Ben Huh on Journalism

This interview with Ben Huh, the founder of the site that made cat memes famous, is over five years old but relevant today. People crave a viewpoint and personality. News organizations that sterilize their presentation of facts lack the color necessary to get attention in an ever more crowded market.

Is it possible to communicate the facts of a story in a balanced way without sacrificing your voice? Ben Huh thinks so and

On Truth

I think — among entrepreneurs, too — there’s an idealistic notion that there is a truth, a singular one truth. Among journalists, there is “the truth,” slightly liberal, slightly populist, but most of the time it’s “We’re the truth.” If you ask the people who watch Fox News who is credible, they’ll tell you Bill O’Reilly is credible. Maybe I disagree. Maybe I believe that he stretches truths a lot, but the fact of the matter is, it’s human biology to seek out shared perspective.

Creating a singular measure of credibility is a slippery slope to censorship. Like, “Oh, these people are not credible, so maybe we should all act in concert to not print their things,” or discard them. The world’s greatest ideas come from the crazies, the people on the fringe. For a while, they’re not credible, but then one day they are. So that’s a very, very dangerous idea. It smacks of centralized mind-control to me. And I’m probably extrapolating from what he’s saying really to the extreme, and I’m sure there are good ideas, but a universal credibility measure? Even if they could create such a thing, why would you? It’s very Orwellian. I don’t like that idea at all.

On Facts

Facts are very important. Facts are absolutely important. What society’s gotten really good at — we’re actually really good at the facts. What we’re really bad at is the dissemination of value-added interpretation of the facts.

If you look at great journalists, it’s not because they were able to convey the facts, it’s because they were able to convey part of the emotion on the things that are subjective to the right audience. Like Anderson Cooper down in New Orleans. That was his break-out moment and he was like, “this is B.S.” He kind of went off the rails a little bit, and became a guy who decided that he was a guy who was going to say what he wanted to say. I want more of that in journalism. It’s a very, very dangerous tool, because it’s a tool of emotion but I think we are lacking that. I think journalism became very sterile.

This thing called objectivity is B.S. We are being subjective merely by deciding what to cover and what we decide not to cover. I don’t like the term “partisan papers,” but I’m okay with the idea of more differentiated perspectives.

– from from Cheezburger’s Ben Huh says news organizations should think like teenagers if they want to survive

Tyler’s Graduation

Tyler’s first day of school

(cross-posted from Facebook)

Indulge me in a bit of wistful sappiness on the day of Tyler’s graduation from high school. Two photos, one taken on the first day of kindergarten and another graduating from high school. In between,  the Surly you Know letter his 7th grade teacher had each parent write (thx, Ms. Moody !) for safekeeping.


Surely You Know
for Tyler Kennedy

Surely you know what it’s like to be the parent of a seventh grader. It means cajoling, prodding, poking, tickling, then finally pleading to wake the boy from his slumber. Each morning.

It’s the sudden realization that the young boy with the easy smile and laugh is growing into a man. It means that the clock is ticking and that, before long, he will be out the door, asking for the car keys.

Surely you know that the questions that he asks no longer have black or white answers, that you now need to teach nuance, perspective, and circumstance.

Surely you know that seventh grade has lots and lots of homework. That you can no longer be spontaneous with family events and must first check with the your busy scholar.

Surely you know that homework these days is now done on a computer and that resources such as the internet are required to complete assignments. This being the case, you would then know that one of the hardest things to teach your seventh grader is how to focus on their assignments, that Minecraft, YouTube, or the latest distraction of the month needs to stay off the screen until they are done.

Surely you know it means backing off and trusting that he’ll manage his own schedule, his own free time, and his own free will. It means that you need to take your hand off the stick and trust that the lessons you’ve taught him will guide him. As you did when teaching him to walk, it means letting him stumble, and sometimes fall. But always looking from afar.

Surely you know that being the parent of a seventh grader means that it’s time to begin to let go. That you can no longer tell him what to do, that he needs to start telling that to himself.

You know, surely.

Tyler’s last day of school

Rocket Man as Refugee

You’ll never listen to this song and not think of the story as imagined by Iranian filmmaker and refugee Majid Adin. Elton John’s Rocket Man is a “story of adventure, loneliness and hope.”

To learn more about Majid and his backstory, here’s a short interview.

h/t to @JStrauss for sharing

More Good than Bad

Pepsi take note.

Heineken celebrates what brings us together in this well-timed advertisement. Instead of dancing around or romanticizing the polarization of the world around us, this brand has set up an experiment that leans into the nagging suspicion that we have within each of us what it would take to make the world a better place.

