Good Content Matters, Across All Platforms

November 5, 2015



On this blog, a Facebook Page and a Website,
Old Media and New Media Meet analyzes how print and web interact, how old media values are as important as ever today and how the web has changed and shaped our culture, society and communications. 


Writing Should Open a Vein

April 10, 2016

As an editor, I come across way too many poorly written articles by young communication students and journalism graduates who should know better. They rely on lazy fact checking and shallow research, an unquestioned reliance on spell checkers. They cover mostly generic and predictable topics. But most unnerving: many writers have no unique voice. The articles are complacent and timid, a boring, conform rehashing of predigested, safe thoughts that live in a vacuum. No history, no presence, no looking ahead. Too many stones left unturned. An easy read, no commitment asked.

Like. Share. Done.  


The New Yorker, October 2014

This made me wonder whether young writers are afraid to speak out and give it their all. They want to be liked, thumbs up and a happy emoji attached. And even though they text and tweet with fervor about every conceivable aspect of their personal lives — in their writing, most won’t bare themselves. They lack the grit to tackle substantial, sometimes controversial and uncomfortable content.

And yet, they quickly find decent jobs and employment after they graduate. Professional journalists, on the other hand, editors and writers with years of editorial experience and pedigree, who have to clean up their copy, are shed aside. What does that say about our profession?

I never spoke at a graduation ceremony, but this is what I would say to this young, eager crowd.  


Dear graduates, students and young writers  

Welcome to the world of media. You’ve got the tools to be a writer — but good writing cannot be taught. You either have an inner voice and write from your gut or you haven’t found it yet and are still searching. The rest of you will never look for that spark, and that is inexcusable. I believe that there are no good writers or bad writers but boring, predictable, stiff and conformist writers — or writers who can sing.

You have pledged to yourself that you are not a “content-creator” who churns out tepid copy or click bait. Good. Your goal is to produce engaging, highly researched and original thoughts, written from a unique perspective. Good writers offer what hasn’t been offered before. You owe that to your readers.

You need a niche to stand out. Find what makes your blood boil. That is what you should cover, while also taking a step back: You don’t want to preach to the converted and you don’t want to rant. Find the middle ground. Get going and take a stand. You need to sweat over your copy. If it comes too easy, you didn’t dig deep enough.

The most honest writing comes from a personal experience or a simmering inkling, not by rehashing generic how-to content, neatly indented as you’ve been instructed to do in school. No, your word limit is not always set in stone. Long-form is back — but make every word count. Sometimes, less is more. 

Once the topic is fleshed out, start digging. There is a wealth of information that can be dusted off and taken into account (and not all is necessarily online!). That said, you’re not googling in order to copy/paste. You are curating content, putting it in context, adding, subtracting, cross-checking, analyzing, refuting, cheering, deflating, while always acknowledging your sources. Good quotes matter and much has been said before that is still relevant. Inform yourself, question everything and dig deeper.

Find all the facts, unearth hidden facets and discover colorful anecdotes. Your coveted topic doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Mostly you are not going to reinvent the wheel, but your role is to add your own spice and unique flavor. Be aware of what is out there already and reveal its history and timeline. Then add fresh insights, raise a discussion and circle back to how the topic relates to you or your peers. Be critical and analyze trends! Acknowledge the past and then run with it further. There are no bad opinions, only opinions that lack knowledge, context and substance.

Find a news peg for the topic. But since you know your niche blindfolded, you should be a step ahead. Expose controversies, predict outcomes, sound alarms. You might find yourself alone, a pariah. Most young writers tend to be too academic and too generic to be on the safe side. That’s fine — for now. But a real writer doesn’t want to stay in the safe space but will step out of the comfort zone. Take risks and ruffle feathers that need to be ruffled. 

Change the rules, play with words and make every word stick. Edit, edit and then edit again. Don’t fall in love with your writing. Create a unique voice and let it all pour out. Be honest and genuine. Mold the content to stay with the reader. Like Red Smith once said: “Writing is easy. All you do is sit down […], open your veins and bleed.” It’s got to be painful, exhausting and draining and then you’re halfway there.

You, the writer, enters into a frank dialog with the reader and offers a cohesive line of thought. You are the eyes and ears and senses. Good writers find a narrative that weaves through the piece, raises questions, astonishes and is passionate. The tone sets expectations that are met. Be investigative and critical. Be funny, sad, enraged, exasperated and genuine; sniff out all aspects of the story and then give your readers the space to react. Everyone can write, but not everyone is a writer. Only when the reader picks up the torch and starts running with it have you succeeded. 

