A redesign for you

Three updates and a design note for readers

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Gadzukes, a lot is happening out there. Here, too.

The SaveMyDaily site has been reorganized. With the post count approaching 50, it was time to make the blog easier to read. Please check out the “Pick a Topic” list in the site margin. If your time or interest is limited, click on a subject to see just the pertinent posts. Your humble host hopes the feature will help focus our efforts toward a successful end.

As for doings elsewhere, here are updates to posts previously published.

Fish or Foul? (Newspaper publishers care about what they print — and pay a price for it.): In a Dec. 15, 2017, post on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that the company’s network is more than an elaborate maze of digital plumbing:

“Facebook is a new kind of platform different from anything before it. I think of Facebook as a technology company, but I recognize we have a greater responsibility than just building technology that information flows through. While we don’t write the news stories you read and share, we also recognize we’re more than just a distributor of news. We’re a new kind of platform for public discourse — and that means we have a new kind of responsibility to enable people to have the most meaningful conversations, and to build a space where people can be informed.

“With any changes we make, we must fight to give all people a voice and resist the path of becoming arbiters of truth ourselves. I believe we can build a more informed community and uphold these principles.”Mark Zuckerberg

For more on the steps Facebook is taking to do that, take a look at the company’s “News Feed FYI: Addressing Hoaxes and Fake News.”

Making it clear (Better online news design might regain reader trust.): In “So, is it news, opinion or advertising?,” Michelle Morgante, managing editor of The Merced Sun-Star, points out that readers often don’t know the difference between the three. If online news sites do label every piece with a descriptive design element (NEWS, OPINION, etc.), it might be wise to include a link that explains the difference between them — or a link to Morgante’s column.

Discriminating distribution (Should the distribution method dictate the news content?): The Nieman Lab reports that The New Haven Independent, a nonprofit online-only news outlet, has tailored its cop shop policy in recognition of the reach and persistence of internet news. Paul Bass, the paper’s editor and founder is quoted as saying, “With the advent of the Internet, what’s online becomes people’s main or only source of news. People’s reputations are at stake, and often the arrest itself and not the outcome is what is known about them.” (“No mugshot exploitation here: The New Haven Independent aims to respect the reputations of those arrested in the community it covers” —Neiman Lab)

Making it clear

Better online news design might regain reader trust.

Hello. What do you want to read today?

postbuttons-01-31-17

What would happen if every online newspaper had a home page that looked like this?

What if, when you clicked the news button, the next page only displayed news stories?

What if, when you clicked on a news story, the “NEWS” label was repeated top and bottom, so that, even if the story was a 10,000-word epic, or even if you arrived through a side door (say, a Facebook link), you knew what you were reading?

What if every page had the same three buttons on the right margin, offering a constant option to switch from news to analysis to opinion?

What would that sort of a design do? Well, perhaps:

  • reporters and editors would have to identify each piece of content as they prepare it for publication (a useful exercise, to be sure);
  • each reader would have to make a conscious decision—facts, analysis or opinion;
  • ergo, opportunities for confusing the three, particularly facts and opinion, would be reduced;
  • ergo, our readers might learn to trust us again.

The design of print newspapers evolved over years and worked quite well. Only news appeared on the front page. Opinion only appeared on the editorial and op-ed pages. Columns and analytical pieces were labeled as such.

Today, the front page (i.e., the home page) contains every kind of content the paper has. It’s quite easy to begin reading an opinion piece without knowing that’s what you’ve done. And if you don’t realize it’s an opinion piece, you will assuredly detect a point of view. And if you detect the point of view that was deliberately inserted into the piece, and you don’t realize it was deliberately done because — HEY! IT’S AN OPINION PIECE! — you might quite naturally conclude that the publication is slanted.  All of it. News, too.

No matter what business models we come up with, if readers don’t trust us, they won’t read our products. A little more clarity could help.

UPDATE (02/16/2017)

In “So, is it news, opinion or advertising?,” Michelle Morgante, managing editor of The Merced Sun-Star, points out that readers often don’t know the difference between the three. If online news sites do label every piece with a descriptive design element (NEWS, OPINION, etc.), it might be wise to include a link that explains the difference between them — or a link to Morgante’s column.

