Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Understanding Editorial Boards

There's some confusion about what Editorial Boards at newspapers do, and the New York Times recently produced a section to discuss its role at the paper.

This blog will provide an overview about Editorial Boards to capture some of the information presented by James Bennet, editorial page editor of the Times who oversees the editorial board as well as the Letters and the Op-Ed sections. 

Together the editorial board, op-ed and letters section is part of Times Opinion, whose purpose, Bennet says, 
"Is to supply the wide-ranging debate about big ideas that a diverse democracy needs. Amid that debate, the role of the editorial board is to provide Times readers with a long-range view formed not by one person’s expertise and experience but ballasted by certain institutional values that have evolved across more than 150 years. That’s why the editorials, unlike other articles in The Times, appear without a byline."
The Times editorial board operates as the voice of the paper and the publisher, writing editorials independent from the newsroom. That means the editorial board does not speak for the newsroom or that newsroom staff feel the same way about a particular issue. In fact, there have been stories about newsroom staffs at various papers, including the Times and the Wall St. Journal, being upset about positions taken by their respective editorial boards.

For decades, editorial boards have been influential, offering endorsements for political office and highlighting issues important to the communities they serve. The influence of editorial boards has declined over the last several decades but are still important, in part because they take "a long-range view formed not by one person’s expertise and experience but ballasted by certain institutional values." But as CNN recently noted, "The power of newspaper endorsement -- ANY newspaper -- is increasingly limited in terms of its ability to sway voters. That's especially true of national newspapers like the Times." 

How the Times' Editorial Board works
  1. "The New York Times editorial board is made up of opinion journalists who rely on research, debate and individual expertise to reach a shared view of important issues," according to the Times' description. 
  2. The board is comprised of 15 veteran journalists who bring "years of research, subject-matter expertise and personal experience," including foreign correspondents and beat reporters. They include:
    1.  James Bennet, who has recused himself from involvement in the 2020 election because his brother, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, is running for president.
    2.  Kathleen Kingsbury, deputy editorial page editor.
    3. Binyamin Appelbaum: economics & business.
    4. Michelle Cottle: U.S. politics.
    5. Mara Gay: N.Y. state and local affairs.
    6. Jennen Interlandi: health & science.
    7. Laureen Kelley: women & reproductive rights.
    8. Alex Kingsbury: tehcnology & national affairs.
    9. Serge Schmemann: international affairs.
    10. Bremt Staples: education, criminal justice & economics.
    11. Jesse Wegman: Supreme Court & legal affairs.
    12. John Broder: associate editor.
    13. Nick Fox: editor.
    14. Carol Giacomo: foreign affairs.
    15. Charlie Warzel: technology. Warzel is not a permanent member of the editorial board but has been writing a series of opinion articles about privacy for the editorial board. He writes about the intersection of technology, media, and politics as well as online extremism.
    16. James Dao: op-ed editor. He is part of the Times Opinion section and is participating in the Times' process to endorse presidential candidates but is not a permanent member of the board.
  3. The board meets at least twice each week.
  4. The board discusses significant questions in the news, informed by the members who are subject-matter experts in the topic as well as by an understanding of the positions the board has taken over the years. That's not to say the Times' editorial board doesn't break with presidence: "We try to keep in mind the big questions we’ve gotten wrong in the past — such as opposing women’s suffrage — to cultivate some humility and caution," Bennet notes.
  5. "In general," Bennet writes, the board "reaches its conclusions by consensus, though in matters where there is deep disagreement we sometimes have to call a vote."
  6. The board interviews all major presidential candidates to get their perspective before the board makes an endorsement.
Why You Should Care about the Editorial Board

The editorial board does more than endorse a candidate. The board will meet with outside experts who can provide insight on a topic relevant and significant to the Times community. Requesting a meeting can be a way to get your organization's perspective in front of the editorial board, with the hope -- there's no guarantee, of course -- that the next time the board writes about that issue, it may provide perspective it got from that meeting.

Please note: getting a meeting can be a real challenge. Each editorial board has a different process of handling meeting requests. Please note: You're not likely going to be able to meet with the entire board. You should focus on contacting the subject-matter board member covering your issue. 

One of the challenges is that it can be difficult to get to the right person at the paper to schedule a meeting. The above list of subject-matter journalists at the New York Times, is valid as of Jan. 2020 but the actual URL indicates the list is from 2018. It may not be accurate even by the end of 2020. Most papers do not list the editorial board members or may not have updated their membership page in a long time; for example, the Wall St. Journal lists "Who We Are" of the editorial board but that was last updated Jan. 1, 2000 -- 20 years ago, and while a number of people remain, many have moved on. Some editorial board members list their affiliation when they publish columns away from the editorial board, which does happen at the Wall St. Journal. By the way, the Journal does provide a more updated list of its editorial board but it does not necessarily list their subject matter expertise. 

Even if you have scheduled an editorial board meeting with the right person -- as we have done in the past -- you are not guaranteed that they will respond or include your organization's perspective the next time they opine on the topic. 

