The Internet’s Glenn Fleishman was gracious enough to interview me on The New Disruptors last week. We talked about the online indie cultural revolution, as one does.

After being Internet friends for a while, Glenn and I met at XOXO, where Glenn is basically the president. That conference is all about making good things independently, rather than staying in the rat race. Glenn has been in that crowd for a long time, whereas it’s pretty new to me. I’ve been cranking on my indie ideas for a few months, but XOXO really opened my mind.

I wrote a post there called “Love can save the media,” which explains my designs on the music business and introduces my new music podcast, The Portal, which I do with my favoritest collaborators. Glenn and I talked about that stuff, but we went way back into my educational background, music and mindfulness, and what it was like for a weirdo like me to be a tech blogger for a few years.

Hope you find it interesting.

Source: http://newdisrupt.org/blog/2013/10/17/i-wa...
Posted
AuthorJon Mitchell

A new portal has opened. 

Welcome to The Portal, a podcast for music lovers. Whether we listen to it, make it, or just sing it in the shower, music matters. My friends and collaborators, Kirk Benttinen and Rebecca Marcyes, and I are going to bring you a weekly conversation about it.

Much music will be played. Many guest stars will appear. We'll do interviews, storytelling, performances, experimental noise-scapes, dramatic readings, whatever sounds are necessary.

We just released Episode 0. We'll release Episode 1 very soon, and at that point, you can expect us once a week. 

Episode 0 – In The Living Room

In our first pod-conversation, we talk about bringing music out of the corporate boardroom and into everybody's living room. Podcasts, too. Here at The Portal, we're into listening to things. This preview episode will give you a sense of what you'll be listening to. At the end, Rebecca plays "That Twangy One," and Jon plays "Being Stuff Together."

You can enter The Portal at theportal.in. Follow us on Twitter at @intheportal. You can also follow my music Facebook page for more.

Subscribe in iTunes (and please rate the show!)

Subscribe via RSS

 

Posted
AuthorJon Mitchell

I just had a fun and impassioned talk with kindred spirit Lyra McKee, founder of The Muckraker and an editor for Mediagazer, about what we're doing to try and fix journalism. We talked about writing, reporting, business, falling on our faces, and getting up in the morning. Here it is for your listening pleasure.

(sorry about the audio echo issues that pop up a couple times at the beginning. Lyra fixed them partway through the conversation.)

Posted
AuthorJon Mitchell

I've done a couple more interviews since the launch of The Daily Portal, and they both turned out pretty well. I joined Alex Arena on his 15 Minutes With... podcast to talk about my plans for the site. I also did an article-length interview with Micah Singleton for the relaunch of Current Editorials, where I got a chance to talk more generally about where web publishing is going.

Posted
AuthorJon Mitchell

I had the great honor of joining Mighty Myke Hurley on the CMD+SPACE podcast today. We discussed The Daily Portal, my departure from ReadWrite, the truth about @NextTechBlog, and the future of web publishing.

CMD+SPACE: Blogging 2.0, with Jon Mitchell

I enjoyed it immensely, and I hope to be a 70Decibels guest again sometime soon! Thanks again, Myke, and congratulations on your HUMONGOUS news!

Posted
AuthorJon Mitchell

I read this TechCrunch post about banning PRserve with some interest, because I had an interesting email exchange with Chris Barrett, founder of that agency, some months ago. I'll just post the emails in full. I think they'll be instructive to people in this industry.

From: Dan Frommer

Subject: Fwd: Hi Dan - Intro and Pitching process for RWW

Lolz.

Begin forwarded message:

From: Chris Barrett

Hi Dan,

   I just wanted to reach out and say hi.  I was wondering what the best way to pitch RWW would be?  I have a PR for startup agency and this past year we have worked with startups and founders from Neil Patel and KISSmetrics to Ryan Holmes at HootSuite to many startups going through Dreamit Ventures and TechStars incubators.

We never send the same pitch out to dozens of tech outlets.  We like to be super targeted and as much as we can pitch exclusive pitches to individual tech outlets.

Most of my clients prefer to have us pitch TechCrunch or Mashable first, but I'd love to start to offer them the opportunity to pitch RWW on some of their exclusives.  What would the best process be for this?

