JC / Railbird

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#ONA15 Notes and Quotes

I’m attending the 2015 Online News Conference (#ONA15) on Thursday and Friday and to keep from over-tweeting — and to gather all the great stuff that’s being said — I’ll be adding notes from the panels and events in the occasionally updated post below. (There likely won’t be much that’s racing specific, although I’ll do my best to make those connections.)

Friday: We Belong Here with Soraya Chemaly (@schemaly), Dr. Michelle Ferrier (@mediaghosts), Amanda Hess (@amandahess), Laurie Penny (@Pennyred), and moderated by Sarah Jeong (@sarahjeong) #ONA15keynote

Whose Idea Of The Future Is This? with Teresa Jusino (@teresajusino), Sherryl Vint, Ytasha L. Womack (@ytashawomack), and moderated by Matt Thompson (@mthomps) #ONA15future

I’m pairing the Friday morning keynote and a panel from the last session of the day because I can’t shake the connections between them. The first was a thoughtful, nuanced, and at times, harrowing discussion of online harassment and its effects. The second was a philosophical conversation about futurism and rethinking communities, media, and technology. Both were very much about who gets to speak, the backlash to diversity, and imagining better.

We Belong Here tweets:

Future tweets:

Thursday: A Three-Part Plan for Audience Engagement with Greg Emerson (@emersongreg), Alexandra Smith (@alexandraleighs), and Carla Zanoni (@carlazanoni) #ONA15plan

Solid advice from all three panelists: Go where your audience is, know what your goals are, and deliver value.

How do you market your journalism? Zanoni talks about how at the Wall Street Journal, engagement editors ask, “Where is the best place to tell the story — and what kind of data can we add to it?”

“Traffic data doesn’t tell you about your content, it tells you about your audience,” says Emerson, who stresses the importance of defining what it means for a piece to “do well.” What does it mean to be successful?

Also: “Your audience does not equal community,” and “Your audience is not one audience,” it’s segmented. Understand those segments. Know that it’s no longer enough to hire digital natives to navigate these channels: “You have to hire social natives, data natives, mobile natives,” says Emerson. “We all need to up our game.” Talks about how everyone is reading on phones, which is nice crossover with the Wednesday night ESPN longform panel and Kate Fagan pointing out how she reads long, deeply reported stories on her phone, but doesn’t want writers to change how they approach their work for that reality. It’s not about how you’re creating the work, but how you’re presenting it and measuring its effect on the audience.

Smith on a related topic: Goals, she says, look different for every newsroom, every beat. “You can’t be everything to everyone when it comes to metrics.”

Zanoni on social media: Stick to being present on the platforms where your users are already spending their time. Smith adds, “Do what you can well.”

What’s most important is that you’re adding value, says Emerson, who gives a few tips for how to do that: “If you give different context than everyone else, you will get more engagement.” Also, it’s no longer about being first, having a scoop [changing idea about what it means to win] — you might be alone out there with a story on Twitter for a few minutes, but you will be overtaken. “Think like a curator, not a megaphone.”

Another tip? Be clear, not vaguely clever or cute [something to balance when it comes to establishing a voice]. Remember that Google is indexing tweets now and people want to know what they’re clicking. “The more specific you are, the more value you bring.”

Plan tweets:

Thursday: Deep Dive into Google with Emily Bell (@emilybell) and Richard Gingras (@richardgingras) #onadeepdive

Emily Bell, Tow Center for Digital Journalism, and Richard Gingras, Google Head of News, get the conference off to a rousing start with a lively hour-long exchange covering such topics as the Trust Project, mobile, ad blockers, local news, and the Google algorithm.

Gingras begins by warning that there will be no letting up in the pace of digital news. Quoting Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf — “[George] can keep learning the games we play as quickly as I can change them” — Gingras says that tech skills are as essential as journalism skills and that “news organizations today have to treat technology equal to writing and storytelling.” Combined tech and journo skills “enable better journalism.”

