How to follow the complete output of journalists and other writers?

In a digital era with a seemingly ever-decreasing number of larger news outlets paying journalists and other writers for their work, the number of working writers who find themselves working for one or more outlets is rapidly increasing. 

This is sure to leave journalists wondering how to better serve their own personal brand either when they leave a major publication for which they’ve long held an association (examples: Walt Mossberg leaving The New York Times or Leon Wieseltier leaving The New Republic)  or alternatively when they’re just starting out and writing for fifty publications and attempting to build a bigger personal following for their work which appears in many locations (examples include nearly everyone out there).

Increasingly I find myself doing insane things to try to follow the content of writers I love. The required gymnastics are increasingly complex to try to track writers across hundreds of different outlets and dozens of social media sites and other platforms (filtering out unwanted results is particularly irksome). One might think that in our current digital media society, it would be easy to find all the writing output of a professional writer like Ta-nehisi Coates, for example, in one centralized place.

I’m also far from the only one. In fact, I recently came across this note by Kevin:

I wish there was a way to subscribe to writers the same way you can use RSS. Obviously twitter gets you the closest, but usually a whole lot more than just the articles they’ve written. It would be awesome if every time Danny Chau or Wesley Morris published a piece I’d know.

The subsequent conversation in his comments or  on Micro.blog (a fairly digital savvy crowd) was less than heartening for further ideas.

As Kevin intimates, most writers and journalists are on Twitter because that’s where a lot of the attention is. But sadly Twitter can be a caustic and toxic place for many. It also means sifting through a lot of intermediary tweets to get to the few a week that are the actual work product articles that one wants to read. This also presumes that one’s favorite writer is on Twitter, still using Twitter, or hasn’t left because they feel it’s a time suck or because of abuse, threats, or other issues (examples: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lindy West, Sherman Alexie). 

What does the universe of potential solutions for this problem currently look like?

Potential Solutions

Aggregators

One might think that an aggregation platform like Muck Rack which is trying to get journalists to use their service and touts itself as “The easiest, unlimited way to build your portfolio, grow your following and quantify your impact—for free” might provide journalists the ability to easily import their content via RSS feeds and then provide those same feeds back out so that their readers/fans could subscribe to them easily. How exactly are they delivering on that promise to writers to “grow your following”?!

An illustrative example I’ve found on Muck Rack is Ryan O’Hanlon, a Los Angeles-based writer, who writes for  a variety of outlets including The Guardian, The New York Times, ESPN, BuzzFeed, ESPN Deportes, Salon, ESPN Brasil, FiveThirtyEight, The Ringer, and others. As of today they’ve got 410 of his articles archived and linked there. Sadly, there’s no way for a fan of his work to follow him there. Even if the site provided an RSS feed of titles and synopses that forced one to read his work on the original outlet, that would be a big win for readers, for Ryan, and for the outlets he’s writing for–not to mention a big win for Muck Rack and their promise.

I’m sure there have to be a dozen or so other aggregation sites like Muck Rack hiding out there doing something similar, but I’ve yet to find the real tool for which I’m looking. And if that tool exists, it’s poorly distributed and unlikely to help me for 80% of the writers I’m interested in following much less 5%.

Author Controlled Websites

Possibly the best choice for everyone involved would be for writers to have their own websites where they archive their own written work and provide a centralized portfolio for their fans and readers to follow them regardless of where they go or which outlet they’re writing for. They could keep their full pieces privately on the back end, but give titles, names of outlets, photos, and synopses on their sites with links back to the original as traditional blog posts. This pushes the eyeballs towards the outlets that are paying their bills while still allowing their fans to easily follow everything they’re writing. Best of all the writer could own and control it all from soup to nuts.

If I were a journalist doing this on the cheap and didn’t want it to become a timesuck, I’d probably spin up a simple WordPress website and use the excellent and well-documented PressForward project/plugin to completely archive and aggregate my published work, but use their awesome forwarding functionality so that those visiting the URLs of the individual pieces would be automatically redirected to the original outlet. This is a great benefit for writers many of whom know the pain of having written for outlets that have gone out of business, been bought out, or even completely disappeared from the web. 