Good topics invite a discussion, have an impact and stir reactions. I believe a good article should either lift the fog or create a spark. Better yet, it should do both and shine and sparkle and stand above the disposable and interchangeable “content” that is floating out there. Keep in mind what Nora Ephron once admitted: “The hardest thing about writing is writing.” It says it all: Not everyone is a writer, but someone’s got to do it — and it better be worth our while.

Good luck! Now go and find yourself work that pays the bills while you write and make us proud.


Technology’s Influence on Politics

November 5, 2015

In 1920, radio transformed elections. In 1960, TV reigned. Now, online media rank supreme, with election campaigns morphing into constant social-media-streams, customized to fit voters’ myriad devices and attention spans. In the 2016 presidential elections, social media are the key battleground for any politician hoping to make the cut. According to The Hill, “9.5 percent of political media budgets could go towards digital media — a total of $1 billion.”

“Access to United States presidential election, 2016information has been revolutionized,” says Jessica Singleton (@jessay286), chief digital officer at the City of New York and a panelist at NYWICI’s Cocktails & Conversations “Technology’s Influence on Politics” that was held during social media week on Oct. 20, 2015. The sold-out event brought together a panel of media experts at Bloomberg’s sparkling headquarters in Midtown to discuss the changing media landscape of political campaigning. Panelists also included Gillea Allison, digital strategist at Blue State Digital (@gilleaa),Geoffrey Borshof, CEO of Mosaic Strategies Group (@MosaicSTG) and Julie Wood, director of Global Communications at Kickstarter (@juliewood). The moderator was Melinda Henneberger, a senior writer at Bloomberg (@MelindaDC).

President Obama’s tweet announcing his victory in 2008 (in the so-called “Facebook election”), was retweeted 157 times. His 2012 victory tweet (during the “Twitter election”) was retweeted more than 800,000 times, according to a study on social media use in campaigns conducted by the University of North Carolina. The 2016 election might turn out to be the “Instagram election” with its quick and quirky graphics and reach even the youngest voters — 300 million of whom use Instagram more than any other social media platform.

Democratic voters help get the message out for Democrats

Democrats have held an edge over Republicans in their online-driven campaigns, since they make it a habit to recruit young tech talent early on who are fluent in every conceivable social media platform. The party has surpassed the Republicans in engaging people online, explains Gillea. “Democratic voters help get the message out for Democrats.” They are eager to topple the top-down approach that is driven by mainstream editors and elite thought-leaders. But not just age, also gender affects social media campaigns: “Women are sharers by nature online,” says Gillea. “Campaigns can capitalize on women’s social influence and ability to organize communities.”

Skewed message

So, are we better off perusing a constant stream of news, or have social media skewed the message completely, causing voters to tune out eventually and politicians to put up their guards? Social media give the power back to the people to make up their minds and take action, says Jessica. “Tech in elections on a global scale is revolutionary. Decisions are made because people get more information.”

The confluence of streaming video apps — like Vine, Meerkat, Periscope and Snapchat — could be a political game changer and democratize information gathering and distribution as never before. Everyone is searching for the authentic voice, says Julie. “Trump seems to be succeeding the most at that. And campaigns have to find their authentic brand voice to succeed.” In this environment, voters demand more and raise the quality of what to expect, states Gillea. It has set standards in what the experience should be like and has elevated the expectations from politicians.

Accidental Transparency

That said, Geoffrey argues that digital has also triggered an “accidental transparency”: messages go viral, trend immediately and as a result cause politicians to clam up to become less authentic and truthful. They know that they are observed 24/7. “Accidental gaffes go viral; it changes the game,” cautions Geoffrey. On the other hand, politicians can utilize social media whenever traditional media won’t give them adequate coverage or won’t cooperate.

The constant need to feed the news stream can lead to redundancy and sloppiness. “You have to be current when promoting articles,” warns Geoffrey. Only very good older material should be pushed again to be picked up by social media. “The notion of outdated on the internet is outdated. But the up-to-date physical “ask” still makes a big difference. Don’t expect your content to drive itself.”

At the end, however, digital hasn’t changed everything and final decisions are still being made by how compelling the politicians are, according to Julie. “The medium has changed — but people haven’t changed their voting habits.”

NYWICI Twitter transcript from the event:

Related Read: Political Campaigns Are Wasteful—So Turn Them Into Startups (Wired Magazine, Oct. 28, 2015)


The Future of Communications

June 12, 2014
NYWICI panel

(left to right) Sarah DaVanzo, Dana Points, Lisa Stone, Liz Kaplow. Photo by Jan Goldstoff.

