Who cares if he’s a pig fucker? His wife brought a really lovely pie over when Mama was sick.”

I grew up in Small Town America in the 1970s. Tucked back into a musty corner of the Upper Midwest, rural Wisconsin pretty much ran along the lines that Denton is describing. You can’t live with a family for generations without pretty much knowing all about their business.

You’d know without asking what their opinion was on pretty much any matter of import without having to ask, because their opinions were shaped by their grandparents, their parents, their siblings, and their life experiences.

As were yours.

The idea that we are free to become who we say we are, to invent ourselves – that is a curiously American concept, and one that functions only in fairly large urban environments. Even there, if you become suitably prominent, all the locals will pretty much be all up in your bidness, as the Southerners say.

So in that light: does social media represent a phase in human evolution wherein we all voluntarily put ourselves back into that small-town pressure cooker, where everybody knows all they need to know about us all at a glance? And is that a good thing or a bad thing? Can we even stop it at this juncture – and if we did, would we really want to?

Because there is this thing about small towns: after a certain amount of time, it becomes next to impossible to really pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.

It’s like my career with the paparazzi taught me. Somebody talks.

Somebody ALWAYS talks.

In our modern media landscape, so littered with charlatans who take advantage of ignorance and misinformation to skin the rubes, maybe this kind of brutal enforced honesty is not the worst thing after all.

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Nov 29

Creating a Banner Image for Your Social Profiles

Posted: under journalism.
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Here’s an example of a banner image, created for Storify.

dave lafontaine on storify

i chose these images based on … well, not much at all really. Just stuff that was foremost on my hard drive. Given more than 5 minutes, I could probably do better … but this is still more attractive than the blank space that is the default on Storify.

This example uses a variety of quickly-chosen and lightly edited images to fit the radically horizontal image space on Storify.

Damn. Things are getting heavy. Journalists are being attacked by paid provocateurs:

journalists beaten by pro-kremlin thugs

Journalists being beaten by thugs: Hromadske.TV’s Dmytro Gnap was stomped, his camera smashed, and the memory card stolen.

The pro-Russian government in Ukraine is using “titushki” — paid provocateurs hired to disrupt rallies and provoke police, according to the Kyiv Post.

These protesters are acting like morons, trying to make the protests look like they are violent and anarchic. They are helped along in this mission by some of the more casual protesters, who show up after having a few drinks, and seem to be mainly interested in the more festive aspects of the protest.

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Nov 27

Embedding Infographic Example for Kiev Students

Posted: under journalism.
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This is just a test of an embed code…

 

How NOT to look Ugly on a Webcam

by Lemon.ly.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

 

 

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Oct 07

eBook Publishing Options

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism.
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How journalists can build their own news/publishing business

I was asked by my students if there were ways that they could publish their stories, videos and audios, without having to give up control to media companies that really aren’t all that interested in publishing new & interesting content from unknown authors. Well, not unless it is given to them free, with no obligations to pay any residuals or royalties, and they have exclusive rights to publish and market that content in all media known or unknown, throughout the universe, until the end of time.

There are a bunch of companies that have sprung up that publish multimedia books – you’ll have to do some research to see which one would offer you the best deal for your project.

1. Vook – they started off just doing ebooks with video embedded. These were interesting as experiments, but really didn’t push the form very far. Now, they’ve started publishing to all the major platforms (rather than trying to establish themselves as an alternative to Amazon, with their own proprietary standards – a losing game, if ever there was one).

The first Vooks were like the first CD-ROMs. They had text on them with cutscenes of dubious quality. Usually made from literature that was in the public domain (i.e. free for some geek to hammer on without having to pay fees to the pesky creative writer-types).

The first Vooks were like the first CD-ROMs. They had text on them with cutscenes of dubious quality. Usually made from literature that was in the public domain (i.e. free for some geek to hammer on without having to pay fees to the pesky creative writer-types).

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Sep 03

Google’s ‘In-Depth Articles’ Feature: What Journalists Need to Know

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism.
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…back from summer vacation, and leaping into the school year. Well, trying to leap, anyway.

I mentioned this development in digital news to my journalism classes at Annenberg, and figured I might want to expand a bit more on it, and provide some links to related articles & research.

(Google Data Center from Wallpaperstart.com)

First, forgive me if this is old news, but I haven’t heard much about this from the usual suspects; for some reason, there isn’t much notice being taken of this by publishers, or professional journalists.

But the PR guys are all over this. Viz: How Google’s ‘In-Depth Articles’ feature could affect PR

Nut grafs:

The feature, which Google calls “In-Depth Articles,” offers up links to a set of three long-form articles, usually at the bottom of the search results page. The articles are usually detailed profiles and exposés on companies and their leadership. Companies and high-profile individuals should take notice of this development and understand that it presents a number of opportunities, as well as some perils. 

No one but Google itself knows exactly how these articles are selected, but the search engine giant has described them as “thoughtful in-depth content” that “remains relevant long after its publication date.” This is a major coup for traditional long-form publications such as Rolling StoneVanity Fair,FortuneThe Atlantic, and The New Yorker, as well as new online-only media such as The Verge,SB Nation, and Slate

The implications for businesses, prominent individuals, and the people in charge of maintaining the reputations thereof, are pretty significant, if not outright terrifying.

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