Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Sunday, December 25, 2016
Another quick lesson in sourcing viral user-created content. Here’s a picture that showed up in my stream today.
OK, so what’s the story here? To get more information, I pull the textual information off the image and throw it in a Google search:
Which brings me to a YouTube video that tells me this was taken “outside a Portland, Oregon Walmart” and has been shared “hundreds of times since yesterday”. So back to search. This next result shows you why you always want to look past the first result:
I type in Portland OR, but the fourth result looks like it is reporting the story as a “local” story (look at the URL) and its location is not Portland OR, but Biddeford, Maine. Further indications here that it might be a good source is that I see in the blurb it mentions the name of the photographer “Matthew Mills”. The URL plus the specificity of the information tell me this is the way to go.
That article points me to what looks like the source where it went viral.
We see here that the original news report had a bunch of things wrong. It wasn’t in Portland, Oregon — it was in Biddeford, which is near Portland, Maine. It hasn’t been shared “hundreds of times” it’s been shared hundreds of thousands of times. And it was made viral by a CBS affiliate, a fact that ABC Action News in Tampa doesn’t mention at all.
OK, let’s go one more step. Let’s look at the Facebook page where Matthew Mills shared it. Part of what I want to see is whether is was viral before CBS picked it up or not. I’d also like to double check that Mills is really from the Biddeford area and see if he was responsible for the shopping carts.
The news post does not link back to the original, so we search on Matthew Mills again, and see some news outlets mentioning the original caption by Mills: “This guy got a lesson in parking”.
That’s not the same as the caption that the news station put up. So we pump that into Facebook, and bingo: we get the original post:
And here’s where we see something I really dislike about news organizations. They cut other news organizations out of the story, every time. So they say this has been shared hundreds of times because in order to say it has been shared hundreds of thousands of times they’d have to mention it was popularized by a CBS affiliate. So they cut CBS out of the story and distort the truth.
On the other hand, one of the good effects of it is sometimes it makes it easier to track something down to the source. News organizations work extra hard to find the original source if it means they can cut other news organizations out of the picture.
But it also tends to distort how virality happens. The picture here did not magically become viral — it became viral due, largely, to the reach of WGME.
Incidentally, we also find answers to other questions in the Matthew Mills version: he didn’t take the picture, and he really is from Old Orchard Beach.
Just because we’re extra suspicious, we throw the image into Google Image to see if maybe this is a recycled image. It does not appear to be, although in doing that we find out this is a very common type of viral photo called a “parking revenge” photo. The technique of circling carts around a double-parked car dates back to at least 2012:
When we click through we can see that the practice was popularized, at least to some extent, by Reddit users. See for instance this post from December 2012:
So that’s it. It’s part of a parking revenge meme that dates back at least four years, and popularized by Reddit. It was shot by Matthew Mills in Biddeford, Maine, who was not the one who circled the carts. And it became viral through the re-share provided by a local Maine TV station.
Again, all of this takes some time to write about. In practice, though, it doesn’t take much time at all to check.
Friday, December 23, 2016
"Democrats seem to say, 'Rural America, vote your pocketbooks,' or 'Vote for us because our policies make your life better,'” Davis writes. "But that kind of electoral transaction rarely happens. That is what Larry Bartels at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions calls the 'folklore of democracy.' And it is only that—a story we tell ourselves about self-government. People vote their identity. They vote their culture, their church, their family, their neighborhood. Politics today is about creating, maintaining and expressing social identity."
"The Trump campaign took advantage of cultural identification in building their 'us-against-the-elites, us-against-the-press, us-against-the-world' community'" he writes. "Most of his voters were not convinced Hillary was going to confiscate their guns or that Trump was going to breathe life back into necrotic coalmines and steel mills. But they saw more of themselves in that storytelling community, comprised of hunters, miners, and millhands—part of an iconic America where folks like them were still valued."
"Democrats have relied on a 'demographics-is-destiny' approach that seeks to take advantage of increasing urbanization, increasing racial diversity, and increasing education levels for party growth while moving away from traditional constituencies like rural and white blue-collar voters," he writes. "One goal of this plan has been to turn dynamically changing states like Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Georgia into blue states in short fashion. But the hemorrhaging of blue-collar white voters keeps pushing the timeframe back."
