- Hi, my name is Andrew.
- This is
“Slate tracked what everyone was outraged about every day in 2014… From righteous fury to faux indignation, everything we got mad about in 2014—and how outrage has taken over our lives.”
A truly epic piece on the phenomena of outrage on the internet. Looking back, it’s true: I spent much of the year reading about how people were outraged about everything from the inane (selfies) to the serious (violence against women, racism). This and the accompanying essays are a worthwhile reflection on what all that outrage means- and whether it matters.
One of the first things I learned in radio is not to use numbers, especially big ones. They’re too abstract for people to understand. For an example, visualize 1,000 rocks. Now visualize 100,000. Do you really have a sense of the difference between those two things?
So as we’re hearing the B.C. government is approving the Site C dam I’ve been trying to come up with ways to understand just how much land would be flooded if the project goes ahead. The number being used is “5,500 hectares of land over an 83-kilometre stretch of valley” but really, what does that look like?
To start with, I tried to figure out what 5,500 hectares is. First of all, it’s 55 km² but that’s just a different measure. So think of Stanley Park. Walk all around it. That’s 4.05 km². So Site C is a bunch of Stanley Parks.
But that’s not quite the same, because the flooding won’t be a nice square park. This 55 km² is being stretched along 83 kilometers. So that means the flooding will, on average be just over half a kilometer wide (roughly 660 odd meters).
How big is that? If you were to walk from Pacific Boulevard where it crosses Smithe over to the Georgia Viaduct, that’s about 650 meters. Enough to cover BC Place and then some.
Now stretch that along 83 kilometers. I went on Google Maps and started midway through Stanley Park and then did the closest thing I could to a straight line out of there. It took me through Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, Langley and right into Abbotsford.
So there’s your visualization: when Site C is built it will flood a piece of land larger than BC Place stretching from Stanley Park to Abbotsford.
I recognize that this is not exact- the river flooding will not be a straight line, and I wasn’t able to make an exact line on this. Also, the area being flooded isn’t a densely populated urban area, it’s largely farmland and wildlife.
But this, I think, gives a much better sense of what’s happening that just ‘5,500 hectares’.
Decisions can be hard. So make less.
Every day it’s my job to decide what will go on Daybreak North .
Daybreak is a morning show that covers literally half of the province. Our listening area has thousands of people. Dozens of cities and towns. Multiple First Nations. Major resource projects. Small businesses. Senior’s homes. Community groups.
It can be tough to filter through all that and decide which five-to-seven stories make the final cut.1
When I first started doing this I found the decisions difficult, sometimes overwhelming.
There’s a thing called decision fatigue: the notion that you only have the ability to make so many good decisions a day. One of the more famous anecdotes comes from Barack Obama:
“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
I haven’t gone that far, but I have tried to reduce the amount of decision-making I take on in choosing stories. To do that, I have a formula. The formula includes our show mission and values, regional representation, story subject, and much more. I take a look at our pitches and start mentally checking off boxes to see what fits best. It makes it less of an arbitrary decision and more of an assessment of strengths and values. It also frees up my mental space for other work.
If you find yourself making a lot of decisions every day, I’d highly recommend thinking about if there’s some outside values you can apply to help make it easier.
I’ve written a couple of times about the skills I am trying to develop as a manager, but the buried lede in those stories is the fact that being a manager is an entirely different job. It’s sort of like “hey, you were good at doing this- how about you now do an entirely new job so other people can do what you were good at?”
Before this job, I conducted interviews, researched stories, and wrote scripts. Now I spend most of my time assigning other people to those jobs while I work on things like long-term planning, personnel management, and a bunch of crossing i’s and dotting t’s. My skills at making radio and being a journalist only come into play inasmuch as I can provide guidance and feedback to people who are doing those things, while I do something else.
This isn’t a unique situation, by any means. Earlier this year I linked to a piece called “Against Editors“, in which Hamilton Nolan pointed out that most writers who want to advance in their career become editors at which point they basically stop writing. Now I’ve come across this piece by Lindsay Holmwood called “It’s not a promotion- it’s a career change“:
“If you want to do your leadership job effectively, you will be exercising a vastly different set of skills on a daily basis to what you are exercising as an engineer. Skills you likely haven’t developed and are unaware of.”
