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What can we own?

This was originally published on NiemanLab as part of ‘Predictions for Journalism 2017.’

2016 offered painful reminders of all the things that media doesn’t control.


Ad blocking induced panic in 2016. Also in 2016, Facebook began offering ad targeting to non-Facebook users and Google quietly started linking data profiles to users’ real identities by default. Even if your news site could grow traffic 10× and wipe out ad blocking, advertisers could still buy all of your users directly from Facebook and Google properties, featuring an integrated ad experience and superior targeting. Most publishers’ ad revenue will continue to shrink until it’s gone.

Distribution and discovery

Google was the top news site referrer in the 2000s, until Facebook overtook them in the 2010s. Distribution slipped farther away in 2016, the year of the new walled gardens. Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News opened to all publishers and Google AMP launched. Struggling newsrooms felt compelled to accommodate three new publishing formats. What if one of the big platforms penalized organic referrals to publishers who don’t participate? Media published to “meet users where they are,” even when we lost money, even when it undermined our own ventures. At least, news companies believed, we’re getting great engagement and extending our influence as the trusted gatekeepers of information…

Gatekeepers no more

On November 8, even that fell apart. Despite the newsroom dashboards that showed a surge in engagement on our sites and on social media, the newsroom didn’t own the content consumption experience. The experience was Facebook’s, where everyone gets their own personalized reality. It was really hard not to feel like a human battery fueling the social media Matrix.

Own and defend

We praise Silicon Valley for innovation in technology and user experience but routinely overlook their brilliance in business: finding something uniquely valuable and hard to replicate, marrying it to the right revenue model, and vigorously defending it from competitors.

In 2017 news companies will ask: “What can we own?” It’s a conversation that guides what we build, who we serve, and how we make money. The discussion must cut across the newsroom, engineers, designers, legal, and business. If the firewall is still up, it’s time to tear it down.

Own an experience

“Owning the experience” is usually shorthand for “we built a mobile app,” but it doesn’t have to be.

The Economist owns its format, which is both content and packaging. Their content is opinionated, uniform in voice, dense, and presented distraction-free. You can’t reblog an Economist story without breaking that unique format, which is what I pay for.

Own a channel

NPR member stations own their terrestrial broadcast distribution channel, which is the basis for their donation model. NPR One is a bet in two areas: It’s an experience public radio can own as well as a service to try to preserve that channel for NPR and its stations as listening goes digital. (Disclosure: I previously worked on APIs and the Infinite Player at NPR.)

Own a community

A community might be virtual or local.

The Wirecutter doesn’t own the entire product reviews market, but they own a lucrative segment of discriminating consumers who want the best product and will order online based on an expert review. Its affiliate model is a perfect fit for who they are and who they serve. You could copy The Wirecutter’s content, but not their research team or community trust. And they tend to rank high where distribution matters.

Reclaim what we lost

Should our new revenue models include donations? Grants? Unorthodox ads? Local events? Paywalls? Membership models? Is publishing into social media channels helping or hurting us? What are we actually trying to grow? Which customers are our best ones, and how should we treat them?

When we start with “What can we own?” the tough conversations around revenue, distribution, and reputation become so much clearer.

Javaun Moradi is a product manager at Mozilla, where he works on the Firefox web browser.

Anatomy of a Phishing Email

The weakest link in security is the human, and criminals are getting a lot better at the kind of phishing emails they send. They don’t have to crack systems, they can crack you by getting you to give up your credentials. Crooks have figured out that if they spend a little extra time proofreading emails and putting an official logo on them, it’s often enough get even intelligent users to click through to a fake page and give up passwords. Though not widely disclosed, the “hacks” of prominent news organizations websites and social media feeds by the Syrian Electronic Army were simply well-crafted phishing emails. The malware filters on your email don’t always catch them.

This one got through and someone actually took the time to make it look nice and proofread it. It could easily have come from your bank or other financial institution. I annotated it just to show what to look for.

If any of your web services have 2 factor auth, you should set them up. Google and Yahoo! accounts (i.e. Gmail, Docs, Yahoo Mail), social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc) have it. Sadly, your bank does not even though it would make it extremely difficult for a remote attacker to access_4245_unread__-_jvmoradi_-_Yahoo_Mail your account.

SXSW, Columbia J-school, and ASNE Recaps

It’s been a busy summer (we had another kid!), and I’ve been delinquent in posting decks from my latest talks.


Alex Howard and I have been speaking a lot about the coming deluge of sensor data. Privacy concerns dominated our News Foo session, well before the Snowden NSA disclosures accelerated the conversation around data privacy.

At this year’s SXSW, we lead a Core Conversation: “What Do Sensors Mean for News, Society, and Science“. The first audience question came from a Fast Company reporter who referenced an ACLU report on data privacy in commercial mobile apps. We momentarily wondered if the conversation would take off. Then, a gentleman in the back raised his hand and said: “I’m an attorney at the ACLU. I can answer that question…”

Columbia University Journalism School

I hadn’t given a lightning talk in over a year and gave two in June. Columbia’s Tow Center is extremely innovative and forward-thinking. I was delighted to participate in their sensor journalism workshop and gave a short talk on getting started.

