15 min

New media relies on new technology

Apr 6, 2014 - NY Times - Vox Takes Melding of Journalism and Technology to a New Level - Ezra Klein's new media venture.

The story provides excellent insights into programmers working for or as journalists, the value of content management systems in attracting writers who want to publish for the digital age, and agile media startups who are able to innovate quickly because they are free of the shackles of print journalism.

The ideas contained within the story could be guideposts for others who want to build new media outlets, even at the local level.

From the NY Times story:

Ask Ezra Klein what prompted him to leave a high-profile position at The Washington Post to start a new website, and the answer is a little wonkish.

It was, in essence, about content management systems, Mr. Klein said.

“We were badly held back not just by the technology, but by the culture of journalism,

he said of daily newspapers, as he offered a preview of his new site, Vox.com, which was introduced Sunday night.

While The Post is an excellent publication, he said, he felt that the conventions of newspaper print journalism in general, with its commitment to incremental daily coverage, were reflected in publishing systems, which need first and foremost to meet the needs of printing a daily paper.

The end of that last sentence is baffling in 2014.

My February 2014 thought

Producing a printed newspaper wastes money and slows innovation. If an old newspaper company feels the need to produce a printed product to "serve" the public, then that company should spin-off a small group of writers, editors, designers, and other tech people, and give the group its own company name and budget, and allow them to operate like a startup, creating new products for producing and sharing journalism. If successful, then eventually, the old wing of the company transitions completely to the new. If it fails, well, at least they tried.

Back to the Apr 6, 2014 NY Times story:

So in January, when he and his colleagues announced they would join Vox Media with the aim of creating a site bigger and broader than Wonkblog, it seemed to be another watershed in the news business: a moment when young talent began demanding superior technology as the key to producing superior journalism.

With printing to paper either a non-existent thought or a significant afterthought.

Technology has become crucial to every newsroom, of course, but not all technology has been designed equally. News organizations born in the print era have generally knit together disparate systems over the years to produce websites that integrate graphics, social media and reader comments with various degrees of smoothness.

Many all-digital organizations have built their content management systems from the ground up with the Internet in mind. That strategy, many say, produces a more organic melding of journalism and technology.

A little about Vox Media's CMS:

In this high-tech universe, Vox Media’s content management system — which even has its own name, Chorus, and is used to publish all the company’s websites — has earned recognition. It 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.

Reporters and multimedia journalists say the enhanced technology of Chorus 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.

“Most journalists hate their content management systems,”

said Melissa Bell, who was director of platforms at The Post before she left with Mr. Klein to join Vox.

Chorus does not fix everything, of course, said Jim Bankoff, Vox Media’s ambitious chief executive, but it is sexy enough to be a recruiting tool.

“For this generation of talent, which grew up digitally, having the proper tools to ply their craft is essential,” he said in a recent interview. “Being able to offer them the best possible platform to achieve their goals is a great advantage.”

Like Mr. Klein, the founders of all those sites confirmed that Chorus was crucial to their decision to team with Vox. Josh Topolsky, editor in chief of The Verge, came over in 2011 after growing frustrated with the limits of the computer system at Engadget, an AOL technology publication.

“From a storytelling perspective it couldn’t be accomplished in any other place that I have seen.” - [Josh Topolsky]

The company’s attitude toward content management has its roots in the basement of Trei Brundrett, now Vox’s chief product officer. It was there that he and some partners developed SB Nation, a sports blogging website that became wildly popular when it was introduced nine years ago.

Mr. Brundrett and his crew cast themselves as equal parts journalists and software developers.

Because SB Nation needed a platform where sports fans could communicate with one another, the team created word-recognition software that would help police comments. Because it covered live sports events, it created an organizational tool, called story stream, that allowed editors to click and drag relevant material — from previous stories, Twitter posts or commentary by the writers — all into one continuous flow.

Developers at Vox Media call themselves journalists and work continually with writers and reporters to build the tools they require.

Mr. Klein, hoping to avoid incrementalism — “the biggest source of waste is everything the journalist has written before today,” he said — instead wants his journalists responsible for constantly updating pages that are the ultimate resource on a topic.

“It would be like a wiki page written by one person with a little attitude,”

Ms. Bell explained.

