So the next time you see a friend, or a child, spending too much of their day facing a screen, extend a hand and invite him back to the world of real social encounters. You’ll not only build up his health and empathic skills, but yours as well. Friends don’t let friends lose their capacity for humanity.
Barbara L. Fredrickson, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, The New York Times. Your Phone or Your Heart?
Fredrickson poses a horrifying dilemma to the touch-screen generation: your phone or your heart. The more time we spend “bent over a digital screen, thumbing a connection to somewhere else,” Fredrickson argues, the more our biological ability to engage in “the world of real social encounters” withers away. In other words, with every <3 we type, we </3 a little inside.
Fredrickson came to this conclusion after conducting an experiment that tested how learning skills can affect a person’s capacity to connect with other humans.
Via The New York Times:
Half the participants, chosen at random, attended a six-week workshop on an ancient mind-training practice known as metta, or “lovingkindness,” that teaches participants to develop more warmth and tenderness toward themselves and others.
Frederickson concluded that mediators felt more socially connected and that their vagal tone was “altered.”
(Vagal tone background info: Your brain and the vagus nerve are connected. The stronger your vagal tone, the stronger the connection between the vagus nerve and the brain — meaning your body can better regulate itself internally.)
So people who engage in some new-age exercises enjoy some pretty trippy results. What does that have to do with your phone? Nothing, because Fredrickson didn’t enroll anyone in an iPhone-only lovingkindness regimen to compare vagal readings with the IRL set. She just assumes virtual communication is inherently less connected, friendly, and empathetic than the alternative.
Even though Frederickson says technological communication is diminishing our capacity to “<3” each other in real life, she also notes that the human body and its behaviors are “far more plastic or amenable to change than most of us realize.”
If human potential is so plastic or amenable, then can we assume that our vagal tone could evolve to work with tech communication? According to Slate’s Amanda Hess, it already has.
The more we flex our thumbs, the more satisfying the emotional rewards. Just the other day, a wave of good feeling rolled through two brains and bodies at once as [my friend] Nathan and I traded jokes about op-ed writers with a scientifically unsupportable fetish for the IRL. If Fredrickson can’t see the human potential of the online friendship, maybe it’s because she hasn’t been looking hard enough.
So, with such differing opinions and no real evidence that people become less or more empathetic with digital communication, whose side are we to take? Social media theorist, Nathan Jurgenson suggests: neither.
Via Society Pages:
I am proposing an alternative view that states that our reality is both technological and organic, both digital and physical, all at once. We are not crossing in and out of separate digital and physical realities, ala The Matrix, but instead live in one reality, one that is augmented by atoms and bits. And our selves are not separated across these two spheres as some dualistic “first” and “second” self, but is instead an augmented self.
Healthy human communication can occur through digital communication AND face-to-face conversation. Yeah? Cool.
FJP: Some of my longest, deepest conversations have happened through a cell phone or an IM window. I’ve spent more than half of my 23 years communicating digitally rather than face to face. Oh my God — I knew I felt more apathetic and cyborg-ish than I did as a child. Now I know why. Now, step aside and allow me to destroy your humanity, one evil “LOL” at a time. — Krissy
For a long long time, Slate was in a category of one, or maybe 2 (with salon), the online only magazine. What’s been wonderful in the past 7 years has been the emergence of so many healthy, clever, innovative online only sites that are not principally news sites, and the online success of traditional magazines like the atlantic. The health of the category has been good for all of us. There is more advertising, and more readers who now get to read across sites (Slate AND the Atlantic AND HuffPo AND Daily Beast AND Gawker…). More competition has been good for all of us, and forced us to innovate constantly.
Six of the sharpest minds in the business of journalism just sat down to discuss the strategies they’re using now, and where they’re laying bets for the future.
The FJP was in the audience, and has paraphrased the discussion below.
The conversation started with the panel members discussing the models they think are going to work.
Reminder; what follows paraphrases the conversation, with some omissions.
