Not surprisingly, given the topic, a recent piece at BuzzFeed about the high-profile tweeting habits of two NBC staffers has sparked a wide range of responses, most of them snarky. There’s nothing Media Twitter loves (or loves to hate) more than an article that is all about Media Twitter.

A lot of the criticism came from those who believe that Bradd Jaffy (an editor and writer with NBC News) and Kyle Griffin (a producer with MSNBC) are doing one or both of these two bad things:

1) Taking material from their employer and using it to bolster their own Twitter followings, and/or

2) Using content from other news outlets to do the same thing, without adding any kind of insight or commentary apart from maybe an emoji.

From the story: “Critics — many of them other reporters — see it as as drafting off the success of someone else’s tweets. They see Griffin or Jaffy’s emojis as ways of adding their own brand on top of someone making or breaking actual news while adding very little value of their own.”

I don’t see much truth in this kind of criticism, to be honest. Many of those I’ve seen slamming Jaffy and Griffin for doing this (and Yashar Ali, who is quoted praising the two) do something very similar themselves, but haven’t gotten the same kind of following and are likely jealous.

Also, to journalists who spend every waking moment checking the newswire (i.e., Twitter) and know every nuance of every story, Jaffy and Griffin may not be seen as adding much, or be seen as drafting off the work of others. But at however small a level, they are providing a service to readers, and they promote the work of the journalists they link to. That’s good enough for me.

The part that interests me the most is the criticism that they are taking content from NBC and using it without permission in a way that benefits their Twitter brand. As a number of others have pointed out, the fact that some of this criticism comes from within NBC itself just reinforces how behind the curve much of that organization still is.

This kind of pushback reminds me of when I was promoting the idea of social media platforms like Twitter as a tool for journalism, as the first social-media editor at the Globe and Mail in Toronto. The same kind of arguments were made — and that was almost 10 years ago.

The thinking then was that the Globe itself needed to get all of the attention, and so only the institutional account should be tweeting the news. In part, this was because some editors were concerned that individual writers would get larger brands than the paper, and then take all those followers with them when they left (which is in fact exactly what happened in many cases).

That kind of fear may be understandable, but still futile. The fact is that in almost every case, a personal account on Twitter — even a bad one, or one that adds no more original content than an emoji — is always going to be more engaging and more effective than an institutional one. Social media is called that because it is designed to be social, and no one wants to be social with a faceless institutional brand.

If it is smart, NBC will give Jaffy and Griffin whatever leeway they need, and build whatever it can around them while they are still around. The more it tries to control them and their tweeting, the less effective they will be.

Source: This Is Probably The Only Story You Didn’t Hear About First From Bradd Jaffy And Kyle Griffin

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Campbell Brown, the former NBC and CNN broadcaster who is now Facebook’s head of news partnerships, confirmed in a speech at a digital publishing conference that the social network plans to roll out support for subscriptions as part of its mobile Instant Articles platform.

There have been multiple reports that the company was working on such a plan, including a recent piece by Digiday that quoted a number of sources, but Brown’s speech is the first official confirmation. She said testing of the new feature will begin in October.

This plan is likely to cause at least some cheering in media land, because a number of publishers have been clamoring for paywall support from Facebook, and criticizing the lackluster performance of the existing Instant Articles format when it comes to generating revenue.

As with most things involving Facebook, however, this deal sounds like a classic Faustian bargain.

According to Brown, subscriptions will work this way: If a publisher chooses to implement support for a paywall, readers will get 10 articles for free — in much the same way they do with the New York Times’ “metered” access plan. After that, they will be prompted to sign up for a subscription. If they already have one, Facebook says it will make it easy for them to log in.

And what about the revenue — will there be some kind of sharing plan, where Facebook takes a percentage, the way Apple does with its 30%? The company isn’t saying, but it seems likely that there will be, although perhaps not to begin with.

Update: In a statement on Wednesday, Brown said “Quality journalism costs money to produce, and we want to make sure it can thrive on Facebook. As part of our test to allow publishers in Instant Articles to implement a paywall, they will link to their own websites to process subscriptions and keep 100% of the revenue.” 

Brown also said the social network would give publishers control over all of the reader and subscription data involved in the process, which is also likely to come as good news to many. At least they don’t have to hand all of that over to Facebook as well as all of their content. But that doesn’t mean this deal is something media companies should leap at.

