Election Post-Mortem

It’s been almost a month since candidate Donald Trump became President-Elect Donald Trump, and among the many other things his win has exposed, it has revealed how easy it is to exploit our balkanized news media to selfish ends. In principle, journalism is about enlightening the public with “information that is accurate, fair and thorough,” but, many news articles today amount to extended Facebook posts or Tweets–heavy on opinion and personality, with less concern for fact.

Opinion columns (by unpaid contributors) are arguably integral to the business model of news outlets like The Huffington Post, and opinion sections take up more and more real estate on sites like TheGuardian.com. Cable news shows are populated by hosts and pundits unabashedly affiliated with right- or left-wing agendas, and cable news stations are either run by outspoken supporters of the right or left, or billing themselves as stations that will deliver news stories in a way that appeals to supporters of the right or left.

fox-news-host-sean-hannity-appears-in-heartland4trump-video_peoplewhowrite

Fox News Host Sean Hannity appeared in a pro-Trump political video, a conflict of interest considering he was reporting on the election for the network. In response, a network spokesperson told POLITICO.com: “We were not aware of Sean Hannity participating in a promotional video and he will not be doing anything along these lines for the remainder of the election season.”

Then there’s Facebook and Twitter. With most Americans consuming or learning of breaking news via social media, and these outlets serving up only the content their mysterious and ever changing algorithms believe we want to see based on who and what we most interact with, engaging with the news has become a masturbatory exercise.

We are only exposed to the ideas and stories we either already agree with or want other people to know about. But if we are reading or watching only the outlets that reflect our persuasion or only following people we agree with online, we block the opportunity to broaden and inform our perspectives with legitimate points of opposition, and we lose basic human empathy for one another.

People who don’t agree with us are dismissed as “liberal elites” or “wing nuts”–us vs. them. We calcify in our respective corners, not speaking to or hearing each other, which makes us easy pawns for interests and individuals that don’t care about us or them. The truth becomes less important than “message,” and whosever message is most seductive wins.

Watching many of the political analysts on both Fox and CNN at points during the campaign cycle, it seemed clear their sole concern was delivering their candidate’s message. Period. Message for the sake of message, even when their message was inconsistent.

For example, in one breath, a Trump supporter would leverage a scathing critique of Bill Clinton’s treatment of women, championing their candidate’s trotting out of Clinton’s female accusers–then, in the next breath, dismiss Donald Trump’s bevy of accusers as pawns of the liberal media. Likewise, a Hillary Clinton supporter would rail about Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, but ardently defend her refusal to release transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street firms or her infamous deletion of multiple emails. Ironically, far right outlets seemed to express little alarm at the fact that the Russian government was alleged to be behind the leaks of DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign emails–but cited her handling of classified emails and their potential exposure as criminal.

This faction impulse is understandable. As Ann Friedman wrote in a pre-election post for New York Magazine entitled “Supporting Hillary While Reckoning With Bill’s Sexual Past”:

With an openly racist accused rapist running as the other party’s nominee, it doesn’t seem like the right time to voice any of my concerns with Hillary as a candidate. Certainly not now, in the final weeks of a campaign that offers no room for nuance. And certainly not when it’s apparent that most of Trump’s defenders care more about defeating Hillary than about ensuring survivors’ voices are heard.

But faction mentality is easily duped by exaggeration and outright fiction.

teen-creator-of-fake-news-or-satire-site_peoplewhowrite

“I don’t like fooling people,” said Yaman A., creator of three fake news sites including Hot Global News. His motivation? “It’s really just the money.” 

This summer, Buzzfeed posted an interview with a teenage creator of three fake news sites who admitted that many of the stories he creates mislead and incite fear, and influence political perception, but says he actually has no political affiliation. “It’s really just the money,” he admits, that motivates him.

We need Google to adjust their algorithm to clearly identify fake news sites. We need our news sources, including Facebook and Twitter, to segregate actual news from fake news and opinion/editorial pages, as they (still try to) do with news and advertising/sponsored posts.

If there aren’t already, we need laws in place to ensure that unbought, unaffiliated journalists are delivering the news, not people with financial or career interests tied to specific individuals or corporations. We need our newsrooms to keep pushing to reflect diversity of backgrounds and perspectives so the news is balanced and corrected for implicit biases.

Additionally, we need to talk about money.

The internet has created a bottomless desire for content, but since there is no bottomless source of money, online news outlets are paying far less than they pay print journalists, and, as a result, less experienced, sometimes untrained writers are taking more of these jobs. Additionally, since internet journalism is even more dependent on nabbing a scoop before a competitor to increase their Google search rank and, ultimately, the amount of revenue they can charge advertisers, fact checking is de-prioritized, added to the writer’s plate rather than a professional’s, or non-existent.