Privacy was one of the main themes I stressed. The two biggest sensor journalism stories of the last six months were unintentional and had negative consequences for journalists and their sources. Vice magazine gave away John McAfee’s location, and the Tesla logs challenged a NY Times reporter’s memory. Before we wade into sensors, journalists need to have a conversation about privacy and ethics. What will be able to be subpoenaed? How do we avoid unintentionally hurting the people we’re trying to protect?

American Society of News Editors (ASNE)

Finally, I participated in a panel on digital innovation at the ASNE 2013 alongside my NPR colleague Brian Boyer.

The Reynolds Journalism Institute mentioned our panel here and here.

Videos: my talk on innovation outside the newsroom. Brian gave an phenomenal talk on the importance of building for mobile.

How to navigate with map and compass: an ORD Camp session

This weekend at ORD camp I led a session on map and compass orienteering.  Even in the age of GPS, it’s an indispensable outdoor skill. Electronics break, fall in a creek, batteries die, or clouds blot out your satellite uplink.

It’s also a ton of fun for participants of all ages, and it really connects you to hundreds of years of pathfinding. My toddler knows that the red needle on a compass points North, which is where Santa lives.

The best way to learn is by doing. Map and compass fundamentals are the basis of the sport of orienteering — think: outdoor scavenger hunt — and Chicago even has it’s own orienteering club.

For my session, I used the Silva Starter orienteering compass and a few USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle topographic maps. USGS quads are the basis of many commercial topo hiking maps and are available free of charge at

I owe a big thanks to Dennis McClendon of Chicago Cartographics for attending the session. As a professional cartographer, Dennis was able to provide all sorts of details on how maps are actually created.


We primarily used maps of the ruggedly beautiful Blackbird Knob area of West Virginia, which includes portions of the Monongahela National Forest and Dolly Sods Wilderness.

US Topo, 2011 (25 MB) –  This was the primary map we used. The U.S. Topo map series is rendered digitally and includes many layer overlays and aerial photography that can be turned on/off when viewed in Acrobat Reader.

1995 Topo Map (13 MB) – The older maps are analog. While they may not be up to date, there’s something beautiful about them. They also contain detail on forested and cleared areas, trails, peak names, human-made structures and double track that the U.S. Topo maps lack. Of course, they’re also over 10 years old, so you may be looking for a clearing or a trail that no longer exists.

Chicago Loop 1997 Topo – We didn’t get into the Chicago loop map, but I printed it in case we headed outside. You can practice biangulation (finding where you are by shooting bearings to known landmarks) from nearby Erie Park. While standing in the circle at the corner of Erie and Larrabee, I could biangulate using Willis Tower (Sears Tower as I and the map remember it) and Aon Tower (formerly Standard Oil). Or, if standing by the sculpture at the east end of the park, I could see the Hancock building and Merchandise Mart.

Session Handout and Reading

map-compass-techniques: The session handout covered map contours and common navigation techniques.

If you missed the session, this was the best free navigation tutorial I found.

And here are a few of the books I’ve read over the years:

The Essential Wilderness Navigator – a great primer

Be Expert With Map and Compass – a classic, by the man who founded Silva

Orienteering – geared more towards the sport of orienteering than general navigation.

Advanced Outdoor Navigation – has some terrific information, but since the author was a former SERE instructor, he spends a lot of time on wilderness survival. Hopefully your navigation skill is sufficient that you won’t need this ;-)

Photo by Margaret Stewart

Session outline

Topo Maps:

  • Quandrangle info
  • Scale (i.e. 1:24,000)
  • Declination (Magnetic/True/Grid North)
  • Road/Trail information
  • Contour Interval

 Reading contours:

  • Peak
  • Saddle
  • Ridgeline
  • Drainage/gulley
  • Valley
  • Steep cliff vs. shallow elevation change
  • Depressions


  • Always know where you are
  • Orient your map (“thumb arrow” points in direction of travel)
  • Take roads/trails when permissible


  • 180 degree errors (north/south error) – check compass orientation direction
  • 90 degrees  – compass check cardinal direction
  • Parallel errors – are you where you think you are?
  • Following others – don’t do it!


  • Aiming off
  • Attack points
  • Biangulation/Triangulation
  • Catch points
  • Handrails
  • Bracketing
  • Contouring (altimeter?)

Transparency Camp 2012: Sensors and Civic Dialog

TCamp is one of the events I look forward to all year. It was really special this year because my friend Gregor Hackmack of Germany’s Parliament Watch was in town from Hamburg.

