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.

Vogue Marketing, Junior Investigators, and Bad-vertising: this week on Fresh Powder


Using social media to sell products isn’t new, but Vogue is doing it a little differently. First, they’re not selling weight loss tea or those weird gummy bears that make your hair grow, they’re selling a publication, and they’re using Instagram stories to do it. With Instagram stories, the staff at Vogue (and they’ve put the task on everyone’s plate, so there’s a nice range of content, which is a win for Vogue,) can go behind the scenes and play around with different perspectives. That’s cool, because it mitigates the highly curated feeling of most fashion mags’ social media pages. It works, too. They’ve gained a million followers in a year. And as we all know, the more people a publication can engage, the better. Might be worth a try.

Fake News Finders

Here’s a neat thing: these public school kids, (and they’re young, like, pre-middle school), are learning about fake news. They met for an after-school session of Fake News Finders, a program put on by Mighty Writers, and one that’s dedicated to teaching kids about fake news. As a group, they check out examples and learn the hallmarks of fake news, and they talk about the importance of judicious news sharing. It’s cool, because these kids are tomorrow’s writers and news consumers, and if they can learn to spot fake news early, it’s going to benefit everyone.


It’s a struggle: advertising is essential for large (and small) publications, because brand recognition is a thing, and advertising is how to do it. So, advertising on huge platforms like Youtube and Google seems like a no brainer. But, it’s not. With auto-tech advertising based on user browsing habits, Google and You-Tube promise advertisers huge reach. But, currently, there’s very little control over paired content. So an ad can show up on a video rife with hate speech (or whatever else), just as easily as it can show up on any other kind of content. That’s a problem, and huge advertisers are pulling away from Google and You-Tube for that reason. But brands need Google and You-Tube, and the platforms need advertisers, so the good news is that everyone involved is invested in coming up with a solution.

Obama Obsession

It’s been a year of political unorthodoxy, and it looks like Obama’s post-presidential life is no different. But, mostly, it’s different because we’re obsessed with it. The Obama’s are vacationing a lot (well-earned) and they’re staying in DC until their second daughter graduates high school. Pretty much every move they make is under intense scrutiny, and, as we all saw with the false wiretapping claims, some individuals are intent on roping the Obamas back in, even after their political tenure is complete. But it sounds like the Obama’s plan to stay civically engaged (that’s also new-ish, for a former president), so we’ll be able to indulge our collective Obama obsession for the foreseeable future.

This also happened last week: If you’ve never been told you look tired, you might not know why people don’t like it. This story is for you. If you have been told you look tired, you will have many more emoji options with which to express yourself frustration. And: cute pets. You’re welcome.

Real News, New Reads, and Getting Better at Getting Smart: this week on Fresh Powder

For-Real News

Cries of “fake news!” are pretty much commonplace these days. It’s not surprising; lately there actually is a lot of fake news out there. But it’s also a buzzword easily used to discredit legit news: call it fake, people stop listening. So when it happened to these student journalists, they refused to sit on their hands. They’re reporting on their school’s controversial sitting principal, and in a response to their work, a DOE rep obliquely referred to their reports as “fake news.” Uncool, not only because their sources are exhaustively confirmed and backed up, but because, as scholastic journalists, they’re already de-legitimized as “just kids.” But they’re not staying quiet about it, and they’re not going to quit reporting. And if there is something positive about this whole thing, it’s that these budding journalists are standing up for themselves, doing excellent work, and proving that they won’t be shouted down. And that’s rad.

Reading List

There’s a new theme emerging in YA literature, and it’s not vampires or magic. It’s Black Lives Matter. Forthcoming and newly released YA novels that focus on race and police brutality are riding a wave of popularity among teens. The topics are poignant, and kids are keyed in: the books are set in communities that represent a broader perspective than the white middle-class one so pervasive in YA lit. The overarching lesson baked into these novels? Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give, says to kids: “your voice matters.” And that’s an important message.