Would you also be open to receiving pitches if TC or Mashable runs the story first and we allow RWW to be the 2nd story within the hour of the initial story going live?

What is the guest post pitching?

Let me know!  Just want to figure out the best way to work with your team!

We've placed over 200 tech stories this past year and would love to add RWW to our outreach!

Thanks.

Best regards,
Chris Barrett
Founder
PRserve

Here is the email I sent Chris in response:

Hi Chris,

Dan Frommer passed your note along to me, and I want to make sure you get a thorough answer to your questions.

We are opposed to the very idea of story "placement" by PR. We do not care about embargo times or "firstness." Most importantly of all, we are not interested in writing the same stories as anyone else.

We do our own reporting, we find the stories that interest us, and we reach out ourselves. We do happily read incoming pitches from start-ups, but we're only doing so to look for relationships with companies and individuals who seem interesting, and those are rare. In short, we almost never get our news from unsolicited email.

We don't have any interest in the vast majority of things published by TechCrunch, let alone Mashable.

We have no interest in scripted launch events, nor do we care about usage statistics from a single product unless they are statistically significant. We only run infographics if they're prepared by trained scientists. I would estimate that we are interested in less than 5% of the email PR pitches we receive.

As far as what we do cover, think of it this way: We write about trends, not products. Tech products and companies for us serve as examples of trends in the economy and society, not as the core of a story. We'd rather watch something unfold over a long period of time than write about a brief snapshot of it. Check out this guide I wrote to pitching ReadWriteWeb, and feel free to circulate it widely amongst your colleagues:

I hope that helps. If it sounds like we can work together, I look forward to it. But please be respectful of our time and unread-message counts. We're very busy reporting, and we don't have time for incoming email that doesn't help us do our jobs.

Thanks for reaching out,

Jon Mitchell
Staff writer, ReadWriteWeb
@ablaze | +Jon Mitchell

His reply:

Hi Jon,

Thanks for your email and I'm sorry if the email came off rude in anyway.

I never pitch an outlet that we haven't had prior contact at... and I truly appreciate you taking the time to respond to the email and letting me know what RWW looks for in stories.

I'll be sure to let you know if I have any clients who are part of a larger trend that would be a fit for RWW.

Thank you so much for your time!

Best regards,

Chris

Mine:

Sounds good, Chris.

Why should there be any more to it than this?

Posted
AuthorJon Mitchell
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Everybody knows that news embargoes are the stupidest thing about public relations. They’re the stupidest thing about journalism, too, especially in tech. Since we’re too swamped and/or lazy to do our jobs and go find our own stories, we accept these embargoes and perpetuate the dull cycle of reader-hostile PR recycling.

Well, embargoes are over if you want it. I’ve got a solution. But first, just for fun, let’s belabor the problem, so we can really get in the mood to solve it.

The embargo problem

In the absence of news, spin doctors create scarcity around scripted events, exploit journalists’ insipid obsession with firstness, spoon feed them dollops of fluffy pseudo-information, and so graciously grant the journalists permission to do their jobs at a mysterious time selected by arcane astrological methods. That’s not how life on Earth works, but it’s status quo here in the attention farming business.

Every company thinks they’re an Apple or a Google or a State Department, someone who actually controls the discourse. So they hire a PR agency to write their bombshell press releases about their new augmented reality mobile coupon-sharing network, email blast it out to reporters and tell us we can’t break their [BREAKING NEWS] until 6:31 a.m. Eastern time.

When the appointed time rolls around, a dozen blog posts about the same exact information appear simultaneously on different websites, redundant with each other, as if the information just spontaneously manifested itself.

And the readers, who are not idiots, much as the people spamming them wish they were, wake up to a feed clogged with copies of the same information and utter the sacred syllable, “MEH.”

And that’s what happens if it goes well, which it frequently doesn’t. Someone posts the story early and “breaks” the embargo. So what’s everyone else supposed to do? They publish right away if they’re nervous people, or they scrap the story, dashing the poor PR person’s dreams against the rocks.

Then the thousands of twitchy early adopters who read this kind of blog post all rush to click the link, which is either dead, or the company is still testing the site it’s launching in less than 24 hours, which promptly crashes under the nerd strain. Or nothing bad happens, and some people get to see a website a few hours before PR said they were supposed to.

