March 11, 2015
March 4, 2015
Accountability in the brand experience is everyone’s responsibility. A Hub Essay by Hugh Boyle of TracyLocke. It’s the Sunday after Christmas and I’m enjoying a train journey from York to London through the snowy English countryside. On my way through York station this morning, I bought a newspaper — the UK’s Sunday Observer to be precise — and two things struck me when I did, one thought triggering the other …
Firstly, since moving to the States in late 2013, I have really missed the English Sunday papers — not just my familiarity with the writing and the diversity of the content, but the routine and the behaviours that accompany them … from an early morning walk to the newsagent, to a post-Sunday-lunch editorial ‘deep-dive’ in my favourite armchair.
Next thought up however, was the slightly less fanciful realisation that it is actually several months since I’ve bought a newspaper at all, as despite much personal resistance and a career specializing in digital — both in pure-play digital and shopper marketing agencies — technology has finally won the day. In this case: Sunday. Continue Reading.
March 4, 2015
Digital’s rise could be bad news for reading comprehension and "even our very culture," reports Steven Poole in a Wall Street Journal review of Words Onscreen by Naomi S. Baron (2/20/15). Naomi points out, for example, that students "forced to study using e-texts complain about eyestrain, distractibility and poorer recall of material … She contrasts ‘deep reading’ — the concentrated, continuous attention we pay to a fine novel or absorbing non-fiction book — with a more stop-start, goal-oriented kind that she calls ‘reading on the prowl’."
Naomi also "draws illuminating historical comparisons: between Reader’s Digest Condensed Books … and Summly, which automatically compresses news stories into bite-sized nuggets." Naomi further acknowledges that "deep reading" is actually a relatively new phenomenon, that "probably began only with the rise of the novel as entertainment. Reading on the prowl, on the other hand, has been the way most readers have consumed most books since the book was invented. (Consider, for example, how people use the Bible)."
Magazines, in fact, were developed as informational summaries (the word ‘magazine’ basically means "a place to store things" in French). It is true, as well, as Steven points out, that "there is no necessary correlation between word count and nutrition complexity. Someone reading a Wallace Stevens poem on an iPad is getting a better brain workout than someone reading a mediocre thriller in paperback," he writes, adding: "What you choose to read will always be much more important than how the text is delivered to your eyes."
January 22, 2015
Gutenberg may have invented moveable type, but Aldus made reading popular, reports Jennifer Schuessler in The New York Times (2/27/15). The origins of paperback books — and the concept of “portable little books” — traces to Venice in 1494, and Aldus Manutius. “It was a moment of upheaval in reading roughly equivalent to our own digitally disrupted age. And Venice was the Silicon Valley of printing, home to dozens of shops locked in cutthroat competition.” The Aldine Press made its mark publishing “the first printed edition of Aristotle.”
This was followed by a “small octavo editions of the classics, books ‘that could be held in the hand and learned by heart (not to speak of being read) by everyone’,” as Aldus himself wrote. An exhibition of 20 “libelli portatiles,” as they are known, is included along with about 130 other Aldine Press books, is currently running at the Grolier Club in Manhattan. Each carries “the printer’s mark, a dolphin curled around an anchor. (The colophon is still used today by Doubleday.)” The “libelli portatiles” were not Aldus’ only innovation, however.
The “first italic typeface … appeared in a modest five words in a 1500 edition of the letters of St. Catherine and soon spread to other Aldines and beyond.” A “typeface devised for a 1496 book by the humanist scholar Pietro Bembo” is “still treasured by book designers for its grace and readability.” Aldus also had his battles with counterfeiters, mostly French, who sold “unauthorized” copies. Unfortunately, these paperback pirates were undeterred by threats of excommunication by the Vatican, which had awarded “special printing privileges” to Aldus.
November 11, 2014
What Netflix and Spotify did for movies and music, Magzter hopes to do for magazines, reports Joshua Brustein in Bloomberg Businessweek (1/19/15). So far, "the idea of paying a flat fee for unlimited access" to magazines "hasn’t caught on," however Next Issue Media has been attempting such a model since 2011, but to date has attracted only "hundreds of thousands" of subscribers willing to pay "$15 a month for access to about 140 magazines." Netflix, by comparison, has "50 million" subscribers and Spotify "12.5 million."
