The 83rd Block: Swapping horses midstream
A merry-go-round is a lot less turbulent than a roller-coaster.
I ponder about the future of this newsletter, sometimes. I have one more planned interview to run with a future issue, but with the fellowship tied to this project ended in the summer, the upkeep of this newsletter is solely driven by passion. I think about this because the newsletter sub-industry, if I could call it that, is seeing a boom in business. Not as big a boom as what digital audio is enjoying right now, but it’s on a similar trajectory.
Let’s take a few steps back and look at another new media industry with a parallel, but more advanced, growth path: video streaming services. Netflix was a promise that we get everything we want in one place: TV shows, films, documentaries, animes, even stand-up shows. We cancelled our TV subscriptions for the hundreds of channels we don’t watch. We gained control of our TV listing. We see no ads. We are liberated, sofa kings!
Of course, we don’t support industry monopoly, yet when competitors enter the market, we are back to the same dilemma we faced with terrestrial, satellite and cable TV: We now subscribe to four, five different streaming services to watch The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu, Star Trek Discovery and Picard on Paramount+, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel on Amazon Prime, The Mandalorian on Disney+, and—as my father-in-law discovered this weekend—Canada’s Drag Race on Crave.
That’s the cyclical nature of the media industry. And the news media is the same. Over the last few years, upon the multiple declarations of the deaths of journalism caused by various different-but-similar things based on who said what where and when, many journalists struck out on their own. Some didn’t want to be part of mega conglomerates that buy their local outfits only to be turned into content farms churning too many meaningless posts for an audience with too short an attention span to get ad money they’ll never personally receive. Others burnt out from meeting such demeaning, inhumane demands. So they curate their own newsletters. Original essays, exclusive interviews, reading lists, discussion threads… You get the picture; you’ve subscribed to at least one.
Now we arrive at where we are: journalists who leave their media outlets to be independent producers move back to similar media outlets that purchased their independent newsletters (and the audience they have built). The reality is, it helps to have an established media organisation behind you. There is stability and financial security, there are vacation days and staff members who are marketers and editors and researchers and accountants.
A merry-go-round is indeed a lot less turbulent than a roller-coaster. They also both come with eerie soundtracks, be it that of a mechanically wound ancient music box on its last legs, or the shrieks and nervous giggles of joyriders hanging on for dear life.
And now, a selection of top stories on my radar, a few personal recommendations, and the chart of the week.
Rachel Metz for CNN Business:
Spotify Wrapped is, of course, a marketing campaign, and it’s an impressively effective one. The music streaming company has presented it annually in early December for the past several years, in the hopes that its 381 million users (172 million of whom are paid subscribers) share these very specific details of their personal listening habits with friends. Spotify knows a lot about its users because it tracks them closely; similar to Netflix, it uses artificial intelligence to recommend music to you based on factors such as what you have listened to in the past.
Of course, we already know this; we play along.
As of Thursday morning, a day after Spotify Wrapped’s 2021 release, Twitter search showed the hashtag “SpotifyWrapped” had been tweeted 14,000 times in just the past hour. Yet as some astute Twitter users also pointed out, this marketing campaign is an important example of how a company can conduct in-depth surveillance of our personal behavior over a long period of time and package it as a fun feature that we want to share with others.
“That’s the trick: to make these things kind of go viral and appealing and fun in ways that occlude the harms of the extractive practices,” said Chris Gilliard, a visiting research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
Now for a different kind of unwrapped, presented by Jennifer Daniel, on one of my favourite newsletters, Did Someone Say Emoji?:
Well, it appears that reports of Tears of Joy’s death are greatly exaggerated 😂. According to data collected by the Unicode Consortium, the not-for-profit organization responsible for digitizing the world’s languages, Tears of Joy accounts for over 5% of all emoji use (the only other character that comes close is ❤️ and there is a steeeeeep cliff after that). The top ten emoji used worldwide are…
Well, I won’t spoil it for you. 😂
Melanie Burton for Reuters:
The new legislation will introduce a complaints mechanism, so that if somebody thinks they are being defamed, bullied or attacked on social media, they will be able to require the platform to take the material down.
If the content is not withdrawn, a court process could force a social media platform to provide details of the commenter.
What I read, watch and listen to…
I’m reading How We Became Weekly, an essay by David Henkin for Aeon on the “most artificial and recent of our time counts.”
I’m also reading Why Movie Dialogue Has Gotten More Difficult To Understand by Ben Pearson for Slashfilm.
I’m watching Season 2 of Twenties.
Chart of the week
From the Canadian Association of Journalists’ first annual diversity survey, which includes data from 3,873 journalists working in 209 newsrooms nationwide: More than 80% of supervisor roles in Canadian newsrooms are held by a white journalist. Not surprising if the overall newsroom demographics is 75% white.