"Another Democrat goal of 2016 was to use Donald Trump’s charged rhetoric against Mexican immigrants to win over wavering Republican states," he writes. "However, half of Latino voters reside either in California, a reliably blue state, or Texas, a reliably red one. Latino votes did not flip any state to the Democrats."
Colleges face a new reality, as the number of high school graduates will decline - MIKHAIL ZINSHTEYN, Hechinger Report
Thursday, December 22, 2016
All stories are really fragments of one story.
— Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby
We often ignore the importance of language: it’s ability to uplift us, or to shape the way we see and therefore act in the world.
— Alan Moore, Do Design
The closing weeks of a year are often filled with review pieces. Despite myself, I am always drawn to the literary reviews, partly in the hope of discovering something new, partly out of curiosity. What are other people reading? What has attracted them? What have they taken away from the experience?
Reading other people’s recommendations prompts my own reflections. What have I read this year? Why did I read it? Was it because of a steer from a friend, something that I had long anticipated or a serendipitous discovery? Did I delve into the footnotes or bibliography of another book before tracking down this new work? Did I heed the prompt of a newspaper journalist or a blogger or someone I follow on Twitter?
Of course, Austin Kleon is right to sound the alarm about publishing year-in-review lists before the calendar year is even out. After all, there are still a lot of reading days left to discover new pleasures, or to dedicate time to those tomes that have been sitting too long on the to-read pile. Nevertheless, we can be a little fluid about the twelve-month period under consideration.
The following are a few of the books that moved me, delighted me or inspired me in one way or another since the start of the year. I have confined myself to books published either in 2016 or, in several cases, during 2015 but that took time to worm their way into my consciousness. Excluded from consideration are any books I have worked on myself either as author or editor.
The second collection of images are of books awaiting my attention or currently being read. These I fully expect to enthral to the same degree as those already mentioned. It always feels good to have something to look forward to, to be surrounded by potential and anticipation. What Umberto Eco referred to as an anti-library; what Marcelo Gleiser might identify as fish to be caught from the waters that surround the island of knowledge.
What have been your own reading pleasures and discoveries this year?
All writers are puzzle makers. As models of our experience, stories and novels aim not to reduce that experience, or to simplify it, but to reflect its pleasures and sorrows, and to bring its mysteries into sharp focus.
— Peter Turchi, A Muse and A Maze
Writers and storytellers had been nesting their narratives for centuries, of course, in an effort to approximate the networks of story that ramify and complicate our experience of everyday life.
— Michael Chabon, Maps and Legends
Pulling together the above material led me to reflect further on what I have read this year. Some of if was related to the writing of The Neo-Generalist, especially until mid-March. Some of it was early research for a ghostwriting project on Scandinavian leadership. Some of it reading in support of my work as editorial adviser and mentor to other authors. Much of it, however, was simply for pleasure or prompted by curiosity. One way or another, the effects of all this reading find their way into my own writing, whether in articles, blog posts or longer-form books. Reading is how I learn to write.
Paul Auster, ‘City of Glass’ in The New York Trilogy (Faber & Faber, 1988)
Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan (Penguin, 2004)
Robin Chase, Peers Inc (Headline, 2015)
David Hutchens, Circle of the 9 Muses (Wiley, 2015)
Herminia Ibarra, Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015)
Herminia Ibarra, Working Identity (Harvard Business School Press, 2004)
Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Vintage, 2004)
Peter Turchi, A Muse and A Maze (Trinity University Press, 2014)
Marci Alboher, One Person/Multiple Careers (HeyMarci, 2012)
Charles Baudelaire, The Painter in Modern Life (Penguin, 2010)
Adam Grant, Originals (W. H. Allen, 2016)
John Hagel III, John Seely Brown & Lang Davison, The Power of Pull (Basic Books, 2010)
César Hidalgo, Why Information Grows (Allen Lane, 2015)
Jamie Holmes, Nonsense (Crown, 2015)
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan (Penguin, 2010, rev. ed.)