Take two people from different ends of the spectrum and bring them together over a beer. It’s schlocky in premise but Publis has stuck a timely chord and are following this up with a Facebook chatbot (if someone can find the link, please post it in the comments) to connect people from different perspectives to talk their differences out as part of Heineken’s #openyourworld campaign.

via Upworthy

Penna – a retro bluetooth keyboard

 

In the pre-computer era, my father took a remote sales job that had him working out of the house in rural Connecticut. His company shipped him a large, elaborate machine which was an early version of an answering machine but the writing machine he bought was an refurbished Royal No. 10 .

Elegant in design, I marvelled at how it worked and the noise it made as the keys “thwacked” at the paper, impressing each letter into the page with the finality of the written word. The Royal produced correspondence.

Now on Kickstarter you can back a device that harkens back to the look and feel of those old manual typewriters. The Penna bluetooth keyboard is a thing of beauty.

A slot up top holds your tablet (iPad or Android) and low-power Bluetooth 4.2 allows the keyboard to operate off of two AA batteries and hold a charge up to six months on stand-by.

Check out the Kickstarter page for details. They’ve clearly spent a lot of time on getting the right look and feel. Chrome keycaps on the outside and high-quality Cherry keyswitches on the inside are all chosen for the best quality. The carriage return arm has been repurposed to record and play back custom macros.

People used to buy fountain pens, now they buy custom keyboards.

Elretron

Crib by Ford

When the little one refuses to go to bed, a common parental hack is to pop them in the car for a drive around town. The gentle purr of the engine and strobe of the passing streetlights will lull most infants to sleep giving mom and dad some R & R.

In what was either the product of an internal company hack day or elaborate April Fool’s joke, Ford España has come up with the perfect combination of design and technology to solve an age-old problem for drowsy parents of a newborn.

A speaker simulates the sound of your car and gimbels apparently rock the crib in the same way your car passes over bumps in the road. The LEDs that light up the rails to simulate streetlights passing by the windows is a brilliant touch but I think having a dedicated app to record your route and sync it to the crib is a bit much.

It’s still a prototype but sleep-deprived parents around the world have seen this and want one. Who knows, maybe Ford has tapped into a new line of business.

Adidas goes high tech

Adidas pushes 3D printing to the next level with their new Futurecraft 4D running shoe. The 3D-lattice sole is produced in partnership with Carbon that uses light as a “chisel” to blast cut the pattern rather than the traditional 3D printing methods. This light synthesis method allows for a much faster production time that Adidas plans to scale up to mass production by the end of next year.

danah boyd on fake news

I’ve hesitated to write anything about the fake news issue because I work at a company that is in the middle of it. SmartNews uses algorithms to curate the most important stories of the moment and we are constantly debating  how to best use the tools we have to discover, process, filter, and rank, filter, a “balanced” view of the world to our readers.

I’ve been frustrated with all the proposed “solutions” to the fake news problem because I appreciate the limits of technology and have great respect for human creativity.

danah boyd, ever a beacon of clarity on the intersection of technology and society, has written the post that had me nodding in violent agreement. Read it now. It’s the best thing I’ve read about where we are, how we got here, why past solutions will not work and the hard road ahead. Google and Facebook Can’t Just Make Fake News Disappear.

an excerpt (emphasis mine)

Even if the goal were to curb the most egregious lies for economic gain (or even just deception in business in FTC parlance), that conversation wouldn’t be quick or easy — folks forget that iterations in spam/SEO went on for decade(s) to get to the current status quo (which is still imperfect but less visible, especially to Gmail users and sophisticated American searchers). These are international issues with no good regulatory process or reasonable process to adjudicate what is real or not. Welcome to the high stakes game of whack-a-mole.

Try writing a content policy that you think would work. And then think about all of the ways in which you’d be eliminating acceptable practices through that policy. Next, consider how your adversaries would work around your policy. This was what I did at Blogger and LiveJournal, and I can’t even begin to express how challenging it was to do that work. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of images I saw that challenged the line between pornography and breastfeeding. These lines aren’t as clean as you’d think.

Although all eyes turn to Facebook, Google and other distribution points of the news they cannot flip a few switches and fix everything.

Technology is but a temporary routing algorithm for our motivations, a reflection, albeit supercharged, of our own cultural biases and societal divisions.

If we want technical solutions to complex socio-technical issues, we can’t simply throw it over the wall and tell companies to fix the broken parts of society that they made visible and helped magnify. We need to work together and build coalitions of groups who do not share the same political and social ideals to address the issues that we can all agree are broken.

A neighbor of mine is using private Facebook groups to “generate dialogue and engagement between divided communities” rewarding  “curiosity over confrontation.” (Spaceship Media).

Today I read about Alex Reinoso in NYC who is posting fliers around town with his cell number and email with the simple invitation. “Hi, I’m Alex. I’m a liberal. All my friends are liberal. My newsfeed is one-sided. Are you a conservative dealing with the same issue? If so I’d like to talk.”

Now that we have the means to connect and broadcast ourselves to anyone in the world, let’s now create technology that accelerates cooperation and amplifies empathy?