Features

My media habits: Gyro’s Rhys Taylor – ‘A few rockstar writers survive and I follow them on Twitter’

In a conversation with Mumbrella's Dean Carroll, Gyro's regional head of strategy planning and principal Rhys Taylor believes few things can beat the crowd-sourced wisdom of Twitter and Reddit - provided the 'mute' button and newsfeed filters are judiciously deployed

What are your must-read news sources you can’t live without on a daily basis, and why are those particular media titles so important to you?

“I follow a few key folk on Twitter — a combination of journalists, technologists, academics, and creative minds; along with people who have opposing opinions on those topics. It is in each of their jobs to be on the pulse and I unashamedly take advantage of that. The same goes for crowdsourcing on Reddit — where the hivemind doesn’t miss a beat. 

“To steal a quote from Shane Parrish of Farnam Street: “Master the best of what other people have already figured out.” So I end up consuming from an assortment of mastheads each day.

In terms of news consumption – do you prefer, print, television, radio, websites, newsletters, social networks, blogs, apps or something else entirely?

“When I am purposefully consuming, I like to go deep — falling down rabbit holes and looking up at the time, wondering how I’ve spent 30 minutes learning about owning your own train in North America. 

“I usually start at my computer with a swollen RSS feed open on my screen. It’s my preferred tool in this case because it lets me highlight, clip, save — as well as retrieve from an archive to cross reference.”

Do you prefer long-form or short-form content?

“Whatever it is — if it’s engaging, or leads somewhere else — I’ll stick with it to the end. I rarely save something to read later. I prefer to save things because I’ve made a decision about what it means to me or why it’s useful.”

Can you name your favourite journalist and set out what makes them great?

“No, but I can tell you I have never been disappointed by the teams behind J Capital Research or Bellingcat. Conviction, hypothesis, and rigour.”

What piece of journalism has changed the game in recent times, in your view?

“I’ve lingered to long thinking about this one, haven’t I? The silence is getting awkward — sorry.”

Are there any titles you have paid subscriptions to?

“I’ve lost track. Foreign Affair, FT, NYT, Quartz, The Guardian, The Intercept, WSJ.”

In terms of films and shows, is your preference for terrestrial television or streaming platforms like Netflix?

“Unless I’m caught in a public place like a hotel lobby or airport lounge it’s always streamed or downloaded. I was just reading about hotel lobbies actually.”

Are recommendation engines a good thing or do they cancel out the joy of serendipity in terms of discovering fresh content not aligned with your previous preferences?

“The concept of serendipity — to me — is so much more important when connected to something in the real world. It comes down to chance, yes. But it also comes as a result of effort and putting yourself into a situation. Once you’re online, you’re operating in a somewhat contrived and ordered environment.

“The closest thing I’ve experienced to pure joy and surprise online recently was discovering the 20 year archive that is lileks.com. I stumbled upon it through Google after a dinner out had an aspic component to it and I became curious about which, if any, cuisines used it regularly.

“That being said, has anyone considered building a randomiser element into their engine so people still get to experience the unexpected joy of seeing something entirely out of left field?”

What was the best film you saw of late – and can you describe why it made an impression on you?“The Chernobyl mini series from HBO. It made an impression because of the fact I couldn’t avoid it any longer — everyone was talking about it. And why that was important to me personally was it reminded me even as recently as 2017 the town of Pripyat was not a mainstream topic in this corner of the world. It was left to urban explorers and their HDR photos or the scientific community.

“And the fact we have the data and creative storytelling techniques that can help us absolutely encapsulate such a diverse audience on an obscure topic continues to amaze me. Whether they’re looking back at history or gazing into the not-so-distant future, script-writers have continued to perfect the art of pulling all the right levers.”

And what shows do you consider to be event TV, those programmes you just have to watch and can’t contemplate missing?

“TV has never been a focal point in our house. In fact our living area is purposefully screen free. I view scheduling like public transport — if it’s there and runs when you need it, great. But if you have to wait or plan your life around it, it’s a pain. 