Of course, from a website, it’s relatively easy to automatically cross-post your work to any number of other social platforms to notify the masses if necessary, but at least there is one canonical and centralized place to find a writer’s proverbial “meat and potatoes”. If you’re not doing something like this at a minimum, you’re just making it hard for your fans and failing at the very basics of building your own brand, which in part is to get even more readers. (Hint, the more readers and fans you’ve got, the more eyeballs you bring to the outlets you’re writing for, and in a market economy built on clicks, more eyeballs means more traffic, which means more money in the writer’s pocket. Since a portion of the web traffic would be going through an author’s website, they’ll have at least a proportional idea of how many eyeballs they’re pushing.)

I can’t help but point out that even some who have set up their own websites aren’t quite doing any of this right or even well. We can look back at Ryan O’Hanlon above with a website at https://www.ryanwohanlon.com/. Sadly he’s obviously let the domain registration lapse, and it has been taken over by a company selling shoes. We can compare this with the slight step up that Mssr. Coates has made by not only owning his own domain and having an informative website featuring his books, but alas there’s not even a link to his work for The Atlantic or any other writing anywhere else. Devastatingly his RSS feed isn’t linked, but if you manage to find it on his website, you’ll be less-than-enthralled by three posts of Lorem ipsum from 2017. Ugh! What has the world devolved to? (I can only suspect that his website is run by his publisher who cares about the book revenue and can’t be bothered to update his homepage with events that are now long past.)

Examples of some journalists/writers who are doing some interesting work, experimentation, or making an effort in this area include: Richard MacManus,  Marina Gerner, Dan Gillmor, Jay RosenBill Bennett, Jeff JarvisAram Zucker-Scharff, and Tim Harford

One of my favorite examples is John Naughton who writes a regular column for the Guardian. He has his own site where he posts links, quotes, what he’s reading, his commentary, and quotes of his long form writing elsewhere along with links to full pieces on those sites. I have no problem following some or all of his output there since his (WordPress-based) site has individual feeds for either small portions or all of it. (I’ve also written a short case study on Ms. Gerner’s site in the past as well.)

Newsletters

Before anyone says, “What about their newsletters?” I’ll admit that both O’Hanlon and Coates both have newsletters, but what’s to guarantee that they’re doing a better job of pushing all of their content though those outlets? Most of my experience with newsletters would indicate that’s definitely not the case with most writers, and again, not all writers are going to have newsletters, which seem to be the flavor-of-the month in terms of media distribution. What are we to do when newsletters are passé in 6 months? (If you don’t believe me, just recall the parable of all the magazines and writers that moved from their own websites or Tumblr to Medium.com.)

Tangential projects

I’m aware of some one-off tools that come close to the sort of notifications of writers’ work that might be leveraged or modified into a bigger tool or stand alone platform. Still, most of these are simple uni-taskers and only fix small portions of the overall problem.

Extra Extra

Savemy.News

Ben Walsh of the Los Angeles Times Data Desk has created a simple web interface at www.SaveMy.News that journalists can use to quickly archive their stories to the Internet Archive and WebCite. One can log into the service via Twitter and later download a .csv file with a running list of all their works with links to the archived copies. Adding on some functionality to add feeds and make them discoverable to a tool like this could be a boon.

Granary

Ryan Barrett has a fantastic open source tool called Granary that “Fetches and converts data between social networks, HTML and JSON with microformats2, ActivityStreams 1 and 2, AtomRSSJSON Feed, and more.” This could be a solid piece of a bigger process that pulls from multiple sources, converts them into a common format, and outputs them in a single subscribe-able location.

Splash page image and social logos from Granary.io

SubToMe

A big problem that has pushed us away from RSS and other formatted feed readers is providing an easy method of subscribing to content. Want to follow someone on Twitter? Just click a button and go. Wishing it were similar for a variety of feed types, Julien Genestoux‘s SubToMe has created a universal follow button that allows a one-click subscription option (with lots of flexibility and even bookmarklets) for following content feeds on the open web.

Splash image on SubToMe's home page

Others?

Have you seen any other writers/technologists who have solved this problem? Are there aggregation platforms that solve the problem in reverse? Small pieces that could be loosely joined into a better solution? What else am I missing?

How can we encourage more writers to take this work into their own hands to provide a cleaner solution for their audiences? Isn’t it in their own best interest to help their readers find their work?

I’ve curated portions of a journalism page on  IndieWeb wiki to include some useful examples, pointers, and resources that may help in solving portions of this problem. Other ideas and solutions are most welcome!

Reposted a tweet by Chris WiegmanChris Wiegman (Twitter)
“Not all my own experiments have been successful but that doesn't mean I'm still not hosting some of my own services. On 13 Feb I'll talk about how to host your own using Traefik 2.0 in a free online webinar. Check it out! https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_PRadmjWCRxqmpkgZvE3lAw
This seems like something that the IndieWeb and Domain of One’s Own crowds might appreciate. 