Magzter, meanwhile, is trying a different approach. Magzter’s plan is just $10 a month, and it "thinks it can gain traction where Next Issue hasn’t by offering a larger selection of more obscure titles and by selling subscriptions internationally." About 5,000 publishers are using Magzter to sell standalone issues, and 2,000 are participating in its "all-access subscription service." "It’s the last great white space in streaming media," says Magzter CEO Girish Ramdas. "Everyone else has made the jump."
The opportunity might seem ripe, especially since "drawing readers to single-title magazine apps that mimic the print experience" hasn’t caught on — "app subscribers make up less than 4 percent of overall magazine circulation." However, "it’s not clear that anyone but the most voracious readers will save money … If a Netflix for magazines ever does catch on, it would preserve one consistent aspect of the magazine industry: relying on readers to subscribe to far more material than they have time to read."
October 1, 2014
Even though digital maps dominate, paper maps retain appeal, reports Lucette Lagnado in The Wall Street Journal (11/7/14). "In an age of mass-produced digital maps, custom cartography still has value," says Daniel Huffman, "an officer of the North American Cartographic Information Society, a more than 400-member organization whose ranks include paper mapmakers, those who have gone over to the digital side, and some who do both." Daniel believes that the best paper map "is like a poem."
Ryan Sullivan, an Oregon-based cartographer, says he "set out to create the coolest print map possible," with the specific goal of encouraging "young Hispanic residents in Portland suburbs to walk and bike more. (link) Because many of those residents lacked iPhones or access to computers, paper was deemed ideal." "We hoped they could pin it up like a poster in their bedrooms." The maps were distributed "the old fashioned way — by hand." Alan Grossman, another cartographer, approached a map of Memphis in a similarly inspired way.
"I grew up with maps, and I still find a real map comforting and easy to read," says Alan, who also grew up listening to Elvis Presley. He invested about $50,000 in an Elvis map, "showing all possible points of interest, including those that no longer existed, such as the local draft board where Elvis registered in 1953." The map is set on a "pastel peach landscape, bordered by an azure blue Mississippi River," complete with hand-drawn landmarks. When asked if he would also do an app, he replied: "Why do you need an app? Look what’s in your hands."
September 4, 2014
The Des Moines Register hopes virtual reality will reinvent the news experience, reports Lukas I. Alpert in The Wall Street Journal (9/22/14). The newspaper is "incorporating the technology of Oculus VR, computerized game platforms and 360-degree cameras." In this way, a story about "how a sixth-generation Iowa farming family is struggling to maintain its traditions in an increasingly globalized world of agribusiness … takes a viewer into a computerized world of cows, soybeans and grain silos."
Basically, the reader gets a sense of "roaming around a farm in Page County, Iowa." This does require "strapping on Oculus’s virtual-reality headset," but it allows viewers to "walk up to the family’s machine shop and click on an icon that places them inside a 3-D video feature about maintaining high-tech farming equipment," for example. They "can view the information in any order," not unlike a videogame. If they don’t have an Oculus helmet, they can still interact in 2-D "on any computer."
Roy Peter Clark of Poynter Institute says it has limitations. "Although we call it multimedia, most of these stories are hybrids that use the visual elements to amplify the underlying narrative," he says. "You can take a virtual tour of a building where an event occurred, but that is a different thing than having characters who are fully explained." Other limitations are that the "virtual-reality technology" makes some people dizzy, and currently only 125,000 Oculus headsets are in circulation.
August 25, 2014
A marketing machine keeps the Dr. Seuss brand alive and well 23 years after his death, reports Anna Russell in The Wall Street Journal (8/29/14). This is actually a fitting legacy for Theodor Seuss Geisel, who got his start in advertising but made his name writing "The Cat in the Hat" and 43 other children’s book classics. All told, Seuss has sold about 600 million books "in 17 languages and 95 countries." Last year alone, Seuss sales "climbed to 4.8 million units in the US … up from 3.2 million in 2010."
His 93-year-old widow, Audrey, as head of Seuss Enterprises, works with a licensing and marketing specialist to coordinate an annual calendar of promotions with Random House, publisher of the Seuss series. This begins on March 2nd, the author’s birth date, which the National Education Association (NEA) also celebrates as "Read Across America" day in his honor. "This year, the NEA purchased an estimated 36,000 discounted Seuss books" for distribution through First Book, which provides books and other resources to "kids in need."
Earth Day is pegged to Dr. Seuss’s environmentalist manifesto, The Lorax. In May and June — graduation time — the focus shifts to "Oh the Places You’ll Go!" and the year wraps up with "How The Grinch Stole Christmas!" Random House also looks for timely tie-ins, such as making Horton ("a person’s a person no matter how small") The Elephant a mascot for anti-bullying. Meanwhile, to keep the catalog fresh, the publisher is releasing a new book of some of Dr. Seuss’ earliest stories, originally written for magazines.