Learn Better

Learning is a weird thing: like, how come I can read a highlight a bunch of text, but then not find what I’m looking for when it comes time to write the paper? But then I can remember the name of the kid that picked on me when I was seven? There are a lot of reasons why we learn some things and not others (you know, emotional connection, having had to teach it, etc), but, once we start to understand some of those reasons, we can learn to learn better. And that’s not a bad deal, is it?

Metrics to Mission

Metrics are helpful: they allow a publication measure the success of their product. But they’re also super useful to fledgling papers looking to develop a mission, or even established ones looking for a refresh. Metrics can tell you a whole lot about who is looking at your work, and for how long. But it’s also important to consider the “why” behind the metrics. And that’s where you can start to get at your mission. If you’re just getting started, or if you’re re-calibrating, clicking back in, or simply maintaining a great product, here are some questions that will help you start thinking about metrics.

This also happened last week: Trump said Obama wiredtapped Trump Tower before the election, but that’s not a thing that happened: James Comey said so. So there’s that. Sesame Street is getting a new character: Julia the muppet has autism. Creators are working closely with autism advocacy orgs in hopes of building a character that is educational and one that will have a positive social impact, and that’s pretty cool. But if hard hitting news is what you’re looking for, look no further.

Filters, the Other Fake News, and Not News: this week on Fresh Powder

The More You Know

We all know that our internet search history follows us (sometimes it’s downright creepy, actually). But it turns out that a majority of students might not be aware of news personalization. That is, the way Facebook, Google and other sites filter stories based on interaction. That’s problematic, because it also means they might be unaware of the ramifications of news filtering. And if they don’t know they’re not getting all the news, they can’t objectively consume the news, even if they wanted to. One positive about all this is that it’s teachable, and a valuable topic, especially as we train tomorrow’s journalists.

Not the News

Satire is the OG fake news. That is, it’s fake for the sake of making fun, and it’s been around a long time. But now, real fake news (yes, it felt weird to write that sentence), like, fake-for-profit, is a real problem. So how do we navigate the difference between headlines that are meant to be a joke and the ones that are just straight up fake? The Borowitz Report, the New Yorker’s column of news-based satire, has gone so far as to label its content “not the news.” In spite of the blatant labeling, many people still take Borowitz headlines as serious news. A simple lesson: pay attention. You’ll likely get all the answers you need just by actually reading an article before sharing it. And it’s a good reminder: practice conscientious sharing. Because satire isn’t going away, and fake news isn’t either, and nobody wants to be the guy who doesn’t get the joke.

Also Not the News

Amal Clooney is a big time human rights lawyer, and last week she made a speech to the U.N. about addressing the atrocities of ISIS. But she’s also pregnant, and Time magazine weighted the two facts, Clooney’s speech and her stylish baby bump, equally. So, they were lambasted by a jury of their peers. Rightly so. Time is, purportedly, a serious news org, and it’s completely maddening that a woman’s maternity style means anything at all, especially in an article about a U.N. speech. But Time published the story in Motto, their millennial-targeted lifestyle section. So, cool then? Not really. But it is illustrative of the wobbly newsphere that currently exists, and really, with a reality star for a president, real news and celebrity gossip are actually the same thing, sometimes. Eek.

Audience Engagement

The New Yorker is experiencing a surge of interest in spite of a couple-years-old paywall. It’s kind of the opposite of what anyone would have expected, but the mag is attracting new readers, younger readers, and, most importantly, readers who are likely to subscribe. How? They’re giving readers what they want. Lots of readers came to the New Yorker due to the election, and now they’re using very specific measures to market to their audience. They’re making strategic choices about subscription offers, and intentionally creating the kind of content their readers interact with. Very cool, and lucrative (and totally doable. Hint: analytics.)