Ads at any cost?

Can algorithms be trusted to fill ad space with discretion?

Warning: This post is going to begin in one place and wind up in another. Hang onto your hat!

An opinion piece in the Sunday New York Times, “How to destroy the business model of Breitbart and Fake News,” details the work of a Twitter group called the Sleeping Giants.

The group is building one dam after another in the river of online ad revenue that flows to Breitbart News.

Advertisers may not know their digital ads are appearing on the site, for the ads are placed by an automated ad-serving process. The Sleeping Giants enlighten the advertisers, by sending them screenshots of their ads as they appeared, right next to Breitbart content.

The last thing an advertiser wants from a marketing campaign is for the ads to appear with content inconsistent with the company’s brand, confusing or even alienating the very consumers the campaign is designed to attract.

“The Giants and their followers have communicated with more than 1,000 companies and nonprofit groups whose ads appeared on Breitbart, and about 400 of those organizations have promised to remove the site from future ad buys,” says the Times piece.

Any business that depends on ad revenue to survive is in trouble when that revenue dries up because advertisers walk away. Will Breitbart’s business model be weakened to the breaking point? We’ll see.

But wait. What happens when the problem runs the other way? (Yes, here’s that turn we warned you about. Stick with us!)

What happens when a website yields its ad-space inventory to a remote, automated ad-serving vendor, and then discovers that some of the ads running on its pages are contrary to everything the website stands for?

One of my daily pleasures is to read the online version of an award-winning New England newspaper, a leading light in traditional journalism circles. I was floored one morning when I saw, next to an excellent story I was reading to the bottom, an ad that shouted, “Should Trump Put Hillary in Jail?” Yellow letters over an unflattering headshot of Clinton proclaimed her “GUILTY!”

Curious, I hovered my computer’s cursor over the ad and read the line of code at the bottom of the browser window. The ad was served up by Google Ad Services. I clicked on it and landed on a self-proclaimed news site that was, if not a purveyor of fake news, certainly a slinger of clickbait headlines and one-sided stories.

I wondered whether the paper I’d originally been reading was aware it had sent me to a news site that was the antithesis of traditional journalism.

So.

We’ve jumped from the role of the befuddled advertiser into the role of the befuddled publisher. Still with us? Sweet.

Here’s the business model question: Are all ads worth running?

If a news business model restricts ads to those served up by the paper itself (as in the old days), then the paper maintains control.

If a news business model depends on revenue from remote ad-serving processes and vendors, it must rely on whatever rules the vendors allow one to impose, as well as the vendors’ interpretation of those rules.

That seems to be a riskier proposition, all the way around.

For Jon

One editor’s notes, shared

Tonight I am violating two rules. I’ve written and will post these words after imbibing two small glasses of red wine (that’s the no-alcohol rule I’m breaking), and I’m going to get a bit personal (that’s the let’s-keep-it-professional rule being ripped asunder).

Today, this night, December 2, 2016, my husband, Jonathan Kellogg, would have turned 70. It was not to be. He died without warning on August 17, 2015.

Last night and again tonight, for comfort, I read some of the bits and pieces of his life’s work, papers gleaned from our attic archives last winter. They are relevant to this blog, these bits and pieces. He didn’t originate all of them; he kept them to remind himself of why he did what he did, of the standards he worked so hard to sustain during his lifetime as an Associated Press reporter, editor and bureau chief, and as a newspaper managing editor and executive editor.

The rest of this post is composed of some of those bits and pieces.

First, one that he wrote:

“What will keep newspapers successful … is the ability to find and deliver information that readers truly need in a format that is accessible and clear. … Failing newspapers will content themselves with simply reporting events. The successful newspaper will be loaded with stories that surprise readers with information and insight. It will satisfy readers’ curiosity about themselves and their world. It will be a newspaper that readers can’t afford to miss.

And now, other bits that he kept, most of uncertain origin:


People who own stocks, read stock pages. People who live in a community, own stock in the community. They read the newspaper to determine how their stock is doing. The function of the newspaper is to get as much of that day’s news as possible into the paper.


Editors can only respond. They cannot command a story.


People are a long-term investment. Treat them that way. Evaluate the work, not the worker. Show the worker how his habits and attitudes relate to the work.