James Watts, Business for Punks (Portfolio Penguin, 2015)
Vivienne Westwood & Ian Kelly, Vivienne Westwood (Picador, 2014)
David Whyte, The Three Marriages (Riverhead Books, 2010)
Jean Gimpel, The Cathedral Builders (Evergreen Books, 1961)
Claudia Hammond, Time Warped (Canongate, 2013)
Sarah Kay, No Matter the Wreckage (Write Bloody, 2014)
Milan Kundera, Slowness (Faber & Faber, 1996)
Sue Roe, In Montmartre (Penguin, 2014)
Ellis Bacon & Lionel Birnie (eds.), The Cycling Anthology, Volume 6 (Peloton Publishing, 2015)
Paul Halpern, Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat (Basic Books, 2015)
Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dream (Corsair, 2012)
George Monbiot, Feral (Penguin, 2014)
Marianne Moore, Observations (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2016)
Claudia Rankine, Citizen (Penguin, 2015)
Douglas Rushkoff, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus (Portfolio Penguin, 2016)
Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Café (Chatto & Windus, 2016)
Seamus Heaney, Human Chain (Faber & Faber, 2012)
Milan Kundera, The Festival of Insignificance (Faber & Faber, 2016)
David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks (Sceptre, 2015)
Alan Moore, Do Design (Do Book Company, 2016)
Max Porter, Grief is the Thing with Feathers (Faber & Faber, 2015)
James Rebanks, A Shepherd’s Life (Penguin, 2016)
James Sallis, Night’s Pardons (Five Oaks Press, 2016)
Jan Carlzon, Moments of Truth (Ballinger Publishing, 1987)
Don DeLillo, Zero K (Picador, 2016)
Patrick Kingsley, How to be Danish (Short Books, 2013)
Ian Leslie, Born Liars (Quercus, 2012)
Henrik Norbrandt, When We Leave Each Other (Open Letter, 2013)
Philip Parker, The Northmen’s Fury (Vintage, 2015)
Robert Penn, The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees (Particular Books, 2015)
James Sallis, Willnot (No Exit Press, 2016)
E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful (Vintage, 2011)
Steve Strid & Claes Andréasson, The Viking Manifesto (Marshall Cavendish, 2007)
Anonymous, The Poetic Edda (Oxford University Press, 2014)
Julian Barnes, Keeping an Eye Open (Jonathan Cape, 2015)
Jessica Helfand, Design (Yale University Press, 2016)
Idra Novey, Ways to Disappear (Daunt Books, 2016)
Michael Puett & Christine Gross-Loh, The Path (Viking, 2016)
Helen Russell, A Year of Living Danishly (Icon, 2016)
Matthew Syed, Black Box Thinking (John Murray, 2015)
Michael Booth, The Almost Nearly Perfect People (Vintage, 2015)
Patrick DeWitt, The Sisters Brothers (Granta, 2011)
Kyna Leski, The Storm of Creativity (MIT Press, 2015)
Charly Wegelius & Tom Southam, Domestique (Ebury Press, 2014)
Marcelo Gleiser, The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected (ForeEdge, 2016)
Ian Goldin & Chris Kutarna, Age of Discovery (Bloomsbury, 2016)
Dave Gray, Liminal Thinking (Two Waves Books, 2016)
Michel Houellebecq, The Map and the Territory (Vintage, 2012)
David Mitchell, Slade House (Sceptre, 2016)
Richard Sennett, The Craftsman (Penguin, 2009)
Manuel Castells, Networks of Outrage and Hope (Polity, 2015, 2nd ed.)
Harold Jarche, Working in Perpetual Beta (Tantramar Interactive, 2016)
Ian McEwan, Nutshell (Jonathan Cape, 2016)
David Millar, The Racer (Yellow Jersey Press, 2015)
Sean Bonney, Letters Against the Firmament (Enitharmon Press, 2015)
Lauren Elkin, Flâneuse (Chatto & Windus, 2016)
Ernest Hemingway, The First Forty-Nine Stories (Arrow Books, 2004)
Jennifer Kronovet, The Wug Test (Ecco Press, 2016)
Ian McEwan, The Children Act (Vintage, 2015)
Sharon Olds, Odes (Jonathan Cape, 2016)
Sharon Olds, Stag’s Leap (Jonathan Cape, 2012)
Alice Oswald, Dart (Faber & Faber, 2010)
Grayson Perry, The Descent of Man (Allen Lane, 2016)
Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby (Granta, 2014)
Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark (Haymarket Books, 2015, 3rd ed.)
