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!

👓 Should the Media Quit Facebook? — The Disinformation War | Columbia Journalism Review

Read Should the Media Quit Facebook? — The Disinformation War by Mathew Ingram (The Disinformation War)
With all that has transpired between Facebook and the media industry over the past couple of years—the repeated algorithm changes, the head fakes about switching to video, the siphoning off of a significant chunk of the industry’s advertising revenue—most publishers approach the giant social network with skepticism, if not outright hostility. And yet, the vast majority of them continue to partner with Facebook, to distribute their content on its platform, and even accept funding and resources from it.
A very solid question to be asking and to be working on answers for. 

Personally I feel like newspapers, magazines, and media should help to be providing IndieWeb-based open platforms of their own for not only publishing their own work, but for creating the local commons for their readers and constituents to be able to freely and openly interact with them.

They’re letting Facebook and other social media to own too much of their content and even their audience. Building tools to take it back could help them, their readers, and even democracy out all at the same time.

Sadly, based on what I’m seeing here, however, even CJR has outsourced their platform for this series to SquareSpace. At least they’re publishing it on a URL they own and control.

👓 Scroll is acquiring Nuzzel | Scroll Blog

Read Scroll is acquiring Nuzzel (Scroll Blog)

A note from Tony Haile, CEO of Scroll

TL;DR

  • Scroll is acquiring Nuzzel
  • The core service isn’t going to change beyond removing the ads
  • We’re spinning out the media intelligence business
Nuzzel is one of my favorite things, so I’m glad to hear that it will continue on… I haven’t heard much about Scroll, which appears to be a journalism startup, but hopefully they’ve got enough legs to make it for the long haul.

We need more competition in the space of “discovery” on the web and particularly in the area of allowing users to control the levers that go into some of that discovery. The blackbox algorithms of the social media giants certainly can’t be trusted because of their financial motivations. In some sense, I view Nuzzel as a real-time directory, but one whose cache is flushed at regular intervals instead of saving all the data for a later date and time or other additional searching. I wonder what a engine like Nuzzel would look like if it kept all the data and allowed itself to be searchable in a long-tail way?

Replied to a post by Jack JamiesonJack Jamieson (jackjamieson.net)
Thank you to @RyersonResearch and especially @joyceemsmith  for inviting me to talk about my research today.  I had a great time talking IndieWeb, and specifically, Bridgy.
I presented a study I’ve been working on about Bridgy, i...
This is awesome Jack! Thanks for the synopsis. I’m curious what the ensuing discussion was and what other questions may have come out of it, particularly as it may dovetail with efforts of others within the IndieWeb who are working on journalism-related topics?

👓 Do You Still Have A Job At BuzzFeed? | BuzzFeed

Read Do You Still Have A Job At BuzzFeed? by Jason SweetenJason Sweeten (BuzzFeed Community)
"As you know, the company is going thru a reorganization..."
This is a bit hilarious given the recent layoffs many journalistic outlets are doing recently.

The odd part was that in terms of presentation I didn’t realize until almost the end that this wasn’t a primary part of BuzzFeed, but rather their “Community” section. While it’s nice that they give readers a place like this to contribute free content which only goes towards their own clicks for advertising, it would be far more interesting and useful if they were letting their community use their platform to host their own content on their own domains instead, and then allowing them to either pay for it directly or using advertising against it to cover the tab. This would be the sort of hybrid social media and journalism idea I’ve touched on in the past. Instead, this effort and those of others like the Huffington Post seem to be wholly benefiting the outlet more than they do the individual. The pendulum needs to swing back the other way soon.

