One media org's distorted view of technology

axios.com - Feb 10, 2017 - How tech ate the media and our minds

Since journalists live in their own filter bubble/vacuum/isolation chamber by their use of Media Twitter, then it might be safe to assume that other journalists share the same thoughts, expressed by the two axios.com writers who created the above story.

It's an interesting read, but it's fraught with broad generalizations. Maybe this is the view from a journalist's standpoint and not from the masses.

And regarding "technology", this is about new hardware, websites, and mobile apps that were created in the past 10 to 15 years that have changed how we create and consume information. This is not about new technology that has been created in recent years for autos, homes, and hospitals.

Prior to 2007, we consumed a lot of digital information. The web became popular by the mid-1990s. Sure, high-speed internet access permits us to watch TV differently today. Prior to 2007, we watched videos and viewed photos on the web, but most of the content that we consumed 10-plus years ago was text-based.

Text is still popular today, but the consumption of videos and photos now occupy a large slice of the content pie. It's possible that today or soon in the future, media sites will produce more videos than text. Consumers may already view more videos than text on some sites.

But the big change, however, is that over the past 10 years, new technology has made it easier to create content.

Prior to 2007, some of us posted photos at Flickr, Photobucket, and other places. A small but dedicated group of us produced content on message boards, blogs, and early social networking-like sites, such as LiveJournal. People posted reviews at Amazon and eBay.

But the massive growth of Facebook since approximately 2008 has enabled a lot of new content creators to join the web. Prior to 2007, users who would have been to shy to post a comment on a message board or on a blog site are now confident and comfortable with creating content on Facebook.

Facebook permits users to control who views their content. Most message boards and blogs were and are visible to the world. Twitter is closer to the latter than to Facebook, regarding the visibility of content.

Snapchat's growth may be due to the limitations permitted on content visibility. Maybe most content creators do not want their content visible to the entire world.

Excerpts from the axios.com article with my opinions included in bolded, bracketed text:

Let's face it: most of us are more distracted and more frazzled than ever. We are prisoners to our phones: tweeting our every thought [not me], or snapping our every emotion [not me], or Facebooking our every fantasy, feeling or family moment [not me].

We scroll, click and swipe our days away, better connected than at any point in humanity — but not necessarily better informed. [okay, that's probably me]

We've been hit with more technological innovations than we are capable of responsibly handling. [silly commentary]

Ten short years ago: The iPhone was born, Facebook was a small social network used mostly by college students, and there was no Snapchat, Instagram or Pinterest.

Most people still relied on three network evening newscasts and a local newspaper, hand delivered, to be informed about current events. [in 2007?? maybe 1987]

If you wanted to share a photo, you probably mailed it [no, we had Flickr, Photobucket, etc]; if you wanted to share your opinion, you screamed it at the TV in your basement or wrote a letter to the editor, maybe by hand. [definitely not because message boards and blogs existed for for many years. the author needs to learn some web history.]

But then technology blew up — and blew (and took over) our minds.

I wonder if the writers of this article are under the age of 30. The early to mid aught years were not the dark ages. Maybe they didn't "use" the web much, prior to 2007.

I launched my local message board ToledoTalk.com in January 2003, which is depressingly 13 months before Facebook began. But Facebook remained closed to specific email addresses or whatever during its first 2.5 years of existence. Facebook opened up to everyone in September 2006.

I began reading Slashdot in the late 1990s. I patterned my 2003 version of Toledo Talk after MetaFilter.com, which I began reading in 2001 or 2002. In the early to aught years, I read and created content at Kuro5hin.org. I read numerous community sites, message boards, and blogs. Sometimes, I posted content to those sites.

I created my first blog site in August or September of 2001, using a static site generator tool called Greymatter, which inspired the creation of blog/CMS tool MovableType, which inspired blog/CMS tool Wordpress. All of those programs began before 2004.

Most of my digital content creation has occurred at ToledoTalk.com, except for maybe all of the photos and images that I have uploaded to Flickr, since 2004 when I created my first Flickr account.

We were consuming and even creating digital content prior to 2007. We did this, however, by using desktop and laptop computers at home and maybe at work. We weren't able, however, to read or create content at any time of the day or night and from nearly any location, like what's possible today with smartphones.

Smartphones and apps enable synchronous communication. Prior to 2007, email, message boards, and blogs worked well because those were asynchronous. We read and posted from mostly fixed-location computers. Maybe we moved the laptop around within our house, but we didn't carry the laptop while walking the dog, hoping to steal someone's WiFi connection. Of course, prior to 2007, especially the early aught years, many homes were still accessing the internet with dial-up modems.

