Criticism, endorsements and the future: this week on Fresh Powder

But what if it’s bad?

Consider for a moment the significance of recent box-office hit Crazy Rich Asians, which many student journalists are filing reviews of lately. Great, right? But is it actually any good? New York Times critic Wesley Morris wrote a thoughtful essay about how cultural criticism — that of art, television, movies — has worsened, in 2018, by becoming more about what the piece stands for, or it’s “moral correctness,” than its actual quality. As Morris argues, you can be happy that TV has a place for Insecure, whereas it likely wouldn’t have a decade ago, but that shouldn’t mean you can’t criticize it. Let your review writers and columnists read this one, going inside the mind of a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

Wholesale changes

It’s the time of year when newspapers’ editorial boards sit down, debate and draft endorsements for candidates in the upcoming election. The Des Moines Register,which is in Iowa, a pretty consequential state for political happenings, took it a step further than individual endorsement. “The (Republican) party needs to be voted out of power and spend a few years becoming again the party of Lincoln, no the part of Trump,” The Register’s editorial board wrote.

Hits and misses

A man sits down in the Library of Congress and pilfers through every issue of Wired’s 25-year history. Why? To see what predictions they’ve gotten right (like the cameraphone revolution), wrong (like sending smells through the internet), and not right or wrong — the ones that still seem to be on the horizon. Which reminds me: Where’s the flying car that makes icy Minnesota highways completely irrelevant? (Prayer hands emoji.)

This also happened last week: We all found out the passcode into Kanye West’s iPhone and a Russian government official is in trouble after his wife’s filming of a twerking music video literally stopped traffic on a busy highway in Moscow.

Surrealism, a bunch of memes, and a wedding: this week on Fresh Powder

Surrealism

You might have seen The Weather Channel give new meaning to the word “infographic” when it virtually embedded a meteorologist in (begin LeBron voice) not three, not six but nine feet of water in a surreal demonstration for Hurricane Florence. By our research, the demo was widely praised for inventing a new way to lay onto viewers the life risk of trying to ride the storm out when you’re being asked to evacuate. It’s a highly-impactful segment in that it begins as a typical weather report with numbers on a screen and a colored map, until suddenly the meteorologist is on a neighborhood street corner, no different than yours or mine, and water is rushing up around her. To do it, The Weather Channel utilized a “green screen immersive studio” it recently built at its Atlanta studio, which includes a wrap-around green screen (that’s where the water builds up), with help from its partnership with Unreal Engine, which specializes in “interactive mixed reality.” Both of those things likely make it beyond any of our reaches to recreate it, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome. Did you watch the clip? Whatever, just watch it again.

… Also surreal

The Weather Channel was not alone in doing something uniquely interesting. Who better than The New York Times? The paper created its first holographic video recording to accompany a story about model and activist Ashley Graham — and it, too, is pretty surreal; I mean, seriously, this is nuts. Here’s how they did it: Using Microsoft’s new “volumetric capture” technology, a brief recorded sequence of Graham walking can be endlessly available (like a Boomerang) to be projected into the world. Readers with the New York Times app can “project this ‘hologram’ of Ashley into their spaces as she demonstrates poses and her runway walk,” the Times’ explainer writes. Hello, Weird Science. Nice to meet you, Princess Leia. She’s literally walking on water on the desktop site. News graphics really advanced a lot this past week.

Memes!

A couple controversial things happened this past week: one in the news, one in advertising. The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed from a White House “senior official” titled “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” The internet, as it does, took the headline and “fixed it” into varioushilarious memes. Enjoy! The same happened in advertising when Nike unveiled its Colin Kaepernick campaign. One last time, enjoy!

On the podcast

We talked to The New York Times design team responsible for the revamped desktop homepage about how it all happened. Listen and subscribe now!

This also happened last week: Thomas, your SNO support superhero, got married last weekend. MARRIED! Please join us in congratulating him.

