Take my data; just don’t bother me with it

Today I got to read a brief history of cookies and clicks for a communications class I’m in. We read a chapter of Joseph Turow’s book “The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry Is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth.” Here are the five things I’ve spent the day thinking about since I read the chapter:

1. The class discussion revolved around cookies and privacy — mirroring many of the discussions we’ve had in our class. Most people said they don’t like that companies harvest data without active consent from web users, but many of my classmates also said they don’t want to make the effort to stop those companies from doing so.

2. I’ll be honest. The few times I’ve made the effort to go disable cookies on my different web browsers, they’ve threatened to unremember all of the different passwords I’ve saved. That was enough to scare me back into my cookie-filled browsers.

3. The discussion raised some interesting points in my mind. Particularly, the word consent. North Carolina has the one-party consent law, which makes it a crime to intercept or record any “wire, oral, or electronic communication” unless one party in the conversation consents. While I understand that we technically give consent when we sign user agreements, is it really consent if you can’t use most of the Internet without giving away that privacy? Especially now that the president declared the Internet is a public good.

4. Tonight, I tried, rather unsuccessfully to register for an account on aboutthedata.com. It’s run by a company called Acxiom, a marketing data company that collects and sells internet users’ data to advertising companies. Apparently, they have a different address listed for me, so they won’t release the data they’ve collected on me to me.

5. I’m still not sure companies have perfected the algorithm they use to track my searches. If I spend an hour looking at boots on Google, Amazon, and other online shopping sites and still don’t buy anything, I’m not sure I need to be advertised at for the next few weeks. I’d rather them take the Harris Teeter VIC card approach — if I’m buying lots of cookies, I would probably use a coupon for some milk.

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I interviewed my best friend tonight

My best friend and Daily Tar Heel managing editor Katie Reilly went to a big conference on narrative journalism this weekend so when I caught up with her about it tonight I just wrote down everything she said so you guys could see it here. 

What was your favorite session?

My favorite session to go to was from a reporter who works for The Marshall Project. It’s a new website all about criminal justice reporting. She’s a criminal justice reporter and her whole talk was about when you’re telling stories about crime that it’s very easy to fall into the trap of writing about good guy, bad guy in very strict dichotomies. But the best kind of story recognizes that it’s far more complex and grey than that. She talked about one finding a compelling criminal justice story to tell and then the difficulty of interviewing criminals and victims and people within these very sensitive story areas.

Her whole goal is to humanize people and all of these characters that would be involved in that situation. She is a very good writer.

So who was the keynote?

There were four keynotes. Sarah Koenig was the keynote today.  Jill Abramson was Saturday.

Tell me more about Koenig.

She introduced the audience to the premise of Serial and she lifted up the curtain even further for how she went about the reporting of it. She talked about how when it first started she didn’t even know what a podcast format should be like. So she came at it like what she does for radio and This American Life just longer.

Basically she talked about podcast as a medium and how it’s totally distinct from radio or how you would approach a written story. I approached it like this is going to be a book told in different parts. And they were like no you have to make it like really good TV.

She said that that’s where the idea “previously on Serial” and the theme song came about. So it was this idea that Serial was something listeners could either return to or tune into for the first time and pick up wherever the story was.

The huge response to it she thinks was in part to people weren’t used to appreciating journalism in the same way that they appreciate entertainment which is essentially what happened with that. And on that note, when they started last summer, she and Ira Glass said they would be satisfied with 300,000 subscribers. They reached that in five days after they launched. And now they average I think it was 6.5 million downloads per episode.

Did Jill Abramson talk about getting fired?

I think the word she used was summarily. She goes, “As many of you know I was summarily fired from my job last year.” And so she has, in that time since she was fired, she has focused on what she called three buckets of narrative journalism.

First bucket was teaching at Harvard. And so she kinda went through her whole syllabus which was really fascinating. The most important writer she talked about is Gay Talese and she said he is just unmatched in his skill. He’s 83 now but he still writes. He wrote the 50th anniversary Selma story for The New York Times because he covered it for them 50 years ago.

He doesn’t record anything because he doesn’t want to make people feel more nervous. He takes notes on these little squares that he keeps in his shirt pocket. And he keeps all his notes afterwards in these big legal boxes that he stores in his basement and one time she went to his house and saw them.

Then he decorates the legal boxes. Afterwards as  part of his creative process, he paints them as like a “I’m now done with this interview but all these notes will forever be stored here.”