On interviewing:

  • Do your homework — know the right questions.
  • Listen — get the answers right.

On writing: Two functions — entertain and inform. Writing that fails either test loses readers or wastes their time.


Love the reader. Write stories that mean something to the reader.


Alexis de Tocqueville, the French historian who wrote “Democracy in America,” wrote of newspapers: To suppose that they only serve to protect freedom would be to diminish their importance: they maintain civilization.”


Indianapolis is the same distance from Washington, D.C., as Chernobyl is from Moscow. Yet the people of the Soviet Union knew nothing and did not even begin to get information until the cloud drifted over a foreign country. Can you imagine the Canadians telling us about a nuclear power accident in Indianapolis?


Secrecy is the hallmark of totalitarian government. The Soviets allow secret arrest, secret trial and secret imprisonment. Any, I repeat, any, movement in that direction strikes at the very foundation of a free society.


Who has the power in society?
The municipality collects taxes.
The sheriff can jail you.
The state can execute you.
The president can send you to war.

The press can tell you the truth about these powers.


The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The First Amendment guarantees the right to publish. It does not include the right to be free from criticism or from paying a price of irresponsibility.


Article 22 of the N.H. Constitution: “Free speech and liberty of the press are essential to the security of freedom in a state: They ought, therefore, to be inviolably preserved.”

Inviolable: to secure from violation; secure from assault or trespass.


Article 15 of the N.H. Constitution (in part): “No subject shall be arrested, imprisoned, despoiled, or deprived of his property, immunities, or privileges, put out of the protection of the law, exiled or deprived of his life, liberty, or estate, but by the judgment of his peers, or the law of the land.”

The key phrase is “judgment of his peers.” Arrests must be made public, detention that could lead to any court action or deprivation must be made public. It’s not the right of the press, but the right of the public. It is the media that preserves this right by informing the public of decisions of government and actions of police.


Frank Batten, chairman of the board of Associated Press directors and president of Landmark Communications, explaining the AP policy on member assessments, Feb. 9, 1984:

“The AP has been — and remains — the backbone of the information system of this nation and a large part of the world. The AP has a tradition of honesty and objectivity and of dedication to member service. In a world of glitter, the AP keeps its eye on substance, reliability and dependability. It evokes loyalty and devotion from hundreds of journalists and technicians we have never met.

“Some go in harm’s way. Some work in cramped and disagreeable places. All of them keep the watch — keep it so faithfully and surely that we might tend to forget their contribution to our newspapers and to the concept of a free press and an informed public

“I say these few things about the AP because without them the rest of the message this morning is hollow, a complex recitation about money that might seem remote from your real interests. I have said them so that we might all remember why we are here.”


And lastly, because, in addition to being a very serious newsman, my husband loved what he did, loved life and loved to laugh, here’s one more bit, Jack Germond’s story on why things are not always as they appear:

An accountant woke up early one morning dreaming of a huge number five. He was startled because he was a man who liked the ponies and often was looking for signs after which to fashion bets.

He looked at the clock; it said 5:55.
As he left the house, he checked the temperature; it was 55 degrees.
When he got in his car, the odometer read 55,555.
He drove to an auditing assignment at 555 Park Avenue.
The balance sheet he did for his client came out solid fives across the bottom.

He could stand it no longer. He grabbed a cab and said, “Take me to Belmont!” He went to the $50 window and bought five win tickets on the number five horse in the fifth race.

 The horse came in fifth.

We hear them, don’t we?

A newspaper that doesn’t understand its readers may lose them.

Does it all come down to empathy, the lack thereof?

Wednesday’s post ended this way, referring to fake news: “At least we can agree on what we don’t want and work to snuff it out.”

Not so fast. WAMU’s Diane Rehm spent part of Wednesday’s show on “The Power of Fake News And Personalized News Feeds.” Listeners who called in said that fake news was not a problem because Trump supporters were smart enough to know it was fake, and besides, plenty of real news was out there to counter it.

Common sense leads us to believe that, if fake news didn’t generate ad revenue or sway views, it wouldn’t exist. Fake news exists because it works, both as a source of money and as a powerfully persuasive tool. Fake news pays off.

But of course, the premise that Trump won because fake news swayed voters is insulting to those who voted for him.