Embedding takes a loss, plus covering and anticipating the news: this week on Fresh Powder

When journalists use Twitter’s powers for good, it can all at once be an engine for story ideas and source generation. It houses widespread reaction to all things. In the spirit of news gathering, tweets about Shaun White’s snowboarding gold medal and Parkland, Florida, students’ rebuttal to President Trump’s tweets are embedded to make stories.

Type “twitter reacts to” into any search engine and see how far it takes you.

Storify, which will cease to exist in May, in fact existed as a tool news organizations used to organize a prettier display of gathered tweets.

It’s part of modern reporting to use Twitter as a resource like this. That’s all The Boston Globe thought it was doing in 2016 when embedding a photo from Twitter, posted by an unaffiliated photographer, that appeared to show the Boston Celtics brass using star quarterback Tom Brady to help woo NBA free agent Kevin Durant. But the photographer sued several publications that shared it, and Durant didn’t pick the Celtics either.

This week, he won that case, with the judge concluding the publications violated his exclusive display rights — a result you should be surprised by, and one that could set a precedent for similar litigation in the future.

Now, get your notebook ready. Here’s how other news organizations could avoid the same trouble: a) ask social media users for permission to use the photo or video in a tweet, or b) embed tweets without the media attached (already an option Twitter gives you). For all the rest, embedding simple tweets from people congratulating Shaun White or rejecting the president’s prayers is still “overwhelmingly” protected by the law.

Cover your bases

It will always be better to have been proactive than reactive about your editorial policies, especially when a tragedy happens, like the one in Parkland, Florida, last week, and you suddenly find yourself covering it and trying to decide what should and shouldn’t be published. As Poynter outlines, there are a few standards you should be discussing early and often in preparation for any kind of jarring news event… because your audience may want answers.

Why are we or aren’t we showing graphic images? (This is the biggie.)

Then, specifically as it relates to a shooting, why are we or aren’t we using the name(s) of the suspect or suspects? And why are we or aren’t we describing the weapon?

Plus: Acting unintentionally as a companion piece, this by The Atlantic reflects on seemingly level-headed readers’ comments on coverage from past tragedies.

Purposeful composition

Two of my best friends from working on the college paper were photographers, so I picked up a little second-hand planning and strategy here and there. That’s essentially all the insight this Slate reporter wanted from a photographer capturing the Winter Olympics. How do you get these great photos? It’s a good, close study for any photogs, though the one interviewed makes it sound easier than it is. A few of the lessons here: Scout your location, plan for the shots you’re picturing in your head, arrive early, move around for more variety, and (duh!) know how to work a camera.

 

An eye for this

Rachel is single again. Before Jennifer Aniston and her husband announced their separation last week, Slate reporter Ruth Graham smelled something fishy. She’s followed celebrity relationships — studied their outcomes — and the Architectural Digest story about the couple’s Bel Air home, published a couple weeks earlier, was when she sensed something was going on. Such an article in that specific magazine has prefaced breakups before. I guess the best Hollywood gossip reporters know all the warning signs.

This also happened last week: The Winter Olympics. This piece by The Ringer’s Katie Baker, on Tara Lipinski, is as good a story about a television commentator as I’ve read. I saw The Post. It’s, for one, a really accurate representation of the tug-o-war between the corporate and editorial sides of many newsrooms across the country.

How front pages, photos and scandals are — or aren’t — made: this week on Fresh Powder

How A1 is made

Late breaking news can be the bane of an editor’s and designer’s existence. Here’s how: After several staff meetings, you have an idea of what’s in the news and you plan the day’s front page when, out of nowhere, the newsroom’s alerted to a Grade A, above-the-fold breaking news story. Crumple up those plans and toss ’em — you’re starting over. That’s what happened last Tuesday, in the newsroom of The New York Times and many others, when President Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey. The Times writes about these processes from time to time (like, when it prepared for the U.S. to elect its first woman president). As for last Tuesday, the Times made a unique (widely praised) decision to run an image of the actual termination letter as dominant art. “It helped tell the story in a way that was much more explicit,” The Times’ creative director said.

Super photogenic, huh?