Ali Smith, How to be Both (Penguin, 2015)
Kate Tempest, Brand New Ancients (Picador, 2013)
Kate Tempest, Hold Your Own (Picador, 2014)
Kate Tempest, Let Them Eat Chaos (Picador, 2016)
William Carlos Williams, Selected Poems (Penguin, 2000)
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much (Button Poetry/Exploding Pinecone Press, 2016)
Margaret Atwood, Hag-Seed (Hogarth, 2016)
Paul Beatty, The Sellout (Oneworld, 2016)
Jane Clarke, The River (Bloodaxe Books, 2015)
James Gleick, Time Travel (Pantheon Books, 2016)
Deborah Levy, Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton, 2016)
Emma Sedlak, What Slight Gaps Remain (Blue Hour Press, 2016)
Nathan Ward, The Lost Detective (Bloomsbury, 2015)
Arnold Weinstein, Northern Arts (Princeton University Press, 2011)
Intermittent dips throughout the year
Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions (Penguin, 1998)
T. S. Eliot, The Poems of T. S. Eliot, Volumes I & II (Faber & Faber, 2015)
Ted Hughes, Collected Poems (Faber & Faber, 2003)
W. S. Merwin, Migration (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)
Saturday, November 26, 2016
|submitted by /u/capcaunul
The Milky Way on the Wainuiomata South Coast in New Zealand on a crystal clear night
Michael Jordanoff: Photos
Friday, November 25, 2016
These laser-cut masterpieces, reminiscent of stained glass windows, are inspired by geometry found in Gothic and Islamic architectural ornamentation in an attempt to capture a reverence for the infinite. “I am interested in the conceptual migration from the permanence and massiveness of stone to the fragility and intimacy of paper,” he mentions in an artist statement.
Thursday, November 24, 2016
Well you better listen my sister’s and brothers,
‘cause if you do you can hear
There are voices still calling across the years.
And they’re all crying across the ocean,
And they’re cryin’ across the land,
And they will till we all come to understand.
None of us are free.
None of us are free.
None of us are free, one of us are chained.
None of us are free.
And there are people still in darkness,
And they just can’t see the light.
If you don’t say it’s wrong then that says it right.
We got try to feel for each other, let our brother’s know that
Got to get the message, send it out loud and clear.
None of us are free.
None of us are free.
None of us are free, one of us are chained.
None of us are free.
It’s a simple truth we all need, just to hear and to see.
None of us are free, one of us is chained.
None of us are free.
Now I swear your salvation isn’t too hard too find,
None of us can find it on our own.
We’ve got to join together in spirit, heart and mind.
So that every soul who’s suffering will know they’re not alone.
None of us are free.
None of us are free.
None of us are free, one of us are chained.
None of us are free.
If you just look around you,
Your gonna see what I say.
Cause the world is getting smaller each passing day.
Now it’s time to start making changes,
And it’s time for us all to realize,
That the truth is shining real bright right before our eyes.
None of us are free.
None of us are free, one of us are chained.
None of us are free.
Written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Brenda Russell • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
When it comes to brewing coffee with the AeroPress Coffee Maker, there are two main methods. The first method is described both in the directions that ship with the Aerobie AeroPress as well as our AeroPress Coffee Maker Tutorial. It is the regular top down straight-forward brewing method.
The second method is known as the inverted or upside down brewing method, which I will highlight in this brewing tutorial.
The experts are split on which method is best. According to the article The Invention of the AeroPress by Zachary Crockett, “about half” the winners of the AeroPress World Championships use the inverted method. Supporters of the inverted method claim it is a “total immersion”, whereas critics say the flip just looks cool and provides no additional benefit.
Upside Down Means an End To Leaking
I like both methods of AeroPress brewing, but often use the inverted method. Not because it looks cool, but because the standard brewing method can sometimes leak before the brewing cycle is complete.
You can minimize the chance that your standard AeroPress brew will leak using the following tips.
- Wet the paper filter.
- Make sure the paper filter isn’t folded and is placed evenly in the filter cap.
- Confirm the seal is tight.
- The grind might be too coarse.
- Use the funnel provided with the AeroPress so loose grounds don’t find their way into where the filter is sealed.
- Some have found using a larger cup reduces the chance of leakage.
Or you could just use the Upside Down method.
