It’s time for journalism to stop “pushing” and start “pulling”

March 18, 2019
Category: Tech & Tools

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.

Last week, I dropped the tantalizing headline (at least to editorial nerds like you and me) that calendars might be the next great publishing tool. But calendars are just one gear in a machine that is driving journalism — and every other publishing industry — in an entirely new direction.

I hinted at that direction when I said the question became “What can you build to help?” instead of just assuming we’ve published something people will love and pushing the heck out of it to force them to realize that it exists.

Phillip Smith, a digital product developer and former Knight Fellow at Stanford, elaborates on this emerging dichotomy, which he calls “push journalism vs. pull journalism,” in an essay on Medium.

Smith succinctly wraps up the idea in one graf that you should print out in 45-point font (perhaps in a nice serif typeface like Georgia) and tack onto your cubicle wall:

“Pull journalism feels like making something important for people you know personally vs. push journalism, which feels like making something of undetermined value for a not-well-known group of people referred to as ‘the audience,’ ‘readers,’ or ‘listeners.’”

There’s certainly still value in both types of work — “there’s always going to be a role for producing information that benefits a community that they may not recognize the need for directly,” Smith notes — but it’s past time to think more about our audiences and less about ourselves.

I-SPY: The things you’ve searched for. The YouTube videos you’ve watched. Your Chrome browsing data. Google collects a lot of information. It may even know more about you than your parents, your spouse, maybe even yourself (hmm, what does my search for “why do my dog’s feet smell like Fritos” say about me?). Axios has a list of other ways the leviathan of tech gathers information and how you can limit it.

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: The Sunlight Foundation has been tracking information that has disappeared from government websites since November 2016. These removals offer illuminating insight into the direction of government policy and are useful and relevant to a wide range of beats — healthcare, gender, criminal justice, climate change and, obviously, politics. Most recently, the tracker noted, was the removal of text and resources from the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women website.

FOR YOUR TOOLBOX: This newsletter ballooned beyond tools to cover social media, digital strategy, workplace happiness and more almost from the beginning. It’s been a little less woodworking, a little more carpentry. If you’ve been jonesing for a tool fix, here’s a speed round as my mea culpa. (As a side note, I’m testing some significant new ones this week. If you’d got a tool worth sharing, let me know.)

  • SEND LARGE FILES: It’s easy to share a photo or some text. Large files are another story. Doubly so if you’d prefer to keep them encrypted and out of the hands of Big Tech. Firefox is changing that. Firefox Send allows users of any browser to securely send files up to 2.5 gigabytes, with end-to-end encryption, to anyone else on the internet for the low, low cost of nothing.
  • PREDICT SPEECH TIME: Working on a speech or presentation with a strict time frame? It can be time-consuming to read every iteration out loud to try to get it right. Use Words to Time to ballpark your speech time and before committing to practicing it out loud.
  • COLORIZE PHOTOS: Colorizing black and white photos is best left to professionals … or Peter Jackson. But if you need something on a crunch, or if your great aunt (hi, Eileen!) has been asking you to spruce up some old family photos, Colourise is here for you. It’s as simple as uploading a photo and waiting a few seconds. Results are fine, if slightly period-piece-esque (here’s an example of me and my wife on vacation).
  • TURN DATA INTO SOUND: Look, some tools are just fun, OK? I’m planning to write about the value of joy in our published content soon, but for now check out Twotone. Upload your dataset to it and it’ll transform it into a song. If you do it, send me a link and we’ll share a playlist next week.
  • TOOLS FOR FREELANCERS: Inside Design has a list of 20 tools for freelancers. I can personally vouch for OneTab, Coffitivity, Dashlane, Google Keep, Pocket and Hemingway. If you try the others, let me know. I’d love to hear about your experience.

ONE-STOP DOC: Twitter was abuzz with the knowledge last week that typing doc.new (or docs.new, document.new) into a browser (any browser) opens a new Google Doc. It also works with Forms (form.new, forms.new), Sheets (sheet.new, sheets.new, spreadsheet.new), Slides (slides.new, deck.new, presentation.new) and Google’s little-used site builder (site.new, sites.new, website.new). Now you can open a document and chat like the kids are doing in mere seconds!

BIG BIRD: Speaking of Twitter, the social network of choice for comedians, journalists and 45th presidents is testing a few features that have proven to be divisive (though pretty much any new Twitter feature that isn’t an edit button will be divisive). A prototype app hides engagement counts (likes, shares and replies) behind a tap, adds splashes of color to the mostly black and white app and gives the camera some “smart” features. I’ve got my fingers crossed for a photo filter that bans white supremacists.

Try This! is supported by the American Press Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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