No matter which scenario unfolds, everyone is pissed off now, the journalists, the PR firm, and the company. And why? Over what? Did the blogger do something maliciously? If the post went up three minutes early, maybe, sure. First! But no, usually they posted inadvertently because they screwed up trying to convert 6:31 a.m. into Pacific time and type it into their CMS.

And when the mistake is made, and the post is live, the offending journalist is left to contemplate his future on the PR blacklist, wondering, “Why the fuck was I going to publish this while everyone in the world is asleep, including myself?

Why do embargoes exist?

Insofar as anyone has derived a logical answer to the question and attempted to explain it to me, here is why embargoes exist:

Unfortunately, not all companies can “get” as much “press” as they think they need to maintain the buzz while they do the nitty gritty work of building their business. So they and their PR teams identify points in their development cycle that they can use as landmarks — a new hire, a funding round, an app update — and they decide to script news events around them.

The thinking is that the embargoed information will seem exclusive, enticing reporters to write about it, and that the lead time will give everyone a chance to write a good story instead of rushing it out when the news is already out there.

Why embargoes don’t work

The first fallacy in the embargo idea is that companies need to “get press.” If the information is worth finding, people will find it. Bloggers will even write about it. When an upstart company — one without de facto press clout, like Obvious Corp. — has news to share, it posts it on the company blog. Blog posts have a way of getting around the Internet. You know, when they matter.

The second embargo fallacy is that incremental company news is what people want to read. Again, the best companies in the world are exceptions to this, but every company thinks it’s the best in the world.

Companies love their products, and that’s beautiful. But people who aren’t steeped in that company’s particular problem all day only need to know a few things: does the product work or not, should they buy it or not, and, in some charismatic cases, who made it. Embargoed press releases and scripted 30-minute PowerPoint meetings do not give journalists adequate answers to these questions, so these kinds of stories don’t help readers.

Helping readers, may I remind us all, is the only thing that matters to anyone involved in this transaction.

The third embargo fallacy is the one that burns me the worst as a journalist: the quality argument. I assure you, the luxurious 36-hour window provided to us by PR is not freeing us to work extra hard on this story. It’s letting us bang it out in the exact same amount of time, schedule it, and forget about it, so we can get on to the nine other stories we’re working on.

You find that disrespectful? Suck it. We’ve got work to do. You know what’s disrespectful? 200 emails a day about the exact same thing you’re emailing us about.

And the icing on the cake is the feeling of watching an embargoed story go up, feeling kind of proud of it, since this company wanted to talk to little ol’ me, and then seeing the other sites’ stories pop up. Oh, there’s one. There’s another one. Shit. I am complicit in spamming my readers.

It is out of this feeling that my solution arises.

The solution to embargoes

The solution to embargoes is not for journalists to merely refuse to accept them. We can’t. We have to accept them before we see the information, and what if it really is interesting? The reality is that, half the time, it’s kind of interesting-ish, and we have to make the Faustian bargain of skipping it and missing out or writing it and trying to be the best of 15 posts about the same thing, a status that does not really exist.

The solution all journalists want is for PR to grant us exclusives. If your little newslet is so perfect for me, just give it to me. Do your homework, figure out who the best reporter in the world is on your particular topic, and give it all to him or her.

But that will almost never happen. It’s too much work for PR without enough “press.”

So here’s the solution. It’s in journalists’ hands. Before you accept an embargo, demand to see the press list. Ask the PR person which other reporters and publications he or she is pitching for this story.

If they don’t tell you, whoops, no story. If they do, you’re armed with the ability to do something interesting.

PR might not know the skills and aptitudes of particular reporters, but reporters do. They read each other all day every day. They know how each person on that list will cover the news. They can anticipate it and react to it. Advanced knowledge of who might write this story would give reporters the only thing their readers want from them: a distinguished take on the news.

In a good world, this would snap everybody out of it. Journalists would be able to accentuate the differences between each other. This would separate the pack, it would make PR’s job of identifying the right writers easier, and it might even accelerate the future of journalism away from commoditized information and toward the value of differing voices.

Is this a good world? Will PR ever give reporters the press list? I don’t know. It will take balls to ask. I’ll have to deal with getting left out of some stories.