We have fond that the process of developing a compelling reason to meet with the editorial board can help when writing an op-ed article on the topic. Even if you can't meet with the board or with the appropriate board member, the exercise of framing your perspective can have a longer-term benefit by refining your thoughts and key messages.

Let us know if you have any questions about working with editorial boards.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

NYT Offers Advice to Combat the "Age of Anxiety" by Changing How You Interact with Social Media

We've long felt that social media is one of the contributing reasons that many Americans are feeling anxious. That's part of why we think we're living in the "Age of Anxiety."

As part of our predictions for 2020, we said we expected the media to cover this, and the New York Times recently provided some tips as part of its "Smarter Living" initiative, entitled, "How to Turn Depressing Social Media Into a Positive Influence."

According to the Times, "The current state of the modern world is a billion voices screaming for your attention, and it’s easy to let the most negative ones filter through and bring you down. It can be exhausting, and if your real life is already a struggle, adding digital gloom can be overwhelming."

The article, whose subhead says, "Don’t let Facebook, Instagram or Twitter become negative aspects of your life. Here’s how to fix them," provides tips on for those three social media platform such as:
  1. Be selective who you follow. "Don’t follow accounts or hashtags you don’t like."
  2. Go back and unfollow friends "who only post negative things...or (those) who only writes rude comments."
  3. Don't click on things you don't like. The reason: Instagram knows what you look at so it will continue to serve up photos similar to the others you've tapped. "Click on something else. It won't take long to adjust and show you that."
  4. Skip Insta's Search page. Instead, "only look at the accounts you follow."
  5. Consider muting or blocking on Twitter to avoid "the most terribly toxic tweeters."
  6. "Enable the Quality filter and other advanced filters to cut down on replies from accounts with only a few followers (i.e., likely spam or bots)."
  7. "Don't post anything you don't want." People sometimes feel compelled to post but you don't have to.
Those are good tips, and there are more in the article so it's worth checking out.

We have another tip: When posting photos or info that includes other people, ask them in advance if they're okay doing so. We know a frequent poster who uploaded group photos that included friends' young kids. The parents and the kids were unhappy to be included; they just didn't want to be included. 

We do expect people to take social media vacations -- that is: to take time off from checking social media -- this year, especially as the presidential election approaches. But the need to take a social media vacation isn't due only to wanting to avoid politics (your own or someone from across the aisle). We feel that the need to take time away from social media can be beneficial and help you be present in a way that constant checking can't do.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Wired Validates Predictions about Privacy & AI Built Into Everything

Two of our predictions for 2020, which we've called the "Age of Anxiety," is the feeling that we're constantly under surveillance. We also said that a media topic would be "AI in everything."

With the latest column for Wired, "Worried About Privacy at Home? There's an AI for That How edge AI will provide devices with just enough smarts to get the job done without spilling all your secrets to the mothership,"  by Clive Thompson, a very smart columnist who also writes for the New York Times, touched on both parts: the privacy and the AI in everything.

His feeling: "I don't need light switches that tell dad jokes. When it comes to gadgets that share my house, I'd prefer they be less smart."

What he means is there are companies building "edge AI": AI that runs on "teensy microprocessors" that have enough capability to control a coffee maker but nothing more than that; perhaps an edge AI can understand 200 words. 

Why is that enough? With designed limited capability, the edge AI-enabled coffee machine does not need to interact with the cloud, which would give it more power but also share all kinds of data in the cloud, where it can be used to better train future iterations of the coffee machine (perhaps) and also could be monetized or further shared without your permission.

Designed to handle specific applications, edge AI can be faster and can ensure privacy while helping you get the job done. As Thompson notes:
"You can't banter with it (edge AI) as you would with Alex. But who cares? 'It's a coffee maker. You're not going to have a meaningful conversation with your coffee maker...'"
Thompson describes edge AI as perfect for appliances light lamps, TVs, and other devices that could benefit from voice control without needing full-on conversational capabilities. True, users would need to know the key terms to turn on and off devices or handle other variables (like turn up or down the lights and thermostats or the channels or volume, if that's how you still watch TV or listen to music). But they won't have to worry that someone is listening in on the conversations.

Edge AI won't solve all the "Age of Anxiety" issues but it's a good way to use just-smart-enough AI to help us without being too smart and not knowing how our input and data are being used.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Axios Validates Our Prediction about Distrust in the Media Being a Big Factor

For this year's top 3 trends, we picked "Distrust of Big Tech media fuels anxiety," published Jan. 8, and Axios validated that in it's newsletter from Jan. 18, noting:

"This trust crisis — flagged for us as part of a larger presentation by lobbyist Bruce Mehlman — is based on polling that shows how little confidence the public has in powerful players and institutions."

We don't like the situation but "trust chasm," unfortunately, is an appropriate term to describe where we are as a country. 

The rest of the Axios article looks at the implications of the trust chasm in terms of how it may play out in November but we see trust issues having an impact on Big Tech and other parts of the economy.  According to the New York Times, "'Techlash Hits College Campuses: Facebook, Google and other major tech firms were every student's dream workplaces. Until they weren't," mistrust of Big Tech is hurting recruitment. (By the way, Mehlman's presentation is interesting and worth checking out but focuses on political issues.) 

