Splice News media trends: The week according to Alan Soon – The New York Times, human filters and faceless publishers

As a leading light of the commentariat in Asia, newsroom consultant and former alumnus of Yahoo, CNBC and Bloomberg, Alan Soon knows a thing or two about the media. Here is his roundup of developments inside the bubble this week

How wonderful to start this newsletter with something other than Facebook! It’s Mary Meeker time with her closely watched report (355 slides this year) on Internet trends. Some major takeaways:

  • Global internet user growth continues to slow, and with that, smartphone shipments are slowing as well
  • In the U.S., time spent on TV is going up while TV ad spend is going down. Mobile, on the other hand, continues to increase on both time spent and ad spend
  • Google Lens (its AR strategy) could lead to retail stores change their store fronts to provide greater context to images
  • Voice searches are picking up. 20% of queries on mobile were done by voice, with accuracy now around 95%
  • In 8 years, Spotify has gone from zero to 20% share of the global music industry’s revenue

Check out all 355 slides (and a 30 minute video by Meeker herself) here.

Ben Thompson at Stratechery painted a nightmarish view of the future media market dominated by faceless publishers: “A huge number of small publications backed by entities more concerned with building viable businesses than having memorable names.” Worth a read for a little weekend shock and awe.


New York Times’s Farhad Manjoo did a great job explaining Twitter’s role in society and why, apart from blaming Facebook for “fake” news, we should be looking at how tweets shape what journalists cover. “The initial aim isn’t to convince or persuade, but simply to overwhelm — to so completely saturate the network that it seems as if people are talking about a particular story. The biggest prize is to get on Twitter’s Trending Topics list, which is often used as an assignment sheet for the rest of the internet.”

The European Commission says it’s seen “significant progress” from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft on their actions against hate speech. The tech giants agreed a year ago that they would remove hate content within 24 hours of receiving a complaint. 51% of notifications are now reviewed within 24 hours, up from 40% last year. Facebook got a special mention of being the only company that’s responding to most of its notifications within 24 hours.

…Btw, the work of handling notifications as a moderator is often a thankless and ruthless task. Imagine the stress of having to look at and take down brutal, abusive content on Facebook. “I have a major ethical problem with 3,000 young people coming out of college and being exposed to that extreme content and being used as human filters by any commercial entity.”

A Swiss court fined a man for “liking” comments on a Facebook post which accused someone of being racist. The judge said his action was defamatory.


The Financial Times may have found a silver bullet in converting casual readers to subscribers: Focus on WhatsApp groups. People who come in contact with its content on WhatsApp are apparently more likely to return to the site in the next seven days — and are therefore more likely to subscribe. “The hope was that we get a smaller but more engaged audience.”

Refinery29 gets an incredible 63% open rate on its newsletters (I get about 42%, in case you’re wondering!). They apparently know how to work great subject lines, such as this: “I got labia fillers — and my sex life has never been better.”

…Newsletters are also doing well at NYT. The Morning Briefing (essential reading for me) gets a 60%+ open rate.


The New York Times cut the position of public editor, which it set up as a way to hold the paper’s editorial chiefs accountable. “The responsibility of the public editor—to serve as the reader’s representative—has outgrown that one office.” The role reported directly to the publisher, rather than the executive editor. At a time of distrust in media, the move is baffling.

…And what does the public expect of newsrooms? “They want more humility from journalists, more recognition that in spite of journalists’ best aspirations, we do sometimes get it wrong.” What’s the right KPI to measure trust?

…And speaking of trust. FFS. State-run Philippine News Agency put out a story about the challenges the military faced in clearing out Marawi City of terrorists… except the accompanying photo was that of a soldier taken during the Vietnam War. This is the second time the PNA made a mistake in a month.


Apart from cutting the role of the public editor, NYT also offered buyouts to its editorial staff to reduce layers of editing. “Our goal is to significantly shift the balance of editors to reporters at The Times, giving us more on-the-ground journalists developing original work than ever before.”

Poynter checked in with some of the top newspaper editors and publishers in America about the stuff that keeps them up at night. Plenty of great nuggets in here about the state of the industry and its mindset. “We’re a couple decades into media’s digital transformation and we’re still fighting cultural resistance in pockets of our newsrooms to finding our identity in the journalism we create, not the method of its delivery.”


Don’t you just hate transcribing interviews? Here are some tools to get that job done for you.

Google launched a tool that can help you create simple data gifs. This is what you can do with it.

…The AP Stylebook is updated with a new section on data. Tips: Get data in a searchable form; try not to scrape; get someone else to reproduce the results; let your readers see your workings (that trust thing again).

How do you decide whether to boost a post on Facebook? Here are some good tips on looking past campaign vanity metrics.

I have never used a QR code in my life. But in China, where these barcodes are everywhere, even beggars are using it as a way to collect money.


Are you a fan of the NYT’s The Daily? Check out this interview with Michael Barbaro.

A Japanese company unveiled a closet that folds your clothes for you. Is that worth $16,700 to you?

Quote of the week
“Don’t cheat the world of your contribution. Give it what you’ve got.” — Steven Pressfield


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