Features

Splice News Trends: Press freedom, The SCMP, Facebook and the Times of India

In his weekly round-up newsroom consultant and former alumnus of Yahoo, CNBC and Bloomberg Alan Soon considers a diverse range of developments all the way from AI and Facebook's first magazine to Reddit's news tab and porn accidentally slipping into newsletters

To sign up to his newsletter, from which this content is taken, visit The Splice Newsroom.

Platforms

Twitter is on a roll as it continues to clean up its platform. New rule: You now need an actual email address or a phone number to sign up for an account. I don’t understand why it’s taken this long. This will go a long way in keeping fake accounts and bots out. Twitter will also reduce the visibility of suspicious accounts. These will carry a warning, and you won’t be allowed to follow them. “The public health of the conversation on Twitter is a critical metric by which we will measure our success in these areas.”

Apple is talking up its human curation on its News app in a jab at Facebook. They’ve opened a new, hand-picked section in the app dedicated to the U.S. midterm elections featuring trusted media sources. “We won’t shy away from controversial topics, but our goal is to illuminate, not enrage.” They’ve included Fox News in their lineup so that won’t please everyone — but hey, it’s fair and balanced. (And the next time you hear Apple talk about its human editors, ask: How many? Where are they sitting?)

Slate is in a world of pain. Traffic referral from Facebook is now a mere 20% of what it was a year ago. “Every time Facebook traffic would go down, we’d think, ‘OK, maybe this is the low point.’ And then it would go down even further.”

Facebook reversed its ban on cryptocurrency ads, which it once criticized as “not currently operating in good faith”. I guess there’s too much money on the table to ignore. Terms and conditions apply.

Google is renaming its Adwords and Doubleclick to simplify its highly lucrative advertising business. Adwords will now just be called Google Ads. DFP is now simply Google Ad Manager.

From our Frames newsletter
Facebook launched “a magazine for business leaders” called Grow. The first issue features a stern-looking man in a beard, a creative director for a retail fashion brand. Circulation seems limited to the first-class lounge at Heathrow. The hard-to-find webpage says that the print version is designed with journeys in mind.

Governments

The Singapore government is still trying to decide how to legislate against fake news. A minister told the East-West Center conference that the law needs to strike a balance between discourse and curbing misinformation. “It remains possible for journalists to engage in their profession with an increasing degree of seriousness and confidence that their platforms will be trusted; that there is room for disagreement, satire, comedy and commentary.”

Time put together a long read on the decline of press freedom in Southeast Asia. It also looks at the brave people who are fighting back.

Transformations

It’s been a year-and-a-half since Gary Liu took over as CEO at SCMP. I spoke with him on stage at this week’s East-West Center conference about the transformation process and what he’s learned about changing mindsets. “For the first six months, I kept my mouth shut. I spent my time listening and figuring out what the problems were that needed to be fixed. There was no blueprint.” Watch the video for now; I’ll get the transcript done and posted on Splice soon.

Times Internet — the digital arm of Times of India — bought video app MX Player for about $140 million. The Korean app is popular in India, where it’s often used to play movies on phones. Times Internet wants to use MX as a vehicle to push streaming content, including at least 20 original shows.

Another one from our Frames newsletter:
How do you redesign a 119-year-old magazine that was designed for the future in the first place? MIT Technology Review asked branding design legend Michael Bierut of Pentagram to have his way with it. He (and Aron Fay) set up “a precise, systems-driven logic that can be applied to print, screen, and environmental graphics.” It’s gorgeous.

Trends

What would it take for people to trust journalists? We aren’t doing a good enough job explaining what we do, and why we do it. “Too many people think journalism is motivated primarily by personal agendas and a desire to make money. The only surprising thing about that is how little we’re doing to set the record straight.”

Some researchers studying AI are making a bet among themselves. They’re wondering that if by the end of 2018, we’d encounter a Deepfake video about a political candidate that would receive more than 2 million views before it gets debunked. “What happens when creating amusing fakes just becomes another pastime like creating memes today?” Inevitable.

Adobe is using machine learning to spot Photoshopped images. This is how it works.

BBC launched an audio app — something of a radio-and-podcast hybrid — to replace iPlayer Radio. It’s stepping up its game to take on Spotify. Like most media apps, this one will track your interests and make recommendations.

Spotify may have bigger ambitions than just music. They’ve hired a former TV exec as its chief content officer. Says a lot.

Reddit is testing a tab for news. It’s starting to look at what people are engaging with in popular subreddits, and then surface that in a separate tab.

CNN launched a consultancy to work with advertisers. CNN Reach runs out of London and Singapore to cover campaign strategy, media buying, and analytics. “We can’t just be media companies anymore, and this is one step toward that.”

Start-ups

I missed this last week: The News Lens in Taiwan closed a Series-C round of funding. CEO Joey Chung told TechCrunch it raised $3 million to $4 million. The company wants to use the funds to build an in-house CMS and pay for further acquisitions.

I spoke to Joey about his acquisition strategy a few months back. Check it out here.

There is a view that non-profit media companies are best placed to deliver impact. I beg to differ. Put money into the hands of scrappy, fast-moving media startups with a real vision for journalism. See what happens.

Safety

In the Philippines, gunmen killed Manuel Lacsamana. He was a contributor to the local monthly The Media Messenger and chairperson of the Central Luzon Media Association press group.

Talent

Frontier Myanmar is hiring. They’re looking for a reporter to cover national news. We have plenty of respect for what they’re doing out there. A wonderful, fun team.

“Not a lot of parents will encourage their girls to be journalists.” New Naratif has a look at reporting while female in Myanmar.

Notables

Xiaomi launched a mini washing machine. It’s meant to be wall mounted. And it specializes in washing your underwear. Yes, since it’s Xiaomi, you can obviously control it on your smartphone.

If you’re writing a newsletter, this is what not to do. In Vietnam, a writer at stock brokerage FPT Securities apparently sent out a market report — but accidentally copied-and-pasted a pornographic photo into it.

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