August 12, 2014
"The world is coming back in the direction of paywalls, and of print," says John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine, in a New York Times article by Ravi Somaiya (8/11/14). It’s a world that John never left, and that rests "on three pillars" — that the web is bad for writers, publishers and readers. It’s bad for writers because they "are too exhausted by the pace of an endless news cycle to write poised, reflective stories and are paid peanuts if they do."
It’s bad for publishers "who have lost advertising revenue to Google and Facebook and will never make enough from a free model to sustain great writing." It’s bad for readers "who cannot absorb information well on devices that buzz, flash and generally distract." Harper’s, which was founded in 1850 and is a non-profit funded by a foundation, "has been available online for a decade. But to read anything, you must subscribe to the physical magazine, too." John also discourages his writers from "publishing about their work elsewhere on the Internet," and eschews line extensions into conferences or videos.
"A magazine should be a magazine," he says. Clara Jeffery, a former Harper’s editor disagrees. "He does truly believe that technology is in opposition to good writing, financially, stylistically and journalistically," she says. "I don’t understand. Nothing is all good or all bad." John thinks it’s simple: "If you deliver stuff that nobody else is doing, in a world of increasing mediocrity or lack of standards, you’re providing something that’s very well edited, very enjoyable, very informative, very provocative, people will continue to pay for it."
July 30, 2014
The biggest thing since Twitter may be an app so simple that Apple initially rejected it, reports Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal (8/11/14). Called Yo, the app’s "sole function is for a user to send the word ‘Yo’ to any other friend using the app." Apple "rejected it on the grounds that it lacked substance," but then relented, and Yo has "since been downloaded two million times, and its 50,000 or so active users have sent more than four million Yos." The app also now has "$1.5 million in funding."
What makes Yo a potential blockbuster is that it is neither a messaging app nor a social network; it is "a communications protocol," not unlike "text messages, email and Twitter." This is because it "provides any person, business or Web service direct access to the notifications tray of your smartphone … these are the alerts we see on our lock screens, and they also interrupt us whenever we’re doing anything else on our phones." The value is inherent in "how often the average smartphone owner glances at his or her phone."
The opportunity is to use the protocol to send more than just a ‘Yo’ to friend. Future iterations "will let users send a link," too, and an RSS feed, which would enable "every blogger, website and media outlet … to send push notifications." Yo will also enable users to add profile pictures and individual or organizational names. A Yo-specific app store is in the works, and already it is possible to integrate the app with services, such as "one that will let you know whether there is a bike available at a designated Citibike-sharing station in Manhattan … Israelis can also get a Yo whenever rockets are incoming."
June 22, 2014
A collection of 13 zinesters find the subway a perfect place to write and illustrate their zines, reports Colin Moynihan in The New York Times (7/14/14). "We’re wobbling a little, so it’s hard to have a steady hand," says Madeline Steinberg. "But the train is an inspiring place to work. You go to so many places, you see so many people, and there are different sounds and images to get your ideas flowing." She was aboard the F Train, originating in Brooklyn and "riding for hours through three boroughs."
Madeline was part of a "two-day event, called the MTA Zine Residency … organized by a librarian and an archivist at the Barnard College library, which they said had the largest circulating collection of zines in an academic library." It is home to some 5,000 zines, and Lisa Norberg, the library’s dean, says the collection has great value. "Zines capture voices and opinions that are often marginalized, if not ignored — the same voices and opinions that rarely make it into libraries and archives."
Jenna Freedman, Barnard’s zine librarian, says the subway is an ideal place to work. "There really is a pleasure to writing while you’re in motion," she says, also noting the benefits of no phone or internet service. Zinester Erin Fae likes the combined sense of isolation and socialization. "You can have the introspective time to create," she says. "And also have camaraderies with the other people on the train." The group "put the finishing touches on their work" during a follow-up gathering on the Staten Island Ferry.
June 22, 2014
Tony Horwitz’s story is "a cautionary farce about the new media … we’re so often told is the bright shining future." His tale, as he describes it in The New York Times (6/19/14), began when "a new online publication called The Global Mail" offered him a $15,000 advance and a $5,000 travel budget to write a digital tome about the Keystone XL pipeline. Seeing it as "the sort of long investigative journey" he used to write "before budgets and print space shrank," he jumped at the opportunity.
