Taking one from the Stoics

A thought experiment courtesy of the Stoics. If you are tired of everything you possess, imagine that you have lost all these things.
—Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

I started reading this book maybe six months ago, but didn’t pick it up again and restarted it from the beginning last week. Funny how “when” you read something affects you just as much as what you’re reading.

Love other women

  • Hire more women: “The smartest teams were distinguished by three characteristics: First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group. Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible. Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not ‘diversity’ (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women.” [Anita Woolley, Thomas W. Malone and Christopher Chabris, New York Times]
  • Love other women: “The world wants you to find extraordinary women threatening. Undo that training. When you feel threatened, it’s a great sign that you have just found an ally who will bring you new energy and insight and together you will rise. Never stop growing your crew. There is always room for another homie if you find someone special enough. Give them everything and they will give back in return. Have faith in the women in your life and you will be ok out there.” [Rachel Rosenfelt, Brooklyn Magazine]

Two good ideas

  • When to quit your journalism job: “If you work in any kind of editorial organization, it is your job to understand the business model. If you feel you can’t do that, you should quit. By ‘understand the business model,’ I mean you can (confidently) answer this question: What is the plan to bring in enough money to sustain the enterprise and permit it to grow? Can’t answer? You have the wrong job.” [Jay Rosen, PressThink]
  • How to be an expert in a changing world: “The first step is to have an explicit belief in change … Another trick I’ve found to protect myself against obsolete beliefs is to focus initially on people rather than ideas.” [Paul Graham]

Identifying your audience

Two unintentionally related things happened today: theSkimm, an email newsletter that summarizes the day’s news for a young, female audience, raised $6.25 million in financing. And I wrote this piece about the rise of “smart filters” like email newsletters. The main thrust of it was that I think we’ll see more editorial products that not just filter information, but will also do so with a reference point or “voice”/approach intended for an identified and specific audience.

It was interesting to see the feedback about theSkimm — about its voice being grating or flippant. I mostly agree, but I think that’s a great thing because I accept that I’m probably not its core audience. theSkimm is a great editorial product and it’s been successful so far because it identified a very specific audience and serves that audience really well. If you don’t like it, you’re not that core audience.

I think this is what happened initially with Vox’s explainer backlash. Its tone wasn’t right for some of us, but we probably weren’t Vox’s core audience anyway. So I think it’s a good sign when people have strong feelings — hopefully positive — about your product because congrats, you found your audience.

Also, it means that as more organizations realize this, they’ll make a product for you too.

The challenge is, as Mathew Ingram writes, is that the “broader you become, the less valuable you become for each individual reader. It’s like the law of diminishing returns, in a media sense. And so you need more and more readers to stay afloat, let alone to grow.”

Anyway, I have a big report coming out fairly soon (hopefully in the beginning of January) on single-subject news products and I try to address a lot of these questions about audience, etc. in it.

Asking a better question

Working with audience research and survey geniuses have made me reevaluate one of my favorite, oft-asked questions: How do you get your news?

I’ve realized that there are a lot of assumptions in that question. What does “news” mean to different people — people of different ages, races, education level, socioeconomic status?

It’s not there yet but I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I think a better question might be some variations of the following:

  • How do you spend your time [online]? (On x, y, z)
  • What activities are you doing [online]? (To do x, y, z)

I think my biggest problem with “How do you get your news?” is the assumption that news is core to people’s lives. It may not be and they may not actively seek it — but they probably can’t avoid it. So, where are they bumping into “news” (and information more generally) in their day to day life?

A little update

Friday night news dump from me: I’m be joining BuzzFeed News in January! I’ll be working with the news app team in NYC and will be focusing on figuring out the best way to deliver news to “informed, educated people who want to know what’s happening in the world” and yes, writing a daily newsletter :)

Here’s a bit more about what we’re trying to do from my very, very smart to-be editor, Stacy-Marie Ishmael: “Everybody has that one friend who’s really interesting and really witty and who’s, like, the sparkling guest at the dinner party … We want to be that friend. We want you to come across something through us that you would never have otherwise seen that is a nugget of interestingness that makes you more informed.”

Ok, now a favor from me! Send me a message (millie@fittingly.net) about how you come across news and information in your day-to-day and any challenges you think you have in wanting to be stay up to date and/or an informed citizen, like there’s too much out there, not enough time, etc. Would LOVE to hear what you guys think!

Finally, I’m immensely grateful for everyone at the American Press Institute and am so proud of what we’ve accomplished in the past year and a half in relaunching API. And if you know anyone who is rabidly curious about news and the business of journalism, let me know.

Best idea I’ve heard in a long time when it comes to personal relationships

Quick post because I’m usually on a one-track mind in the mornings — but this is one of the best ideas I’ve heard in awhile and something I’ve struggled with as my good friends continue to scatter geographically.

Paul Ford writes about how to email with an old friend after falling out of touch:

An old friend of mine was on the Internet and came across an article that I had written, so she emailed to say hello. I was glad to hear from her. She and I worked together 11 years ago. We were once close but drifted.


I started to write a pro-forma reply. “Great to hear from you! Things good in Brooklyn. Two kids.” And so forth. But my email felt false and chatty.


I thought about it for several days. Finally I had an idea: What if I sent over list of the things I’ve learned in the last decade? It felt like the most accurate way to bridge the gap. Because then she’d know what had happened.


… Several days later she sent back her own list. It was a great list: About learning new ways of working, about being a mom and wife, and the way her body was changing. It was like an index to the book about her last 10 years.

via Paul Ford on Medium