👓 Journalism is the conversation. The conversation is journalism. | Jeff Jarvis

Read Journalism is the conversation. The conversation is journalism. by Jeff Jarvis (Medium)
I am sorely disappointed in The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo, CNN’s Brian Stelter, and other journalists who these days are announcing to…
I appreciate Jeff Jarvis’ points here about not succumbing to the techno-panic, but at the same time we do need some better ways to find and disseminate these stories than relying on toxic platforms. The conversation needs more space and flexibility and perhaps this is also part of the problem. There’s no reason we couldn’t simultaneously hope for better tools for journalists while still doing as Jeff indicates. Some journalists enjoy and find value in doing battlefield reporting, but this obviously isn’t for everyone. While platforms like Twitter make finding some unseen stories easier, they definitely aren’t the end-all-be-all of the depth and breadth of stories out there. Relying solely on looking at the conversation through the lens of Twitter isn’t always the best or even only way to appreciate the broader conversation. There are far more trenches we all need to be exploring.

Here yet again, I can’t help but think that journalistic outlets ought to be using their platforms and their privilege and extend them to their audiences as a social media platform of sorts. This could kill the siren song of the toxic platforms and simultaneously bring the journalists and the public into a more direct desperate congress. There is nothing stopping CNN or The New York Times from building an open version of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or even blogging platform on which everyone could participate. In fact, there are already several news outlets that have gotten into the content management system business and are selling their wares to other newspapers and magazines. Why not go a half-step further and allow the public to use them as well? The IndieWeb model for this seems like an interesting one which could dramatically benefit both sides and even give journalism another useful revenue stream.

Replied to Indie Communities and Making Your Audience Known by Ben WerdmüllerBen Werdmüller (Ben Werdmüller)

It sounds ludicrous now, but back in 2014, when I cofounded Known as a startup, a lot of people were questioning whether a business even needed a website. Pockets of people - for example in the indieweb community, which I enthusiastically joined - were pointing out how short-sighted this was, but it was a minority opinion. There was Facebook and Twitter! Why would you want to have any kind of property that you fully controlled on the internet?

Fast forward to today, and... 

As I read this, there are some underlying ideas that again make me think that newspapers, magazines, and other journalistic outlets should pick up the mantle of social media and help their readers (aka community) by providing them with websites that they can control and use to interact. Many newspapers and other outlets are already building their own CMSes and even licensening them out to other papers, why not take the next step and build a platform that can host and manage websites for individual users? They’ve got most of the infrastructure there already? Why not tack on a few simple things that allow their users to better interact with them on the open web. It solves their ownership issues as well as their reliance on social media silos and could even provide a nice, modest income stream (or even a bonus that comes along with one’s subscription?)

Perhaps Kinja wasn’t a bad idea for a CMS cum commenting system, it just wasn’t open web enough?

👓 In the Shadow of the CMS | The Nation

Read In the Shadow of the CMS by Kyle ChaykaKyle Chayka (The Nation)
How content-management systems will shape the future of media businesses big and small. 
With all these self-made CMSes for distributing journalism, why not go a half step further and create a full-on network of hosted and managed IndieWeb websites? These could be for both their journalists to use (the way many do with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) in their research as well as for their own users which could also incidentally use them to interact with the paper itself as well as their surrounding communities?

For a low cost per month, it could be an interesting side business, or even be bundled with paid subscriptions?

📑 Publishers build a common tech platform together | Nieman Lab

Annotated Publishers build a common tech platform together by Jonathan GillJonathan Gill (Nieman Lab)

One way to meet the many needs that most if not all publishers share would be to collaboratively develop their digital products. Specifically, they should build for interoperability. One publisher’s CMS, another’s content APIs, a third company’s data offering — they might one day all work together to allow all ships to rise and to reclaim advertising and subscription revenue from the platforms. This might allow publishers to refocus on differentiating where it truly matters for the user: in the quality of their content.  

Some of this is already afoot within the IndieWeb community with new protocols like Webmention, Micropub, WebSub, and Microsub. Journalists should know about this page on their wiki.

👓 Publishers build a common tech platform together | Nieman Journalism Lab

Read Publishers build a common tech platform together by Jonathan GillJonathan Gill (Nieman Lab)
"From a business standpoint, publishers aren't competing with each other so much as they are with the big technology platforms — Google, Facebook, Apple, and so on. Yet publishers expend huge amounts of energy optimizing competitively against one another."