The Global Mail was "lavishly funded by a philanthropic entrepreneur in Australia" and the book, called Boom, was to be co-published by Byliner, "a classy digital outfit." Byliner projected selling "up to 75,000 copies" of the book, with "a lofty cut of the profits" shared with Tony. As fate would have it, the book was set for release just as the State Department issued "a much anticipated report on Keystone XL … right on top of the news." Then, unfortunately, the backer had a "financial setback" and "pulled the plug" on the book.
Byliner and Tony managed to agree on a scaled-back contract that didn’t include much in the way of marketing support. The good news is, Tony self-promoted Boom into Amazon’s top 25 — a "best seller"; the bad news is that this meant he had only sold "somewhere between 700 and 800 copies." It was all downhill from there, with Byliner itself going out of business and Boom disappearing, for a time, from Amazon. Tony says his next book will be in "hard copy, between covers," that he "can put on a shelf and look at forever, even if it doesn’t sell."
April 15, 2014
Kevin Boyle has a "brash plan to start a print newspaper amid that medium’s rapid decline," reports Corey Kilgannon in The New York Times (6/18/14). In his previous careers, Kevin had "owned two bars in Brooklyn, taught college courses on media studies, written a book about the Rockaways and owned a Domino’s pizza restaurant." His decision to launch The Rockaway Times came after he tried and failed to buy part of The Wave, a local newspaper of which he was editor.
His vision is a lightly-staffed free newspaper, with a print run of 10,000 copies — same as The Wave, which sells for 50 cents. The plan is to deliver the paper to "houses, apartment buildings" and leave it at "busy storefronts and other hubs." The paper will also publish online. Kevin’s staff consists of "two salespeople and a young, full-time reporter." He has also recruited "local writers to write for no pay: a surf maven for a column on that topic, a bartender to write about bars and other experts on beach news and wellness."
The newsroom "is a former taxi depot" on a busy street, which, like much of the Rockaways, had been flooded by Hurricane Sandy. It’s still adorned by "an old green taxi sign." Furniture is a "card table and three folding chairs" and, says Kevin, probably "a refrigerator with one or two beers in it, for local color." He adds that he thinks the location "lends itself to community input." All in all, Kevin (who commutes to his new job on a bicycle) thinks he can "tell the weekly story of the Rockaways as well as anyone."
April 15, 2014
Content management systems are shaping the next generation of news, reports Leslie Kaufman in The New York Times (4/7/14). Among those leading the chorus is Chorus, which powers news sites published by Vox Media. Chorus "is credited with having a toolset that allows journalists to edit and illustrate their copy in dramatic fashion, promote their work on social media, and interact with readers — all seamlessly and intuitively." It is the platform for sites including SB Nation, The Verge, and the newly-launched Vox.com.
What some — especially younger — journalists love about Chorus is that it "enables them to do things like make photos appear as a cursor slides down a page; add links automatically to copy; and identify problem commentators through word identification." This is luring a new generation of journalists, like Ezra Klein, away from the newspaper business. "We were badly held back not just by the technology, but by the culture of journalism," says Ezra, who left the Washington Post’s Wonkblog for Vox.com.
The problem, says Ezra, is that print publishing systems are designed for printing newspapers, which are incremental by nature. This sacrifices context — "the biggest source of waste is everything the journalist has written before today," says Ezra. His vision is that background information be integrated with breaking news — for example, a "card stack" of essential terms accompanies each story. This, says Ezra, makes news stories easier to understand, "like a wiki page written by one person with a little attitude."
March 25, 2014
"The hegemony of the daily newspaper was briefer and less heroic than its present champions may apprehend," writes Jeffrey Collins in a Wall Street Journal review of The Invention of News, by Andrew Pettegree (4/14/14). "In the Middle Ages … news was the privilege of lords and popes … Modest folk relied on royal proclamations, church sermons or the ballads of ‘news singers‘ … by the 16th century elites subscribed to services offering manuscript ‘new-books,’ scribally copied and dearly priced."
With the "invention of the printing press in the 15th century … news was an irresistible market opportunity and printers moved to seize it." However, "serial newspapers only appeared in the 17th century" and were "dominated by foreign dispatches. In an age of censorship, the reporting of domestic politics was a risky proposition … early newspapers often acted as ‘propaganda vehicles’ for princes … for nearly two centuries newspapers were something of a niche market," with reporting "dominated by pamphlets."