We need publications with healthy fact-checking teams to ensure the news we get is accurate. We need some sort of protective provision for news gathering publications so they don’t have to be profitable or account to shareholders, and, thus, be beholden to clicks and shares in the same way as a blog or retail site.

If we believe our news media is rigged or biased, we need to hold them accountable. We need to burst our own bubbles.

Who Do You Write For?

I will promise you this. Your favorite story, whatever it might be, was written for one reader_peoplewhowriteThe movie 5 to 7 ends with this quote as a way to explain the muse behind the main character’s bestselling first novel. It got me thinking: what and who were the main catalysts for different stories I’ve written?  They’ve never been the same, but they have been there. I wonder how my story/ies might be different if I changed “the reader.”

Is this quote true for you?

UK Goodreads Members Can Now Access Recommendations via Kindle

Amazon, which bought book recommendation site Goodreads in March 2013, is now integrating Goodreads functions into the Kindle and all other Amazon e-reader and tablet devices in the UK. Quoting Goo dreads CEO Otis Chandler, TheBookseller.com shared: “The UK is the largest market for Goodreads in Europe and bringing Goodreads onto Kindle e-readers and Fire tablets has been one of the most popular requests from our members.” Last April, Amazon enabled US Goodreads users to “add both print and Kindle books purchased on Amazon to their Goodreads accounts”. In November 2014, Goodreads announced, via their blog, that users in North America and Australia could also share progress updates via Kindle.

It’s not clear why the integration is rolling out so slowly, one or two countries at a time, but I’m guessing it has something to do with European resistance to the e-tail behemoth. In March 2013, then-French Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti announced she was putting a €5m fund in place to subsidize booksellers with cash-flow problems and support them against costly litigation, blaming Amazon for destroying bookshops. In April 2013, indie booksellers in the UK petitioned Prime Minister David Cameron to force Amazon to pay UK taxes. (The online bookseller is said to report its European sales through a Luxembourg-based unit so it does not have to pay UK taxes.) In September 2014, Swedish publishing conglomerate Bonnier joined Japanese publishers in expressing frustration with Amazon too, saying they were being bullied into disadvantageous pricing models.

Though American laws and its judicial process have been relatively supportive of Amazon’s ventures, even as former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was named Amazon’s Senior Vice President for Worldwide Corporate Affairs in March 2015, the company’s bruising and costly battle with Hachette Book Group over e-book pricing caused a cadre of influential writers including Nora Roberts, Malcolm Gladwell and John Grisham to form Authors United and led Stephen Colbert to challenge viewers of his show to boycott Amazon and purchase books from indie bookseller Powells instead.

In spite of the multilateral resistance, Amazon continues to expand its international borders and corporate portfolio. The retailer, for which books are just a fraction of its business, has successfully ventured into entertainment with its acclaimed series Transparent winning a 2015 Golden Globe. When Amazon acquired Goodreads in March 2013, the social book recommendation platform boasted 13 million members. Today, Goodreads has 40 million members.

Southwest Airlines Introduces In-Flight Book Readings

Eric Greitens, promoting his book Resilience, on a March 31st Southwest flight as part of the airline's Artist on the Fly in-flight entertainment program. - peoplewhowrite

Eric Greitens, promoting his book Resilience, on a March 31st Southwest Airlines flight

As part of its “Artists on the Fly” program, Southwest is hosting readings on some of its flights. Eric Greitens, author of the new release Resilience: Hard-won wisdom for living a better life, is the first to promote his book in the in-flight program which has received mixed review.

Alluding to the fearsome experience air travel has become in the post-9/11 age of Germanwings, Slate Senior Editor Jonathan L. Fischer noted that he and his wife sighed after Greitens announced over the intercom that he had a “surprise” for passengers. “I’m generally of the opinion that there are no good surprises on an airplane.”  Los Angeles Times Book Critic David Ulin described the airline’s reading series as a “fresh hell” that only exacerbates the general feeling of being “trapped… hurtling through the sky in a metal tube at 600 miles per hour”.

Their critiques duly noted, with tweaking, “Artists on the Fly” could offer writers a fresh and welcome opportunity to engage with readers.

Instead of couching it as a surprise, it should be presented as a perk to those who want it, with those who opt for it sitting in a special roped-off section so passengers who want nothing to do with it don’t have to deal. There should be flights specially designated for the readings so customers always know to choose or avoid it, and they should be promoted with an angle that makes sense, e.g. Edan Lepucki reading from her bestseller California on a flight to/from L.A., or Hillary Clinton doing a reading and Q&A on a flight to D.C. The airline could also offer discounts to attendees of writers conferences like the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival, Harlem Book Fair, Brooklyn Book Festival, or L.A. Times Festival of Books and host in-flight author readings.

Kind of like Starbucks’ well-intentioned but poorly thought-out and poorly executed #RaceTogether campaign, Southwest has something here. They just need to figure out how to make it a welcome add-on to the in-flight experience.