Gregor and I have spent much of the last two years trying to bring his citizen/legislator Q&A platform to the U.S., and he’s in the process of open sourcing it. Parliament Watch has been an astounding success in Germany and has also seen success in Ireland, Austria, and Luxembourg. We held a session together and came seeking a modest U.S. pilot and may have a few interested takers. Here’s our session notes: How to bring Parliament Watch to your area.

I’ve always wanted to do a session with my friend Alex Howard. Alex has also written a ton about sensors and “citizens as sensors” in the context of civic media. We moderated an open conversation on open data opportunities for sensors and discussed projects as varied as Safecast, Trash Track, the Copenhagen Wheel, the Speeding Camera Lottery, and Asthmapolis. It was a ton of fun, we’ll do it again.

Session notes: What do sensors mean for open data?

Photo by Eric Gundersen

Sensors for news: a talk at TechRaking

Javaun Moradi of NPR speaks at TechRaking 2012.

A few months ago, I published some ideas about what the Internet of Things and inexpensive sensors might mean for journalism. It turned out to the most widely shared and cited piece I’ve ever written.

Last week I attended the TechRaking journalism conference at Google headquarters in Mountain View. I gave a 7 minute Ignite-style talk (a “lightning talk”) expanding on what sensors might mean for news and for engaging public media communities. The deck is below, I’ll add the video once the post it. Meghann Farnsworth recapped the event in detail.

Is NPR a Cult? Or is the world full of plaid?

Photo by Patrick Cooper

This month’s ONA DC meetup was hosted by NPR.  Apparently not having learned my lesson that lightning talks take a ton of time — or perhaps because Elise is so charming — I did another one. Also giving talks were Claire O’Neill, Clay Johnson, Michael Maness, Jon Bruner, who was down from New York. Patrick Cooper did a great writeup of the event.


Reinventing radio for digital platforms: My first Ignite Talk

(Or more properly stated: how do you deliver a killer 5 minute Ignite Talk when David Carr, Steven Levy, Tim O’Reilly, and a bunch of other folks you’ve respected for years are your audience.)

So… I survived my first Ignite Talk at News Foo 2011. I really had no idea what I was getting into when I signed up to speak. I read Scott Berkun’s excellent post, which gave me the idea to “hack the format” and use the same slide back-to-back for a 30 second effect while I played audio with my iPhone.

The subject of my talk was reinventing audio for digital devices. Broadcast listening is a linear, time-boxed experience. What might radio sound like if we invented it today? I drew on two projects I’ve worked on at NPR. The first was “You Are Here”, a location-based mobile audio project: what does radio sound like if we know where you’re standing? I got to work with NPR’s Robert Smith, an exceptionally talented storyteller. While “You Are Here” never saw the light of day, some of the lessons and some of the code made it into the second project.

The second project I discuss is the Infinite Player, a personalized, continuous listening experience. This one has gained media attention and our team at NPR believes it holds great promise.

I will do another Ignite Talk, but I can’t emphasize the amount of work it takes to even do a mediocre talk. I can prep a one hour presentation in 30 minutes. A five minute Ignite requires 30-40 hours worth of prep and practice.

A few takeaways:

  • You can never rehearse too much.
  • It’s better to practice all the way through than to keep stopping, as improvisation is key.
  • Edit yourself. You only have time for two points per slide, tops.
  • Sleep is key. I didn’t sleep at all heading into News Foo, and had such a good time I didn’t sleep there either.

How’d I do?

Minivans Will Make a Comeback (and not because of the advertising)

My coworker Sara Sarasohn tipped me off to Toyota’s hilarious and self-deprecating commercial for the Sienna minivan. Shot in the style of a hip-hop video, two late-30’s parents rap about bake sales and tea parties.

I think the minivan is poised to reemerge — but first a bit of history.

Minivans became the vehicle-of-choice among suburban families beginning in the late 1980s, when they unseated the then dominant family vehicle, the station wagon. (If you’re too young to remember family wagons, you may have seen them in movies). The minivan’s layout provided more passenger and cargo room in a shorter length vehicle. They were easier to park, load and unload, were often safer, and had better gas mileage than their large engine predecessors.

The emergence of the SUV or “sport” utility vehicle precipitated the end of the minivan era. At some point in the late 90’s, a minivan dad was stopped at a redlight. He peered at the SUV in the adjacent lane and wondered “can you put a carseat in one of those?”.

Ironically, a lot of used minivans were snapped up by outdoor enthusiasts seeking a practical vehicle. Paddlers, mountain bikers, and climbers found they offered tons of room for gear and you could even live out of them.

Minivans will come back into the mainstream because my generation is having kids and that’s what we remember riding in.  I expect to see a lot more modern amenities added to minivans, but they’ll be more modest and design-conscious than the ginormous-everything features of SUVs.

We Gen-Xers have hung on to our cynicism but have also become more pragmatic. Even if — like every generation — we’re becoming everything we said we wouldn’t, we’ll appreciate that Toyota is keeping us honest about it. We mocked our nuclear-family origins and the minivans we grew up riding in. But we’ve seen the alternative, and we’re not going there.