That isn’t a complaint. I fully expected this to be a new role and one that I wanted to (and am) learning about. I’ve also been given guidance and training, prior to starting the job and ongoing. But it’s still something I’m wrapping my head around- this is a new job, new skills, and I’ve got a lot to learn.
“This post explains why we have no idea how many people are actually listening to Serial (or any podcasts).”
In short, because there is a very real difference between downloading a podcast and listening to it. And many people will download the same episode multiple times (I’ll often have the same episode of something on my phone and my computer – and sometimes I’ll never wind up listening to it). A bit of caution on top of all the hype.
Another bit of caution:
“Our culture industry generates an infinite supply of Mad Men recaps and Serial thinkpieces, even though the audiences for those shows would be a rounding error for, say, NCIS or The Big Bang Theory.”
Podcasts may be booming, but they’re hardly mainstream.
The team at Stitcher take a look at the data to find out whether people will binge-listen to audio in the same way fans watch Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. Answer: they do.
“Six episodes in, 21 percent of Serial’s listening behavior matched our definition of binge listening. As a point of comparison, Alex Blumberg’s new StartUp Podcast, which is also serialized, saw 12 percent of listeners binge. Looking at non-serialized shows like WNYC’s Death Sex and Money, bingeing behavior drops to only three percent of listeners.”
As I’ve argued, podcasts aren’t back, a new type of podcast has arrived.
For the past few years I’ve been putting together a list of my favourite songs of 2014. The first time I did it I had over forty tracks, but I’ve been whittling it down to less every year. I try to do less because I feel like seven hours is too much for most people to sit through and I’d rather put together a nice short list of the absolute best. Still, before the short list is the long list – or in my case long lists. I usually have a pretty good idea of what’s going to be in my top ten/twenty but before choosing I like to spend a few weeks listening to the year in review. Here are my sources:
- Personal favourites: all year long I’ve been sharing songs on This Is My Jam and favouriting songs on Rdio, Hype Machine, CBC Music and Soundcloud. Everything there goes into consideration. If I don’t really remember the song and a second listen doesn’t really impress me, I eliminate it. I also look at my last.fm charts to get empirical evidence of what I’ve been playing the most.
- Critical favourites: I take a look at what’s being chosen by things like Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and other well-known publications. I used to try to listen to all of this but the last couple years I found myself disagreeing with a lot so now I only listen to the ones that are consistently highly ranked that I haven’t heard yet.
- Trusted favourites: there are still a few year-end lists that I find often align with me and will have tracks that I overlooked so I’ll try to listen to most of them. This year it’s Exclaim’s Best of 2014, Hype Machine’s Music Zeitgeist, and CBC Radio 3’s 103 best Canadian indie tunes of the year. There’s also a few friends who make lists that I’ll listen to, as well.
As I go through these, I’m adding tracks to a bop.fm playlist which I’ll be streaming regularly because, hey, it’s a bunch of my favourite songs. But eventually I’ll find which ones are my absolute favourites and put them together into my best of 2014 short list, which I’ll be sharing here on my blog. In the meantime, here’s my super long list for your listening pleasure/horror:
As a follow-up to this post about Gawker’s attempt to focus on promoting their original journalistic voice rather than chasing Facebook likes, I wanted to share my own strategy here in my own little corner of the journalism world.
Daybreak North is a show about northern British Columbia, its people, politics, and culture. That, to me, is its identity and its key differentiator in an increasingly saturated media world. To that end, I like our focus to be on stories that you will only hear from northern B.C. We have regular columns on federal and provincial politics, the movies, food trends, and the like, and I think they serve a purpose, but I don’t think they are the key reason people tune in. If someone is really into movie reviews or food trends, there are plenty of other places they can turn for the same or better coverage. What doesn’t exist elsewhere, or at least not the same extent, are these hyper-local stories.
So I like to focus on those on the radio, and I especially like to focus on those on the web. From experience, you will generally get more comments, shares, or likes if you post something about a national or celebrity gossip story, but I question the value of those likes. If we aren’t leaders in celebrity gossip or national politics, why would we make that the focus of our web strategy?
