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May 29, 2015

Reddit vs. CNN

I’ve posted at Medium a list of the 11 questions CNN asked Bernie Sanders and the top 11 questions at a Reddit AMA with him two days later.

There’s no question in my mind that Reddit’s questions are better in any relevant sense of the term. How typical was the godawful CNN interview? Based on my watching a lot of CNN, I’d say it was particularly bad, but not atypical.

The post has provoked some interesting comments by journalists and others.

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February 24, 2015

[shorenstein] CNN Digital’s New Rules for Modern Journalists

Meredith Artley , editor in chief of CNN Digital, is s giving a Shorenstein Center talk on “new rules for modern journalists.” [Disclosure: I sometimes write for CNN.com. I don’t know Meredith and she doesn’t know me.]

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Meredith started at NYTimes.com where most of the work was copying and pasting into online. She left as second in charge. Then she spent five hears in Paris for the International Herald Tribune. Then exec. ed of LATimes.com. She’s been at CNN for 5 years. Digital CNN includes CNN.com, CNN Money on desktops and mobile, and more. There are 300 people on the digital team. Part of her remit is also to tap into the rest of CNN.

Rule #1: Slow down a bit.

For journalists, there’s more to consider than ever: writing, choosing images, building your personal brand across media. You need the discipline to be the best at what you’re doing.

For example, CNN had a story about this relentless winter. At first the headline was “Boston braces for more snow.” But that headline didn’t do very well; CNN tracks the clicks and other online responses. That headline tells you “Boston: More of the same.” So they came up with the headline “Boston would wave a white flag if it could see it.” That story went straight through the roof. A little emotion, a little wink.

#2: The best and brightest modern journalists pick a measure of success that matters to them.

Some video journalists pick completion rates: how many people make it through the entire 3-4 min video. Or time-spent on text stories. People viewed the story about the woman luring three young women into ISIS for an average of 6.5 minutes, which is a lot. “That’s powerful.” That tells CNN that maybe they can go long on that story. “We’re using the audience data to help steer us into our assignments.”

Another example: CNN gets a lot of reports of what posts are doing well. They had a lede that explained what’s at stake in the clash of powers in Ukraine rather than starting with that day’s developments. That got people into the story far more effectively

#3 Pick a social platform that suits you and suits your story — those are two separate things.

Facebook is good for several kinds of stories: for video, for evening publishing. Twitter is really good at reaching an influencer audience and having a connection to TV. Certain stories lend themselves to certain platforms.

Example: A correspondent was in a beseiged city. He did a Reddit AMA. The numbers weren’t astronomical, but the quality and caliber of the conversation was fantastic.

#4: Publishing is not the end.

The old model was that you hope your story gets posted prominently, and once it’s out, you’re done. The best and brightest rockstar journalists now know that publishing is the moment where you start to engage audiences, look at how it’s performing, thinking about how you might reach out to social media to get it seen, listen to the conversation around the story to see if there are followups….

E.g. At CNN Money they pore through data and find the best jobs in America based on particular criteria. Being a dentist made the list one year. CNN tweeted this out to the American Dental Association. “This is a great way to reach the people you’re talking about.” “It really isn’t enough these days to put it on a site, or tweet it and walk away.”

#5: Beware of the big and shiny objects.

There’s a lot of conversation about Snowfall. There’s a temptation to do big and beautiful things like that. But you have to pick and choose carefully. You can start slow: publish a little bit and see if there’s interest, and then add to it.

Example: A columnist, John Sutter, asked audiences to vote on the issues that matter to them. From child poverty to climate change, etc. He said they’d find stories to cover the top five. They thought about doing big multimedia productions. He did a story on the most endangered river. He tweeted during the process — very casual and low cost, not at all like a major multimedia production. “I like that iterative approach.”

Q&A

Q: [alex jones] Your points #2-4, and maybe #5, are contrary to #1. Do you really want people to slow down?

A: I don’t find them contradictory at all. The point is to pick and choose. Otherwise there’s too much to do. Discipline is key. Otherwise it all becomes overwhelming.

Q: CNN on air’s strategy seems very different from CNN.com. On air the strategy is to pick one or two things and beat the hell out of them. Why doesn’t CNN make you the editor of the broadcast portion and have it be more reflective of what’s happening on the digital side?

A: Give me a few years. [laughter] At every morning’s meeting for all of CNN, we start with digital. When we framed the Ukraine story as an East-West proxy war, that becomes the on-air approach as well. CNN Air is a linear thing. That’s the nature of the medium. Most people watch CNN on air a bit at a time. So there was an intentional strategy to cover 4-5 stories and go deep. But because of the digital, we can go broader.

Q: How do you avoid feeling like you’re pandering when you make data so integral to the process? Not everything important is going to get the clicks, and not everything that gets clicks is important.

A: What’s important is what we’re going to do. We wouldn’t drop the Ukraine story if it didn’t get clicks. We use the data to make the story as strong as possible.