This also happened last week: Well, he won’t win, but it’s impossible not to smile at this little pupper and his agility show fail. This guy had a bad day (actually, everyone on that plane probably did…). And lest you take yourself too seriously, here’s a reminder that you can always, always be checked by children.

Nightly News, Teacher Training and Typography: this week on Fresh Powder

Evening Edition

You’ve probably noticed it: lately, all the big stories are breaking at night. It seems weird; we’re not used to waking up to a big story that broke at 10 p.m. So why does it happen? Simply: because it can. We’re totally hyper-connected, and when one org breaks a big story that will run in the morning paper, they tweet about it. Then another does. Then another. And it becomes a big story during the nighttime hours when all the news-junkies (and pretty much everyone else) are glued to their social media feeds. It’s like the new evening edition, which is kind of cool, and at the very least it keeps us gotta-know-the-latest-right-now kids on our toes.

Training Wreck

Managing a classroom is hard, no one would argue with that. But it’s harder when teachers don’t get the training they need to teach to all the students in their room. Inclusion for people with disabilities is a thing, and it’s not going to stop being a thing, but teachers in the general education program are often only required to take one course on teaching students with special needs, while special educations teachers spend nearly the whole of their education learning the same thing. This means, in an inclusive classroom, the teacher is has received little more than cursory instruction, and has to learn by trial and error. Uncool, for student and teacher alike. Dual-instructor and dual-cert programs are a start, and we’ve got to start somewhere, for everyone’s sake.


Ok, so the Oscars were more than a week ago, and the Best Picture snafu is old news (or, if it’s not old news for you, the final award was announced for the wrong picture), but the reason for the mix-up remains an interesting conversation starter. One theory: typography. That’s the arrangement of written, typed language. Typography is concerned with legibility and coherence, and it, or the lack of it, could feasibly be blamed for the awkward end to this year’s Oscars. Maybe, had more concern been given to the arrangement of the Best Picture award card, (and, of course, had the right card been handed to the presenters), the goofiness could have been avoided. In any case, it’s a good lesson for those of us who have yet to screw up an Academy Awards finale: typography matters.

LION’s Tap

It’s a sad thing: funding for large newspapers continues to diminish, traditional reporting jobs are disappearing, and the new industry as a whole is struggling. But maybe there’s a positive spin to this whole thing: a re-focused interest in independent, local news. LION (Local Independent Online News Publishers) is an organization aimed at connecting independent online news sources, and for them, community news a bit like craft beer: it’s local, specialized, and high-quality. And it might be the wave of the future as large papers continue to shrink. The cool thing is that high school and college papers already do that–– you guys already focus locally, and your work is already like a tasty craft brew, so you’re ahead of the game, and that’s awesome.

This also happened last week: Trump accused Obama of tapping his phones before the election, but that’s all he’s going to say about it. Equally important, a new Wolverine movie came out, and for cat lovers, a very useful product review.

Connections, Changes, and Playing Keep-out: this week on Fresh Powder

Creating Connections

Journalism is, sadly, a fairly homogenous game: it’s mostly composed of white people. People of color are woefully underrepresented when it comes to newsroom demographics, and when it comes to leadership, the numbers are embarrassingly low. The Ida B. Wells Society wants to change that. They’re holding journalism bootcamps aimed at grooming journalists of color for the newsroom. The idea is that by training journalists, they’ll start to chip away at the oft-used excuse for a lack of diversity in newsrooms: there are not enough qualified applicants. No more excuses means room for change, and that’s cool.

Trump Change

Last week, the Trump administration rescinded federal oversight of school protections for transgender students. Primarily, this change removes Obama admin guidelines that require schools to accommodate students according to their gender identity, and that prohibit schools from requiring transgender students to use separate bathroom facilities. The new guidelines do mandate that schools provide a safe learning environment for LGBTQ students, but so-called “bathroom laws” will be handled state by state. In a time when we thought we really were moving past segregation, this feels like a major step backward.