👓 The platform tide is turning | Nieman Journalism Lab

Read The platform tide is turning by Ben WerdmüllerBen Werdmüller (Nieman Lab)
“Instead of becoming more like technology companies or remaining beholden to platforms, publishers could help to build the internet they need.”
There are an impressive number of IndieWeb-related articles in this year’s list of Nieman Journalism Lab 2019 Predictions. Somehow I had missed the one written by our own Ben Werdmüller, or perhaps they continued publishing them after I’d seen the first batch?

👓 The year we step back from the platform | Nieman Journalism Lab | Ernie Smith

Read The year we step back from the platform by Ernie SmithErnie Smith (Nieman Lab)
"Let's replace the shadows that Twitter and Facebook and Google have been on the media with some business-model fundamentals. As 2018 has shown, they've offered us a lot more heartache than it feels like they're actually worth."
This is a very staid and sober statement about the ills of social media platforms (aka silos) and a proposed way forward for 2019. His argument is tremendously bolstered by the fact that he’s actually got his own website where he’s hosting and distributing his own content.

Ernie, should you see this, I’d welcome you to come join a rapidly growing group of creators who have been doing almost exactly what you’ve prescribed. We’re amassing a wealth of knowledge, tools, code, and examples at Indieweb.org to help you and others on their journey to better owning and controlling their online identities in almost the exact way in which you’re talking about in your article. Both individually and together we’re trying to build web websites that allow all the functionality of the platforms, but in a way that is both easy and beautiful for everyone to manage and use. Given the outlet for your piece, I’ll also mention that there’s a specific page for IndieWeb and Journalism.

I’d invite you to join the online chat and add yourself as an example to any of the appropriate pages, including perhaps for Craft. Also feel free to discuss your future plans and ask for any help or support you’d like to see for improving your own website. Together I hope we can all make your prediction for 2019 a reality.

 

Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia

But what if, in 2019, we take a step back and decide not to let the platform decide how to run the show?  

The IndieWeb has already made some solid strides.

January 09, 2019 at 07:55AM

I’ve been working on a redesign of my site recently, using a more robust CMS, and the advantages of controlling the structure of the platform soup-to-nuts are obvious, even if it requires more upfront work.  

January 09, 2019 at 07:57AM

2019 is the year when publishers — whether big ones like Axios or the Los Angeles Times or tiny ones like mine or Judd Legum’s Popular Information — move away from letting someone else call all the shots. Or, at least, they should.  

There’s already some work and movement in the IndieWeb with respect to journalism.

January 09, 2019 at 08:01AM

👓 Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms | Nieman Journalism Lab

Read Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms by Marie K. ShanahanMarie K. Shanahan (Nieman Lab)
"Local news organizations should become a driving force for better online public discourse, because Facebook and Twitter aren’t cutting it."
I wonder in an age of caustic social media why newspapers don’t build their own (open and IndieWeb-flavored) social media platforms into their products as a benefit to not only their readers but for the communities they service? This could help not only their bottom line, allow them to add a useful service to their product, but fight the vagaries of what social media networks have done to them and give them some additional ways to help improve community conversations.

This idea isn’t too dissimilar to Greg McVerry’s idea of having local libraries allow users to “check” out domain names and pre-built IndieWeb content management systems to use. (Greg, have you fleshed this out on your site somewhere?)

In any case, I’ve outlined a bit about how newspapers and journalistic outlets could use read posts in an IndieWeb way to take more control over their comments sections instead of farming them out to caustic social media platforms that they have no control over. There’s at least one outlet that has begun experimenting with these types of read posts.  Some of these ideas (and similar ones on podcasting) might begin to address Marie’s idea about improving online discourse and making a better forum.

I see she’s got a book on the topic entitled Journalism, Online Comments, and the Future of Public Discourse. I’ll have to take  a look at it soon.