It wasn’t until the "end of the 18th century" that the "modern newspaper" arrived — a product of the French Revolution. "The French Revolution," Andrew writes, "was arguably the first European event to which a periodical press was truly indispensable … The great age of the daily newspaper was at hand." This was made possible by the collapse of censorship and "an almost inexhaustible supply of subject matter," leading to the birth of "advocacy journalism." Newspapers became "the characteristic organ of revolutionary debate."
February 10, 2014
"More than two million writers" are "producing 100,000 pieces of material a day for 20 million readers" worldwide on Wattpad, reports David Streitfeld in The New York Times (3/24/14). Wattpad is "a storytelling app" that not only enables writers to post their work but also opens up a communications channel between them and their readers. This may not sound all that radical in today’s social-media world, but it marks a significant departure from a past in which "the more successful the writer, the greater the distance" from the reader.
In fact, the most popular Wattpad writers, such as Rebecca Sky, say responding to fan comments is her top priority. "Writing fiction is for weekends," she says. Her reason is simple: "If you can go to a publisher and say, ‘I have 15,000 fans,’ that counts for more than someone who comes out of their basement with a perfect manuscript who no one knows." Indeed, the goal is consistency, not perfection, says Anna Todd, another popular Wattpad writer, who says she usually doesn’t revise anything before posting it, for fear of overthinking it and ruining the story.
Anna posts a new chapter of her book, After, "every few days," and turned out Chapter 278 last week. She has more than one million readers, and a typical post generates about 10,000, mostly positive, comments. "Almost all our writers serialize their content," says Wattpad’s Allen Lau. "Two thousand words is roughly 10 minutes of reading. That makes the story more digestible, something you can do when standing in line." Wattpad has $20 million in funding, "but little revenue." "When we have a billion users, there will be a million ways to make money," says Allen.
January 30, 2014
Most people think that Net-A-Porter is a retailer, but it’s actually a media company, reports Christina Binkley in The Wall Street Journal (4/5/14). "The industry is so locked into ‘this is press’ and ‘this is commerce’," says Lucy Yeomans, editor-in-chief of Porter, a "glossy new fashion magazine" published by the online retailer. The first edition weighs in at 282 pages, including "fashion spreads … a chatty feature on actress Uma Thurman, as well as ads from the likes of Chanel and Saint Laurent." Naturally, the fashions can be purchased on Net-A-Porter, and elsewhere.
The rationale for a print publication is simply that "women prefer to read about fashion on glossy pages even as they shop online." "These are women who love fashion magazines, but 60% of their purchases are online," says Net-A-Porter founder Natalie Massenet. Apparently, few women "read digital versions of fashion magazines on mobile devices and the web." Porter is published in both print and digital editions, with the digital version delving "deeper into commerce, making it easy to click and acquire a pair of shoes," for example.
A mobile app, meanwhile, enables users to "snap a photo of a page, which will call up a shopping program" as well as "direct consumers to a brand’s own retail sites or other retail stores." However, the "print edition gives only the barest hint that it’s ‘shoppable’" via "a small line at the bottom of pages throughout the magazine" that promotes the app. The bottom line apparently is black and white: "As of today, retailing activity pays the rent," says Net-A-Porter CEO Mark Sebba, who also notes that the company enjoys a higher profit margin on advertising revenue than it does on retail sales.
January 8, 2014
"In digital media, technology is not a wingman, it is The Man," writes David Carr in The New York Times (1/27/14). David’s comment comes by way of insight into why so many big-name journalists (Ezra Klein, Walter Mossberg, Kara Swisher, David Pogue, Nate Silver) are leaving major daily newspapers (The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times) to find their futures on the web. "We are just at the beginning of how journalism should be done on the web," says Ezra Klein, who just left the Washington Post to join Vox Media.
"We really wanted to build something from the ground up that helps people understand the news better … we want to improve the technology of news, and Vox has a vision of how to solve some of that." Vox chief executive Jim Bankoff says it’s not about "journalists going to a digital site and doubling their salary." He says Ezra and others "have a vision of creating … a better way of doing things and we like to think that we are using technology in service of creativity, journalism and storytelling." It’s not just that newspapers are bureaucratic and burdened by high overhead.
Among other things, "digital journalists consume and produce content at the same time, constantly publishing what they are reading and hearing." For another, they "are often able to get their own hands on the button to publish, which is exciting and gratifying." "Digital journalism is as different from print and TV journalism as print and TV are from each other," says Henry Blodget of Business Insider. "Few people expect great print organizations to also win in TV. Similarly, few should expect great TV or print organizations to win in digital."