Some of Diane Rehm’s listeners were understandably defiant. The mainstream media didn’t hear us, they seemed to be saying, so we turned away from you. We created, read and repeated the work of our own, preferred news sources because you weren’t speaking to us.

Which brings to mind the words of Terry Egger, CEO and publisher of the Philadelphia Media Network.

The Philadelphia Media Network, a public benefit corporation, is an enormous experiment in news business modeling, and, through its parent, the The Institute for Journalism in New Media, is fostering the creation and study of other news models, as well.

Egger was a speaker at the New England Newspaper & Press Association 2016 Conference. During his talk, he explained the three principles that are guiding him as he strives to lead the way to a sustainable news future. First of the three: empathy.

There was a time, Egger reflected, when newspapers controlled the message, its distribution and how and when it was distributed. Now, the receiver has all the power. “We have got to establish the relevance of what we do,” Egger said. “We have to think of our customers, deeply, always.”

How, exactly, does one do that in a newsroom?

Perhaps by following up on voters the paper wrote about when Obama first took office, the ones who were laid off, lost their homes, lost their way, to find out how they are faring now. As well as bank and mortgage company executives and the companies’ owners.

Perhaps by spending a day on the job with an undocumented immigrant and writing about the low-level jobs that local employers can’t find citizens to fill.

Perhaps by treating the campaign as a job-hunting exercise — the kind so many readers face — inviting them to help draft a job description for the office of president, sticking it out front, measuring each candidate’s qualifications against it.

Perhaps by recognizing how overwhelmed readers are by the volume and complexity of information they encounter, and so making content as clear as possible — consistently labeling all opinion pieces as such, being careful of our word choices, being cognizant of the shift of labels (sexist, racist, misogynist) from the candidate’s comment to the candidate, and justifying that shift when it occurs. For readers are simply too busy to parse our meaning from our words.

If we had begun each day considering what our readers were facing as they drank their morning coffee — might our news coverage have been different?

A news business model is only a skeleton. We humbly suggest that Terry Egger’s use of empathy as a guiding principle is a good idea for all who labor to turn that skeleton into the body of work that keeps our democracy strong.

For more on fake news, see:

Keeping our eye on the prize

What kind of news do we want?

Yesterday, I drove to the local community college to watch two touring debaters from Great Britain discuss objective media versus partisan media.

The free event, hosted by Chesapeake College’s Honors Council, focused on a question of preference, for living in a country where major media outlets would be balanced and objective, or for living in one where major media outlets represented different political and world agendas.

The debaters, James Baross and David Jones, landed their points with vigor.  Here are just a few of them:

Jones stood for one state-sponsored but independently run media outlet that would strive to report balanced and unbiased news, maximizing truth (e.g., the BBC), and that, when found in error, would publish retractions with the same prominence as the original mistake.

Conversely, he warned, in a commercial news landscape offering a plurality of views, each view stems from the top, from the news outlet’s owner. When an owner  (and one’s boss) is pushing an agenda, Jones cautioned, the agenda takes primacy over facts and accuracy. And partisan media sensationalize the news to drive up readership, creating disparate visions of America. Citizens are forced to choose between competing realities, each defined in opposition to the other. Society becomes polarized.

Baross stood for a media world consisting only of partisan, commercial outlets presenting news aligned with their ideologies (e.g., Fox News, MSNBC). You don’t have time to evaluate and interpret the tremendous flow of facts and events that an unbiased news source would present, he reminded the audience. Wouldn’t you rather have someone who shares your views do that for you? Doesn’t it make sense, Baross suggested, for you to follow an ideologue from the mainstream media who thinks the way you do? Besides, it’s impossible to be truly neutral, he reasoned. Even when a news source is simply presenting facts, judgments and evaluations occur.

To illustrate that point, Baross told a story about two monks in a monastery.

One of the monks goes to his pastor and asks, “Pastor, am I allowed to smoke while I pray?”

“No, no, how dare you!” responds the pastor. “You are desecrating a sacred activity!”

Another monk asks the pastor, “Pastor, is it okay if I pray while I smoke?”

“Of course it is, my son,” the pastor says. “Praying is an activity to be done at any time, all the time, whatever you’re doing.”