No Holds Barred

Last Friday, press secretary Sean Spicer hand-picked reporters to attend a White House press briefing. NBC, ABC, and Fox News were represented at the briefing. CNN, Buzzfeed, and Politico, along with almost all of the foreign press, were barred from attendance. This kind of siloed information sharing is unprecedented, and it’s alarming. We have a president who is openly disdainful of the media, and by allowing this kind of pick-and-choose media access, the Trump admin is, in effect, curating the news. That’s scary, and as members of the journalism community, we all need to sit up and take notice. Even George W. Bush critiqued Trump’s war on the media, because freedom of the press is that important.

This also happened last week: The Academy Awards happened Sunday, and at the end of the night Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced La La Land as winner of Best Picture. But… they were wrong. Moonlight won. Mid-acceptance speech, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz made the announcement, and the snafu was handled gracefully. Actor Bill Paxton died over the weekend at the age of 61, and he’ll be missed. To help, here are 26 pictures that will make everything ok.

Press-ervation, Bolstering (and Busting) Bubbles, and Finding the Fresh: this week on Fresh Powder

Press Positive

John McCain isn’t one to mince words, and when it comes to freedom of the press, he couldn’t be more blunt: it’s totally necessary, you don’t have to like the press to understand why we need it, and it’s the first step in preventing a burgeoning dictatorship. It’s good to have the outspoken Arizona senator on the side of press, and it’s important to have support for the media on both sides of the aisle. Bravo, McCain.

Boost or Burst: Social Media Bubbles

Mark Zuckerberg issued a manifesto last week wherein, among other things, he suggests that the Facebook community will curate its own interaction with current events by teaching the FB algorithms which stories to escalate. It sounds like he’s (maybe accidentally) building a power vacuum by sucking readers away from established news sources, and it’s unclear how this new methodology will handle the inevitable information silos it’s likely to create. Buzzfeed’s got a better idea, one that’s meant to burst bubbles, rather than fortify them. So that’s cool, at least.

Keep it Fresh

On any given day, there are a handful of stories that everyone is reporting on (think, like, every tweet Donald Trump makes, etc). Obviously, big stories are important. But there are only so many different ways to tell the same story. So how can you do it differently? How does one publication stand out from all the rest? One answer: think about the “white space.” That is, think about all the things that aren’t being said about your topic, and all the possible different takes on any given subject. Then write about that. You can use analytics to do it, or social media, or any number of different methods. The point is, when you write what’s not being written already, you’re going to attract readers. And that’s cool.

Survey Says

The Trump campaign released a survey last week. The subject? “Mainstream Media Accountability.” The questions are, predictably, slanted, and they’re aimed at garnering quantifiable support for the undermining of established news orgs. It’s divisive, but that’s not surprising, is it? The good news is that anyone can take the survey, and you totally should, regardless of your political affiliation. Pro-tip: take your time starting at question #10, lest you get caught in the murky verbiage.

This also happened last week: Trump chose a new national security advisor, and people actually really respect the guy. So that’s cool. Even so, if you weren’t already seriously considering moving to Canada, here’s some crucial info that might change your mind. In less interesting news, Ryan Seacrest’s mansion caught fire over the weekend. The cause of the fire remains unnamed thus far, but we’d put money on a combustible bid for relevance from the Seacrest camp.

Fashionably Conservative, Civic Re-engagement, and Comments For Days: this week on Fresh Powder

Conspicuously Conservative

Well, looks like the current political environment will provide significant branding opportunities for all kinds of establishments; aligning with one side of the aisle or the other is becoming increasingly common in large companies and is a fairly effective method of branding. The newcomer to the game? Higher education. Increasingly, colleges and universities sporting so- called “conspicuously conservative” ideals are stepping into the limelight and touting their ideals to attract students. Some institutions are even rejecting federal loans and grants in order to maintain authority over their business model. It’s interesting, because the university atmosphere has long been held as bastion of liberality, learning, and limit-testing. But, we’ve learned a ton of things about the ideological makeup of our country this year, and “conspicuously conservative” is totally a thing now.