The clearest example of this I’ve seen is from Bryce Lokken’s post “Pandering isn’t content“, summed up in this all-caps missive:
“NO MATTER HOW MANY LIKES AND SHARES YOUR BULLSHIT PANDERING CONTENT GETS YOU STILL HAVEN’T CULTIVATED A REAL AUDIENCE”
In it he chronicles the adventures of Virgin Radio Lebanon who grew a large share of “likes” by posting memes and celebrity photos, but failed to generate any interest in their posts that were actually about trying to get their audience to act. People weren’t there because they were fans of what Virgin Radio Lebanon was about- they were only there for the memes, a niche with many, many, many others willing to step in.
So as easy as it is to jump on a trend or major story to get a bit of juice, I really don’t feel it’s a viable long-term strategy. Instead, it’s about attracting the quality long-term audience – a real audience – that is there for what only you can provide. One that will miss you if you’re gone.
As tempting as it is to mock sites like Gawker, Buzzfeed, and Upworthy there is no doubt that they are cracking the code of how to make stories that actually reach people in a digital age. To that end, I tend to agree with Ben Thompson when he writes:
“I strongly believe that society in general and journalists in particular should be rooting for Jonah Peretti and company [Buzzfeed]. I’ve been clear that I believe a lot of writing – such my own – is best suited to focused, reader-supported niches. However, I am also aware that I could not do the sort of analysis I do without journalists actually doing journalism. We need strong journalistic institutions as a source for people like me – and the army of bloggers that made The New Republic less important – and, more importantly, as a check on ever stronger governments and corporations.
“For a journalistic institution to be strong means it has the following characteristics:
- A wide reach. Journalism is performing a public good, but to limit its reach is to reduce its effectiveness
- Resources. Conducting reporting around the world or spending months investigating a scandal costs a lot of money
- Independence. Journalists must feel free to write what they believe is the truth without concern for losing their job
“Both BuzzFeed and Vox, as I recounted last week, are feeling their way towards an advertising-based business model that works, and as I detailed then, the fact that BuzzFeed makes money on the modern equivalent of the funny pages makes them no worse – and, given the laughs they elicit, arguably far better – than newspapers of old. This is a hugely positive development for journalism’s long-term prospects, and it seems the profession ought to be cheering the company on, not using it as a pejorative.”
It was with this in mind that I read Nick Denton’s crisis letter to Gawker released today. What jumped out at me was this line:
“We — the freest journalists on the planet — were slaves to the Facebook algorithm.”
What he means is that he feels the company spent too much time chasing virality rather than original journalism. In fact, early on he says 2015 will be the year of “more linebackers with fictional dying girlfriends; less pandering to the Facebook masses.”
That’s the problem of virality in a nutshell. You can do a big investigative piece on city hall, but it will
never rarely get as many hits as a picture of a giant snowman. And there is no question we live in a feedback loop where “likes” and “retweets” creep in to affect editorial judgement.
So it’s interesting to me that Gawker- one of the pioneers of cracking the Facebook algorithm- is set to rebel against it by refocusing on their own brand of journalism. I think everyone else in the field should be paying attention to how they do.
Calvin: “The TV listings say this movie has ‘adult situations’. What are adult situations?”
Hobbes: “Probably things like going to work, paying bills and taxes, taking responsibilities…”
- Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes 4/8/1993
I’ve nearly adjusted to thinking of myself as an adult. It’s been a slow transition, but at a certain age thinking of yourself as a “boy” rather than “man” stops making sense, even when you don’t necessarily identify with all the traditional trappings of manhood or adulthood. I don’t think I’m alone in having this difficulty, a number of conversations with people around my age have led to trepidation around the idea of becoming an adult, despite T-Rex’s sage advice:
Obviously there’s a thinking that being an adult means more than simply ageing- you have to act your age well. And that’s where the difficulty is: what does it mean to act your age any more?
Frank Chimero tackled the subject of adulthood in a post I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately. He writes that the traditional definition of an adult is noun-based – spouse, child, home, job. Adults have these things. In the 21st century, he argues, we need to define adults by what they do.