Q: Are there differences in how international audiences consumer digital news?

A: We’re seeing that the international audiences use social differently, and more actively. They share more. We’re not sure why. And, we see a lot of video usage in certain parts of Asia Pacific.

Q: How do you create synergies with traditional news media? Or do you?

A: You can’t keep TV separate from digital. Even within DNN Digital we have different pockets these days.

Q: Isn’t there some danger in media outlets sensationalizing headlines, turning them into clickbait? How can you best tread that line?

A: Clickbait is the scourge of the Internet. We don’t do it. We shouldn’t simplify into “Data bad, journalism good.” These are people who have training and instincts. We use data to help guide you to what resonates with the audience. We do it in service of the story.

Q: Can you talk about A/B testing of headlines? And we’re seeing software that turns structured data into stories. Is that the future?

A: We do A/B test headlines, all in service of the story, especially across the home pages. At CNN Money we’re A/B testing a photo with a headline above or below it. I’ve seen some examples of automated writing, but, meh. Maybe around a box score at this point.

Q: How do you see the relation between professionals and amateur journalists/bloggers?

A: CNN was early into this with I-reports. We also have the biggest social media footprint. (We check submitted reports.)

Q: The Ukraine report’s lede is more like what a newsmagazine would have done than like a newspaper lede.

A: Strategically that’s a shift we’re making. For any event there are a lot of stories that sounds the same. Commoditized news.So I’ve been asking our team to go deeper on the color and the context. We try to put it together and frame it a bit.

Q: Facebook has been emphasiszing native video. How you feel about that as opposed to linking to your page?

A: Its an ongoing discussion with Facebook.

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April 11, 2014

Boston Marathon: What to remember?

CNN.com is running a post of mine about what we choose to remember about the
Boston Marathon bombing. (For some reason, the editorial staff changed the title to “How did Boston Marathon attack change you?” when it’s really about how we choose to let the attack change us. Oh well.)

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April 20, 2013

[2b2k] What we can learn from what we don’t know

I wrote a piece in the early afternoon yesterday about what we can learn from watching how we fill in the blanks when we don’t know stuff…in this case, when we don’t know much about Suspect #1 and #2. It’s about the narratives that shape our unserstanding.

For example, it turns out that I only have three Mass Murderer Narratives: Terrorist, Anti-Social, or Delusional. As we learned more about Suspect #2 yesterday, he seemed not to fit well into any of them. Perhaps he will once we know more, or perhaps my brain will cram him into one even if he doesn’t fit. Anyway, you can read the post at CNN.

 


I find myself unwilling to use Suspect #2’s name today because Martin Richard is too much with me.

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March 2, 2013

Changing where you work is changing your job

CNN.com has posted my op-ed about why where you work is not about the quality of your life so much as about the substance of it.

Judging from some of the reaction, I should emphasize that if the only way to save Yahoo were to require everyone to come to work every day, that would certainly be the right decision. But it seems clear to me that Marissa Mayer was sending a signal with this policy, for surely there are some people who were working productively from home. So, if the new policy is a signal and is not actually required to save Yahoo, then I think she has underestimated how disruptive a signal it is. [To late to stick in a spoiler notice? That was the essence of my op-ed.]

Also, CNN.com has stripped out the links, I’m pretty sure unintentionally. Here they are:

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September 24, 2009

This just in…to Twitter.

CNN’s breaking news service on Twitter (cnnbrk) has 2.7M followers. Here are all of its posts since August 24, a month’s worth:

Legally insane killer who escaped in Washington state has been captured, authorities say http://bit.ly/tEJTU7:03 PM Sep 20th
Man in terror probe charged with making false statements http://bit.ly/q1Cc01:03 AM Sep 20th

FBI agents raid the home of Najibullah Zazi, a Colorado resident, questioned in an alleged terrorist plot in the U.S. http://bit.ly/GYX4310:37 PM Sep 19th

Source: Man at center of terror probe admits al Qaeda ties http://bit.ly/BmGqB #terror6:11 PM Sep 18th

Lab tech arrested in killing of Yale graduate student, police say http://bit.ly/65bPt7:31 AM Sep 17th

Arrest imminent in Yale student killing, authorities say http://bit.ly/PKZTI5:54 AM Sep 17th

More resources being brought to New York in connection with terror probe that triggered raids this week – http://bit.ly/Kh47I1:13 PM Sep 16th

Election board: Karzai has more than 50 percent of Afghan presidential vote; irregularities still being examined – http://bit.ly/SdjnP9:33 AM Sep 16th

Iraqi man who threw his shoes at then-President Bush released from jail on good behavior http://bit.ly/10AmVr #Iraq3:51 AM Sep 15th

Police: Missing Yale student case is a homicide http://bit.ly/38zdz38:27 PM Sep 13th

Mayor: Blagojevich fundraiser told police he overdosed before death http://bit.ly/MED8U3:34 PM Sep 13th