The context to this offer, as a number of people have pointed out, is that Facebook is taking some sustained fire for its dominance of the advertising industry (along with Google), with the News Media Alliance arguing its members should be exempted from antitrust laws so that they can present a combined front in bargaining with the digital giants. I wrote about that idea in a previous post.

Not only that, but a number of publishers — including the New York Times, an early partner — have talked openly about how Instant Articles has proven to be a bit of a bust revenue-wise. Some have turned their back on the platform completely, despite Facebook’s attempts to improve things.

But the bottom line with this subscription offering is the same as it has been with Instant Articles and Facebook video and half a dozen other things the social networking behemoth has come up with: They are fundamentally designed to benefit Facebook, and to centralise control in its hands, and to generate as much content as possible. Any benefits they provide to media companies are ancillary at best.

If you connect your subscription plan to Facebook, will you get increased reach? Probably. Will it help you drive some new sign-ups? Perhaps. But it’s important to remember that the entity in control of every aspect of that relationship is Facebook, not you — Facebook decides who sees what and when, what it looks like, how it functions, and how much revenue you will get.

In other words, you are working on land that has been given to you by a feudal lord, and that rarely ends well.

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The news came by way of a softball pitch of a story from the New York Times: The News Media Alliance — a group formerly known as the Newspaper Association of America — says it plans to ask Congress for a special exemption from antitrust regulations. Why? So that its members can work together to negotiate with Google and Facebook for better terms.

According to the story in the Times (which is a member of the Alliance and supports the lobbying effort) the group’s plan isn’t just about the fight for digital territory, it’s about the endurance of “quality journalism,” which the paper says is “expensive to produce, and under economic pressure as never before” from fake news that gets promoted by Facebook.

If you feel a twinge of something when you read that, you’re not alone. The first thing I thought was “So quality journalism only comes from the members of the News Media Alliance?” That’s some excessive hubris you’ve got there, folks.

This sense of entitlement is at the core of what the NMA is proposing. In effect, it is suggesting that mainstream newspaper companies are the only entities capable of producing quality journalism, and therefore they deserve a get-out-of-jail-free card so they can engage in what amounts to collusion. And they are hoping Congress will see Google and Facebook as the enemy.

Here’s a thought: What if these newspaper companies had spent a little more time trying to compete over the past decade or so, instead of relying on their historic market control to keep their profits rolling in? What if more had tried to improve their websites and their mobile versions, so that users wouldn’t install ad blockers, or turn to other solutions like Facebook Instant Articles?

Every single competitive threat the newspaper industry has faced, from Craigslist to Facebook, has been visible long before it decimated the industry’s profits, and most of the newspapers in the NMA did little or nothing to deal with them until it was too late.

Would Facebook and Google have become just as dominant in the advertising business if that had happened? Probably. But only because they can offer demographic targeting that no newspaper has even tried to produce, let alone succeeded at producing. And in Google’s case, it controls much of the “programmatic” or automated ad bidding market, which has driven prices down.

As Ben Thompson noted in an essay on the topic for his subscription newsletter Stratechery (which I encourage you to subscribe to), the case made by the NMA’s David Chavern is based on a myth: The group argues that it needs help negotiating with Google and Facebook so that it can repair the damage done to its quality journalism business. But quality journalism has never actually been a business.

“The truth is that newspapers made money in the past not by providing societal value, but by having quasi-monopolistic control of print advertising in their geographic area; the societal value was a bonus. Thus, when Chavern complains that “today’s internet distribution systems distort the flow of economic value derived from good reporting”, he is in fact conflating societal value with economic value; the latter does not exist and has never existed.

And yet, this is the classic argument from the industry — that they need to be protected because they are are only ones capable of producing that socially valuable journalism. The Alliance’s counsel, Jonathan Kanter, said that “we’re not just talking about widgets, we’re talking about news, and news is crucial for a democratic society.”

Okay, so let’s assume the group’s journalism is crucial for democracy. And what are the newspapers asking for? They want better terms from Google and Facebook, i.e. more ad revenue — but they also want support for subscriptions. In other words, paywalls. So this product that is crucial for democracy is only delivered to people who can afford to pay, and all of the revenue from that flows to a private company’s bottom line.

This is the kind of thing that drives Thompson to refer (correctly, I think) to what he calls the “suffocating sense of entitlement and delusion” that flows throughout the NMA’s proposal, which “expects someone — anyone! — to give journalists money simply because they are important.”