Civic Revival

Here’s a thing: by and large, Americans are woefully ignorant of basic civic processes. This ignorance has become exceptionally apparent as we’ve watched our new president execute extreme executive orders (and then have them overturned by a single judge), and it’s leaving educators wondering: what’s to be done about civics education? Building curriculum that teaches kids about the government, but that doesn’t get political, sounds, frankly, kind of impossible. But it’s important, and it can start with media literacy. Teaching kids how to responsibly consume media and how to identify fake news is a start, and it builds critical thinking skills. And (bonus) it’s one way to start re-focusing on civics without raising the ire of reactive parents.


Oh, the comments section. Don’t we love it? It’s a place on the internet, among a countless others, for righteous readers to share their opinions and ask questions (and, commonly, a haven for trolls spouting vitriol). It’s a tough space to control, and many news orgs opt out of allowing comments all together for exactly that reason. But it can be a useful tool, too, if you can make it work. Readers clearly like to interact with journalists and each other through comments, and publications, if they do it right, might actually be able to use the comments section for good. We all know the more reader engagement the better, so it might be totally worth learning how to win at comments.

Fakery For All

Fake news is still a thing, we know that. And by now we’re all pretty savvy about recognizing weird, salacious headlines like pre-election ones aimed at conservative Trump supporters. We even know that the self-identified “yellow journalists” are in it  for the money, and that most of the writers don’t even align their own beliefs with the stories they write. So it’s totally crucial that we remember that very often, propagators of fake news hold no allegiance to the right or the left, and that means neither side is immune to fake news. If we’re buying, the fake-newsies are selling, and right now they’re selling to disgruntled liberals. So pay attention–– just because you’re not clicking on some super alt-right article with an all-caps headline doesn’t mean you’re not reading fake news.

These things also happened: Bey is having twins, but you knew that. Today, the Ninth Circuit judges will hear the challenge of Trump’s “travel ban.” Stay tuned, kids. Until then: ordering coffee, casually explained.

‘The Media’, Plagiarists Beware, and Analytics All Day: this week on Fresh Powder

Conscious Re-branding

Well, we all know the president is waging a self-described “war” with the media. Cool. By “the media,” he means, like, all journalists. He’s made a habit of lambasting the media and, without irony, encouraging the American public to distrust journalists, whose job it is to tell the truth (if that doesn’t sound like some 1984-style doublespeak, I don’t know what does). And yes, there are “news” orgs that specialize in sensational, over-wrought and even fake news, but there always have been, and lumping them all together as “the media” de-legitimizes actual news orgs (see Trump’s press conference statement that CNN is “fake news” for proof). So possibly, it’s time for journalists and the American public to stop contributing to Trump’s rhetoric by rejecting the term “the media,” and opt instead for more accurate descriptors. It’d be a start, at least.

Just Say No

Ok- it’s like the first rule in journalism: don’t plagiarize. Just don’t. It’s not a hard concept, but somehow it’s one journalists go round and round with. And it’s not getting any better in our world of rapid-cycle, news NOW media consumption–– copy and pasting content and republishing without credit has become a regular practice for more than a few news outlets. But Ginger Gorman, whose original story about male sexual abuse victims was ripped off, found that she wasn’t alone in her outrage after she made an angry tweet and it went viral. The net lesson? Even in such an ethically dubious time as this one, people are paying attention, and stealing still isn’t cool.

Analytics All Day

Here’s a cool thing about journalism today (we know, you did a double take when you read that section after like, all of 2016 happened): analytics. Publications can access hard data from their readership at anytime: what’s the big story? What’s catching attention? What’s not? As a result, journalism orgs can dial in their coverage–– offering readers stories they’ll engage with. It’s pretty cool, and it’s totally worth learning how to do it.

