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Splice News Trends: Turgid Trump-Kim media coverage, Facebook, Twitter and Vietnam’s censorship

In his weekly round-up newsroom consultant and former alumnus of Yahoo, CNBC and Bloomberg Alan Soon critiques the media coverage of the Trump-Kim Summit as well as unpacking the latest developments at Facebook and Twitter – not to mention censorship in Vietnam

Alan Soon Mumbrella360 Asia 2017

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

Something different this week — a rant

I’m glad the Trump-Kim media circus is over. There were 2,500 registered media people at the press centre. Many had flown in to cover the summit.

Let’s do the math. Conservatively, let’s assume newsrooms spent $10,000 to get each of their journalists out to Singapore — flights, hotel, food. That’s $25 million, again conservatively.

What did they get out of it? Wall-to-wall coverage of:

1. Journalists interviewing journalists. Because everyone’s a Korea expert.
2. Security, often described as “tight” because we haven’t found another word. Thankfully, there are Gurkhas, so we get to use words like ‘fearsome’, ‘fierce’, and ‘colonial’. We can also talk about their knives.
3. Motorcades. Look, The Beast.
4. The menu. Apparently even world leaders need to eat. When that gets old, there’s always reporting on what reporters are eating.
5. More food, especially if it’s “traditional Singaporean” food like kaya toast and chicken rice served at the media center.
6. Backgrounders about the venue. “Death-from-behind” Sentosa. Former pirate hideout. Rinse, repeat.

That’s what $25 million in coverage gets you. And we wonder why newsrooms can’t afford to launch new products, can’t afford to pay their staff, can’t afford to build new tech.

Let’s be honest: it’s incredibly difficult to come away with differentiated coverage at a tightly managed event like this summit. Yet every single newsroom is making the same bet — that they would somehow scoop the competition in a lucky chance encounter. That’s an expensive bet.

Sadly, in the end, most visiting journalists covered the event by watching it on the screens at the media center. Some were at the Trump press conference. Some got to ask him questions. But in the end, everyone walked away with the same pool shot and same press releases. All for $25 million that the industry doesn’t have the luxury of spending.

Newsrooms don’t understand competition. Journalists want to out-scoop their peers, to land an “exclusive” (what does that even mean these days?). But the audience doesn’t care. They’re getting their stories off the social platforms anyway — and newsrooms are all losing their advertising business to those platforms. Who, then, is the real competitor?

Next time, leave your journalists at home. Work with the big wires — Reuters, AP, AFP. You’re already buying their feeds anyway. They can scale coverage; you can’t. Put together a proper discovery dashboard so you’re on top of everything. Collaborate with the platforms. Build a proper coverage distribution plan. Develop a differentiated point of view through better analysis.

But FFS, don’t blow $25 million by pretending to show up.

Platforms

If the trends are right, we are seeing further fragmentation in the way people discover and discuss news. A new Reuters Institute report covering 37 countries shows that people are relying less on Facebook for news and are instead discovering news in closed WhatsApp groups. The percentage of people using Facebook to get news is down from 42% in 2016 to 36% today. This ongoing shift to closed groups represents the worst nightmare for fact checkers: a world where fake news can’t be monitored, verified, or challenged.

Twitter is trying to make it easier to discover newsworthy tweets. If you were trying to figure out what was going on at this week’s Kim-Trump Summit, you’d have to first get the right list of people to follow, and second, find the right hashtag. It’s cumbersome. So now, Twitter is building dedicated pages for news events like the World Cup (just search “World Cup” in your app). It’ll lump together trending, search, and live videos.

Twitter bots are roiling the Middle East. They come out of nowhere, create artificial trends, and drive public opinion. We’ve seen it in Asia, but here’s a look at how the internet is weaponizedin the Middle East.

Something is brewing at YouTube: They’re hiring people with news credentials. Could they soon be rolling out videos from accredited video newsrooms?

Publishers have been using Google and Facebook to generate new subscriptions. But things aren’t as easy as they sound — publishers are still finding it difficult to step back from their reliance on platforms.