On June 11, 2014, a panel hosted by New York Women in Communications (NYWICI) debated the shift in communications. A shift that is leading away from personal interactions toward a future obsessed with blazing-fast, always-on technology in our pockets. Is the ability to stay connected wherever we go a service or a disservice? To find out, NYWICI surveyed its members in partnership with BlogHer and discovered that 79% feel ignored when another person is using a phone during a conversation; 67% feel that multi-tasking is both a blessing and a curse; most would give up an e-reader before a phone (20% couldn’t decide). But overall, all seem to agree that technology is empowering — and disempowering them — at the same time.

Technology has certainly enabled us to do more in less time, but it has also fed the increasing expectation for us to be natural multi-taskers. As we struggle to keep up with being digitally connected, we communicate differently, and each one of us reacts to the deluge of information in our own way: Some eagerly follow a new trend (that started in Europe) to regularly detox from the digital overload — embracing not to be “in the know” and refusing to always be on. Others don’t shy away from the constant information fix; they seek the short messages, embrace the quick visuals and cherish fast shares and instant likes.

It may seem that “digital natives” have an advantage because of their constant exposure to technology from a young age — but their communication skills may lack depth; they may share more than they create and forgo genuine interpersonal interaction. This sentiment was echoed in a recent YouTube video that went viral and got more than 40 million hits, called “Look Up“, about being lonely in the midst of all your “friends”, “fans” and “followers” — when you are connected, yet alone.

Here are quick takes how the panelists assessed the way technology has changed us and what is trending in communications right now: 

Sarah DaVanzo (@culturecartog), chief cultural strategy officer, Sparks & Honey

  • Our brains are hardwired to adapt to new technologies. It is a part of life. However, the “joy of missing out” (JMO) is slowly replacing the “fear of missing out” (FMO).
  • We are moving to a more visual world: little images, emojis, and video/audio snaps are increasingly becoming part of the way we communicate. But we are leaving a lot of room for interpretation since our messages are so frequent but much shorter.
  • Emotional context is important and communicating moods is key.

Dana Points, editor-in-chief of Parents and American Baby and content director for the Meredith Parents Network 

  • “Always on” means also being a representative of your workplace all the time. There are legal implications. People have to increasingly assess how they behave.
  • Emoji is not a substitute for face-to-face communications.
  • Don’t throw away the devices but practice eye contact, shake hands and look up! Teach your kids interpersonal skills

Lisa Stone (@LisaStone), co-founder & CEO, BlogHer, Inc.

  • Immediate approach to communication doesn’t always equal superficial communication.
  • New communications are great for introverts: technology can help them overcome shyness. This is the rise of the introvert who shows up anyway and her voice will be counted.
  • The most “always on,” most plugged-in members on our executive team are women; in general, they use 40% more social media than men do.

And what the panelists believe communications will look like five years from now:

Sarah DaVanzo

  • One very important skill for the future will be the focus quotient (FQ): Technology with empathy, even without having eye contact.
  • Tracking and analyzing users’ mood will become more important. We will add mood context to our communications and anticipate moods with algorithms.
  • We will be speaking and thinking in visuals, via emojis and symbols. Fast Company has already appointed an emoji editor. Learn the alphabet! Visual analytics will become very sophisticated. Brush up on your Photoshop skills! Video staging will become more important and so will holograming and teleconferencing. We will use graphic resumes in our job search, with infographics and short vine video clips.

Dana Points

  • The tendency will grow to “borrow someone else’s funny” and his or her creativity. There will be a high price tag attached for being the original, since very few people create the original content that the majority shares.

Lisa Stone

  • Even in the future, there will be a need for great netiquette while interacting with other people. Dig in and really share. Rely on trusted behavior: quote the original source. The more we change with the technologies, the more the basic standards of excellent writing, respect for the reader and trust could erode.



Women Design the Future

April 7, 2014


Right to left: Stephanie Ruhle, anchor, Bloomberg Television; Laura Merling, vice president, Ecosystem Development and Platform Solutions, AT&T Business Solutions; Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO, littleBits (electronic blocks, light, sounds, motors, that can be snapped together to create electronic prototypes); Meredith Perry, founder and CEO, uBeam (Wi-Fi device charging); Eesha Khare, developer, Quick Charging

According to research from the Harvard Business School, 56 percent of women in the tech industry leave by mid-career, double the rate than men (see a comparison chart below with women in India). Many women who enter the tech field encounter rampant misogyny, blatant sexism and sneering skepticism. And many more never see themselves as tech innovators in the first place, or they are held back by parents and peers in entering the sciences.