At 6 AM, I want my brewing method to be as fool-proof as possible. Really the only way to mess up the inverted method is to lose control during the flip. There is still a possibility of leaking with the inverted method, but it matters far less since it happens at the end of the brewing period when the coffee is ready to exit the brewing chamber.
Many Variations (Recipes) Work
The AeroPress was invented in 2005, which makes it super young when it comes to coffee brewing methods. Since then there has been a tremendous interest by coffee professionals to improve upon the instructions Aerobie ships with each unit.
Today there are numerous AeroPress competitions around the world. When you search for winning recipes, you will find a wide variance in approaches. Brewing temperature, grind size, brewing time and even plunge time vary quite a bit.
At first glance the complexity of the recipes might seem intimidating, but they shouldn’t. The fact that people are making amazing coffee using wildly different parameters, tells us that the AeroPress is harder to mess up than other coffee brewing methods.
For this tutorial, we are going to keep it simple. Once you’ve got the basics down, venture out and try some award winning recipes.
Before we get started, confirm you have everything.
- The brewing chamber of the AeroPress Coffee Maker.
- The plunger.
- Stir Paddle. If you lose the one that comes with the AeroPress, use a spoon.
- Black filter cap
- Paper filters (or you can use a reusable metal filter replacement such as the Able Brewing DISK).
- Kitchen scale or the scoop that comes in the box.
- Timer or stop watch.
- Filtered or Drinking Water.
- (optional and not in photo) AeroPress Funnel.
#1 Grind Coffee and Heat Water
A single AeroPress scoop is equal to 2 tablespoons or about 17 grams. Measuring coffee by volume will be less precise than by weight. The article Why You Should Use a Scale to Brew Coffee makes a good case for tossing your scoop and grabbing the scale.
Although I agree with the article, when it comes to the AeroPress I found it is very forgiving to a few gram variation in brewing. Don’t think that not having a scale will keep you from brewing excellent coffee.
Aerobie advises a grind between drip and espresso. I use a drip grind. Others use a more coarse grind. When it comes to grind, the AeroPress is super forgiving. As a general rule the finer you grind, the shorter your brew time will be.
#2 Setup the AeroPress in an Inverted Position and Add Coffee
Place the plunger facing up on the counter. Now turn the brewing chamber upside down and place in securely onto the plunger. You will want the stopper to rest in the middle of the #4 position.
If you are concerned about messing up the flip, you can push it down further so the entire #4 is below the stopper. Other recipes say the entire #4 should be above the stopper, but in my opinion this is too unstable. One bump and you have a hot mess to clean up.
Add the ground coffee. Use the AeroPress Funnel if you still have it. I threw mine away. I kind of wish I hadn’t, because the funnel makes it easier for all the coffee grounds to get inside the brewing chamber and not get stuck on rim of the brewer.
#3 Insert and Rinse the Filter
Place a filter inside the filter cap and rinse with water. Set it aside for now.
#4 Start the Timer, Add Hot Water and Stir
How hot should the water be for AeroPress brewing? The opinions here vary quite a bit. Most of the recipes say to use 200-205 F. Aerobie recommends using 175 F. From the Aeropress FAQ:
Books often recommend a brewing temperature of 195° F to 200° F (91° C to 93° C). This is good for conventional brewing methods that pass hot water through a bed of coffee. In this method, the water rapidly cools so the lower part of the bed is operating at a lower temperature. However in the AeroPress all of the coffee particles contact the same water temperature during the stirring phase.
The top 3 finishers at the 2014 World AeroPress Championships used brewing temperatures of 174 F (78 C), 197 F (92 C) and 180 F (82 C). In previous years, you had winning recipes that were just off boil. The lesson here is that the AeroPress can be brewed at a wide range of temperatures.
To keep things simple I bring water to a boil and then let it cool for 20-30 seconds. If you have a programmable kettle, experiment.
Start the timer.
There are two schools on thought on adding hot water and stirring.
- Add half the water, stir and then add the remaining water.
- Add all the water and stir.
Although I’ve heard compelling arguments that #1 is better, I have done it both ways and can not tell a difference. The important thing about this step is to make sure all the ground coffee makes contact with water. Try it both ways for yourself.
Because I use a more snug fit, I fill the water up to halfway between the #1 and #2 circle.