I guess I’ll just have to find my own things to write about.

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AuthorJon Mitchell
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Did that really just happen?

Last Friday, I was driving home from an awesome visit to Google HQ. I had three mind-blowing conversations, which I could turn into great articles at my leisure, in the bag. As I drove, I was listening to John Gruber and Dan Frommer talk about all manner of tech things. Dan has been a super-cool editor-at-large for RWW, and it made me feel a little company pride hearing him banter with the Chairman.

When I got home, satisfied after a great week of work, I opened up my RSS reader to see what I'd missed. Lack of time to read is starting to get me down. I have to think about output so much, now that I'm full-time and in the SAY Media office, that I have precious few opportunities to actually read and think.

So it was pretty jarring to see a RWW link from the Chairman right there at the top. The headline was "Apple’s Brilliant Boondoggle: MacBook Pro Retina Display," and Gruber's caption was, "Is this a prank? I'm being pranked here, aren't I?"

I hadn't read this post by Antone Gonsalves, an experienced freelancer, which had gone up the day before. I knew it existed and what it was about, but I expected it to be minor, slightly contrarian, but uninteresting. But Gruber doesn't link unless there's something going on, and his caption did not inspire confidence.

Then I checked the traffic on the site.

Oh shit.

So needless to say, I read the post after that, and I was horrified. I found it empty. Devoid of substance. It felt like the author had taken an intentionally contrarian stance, delicatedly avoided unhelpful evidence, and chosen analyst quotes to stand in for himself. And the trolls were hurling stones in the comments.

Then my phone started vibrating.

People I like, people whose opinions about technology matter to me, were upset. They thought we were whoring for page views. They were criticizing the whole site, and they were associating me with the damage. I had nothing to do with it, but as the full-time Bay Area reporter, or as the guy who hangs out on Twitter the most, or whatever, I was implicated.

My first move was to tweet a moral insurance policy.

I had to distance myself right away. I could feel my weekend getting sucked away down the Twitter toilet. So I came out and said it: Gruber was right, this post feels like a prank, I don't agree with it.

But the shit rain kept coming down.

I emailed the editors next. I told them how I really felt, and I proposed that we retract the story. They weren't having it. I learned that this post had genuine support. There was no cynical traffic ploy here. The editor of the story thought the argument needed to be made and stood behind it.

That made things more complicated for me. The problem is, the critics howling about the post would never believe it. They would think of us as trolls no matter what. I didn't want my name attached to that.

The next move I made was selfish, but I made it anyway. I disavowed the post in the comments.

"I just want to say on the record that I completely disagree with this post and didn't have anything to do with it. I hate to have to do this, but I feel like I do."

A few comments later, I made my objections more explicit.

"Please don't go. This is a trolly post that I don't endorse at all, and I really regret that it made it through our editorial process. I love that we all get to write from our own perspective, and I love when we disagree with each other constructively, but I just have to disavow this one."

The reaction to that comment was interesting. Lots of commenters took the opportunity to express their righteous disappointment with our publication by saying things like, "In doing so, you at least prevent me from writing off RWW entirely."

This was clearly a bit of a drama-queen performance on those commenters' parts. But the reaction carried over to Twitter, and the response felt more genuinely positive there to me.

The way this went down made me feel better. I felt my response reflected positively on the site for which I write. If I hadn't handled this as carefully, it would have looked like protecting my ego and throwing my colleagues under the bus. That would have been a tragic mistake.

Unfortunately, from the inside-RWW perspective, I had still crossed the line. That would matter more later.

Still, having felt like I'd repaired some damage, I got back on the email thread with the editors, told them I washed my hands of this, and I went to bed.

The Next Day

When I woke up, Marco Arment had weighed in.

"This clickbait article is sadly, unintentionally hilarious," Marco wrote. He proceeded to tear the weakest part of Antone's argument into tiny little pieces, which was justified and well done. And then he threw in this line at the end, which burned pretty darn good:

"ReadWriteWeb is better than this, and they should be ashamed to have published it."

At this point — Saturday morning, remember — the only people still talking about this were media Twitterati, but boy, were they talking about it. It's always fun for tech bloggers when another tech blog does something dumb, because they get to vent all their Schadenfreude built up by hating the dumbness in which we all engage.