It’s a grind: It’s hard to find a good, usable photo of POTUS, isn’t it? And when we say “good” and “usable” we mean one that makes it look like the president actually enjoys his job. That’s because the current administration doesn’t seem to value the old picture-worth-1,000-words way of thinking, in that President Trump hasn’t hired a chief photographer to think about imagery 24/7. In fact, WIRED reported news photographers aren’t allowed the space, equipment or opportunity to capture appealing images. This is real: the White House may not bring in manufactured lighting (for better photos) because strobes wash out Trump’s hair.

Teen mags have opinions, too

Think Teen Vogue is a niche magazine? Think again. Though some readers thought Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca had gone beyond her depth with a scathing criticism of the president in December, The Atlantic’s Julia Carpenter recently reported Duca’s editorial aligns with the genre’s general direction. Teen magazines are building bigger online audiences by expanding their coverage of cultural issues and politics, a practice they’ve been working on for years. “Teen magazines are supposed to be about clothes and glamour and summer jobs and relationship advice, right? Actually, wrong,” Carpenter writes.

How scandals start

Watergate crawled back into the national conversation last week, following the generally-fishy Comey firing. But really, this has been coming for a while. A lot was said about emails and private servers during the campaign, then accusations of tapped phones. Finally, there was the termination letter and tweets to follow referencing private conversations and possible secret recordings of said meetings. (I’m probably missing something) It all sounds very 1970s, except the whole emailing and tweeting thing, right? Maybe there’s nothing to this latest scandal. But for journalists, it’s confirmation that technology is still at the center of political scandals. Just maybe not Xerox machines so much any more.

This also happened last week: Designing a new font, or just like typography? Here are some of the weird test words and phrases designers use to put their fonts through the ringer.

Media Boom, ESPN’s Health, and Text-to-Novel Tech: this week on Fresh Powder

Business is booming

Sorry, Donald. The media is winning your War on the Media; in fact, the President might have given us the ammunition for the uprising — all that “Fake news” yada yada yada. Despite him, business is booming at many national publications (The New York Times and The Washington Post, for example) and networks (CNN, MSNBC, etc). Turns out, the media was boss-level tough.

Election analysis

FBI Director James Comey was back in the CNN daytime programming cycle last week, defending himself over that ill-timed Clinton emails letter late in October. On the subject, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver put the media on the defensive. His analysis determined the letter and the media’s subsequent coverage of it cost Hillary Clinton 1-4 percentage points in the polls (she lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by less than one). Silver, being a stats guy, cited an algorithm which tracked the letter and emails as the mainstream media’s No. 1 story for a good six or seven straight days leading up to Election Day. The report was the 10th in a series analyzing what happened in the election.

A novel, by SMS

Maybe tablets and iBooks tried getting kids to pull up books on one of their many differently-sized screens, but recent reports suggest that has gone backwards as the printed word makes a slight comeback. Although that seems like good news, the universe is trying again with an app called Hooked, for which authors are writing fictional text message conversations for publication. Readers pull up a story and flip through segmented text threads split into a series of “episodes.” Heavy on dialogue, obviously, but you won’t find chunky, exploratory paragraphs here. No, sir. But how will Cliffs Notes summarize “Texts from Dad”?

New game plan

So you followed ESPN’s 100 no-holds-barred layoffs a week or so ago, and now you’re worried about The Worldwide Leader’s ability to keep saturating you with 24/7 sports coverage? Don’t be. Alas, where there’s football, there will always be ESPN. But, if it’s smart, the network will reconsider the way it’s disseminating all of its programming by dropping its allegiance to cable companies, like us cord-cutters contributing to ESPN’s slow bleed, and start thinking like HBO — in the direct-to-consumer kind of way (any new, original programming like Game of Thrones is just a bonus).

This also happened last week: First, a quick update on Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino: it was terrible, but some random neighborhood cafe wants credit for it. And now, something fun for you to try: As a kid in school, you asked your grandparents about the world wars you were studying in class and your parents about those curious 1960s. Have you ever since wondered what your children, or children’s children, will ask you about the events in their shiny new history books? Well, The Atlantic wants to prepare you for that with this tool.