Just the framing of a question, what comes first and what comes last, changes the way in which a situation is perceived. “Even in a world in which you simply tell facts, you can’t avoid implying position; you can’t avoid bias,” Baross concluded.

“We agree,” responded Jones.  “You can’t have an unbiased news media source. But what you can do is, you can set up a primary news organization that has the overriding ideology of promoting unbiased information.”

Ooh, they’re good, those debaters from Great Britain.  Their arguments reminded me that, while we try to find ways to financially support excellent news coverage in this country, we also need to keep our eye on the prize — what sort of news coverage we want.

That task may have become a little bit easier this week. For in this world in which we live, in addition to objective news and partisan news, we face a new player — fake news.  At least we can all agree that we don’t want that. The advertising revenue that legitimate news sources so desperately need should not be shared with purveyors of outright lies.

This week, The New York Times reported that Google and Facebook now say they intend to choke off advertising revenue that has been helping to support the producers of fake news.

“Google kicked off the action on Monday afternoon when the Silicon Valley search giant said it would ban websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service. Hours later, Facebook, the social network, updated the language in its Facebook Audience Network policy, which already says it will not display ads in sites that show misleading or illegal content, to include fake news sites.” Google and Facebook Take Aim at Fake News Sites

At least we can agree on what we don’t want and work to snuff it out.  It’s a good start.

Defining what’s broken

Were U.S. voters well informed when they picked Trump?


Did the media fail?

“The forces that drove this election’s media failure are likely to get worse,” declares a Nieman Lab headline. “Trump Was Not a Media Fail,” reads another on Politico.

Good grief. We can’t even figure out if we have a problem.

Did the media fail? Does the question itself demonstrate bias for candidate Clinton and against Trump, the president-elect?

Not if we’re discussing how the media failed to take accurate measure of the electorate and predict a Trump victory. It’s a legitimate question and answers should be sought. Polling, probability and prognostication were a big slice of the coverage pie this election cycle. Statistics professionals will study and improve their methodologies. Journalists will, hopefully, do the same. The development of new guidelines for the sourcing and volume of such coverage would bode well for the next election.

If, on the other hand, we’re discussing how the media failed to convince the electorate that Trump was unqualified to run, let alone win, than bias would seem evident. Even so, that version of the question is germane to the purpose of this blog.

“There was an enormous amount of good journalism done on Trump and this entire election cycle,” Joshua Benton writes in his Nieman Lab piece. “The problem is that not enough people sought it out. And of those who did, not enough of them trusted it to inform their political decisions. And even for many of those, the good journalism was crowded out by the fragmentary glimpses of nonsense.”

In his Politico piece, Jack Shafer says it isn’t that Americans didn’t absorb the accurate, negative reporting about Trump; it’s that many voters chose to discount what they’d learned. “As the Cook Report notes today,” Shafer writes, “newspaper investigations cemented into the public mind the pre-existing image of Donald Trump as a bad person, as exit polls showed that 60 percent of voters viewed him unfavorably. But that didn’t keep 15 percent of those who thought he was deplorable from voting for him. Likewise, 63 percent of voters believe Trump lacked the right ‘temperament’ to be president. But of those respondents, 20 percent said what the hell and voted for him anyway. And 60 percent of voters said he wasn’t qualified to be president—and you can guess the rest: 18 percent of them voted for him.”

Shafer says voters absorbed Trump’s negatives but Clinton “was judged worse or equal on a couple of scores.” The voters, Shafer goes on, also favored Trump’s simplified message. “He slung praise upon a constituency that was starved for the respect of a plain-speaking candidate, and they rolled over on their backs and grinned, tongues akimbo, as he scratched their bellies.”

(I thought Trump’s message was very simple: Don’t think. Just trust me.)

Benton says the prevalence of false anti-Clinton copy online, particularly on Facebook, diverted voters away from the truth. “There were just too many people voting in this election because they were infuriated by made-up things they read online.” The view that lies spread on Facebook contributed to Trump’s victory, though, has been rejected by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. On November 10, USA Today reported he said the idea that fake news spread by Facebook influenced the election was “pretty crazy.”

You can’t fix a problem without defining it first. Did the media fail? If so, how?