I think Brian Lam is right when he talks about how many of us feel like we have to write some stuff we don't like. I think we don't like that stuff because it smacks of the same disingenuousness — real or perceived — for which Antone's post got busted.

But it's my personal mission to never engage in page-view-mongering ever, at all, under any circumstances, and that's actually the reason I took the full-time job. I heard SAY Media and our editors talking about bringing back substance to tech writing, so I signed up. This is precisely what sucked so badly for me about the Retina Display debacle. I felt like my site had trolled and been caught trolling.

And Marco had said exactly what I had said myself: we are better than this.

But he's a writer from the outside. That gave other outside writers permission to start saying it, too. And that's when things got ugly.

Now, I love just about every blogger colleague I've ever met, and I want to meet all the rest of them. I feel instant camaraderie with them. They don't feel like competitors to me. On the good days, we're all trying to do the same thing. We're trying to get to the bottom of the tech stories that matter because we want to understand them. It's easy for me to celebrate the good work of others, even on other sites.

As a pleasant side-effect of doing enough of that, even as a relative newcomer, I've made friends. I've got a pretty close circle of (quote-unquote) "competitors" with whom I frankly discuss the tech blogging climate, often publicly on Twitter. On Saturday, there was a sort of sharky edge to that water-cooler talk. People wanted me to write a story. They wanted controversy. They wanted a fight.

I wasn't going to give them the satisfaction. It was fucking Saturday, and I didn't start this fracas. I tweeted as much, and then I went out and had a life.

The Next, Next Day

That night, I had a crazy dream.

In the day that followed, this happened:

"First, I'd like to thank all the readers who commented on our post. Some of the criticisms made me cringe, such as being called a 'link-baiting whore,' while other remarks were more insightful and worth taking seriously. But whether the comments were for or against the post, I'm humbled that so many people took the time to participate in such a lively discussion. Because of that, we want to explain our reasoning further."

And I was like, AWWWW, HELL NO.

Instead of retracting the first post, posting some kind of brief acknowledgement of the controversy, or just letting it die, the editors had allowed Antone to double down. And it wasn't that the second post was nearly as bad. It was that he said "We."

So come into this moment with me.

Now Antone has implicated me. He has put all of us in this story, myself included, even though I explicitly excluded myself. Now people in the comments are asking Antone, "Who is this 'we' of whom you speak? Is it just you and your editor? Or is all of ReadWriteWeb?"

Even in hindsight, I'm not sure I had a choice but to do what I did. I reiterated:

"Again, I wish I didn't have to do this, but the 'we' Antone mentions at the top of this post does not include me. I don't stand behind any of this stuff regarding the Retina MBP, personally."

But it had all gone to hell by that point already. In his takedown of the second post, Marco wrote:

"[I]t says a lot about ReadWriteWeb that they’d allow someone so blatantly unqualified to write two inflammatory Apple articles with their logo on top."

This would be the theme of the night as the men of technology media bro'd down on Twitter while other people weren't watching. At one point, Marco suggested that, if I disagreed with these tactics so much, I should quit my job.

I thought that was a ludicrous, dickish thing to say, and I told him so, although my response was pretty dickish in its own right:

And the situation sped further downhill from there. There was a whole long bloggergasm about whether or not this would affect my career (thanks for your concern, bros), and there's no need to revisit it. But by the end of the second day of this shit, I had been straight-up attacked, so I went into the work week (as opposed to the work weekend) intending to defend myself.

The Next, Next Day and Next, Next, Next Day

Suffice it to say, the situation in the office on Monday was tense. The editors felt I had crossed the line by commenting on the stories themselves. To be clear, they were fine with me expressing vehement personal disagreement. What they didn't like was the fact that I explicitly distanced myself from the team on the site.

I was able to hear that. I think they were right. But I still wasn't willing to swallow these posts. I expressed the desire to write a counter-argument. The editors all agreed, and I spent the whole day Monday reporting on it.

My counterpoint went up Tuesday morning, but the drama wasn't quite over. My editor approved it, but the editor of Antone's post did not like that I leveled such a thorough line-by-line criticism of a colleague's work.

We paced around a lot that day as we hashed out how we felt about our handling of this. It was a tempest in a teapot, ultimately, and even though it sucked, it was good for our process.