A Huge Time-Saver, Social Decisions, and a Hard Job: this week on Fresh Powder

Quick-quotes quill

Meeting deadline just got way easier, guys. Transcribing interviews is one of the biggest headaches and most time-consuming tasks for any journalist. Now, Trint (forever giving Trents everywhere a good name) will do it all for you — for a price of course. The web app can listen to audio recordings and video, long or short, of two or more speakers (or just one, if, say, Sean Spicer doesn’t take questions one day) and turn it into a written transcript that’s easily editable and searchable. It’s been tested, and it’s good enough because, let’s be honest, what reporter hasn’t vowed to pay for that kind of thing if it existed? It’s Rita Skeeter’s quick-quotes quill, in the flesh.

A losing battle

It’s a big parenting decision: when to give your kid a cell phone or tablet and how to mediate their use of it once they have one. Well, the ball’s still in mom and dad’s court to decide when to give their kid license to tweet, but a new study suggests controlling their use of it may be more complicated than “No phones at the dinner table.”  Of 790 teens surveyed, 38 percent of the ones whose parents forced them to take a break from social media reported being more anxious about not having it and more likely to increase their posting frequency once they were granted access again. Parents just can’t win, can they?

China’s watching

The media is under intense scrutiny in the current political climate, with real and imagined fake news making journalists’ jobs all the more difficult. But there are still tougher landscapes to work in. Enter China, for example. The New York Times recently caught up with its Beijing bureau chief, who basically does most of her job through back channels, or virtual private networks, to avoid the Great Firewall. “Some work relatively well for a few months, then all of a sudden they slow down, a sign that the government has successfully interfered with them,” she said. That’s comforting…

Walking the red carpet

Remember the six Pittsburg, Kan. high school students who uncovered fraudulent credentials of their newly-hired principal in a story for their student newspaper, the The Booster Redux? They got their moment in the sun last weekend as the Huffington Post’s guests at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Bravo!

This also happened last week: The Trump administration opened a hotline for the public to report “criminal aliens,” and calls came flooding in about people’s close encounters with the third kind. Speaking of space, a new study determined Americans’ need for personal space is actually quite average, but you better keep your distance in Romania.

A Big Time Finalist, Evolutionary News, and Ad-ing Content: this week on Fresh Powder

Throwin Down

Raliance, an organization dedicated to ending sexual violence, named finalists for the RALLY awards last week. RALLY awards honor exceptional journalism that covers sexual violence. Among big-time publications like Buzzfeed and Slate, one name stood out: it was the Harbinger, a student news site from Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, Kansas. The kids at the Harbinger covered the problem of sexual assault in their community, and they were the only high school named a finalist for the RALLY’s. Super impressive, and proof that student journalists can throw down with the biggest kids on the block. Bravo, Harbinger.

Evolutionary Imperative

News delivery methods are evolving, and so is the state of journalism. We’re all super wary of news stories, lately, and distrust (or at the very least, exhibit mild skepticism) for most stories. This is good –– it means we’re becoming savvy consumers. And newsrooms are increasingly finding value in community-involved journalism. That is, they’re interested in bringing their readers in, and working collaboratively to build stories. That’s cool, because the practice broadens knowledge base and eliminates, at least in part, the behind-the-scenes, siloed thing that many news orgs operate within. The newest thing is Open Notebook, a program built with all those ideas in mind, and it looks like it’s going to be a thing.

Ad-itional Content

Facebook is renewing video contracts with publishers, and they’re doing it differently this year. Last year was all about live video, but the platform made it hard for publishers to make any money on the content. This year, Facebook wants to pay publishers for produced video content, then they’ll roll ads in the middle of the video. It’s meant as a way to create revenue. Publishers are skeptical: pre-roll ads are annoying, but viewers stay tuned in if they want to see the actual story. Mid-roll ads, like the ones Facebook wants to do, might encourage viewers to click away rather than keep watching. So while publishers are eager to claim those extra Facebook dollars, they’ll have to be part of the experiment, to get them. Could be dicey, but hey, the contracts are only a year!