Cover Love: Jo Knowles' "Read Between the Lines"

Book Cover Love: Jo Knowles' READ BETWEEN THE LINES - peoplewhowrite
From the cover of Jo Knowles’ Read Between the Lines, you immediately get that the book’s protagonist is working through some issues (like we all are), is probably young, and has a lesson to teach that has nothing to do with what’s in the common core curriculum. Her nail polish is faded. Her cuticles are overgrown. And her palm is against a blank blackboard, the title written in marker across the back of her hand.

You also know she’s trying. After all, she bothered to paint her nails in the first place. In fact, it looks like an old manicure she had professionally done. And she wants to be happy and respected, even if it means pissing people off, hence, the Hunger Games-evocative three-finger salute, and the smiley face on top of the emo-black on her F-you finger.

Turns out, Knowles’ latest novel “follows nine teens and one teacher through a seemingly ordinary day” in interconnected stories. The synopsis on Amazon reads:

Thanks to a bully in gym class, unpopular Nate suffers a broken finger—the middle one, splinted to flip off the world. It won’t be the last time a middle finger is raised on this day. Dreamer Claire envisions herself sitting in an artsy café, filling a journal, but fate has other plans. One cheerleader dates a closeted basketball star; another questions just how, as a “big girl,” she fits in. A group of boys scam drivers for beer money without remorse—or so it seems. Over the course of a single day, these voices and others speak loud and clear about the complex dance that is life in a small town. They resonate in a gritty and unflinching portrayal of a day like any other, with ordinary traumas, heartbreak, and revenge. But on any given day, the line where presentation and perception meet is a tenuous one, so hard to discern. Unless, of course, one looks a little closer—and reads between the lines.

Barnes & Noble Buys Microsoft Out of Its Nook Stake

Barnes and Noble, booksellers since 1873 - peoplewhowriteBarnes and Noble has ended its partnership with Microsoft in its ongoing fight to stay solvent amidst shifting consumer behavior, competition from Amazon, and negative revenue from their struggling Nook division. In 2012, Microsoft invested $300 million into B&N’s then-new e-reader business, but, the New York Times reports, “In just over two years, the Nook business has lost more than half its value.”

The bookstore chain’s new CEO Michael P. Huseby reportedly told investors the split clears the path for B&N to separate from Nook, as has been the plan since the digital reading device failed to dent Kindle and iPad’s domination of the e-reader market.

An analyst at the Maxim Group, John Tinker, suggested Barnes and Noble’s multi-hyphenate marketplace identity is a liability to investors. “…are you a retailer, are you a technology company, or are you a college bookstore company?” Tinker is quoted as asking in the aforementioned New York Times piece. “…clearing up things with Microsoft begins to simplify things.”

The 141 year old bookseller has had a challenging two years. At the top of 2012, they refused to carry books published by Amazon in response to “Amazon’s continued push for exclusivity with publishers, agents and the authors they represent,” TIME reported.  In December 2012, they announced store closings, then more in January 2013. Also in January ’13, Publishers Weekly reported B&N had reduced orders of Simon and Schuster titles in alleged retaliation for “not adequately supporting them”, presumably, in their standoff with Amazon.

The following month, investor Daniel R. Tisch bought enough shares to make him the bookstore’s second biggest shareholder — this show of confidence boosting B&N’s stock price. But the good news was short-lived as the company’s then CEO resigned in July 2013. Through it all, sales and foot traffic have been sliding.

The chain hopes to reverse the holiday sales and foot traffic trend specifically by offering customers signed copies by popular authors. Some buyers will likely sell the signed books online (maybe even on Amazon), but it seems to be the beginning of the retailer looking at how they can offer and create value with their brick and mortar presence by offering unique products and experiences that aren’t easily replicated online.

Apple to Pay E-Book Readers $400 Million in Antitrust Settlement

Apple to pay $400 million in e-book anti-trust settlement - peoplewhowriteUnless an appeals court overturns a July 2013 ruling that Apple conspired with publishers with the aim of compelling Amazon to price their books at an advantage to publishers, Apple will have to pay  “$400 million to consumers in cash and e-book credits, and $50 million to lawyers” according to the New York Times.

The NYT piece explains:

The government’s lawsuit focused on 2010, when Apple entered the digital book industry with the introduction of the iPad and the iBookstore. At that time, publishers’ agreements to sell e-books were made under the so-called wholesale model of print books; publishers charged retailers about half the cover price for a book, and the retailers then set their own prices.

But with the iPad and iBookstore, Apple offered publishers a new business model. The government said Apple’s co-founder and then chief, Steve Jobs, persuaded publishers to agree to the so-called agency model for selling books, which let publishers set their own prices for e-books.

Pursuant to the verdict, Amazon notified Kindle readers they could expect a credit for some past e-book purchases. The appeals court date is scheduled for December 15, 2014.