If you ever find Shorts’ Spruce Pilsner on a beer drinking menu near you, and you’re like “oh, awesome, a new light, and probably crisp Michigan-made Pilsner to try, out,” then you better check yourself: I did NOT realize I was slamming 9.6% beer last week. Instant nap after I got home.
A relatively light day on the links/stories below. BUT BOY OH BOY ARE THERE WORDS WITH THOSE LINKS. Just hit the sections below.
Stodgy, hoity-toity, old NPR has suddenly turned into a multimedia machine, spurred by its front-and-center role in the current podcasting craze and its ubiquitous on-demand media. It looks like fiscal year 2015 will end with a surplus, ending a six-year stint in the red. Audiences for its staple programs (“Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered”) are shrinking, and those programs bring in the most revenue (from member stations). NPR is at an interesting point, to say the least.
While NPR may reign supreme in the podcasting space for now (“Serial,” “Invisibilia,” - shout out to Rachel Mac - “This American Life,” sit at the top), they now have a metric fuckton of competitors: single podcasts all they way up to entire networks, and all done in a very market-oriented/capitalist space, aka, not like public radio. A fight is also brewing between NPR and these upstarts, for the talent that was typically reserved for NPR.
NPR needs to continue to expand its media offerings, with new projects, and needs to continue boosting podcast sponsorship. And it has to hit the key demographic that all brands, media companies, and anyone who needs an audience knows is crucial: millennials. The future could be great for NPR, but this is just the beginning of its new era.
San Francisco’s BART public transportation system launched an app for reporting crimes on its main transit system. According to a recent report, of 763 alerts sent by riders, 198 noted the person’s race. 134 of those (68%) described black people as offenders and suspects that warranted a police response. Turns out, only SEVEN of those alerts were actual “crimes in progress” and only one of those was for a potentially violent offense. Long story short: those crime alerts submitted were done so by people with conscious or subconscious racist tendencies (or they were submitted by plain ol' racists, tough to tell).
It’s an incredibly fucked up situation, but yet another glaring manifestation of racism permeating every little nook and cranny of our society. We know that racism is/has been codified into law. And more subtly into our institutions, private business, and education system. But mobile apps?!?! Well, it’s not the app itself that’s racist - the app is a platform. Unlike in public forums, however, these apps easily allow people to anonymously and privately play out their own biases. Say you're racist. You wouldn't call 911 in public and report a black person that made you uncomfortable. But BART's app removed the public element and any notion of responsibility/accountability, and yet created very real consequences (like police confrontation). That's a fatal design flaw.
I encourage you to read the full article linked to above for more examples and some initial suggestions/improvements that apps and developers can make to avoid coding these biases into the most important pieces of software that we have today.
You may not care about it directly or enough to want to read a whole bunch of takes on the issue, and that’s fine. But it appears as though ad blocking - which I wrote about in last week’s edition - is poised to become a much larger issue in the near future. We may have hit a critical mass of ad blocking on the desktop web (I just started using AdBlock and it’s great). It was one thing that web browsers let you install add-ons to block banners and other ads across the web. Now that Apple will be letting developers tap into its native apps to block ads, the future of mobile advertising is a little uncertain.
Even if you’re pro-ad (meaning, you’re OK with seeing ads as long as the content or websites that you’re looking at stay free), there’s one important variable at play that many publishers brush aside: a vast majority of online ad companies and networks track you without your knowledge or consent, even as you leave that website. They have an incredibly detailed profile of you, that you never explicitly granted them permission to build. And therein lies the problem with most web advertising.
So, despite that so many web publishers (massive, billion dollar enterprises and also local news sites and also your favorite blogger) keep their content free and make their revenue from advertising - and really, I wish it was easy to just blanket support them and not think twice about the ads on their sites - the advertisements they run, the networks/vendors they partner with, and even the web browsers that we use, have unwittingly colluded to completely and undeniably invade individual privacy to an extent that most have no idea about.
The way around it, for some publishers, has been easy and much more user-friendly. Some just ask for simple donations or micro-payment subscriptions (like if I charged all of my subscribers $1/mo to continue receiving my newsletter). Native advertising, for all of the publishing church/state issues it brings up, is a decidedly less intrusive way to bring in revenue. Sponsored posts can work. Podcasts are full of ads, but they’re read/spoken by the hosts, in a voice suitable to that podcast, and so those can work, too.
Where am I going with this? I don’t know. But how about this: if you’re in digital advertising, I think that now is the time to seriously consider the impact that ad blockers are (and will be) having on ads, reach, and ultimately success. And, if/when you notice that ad blockers (desktop or mobile, in the future) are having a material effect, the solution is not going to be to fight ad blockers, or employ sneaky tactics or new technologies to get around them. The solution will be to rethink how your advertising works, period. So that it’s less intrusive, more compatible with the audience you’re looking to reach, and it ultimately makes the online media/publishing universe more enjoyable.
Added since we last talked: a few of my favorite “J Dillaludes,” an absolute corker from Future Islands (with the help of Toronto band BADBADNOTGOOD) and one of my all time favorite Stone Roses songs. Be sure to subscribe and enjoy!