Our point: trust is important in all kinds of relationships. Companies need to building up their credibility in order to maintain positive relationships with customers, employees, partners and others. And that can be challenging, given the ease with which negative information can get shared via social media. 

This will be something that companies need to keep in mind as they go about their business in 2020.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

USA Today Validates Our Prediction about Space & Space Junk

Back on January 15, we published our "Additional Set of Predictions for 2020: A Baker's Dozen of Tech Trends," in which we said: 

"There will be a lot of media space allocated to covering outer space...Meanwhile we also expect coverage about political and legal issues of space as well as articles about things that just a few years ago would have flown under the radar (we've really been trying not to make space puns) such as the growing awareness that too many satellites are causing a traffic jam in space. This space jam began to get recognition as a potential problem in space in 2019 but we think it will get more recognition in 2020. The risk of collisions among satellites is a problem."

On Jan. 28, USA Today wrote: "Heads up: Two satellites might collide in space 559 miles above Pittsburgh."

By NASA JPL - http://oco.jpl.nasa.gov/galleries/galleryspacecraft/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33645603

Update: Since we first published this blog, The Atlantic published an article, "The Night Sky Will Never Be the Same: Elon Musk’s plan for worldwide internet has sent bright artificial, lights streaking through the dark" that also validates our prediction. The Atlantic looks at Starlink, described as "a floating scaffold" that Musk "hopes will someday provide high-speed internet to every part of the world." The problem: 
"These satellites have turned out to be far more reflective than anyone, even SpaceX engineers, expected. Before Starlink, there were about 200 objects in orbit around Earth that could be seen with the unaided eye. In less than a year, SpaceX has added another 240. 'These are brighter than probably 99 percent of existing objects in Earth orbit right now,' says Pat Seitzer, a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan who studies orbital debris."
You might say, so big deal about this prediction? What can we do about this problem. We think it's interesting for several reasons:
  1. This was a topic that was mostly ignored a few years ago. In Feb. 1, 2017, Popular Science published an article about space junk, "If Earth's orbit is so crowded, why don't we see space junk in photos of the Earth?" The article acknowledge a problem with space junk but not the aspect of collisions, and that was just three years ago.
  2. There seems to be more interest in space (and not because of the U.S. Space Force). Awareness of space junk is probably a good thing. What we really need is a solution. There could be a business in decluttering old, useless satellites still in orbit.
  3. From a media perspective, one article may reinforce another reporter filing another story. This is how media bandwagons start, and it may encourage governments and businesses to find a way to remove space junk.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

WSJ Validates Our Trends on Privacy and Robots & Offers Some We DIdn't Consider

We wrote and published our 2020 trends before seeing this article "Robots, Mood Enhancers & Scooters: 10 Top Consumer Trends for 2020" appeared in the Wall St. Journal.
So we're pleased that the Journal picked two of the same trends: privacy concerns and more robots. Our initial set of trends, which included privacy, was published Jan. 8, while our additional set of trends, which included robotics, appeared Jan. 15, the same morning that the Journal article appeared.
The Journal's set of trends included some we didn't consider, including
  • Homebodies: During economic, political and personal uncertainties, people often retreat to their homes, the Journal notes, which will likely fuel growth of internet shopping, home fitness, and food delivery services.
  • Instant Gratification: We didn't frame a prediction about staying home but we took a look at convenience, mentioning those three growth areas. The Journal agreed, and went a bit further: "Shorter attention spans means that people expect information to be as accessible as possible in the quickest possible time frame." We think this absolutely correct.
  • Inclusivity: According to the Journal, "more products and services are highlighting 'inclusivity for all,' including people with physical and mental disabilities. In our set of predictions, we mentioned voice control will be built into more devices, without drawing the connection to inclusivity. We liked this, and are sorry we missed that point.
Check out the other trends the Journal identified in the article.

Monday, February 3, 2020

One Additional Aspect of "The Age of Anxiety" Prediction: Sleeplessness

In saying that 2020 will be the "Age of Anxiety," we wrote about some of the driving factors that "will fuel feelings of anxiety, anger, exhaustion and insolation, regardless of political perspective."

We also said that "We expect many Americans will look for solutions and companies that provide joy, comfort, assurance and realiability to bolster their sense of well-being and connection."

We'd like to add to that.

We think the "Age of Anxiety" will drive sleeplessness. There's already recognition that sleeplessness is a health and productivity issue but we think this will increase.

We may have reached peak mattress -- sometimes it seems there are as many different mattress companies as there are podcasts where they advertise -- but we expect that there will be more devices over the next year that are designed to measure and deliver a better night's sleep.

We also think that stress, stress eating and stress drinking will be topics that will get covered by the media, specifically tips on how to reduce and cut back. Perhaps related, there will be more coverage about cannibis and the cannibis business sector.

These are important aspects of living in the "Age of Anxiety."