Governments

Vietnam passed a controversial cybersecurity law which critics say will restrict speech. The law requires Google and Facebook to store their data in Vietnam and open offices in the country. Platforms will also have to agree to take down offensive content within 24 hours.

Transformations

BuzzFeed, which laid off 100 people last year, is cutting another 20 jobs as it moves away from its dependence on Facebook. But it’s also adding 45 new jobs as part of its bet on e-commerce and programmatic ads.

Comcast is making a second attempt to buy parts of 21st Century Fox. It’s offering $65 billion in an all-cash deal, trumping Disney’s $52 billion all-stock offer.

Amazon won exclusive broadcast rights to air some Premier League games in the UK. This is part of the retail giant’s ongoing wander into areas beyond its e-commerce roots. They have a raging appetite for sport: last year, they bought the rights to Thursday Night Football with the NFL, as well as US Open tennis and the men’s ATP World Tour.

Craig Newmark of Craigslist fame gave the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism $20 million dollars. The money will go toward staff hires and new programs. Newmark won’t have a say in how that money is spent. The school will however be renamed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York.

Start-ups

Myitkyina News Journal is harnessing the power of local journalism in Myanmar, a country that until just a few years ago had no independent media. This is how they operate. A Splice Original.

Trends

This one made my blood boil. João Palmeiro, the head of the Portuguese press association, was on stage at an international media conference. He was surrounded by women colleagues — he called them his “angels” (and himself, “Charlie”) and proceeded to kiss one of them… on stage. He later justified his repugnant behavior as “cultural”. That wasn’t all that happened at the conference. The MC made this equally shocking comment: “The media are a lot like breasts, the fake ones are often the more appealing.” Yusuf Omar recorded it all. Watch this video.

WAN-IFRA is putting together a webinar with Joanna Chiu, who recently wrote that provocative post on sexpat foreign journalists in Asia. She’s now helping newsrooms create safer workspaces for their employees.

From our Frames design newsletter: here’s a sobering social/news experiment. Take an Instagram account and post renders of the front pages of Australian news sites — without stories about men. The results are pretty stark. The creator of the account says: “I don’t work in the media, but it’s a frustration coming from a consumer.”

BBC is launching a podcast in India that features stories from young people across the country. It’s picked actor Kalki Koechlin as its host to discuss issues like sexual abuse, harassment and caste discrimination. “I won’t be shying away from tackling some pretty tough subjects – sometimes ones that you or people you know might consider to be taboo.”

Medium launched a podcast! It’s called Playback. They’re getting their writers to read the stories they wrote on the platform.

Oh look, Google is actually (well, reportedly) going to launch an actual standalone podcast app. It’s all in the code.

Eyeo, the dodgy company behind Adblock, launched a Chrome extension that supposedly tells you when you’re on a fake news site. Yeah, right. It claims to be using blockchain to solicit feedback and help rank sites.

Talent

Here’s another one from our Frames newsletter. You know that amazing photograph of Merkel leaning over a cowering Trump? It’s time the photographer got some credit. His name is Jesco Denzel and the rest of his work is pretty damn amazing too.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this: I never paid much attention to Anthony Bourdain. To me, he was just another celebrity chef. But I spent the weekend loading up on his videos, his writing, obituaries, and I’ve clearly missed the point. It wasn’t about food. It was about informing people, stirring conversations, and even entertaining audiences — all important components of journalism. “He accepted that he didn’t already know everything, he assumed that he might screw up, he went into every encounter believing that people had something to teach him.” How many journalists carry these same values in the field?

Tools

CrowdTangle rolled out some much-needed features. The social tool can now track verified profiles. Also, you can now filter posts by using Facebook’s “breaking news” tag.

I recently picked up a VPN service — IVPN, which is recommended by NYT’s Wirecutter. Unrelated to Singapore’s blocking of The Pirate Bay, I assure you! But if you’re in the market for a VPN service, use this link. You’ll get 50% off (and I’ll get a free month).

Notables

Chinese social media users are baffled. What Chinese proverb was Ivanka Trump referring to when she tweeted: “Those who say it can not be done, should not interrupt those doing it. — Chinese Proverb.”? She probably found it in a fortune cookie.

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