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!

Replied to a tweet by Johannes ErnstJohannes Ernst (Twitter)
There is some pre-existing work for tips, recommendations, reviews, etc. But it would be nice to have an IndieNews sort of hub to aggregate them all.

Maybe I could start by making the first recommendation to use IndieWeb.xyz/en/recommendations

Cleaning up feeds, easier social following, and feed readers

I’ve been doing a bit of clean up in my feed reader(s)–cleaning out dead feeds, fixing broken ones, etc. I thought I’d take a quick peek at some of the feeds I’m pushing out as well. I remember doing some serious updates on the feeds my site advertises three years ago this week, but it’s been a while since I’ve revisited it. While every post kind/type, category, and tag on my site has a feed (often found by simply adding /feed/ to the end of those URLs), I’ve made a few custom feeds for aggregated content.

However, knowing that some feeds are broadly available from my site isn’t always either obvious or the same as being able to use them easily–one might think of it as a(n) (technical) accessibility problem. I thought I’d make a few tweaks to smooth out that user interface and hopefully provide a better user experience–especially since I’m publishing everything from my website first rather than in 30 different places online (which is a whole other UI problem for those wishing to follow me and my content). Since most pages on my site have a “Follow Me” button (courtesy of SubToMe), I just needed to have a list of generally useful feeds to provide it. While SubToMe has some instructions for suggesting lists of feeds, I’ve never gotten it to work the way I expected (or feed readers didn’t respect it, I’m not sure which?) But since most feed readers have feed discovery built in as a feature, I thought I’d leverage that aspect. Thus I threw into the <head> of my website a dozen or so links from some of the most typical feeds people may be most interested in from my site. Now you can click on the follow button, choose your favorite feed reader, and then your reader should provide you with a large list of feeds which you might want to subscribe. These now broadly include the full feed, a comments feed, feeds for all the individual kinds (bookmarks, likes, favorites, replies, listens, etc.) but potentially more useful: a “microblog feed” of all my status-related updates and a “linkblog feed” for all my link-related updates (generally favorites, likes, reads, and bookmarks).

Some of these sub-feeds may be useful in some feed readers which don’t yet have the ability for you to choose within the reader what you’d like to see. I suspect that in the future social readers will allow you to subscribe to my primary firehose or comments feeds, which are putting out about 85 and 125 posts a week right now, and you’ll be able to subscribe to those, but then within their interface be able to choose individual types by means of filters to more quickly see what I’ve been bookmarking, reading, listening to or watching. Then if you want to curl up with some longer reads, filter by articles; or if you just want some quick hits, filter by notes. And of course naturally you’ll be able to do this sort of filtering across your network too. I also suspect some of them will build in velocity filters and friend-proximity filters so that you’ll be able to see material from people who don’t post as often highlighted or to see people’s content based on your personal rankings or categories (math friends, knitting circle, family, reading group, IndieWeb community, book club, etc.). I’ve recently been enjoying Kicks Condor’s FraidyCat reader which touches on some of this work though it’s not what most people would consider a full-featured feed reader but might think of as a filter/reader dashboard sort of product.

Perhaps sometime in the future I’ll write a bit of code so that each individual page on my site that you visit will provide feeds in the header for all the particular categories, tags, and post kinds that appear on that page?That might make a clever, and simple little plugin, though honestly that’s the sort of code I would expect CMSes like WordPress to provide out of the box. Of course, perhaps broader adoption of microformats and clever readers will obviate the need for all these bits?

 

Listened to Episode 400: With The Help Of Mark Zuckerberg by Manton Reece, Daniel Jalkut from Core Intuition

Manton and Daniel celebrate episode 400 by inviting Oisín Prendiville to join them for a conversation ranging from Oisín’s podcasting app Castro and the virtues of selling it to Tiny, to the state of the podcasting industry, to a story of bicycle theft and recovery.

Coverart for Core Intuition

Discovery feature: Podcast Shuffle – Manton’s 2005 blog post announcing a hack for listening to a random podcast episode. (Sadly this link seems to be gone from the web and isn’t on archive.org.)