Headline Fixer-Uppers

We all know how important headlines are to the success of a news story. They’re the first thing the reader sees, and if they’re not pithy, meaningful, and appealing, they’re not going to catch an audience. In other words, they’re a big deal, and it can be hard to do them right. So, since it’s a thing, and since before-and-after’s are fun, check out these headline fixer-uppers. They’re entertaining, and they’re pretty instructive, too.

This also happened last week: The future is here: McDonald’s employees got new uniforms, and they’re decidedly dystopian, which seems appropriate. And if you’ve ever wondered what type of introvert you are (apparently there are four distinct kinds of us), now you can diagnose yourself.

Winning IT, Screen-Free Kids, and a Fake News Fix-it: this week on Fresh Powder

Win-Win

Getting a job is tough, that’s no secret. And as college degrees continue to become a basic requirement for more and more jobs, it’s getting even harder for high school grads who don’t have one. Enter: Year Up. It’s a program for lower-income, high school graduates who want to break into the IT game. Year Up trains participants in database admin, powerpoints, helpdesk skills, even handshakes. Then, if the students do well, they’re offered internships at large, mostly closed-door companies in Silicon Valley. It works out, because program participants get an in with big-name companies, and those companies get interns who’ve already been vetted by Year Up. It’s a win-win, and it’s a good way way to build a skilled workforce without that whole cost-prohibitive college tuition thing. Sweet.

Throwback Special

It sounds weird, but it’s totally radical to raise kids without screens these days. It’s probably hard to do, too; screens of all sizes are everywhere. But, it might be worth it. At least Andy Crouch thinks so (and he should, he wrote a book about it). Andy and his wife Catherine raised their kids screen-free until age ten. The aim was to provide their children with experiences they wouldn’t have behind a screen (you know, like, real world things). His kids are teenagers now, and if you’re looking for a scale to measure the success of this experiment, consider this: his kids thanked him for raising them screen-free. Mic drop.

Finally, Facebook!

Fakebook, er… Facebook, is finally addressing fake news head on. (It’s about time–– Facebook is pretty much the premier platform for the proliferation of fake news…). And they’re doing it in kind of a novel way: the print paper. The social media company took out full page ads in a handful of European newspapers delineating the hallmarks of fake news and teaching readers how to identify it. That’s pretty cool. And if you’re feeling left out because you don’t get European newspapers, check the top of your Facebook news feed, they’re putting the information there, too, so us stateside users have no excuse.

Localize It

So, newspapers are losing money. It’s true. And news staff are diminishing in number with each fiscal year. It’s a problem, but it doesn’t mean journalism is losing its place as a valuable community resource. Journalists at local papers are keeping an eye on things, and it’s the function of a news org to take community actors to task: when journalists investigate events or people or whatever, they’re doing the public service of reporting, and thereby of making sure everyone knows that someone is watching, and things don’t happen in a vacuum. So while local news orgs are shrinking, the need for them is not, and they’re totally worth saving.

This also happened last week: Computer programs can identify six main story arcs based on keyword frequency and other high-tech things, so you can stop working on that MFA now (would that I had known…). And if the AI takeover makes you sad, here’s a totally subjective list of the cutest things that ever happened.

A First Amendment Win, the Shatner Lesson, and Headlining Like the Times: this week on Fresh Powder

In Defense of Twitter Trolls

Someone has been trolling the president on Twitter from an anonymous account. Actually, there are dozens of Trump Twitter trolls out there, but only one in particular caused the Trump admin to demand the unmasking of that Twitter user’s personal info. That happened in March. Twitter, predictably, said no, and filed a First Amendment lawsuit last Thursday. By Friday, the government withdrew their summons, and Twitter dropped the suit. Bravo, Twitter. That’s a First Amendment win we can all appreciate.