Owning my RSVP’s from Meetup.com using IFTTT and Webhooks to a Micropub endpoint

It’s a slightly circuitous set up and I may find a better way to do it eventually, but last night I was tinkering at a way to better own my RSVPs from Meetup.com. Previously it has been a completely manual set up, but it’s something I do often enough that the hour long investment was more than worth it. (I specifically want to own my data here because I’m hedging my bets for what ends up happening with Meetup.com in a post-WeWork bankrupcy world.)

Since I’ve been adding PESOS workflows using the Micropub endpoint on my website lately, I tried setting up a direct ping using IFTTT.com from the RSS feed from Meetup. Sadly the timestamps on that feed are not of the time that I RSVP’d, but the time the event was published. As a result the trigger seems like it would never actually fire to make a post. I also thought about taking a feed of all the events of the groups I’m a member of and feed that in, but alas, that feed doesn’t seem to exist. If that were possible, then I could create drafts of the data and then RSVP as yes, no, maybe, etc. for each of them in a slightly more manual (and thoughtful) way, but I’d also have the benefit of seeing all the notifications for everything pop up in my own website.

Since I always immediately add my RSVP’s from Meetup.com directly to my Google Calendar anyway, I thought I’d use that as the data source and trigger mechanism instead, and lo and behold! It works!

Now I can quickly RSVP via Meetup.com, use their interface to add the event to my Google Calendar, leverage IFTTT.com’s Webhook to send a Micropub request to my endpoint, and I’ve got an RSVP post with all the details on my website! It also cleverly creates syndication links on my posts as well.

Perhaps I could now use some of the infrastructure to create an upcoming events widget in a sidebar, to the home page of my site, or even on my neglected /Now page?

Since this Webhook to Micropub process is something I’ve been working on a bit, I’ll soon have a post with a step-by-step set up and an example or two of how it works, so that others can implement it too. I’ve been using it for read posts, listen posts, watches, and even for creating annotation posts on my site. Depending on the data source, some of the process can still have some manual portions, but at least I’m getting all the data I’d like to have.

Home

55 °F haze

RSVPed Attending WordCamp San Diego 2020

Colorful Wapuus around the logo for WordCamp San Diego 2020

Details:
Scottish Rite Masonic Center, 1895 Camino del Rio S, San Diego, CA 92108, USA
May 2, 2020- May 3, 2020

In brightest day, in blackest night WordCamp San Diego is back in sight. Let those who worship the web’s might, harness its power: WordPressers unite!!

WordCamp San Diego 2020 is May 2-3 and we expect it to be filled with a lineup of super-speakers. 

Stay tuned for new releases – including scheduling, announcements, and information about how to join us as a speaker, sponsor or volunteer.

This looks like a lot of fun. Maybe worth the overnight trip to cut out the driving back and forth from Los Angeles. Their call for speakers is also now open…. Perhaps I’ll put in a proposal? Let’s see what we can come up with.
RSVPed Attending Innovate Pasadena: The Impact of AI

Details:
Cross Campus, 85 N. Raymond Avenue, Pasadena, CA, US
January 17, 2020 at 08:15AM- January 17, 2020 at 10:15AM

Artificial Intelligence has the potential to enhance life in ways that we are just beginning to explore. But along with its advantages comes new challenges for ethical system behavior. We must work together to mitigate the risks associated with AI solutions.

Bio: Maria Alvarez
As the General Manager of Shared Engineering Services in the AI + Research division at Microsoft, Maria and her team provide services and programs that support Search, Ads, News, Maps, and Microsoft Research. Maria is a technical leader with over 20 years of experience. Prior to joining Microsoft in 2011, she was promoted through positions at Symantec, HP, CoCreate Software, and Yahoo! She also served as CTO of Panda Security in Spain. Maria has a B.S. in Information Systems and a M.S. in CS from California State Polytechnic University.

Replied to a post by Chris Aldrich Information theorist, mathematician, renaissance personChris Aldrich Information theorist, mathematician, renaissance person (chrisaldrich.net)
Testing out the Narwahl microblog plugin for posing quick notes to my website. Seems relatively slick, though the interface also includes the ability to post a title and it seems to throw a php error. I do wish the text box was a bit smaller along with a few other simple UI tweaks. Otherwise pretty ...
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