“I’ll draw a line between being a ‘grown-up’—which comes with all the expected obligations like marriage, children, home-ownership, etc—and being an adult—living well within a dignified role in society, educating yourself so you can contribute, honoring responsibilities, having empathy, being a citizen, defining and living the life you want, and the other good stuff that makes the world get along a little better than it would otherwise.”
That’s a definition of adulthood I can aspire to.
2014 was the year I gave up on “hearing everything.” I used to diligently go through new album releases, music blogs, playlists, and charts to hear as much of what was being made as I could. An impossible task, obviously, but one I set for myself. This year, I completely gave up on that. Instead, I just kind of let the music that found me find me.
Which isn’t to say I stopped discovering new stuff – I remain a music geek – just that there’s whole weeks where I was listening to an album I really enjoyed and ignoring the Hype Machine charts, and I refused to give albums that bored me after a couple tracks a chance unless a lot of people whose tastes I respect told me to give it a chance. So here’s the listening method of a non-completionist music geek.
The main service I used was and is Rdio. Both Spotify and Google Music came to Canada this year, and I tried each for a few weeks, but Rdio just works for me far, far better. A big part of what works is the design. Going through it actually feels like going through stacks of records. Below is the continue listening screen that shows you what you’ve been streaming lately. It feels just like sifting through a stack of CDs you’ve left in your car. It’s touches like that that keep me coming back. I also find the New Releases list (updated every Tuesday, just like a record store!) and individual playlists are a pretty good discovery method. Plus you can easily make your own playlists, complete with cover art and everything. And it’s easy to sync to mobile. And there’s remote control mode. I could go on, but basically, yeah, Rdio is my main music discovery, listening, and sharing service.
Secondary: This Is My Jam, Hype Machine, CBC Music
Rdio kept me busy most of the time, but I still want to be “hip” and “with it” which means you have to head to the underground once in a while. The place I spent the most time listening, aside from Rdio, was This Is My Jam. You’re only allowed to have one favourite track on there at a time, and you follow other people who also have one favourite track. That limitation is a strength, because once you follow the right amount of people you get a very manageable playlist of people’s absolute favourite tracks at any given time. It was also my preferred method of sharing my favourite songs of the year, as I basically stopped doing any music blogging on my Tumblr.
Behind that are a couple of old favourites, the Hype Machine and CBC Music (more accurately, the Radio 3 section of CBC Music). Hype Machine, which aggregates music blogs to surface the most buzzworthy new tracks has been quietly improving on an already great service, adding genre filters and apps, which I think are worth the price for the 30-second fast-forward mode that allows you to quickly preview a bunch of songs and come back to the ones you liked. CBC Radio 3, devoted to indie Canadian acts, remains an area I like to keep an eye on to find buzzworthy acts closer to home.
YouTube, Soundcloud, Bandcamp
Obviously, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs remain another place of discovery, and most of the time tracks there are shared from YouTube and Soundcloud. This Is My Jam also plays tracks from YouTube and Soundcloud and the Hype Machine uses Soundcloud tracks in its aggregation as well. So I am technically using those services, but mostly with other layers built on top of them.
Bandcamp is also baked into This Is My Jam and Hype Machine, and remains a site I like to keep an eye on. If I want to buy an album, I’ll check if it’s on there, and a lot of my friends who are in bands put their music on there for me to purchase. I know they have discovery services and apps, but I don’t really use those, and honestly I don’t find myself listening to albums I buy on there much, either. I’ve fully embraced the streaming library and if an album isn’t on Rdio I’m not likely to go back to it many times.
One of my few frustrations with Rdio comes when I want to make a playlist but a song isn’t in their library. This is usually something like an unofficial remix I found on Hype Machine or an indie act from CBC Music. Enter bop.fm. I’ve only just started using it, but I’m fast becoming a fan. Essentially, it combines music libraries from Spotify, Rdio, YouTube and Soundcloud. So as an Rdio listener I can stream songs in their library, but if that unofficial remix pops up, it will find it from Soundcloud or YouTube. I can also share my Rdio playlists to Spotify users or to people who aren’t on either. It’s great for doing things like rounding up all the guest verses André 3000 has done since leaving Outkast or listening to all the “3 Artists, 1 Track” songs Converse has put out on disparate platforms. Bonus points because it lets me import my Rdio playlists, which is great since I still find it easier to use. If I want to make a permanent mix, complete with crossfades and everything, I’m going to upload it to Mixcloud, but for the rest I imagine Bop.fm will be my platform of choice.