WITWThe women on the panel “Women Design the Future,” at the 2014 Women in the World Summit*, however, prove them all wrong. Their recipe of success: persistence. Successful women in tech don’t focus on the fact that there are so few women at their side; they focus on what they are interested in — taking an active part in shaping new technologies and exploring new horizons, from software engineering to computer science and hardware inventions. They don’t let the lack of role models hold them back because they don’t need role models to have the drive to innovate and create. As the moderator observed, “technology used to be about men. But that has changed.” The lack of women in tech doesn’t face those who succeed: they are gender-neutral while pursuing their passions.

New innovations make technology and engineering highly creative, which was a revelation to many women on the panel. They wanted to reinvent technology to represent their interests in creating useful software and hardware that everyone wants and needs in their daily life. It is not about the cute next app but about technology that has an impact. Women need to bring to the table a “just do it” and “why not” mentality. If an experiment goes wrong, it is not a failure but just another courageous step toward that refined working prototype. As long as you have an idea, you can be your own leader.

cs-engineering-degree-holder-graphAll the women on the panel created highly useful prototypes, from Wi-Fi device chargers, Lego-based robotic building blocks that make technology modular to Nano particles — super capacitors — that hold charges and harness the power of solar and wind energy and can be used in Third World countries that are off the grid. 

Electronic engineering classes slowly reflect that can-do attitude, with more and more female students attending. The alpha-male culture in tech, however, is still a reality, and according to a recent New York Times article “Technology’s Man Problem”, is painful and disrupting to many women in the tech industry. “In the beginning, the word ‘computers’ meant ‘women,’ ” Ruth Oldenziel, a professor at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands who studies history, gender and technology was quoted in the article. “Six women programmed one of the most famous computers in history — the 30-ton Eniac — for the United States Army during World War II.”

There is still so much to be done in technology, so much up and coming. But there is also an immediate need to change the gender gap in tech. One of the panelists summed it up: “Women want to set the world on fire. They are in the process of lighting the match and helping others light the match to do just that. Have an idea in mind and go after it.” Penetrate the boys’ tech clubs and shatter attitudes.

* Women in the World is a movement dedicated to advancing women and girls through stories and solutions. The Women in the World summit was launched by Tina Brown in March 2010. The summit brings together extraordinary women leaders and advocates from around the world.


Mobile Know-How: Responsive Web Design

February 28, 2014

ImageEvery day, more than 1.3 million Android devices are activated globally — far more than the number of babies born each day. By 2016, there will be 1 billion smartphone users on the planet, with 257 million mobile phones and 126 million tablets used in the U.S. alone. And before the end of the year, more internet-connected mobile devices will roam the earth than people. Users are leaving their desktops behind, with more than half of all website traffic coming from handhelds now, and many users, especially in the Third World, have only their phones to connect to the Internet. [Sources: Cicso and Forrester Research as analyzed by TheNextWeb]

So, the better your website looks and functions on a small device, the more future-proof it will be. And especially if your company caters to women, think mobile first: a recent survey found that more women use smartphones than men (58% vs. 42%).

Successful brands have revamped their online presence to work on any device, be it desktop, tablet or mobile. We all crave communications that work everywhere — and we want to shop anywhere on the go. Web design is changing in the mobile age and adopting full tablet and mobile functionality. But why stop there? Since users want clean, simple, smart and scaled-down interfaces on their handhelds that load content quickly — why would they want anything different when returning to their desktops? Less is more on all platforms — and good content always matters.

mobileThere are two approaches in mobile web design:

  • One solution is creating a separate mobile site: the user is redirected once the browser detects the device. Both sites, however, need to be updated separately and have different URLs, which could affect SEO.
  • The new buzzword of mobile design (and the one favored by most designers), is “Responsive Web Design” (RWD): the whole page is delivered to the device browser and a fluid “elastic” grid with flexible images reorganizes page elements automatically and adjusts the content to the screen size and orientation of the device (widescreen desktop monitor, smaller desktop/laptop, tablet and mobile). CSS3, HTML5 and JavaScript code snippets detect the minimum/maximum screen width (using “media queries”) and adjust content flow accordingly. There is only one URL and one site to maintain. RWD is officially endorsed by Google.