For much of the aught years, a different kind of addiction existed among business people: Crackberry. The Blackberry phone with its physical keyboard was a favorite device in the aught years among many people in business, including my wife, because for good or bad, it permitted business people to communicate easily, mainly through email. The Blackberry was an email machine. It was extremely popular among business people prior to 2007. It was still heavily used after 2007 until the smartphone technology from others improved and grew more popular.

Except for the Crackberry people, we were less connected to the internet prior to 2007, compared to recent years. But I did not get news from the three main TV network evening broadcasts. I rarely read a print newspaper after 2005. I may not have read it much between 2000 and 2005.

I never had a newspaper subscription when I lived at my house in Rossford from 1992 to 2001. After marrying Deb and moving to her West Toledo house, I was exposed to the daily newspaper delivery for the first time in my adult life because she had a subscription to the Toledo Blade. In the mid or late aught years, we canceled the newspaper subscription because neither of us read it.

With my interest in the Slow News Movement concept, a print newspaper makes sense again. Or instead of a local print newspaper, maybe we need to calibrate how and when we consume news. Maybe we should restrict ourselves to a 30 to 60 minutes of digital information consumption in the morning and/or evening and that's it. Easier said than done. But such a schedule may free up our time like it was in the early aught years. We could be more productive. We could tackle new projects or hobbies.

More from the axios.com article, which begins to swerve into typical media whining about the changing digital information landscape:

Our brains have been literally swamped and reprogrammed [agree, but is that bad?].

On average, we check our phones 50 times each day — with some studies suggesting it could three times that amount.

We spend around 6 hours per day consuming digital media [yes, i need to reduce this and focus more on my other hobbies].

As a result, the human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds to eight seconds since 2000, while the goldfish attention span is nine seconds.

[here comes the whining] And we just mindlessly pass along information without reading or checking it. Columbia University found that nearly 60 percent of all social media posts are shared without being clicked on.

For better or worse, Google and Facebook are mostly to blame. Nearly 60% of our media-consumption time happens in mobile apps, and a majority that traffic is owned by those two companies.

Big time media whining. The media loves to blame others. For much of the aught years, the media's favorite target for blame was Craigslist. Then it became Google. And in recent years, the media loves to blame Facebook for the media's problems.

The Blackberry proved that synchronous or near synchronous communication, including notifications, could be popular, at least among a small but committed user base of business people. Apple, Facebook, Google, etc. probably assumed that an easier-to-use phone with easy-to-use ways to create and share content could be huge among consumers or the home users.

It's easier to create, share, and monitor content on Facebook, compared to the Blogosphere and other services, such as LiveJournal and Xanga.

Instagram made it easier to create and monitor photos, compared to Flickr. While Flickr has always had community site features, I have viewed Flickr as a cloud storage service for my photos, which I then embed into a web post at Toledo Talk or at one of my other web publishing sites. Instragram, however, is a community site.

Tumblr launched in 2007, and the service made it easier to create, share, and monitor content, compared to Blogger/Blogspot, Movable Type, and Wordpress.

I don't blame Facebook for creating a useful and easy-to-use experience for my wife than I could create. The network effect of Facebook is too attractive for people who enjoy staying in touch with others.

People use Facebook because others use Facebook. People can use Facebook in different ways, possibly only following non-profits, businesses, and media orgs. Facebook revamped its Notes function to act more like a modern blogging tool. Facebook is great for uploading photos and videos.

Facebook is a combination of LiveJournal, Blogger, Flickr, and more, all wrapped up in an easy to use UI/UX. It started as a simple PHP web app in early 2004. Now it's worth billions and employs thousands. It's used by small businesses to improve their business. It's many things to many people.

I deactivated my Facebook account in the summer of 2016 because I hadn't used my account, since I left the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in November 2012. While at the BSBO, I maintained the Ohio Young Birders Club Facebook page.

Even though I don't "use" Facebook, I don't blame Facebook for anything. It's not for me, but it's important to others. I prefer the concepts of the Indieweb, but that puts me in a tiny minority of internet readers and creators. I admire the success of Facebook from a simple PhP website on a college campus to a juggernaut today after only 13 years of existence and after only being opened to anyone for 10.5 years.