To help accomplish this, the developers have been building a tool they call the card stack. The cards, trimmed in brilliant canary yellow, contain definitions of essential terms that a reader can turn to if they require more context.

For example, a story updating the battle over the Affordable Care Act might include cards explaining the term “insurance exchange.”

Ms. Bell said Vox.com would start with roughly 20 reporters with expertise around specific topics, a limited travel budget, and, of course, very inchoate1 technology.

TechCrunch - May 2012 - A Closer Look At Chorus, The Next-Generation Publishing Platform That Runs Vox Media

2013 - http://www.reddit.com/r/web_design/comments/12gm3c/vox_media_product_team_builders_of_sb_nation/

A bit more about Vox in general:

[Vox's] largest demographic is educated households headed by individuals under 35 years old with incomes over $100,000.

Perhaps more important for its long-term survival, Vox’s formats attract attention directly, so the site does not have to turn to gimmicky features like quizzes, teasing headlines or lists to generate traffic through Facebook or Twitter.

For a while now, I've been interested in new media startups led by Greenwald, Silver, and Klein. All three approach journalism differently. I looked forward to Silver's data-backed and more logically-focused stories. And I've been looking forward to Klein's explanatory, wiki-like journalism.

Data, logic, wiki, writing, storytelling, those have been features that I've longed for in journalism. We'll see if these new ventures satisfy.

I always wonder about local versions of new media projects. Could ideas from national media projects be applied to local media? Definitely.

A media team might be comprised of:

  • computer programmers
  • designers
  • database admins
  • data analysts
  • writers
  • editors
  • photographers
  • videographers
  • illustrators

Excerpts from my post titled February 2013 opinions about newspapers

Yeah, which is why I don't see the point of printed newspapers. I did not imply that printed newspapers and newspaper websites were the same thing. To me, they're vastly different entities, or they should be. Unfortunately, many newspaper publishers treat them the same. The same story can be found on the website as in the newspaper, which makes no sense.

The website should be loaded with photos, videos, context-links to other stories that provide relevant info, and the story text that was cut off because it did not fit in the print newspaper.

The newspaper website should contain more database-backed information look-ups. The Blade has created some maps-mashups with public info, such as crime stats, but a lot more could be done.

The newspaper website could also be a wiki-like information source, except all the info comes from old stories created by the newspaper company. The newspaper site should contain a directory structure or taxonomy of all of its stories for all the many different subjects covered by the newspaper.

Where's the link to the database-backed Web app that shows McNamara's voting record for his entire time on Toledo City Council? Where's the link to the Toledo Blade's info page about McNamara that also contains links to all the Blade stories that were about McNamara? Sure, using the Blade's search function can help find some stories, but a human-organized Web page or directory is better.

Who cares if it's too much information? Let the readers decide.

Proper nouns in a story should at least be links to Toledo Blade Web searches if specific Toledo Blade wiki-like information pages do not exist for the subject. In my opinion, this is how the first few paragraphs of this Blade story should have appeared on the Web:

Because of the links, my example page looks like a Wikipedia page, except that it would be produced by a for-profit media company with the majority of the links pointing to articles or info pages on the company's website.

Vox - Apr 6, 2014 - Welcome to Vox - a work in progress

Today marks phase two of Vox’s launch: the beginning of our effort to build the vast repository of information that will make it possible for us to explain the news in real time.

At the core of this phase are the Vox Cards. They’re inspired by the highlighters and index cards that some of us used in school to remember important information. You’ll find them attached to articles, where they add crucial context; behind highlighted words, where they allow us to offer deeper explanations of key concepts; and in their stacks, where they combine into detailed — and continuously updated — guides to ongoing news stories.

We’re launching this fast for one simple reason: there is no better way to figure out the best way to do explanatory journalism on the web than to do explanatory journalism on the web.

The site we have today isn't perfect, and it isn't anywhere near complete — not editorially, and not technologically. Poking around this evening, or this week, or this month, you may notice a few things seem missing. We don't have commenting features on most articles. We don't have a menu bar. We're woefully lacking in snazzy data visualizations. We have some card stacks on key topics in the news, but there are many, many more left to build.

At the same time, we didn't want to delay the parts of the site we had ready. We're launching today because three more weeks or three more months or 30 more months will not produce a perfect website. We’ll always be a work in progress.

