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Big Revolution - Junk information and 'food banks for news'

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Firstly, an apology that some image glitches and typos snuck into yesterday's edition. It turns out e
 
June 13 · Issue #108 · View online
Big Revolution
Firstly, an apology that some image glitches and typos snuck into yesterday’s edition. It turns out editing over a tethered connection on a fast moving train can mean some edits don’t get saved. It looked good at my end!
I’ve expanded on yesterday’s paywalls argument on Medium, if you’d like a read.
Martin

Big things you need to know today
- Apple has banned app developers from making copies of users’ address books. This used to be a good method of building up a network of users through marketing, and sometimes selling contact details to advertisers too. These days, it’s a data protection nightmare too far for Apple to entertain.
- Google will soon stop you from installing Chrome extensions directly from websites. Instead, you’ll need to go to the Chrome Web Store – a pretty sensible security move, given how much access extensions can have to data about your online activity.
- One of San Francisco’s hot scooter startups is valuing itself at $2bn in a new $200m funding round. As Axios’ Dan Primack puts it“This would be just weeks after it raised $150 million at a $1 billion valuation, and only three months after raising at a $300 million valuation. Venture capitalists have never before participated in such a rapid and rocketing price spike.” Some say it’s a sign that a tech funding bubble is about to pop. I’m not sure about that, but there’s definitely an unsustainable scooter startup bubble.
- The UK government has announced a number of measures to support the country’s tech sector. In addition to a new startup visa, there will be, as The Guardian explains, “a £2.5bn fund to provide investment in new UK tech firms, with private companies pledging a further £2.3bn.” Also, small businesses will get free access to Ordnance Survey data, but is that several years too late to head off the dominance of Google Maps?
The big thought
Publishers chase search traffic to juice their analytics dashboards
Junk information and ‘food banks for news’
When their existence relies on eyeballs seeing ads, publishers will use whatever easy route they can to boost the number of people clicking on their articles. The results aren’t always particularly pleasant. I mean, there’s a reason why the word 'clickbait’ isn’t a compliment.
As traffic from Facebook declines, some publishers are increasing their focus on an old trick – juicing Google searches for clicks by writing as many articles as possible about news stories that people are searching for.
It works. Some newsrooms race to write up fluff pieces about a new Google Doodle as they know the best-performing articles will show up at the top whenever someone clicks that Doodle. For winners of the algorithm lottery, it’s a traffic goldmine.
But as Bijan Stephen on The Verge explains, take the approach too far and the results can be grim. Newsweek’s website took advantage of two celebrities’ suicides last week to write articles with titles like 'Who Is Anthony Bourdain’s Ex-Wife Ottavia Busia? Chef Dead At 61’ – hardly respectful to the loss of a much-loved public figure.
Crappy clickbait is nothing new, but as access to information becomes ever easier, and the number of outlets ever larger, the desperation of publications without other means of monetisation becomes ever greater. The Newsweek case perfectly exemplifies that desperation.
One reason I don’t work full-time for a publication anymore (I used to be a tech editor) is that information, and even insight, are increasingly commoditised. If you can’t convince people to directly pay for your product, life becomes a constant game of chasing the latest traffic-driving tactics. 
And as I wrote yesterday, even if you can convince people to pay, you open up a bunch of other problems. 
That’s before we consider that paywalls restrict quality information to those wealthy enough to afford it. Junk food is cheap, easy, and low in nutritional value, and junk information from sites like Newsweek is the same. 
It feels like we might get to the point where we need the news equivalent of food banks. Imagine charities giving quality information to those who can’t otherwise afford it. It sounds absurd, but the economics of news might mean that’s what we end up with.
One big read
The musical theory of 'Three Lions' and the perfect sport song The musical theory of 'Three Lions' and the perfect sport song
As the FIFA World Cup looms, songs about football (that’s soccer to you Americans!) are hitting the airwaves again. But there’s a real art to creating an enduring sports anthem. This piece argues that ‘Three Lions’ perfected the craft, and explains exactly how.
One big tweet
Having tackled prison reform with President Trump, Kim Kardashian fights the good fight for the ‘let us edit our tweets’ lobby.
Kim Kardashian West
I had a very good convo with @jack this weekend at Kanye’s bday and I think he really heard me out on the edit button.
1:15 AM - 13 Jun 2018
That’s all for today...
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