April 16, 2019

This article originally appeared in Try This! — Tools for Journalism, our newsletter about digital tools. Want bite-sized news, tutorials and ideas about the best digital tools for journalism in your inbox every Monday? Sign up here.

“It’s really hard to start a media company in 2019.”

I chuckled a bit when Ben Moe told me that in a phone call a few weeks ago. Moe is the co-founder of a media company called Frame, a digital reinvention of the great weekly news magazines of yore. I wrote about Frame last week but forgot to convey something that struck me during our conversation.

Frame is more than just a reinvention of newsweeklies. Frame is a media company that was forged from the ashes of the hundreds of media companies that have faltered or failed in the past five years. It’s a reaction to the same old traps that we keep falling into, over and over. It’s an attempt to redraft the blueprint of what a media company can look like, buttressed by the knowledge of all of the mistakes other media companies have made.

It doesn’t settle for text, or video, or images — it blends them together.

It isn’t relying on boosts from major tech platforms — Facebook and Google giveth, and can and do taketh away.

It isn’t expecting users to visit a homepage; it depends on subscribers but keeps an eye on more novel ways of funding; and it even acknowledges that audiences sometimes leave its content in search of more information — and found a way to incorporate that into its stories.

Frame’s two full-time staffers are bootstrapping the company from a house somewhere in New Jersey. I have no idea if it will succeed and become a great, new media company or find its name etched on a digital tombstone somewhere on the Internet Archive. But I do know that Frame is a bold and refreshing spin on delivering the news.

It certainly must be hard to start a media company in 2019. But it needed to be done.

FEWER TAPS: The iPhone came out 12 years ago and brought phone technology out of the Stone Age. But the original iPhone didn’t exactly take us to the information age, either. As iOS (and Android) have improved, Apple and Google have added great, time-saving features that many of us have missed out on. The New York Times’ David Pogue shares some of the best, including:

  • You can squeeze any button on any side of your phone to silence it if it’s ringing at a bad moment, say during Sunday’s “Game of Thrones” premiere, just as Ned Stark stepped out of the shadows and declared himself king (just kidding!).
  • You can set up macros, or multi-step sequences, that can be activated with a single command, like saying “hush now” to switch to “Do Not Disturb” mode or “call in” to join the next conference call on your calendar.

VISUAL ERROR: If failure is the greatest teacher, as Yoda says in “The Last Jedi,” then I must be the smartest man in the world. But you’re better off learning from The Economist, which pulled together a list of some of its biggest failures in visualizing data — misleading charts, confusing charts and charts that just conceal the point — and recreates them to make them better.

SOCIAL NETWORK BABIES: It’s been a few years since a new social network seeped deep enough into the zeitgeist to spur mass adoption in newsrooms. Snapchat and WhatsApp were probably the last two, and that was five years ago. TikTok is popular with The Kids, but I’ve yet to see a strong use case from publishers (though, please, prove me wrong) (Editor’s note: Found it! Kinda.). Here are a few youngish social networks I’m tracking, just in case they catch on:

  • Vero promises that it will focus on tangible things that people actually love — movies, books, TV shows, news, etc. — and allow users to share them with a focus on specific groups, rather than strangers. The network feels like Instagram with a teal and skinny sans serif makeover and was founded by the billionaire son of an assassinated Lebanese prime minister.
  • Basement, which is nearly impossible to find via search, allows users to have only 20 friends. There are no “influencers” or filters and anything users stumble across from a non-friend appears as an anonymous post. It seems to focus heavily on sharing popular memes, so, umm, thanks for coming to my TED Talk?
  • Lasso is a Facebook-owned app that allows users to create and share short videos, similar to Vine (RIP) or TikTok. Actually, very much like TikTok. Considering the effect that the addition of Instagram Stories had on Snapchat, I’d be scared if I was TikTok.

WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK: I like Claude Debussy. My cubiclemate, Daniel, prefers Spotify Discover playlists. A little music (in headphones, please) can lift your energy and keep you focused on the task at hand. But should you really listen to music while working? It depends, it turns out, on the music, the task and your personality. I recommend Spotify’s Deep Focus playlist for anyone inclined to listen to music. It’s mostly lyric-less and is full of ambient tones that seem to stimulate something deep in my brain. If music is distracting but the silence around you feels empty, try Coffitivity, which mimics the sounds of a coffee shop.

REINSTATE WONDER: This week, three sites inspired me in three very different ways.

  • The New York Times published a series of graphics about the spread of the disastrous fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris just hours after the fire started.
  • Data.World, a tool that offers datasets and analysis, published 11,000 direct messages from WikiLeaks, revealing the organization’s private attitudes, lobbying and attempts to influence politicians.
  • The New York Times also published a visual exploration of Xinjiang, a predominantly Muslim city in western China that is under the thumb of an unprecedented surveillance state.

THE TOP PRIZE: This newsletter is reaching you late because yesterday was Pulitzer Day. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel earned a Public Service Pulitzer, regarded as the highest honor, for exposing the failures of school and law enforcement officials before and after the shooting in Parkland, Florida. See all of the other winners on Poynter.org.

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Ren LaForme is the Managing Editor of Poynter.org. He was previously Poynter's digital tools reporter, chronicling tools and technology for journalists, and a producer for…
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