Re: the Trust Project: Gingras raises the role of editors and the question of making their work more visible. “How can we surface the work that goes into journalistic verification to consumers?”

Moving on to the user experience of news, Gingras jolts the room by declaring, “The mobile web is in crisis.” He cites the the too-common experience of disruptive or obnoxious ads. Users are telling publishers ads have so degraded the experience that they’ve lost trust — “Ad blockers are a symptom of the problem,” he says. “The experience is so egregious, people can’t stand it.” The way forward is open source and open web. “We need to create experiences on the mobile web that are powerful, elegant, and sustainable.” (Google, through Gingras, is clearly staking out a position as being for the open web in opposition to the closed platform of Facebook and now, Apple.)

Bell asks him about Apple News: “Do you think Apple will actually succeed in moving people from the open web to a closed version of the web?” He replies: “I certainly hope not.” (Is this an awkward moment to mention that Railbird is available via Apple News?)

Gingras, though, believes publishers “should use any and all means to build audience,” answering a question about the Washington Post planning to publish all content on Facebook through Instant Articles.

Also discussed: The atomic unit of news. Gingras initially cites the article as the atomic unit (raising questions about what that means for content management/development/reaching readers through alternate forms), pointing to the decline in the website homepage as an entry point for audiences, but later speaks of videos/photos/all types of content as potentially being atomic units.

Audience member asks skeptical question about trust vis-a-vis Google’s algorithm. “We show our work,” Gingras answers. The results can be analyzed. Also says, feed the algorithm: “The more signals we have the better.”

Gingras leaves the audience with questions at the end — “What is the nature of the evolving form of the article?”, “How do we take full advantage of the opportunities in data journalism?” — and wraps up with, “It’s [all the questions that are being asked in this transition] only going to be solved by the collective efforts of everyone in this industry.”

Deep dive tweets:

Enter for the Rippey Award

There’s one week remaining to enter the second annual Ron Rippey Handicapping Media Award presented by Brisnet and if you’ve written or posted any handicapping pieces or multimedia presentations in the past year that you’re proud of, submit by next Tuesday, September 29.

Do it not only because the prize is $1000, but because the award recognizes excellence in an essential corner of turf media — work that educates and informs horseplayers. And to my fellow women handicappers — enter because last year, when I was part of the judges panel, only nine percent of entries were from women. While I don’t know the exact proportion of women vs. men handicappers and analysts, I’m certain it’s a few times greater than nine percent — so, get in there and take your shot at winning!

The Unethical Report

Sometimes I miss the Thoroughbred Times, and not just for their reporting and analysis, but because TT staffers and contributors were some of the few in racing media who pushed back on the Paulick Report and its unethical aggregation practices. Since its launch in 2008, the Paulick Report has succeeded by publishing its own original content — and by aggregating the original work of others, rewriting and condensing that work into 1-5 paragraph summaries with a link to the original source at the end. The summaries appear on pages with comments and ads, and for most visitors, it’s one-stop racing reading. PR has been so successful with its approach that people regularly say of something that was actually published in Blood-Horse, Daily Racing Form, a major newspaper, or on a small blog that they “saw” it on the Paulick Report, giving PR credit for content it had no hand in producing.

Aggregation doesn’t have to be that way — aggregation can be ethical. Equidaily links directly to publications with headlines and short excerpts. Raceday 360 Wire — the aggregator I built, now owned by Hello Race Fans — links directly to sources with headlines and the first few words.

But there are reasons the Paulick Report way works. If you’re a visitor, it’s a convenient way to skim headlines and get some commentary or reporting you won’t see anywhere else. It has a lively community. If you’re a publisher, of any size, it’s not worth it — legally — to tangle over fair use, a hazily defined and easily abused standard. The traffic is supposed to be consolation — and for small publishers, it can be — the people who click through a PR summary to the full piece may not be as many as you’d like, but it’s probably more than would have seen your site without their link.


Featured: Screenshot from 5/9/13, 9:00 AM. No credit, no link to the original, and one misleading word.