FBI source: Serial bank robbery suspect arrested http://bit.ly/Nbght9:20 AM Sep 13th

Key Blagojevich player is dead, ex-governor says http://bit.ly/ntZnr5:11 PM Sep 12th

Shuttle lands in California http://bit.ly/DbsDg #shuttle #nasa #discovery7:56 PM Sep 11th

Anti-abortion activist shot dead, Michigan officials say – http://bit.ly/td8lF10:44 AM Sep 11th

Sources: Coast Guard incident a ‘training exercise’ http://bit.ly/1NvjKr9:39 AM Sep 11th

Coast Guard confronts boat as Obama visits Pentagon, police scanner reports say shots fired http://bit.ly/Qh9AO9:13 AM Sep 11th

Former Taiwan president convicted on corruption charges http://bit.ly/FAAhn #Taiwan3:17 AM Sep 11th

Mexican hijacking has ended peacefully; all passengers, crew safe, Mexican authorities say. http://bit.ly/2Stkq3 #mexicocity3:19 PM Sep 9th

At least 5 suspects taken into custody after hijacked plane lands at Mexico City airport – http://bit.ly/2Stkq3 #mexicocity3:09 PM Sep 9th

Crew held in hijacked commercial jet at Mexico City airport; passengers freed – http://bit.ly/LZWxM #mexicocity3:02 PM Sep 9th

Source: Key Senate Democrat proposes dropping public option from heath-care reform http://bit.ly/JJ0eo10:10 AM Sep 7th

3 found guility of plotting to blow up planes on flights between Britain, U.S. and Canada. http://bit.ly/JgZmt9:32 AM Sep 7th

Sudanese woman who wore pants escapes lashes, but faces fine http://bit.ly/gVysu6:55 AM Sep 7th

Suspect arrested in Georgia killings http://bit.ly/2Qgdn6:52 PM Sep 4th

Indonesia quake death toll at 25, could rise, agency says http://bit.ly/1bPSiF9:00 AM Sep 2nd

6 dead in #Indonesia after 7.0 magnitude #earthquake http://bit.ly/dyTYB5:03 AM Sep 2nd

Pres. Obama remembers Ted Kennedy as “champion for those who had none; soul of Democratic Party; lion of U.S. Senate.” http://bit.ly/3FmLyq11:42 AM Aug 29th

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s body arrives at Boston church for his funeral, with President Obama set to deliver the eulogy. http://bit.ly/2zWSWv9:52 AM Aug 29th

The Los Angeles County coroner rules Michael Jackson’s death a homicide – http://bit.ly/1xVyAH #michaeljackson1:45 PM Aug 28th

August deadliest month for U.S. military in Afghanistan since 2001 invasion — 46 dead http://bit.ly/3Cvzor8:50 AM Aug 28th

Author Dominick Dunne dies http://bit.ly/9BmES #dominickdunne4:00 PM Aug 26th

Kennedy to be buried at Arlington Cemetery, Defense Dept. official says – http://bit.ly/XCurP #kennedy11:10 AM Aug 26th

Sen. Edward Kennedy died Tuesday night after a lengthy battle with brain cancer. He was 77. http://bit.ly/WiZXA12:25 AM Aug 26th

Chris Brown sentenced to 5 years probation in Rihanna assault #rihanna http://bit.ly/jpJ8w4:21 PM Aug 25th

33 die in Afghan car bomb incident http://bit.ly/snREp11:38 AM Aug 25th

Justice Department asks prosecutor to examine legality of CIA interrogations http://bit.ly/N3Eql #cia #torture2:07 PM Aug 24th

Breakdown:

Total: 38
terrorism: 9
death: 20
Countries mentioned: US, Afghanistan (3), Taiwan, Mexico, Britain, Indonesia, Canada
Plain old crime (non-terrorist): 11
Percentage of tweets that contain actual news: 28.95%

I grant that there’s some subjectivity (=total subjectivity) in deciding what’s actual news. Nevertheless, Google News Timeline will show you at least some of the other events that happened during this month. And this query at Google News will list the 6,600 articles CNN.com posted during the past month, of which these 38 are not the most important, except by some radical redefinition of importance, of news, and of CNN’s dignity.

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March 23, 2008

Stop the presses: CNN actually listens to Wright’s sermon

CNN actually had a reporter listen to the entire tape of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermon, instead of just the sound bytes. Wow! What a revolutionary idea! And it turns out that in context, Wright’s words are — get this! — more understandable and less inflammatory. Isn’t it crazy how context will do that? Furthermore, it turns out that the when Wright suggested that our chickens were coming home to roost, he was quotingciting Edward Peck, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and deputy director of President Reagan’s terrorism task force.

How many days did it take for the professional news media to get around to this?

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March 4, 2008

This is what passes for news

Tonight, a 8:50pm, this is CNN’s list of “latest news”:

list of tawdry news

Sigh.

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