–Originally bookmarked December 21, 2019 at 10:51AM

Read Imagining the Version of WikiTribune by Greg McVerryGreg McVerry (quickthoughts.jgregorymcverry.com)
Like many I joined WikiTribune, the new social network for news. The service quickly overtook Aacademia.edu as the primary spam engine of my inbox. Got me thinking that  Nuzzel, an app that algorithimically surfaces stuff to read by what your followers share on Twitter, already ads a layer of trust...
Read Weekly Web Harvest for 2019-12-08 by Tom Woodward (bionicteaching.com)
“Link In Bio” is a slow knife For a closed system, those kinds of open connections are deeply dangerous. If anyone on Instagram can just link to any old store on the web, how can Instagram — meaning Facebook, Instagram’s increasingly-overbearing owner — tightly control commerce on its plat...
I’d read the Anil Dash piece, but everything else in here looks positively fascinating!

While I tend to post everything I read on my site as I’m reading it. I do quite like how Tom Woodward provides weekly little recaps of the best stuff he’s found.

Read How to Add to Blogging Conversations by SerenaSerena (supine-owl.com)

Liked How to Add to Blogging Conversations... And Eliminate the Echo Chamber (ProBlogger)

Just going through my old bookmarks and found this article. Some interesting ideas to keep in mind. Although I wonder where this current post would sit in his 11 ideas? This post doesn’t add to the conversation, but it just introduces the conversation to a wider audience…

Replied to a tweet by Dr. Ryan StraightDr. Ryan Straight (Twitter)
What a great prompt! Here are a few interesting off-label use cases I’ve used, imagined, or seen in the wild:

Greg McVerry, Ian O’Byrne, and I have integrated Hypothes.is into our digital/online commonplace books in different ways. Greg’s are embedded at https://jgregorymcverry.com/annotations, Ian discusses his process on his site, while mine show up as annotation or highlight posts.

I’ve not published the full idea yet, but I’ve spent some time contemplating using Hypothes.is as a blogging platform/CMS. It might require a bit of flexibility, but it generally has reasonable support for:

  • Writing posts with a reasonably full-featured text editor and the ability to edit and delete posts later;
  • HTML and markdown support;
  • Public and private posting as well as sharing content with other private groups;
  • The ability to reply to other websites;
  • The ability for others to comment on your posts natively;
  • A robust tagging functionality;
  • The ability to socially bookmark web pages (blank page notes);
  • An RSS feed;
  • The ability to share posts to other social platforms including meta data for Twitter cards;
  • Naturally, it’s very easy to use for writing short notes, creating highlights and annotations, and keeping track of what you’ve read;
  • It has a pseudo-social media functionality in that your public posts appear on a global timeline where people can read and interact with them.
  • It’s also opensource, so you can self-host, modify it, or add new features.

I have been personally using Hypothes.is to follow the public feed, several tag feeds, and several friends’ specific feeds as a discovery tool for finding interesting content to read.

And a final off-label use case that could be compelling, but which could have some better UI and integration would be to use Hypothes.is as an embeddable commenting system for one’s own website. It has in-line commenting in much the same way that Medium does, but the entire thing could likely be embedded into a comment section under a traditional blog post and be used in much the same way people use Disqus on blogs. I’ll note that in practice, I find Hypothes.is far faster than Disqus ever was. I’ve yet to see anyone offloading the commenting functionality of their blog this way, but I’d be willing to bet dollars to donuts that someone could hack it together as a simple iframe or via the API pretty quickly and with solid results.

And naturally I’m missing many, potentially including some I’ve thought about before. Maybe worth checking the old Hypothes.is tag in my digital notebook?

If people have others, I’m enamored to hear them.

Read Six uses for Huffduffer by Karin Taliga (The Pilcrow)
I keep thinking of new and creative ways to use Huffduffer. If you haven’t heard of it, or used it, let me explain what it does. It’s a service that creates a personal podcast feed out of audio links you add to it.
Karin mentions a lot of great material here that isn’t always obvious about how one an use Huffduffer. The one thing she didn’t mention was what her handle on the service is so others can follow her or some of the discovery related uses of Huffduffer.

While most of my readers will see all of my Huffduffer activity here on my own site, you can also follow all of my audio bookmarking there as well if you wish.