Matt Turck, publisher of Slate
When we first put a paywall up we had 20,000 people at $20 year at the first try. But that was not enough revenue to run a business.
If we’ve got the right people and ideas we can give the content away and it’s a viable business, that said we’re looking for new revenue; for example we’re in the events space. We syndicate a lot of our content, selling our high quality journalism to other publications at a low cost. We partner with YouTube, and there are a number of other small things; We’re experimenting with creating a membership program so that people who join get free entry to some events, and access to our editors that they wouldn’t get.
Buzzfeed’s president and COO Jon Steinberg.
The question is not how do you create a journalism revenue. It’s how do you create a robust business that can also support journalism. Conde Naste and Hearst have not made the transition to new models.
Harper’s Magazine, Vice President for Public Relations Jason Chupick
Any and all brand extensions that play off our tradition (which goes back to Mark Twain and Herman Melville) are on the table. Whereas a lot of people are focussed on short, quick journalism, we’re looking at going more towards long form. To re-invent what we have now would be extraordinarily hard, but we don’t need to be a big organization, we’re a non-profit.
Columbia Journalism School’s Dean of Academic Affairs Bill Grueskin.
(He said that despite having been the Managing Editor Online and Deputy Managing Editor of News for the Wall Street Journal, which had a very successful paywall, he said he didn’t believe that paywalls are a good solution for most publications)
The WSJ now has more than 1,000,000 subscribers, paying between $75 & $150/year, but even when I was there we realized that the subscription model was a problem for advertisers, and this is the WSJ. Therefore we opened up so that google, email, social traffic could get in for free, and provide the amount of traffic that would be attractive to advertisers.
Paywalls are a defensive move, to protect the print products that represent 70-80% of revenue, but it’s time to go from defense to offense (actually it was about 5 years ago).
McKinsey & Co’s Associate Principal, Media & Entertainment Practice, Jonathan Dunn
There are two big trends in the space: Video and the importance of data.
Advertising revenue is breaking into two segments; premium (when you know you’ve got a audience with a particular ) and ‘remnant’, the low-end of not-particularly targeted.
We don’t have a single print client who doesn’t see their future as video-based because the advertising on video is much more valuable.
Regarding the importance of data; you must know in deatil who your audience is so you can effectively advertise them, and find relevant new opportunities. These days potential investors in media businesses don’t even want to talk to founders, the only thing they want to see is the analytics of the audience.
The AWL’s Founder and Editor In Chief Choire Sicha.
As a small independently-owned company, how big can we get? We aren’t expecting to scale. But that’s OK; The business models of each publication are intrinsically linked to their backgrounds and missions.
Buzzfeed’s Jon Steinberg:
Even in the glory days of magazines, most publications were never bigger than a mid-sized, but scale isn’t necessarily the key. For a recent advertising contract, Buzzfeed was competing with Awl, a much smaller site. But Awl still won contracts off the bigger buzz feed because their creative and audience was more attractive. Awl had enough inventory to fulfill that advertiser’s needs, because unless the client is the size of McDonalds, and is aiming to reach huge broad audiences, mid-sized audiences at OK.
Slate’s Matt Turck.
The unique solution that you build for your advertising partners is the key.
Buzzfeed’s Jon Steinberg
The reason that there’s a debate about whether banners are good is that they’re crap. If a product is good there’s no debate.
At this point, the conversation moved on to whether tablets are a real opportunity.
Harper’s Jason Chupick
We’re on zinio, but it’s a stop-gap for most magazines, the PDF-like experience isn’t good enough. Tablets are the place to be if you’re a long-form magazine. Interactive firms need to hire better content creators. Making high quality interactive experiences is going to get cheaper. [Cited The Atavist, a tablet and smartphone-native publishing platform]
You’re going to have to show growth across all platforms for advertisers to be interested.
McKinsey & Co’s Jonathan Dunn
Our best guess is that $1B of advertising went to tablet or smartphone advertising in 2011, which is basically ad agencies’ experimental budget, but in 2012 we calculate that figure will be $4B, and in 2013 it’ll be $5B-$8B.