December 30, 2013
A $40 print directory of gadgets and gizmos previously posted online for free is selling rapidly, reports David Carr in The New York Times (1/6/14). Cool Tools is a "472-page catalog" weighing "4.5 pounds" and basically turns "weightless pixels into bulky bundles of atoms." It is the brainchild of Kevin Kelly, "the founding executive editor of Wired" as well as the owner and editor of the Cool Tools website (link), which for the past 10 years has published write-ups on "neat stuff." Kevin "makes small money off referral revenue from Amazon when people proceed to buy some of those things."
The first printing of 10,000 copies "sold out immediately, a second printing of 12,000 will go on sale on Amazon next week and a third printing of 20,000 copies is underway." Kevin says that he, himself, was surprised by the response. "Paper is really unnecessary for a lot of things, but very good at certain things. And this turned out to be one of them," he says. "Having many different things you may be interested in on a page, as opposed to a single thing surrounded by ads as it is on the web, leads to the formation of different connections and leads to a different experience."
The effect is not unlike that of the Whole Earth Catalog, "a chatty, user-generated publication that prefigured the web and that Mr. Kelly once edited … it’s a big sprawling wonder of a book – half coffee-table tome and half Sears catalog of old." Kevin says the goal is not to encourage consumption, but rather to have access to tools that "make us better humans." He says he sees Cool Tools as part of the "maker culture" and that "a third industrial revolution is stirring." The catalog, he says is "aimed at small groups, the do-it-yourselfer, and the self-educated."
December 4, 2013
A bowling magazine published since 1913 celebrated by printing a 300-page edition, reports Kevin Helliker in The Wall Street Journal (12/11/13). Consider just how unlikely this is for Bowlers Journal, which "operates at the intersection of bad and worse. Not only is the magazine industry troubled" but also "the number of competitive bowlers in America has plummeted from almost nine million to about two million" since 1980. And yet here is Bowlers Journal, "celebrating 100 years of world-class bowling journalism."
Its longevity is rare under any circumstances: "Of the 10,000 magazines on the US market, fewer than 100 date back 100 years," according to Samir A. Husni of the University of Mississippi’s Magazine Innovation Center. "Among those that date back more than a century, many, such as Vanity Fair, stopped publishing for periods of time, something Bowlers Journal never did." A big part of the reason is that Bowlers Journal "isn’t aimed at the 70 million Americans who rent shoes and balls for their once-a-year bowling excursion." It is written for serious, regular bowlers.
Bowlers Journal has always "offered an exalted view of the sport." Its founder, Dave Luby, "persuaded the top names in bowling either to write for the publication or give interviews to it." Competitors, meanwhile "really had no handle on journalism," says Mort Luby, Jr., grandson of the founder. "Bowlers Journal always gave you everything," says professional bowler Diandra Asbaty. "It covers the news. It covers the world. It teaches you how to improve your game." Perhaps most incredibly, its charter advertiser, Brunswick Corp., has purchased the back-cover ad of every issue since 1913.
Viral news can kill viral news, reports Farhad Manjoo in The Wall Street Journal (12/2/13). That’s what Neetzan Zimmerman, whose job it is to feed the viral-news beast on a daily basis for Gawker, worries about. Neetzan generates huge traffic for Gawker by spotting and posting news-stories likely to spread quickly online. The problem is that in recent "years viral news has been co-opted by advertisers, pranksters, political operatives and others looking to sell something." Neetzan feels obligated "to note when a story looks fishy," but when he does, it tends to be a buzz kill.
Neetzan is concerned that if "internet culture eats itself," he’ll be out of a job. "When speaking truth to internet culture doesn’t result in traffic," he worries, "I may lose my edge and I’ll have to find something else to do." For now, however, Neetzan doesn’t seem to have much to worry about: "He posts only about a dozen items a day. Almost every one becomes a big traffic hit – an astonishing rate of success." On a monthly basis, his posts often generate more traffic "than everyone else at Gawker combined," possibly making him "the most popular blogger working on the web today."
Neetzan attributes his hit rate to "a deep connection to his audience’s evolving, irreducibly human, primal sensibilities." He says he can assess a news item’s viral potential within about 15 seconds, crediting a "biological algorithm." His advantage over a machine is his ability to detect subtle shifts in "big story arcs" quickly, feeling "the changes on a day-to-day basis, as the viral news turns." He says it’s like "being plugged into the foundation of man," the "stuff that people really care about, not the stuff they’re pretending to care about at cocktail parties."