Moving the News Industry From Clickbait to Community

According to our guest on this episode, much of the news industry is engaged in a battle they can’t win, a fight over eyeballs and ad revenue with companies like Google and Facebook, where the terms will get worse and worse as time goes by.

The answer? Community. By building a community that values the work that they create, they can wrestle back some of the control over their audience and receive support directly from the people who consume and appreciate the product they are creating.

Andrew Losowsky is the project lead of The Coral Project, a collaboration between Mozilla, The New York Times and The Washington Post, that is helping news organizations build better communities and more loyal readers through tools, research and strategy. Among our topics:

  • Forcing a layer of community over traditional journalism vs. providing newsrooms with a cogent plan
  • Why they are building Talk, an open source comments platform
  • Are news organizations better served by hiring another reporter… or a community pro?

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Big Quotes

“[Forcing community on newsrooms] is saying to journalists that they have to spend time in the comments without actually giving them the tools or the training to be able to do so effectively. … It looks like saying, ‘You need to ask your readers for help’ or ‘You need to crowdsource this’ or ‘Why don’t you go and talk to people at this event or in these comments?,’ without actually giving any strategy or thought to it. What you end up with is journalists who are very resentful of having another task placed on top of them. A task where they don’t see the connection between their journalistic work and this community work that they’re being asked to do.” -@losowsky

“If you don’t understand and have a real commitment to community as part of your journalistic mission, as part of the strategy of what you’re trying to achieve in the totality of the newsroom, not just within one corner of it, then it will, ultimately, always fail. We’ve seen this repeatedly. For me, a little part of me dies when I see that happen because what we’re really missing is the kinds of connections that journalism needs, in order to survive.” -@losowsky

“Community is not a choice. The choice is what you do with it.” -@patrickokeefe

“Right now, so much of the news industry’s revenue model is based around advertising and creating clickbait in order to get the numbers that will then get enough eyeballs on the advertising. I think this is a really shortsighted strategy. … Over half, I think, of the online advertising money goes directly to Facebook and Google. This is not a battle that the news industry is going to win. The terms are going to get worse and worse as you move forward from that. It really is antithetical to community because what you’re saying is, ‘I want people to come here, and I don’t care where they come from.’ Versus trying to build a community who value what we’re doing and will pay for it.” -@losowsky

“If somebody flags a thousand times, and you’ve only ever deleted two of the comments they’ve flagged, then the next time they flag, maybe you don’t bring it straight to the moderator’s attention until somebody, who is more reliable as a flagger, does flag it. Then on the other side of that, if somebody is really good at flagging, if they flag 100 times and 90% of the time they end up flagging something that you end up deleting, they’re as good as our moderators. If they flag something, maybe we should just pull it for the moderator to look at immediately and just not have it there in the stream.” -@losowsky

“The [real name] issue really comes down to whether or not people will behave better because of real names or maybe they will behave worse. If a name sounds like the person might identify as a woman, that can really change and worsen peoples’ behavior towards them. If there’s no way of hiding, if there’s no way of being anonymous, then you could be encouraging a great homogeneity in your community as a result, or/and encouraging different kinds of harassment and abuse.” -@losowsky

About Andrew Losowsky

Andrew Losowsky is originally from the UK and, since the age of 18, has lived in Hong Kong, Spain and now the U.S. In 2003, he became the editorial director of an indie Spanish editorial startup that built communities around original content. Andrew co-ran a biannual festival of independent publishing in Luxembourg, bringing together magazine makers from around the world. He has also been a John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University and worked on product and editorial at News Corp and The Huffington Post.

He co-created a pop-up magazine (created by a community of people stranded by a volcano), a community museum on a street, a printed time capsule, a human-sized board game about city development and a card game about community management. Andrew used to run an indie magazine subscription service and has written several books about design, print, visualizations and doorbells. He is currently the project lead at The Coral Project.

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