#5 Secure the Filter Cap on the AeroPress
Hold onto the AeroPress where the two chambers meet and with your other hand, screw the filter onto the brewer.
#6 At 60-90 Seconds, Flip and Press
There are many different brew times you can use. A good starting range is 60-90 seconds total. When this time has passed, grab the AeroPress holding both chambers together and flip it so it is over your mug.
Once the AeroPress is back right-side up and over the mug, proceed with pressing down the plunger. Use a slow steady press. It should take about 20 seconds to fully press.
#7 Add Water to Taste
What you have now is a coffee concentrate. Add some hot water to bring it to the consistency of brewed coffee. Typically this will mean adding 50% water. If you want an iced coffee, just pour over a cup of ice cubes.
I should also add that you don’t need to add anything if you want to have an “espresso like” beverage. Because the AeroPress can not generate near the pressure of a true espresso machine, I do not consider it espresso. Nor does home coffee roasting retailer Sweet Maria’s. From their AeroPress page:
Illy’s research shows that espresso is a beverage brewed at 7-11 bars of pressure, with water temperature between 194 and 203 f (without temperature loss from a cold coffee handle, etc). Even if the AeroPress had the organoleptic features of espresso, and the appearance of espresso, I don’t think it is within these parameters.
If you do go the “espresso like” route, you can experiment with using less water, a finer grind and a shorter brewing time.
The Most Forgiving Brewing Method Ever
I’ve tried many different methods for brewing coffee and none of them are as forgiving as the AeroPress. You can brew using a wide range of grinds, temperatures and dosages and still make excellent coffee. You can even flip it upside down and it excels.
Photographs by Joseph Robertson of Coffee Lovers Magazine.
AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker with Bonus 350 Micro Filters – Amazon USA page.
The Invention of the AeroPress – Excellent article by Zachary Crockett
Aero Press Brew Instructions – Article by Sweet Maria’s with comments about why he doesn’t feel the brewer qualifies as an espresso maker at the end.
AeroPress Coffee Maker Tutorial – Original INeedCoffee tutorial.
World AeroPress Championships – Site lists winners of the annual competition going back to 2008. Also on the site are award winning recipes.
AeroPress FAQ – Page by Aerobie.
Tuesday, February 02, 2016
At the end of last year, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism released its “Guide to Podcasting,” a report researched and prepared by Tow Center fellow Vanessa Quirk. The guide delves into the history of the medium and its current state, outlines different revenue streams and case studies, and discusses various issues and operational philosophies that producers are currently tackling.
Photo by Renée Johnson on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.
Q&AFrom my understanding, the report’s basic aim was to argue and explain why podcasts matter to digital journalism. Was that a hard argument to make?
Vanessa Quirk: Not really. Once I started seeing the data and the fact that a podcast is a mobile-first medium, it became pretty self-explanatory, considering that most digital journalism is moving to mobile, and there are some very specific attributes to podcasting that made it kind of really suited to mobile consumption. And so I think because of that — the type of media that it is and the type of engagement that it tends to engender in listeners, I think it was fairly easy to make the case that it is an interesting type of media for digital journalism.
I’m curious about reactions to your report. Personally, I feel like much of what was written reinforced other research I’ve seen. But given the different interviews you conducted for this project as well as the data you collected, how much of this do you think was “new” news to different people within the industry, versus a collective wisdom that was already being amassed?
Quirk: A lot of it is definitely collective wisdom, but I think what happened is that most people didn’t have an awareness of what was happening in different pockets. There is a little bit of a blindness — like, “What is this company doing versus that company?” And so they might be aware of general themes or general major issues facing podcasting. But the specifics, and how different companies are tackling these issues, that wasn’t very well known.
You go into what you call the “Serial” effect fairly early on in the report, and you discuss how few articles have been able to truly justify what is called the “audio renaissance.” Can you go into that a little bit?
Photo by Casey Fiesler on Flickr and reused here with Creative Commons license.
As I was looking at the actual facts and figures, it wasn’t so much that Serial had created this boom and all of the sudden, people were downloading in droves…It was that people who were already listening were listening more. And I think there was an increased awareness of the concept — because that’s been one of the consistent barriers to podcasting’s growth, the understanding of what is a podcast and how to get one. For some people, the awareness of Serial made them more aware of how to get podcasts and what they are. And I think it just had a lot of media attention… And there has been an increase in media outlets entering the space. So those were actual effects related to Serial, but not because of Serial.