The newspaper industry has existed for more than 100 years. Rather than blaming Facebook and Google, the newspaper industry has only itself to blame for failing to adapt successfully to the changing digital landscape over the past 20 years.

Back to the axios.com article:

For better or worse, Google and Facebook are mostly to blame. Nearly 60% of our media-consumption time happens in mobile apps, and a majority that traffic is owned by those two companies. (See below). This paradigm has destroyed the business model for news publishers, creating perverse incentives for publishers to generate as many clicks as possible, creating a "crap trap" — the deal media companies made with the devil to dumb things down (and lose credibility) by seeking the broadest reach. But, the house always wins: Facebook and Google now eat up almost two thirds of all ads and gobbled up 90 percent of all growth in media spend — while publishers perish.

I agree with the perception that publishers have become clickbait, content farms, and the publishers have chosen quantity over quality. But that's not the fault of Facebook and Google. That's the publishers' fault. They CHOSE this path.

And it's worse for local media. Large outlets, such as The Atlantic and WaPo can produce dozens or hundreds of stories a day. Scale. National media orgs can attract enough readers to turn a profit.

But local newspaper sites need subscriptions or donations to survive. Giving away content for free has proven a failed business model for most local, daily newspapers.

Unfortunately, the Toledo Blade's web experience is not good enough to warrant a subscription. I'd pay more for a simple, ad-free web-reading experience that works well on all devices. I don't need an app. I don't need a PDF version.

I would fund a well-designed (simply designed), fast-loading, small-downloading, responsive website that focuses on the content (text, images, illustrations).

Axios:

Eight of the top 10 most-trafficked mobile apps are owned by Google and Facebook.

My number one app that I use on mobile is the web browser.

More media whining:

And, at least for now, the more we know, or can see, the less we trust. Roughly 62% of U.S. adults get news on social media and 68% of people don't trust the news they see or read. Think about that: most people don't trust REAL news. The proliferation of fake news is almost certain to get worse, as we see left-leaning groups racing to adapt manipulative techniques that helped conservatives in 2016. Case in point: A 2016 BuzzFeed News analysis found that top fake election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined.

And none of that has anything to do with helping local newspapers, which may only survive if local residents support a buy local campaign, regarding local media orgs. We consumers may need to consume less national news and focus more on the local community. Maybe we need consume less content, created by friends and family and focus a bit more on the content created by local media professionals.

But maybe local residents feel more informed about their local communities by consuming content, created by friends and family members who live in their community.

There is more good information than at any point in humanity, but it's harder than ever to find and trust. Almost every trend cited here is getting worse, not better. And so much of the power to change it rests in the hands of the few, mainly Facebook but also Google, Twitter and Snapchat.

That's a defeatist attitude. It also denies responsibility. No, the publishers have the power to change this. Maybe the national media should reduce the number of hyperbolic, sensationalistic, fear-mongering articles.

The national media stumble over themselves, covering similar topics. The local media is what's important. Toledo may have some of the same concerns as Winston-Salem, but the locales are currently and historically different enough that each warrants their own detailed coverage.

The national media journalists hand-wring about their national coverage and their national business model. It overlooks the much larger problem of how to sustain local media orgs.

Some publishers are putting the emphasis on quality content, which can help.

Ya think? Amazing. Emphasizing quality content is now a radical departure from the norm. If only a few media orgs emphasize quality content, then maybe that's a reason why consumers distrust the media.

And others are moving fast to adapt serious news and information to better fit in these exploding off-platform ecosystems.

Yes, like Axios plans to do, but hold on. But earlier in their article, the writers stated the following:

Therefore one solution is for media orgs to publish even more of their content on the silos. How does this make sense? The media needs a take-back-our-content movement.

Current thinking believes that since users spend an increasing amount of their time on Facebook, then publishers need to dump their content at Facebook. Okay. Fine. Then how can Facebook be blamed for anything?

Maybe media orgs should publish all of their content on every platform and eliminate the need for their own websites. No need for a domain name.

Most media websites are massively bloated, slow-loading, ad-infested piles of design crap, anyway. Their websites bog down older CPUs and provide a clunky reading experience on all devices.

If media orgs want to keep their websites, then maybe the first step to recovery is to produce a website that loads quickly and simply and is comfortable to read on all devices.

Conclusion by Axios, which I agree with, as I mentioned above, especially when it concerns local newspaper websites.

But ultimately, the burden will fall on individual consumers to exploit what should be the golden age of information by adjusting their own habits.