So that’s it: the state of my music listening in 2014. By the way, I have probably used my iPod, records, and CDs a combined total of maybe… ten?… times this year. That’s probably being generous, too. We’ll see if that remains the case for 2015.
Kirk Love wrote a post called “Decide. Don’t Apologize.”
“Here’s a tip if you’re in a leadership position. Make a decision. Convey that decision to the team in a direct manner. Then execute it.”
Like Kirk, I’m new to being “the boss”. And like him, rather than do what he says above, I often hedge. I provide rationale.
A while back we did a workflow review and one thing I was told by many people on my team is a lot of the time, they just want the decision. They don’t need the consensus building, they just want me to decide on something and go forward.
So there’s another thing for me to work on.
“Winter riding is not without hardship. Evenings comes early, forcing riders to pedal home in the dark. Snowdrifts squeeze streets, eliminating a comfortable side lane for bikes. Frozen fingers and feet are common issues for the unprepared.
“But dress right, use fenders and lights on the bike, maybe add studded tires, and commuting in the bleak months can be comfortable and efficient. Here are 10 tips to help you ease into the wintertime cycling scene.”
Pretty comprehensive list, including the advice not to be afraid of using the transit system as a retreat from time to time. The only things I’d add is that if you’re going wearing a balaclava or scarf over your mouth you’ll want ski goggles over sunglasses because the glasses will frost up from your breath moving upwards. I also go with a lighter helmet with the headgear because having two heavy items on my head is a bit much.
I’ve been eyeing up fat tires for heavy snowfall days because when it’s fresh and deep, studs don’t do much to help.
With practice and the right gear, winter biking isn’t much harder than biking any other time of year, and you get special “hardiness points” for doing it. Give it a try.
Twice a year in the Prince George radio world, we get told which stations are getting the most listeners in different timeslots. We just received the numbers for fall 2014 and it seems CBC Radio One is the most-listened-to station in the city and Daybreak North is the most-listened-to show on the station.
I have mixed feelings about ratings, actually. It’s certainly a measure of success, but not the only measure. At points when we’ve been number two or three the top stations have been Top 40 or classic oldies, and I certainly wouldn’t feel good about hitting number one by switching to an easy listening music format.
What we have done is focus some on making new audiences aware we exist. There are plenty of people in Prince George who aren’t aware CBC has a local office or locally-produced show. I doubt the same is true of most of the other stations. Even if you don’t listen to them, you’ll see bus ads and hockey boards with the logos of the rock, classic, hits, and country stations all over the place. Good on them, they are involved in the community, but it’s also increasing brand awareness in a way we don’t have the capacity to do in our shop. We aren’t buying billboards.
So instead we’ve been focusing on events and the web to grow our presence. Special series like the one we did on the VLA started all sorts of conversations in real life and online and when we held a community forum to go with it, the email invite was forward through all sorts of community groups that may not have normally been paying attention to our programming. Same thing goes for our mayor’s debate earlier this year. Full house, a bunch of other local media taking pictures, and there’s CBC front and center. It’s also been happening smaller-scale, just getting our radio stories online and shared out to people on Facebook and Twitter so that more people are finding out CBC exists locally and is telling stories they might be interested in.
What’s gratifying to me is that we’ve done this by focusing on things I think only we can do. A journalistic series about a specific neighbourhood in Prince George is something no other radio station would touch, because it would make no sense in their programming. A mayor’s debate is hyper-local politics. We’re not getting flashier or throwing in more contests and giveaways, we’re just making it easier for the people who would be interested in what we’re doing to find out about us.
I mean, there’s a lot of other stuff to it, as well, and quite frankly it’s a guessing game about why the ratings are what they are. But as long as we’re proud of the work we’re doing (I am) and it’s reaching an audience who appreciates it (it seems to be), I’m happy.
You know those old Bugs Bunny cartoons where he would burrow through the snow and leave that lumpy trail behind?