Vox's idea of "cards" reminds me of my January 2014 post that excerpted from a Medium.com story titled Two sides to every story - A vision for a new way to publish journalism.

My idea is that each story should be published on a HTML5 “card” that has two sides. On the front side of that card would be the story itself, with no bells and whistles. It would just be headline, byline, text, and perhaps a large image. That stripped-back experience would encourage uninterrupted reading, which I think is an undervalued quality.

However, as a reader, I love extra context when I get to the end of a story. If I’ve been moved by a piece of journalism, I’ll often look up the Wikipedia entry for the story’s subject or the chief protagonist. I’ll go to YouTube to see footage of the event in question. I’ll look for other work by the same author, and perhaps even buy one of her books. I might even listen to a podcast interview with the author to find out what she was thinking while she wrote the story. And sometimes, moved by the protagonist’s plight, I’ll donate money to the cause. All this stuff could live on the back side of the story card.

This back side of the card would be the platform part of the product, and it would lend itself to money-making in several ways.

A publisher might also choose to open the back side of the card to third-party developers who might build relevant widgets or apps.



Other Responses


A new news site, Vox, is rolling out now, apparently claiming to have great new technology. Okay, it's hype, everyone hypes their new stuff, I do it too.

Vox is no ordinary product. It presents itself not only as a breakthrough in tech, it's also trying to break new ground in journalism, through an art called explainers. Which suggests the best solution is an explainer that offers justification for the claim that their CMS is far in advance of what else is available now

Disclaimer: Fargo, my latest product, is a content system for web sites. I'm kind of an expert on this, and I think our software could easily do what Vox is doing. Not just for their employees, but for everyone. But I might be missing what's great about Vox.

According to Fargo's documentation, Fargo appears to be a sophisticated work app for knowledge workers, or people who have to write a lot.

Fargo is a year or so old. Its development might be based upon 20 years of experience with other applications, but the developers of Chorus have about a decade of experience with enabling professional and amateur writers to create content at decent scale.

Maybe Winer does not believe Klein when Ezra said that their CMS was a key factor in joining Vox Media. Maybe Winer does not believe the notion that Chorus can be a recruiting tool for attracting writers and web properties.

It's odd that Dave made the statement that Fargo can do all that Chorus does without personally experiencing Chorus. Has he watched someone at Vox Media use Chorus throughout the day?

A complex, feature-rich system can still be easy to learn and use if designed properly.


Nobody has that conversation, of course. And it’s true that the need for timelines and explainers (“context!”) has finally penetrated into quality newsrooms. Good journalists know they should be doing that. Meanwhile, start-ups like Circa (tag line: Save Time. Stay Informed.) try to deliver “push” updates only when there’s something important for me to know, which is smart. And I will concede the point that some of you are silently making in your head: that for some users sometimes a package of updates at regular intervals is exactly what they want.

We don’t have a news system that keeps us informed and helps us grasp the stories we care deeply about. We have one that floods us with reports on a schedule that makes sense for the manufacturers of news. Individual journalists are aware of this problem, but they are working within a system that is not set up to address it.

... it helps if you want to understand why Ezra Klein left the Washington Post for his new partner, Vox Media. Look at these phrases from his announcement tour. They are all signaling the same thing: a shift from supply side logic in the production of news to demand-side: Keep me informed. Help me understand this. Don’t give me updates when you have them, but when I need them to stay on top of things. Missing background often prevents me from understanding the news; solve that problem for me and I will rely on you for my information.

The product is not “news” but understanding and that steady state of feeling well informed. The news system that today’s journalists inherited is simply not organized that way. And so it’s no surprise to me that Ezra Klein had to leave the Washington Post to find backers who understood what he wanted to do.

And then readers can create their own opinions, making newspaper opinion writers irrelevant. Is moving from a reporter or beat writer to a columnist a promotion or a demotion? The beat writers are more important than columnists, in my opinion.

1 in·cho·ate - adjective - "just begun and so not fully formed or developed." - syn: rudimentary, undeveloped, immature, embryonic, fledgling.

#media - #startup - #cms - #wiki - #cards - #blog_jr

By JR - 2757 words
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