“But my habits aren’t anything normal — I started watching Chernobyl at 10pm and was done by 3am. (Or maybe that is — in fact — more normal these days.) When it comes to movies and TV I prefer to binge — enjoy it and get it out the way.”

In terms of devices, how do you access content most often – on mobile, desktop, tablet, laptop or television?

“Intermittent updates throughout the day on my phone (no push notifications though), slightly more eclectic reading and research in the mornings and weekends on a laptop or at my desk, and intermittent deep dives with magazines or books.”

How damaging is piracy and illegal downloads when it comes to the media and entertainment space?

“It’s crippling, but it is also our target audience telling us they want to do things differently. You don’t run a focus group and ignore the findings — whether you like them or not. And that’s what this continued behaviour is.

“The world doesn’t owe any person, business, or industry anything. So it’s our job to build a plan that addresses those new behaviours and preferences if we want to remain relevant. You can try to stick it out I guess — but while you’re busy defending, someone else is pivoting and taking advantage.”

And moving on, what’s been your favourite book in recent times?

If you mean a book I recently read: I re-read the Cluetrain Manifesto a few weeks back and it — as it always does — hit me with a few new “aha” moments. Yeah, sure it’s been criticised by some for not getting everything right; but my take on it is that even if outcomes haven’t manifest as predicted, the scenarios central to the principles are definitely present.But if you mean a more recently published text: Hello, Shadowlands by Patrick Winn. Having only moved to Singapore from Sydney in December 2018 it was topical.

So Kindle or hard copy?

I’ve had two Kindles over the years and also tried the iPad app. But they ended up being given to friends and I keep going back to bookdepository.com for the real thing.

A lot of people argue, “but you’ll never read it again.” And I say, “if it’s not on your bookshelf no-one is ever going to ask you about it, or borrow it.”

And now to music. How do you buy and consume music?

I Shazam anything I like the sound of when I’m out and about — and only very rarely is it not on Spotify or Soundcloud.

Which musical artists appeal to your tastes right now?

Com Truise

“Today it’s mixes from chillwave artists like Com Truise and Tycho. Tomorrow it will be a playlist starting off with Jon and Vangelis and ending with Adiemus.

Social networks: Hero or villain when it comes to giving you access to content?

“Neither; it’s my connections who are the heroes or villains. I’m heavy on the mute button and news feed filter options on all social platforms. You have been warned.”

And are social networks like Facebook and Twitter actually media companies these days in your view, even though that is something they deny – perhaps to avoid further regulation?

“When anything and anyone can be monetised in a myriad of ways ‘media’ kind of becomes a defunct classification don’t you think? They are definitely attention merchants — I’ll say that. Which is another good book, by the way.”

In the digital world, algorithms rather than humans are the media gatekeepers. Do you miss the old days when the likes of journalists, critics and broadcasters played that qualitative role, or have we simply evolved to a better quantitative system?

“Sadly, I read that as: ‘In a world where people enjoy things being easy and expect to be constantly told what is good, what they should do, and what they should think; many have responded by continuing to increase the volume of the content we create, decrease the value it delivers as we rush to produce it faster, and ultimately make it no longer viable for Joe Blogs Journalist to make an honest living.’

“Fast fashion. Slow food. Right to repair. There are patterns in other pockets of society where people are calling out or trying to reverse the results of continued advancement and innovation. Not to say they’re luddites — but that they have conviction in something.

“Fortunately a few rockstars writers survive — yes — and they are the ones I follow on Twitter.”

Finally, what does the future hold for the media space in your view – will artificial intelligence and virtual personal assistants take over to the point where we just trust the machines to tell us what we want to consume, in terms of news and entertainment?

Firstly: if anyone is working on a VPA that is close to properly bringing together context and intent for me — invite me to your Beta program now. I want it.

Secondly: of course they will. But that same AI power will also keep us alive on the journey to Mars. I think what’s more important to ask is how will we retain our humanity and not end up allowing apathy and inactivity to paralyse human development or interaction?

“Each one of us will have to find our own balance in that regard. For me, it’s as simple as enjoying taking my Apple Watch off before I go for a run.”

Rhys Taylor is regional head of strategic planning and principal at Gyro Consulting, based in Singapore

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