It helps, too, that Paulick and company don’t usually misrepresent the nature of what they’re doing. Except, when they do, as in the opening sentence of a great interview Scott Jagow did with Kerry Thomas about his Kentucky Derby profiles. (Seriously, it’s an excellent interview with Thomas about his process and analysis. You should read it.) “Two years ago, we featured a report by a relatively unknown ‘herd whisperer’ named Kerry Thomas,” Jagow writes. What he means by “featured” is that they aggregated the report from the now defunct Kentucky Confidential (it can be read here in its entirety, if you’re interested). The report wasn’t “featured,” with all that implies about original publication and presentation — it was given the typical Paulick Report treatment. If the opening sentence of the interview reflected that accurately — if Jagow had used a word such as “linked,” or a phrase such as, “called attention to,” all I’d have to say here is, read that great interview with Thomas.

Because of that word, though, I emailed Paulick and Jagow with a request to change it. Paulick’s response to me was that since I didn’t complain about the aggregation of Thomas’ analysis for Kentucky Confidential in 2011, and agreed to a business relationship between Kentucky Confidential and the Paulick Report in 2012 (PR sold the KYC sponsorships; KYC linked to PR with a “Presented by …” banner on the header of every page), I shouldn’t protest “featured” now. But there is a difference between aggregating original work and misrepresenting the presentation of that aggregated work. The former may or may not be theft, but the latter is most certainly a lie.

5/11/13 1:50 PM Addendum: Sid Fernando, who curates a selection of daily racing “newspapers” on paper.li, thoughtfully expands on the issues of aggregation in a post today on his website.

#DerbyMediaProblems

Churchill Downs opened the Mansion to the press on Wednesday, giving turf writers who knew the sixth-floor space as the Joe Hirsch Media Center a chance to check out the open bar, modern art, and chandeliers that will be enjoyed by 320 Kentucky Derby-goers whose tickets — purchased for $7,000 to $12,500 apiece — guarantee entry into an exclusive, swanky club.

Ever since Churchill announced plans last summer to transform the press box into a high-roller party palace and move the media into a renovated part-year simulcasting hall on the ground floor of the track, there have been complaints about turf journalists being downgraded. “Money trumps everything, including media,” wrote Ray Paulick then. “Wish @ChurchillDowns would just call it the Rodney Dangerfield Media Center,” he tweeted today, with a link to a piece on the Sherman Report headlined “Booted out: Churchill Downs eliminates press box for Kentucky Derby; Most media will watch on TV.”

Let’s be honest: Most media watched the Kentucky Derby on TVs in the Hirsch press box (balcony spaces with a clear view of the track were assigned, and limited). Even more watched the post-race interviews on TV. For a good number, the move from the sixth floor to the first isn’t going to significantly change their process (the TVs in the new space are actually better, Jennie Rees wrote in January), and the reasons for being in the old press box (atmosphere, inspiration, the roar of the crowd) that Paulick — as well as Tom Pedulla and Neil Milbert — give the Sherman Report aren’t great arguments for allotting the media such prime square footage.

Even though I haven’t seen the new press box, I suspect it’s an improvement in some important ways. It’s closer to the action, certainly. There’s room for post-race press conferences. And the Hirsch center was built for a kind of journalism that was disappearing even when it opened, in 2005. It was anachronistic space (albeit very nice space), accessible only by elevator, for a time when every major newspaper sent a reporter to cover the Derby and those reporters ensconced themselves in the press box, leaving — if they did — to get the same quotes from the same connections as every other reporter.

Journalism now is a mix of the old standards — turf writers are still collecting those quotes — and the new ways of social media. To the extent that a press box still makes sense, it’s as a staging ground and retreat — a secure place to store gear and focus on work without distraction for a while before plunging back into the scene. Every journalist with a smartphone or tablet now carries a media center with them, and they need to, because — even more than in 2004, when Milbert didn’t go outside and missed just how torrential was the rain in which Smarty Jones won the Derby — the best stories are outside the box.