Yes, and you talk about the improvement in technology and a lot more awareness among consumers. I was wondering, based on your research and the fallout of Serial, do you feel like a certain kind of fetishization of podcasting has arrived? Or would that confuse the fact that right now we’re just in the right time and place, and people ought to jump into the podcasting bandwagon?
Quirk: I think it’s tricky. There is this sense that maybe a lot of media outlets that weren’t into podcasting before are thinking, “Oh are we missing out? Should we jump into podcasting too?” And the nice thing about podcasting is that the barrier to entry isn’t huge. It’s not as difficult, for example, as video, to get into.
On the other hand — especially if you’re an individual or a smaller media outlet — most of the time, it’s going to be too challenging to actually profit from it, and to make good-quality podcasts…Unless you have a strategic plan going into it and an awareness of the medium and good editors on your team, you aren’t necessarily going to have a good podcast.
I think there is going to be a bit of a shakeout, probably, in the future, where people decide to invest in it, and others who probably haven’t put in the time and the research in the first place will probably let podcasting go. Because it’s not so easy to make profit from it. You have to go into it and strategize. And part of the report discusses the different things that podcasting can do for you, which isn’t necessarily profit-oriented directly. But it could do things for you that would generate profit in an indirect way.
Are you referring to loyalty and engagement?
Quirk: Exactly. I outlined three things that podcasts can do for you, or three approaches that people take when they produce podcasts. I call them “operating philosophies.” So, for example, the premium philosophy is that podcasting offers something extra to your readers. There is a connection with the host, a sense of human contact because you are listening to a voice and you come to know the host. So oftentimes, leveraging the relationship and leveraging the contact inspires consumers to perhaps pay extra, or pay for a subscription — that kind of a thing.
Another philosophy is “value added.” It’s basically just improving brand recognition and brand marketing, I guess. For example, BuzzFeed. Their hosts have a very loyal following, and so then their relationship with BuzzFeed is going to potentially be positively impacted — because you’re looking to the podcast, and you have a different way of engaging with them too. And for example, they do a lot of live events now. So you can kind of make profit from that.
Photo by jeshoots.com and used with Creative Commons.
Quirk: I don’t think yet. Radio isn’t yet a mobile-first medium.
And so when you say radio, just to clarify, you mean…
Quirk: Just terrestrial radio, anything that’s aired over the airwaves. And most radio listening happens in cars. And yes, probably in the next ten years, most people are going to have connected cars, and so most people are probably going to switch from listening on the radio and more on podcasts via their smartphones, in their cars. So that’s going to be a major shift.
Now, the host’s credibility is a huge thing for listeners and a huge thing for the podcasting community when it comes to advertising. On the plus side, these ads end up being “stickier” because you trust the host. But on the other hand, do you ever see this becoming an issue down the line of journalistic ethics?
Quirk: Yeah, and that’s already very much in conversation. I think the easiest or best example of a journalistic outlet grappling with this is Gimlet Media. They have a couple of episodes in their podcast StartUp where they tackle this question. And I think because podcasting is still kind of in its infancy, and the business models for podcasting are still kind of in its infancy, I think people are still working out the lines and the ethics. So there is already a discussion about that, and that’s going to continue being a discussion, especially as branded content and sponsored content become more common. But that’s a very similar conversation to what’s happening in the rest of digital journalism.
In some circles, it seems like there is an identity crisis when discussing audio now. Like, it’s about producers versus distributors, or news-driven radio versus storytelling podcasts. What do you think might have to change in order for podcasting and radio to peacefully co-exist, or to not really have this identity crisis anymore?
Quirk: Well, as you were saying, a big part of the identity crisis is the role of the distributor. Do you need someone like NPR nowadays? Do you need them to have a successful podcast? I mean, yes and no. They still have a huge audience, and they still reach a lot of people. But you don’t necessarily need them … and that’s a big part of the identity crisis. Why do you need radio, why do you need a podcast, can radio be a podcast all the time? And content-wise, is it exactly the same?