The Mommy Market

There’s a new parenting site, it’s called Motherly, and it’s for millennials. Everyone knows that parenting intelligence is fluid and dynamic, and Motherly, looking at their targeted audience of highly educated, successful, (also married, also rich…) millennials, is tailoring their product to appeal to the burgeoning market. They’re using analytics (hey!) to tune in with their audience, and they’re utilizing a primarily decentralized workforce. It’s kinda cool, but also kind of disheartening: like, yay! One more product specifically designed to meet the needs of a highly catered-to niche group, AND it’s getting press coverage! And all those other kinds of women who are having babies and who are not married or rich or highly educated? Well. They can just stick with BabyCenter.

These things also happened last week: Executive orders happened, but you knew that. First, a sweeping ban on immigration. Then, a weird one about federal regulations: for every new regulation proposed, an agency must rescind two existing regulations. It’s like a children’s game made up but the recess bully. If you’re feeling a measure of cognitive dissonance, don’t worry, we all are. And if you’re having trouble understanding the mood you’re currently experiencing, that’s normal, too. Thank goodness there’s a Buzzfeed quiz for that.

VR, Going Funny, and Ethics All Day: this week on Fresh Powder

Getting Ahead of the Game

News media is experiencing a time of dramatic change (but really, hasn’t that always been the case?) and it never hurts to get in on the newest thing before everybody else does. While others are dealing with the unruly nature of Facebook Live and other live stream video services, it might be a good time to check out VR, instead. VR and 360 vid equipment is expensive, it’s true, but prices are starting to level out and as they do, we can expect that savvy journalists are going to be using the technology to take storytelling to a new level. VR and 360 vids can turn a story into an immersive experience, and you can bet that max-exposure-minimal-effort junkies (you know, like, all of us) are going to be all over that.

Humor Me

The Washington Post is getting funny. Or, they’re planning on it. With a recent round of hiring aimed at nearly doubling the current number of staff in the video department, the Post is setting aim at satire, a la the likes of the Daily Show and others. It’s not a bad idea, and they’re going into it with open eyes and a platform specific approach: they’ll abbreviate bits for YouTube and Facebook audiences and build ads appropriate to each platform. Not a bad idea. It’s a their goal for the next three years, but who knows, maybe they’ll catch on to the VR game, too. Comedy VR, now there’s an idea.

Ethics All Day

We’re pretty much a divided nation, that much has become abundantly clear over the last couple months. But with the Women’s March on Washington last Saturday, we witnessed a different divide, one of journalistic ethics. Scores of magazines and other publications covered the event, and so did Buzzfeed, WaPo and the New York Times. The divide? Those last three didn’t allow their reporters to attend if they weren’t on assignment. It’s got to do with the appearance of objectivity, and all those other journalistic standards, but in a time where many publications are taking an unequivocal political stance, the practice is starting to feel antiquated. One thing we can be sure of? The next four years are pretty well guaranteed to offer many opportunities for publications to hone their own brand of ethics.

You Are What You Believe

We’ve all done it–– argued with someone of an opposite political belief. We try to change their mind, they try to change ours. Mostly, both parties walk away angry. Or, at the very least, passively hostile. Turns out, it could have to do with the way our brain processes political conviction: a small study done by a collection of scientists shows that our brains may process challenges to our belief systems in the same area they processes identity and negative emotions. If someone told you your sense of identity is deeply entangled with your beliefs, you’d be like, “Well, duh.” But that personal identity and political leanings might operate within the same brain space? That’s kinda cool to know.

This also happened last week: On Sunday, Kellyanne Conway said Trump’s tax returns wouldn’t be release because the American public isn’t interested, not because they are being audited. On Monday, she said we would see Trump’s tax returns, when they are done being audited. It’s ok if you’re feeling dizzy and a touch of whiplash. We are too. But maybe we won’t have to worry about any of that anymore, because he’s here: the political satirist that will save America.