Read Don Gellers, victim of state sponsored conspiracy, receives full, posthumous pardon in Maine by Colin Woodard (colinwoodard.blogspot.com)
In a 31-part Portland Press Herald series on the Passamaquoddy tribe's epic struggles with Maine, "Unsettled," I told the story of Donald Gellers, the idealistic young attorney who, in the 1960s, joined forces with Chief George Francis to challenge legal, civil rights, and material abuses of the tribe and its members by state officials, law enforcement, the courts, and local businesspeople. Upon returning home from filing a suit that sought redress for a $150 million trust fund and 10,000 acres of reserved land stolen by Maine -- the fund alone worth $1.1 billion in today's dollars -- he was arrested in a sting and raid that would be comic if its results were not so tragic and charged with "constructive possession" of six marijunaa cigarettes allegedly found in the pocket of a jacket in his upstairs closet.
I’d love to get a bundled e-book copy of this 31 part series. And what do you know the newspaper actually published one! I wish more newspapers would do something like this. Imagine a bound book for big coverage of things like the Trump Impeachment from the Washington Post or the New York Times?

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!

Read Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories. (nytimes.com)
We analyzed some of the most popular social studies textbooks used in California and Texas. Here’s how political divides shape what students learn about the nation’s history.

📑 Highlights and Annotations

Conservatives have fought for schools to promote patriotism, highlight the influence of Christianity and celebrate the founding fathers. In a September speech, President Trump warned against a “radical left” that wants to “erase American history, crush religious liberty, indoctrinate our students with left-wing ideology.”

I can’t help but think here about a recent “On The Media” episode A Civilization As Great As Ours which highlighted changes in how history is taught in India. This issue obviously isn’t just relegated to populist India.
Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:22AM

Pearson, the publisher whose Texas textbook raises questions about the quality of Harlem Renaissance literature, said such language “adds more depth and nuance.”

If they wanted to add more “depth and nuance” wouldn’t they actually go into greater depth on the topic by adding pages instead of subtly painting it such a discouraging light?

But Texas students will read that some critics “dismissed the quality of literature produced.”

Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:27AM

Publishers are eager to please state policymakers of both parties, during a challenging time for the business. Schools are transitioning to digital materials. And with the ease of internet research, many teachers say they prefer to curate their own primary-source materials online.

Here’s where OER textbooks might help to make some change. If free materials with less input from politicians and more input from educators were available. But then this pushes the onus down to a different level with different political aspirations. I have to think that taking the politicization of these decisions at a state level would have to help.
Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:30AM

How Textbooks are Produced

  1. Authors, often academics, write a national version of each text.
  2. Publishers customize the books for states and large districts to meet local standards, often without input from the original authors.
  3. State or district textbook reviewers go over each book and ask publishers for further changes.
  4. Publishers revise their books and sell them to districts and schools.

This is an abominable process for history textbooks to be produced, particularly at mass scale. I get the need for broad standards, but for textbook companies to revise their books without the original authors is atrocious. Here again, individual teachers and schools should be able to pick their own texts if they’re not going to–ideally–allow their students to pick their own books.
Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:33AM

“The textbook companies are not gearing their textbooks toward teachers; they’re gearing their textbooks toward states,” she said.

And even at this they should be gearing them honestly and truthfully toward the students.
Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:39AM

Read SSRN 2019 Year-End Review (ssrnblog.com)

A lot of things have changed over the years at SSRN. We joined Elsevier and have a lot more resources to do a lot more things; but your paper’s journey through SSRN remains the same. We remain steadfast to support you the researcher to share your research faster and allow everyone in the world to find your research more easily.

Growth. SSRN now has over 900,000 papers from over 442,000 authors and the number of downloads grows daily.

I was searching for a non-fiction science title and randomly ran across what is a new (to me at least) genre of romance fiction: it looks like Harlequin Romance + Amish Culture = Amiquin Romance? None of these have come out yet and are all written by different authors.

Five book covers that have a bodice ripper feel, but are really clean and wholesome Amish themed romance
Covers of Amish Generations, The Farm Stand, An Amish Picnic, A Beautiful Arrangement, A Long Bridge Home

Alternate formats of An Urgency of Teachers by Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris

I’m gearing up my reading list for the holidays. I wanted to add An Urgency of Teachers: the Work of Critical Digital Pedagogy by Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris. Seemingly I can only find .html, .azw3, and .pdf copies of the book, and I’d far prefer an .epub version. Fortunately the book has a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC 4.0), so I’ve spent some time this morning to convert an original and made myself an .epub version for my Android devices.

I’m happy to share it if others are looking for the same and don’t have the ability (or frankly the time) to make the conversion. I also have a .mobi version (for Kindle) of the text as well since it didn’t require much additional work. These are exact replicas with no changes and come with the same CC BY-NC 4.0 license. If Jesse or Sean want copies to make available on their site, I’m happy to send them along. 