I think people are realizing that it is similar, but they’re actually quite different, and the way people listen to radio is actually quite different from podcasting. What’s very interesting is that a lot of radio stations are creating podcasting divisions, or are starting to realize that they need to put more emphasis on podcasting. And sometimes it’s literally just a radio show that they’ve put into digital form. But I think there are also some resources going into making podcast-first content.
There is definitely the relationship between radio and podcasting. Good radio producers are generally on the ground running when it comes to making podcasts. But there is definitely room for them to be different, and I think that it what is really interesting to podcasting producers. Considering what is going to be the future of the content, and how can we break away from some of the mental limitations that radio has put on it, and perhaps allow the form to become it’s own thing.
What kind of mental limitations are you alluding to?
Quirk: If you are brought up in public radio, you have certain things that you are taught from the beginning that then becomes second nature. Like, maybe you put on your public radio voice, and the way you structure it is a certain way, and the way you write it is a certain way. Most radio people are very very good at writing clearly and concisely, because they know that when people are listening to the radio, you have to grab their attention all the time, because they might easily drift out.
James Cridland and used here with Creative Commons license.
To sum up, what do you think are the biggest barriers to podcasting’s growth right now? And can we guess that certain shakeups might happen, or is there a certain kind of wait-and-see mentality?
Quirk: I definitely think that some people are wait and see. Obviously, some people are placing their bets in this space and assuming that it’s going to take off. Now, I do think having enough resources to have a successful podcast and kind of taking the risk that it will pay off — that’s still a big barrier. Right now advertising is doing really well with podcasting. So it’s not a huge risk if you have numbers that are big enough and can easily get advertising sponsorship. But for smaller outlets, a big barrier is that it’s just harder to grow an audience from zero, especially if the space has a lot more competition than it used to have.
And there are also technological aspects. Google just announced that it will make it easier for Android users to access podcasts via Google play, and that was a huge problem because Android users didn’t have a very good way for accessing podcasts. And then a lot of people talk about this idea of search and discoverability … But I don’t think it’s that huge a barrier, and naturally, it’s already happening. Like, companies like Spotify and Acast are creating algorithms so that you can tag podcasts — like you can listen to one and be recommended another.
I think another huge barrier, though, is the industry standard. The metrics. It’s like reading apples and oranges. And there needs to be the creation of one standard for metrics so that people can people see what they are and compare them. Because I do think there is probably some inflation happening.
Is there anything else you wanted to add?
Quirk: I think an important part of the report is this idea of having control over your audience. And using podcasting as a way to gain direct contact with your audience. And perhaps that’s easier to do via podcasting than other digital media.
For example, when PRX did a crowd-funding campaign, they used Kickstarter, and it was a tremendous success. And this year they used a different platform called CommitChange. And the reason why they did that is that via CommitChange, they had access to a database where they could distribute. So now they have a community they can tap into…Versus in Kickstarter, everyone who signs up via Kickstarter belongs to Kickstarter. And that’s an interesting problem facing podcasting. Because there’s even a problem with iTunes — they [the audience] are not yours. So there is a tension there, with having control over your audience versus the platforms that might make it difficult to access them directly.
Right….but that’s kind of true too when discussing Facebook being a gatekeeper to news and information.
Quirk: Definitely, it’s very similar to that.
UPDATE: This post has been updated to clarify that StartUp podcast is a part of Gimlet Media, and that Android users could access podcasts, but not easily.
If you were hooked to this Q&A, be sure not to miss this upcoming event sponsored by WNYC and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, “Why Podcasting Matters.” Vanessa Quirk, along with WNYC’s Paula Szuchman, Gimlet Media’s Matt Lieber, Acast’s Sarah van Mosel, Panoply’s Andy Bowers and PRX’s Kerri Hoffman, will discuss the challenges facing the industry and ideas for fostering creative content and diverse talent. The event takes place Feb. 4 in New York.
Sonia Paul is a freelance journalist reporting in India and the United States, and is the editorial assistant at MediaShift. Her work has appeared in a broad range of media, including the Al Jazeera Media Network, Caravan, Foreign Policy, Guardian, Mashable, New York Times, PRI’s The World, Roads & Kingdoms and VICE News. She previously produced the grant-funded podcast series Shizuoka Speaks, based in Japan. She is on Twitter and Instagram @sonipaul.