Read What Happened to Tagging? by Alexandra SamuelAlexandra Samuel (JSTOR Daily)
Fourteen years ago, a dozen geeks gathered around our dining table for Tagsgiving dinner. No, that’s not a typo. In 2005, my husband and I celebrated Thanksgiving as “Tagsgiving,” in honor of the web technology that had given birth to our online community development shop. I invited our guests...
It almost sounds like Dr. Samuel could be looking for the IndieWeb community, but just hasn’t run across it yet. Since she’s writing about tags, I can’t help but mischievously snitch tagging it to her, though I’ll do so only in hopes that it might make the internet all the better for it.

Tagging systems were “folksonomies:” chaotic, self-organizing categorization schemes that grew from the bottom up.

There’s something that just feels so wrong in this article about old school tagging and the blogosphere that has a pullquote meant to encourage one to Tweet the quote.
–December 04, 2019 at 11:03AM

I literally couldn’t remember when I’d last looked at my RSS subscriptions.
On the surface, that might seem like a win: Instead of painstakingly curating my own incoming news, I can effortlessly find an endless supply of interesting, worthwhile content that the algorithm finds for me. The problem, of course, is that the algorithm isn’t neutral: It’s the embodiment of Facebook and Twitter’s technology, data analysis, and most crucial, business model. By relying on the algorithm, instead of on tags and RSS, I’m letting an army of web developers, business strategists, data scientists, and advertisers determine what gets my attention. I’m leaving myself vulnerable to misinformation, and manipulation, and giving up my power of self-determination.

–December 04, 2019 at 11:34AM

You might connect with someone who regularly used the same tags that you did, but that was because they shared your interests, not because they had X thousand followers.

An important and sadly underutilized means of discovery. –December 04, 2019 at 11:35AM

I find it interesting that Alexandra’s Twitter display name is AlexandraSamuel.com while the top of her own website has the apparent title @AlexandraSamuel. I don’t think I’ve seen a crossing up of those two sorts of identities before though it has become more common for people to use their own website name as their Twitter name. Greg McVerry is another example of this.

Thanks to Jeremy Cherfas[1] and Aaron Davis[2] for the links to this piece. I suspect that Dr. Samuel will appreciate that we’re talking about this piece using our own websites and tagging them with our own crazy taxonomies. I’m feeling nostalgic now for the old Technorati…

Replied to Five RSS feeds I followed today by Jeremy FeltJeremy Felt (jeremyfelt.com)
I followed several new to me feeds today and then decided—why not share? There may be no other way to rediscover the social network that is blogging.
Jeremy, it’s great to see someone else following peoples’ content directly from their own websites! I was surprised (but maybe not really) to see that some of the feeds you had followed were those from the IndieWeb community! Did you happen to catch Tantek’s talk at WordCamp US (▶️) just before the State of the Word?

Coincidentally, I came to your post while playing some feed reading catch up post-WordCamp US and ran across a status update on Helen’s site:

Remember when we used to read each other’s individual blogs? I miss that.

I noticed one other person (you) had “liked” it and clicked myself down the rabbit hole that led me to your post. There are still apparently some interesting old-school discovery methods on the open web.

If you like following interesting sites, I often find Kicks Condor’s HREFHUNT an great regular source for discovery.

I’m curious what feed reader you use for subscriptions? I wrote a short note the other day about some interesting new developments I’ve been seeing in the feed reader and discovery space.

And last, but not least, I followed both the IndieNews and This Week in the IndieWeb blogs via the main indieweb.org site as part of an effort to get more familiar with that community and technology.

If you’d like a crash course on IndieWeb, particularly as it’s applied within WordPress, I’m happy to donate some time to get you up to speed on the next few steps beyond what Tantek outlined. If you’d like to follow more, I have a following page which has a large number of IndieWeb-related developers, designers, and sites including an OPML file for following many of them quickly.

In any case, welcome to the IndieWeb! I can’t wait to see how your explorations there turn out; I’d love to hear about your experiences in that space. There are a lot of friendly people around to help you get started or chat if you need it.

And thanks again for tacitly sharing your list of RSS sources. I’d bookmarked Weinberger’s book a short while ago and can’t wait to read it. I’m looking at your other links presently.