The key design elements of RWD:

  • Don’t just reformat your website, rethink it! Mobile is not just another platform; it triggers a different set of user expectations and behaviors: quick, on the go, immediate information at the users’ fingertips. Literally. Think mobile first when designing your site. Prioritize content for efficiency and speed.
  • Keep your messages, taglines and call to actions short with minimal steps involved; create an interactive dialogue with customers.
  • You define which site elements will be stacked where, once the screen is resized. Assess what a user will need on the go (contact info, business hours, directions etc.) and what content she wants to read on her desktop. Place contact info and call to action up front. Because on a smaller screen, only the top elements will be visible before scrolling.
  • Scale down visual elements (images, logos); get rid of Flash (which iOS-based devices can’t process) and eliminate banner ads. Stick with HTML5. Less is more!
  • Use visible links and large, flat navigation buttons (no drop shadows) that are widely spaced with ample white space; use large, clean fonts and clear color contrasts.
  • Make content easy to read: 73% of adults read longer articles on their tablets at least sometimes, including 19% who do so daily. Fully 61% of smartphone news consumers read longer stories, 11% of them regularly (Pew Research). Don’t strain their eyes — or they will go someplace else.
  • Keep forms to be filled out and logins to a minimum — if you must use them at all.
  • Implement location-based services, making use of the user phone’s GPS and maps, and incorporate social media and apps.


Further reading:

Tools to help create mobile platforms: Mobify; Wirenode; Mippin Mobilizer; Onbile; Winksite; MobilePress; MoFuse; Gridless; Get Skeleton; Adapt.js; Interface Ketch

Nobledesktop offers free seminars on responsive web design: http://www.nobledesktop.com/mobile-responsive-web-design/

Readwrite has an infographic on responsive web design.

Is your current site mobile-friendly? Find out: http://mattkersley.com/responsive/ and http://www.studiopress.com/responsive/

A must read for the geeks among us: http://alistapart.com/article/responsive-web-design (written in 2010 by Ethan Marcote, who coined the term RWD)

Beautiful example of a RWD site with extensive resources: http://bradfrost.github.io/this-is-responsive/


Newsweek: The Fallout

October 19, 2012

In yesterday’s post about Newsweek’s demise, I blamed Tina Brown’s editorial decisions for Newsweek’s fall. “Star-power,” whatever that means, is not enough, not when it comes to good journalism. 

I canceled my subscription last year because of the content and the cheesy tabloid feel of the magazine after The Daily Beast takeover. I am sure that many other subscribers did the same.

We didn’t cancel our subscription because we didn’t like print but because we didn’t like that kind of print.

Here is what others are saying about Newsweek’s demise:

“From the start, it was an unwieldy melding of two newsrooms: a legacy print magazine, Newsweek, combined with an irreverent digital news site, The Daily Beast […] and it was held together by the experienced magazine editor Tina Brown, looking for one more big hit on her résumé. […] [b]ehind the scenes, current and former employees say, there were tensions that led to an increasingly tumultuous newsroom, as financial losses mounted and Ms. Brown struggled to integrate the two operations and maintain Newsweek’s relevance.”

(Christine Haughney, The New York Times)

“There are a lot of vital (weeklies) that have done a remarkable job expanding their brand [The New Yorker, the Economist, the Week and Time]. I think the situation with Newsweek is that they lost their way editorially. I think advertisers began to lose faith.”

(George Janson, managing partner, director of print for GroupM in an interview with Reuters) 

“Newsweek’s decision to stop publishing a print edition after 80 years and bet its life entirely on a digital future may be more a commentary on its own problems than a definitive statement on the health of the magazine industry. […] [T]he magazine business has stabilized, albeit at a lower level, since the Great Recession ended three years ago. For some, that casts a harsher light on Newsweek’s decision to abandon print — affecting the nearly 1.4 million Newsweek subscribers who get their copy each week in the mail. They say it speaks to the magazine’s trouble connecting with and keeping its readers. That brings to mind some questionable covers, like the July 2011 what-if image depicting what Princess Diana would have looked like at age 50, or last month’s “Muslim Rage” cover depicting angry protesters, which was roundly mocked on social networks like Twitter.”

(The Associated Press)

“Newsweek is using a difficult print ad environment as an “excuse” for its decision to end print runs. […] Tina Brown took Newsweek in the wrong direction. Newsweek did not die, Newsweek committed suicide. […]  The magazine lost its DNA. […] Newsweek ignored the audience. The magazine stopped giving the audience the intellectual stimulation magazines of that genre are in the business of giving. Newsweek is not The Daily Beast and The Daily Beast in NOT Newsweek. The audience was confused and so, it seems, the folks behind Newsweek. History teaches us, time and time again, that you can’t mess with your DNA and expect to survive.”

(Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi School of Journalism)

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