Realistically speaking, there’s approximately zero chance that Congress is going to exempt the NMA from antitrust rules (although the group may also be hoping that bringing up the subject gets regulators interested in looking at Google and Facebook and their advertising duopoly). But even if it did, it’s unlikely that collective bargaining would help the news industry where it counts.

The reality is that even if newspapers have a monopoly on quality journalism — which is a stretch — they no longer have the monopoly their business was based on, which is the control over advertising. And that’s because they don’t control the distribution of their content, and never will.

It certainly won’t be easy, but there are ways for newspaper companies to compete in this environment, and they don’t involve illegal collusion in an attempt to extort more ad revenue from Google and Facebook. That’s a Hail Mary pass that has little or no hope of succeeding, and likely wouldn’t help the industry much even if it did succeed.

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If there’s one thing the coverage of Donald Trump has shown time and again, it’s that the mainstream media is more than happy to construct elaborate stories about him, based on nothing more than a tweet or a short GIF — even if the impression they give of events is distorted as a result.

The latest example was a mini-storm of coverage focused on the idea that Trump was ignored by Agata Kornhauser-Duda, the wife of the Polish prime minister, during a recent visit during the G20 summit. A video clip that made the rounds appeared to show Kornhauser-Duda avoiding a handshake with Trump in favor of one with his wife, Melania.

Headlines said things like “Watch Donald Trump Handshake Rejected by Polish First Lady in Hilariously Awkward Exchange” (Newsweek) and “Polish first lady passes over Trump’s handshake” (Washington Post). But is the video clip a fair representation of what actually happened? Not really.

If you look at longer video clips and those shot from a different angle, it’s obvious that the Polish first lady was heading for Melania Trump from the beginning, and didn’t pass over Trump, who was busy saying hello to her husband. And after she shook Melania’s hand, she turned and shook the president’s hand as well. Nothing very awkward at all.

So why did so many outlets — and plenty of Twitter accounts — choose to make so much out of the alleged rejection? Because it was funny, presumably, to think of the president of the United States being embarrassed or humiliated by someone refusing his handshake.

Short GIFS and clickbait headlines about Trump being rejected also likely drove a certain amount of low-quality, high-churn traffic to those news sites, something outlets like Newsweek are increasingly desperate for. But what is the long-term cost of these strategies?

The problem with posting a funny GIF of Trump is that, even though it might seem like a harmless laugh, to the extent that it distorts the reality of what actually happened, it plays right into the allegations of “fake news” coming from conservatives in the U.S. There are plenty of real things worth criticising Trump for — we don’t need to invent them.

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It was a pretty big scoop, at least as far as Twitter and Reddit were concerned: CNN’s “K-File” investigative unit, run by former BuzzFeed reporter Andrew Kaczynski, found the guy who created the GIF that Donald Trump used for a recent anti-CNN tweet. And then a single poorly-worded line in the story shifted the focus away from the GIF creator and onto CNN itself.

In the story, CNN said it had decided not to identify the Reddit user who originally created the GIF, someone who goes by the name HanAssholeSolo. But then it added a coda to that promise that created a controversy about its motives that continues to expand.

CNN is not publishing “HanA**holeSolo’s” name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again. In addition, he said his statement could serve as an example to others not to do the same. CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.

As soon as I read that last line, I thought to myself “That’s odd. It sounds like CNN is threatening to identify this guy if he steps out of line in the future.” That’s a pretty unusual thing for a mainstream news outlet to do. So I tweeted about it:

Kaczynski responded to me (and to others) that we were misinterpreting the phrase, and that it was intended only to make it clear that CNN had not made any kind of agreement with the Reddit user to keep his identity anonymous. But I was hardly the only one who saw it as an implied threat.

Unfortunately for CNN, this line was seized upon by pro-Trump forces (my tweet was retweeted over two thousand times, which is an unusually large amount) and used to accuse the media outlet of blackmailing their target. This in turn fed into the ongoing “CNN is fake news” campaign that gave rise to the original Trump GIF of him taking down a person with the CNN logo for a head.

I don’t think CNN deliberately wanted to threaten the Reddit user with that phrase, but I find it hard to believe that no one else could see that this is the way it would be interpreted. According to BuzzFeed, the line was added later by an editor. “All we intended to make clear is that there was no agreement about revealing or not revealing his identity,” a CNN executive said.

That may have been the intention, but the way it was handled has made CNN’s problems worse instead of better. If you have a target on your back the way CNN does, you should try reading everything you write in the most suspicious way possible, just in case.

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