Features

Splice News Trends: Toutiao fights fake news with AI, Storify closes and Saudi ends cinema ban

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

Governments

The number of journalists imprisoned hit a record this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. It partly blamed Trump for undermining news and making it easier for countries to get away with repressing journalists. The worst of the lot: Turkey

The New York Times has a look at how Trump sabotaged journalism around the world. “The sad irony is that Trump’s greatest harm to human rights may not be his infatuation with abusive strongmen but his undermining of the fact-based discourse that is essential for reining them in.”

A case in point: The Polish government cracked down on private media — all in the name of fighting fake news. A fine of US$420,000 has been slapped on the influential TV channel TVN24 for “promoting illegal activities and encouraging behaviour that threatens security.”

Bloomberg has a powerful piece about Rappler and how it’s been the target of trolls who want to stop its often critical reporting of Philippine President Duterte. Rappler’s founder, Maria Ressa, blames Facebook for enabling them. “They haven’t done anything to deal with the fundamental problem, which is they’re allowing lies to be treated the same way as truth and spreading it. Either they’re negligent or they’re complicit in state-sponsored hate.”

One of the entry points to the main battle area during the Marawi crisis remains closed even after the city was “liberated” from ISIS-inspired militants. Photo: Daniel Abunales.

The fighting is over in Marawi but there are still lingering questions over how the Philippine military interacts with journalists. This may surprise you: No rules have been established between the military and newsrooms regarding the coverage of conflict.

Two reporters were arrested in Myanmar under the Official Secrets Act. Police say they found two military reports and a map on them.

Baidu has a service that will help you figure out if your site is blocked in China. For a fee, they’ll also tell you how you could work around those problems.

Platforms 

A former Facebook VP, Chamath Palihapitiya, who apparently made millions at the company, says the work that he put into the platform is tearing society apart. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops (around likes, shares, hearts) we’ve created are destroying how society works.” He says he barely spends time on Facebook these days, to the detriment of his friendships. Take the time to watch the video interview. You probably won’t like the guy, but you’ll understand his perspective on things.

“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops (around likes, shares, hearts) we’ve created are destroying how society works.”

Surprisingly, Facebook actually responded to what Chamath Palihapitiya had to say. It said it’s now working with outside experts and academics to better understand the company’s effect on society, and adjust. “We are willing to reduce our profitability to make sure the right investments are made.”

Analytics company Parsely crunched the referral traffic of its client sites. It found that referrals from Facebook declined 25 per cent from February to October this year. Stunning. Google remains the primary driver of referrals for publishers. Anyone who’s still projecting higher Facebook referrals as part of their newsroom’s KPIs has got to be insane. The numbers are clear.

Facebook is finally changing its organic reach metric to only count impressions when it actually shows up on someone’s screen. This is an important viewability standard, and I’m surprised it’s taken this long.

Nine European press agencies, including the AFP, want Facebook and Google to pay copyright fees for the content they distribute. “Neither Facebook nor Google have a newsroom… They do not have journalists in Syria risking their lives, nor a bureau in Zimbabwe investigating Mugabe’s departure, nor editors to check and verify information sent in by reporters on the ground.” Fair point, but that ship has sailed. Move on.

A watchdog that advises the British PM on ethics is calling for laws that will force social media companies to monitor posts. It wants platforms to take on the liability for illegal content.

Here’s one of the more compelling predictions of media in 2018. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen expects a time where platforms will 1) reduce the amount of news content, 2) separate it from other social content and 3) cut down the number of news organisations that are allowed to publish to that platform. We’ve seen this before — it’s the “Snapchat Scenario.” Given the friction between news and social platforms, this makes a lot of sense to me.

China’s Toutiao is deliberately creating fake news to train its anti fake-news AI. Sometimes you need to teach bots to fight bots. “We adjust our strategy every week. It’s a constant experiment.”

Trends

Bloomberg’s 24-hour news network on Twitter launches on Monday. It’s got a team of 50 people behind it, and they’re calling it… TicToc. Must be the same guys who named Tronc.

Transformation

Disney is buying 21st Century Fox’s film and TV studios in a $52 billion deal. Fox has been trying to get out of entertainment to focus on news and sports. Disney, on the other hand, needs a deep catalog to power its own streaming service to take on Netflix.

In Australia, Fairfax Media, News Corp and Nine are looking to share anonymous digital identities across their three media platforms. It would allow for better targeting of audiences, and goes live in the first half of 2018. An important step for the industry. “As content creators, it is incumbent on us more than anyone else to get it right more than anyone else.”

Fairfax Media is also working with Google. They now have a partnership for premium programmatic ad sales, powered by Google.

The Economist has 16 people dedicated just to retaining subscribers. Their job is to figure out how often to reach out to people at risk of cancelling, and the correlation between engagement and renewals.

Tools

You can now follow specific hashtags on Instagram. Easy: just hit “follow.” Instagram will only show top posts though, so you won’t be overwhelmed.
Despite the new 280-character limit, some people are still creating tweetstorms. So Twitter rolled out a tweetstorm composer. You write up your tweets as a thread. Then hit “Tweet all.”

Remember a tool called Storify? Back in the day, it allowed you to pull social posts into articles — a game changer for many newsrooms. I remember having to whitelist them. We no longer need special embed tools, so they’re closing down.

Notables

Saudi Arabia dropped a 35-year ban on cinemas. “If you want to fight terrorism, you need to give people a love of life. A love of life comes from joy, and cinema is joy.” Word.

Japanese subway operator Tokyo Metro is getting into a new venture as a way to use its idle land. It’s now in the farming business as a brand called Tokyo Salad.

Quote of the week 

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” — Benjamin Franklin

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