Features

Splice News Trends: Twitter perks up, Weibo lands in hot water and #MeToo hits Newsweek

In this week’s media roundup, The Splice Newsroom’s Alan Soon looks at George Soros' warning about Facebook and Google, the rise (and potential fall) of cryptocurrency and innovation within Japan's newsrooms

Platforms

Zuckerberg is on a roll. In the third major change this year (and we’ve only just started), he announced that Facebook will start showing more stories from “your local town or city.”At the start of the year, it was about friends and family, and less news (because it’s yucky to police). And then it was a 2-question survey to find out which news sources people trust. And this week, it’s all about local news — whatever that means. This time, he makes a key assumption: that people reading local news care about civic engagement. This may work well in markets that have a diversity of local, city- or district-level media, but that’s rare in Asia. It also assumes that local news is less prone to fake-ness. Right. Prediction: you’re going to see a pivot-to-local — publishers will start creating local content to ride the change in the algo.

Facebook posted its slowest growth in daily users on record in Q4. Growth is up +2.18%, which is a big slowdown from +3.8% in Q3. The company says that’s because it’s showing fewer viral videos in the feed (that’s how powerful those autoplaying videos are at stealing your attention). But hey, don’t feel sorry for the company; its revenue that quarter: $13 billion. That’s 47% growth year-on-year. Insane.

First it was Rupert, now it’s George. Soros had a go at Facebook and Google in Davos, calling them a menace to society. “The power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies.”

George Soros: Facebook and Google are a “menace” to society whose “days are numbered”

Google itself is also turning its focus to serving local communities. It launched a new social app called Bulletin that lets people post photos, videos and messages from their phones. Bulletin is on pilot in Nashville and Oakland.

As far as the numbers go, it’s becoming clear that Twitter is sending more traffic to publishers than it used to. Facebook, which has been paring down referrals for months, now delivers 2.5 visitors to publishers for every one visitor Twitter sends.

Facebook is banning all ads that promote cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin. It says these products are “frequently associated with misleading or deceptive promotional practices.”

Cue YouTube, which was caught displaying ads by anonymous attackers that leached your CPU power and electricity while they covertly mined cryptocurrency — and while you watched cat videos. People were only alerted when their antivirus programs detected cryptocurrency mining code. Most cases used a a crypto mining service called Coinhive, which is controversial because it allows users to profit while surreptitiously using other people’s computers. The scripts use 80% of your CPU, which explains why it’s now a beachball that sounds like a 18-wheeler truck.

Japan-based LINE is launching a cryptocurrency exchange that will work within its popular messenger app. Japan is fast emerging as one of Asia’s friendliest markets for cryptocurrencies, while China and South Korea have been cracking down on them.

Government

Sina Weibo was ordered to suspend several portals for a week. The government said Weibo was spreading obscene and “wrongly oriented” content. Weibo said it accepts the criticism.

Reprimanded: Weibo in China

Rappler mounted a legal challenge to the Philippine corporate regulator’s decision to revoke the company’s license. It told the Court of Appeals that “Rappler is being made to pay the ultimate price for exercising the freedom of the press.” #standwithrappler

A fascinating project is underway in Indonesia to document personal stories from the anti-communist purges of the 1960s.No one seems to agree on how many people were killed. Half a million? Three million? For decades, the official story from the government was that nothing happened. Now it’s all coming out on Medium. A Splice original. 

The Culture Secretary of the UK, Matt Hancock, has just released an app called Matt Hancock MP. Apparently it’s like a social network for his constituents, who can update a newsfeed, watch live streams, chat, and friend each other. All well so far, but the problems kick in during user onboarding, with alerts like “Matt Hancock would like to access your photos”, and “Matt Hancock keeps stopping.” Trolls abound, most of whom are political journos. You guys.

Transformations

Japanese newspapers aren’t known for innovation, so this was an interesting surprise. The Shinano Mainichi Shimbun is working with Fujitsu to speed up its news updates through the use of AI summarization. This is how it works.

Bloomberg Digital hired its first head of product. Julia Beizer, who comes from HuffPost and WaPo, will oversee TicToc and other OTT apps, as well as Bloomberg’s mobile and desktop sites. The idea is to personalize their audiences’ experiences across devices and products. Beizer: “There’s real user service there…that I don’t think we as an industry are nailing yet.” At Splice, we’re big fans of this. Have you hired an HOP yet?

Trends

BuzzFeed found a smart way to get behind China’s strict media regulations — by working out a distribution deal with Bytedance. The deal will allow Bytedance to distribute articles and videos across its platforms, including Toutiao.

Why aren’t more publishers thinking about curation? Everyone is still locked into a strategy of original reporting, failing to understand that there’s also a market for well-curated experiences (which is what we’re trying to do here!). Frederic Filloux explains why curation makes business sense, especially when you can’t trust social platforms to do it.

What does trust look like? Media is now the least-trusted institution, according to Edelman’s annual trust barometer survey. But there’s another side to it: credibility of journalists rose significantly. What does this imply? People are confusing social media, search engines and newsgathering media. And that’s dangerous.

Newsweek has placed its chief content officer on leave pending an investigation for sexual harassment. Dayan Candappa was fired in 2016 by Reuters as Americas editor after a senior reporter reported him for sexual harassment. He was then hired at Newsweek Media Group after “three weeks of due diligence”. They have now hired a law firm to look into his hiring.

Notables

The International Reporting Project has folded after 20 years.The non-profit funded journalism projects around the world and made it possible for young freelancers to cover stories that would never otherwise have made it to Big Media. “Funding has now fallen short of what we need to run the program as we would like.”

Singapore launched a legal handbook to help freelancers working in creative arts. It aims to educate artists on their legal rights. Such a great idea.

We’re hugely impressed that the Guardian documentary reviewer gave Shirkers, first-time director Sandi Tan’s movie about a movie she made in early 90s Singapore, a 5-star review.  The original movie was about a young killer. But the cans of film were kept captive for 25 years by a weirdly mean-spirited mentor of Tan’s. The resulting docu is about the heartbreak of that loss and an ode to the Singapore of her youth. Can’t wait to see this.

Quote of the Week

“The rumor that I’m secretly creating a zombie apocalypse to generate demand for flamethrowers is completely false.”
— Elon Musk, who sold $10 million worth of flamethrowers within a few days. Serious corporate torch-merch.

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