His story he’s most famous for is “Frank Sinatra has a cold.” He wrote a long feature on Sinatra without any quotes from Sinatra. Frank Sinatra said he had a cold so he couldn’t be interviewed. I haven’t even read it yet but now I will read it. It’s renowned for its narrative skill.

The second bucket is the book that she’s writing about the rapidly changing industry.

She didn’t really expand a lot on the book, she just said she’s writing it. She thinks the fiercest competition in media right now is to get a button on Snapchat Discover.

She thinks there will always be a market for narrative journalism and in-depth storytelling will always be a skill that’s valued. She said there will be somedays that she goes to her desk and then somehow it gets to be noon and she’ll have done nothing but read the day’s news.

The third bucket?

The start up that she’s working on with the man who founded Court TV. She wouldn’t say what their bsinesss model is but that she’s very confident in it and there’s more to come. They’re producing nonfiction novellas that are 20,000 to 30,000 words because she thinks theres a space for something between a long form magazine piece and a book.

Can you imagine writing 20,000 words? That’s so much.

Anything else?

One of my favorite things was all about Instagram storytelling. The people that ran this panel were all writers not photographers. One of them is a National Geographic writer and every time he went out to write a story, eh would take a picture of someone on his phone.

Oh and you’ll love this. Another writer was saying “I don’t want to kill all the darlings maybe there’s a place for them to live somewhere else.” All of them are people that he comes across that are going to end up on the cutting room floor.

They all post them on Instagram and it’s a story that’s different from but related to whatever their published piece will be about. I thought it was so cool. It’s sort of Humans of New York-ish but they don’t have to be people.

Follow Katie on Twitter. Check out her work here. And here.

In response to last week’s discussion about the music industry

Last week’s discussion about the music industry is one I’ve had many times in my journalism classes. It’s often used as the classic example of an industry that was digitally disrupted and never fully recovered.

Oftentimes, I think we spend too much time looking at the damage digital downloads have caused rather than looking at how they’ve forced the music industry to consider new models for making revenue. In fact, I think there’s a lot of lessons publishers can learn from the music industry.

(Also, I don’t think enough people recognize the difference between the music industry and the record industry. But that’s another blog post.)

The music industry now makes most of its money off of concerts and events. In December 2013, I paid almost $200 for front row seats to a Beyonce concert. Then I bought a $40 t-shirt while I was at the concert.

I love Beyonce’s albums, but I buy them one single at a time. She’s not making much money off me there.

The print journalism industry will likely never fully recover from its own digital disruption. But news outlets can turn to events and other revenue-generating businesses to float their news operations.

Newspapers and their reporters are still considered thought leaders in their regions and they can trade in that. Earlier this year, The Daily Tar Heel hosted a feedback session after we printed our front page editorial on the need for reform in college athletics.

It was well attended and lasted much longer than we thought it would. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we could have made money off of it, but it seemed like people might be willing to buy tickets to hear us gab about the topics we’re well-versed in.

(I might be crazy. I don’t know. I would love to hear people’s thoughts on this idea.)

This is something the American City Business Journals has been doing for a long time — using its connections in local business circles to host professional nights out and hosting grand dinners to honor local businesses that make it onto top-40 lists the journals create.

The student media group at the University of Oregon, which is responsible for publishing The Daily Emerald, recently purchased a photo booth. The low-maintenance booth incurred a one-time cost to the group, and now it rents it out to other student groups for extra revenue.

But I guess, in the end, these are largely band-aid solutions to the broader problem — the prevailing assumption that readers shouldn’t have to pay for their news.

If I want to tweet your story, you should make it easy for me

I’m an avid reader of the news, but I’m not an avid sharer. My Twitter profile is mostly populated with stories from The Daily Tar Heel and the same goes for my Facebook page.

If I want to share a story I’ve read from a national outlet, I usually would email it to my friends I think would most appreciate it, rather than posting it for my 800 followers who mostly care about the UNC-related news I tweet.

But I really appreciate it when news sites give me an easy way to share stories. Whether that’s like what The Los Angeles Times does with it’s sharable bites:

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Which I really like to use instead of just tweeting the article’s headline or a quote from the article.

I also like that The New York Times share buttons follow me down the page. The only downside is when you click them, they queue up a tweet that’s just a headline and a shortened link to the story, which feels robotic and impersonal and not something I’d ever really want to share.

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This story is so much cooler than “Alabama Shakes’s Soul-Stirring, Shape-Shifting New Sound.”

Apparently,  The New York Times experimented with highlighting 140-character portions of stories to make it easier for readers to tweet that way.  At the time, The New York Times’ deputy editor of interactive news Marc Lavallee told Poynter the move was a one-time experiment.