Ferrets do that in real life:
In a post called “The Racists We Love,” Jay Kirell documents the help he’s had in his life – a family member who got him a job, a manager who gave him a raise, fellow army members who saved his life – from people who hold and communicate racist views:
“At no point in time did I ever want to call out racist views. I wanted to survive a war. I wanted to keep my job. I want to not make it awkward every time I see family. The racists were more often than not in a position of power over me. That doesn’t excuse my lack of courage as much as it explains it.
“So I smiled and nodded. Laughed weakly along with jokes I didn’t find funny.
“And the racists went along believing their views were fine and normal, because a ‘normal’ person like me was laughing and smiling and nodding along.”
That’s stuck with me because it rings true to my own experience. I’ve not encountered racism as explicit as some of what Kirell talks about, but I’ve certainly heard it filed off casually here and there, especially towards First Nations, but to other races, too. And casual sexism, as well. And rather than challenging it, I just sort of let it pass. Why?
“Because while standing up against bigotry and racism is all well and good when we’re communicating on social media or when we’re amongst like-minded individuals; when we’re among those we know, those we grew up with or those we’re forced to be around, activism takes a backseat to just wanting to make it through the encounter.”
Exactly. I’m full of all these equal ideals, but when it comes to actually encountering real-life bigotry, even the casual, borderline, “is that really racist?” sort, I’ve been a whole lot more likely to just look the other way rather than try to engage.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, this notion of opting out of difficult conversations. I’ve been thinking about it when hashtags like #YesAllWomen and #AmINext and #BlackLivesMatter started on Twitter and the people using them were confronted by angry people trying to minimize their message. I thought about my ability to stay out of it.
What I’ve started to realize is “staying out of it” is a very specific option. Sure, women encounter sexual harassment, but I’m not a woman. And First Nations women (and men) go missing and are murdered at higher rates than the rest of the population, but that’s not me, either. I can visit the United States and not worry about whether black men are targeted by police, because guess what? I’m not black. I’m fine.
If someone holds a casual unchallenged viewpoint that First Nations don’t work hard or women are too emotional for positions of power, I’m fine. In fact, I benefit because I don’t fall into those categories. So I can be like “ah, well, I don’t really want to get into that discussion” and move on. Not everyone has that option. Not the First Nations person looking for a job or the woman looking to get elected. They can opt out of the conversation, but they continue to be harmed by the attitudes.
So that’s what I’ve been thinking about when my gut reaction is to “not make waves” or “don’t feed the trolls.” How much of it is just offloading the responsibility for social justice onto someone else because it doesn’t affect me?
Not confronting discrimination is a heck of a lot easier when you’re not on the receiving end of it.
I saw Big Hero 6 with my niece this weekend, and while it was fine the short film in front of it was outstanding. Buzzfeed has a nice little write-up on the revival of short films at Disney, starting with the outstanding “Paperman” (if you haven’t seen it, go watch it now) and through to this one.
“From a financial perspective, it seems totally counterintuitive. Unlike animated feature films, which have a built in revenue stream at the box office and beyond, these animated shorts are, in Osborne’s words, ‘an art project. There’s no financial return.'”
The reason given is to develop talent in a lower-risk environment than a full-length. But as a viewer I appreciate seeing something that is done purely for the artistry of it. No marketing decisions, all magic.
Iranian-American artist Shirin Barghi put together a collection of the last words of young black men killed by police shootings in America.
I have nothing to add.
After this, this, and this, Matthew Lazin-Ryder has his own take on what’s gone wrong:
“We all know when CBC whent off the rails. It was when it went off rails. It used to be only along the Candian National Railway – but the govermit turned it into its own corporation.”
Personally, I think he’s being a horseradish ash.
“What is worse, the same biochemistry that rewards us for apparent altruism tricks us into thinking, ‘We’ve done our bit.’ A recent study from the University of British Columbia demonstrated that people who ‘liked’ a cause on Facebook were less likely to donate to that cause. Why? Because, in their minds, they’d already contributed. Their brains had already given them a shot of endorphins and it was time to ‘help’ someone else.”
I do think there’s a space for raising awareness. But I also think it’s important not to mistake raising awareness for actually giving.