Buzzfeed’s Jon Steinberg
I don’t think the app thing is worthwhile. 40% of our site traffic is from mobile. Having a mobile strategy is like having a laptop strategy five years ago.
When asked about apps, ‘there are a lot of things people think that aren’t based on data’.
If people looked at the data which says no-one remembers the welcome screen advertisers, they’d be a lot better off.
The Awl’s Choire Sicha
No-one ever sees the advertisements at the top of a webpage. We’ve seen the research that shows everyone immediately scrolls down a little bit when they visit a page for the first time [to hide the top banner ads].
Columbia Journalism School’s Bill Grueskin
One of the big problems from the newspaper industry is that they’ve asked how they can repurpose their print content, but most newspaper content doesn’t work well and it stymies them from developing new content that is native to the new platforms.
The Awl’s Choire Sicha
There is no right answer about whether to put print content online for free; it depends entirely on the product and category.
The conversation turned to social media.
Buzzfeed’s Jon Steinberg
We get double the traffic from Facebook than we do from google, and that’s the same throughout our network.
Google’s algorithm is too unpredictable. So Facebook, which is real human beings sharing your content is a much more sustainable way of building audience.
Slate’s Matt Turck
We’ve got 450,000 followers on twitter, 250,000 on Facebook. We’re having more and more conversations with readers on Facebook, our editor gets questions from the Facebook audience for his interviews.
At this point, the conversation moved on to the skills young journalists should get themselves.
Columbia Journalism School’s Bill Grueskin
You still need to know how to get information, verify it, present it in a compelling way, and understand what your audience needs.
I’m not a fan of the swiss army knife journalist who can do a hundred things, but none of them well.
Being able to engage readers on social media, not just as a distribution process, but to help you understand what your audience needs and what your community knows about the story you’re working on.
If you can do all of that you can go to a news organization and make a compelling case about why you should be hired.
Buzzfeed’s Jon Steinberg
Advertising is an amazing industry, that you can love and be inspired by.
If you read the advertising titans’ books you’ll be inspired.
There’s a massive need for journalists to make branded content. If you can do that, you can go to everyone, Huffpo, NYT, Buzzfeed who will need your ability.
Slate’s Matt Turck
Now more than ever before the individuals have become brands. If you can build a following, there’s not a publication out there who won’t take a look at you.
You’ve got to keep changing so fast with the industry. Embrace Change.
Buzzfeed’s Jon Steinberg
Going back to the branded content topic; you need to have a solid wall between branded content and the rest. At Buzzfeed we have an absolute separation, between the two sides of our business, both in the organization and on the site. Every day we put content up on our sites that will annoy our advertisers.
As noted above, this paraphrases the discussion and omits some of the conversation. If you can add, or refine the article, please email Fergus Pitt.
Disclosure: Bill Grueskin is the author’s masters thesis supervisor.
Digiday explores Slate’s early days and the transition to being owned by the Washington Post.
In Internet years, Slate is a gray beard. It debuted in 1996, backed by Microsoft. It was at the forefront of many now-common Web trends. It was ahead of the curation curve with “Today’s Papers” and even experimented with a subscription model in the late 1990s (subscribers got a Slate umbrella). It proved that Web-only publications could produce serious, high-quality journalism….
In its first iteration, Slate described itself as an online magazine, published once a week and with page numbers. But it began experimentation with new online storytelling vehicles. You could argue that “In Other Magazines,” which debuted in June 1996, was an early forerunner to the type of aggregation that built blogs.
“I’d do it on Sunday,” Plotz said. “I’d get Time and Newsweek to have them fax the issue, and I’d write about what was in these magazines and update during the week.”
But then a curious thing happened. Princess Diana died in 1997 and changed the course of the outlet. Slate, with a down week, missed what was arguably the first big Web-culture story. What’s more, its rival Salon was all over the news.
“We were dry, and we realized we don’t understand the medium,” Plotz said. “We can’t walk away and have a site that functions and is relevant to the conversation.”