– – – – – 

Earlier this week, InsiderLouisville.com ran a story by Mark Coomes about “distaff” turf writers, the women in racing who are increasingly prominent as reporters and analysts. It’s a piece that starts with a valid point — in 40 years, women have made big strides in turf journalism, helped considerably in the past decade by the explosion of blogs and social media — and then veers off into gender essentialism and stereotypes that manage to denigrate men and women. Anyone who’s ever read one of Steve Haskins’ in-depth features, or the analysis of Kerry Thomas, knows that —

The testosteronic perspective sees race horses as abstractions whose relative abilities are best expressed in the hieroglyphs of a past performance chart.

— hardly applies to every male turf writer, any more than —

The estrogen crowd relishes the living, breathing animals — their distinctive quirks, markings and mannerisms.

Does to every female turf writer. I’d like to say more, in particular about how blogs, etc. opened up opportunities for women (and racing fans, generally) in the turf world, but I have Derby past performances to study. I’ll quote Teresa Genaro instead, who summed up not only my thinking about Coomes’ piece, but the tone of his replies to criticism about it, in a post on Facebook:

I don’t know what makes me more frustrated: the article itself and its myriad sexist comments and depictions, or the author’s response that indicates that he’s basically doing women a favor.

If there’s anything that’s clear in Coomes’ story, it’s that “the estrogen crowd” — with all its credits, accomplishments, and awards — doesn’t need favors, especially ones that come wrapped in gendered silliness.

The Must-Reads, 2011

As each year comes to its end, I go through all the racing stories I’ve bookmarked or shared over the past 12 months and pluck together a short list of pieces that stand out, whether for great reporting or great storytelling. If you haven’t read the stories linked below yet, take a few minutes to enjoy some of the best turf journalism from 2011 before 2012 begins:

As 10-year ban hangs over Rick Dutrow, opinions vary about controversial horse trainer.” The definitive profile of the New York trainer, handed a record suspension this year, by Jerry Bossert for the New York Daily News.

For Pletcher, managing a training empire is all in a day’s work” Joe Drape on how he does it, for the New York Times.

Pletcher was an assistant to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, dubbed “The most interesting man in racing,” by Gary West this spring, in one of the last posts published on his Star-Telegram blog. That the formidable turf writer with the superb flapdoodle detector was let go by the newspaper was a loss for Texas racing. Fortunately for readers, West now appears on ESPN.

Claire Novak won her first Eclipse award this year with “Pressure off Durkin at Belmont,” about the announcer’s decision to step down from calling the Triple Crown races on NBC, but I’m biased toward her terrific Kentucky Derby week story, “The Inside Scoop: Why Calvin Borel owns the rail,” which appeared on Kentucky Confidential. For fun, and a touch of Gay Talese, Novak’s recounting of a New Orleans cabbie’s racetrack story can’t be beat.

At Suffolk Downs, a rider reached a significant milestone: “Piermarini gets win 2000 on Sugar Trade.” Susan Salk of Offtrack Thoroughbreds talked to Tammi Piermarini about becoming only the fifth female jockey in racing to crack 2K.

Ryan Goldberg added context and depth to this year’s intense (and ongoing) Lasix debate with his well-researched and matter-of-fact story for the Daily Racing Form, “Lasix: Demystifying the drug, methods of training without it.”

DRF photographer Barbara Livingston shared some marvelous historic racing photos from her private collection this year, as in this post: “Man o’ War’s funeral: Remarkable final tribute for majestic champion.” The great horse was laid out in a casket for viewing; thousands filed past to pay their respects.

In search of the Kelco.” Bill Christine, at HRI, on the handicapping gizmos of yesteryear (which gave me an excuse to post about the Race-o-meter).

Gray Thoroughbreds, a precious relic of the breed’s earliest days, became a rarity on the racecourse for a good part of the 19th century.” I had no idea. Kellie Reilly on the revival of grays in the 20th century, on BRISnet.

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