Four Days of Arguing About Computers

Honestly, I was pretty proud of the argument I made. But as I wrote about this computer, I couldn't shake the feeling that a humongous amount of drama had blown up over something utterly mundane. So I included some language in my post scolding people who fight about the screen resolution of computers. That's the part I regret. It pissed off the bees in the comment section, for one thing.

But the icky feeling goes deeper than that for me, and I think it's what I'm going to spend the next phase of my career working on. Is the meaning of a computer a big deal or not? Is the passion that flared up this weekend inspired by anything real?

If so, I should care this much, and I should use my position to help people apply that passion for technology to their work and life.

But part of me suspects that it wasn't real, that consumer tech has become sort of religious and alienating. I don't want to play into that. I don't want to be consumed by it myself. But I lost a whole weekend to talking about a computer I don't even have or want, and I can't really believe it.

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AuthorJon Mitchell
8 CommentsPost a comment

Over the summer, ReadWriteWeb will undergo some major changes. We’re redesigning the site and the experience, and we’re zooming out our coverage. In the meantime, we’ve already changed how we write, and that change will only accelerate. If you want to pitch stories to ReadWriteWeb from now on, here’s what you need to know:

1. We’re going for an expanded audience.

People used to come to ReadWriteWeb for developer-focused, highly technical news and information. We’re not getting rid of that. On the contrary, we’re bolstering those efforts on our sections, Mobile, Hack, Cloud, Enterprise, Biz and Start. That’s where the hackers, founders, CTOs and investors will find trade stories, and that’s where you should pitch them.

The main site on ReadWriteWeb is for everyone embracing the digital age. It’s not for users of a particular platform, and it has no threshold of expertise. We describe our audience to ourselves this way:

Our readers are people who recognize the power of networked technology and actively maximize that power in their lives.

That “actively” part is the key. We write for anyone who cares enough about this stuff to do something about it.

So if you’re about to pitch a story to us, make sure to answer this question: “What can you do with it?

2. We’re moving beyond the Web.

We’re paring down what we do to its essence. Digital, two-way information technology has changed everything, and that’s what we care about. The Web is assumed to be a part of it now, and we don’t want to limit ourselves to writing about the Web itself. Newspapers didn’t marvel about the wonders of the printing press for very long.

We’re writing about how technology is changing the world. The technology itself is the heart of the story, but for us, it’s usually not going to be the headline. The launch of an app is not inherently exciting to us. Its potential for changing the way we live, work, play, or communicate very much is.

So is a groundbreaking discovery in biotech or energy production. So is the race between technology and climate change. So is the dawn of commercial spaceflight. Incremental updates to an app for sharing filtered photos or broadcasting where you ate lunch? Not so much.

3. Our site is not a blog.

We’re not being pretentious here. Surely, some of what we do can be classified as “blogging.” But that’s just a method of reporting, and there are lots of ways to tell a story on the Web. We’re going to try them all.

We’re a publication. We make a package of great stuff to think about. Some of it will be up-to-the-minute. Some of it will be pondered over the weekend. Some of it will only make sense 15 years from now. If you want to pitch a story to be part of that, think bigger than blog posts.

The vast majority of embargoed tech news is a commodity, and we’re not playing that game. If it’s worth reading about at 9:01 AM Eastern on the dot, it’s worth reading about tomorrow. All we care about is how this news changes the world for wired-in people.

We’re more interested in following something for a while than in writing a fire-and-forget post about it. If your company sounds cool to us, we’ll want to watch it grow, evolve, interact with its users, respond to competition, hire, fire, acquire or be acquired. We’ll write about it once if the story is good. If the story is still good in a month or two, we’ll write about it again.

4. We’re still a tech site.

We still plan to be a destination for people to find out what’s happening in tech. We won’t miss anything big. But we’re going to take our time to write a thoughtful take. We’d rather be last and best than first to re-write a press release.

We’ll explain what the news means for all the stakeholders. If your news matters to lots of people, it will matter to us. But keep this in mind: We care about people, not page views. Technology news is raw data to us. It’s the unrefined output of a rapidly accelerating future. We’re here to make sense of it, not just churn it out.

Posted
AuthorJon Mitchell