Misinformation Feed

Since the election and all the attention to fake news that came with it, we all like to think we’ve gotten a lot more savvy about the information we consume. But, if you check out William Shatner’s Twitter feed from last week (the celebrity got involved in a weird conversation about autism), it’s clear that not all of us are there, yet. Basically, Shatner Googled some things about autism, then shared top search results without checking the sources. As you can probably guess, the information was dubiously sourced. It’s frustrating, but it’s instructive: information sharing happens fast, and we must do our due diligence, lest we misstep and accidentally Shatner all over Twitter.

Headline Like the Times

Here’s a thing: apparently, at the New York Times, journalists don’t actually write their own headlines. The task is left to experienced editors. That’s because writing a great headline takes skill and practice, and actually (as we all know) it’s pretty hard to do. And headlines are important, because they’re the first thing your reader sees. So, while you probably can’t make your editors write all the headlines, you can totally utilize these tips from the NYT editors who do it all the time.

A New Education

There’s always buzz about some new teaching technique or another, right? After all,the teacher’s primary duty is to facilitate the learning of each and every student. And therein lies the difficulty: how does one effectively host a classroom filled with myriad personalities and learning styles, AND prepare those students for success. The new thing is social-emotional learning, SEL. It’s a curriculum that focuses on the development on the whole child, psychology and everything. And it’s getting results; kids who were struggling before SEL implementation have seen dramatic gains in success. It’s a fledgling program, and a very cool idea that’s definitely worth knowing about.

These things also happened: Pulitzer’s were announced, so that’s exciting. If that doesn’t do it for you, perhaps this analysis of birth order is more your speed. And sometimes, it’s important to try to get a year’s worth of free chicken nuggets from Wendy’s, just because.

The Good Kind of Problem, Getting Personal, and Taking Things Serially: this week on Fresh Powder

A Good Problem

Fake news is hard to deal with, but it’s a thing, and it’s going to be a thing for the foreseeable future. So it’s super important to teach kids how to spot it, right? Fifth grade teacher Scott Bedley turned finding fake news into a game, and it was so effective that the kids won’t stop fact-checking him, now. And they don’t want to quit playing the game. It’s easy, they’re learning, and in the process, these kids are becoming savvy news consumers. It’s wins all around. And getting fact-checked by a group of fifth graders? That’s a good problem to have.

Personalized Learning

Personalized learning–– that is, individually tailored classroom instruction–– is becoming a thing, and Rhode Island is taking the reins when it comes to testing the practice. The idea is that education will be calibrated to each individual student’s needs, interests, learning style, pace, and so on. In theory, personalized learning will translate into greater educational efficacy for a larger number of students. Right now, they’re looking for the right combination of technology and traditional teaching techniques that will make the personalized learning model feasible. It’s pretty cool, and it’s probably the wave of the future.

Serial Solutions

In Eugene, Oregon, there’s a problem with homelessness. At The Register-Guard, Eugene’s local newspaper, they’re taking the problem super serially. That is, they’re writing about homelessness in a series of editorials dedicated to the subject. It’s a broader approach than a one-shot story, and it offers a platform for ideas and solutions. Actually, it’s called “solutions journalism,” and it’s a thing. The serial editorial structure allows writers to analyze a topic from different angles. It’s a pretty cool way to approach a problem that needs an answer, and that’s neat.

Automated Offense System

Last week, we learned that huge advertisers were pulling away from Google and You-Tube because their ads were appearing next to dubious content. This week, we get to learn what Google is doing about it! First, they’ve added more controls, so advertisers can opt to appear next to certain types of content and not others. But, they’re also trying to train computers to recognize offensive content (basically, they want computers to be offended on our behalf) in order to, someday, eliminate the whole problem. It’s kind of funny and kind of cool, and it will be super interesting to see how successful the whole project is in the long run.

This also happened last week: It’s April, and viewing recommendations abound (in case you’re not into being outside). But if you’re not looking for a committed relationship with a TV show right now, here’s a low maintenance photo list of office workers being witty.