👓 The power to publish as an individual | DaveNet

Read The power to publish as an individual by Dave Winer (scripting.com via DaveNet)
Weblogs: A new source of News
An awesome “old” and prescient post about blogging and journalism. It’s interesting to look at this through the modern lens of social media and IndieWeb. Of course this article was written at a time when IndieWeb was the only thing that existed.

Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia

media organizations would do well to incorporate them [blogs] into their Web sites as an important new addition to the journalistic toolkit.  

December 21, 2018 at 08:09PM

Regular readers of Gillmor’s eJournal will recognize his commitment to user participation. “One of the things I’m sure about in journalism right now is that my readers know more than I do,” he says. “To the extent that I can take advantage of that in a way that does something for everyone involved ó that strikes me as pretty cool.”
One fascinating aspect of Gillmor’s Weblog is how he lifts the veil from the workings of the journalism profession. “There have been occasions where I put up a note saying, ‘I’m working on the following and here’s what I think I know,’ and the invitation is for the reader to either tell me I’m on the right track, I’m wrong, or at the very least help me find the missing pieces,” he says. “That’s a pretty interesting thing. Many thousands more people read my column in the newspaper than online, but I do hear back from a fair number of people from the Weblog.”  

Awesomely, this sounds almost exactly like something that David Fahrenthold would tell Jay Rosen about Twitter nearly 16 years later in an interview in The Correspondent.
My listen post

December 21, 2018 at 08:20PM

Anyone who’s dealt with networks knows that the network knows more than the individual.”  

December 22, 2018 at 09:15AM

Man, this is a beast that’s hungry all the time.”  

Mind you he’s saying this in 2001 before the creation of more wide spread social networks.

December 22, 2018 at 09:18AM

While many blogs get dozens or hundreds of visitors, Searls’ site attracts thousands. “I partly don’t want to care what the number is,” he says. “I used to work in broadcasting, where everyone was obsessed by that. I don’t want an audience. I feel I’m writing stuff that’s part of a conversation. Conversations don’t have audiences.”  

Social media has completely ignored this sort of sentiment and gamified and psychoanalyzed its way into the polar opposite direction all for the sake of “engagement”, clicks, data gathering, and advertising.

December 22, 2018 at 09:22AM

“The blog serves as a kind of steam valve for me,” he says. “I put stuff out there that I’m forming an opinion about, and another blogger starts arguing with me and giving me feedback, and I haven’t even finished what I was posting!”  

An early written incarnation of the idea of blogs as “thought spaces”.

December 22, 2018 at 09:24AM

The Weblog community is basically a whole bunch of expert witnesses who increase their expertise constantly through a sort of reputation engine.”  

The trouble is how is this “reputation engine” built? What metrics does it include? Can it be gamed? Social media has gotten lots of this wrong and it has caused problems.

December 22, 2018 at 09:28AM

His dream is to put a live Web server with easy-to-edit pages on every person’s desktop, then connect them all in a robust network that feeds off itself and informs other media.  

An early statement of what would eventually become all of social media.

December 22, 2018 at 09:31AM

He suggests that struggling sites like Salon begin broadening their content offerings by hosting user-created Weblogs, creating a sort of farm system for essayists. “Salon could highlight the best ones on page one and invest time and effort in the ones that are inspiring and exceptional.”  

This is a rough sketch of something I’ve been thinking that newspapers and media outlets should have been doing all along. If they “owned” social media, we might all be in a better place socially and journalistic-ally than if advertising driven social media owned it all.

December 22, 2018 at 09:35AM

Indeed, Winer says his most gratifying moments come when he posts an entry without running the idea by his colleagues first. “It can be a very scary moment when you take a stand on something and you don’t know if your argument holds together and you hit the send button and it’s out there and you can’t take it back. That’s a moment that professional journalists may never experience in their careers, the feeling that it’s just me, exposed to the world. That’s a pretty powerful rush, the power to publish as an individual.”  

December 22, 2018 at 09:36AM