“It’s not like a feature that’s in the pipeline to be rolled out site wide,” Lavallee told Poynter in August 2013.

That’s sort of a bummer because I think that feature could be really helpful, especially in some of the Times’ more dense material.

Anything publishers can do to make their stories more shareable (but not more click-baity — there is a difference!) is a worthwhile effort. For most websites, social is the source of most of their traffic. Publishers should realize that and try to capitalize on it.

Race relations with your coffee

 

This week, Starbucks unveiled a new ad campaign called “Race Together,” which is aimed at encouraging Starbucks’ baristas and customers to talk about race relations in America.

Howard Schultz, the chief executive officer for Starbucks, announced the new campaign at an employee conference in Seattle on Monday. According to Fortune Magazine, 40 percent of Starbucks employees identify as a racial minority.

“We at Starbucks should be willing to talk about these issues in America,” Schultz said during the conference. “Not to point fingers or to place blame, and not because we have answers, but because staying silent is not who we are.”

Immediately, the Twitter-sphere weighed in with its usual snark, which the Washington Post conveniently aggregated for me.

The campaign also includes a weekly USA Today insert that will have information about race relations and different perspectives on race. Starbucks stores will also have the insert.

While I agree with Schultz that race isn’t something America can afford to be quiet about, I do worry that this campaign doesn’t treat the issue of race relations with the sensitivity it requires. And asking employees who already have to deal with catty customers and long lines to opine on the current state of race relations in America seems tough.

I also think this campaign will succeed in certain geographies and largely fail in others.

It’s no wonder that urban areas seem to fear the proposal. People in large cities probably don’t know their barista very well, if at all. The idea of a stranger serving you coffee and forcing an intense conversation on you is likely very daunting.

But my hometown is small and the baristas in the one Starbucks in my town know nearly everyone. Encouraging those employees to be open and honest with customers about their feelings on current affairs will probably be one giant step forward for my little town.

I really appreciated The Daily Telegraph take:

It is a noble aim, of course, to improve “race relations,” and it would be churlish to suggest it stems from anything less than the best of intentions. But is Starbucks, in its very quest for equality, unwittingly entrenching those artificial divisions that have helped cause such unrest in the first place, not just lately but throughout history?

It could go really, horribly bad. People could have hilarious exchanges with baristas, similar to what happened with McDonald’s Pay with Lovin’ campaign. But I like that Schultz is open to the idea. And I think there are some places where it could really make a difference.

Cheating on my print husband

On Tuesday we had an 8 p.m. men’s basketball game against N.C. State University. Normally, we pressure our reporters to have those stories in by 11 p.m. so we can get them edited, copy fit and sent.

But this week we decided to try something a little different.

Even though most students say they don’t consider N.C. State our rivals, I knew the game was one people would watch on television as it happened. That meant any gamer story we printed would feel a little repetitive. People always love our sides, though.

But with the snow forecast, I wanted to get our delivery guys on the road as soon as possible.

So I made the decision to cheat on my print husband.

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We just did a game photo for the front pack with an extended caption detailing the most relevant statistics from the game. Readers would be instructed to go online for the longer stories about the Tar Heel’s performance.

We sent the paper early and my reporters got as much space as they wanted for their online-only stories. Our analytics showed that the articles did well online for a snow day when hardly any papers got picked up anyway (this is pretty normal now for a frigid day when people want to keep their hands shoved deep in their pockets).

The photo-only move is one we saw The News & Observer do for the Tar Heels’ game against Duke a week prior. That game had a 9 p.m. tipoff.  (We opted to miss deadline for that game, but that’s sort of a luxury that many newspapers can’t afford. )

Ultimately, I think my management team and I made the right call. But it was a call I hated to make.

Budgeting the paper is hard when it comes to sports. But when games are designed around television schedules, it leaves some newspapers no choice but to get creative with their coverage.

It’s clear that — even when almost every student watched the game against N.C. State — students will still read a 40-inch story about the game the next day. They seem to appreciate our editors’ insight and the quotes from the press conferences. And, of course, the fact that it’s some of the best written stuff in our paper doesn’t hurt.

But deadlines are important, especially on snow days when it’s dangerous to have delivery people on the roads at all, much less at 4 a.m. when routes are super slick.

I can’t tell you what we’ll decide to do for Tuesday’s game against Georgia Tech. Thankfully, it’s a 7 p.m. game. And there’s no forecast for snow…yet.