If you have the means, please be sure to make a donation to help support the book and Sean and Jesse’s work.

Book cover of An Urgency of Teachers

The Nieman Lab has an awesome and invaluable “Reading Page”

Usually I’m reading their content via a feed reader, but last night I visited their actual site and I noticed that the Nieman Lab has a reading page!

Since they’re unlikely to report on the mechanics of some of their own website and journalistic output, I’ll take a moment to highlight it on their behalf.

Reading pages or Linkblogs

Traditionally known as linkblogs back in the old blogosphere days, this sort of web pattern is probably better and more specifically called a “reading page” now. (Even Nieman titles the page “What We’re Reading” and uses /reading/ in the URL path to the page itself.) Many people still maintain linkblogs or bookmark pages (often on social silos like Pinboard, Pinterest, Twitter, Pocket, Instapaper, et al.), but generally the semantic name there implies articles or pages that were found to be of general interest or that one wanted to keep to read or consume later. On today’s more advanced web, there’s actually more value in naming it a reading page as it indicates a more proactive interest in the bookmarked content–namely having spent the time, effort, and energy to have actually read the thing being bookmarked. This additional indication of having more skin in the game provides a lot of additional value of a read post over a simpler bookmark post in my mind. It’s also part of the reason my website sends and receives read-specific webmentions.

This pattern of providing links of read material is pretty cool for a variety of reasons.

Discovery

First, if you’re following and reading the Nieman Lab, you’re very likely going to be interested in many of the things that they’re reading, researching, and covering. By providing a reading page they’re giving their readers a trove of useful data to discover articles and material in similar and tangential spaces that the lab may not be able to actively cover or engage in at the time. 

Context

By knowing what the Lab is reading, you’re provided with a broader perspective of the things they’re actively interested in. By reading those things yourself, you’ll have increased context into what they’re doing, what those areas look like, and what they are adding to the conversation in their research and work.

Added value to their site

Linkblogging has long been a thing, and, in part, is what a large number of Twitter users are typically doing. In Nieman Lab’s case, they’re just doing it on their own website, which adds tremendous value to it. By smartly hosting it on their own site they’re also guarding against the built value of their read archive disappearing if they were hosted on a social silo (remember Delicious? CiteULike?). Also by keeping it on their site, it has more long-tail value than if it were to all disappear into the new-content-wins attention machine that Twitter has become.

Of course I’d personally find it a lot more beneficial if they provided or advertised a linkblog feed for their reading page. Sadly they don’t. However, if you’re as interested as I am, you’ll dig under the hood a bit to discover that Nieman Lab’s site is built on WordPress and they’re using that page likely with a category, tag, or other taxonomy. So with a short bit of intuitive guessing about how WordPress is structured, we happily discover there is a feed of their reads at https://www.niemanlab.org/reading/feed/. (I suspect this feed exists as a design choice by WordPress than by the design or will of the Nieman Lab.) If you prefer a faster, one button subscribe option:

If Nieman would like their own universal follow button like this, take a peek at what SubToMe has to offer on this front.

Value to research

By accumulating a trove of links and summaries, which they’re hopefully keeping, they’re creating a huge relevant database for future research on the topics in which they have interest. The small pieces that may not make sense today may potentially be woven into future narratives and pieces of research later, but this sort of thing is vastly harder to do without reading and making note of it. In a sense, they’re creating a corporate or research lab-based commonplace book for their own use.

Other Examples

While I’ve seen many people (generally individuals and not magazines, companies, or other bigger outlets) regularly publish newsletters or weekly posts on what they’ve found on the web that is interesting, I haven’t seen as many who publish specific pages or archives of what they’re reading. Even fewer provide RSS or other feeds of this content.

The IndieWeb wiki read page has some useful and interesting examples of this behavior, but they’re almost all individuals. 

One other example I can think of in the journalism space, mostly because it’s getting to that end-of-the-year recap time is Bloomberg’s Jealousy List, which this year incidentally has some fun little drolleries that move as you scroll the page. This subset of reading lists is interesting as a group of articles Bloomberg wished they’d written and published themselves. This may indicate that they’re keeping a reading list internally, but just not publishing it regularly like Nieman is.

I can’t help thinking if Nieman Lab’s OpenFuego bot is a part of their workflow in creating their reading page as well?

And finally, since I also have a similar behavior, I’ll mention that you can find my reads on my reading page (sometimes with commentary) or follow it all via RSS if you like.

Are you aware of other people or organizations publishing lists of what they’re actively reading online? Do they provide feeds? How can we make this feature more prevalent on the open web?

Bookmarked Institute for the Future of the Book (futureofthebook.org)
We're a small think-and-do tank investigating the evolution of intellectual discourse as it shifts from printed pages to networked screens. There are independent branches of Institute in New York, London and Brisbane. The New York branch is affiliated with the Libraries of New York University.