The outlet did a 180, changing from a once-a-week publishing schedule to a daily, then twice daily schedule. It launched blogs, such as Mickey Kaus’ Kausfiles and developed some stellar podcasts like the “Culture Gabfest,” which is still successful today.
How do you tell a powerful story that addresses systemic flaws when you’re doing an explanatory, rather than a scenic, narrative? Lithwick and Dobson have provided a primer.
Nieman Storyboard reviews Dahlia Lithwick’s Slate piece on a man wrongfully convicted of rape 34 years ago.
via Nieman Storyboard:
In her story, written for Slate and edited by Will Dobson, Lithwick consistently underplays the drama. She spends just two sentences describing the moment that attorney-advocate Jonathan Sheldon found Barbour and told him of his exoneration – and she does it with a quote.
But providing some emotional connection is key, and Lithwick knows that Barbour – a human being who was robbed of five years of his life, his new marriage and his relationship with his daughter – is the heart of her story. And so she uses his experience as a narrative thread running through what is largely an explanatory piece.
Not every story will be written in scenes. And in this case, the writer deliberately avoided many of the personal details about Barbour and his life that had already been covered by local news organizations. But Lithwick shows how finding the narrative touchstone in an explanatory piece and returning to it in the right rhythm can draw readers through complicated events into a better understanding of not just one person’s tragedy but widespread injustice.
We also need an insurgency of theater owners, distributors, marketers, and moviegoers. Yes, the film business is in flux, caught between dwindling box office and fledgling alternative distribution platforms, but maybe it’s time for the biz to start taking notes from the art. Throw away the boxes, stop pretending there are rules, take some risks. Stop worrying over what documentaries should be, and instead find ways to champion what they can be. Stop treating them like the veggies when they’ve become the main course.
Eric Hynes (via this Slate article)
Of the more than 800 feature films released theatrically in America last year, more than 300 were documentaries. (At premiere marketplace festivals like Sundance and Toronto, the ratio is similar.) Yet at the Academy Awards, where the film industry lavishly celebrates itself, all of those films compete for one measly award: best documentary. By comparison, dramatic features get 20 chances for an Oscar. While it’s technically possible (and eminently justifiable) for documentaries to receive nods for technical categories like editing, cinematography, and sound, in practice it hardly ever happens. And in 84 years, no documentary has even been nominated for best picture.
Great read on the attention documentaries don’t receive, and why.
Here’s the solution: spin it off. Slate doesn’t deserve to be slowly whittled away to the bone, or to be publishing link-bait, traffic-gaming pieces, no matter how witty the conceit. Slate is an established, valuable brand, with a lot of smart people (still) working on the editorial side. But the business side of Slate has not kept pace with the desires or the needs of the editorial team. Both sides are stifling each other — Slate’s bookkeepers demand budget cuts that lead to staff reductions, and Slate’s editors are under the gun to deliver a more valuable product with less resources. Weisberg may be Chairman of the (dwindling) Slate group, but what Slate needs is a CEO, someone who can lead a spinoff, attract venture capital, talent in the engineering, sales and business staffs with the prospects of equity and a clean, er, slate, with which to reinvent the modern online magazine.
The Washington Post may not love the idea of selling out — Slate was supposed to be a feather in their cap, and an incubator of ideas and talent, but like Microsoft before them, the Post should accept that they didn’t manage the acquisition well, and be willing to divest it. They could try to sell Slate to another company, as they did with Newsweek, but that makes little sense — Slate was conceived without the extraneous baggage and overhead of a print publication. Physically, it’s little more than office leases and web servers.
Paul Smalera, How to reboot Slate
I concur. Which probably means it won’t happen, and Slate will instead die the death of a thousand cuts.
FJP: Smalera writes that Slate should act like a nimble startup. Question though: after 15 years of being relatively cocooned by first Microsoft and then the Washington Post, could they?
Or is Slate DNA pretty much fixed at this point in time?