How To Collect Photos On Tumblr

Charles Bukowski kissing his typewriter, Hunter S Thompson firing a gun at his typewriter, or Nabokov dictating, while his wife handles the typewriter.

I collect photos of writers at work.

Just for fun, it’s a hobby. Since the summer of 2011, I’ve collected photos on Tumblr. At first, no one noticed. But then Salman Rushdie tweeted this: Lees verder How To Collect Photos On Tumblr

Ophan: An Inside Look Into The Guardian’s Analytics Tool

A journalist from The Guardian once showed me their in-house analytics platform Ophan. I was really impressed by its clarity.

Unlike Google Analytics – which has an interface that’s littered with features for analysts and marketers – Ophan is every man’s analytics platform.  Everyone at the company can easily access the tool, even on their phones.

Yesterday, published an extensive walk-through of Ophan and interviewed Chris Moran, the Guardian’s digital audience editor, about how it works. Lees verder Ophan: An Inside Look Into The Guardian’s Analytics Tool

Becoming the ultimate resource on a topic

“The biggest source of waste is everything the journalist has written before today”

Ezra Klein from wants his journalists responsible for constantly updating pages that are the ultimate resource on a topic.

He told this The New York Times a couple of months ago (I found the remark while researching the much applauded CMS of Vox Media, called Chorus).

I think Klein is right.

1. We’re bombarded with new headlines and clickbait all day (here’s why). Thus understanding the world a little less with each update.

2. We have the means to go beyond the format of a classic news article, which has literally been around for ages. Our shared goal is to inform readers to the best of our ability.

So how we can we build a publication around this mission? How can we, for example, put every update on Syria’s war in its right context?

A few challenges:

  • Most journalists are addicted to the thrill of publishing a new story (I know I was). Updating a page is a lot less glamorous and is a big step away from a journalist’s default modus: filing new stuff.
  • Inventing the right platform for this kind of journalism will need enormous investments and commitment from an ideologically-motivated senior management. This strategy doesn’t turn a profit within a couple of years.
  • People will laugh at you. Exactly like they’re laughing at Klein’s efforts now. “I expected so much from Vox, but all they’ve launched are card stacks“. Almost everyone will fail to see what you’re trying to build in the long run.

At De Correspondent, we’ll start building dossiers in 2015. These pages will be more than just a collection of links. We’ll use these to introduce people to bigger themes. Baby steps, but after 18 months of building a basic publication, we’re ready to take on Kleins challenge.

While keep you updated at this blog, of course. You can follow the journey through RSS or Twitter.

Update (13:08): This post by Jay Rosen elaborates on Ezra Kleins mission.

The Pain In E.B. White’s Here is New York

I finally got around to reading E.B. White’s famous essay about New York. He wrote it in 1949 for Holiday. This was a travel magazine for a generation that had just embraced both a post-war boom and the rise of commercial airlines. White wasn’t a traveler, so the magazine asked him to leave Maine for a couple of days to cover Manhattan, the city where he once used to live.

When the essay became a book, the hotel where White resided at the time of writing already disappeared. ‘Despite the mention’, White wrote in the book’s foreword. But he didn’t mind:

“To bring New York down to date, a man would have to be published with the speed of light [..]. I feel that it is the reader’s, not the author’s, duty to bring New York down to date; and I trust it will prove less a duty than a pleasure.”

Ok Mr. White, I’m trained at doing this. Like everyone who has ever lived in New York, I have gotten used to the – sometimes painful – changes to the city.

An example comes to mind. An example that White might also have described in his essay. Because we’re both talking about an ex-speak easy around East 53rd street.

The cover of the first edition
The cover of the first edition

When I lived in New York in 2007, my roommate – a then 42-year old actress-turned-piano-teacher – often took me to bars she had frequented for decades. One of them was Bill Gay’s Nineties, a former speak easy where on Friday nights an Irish ‘piano man’ entertained the crowd. I met someone there I had dreamed of meeting for most of my teenage movie-watching years. Someone who had known The Old Italian New York. Then 83-year old Aldo Leone, greeter of the bar. We became friends for two nights (as I had to move back to Amsterdam soon after my first brawl at Bill’s Gay Nineties).

Every time I returned to New York, I visited Mr. Leone’s bar.

Until, in September 2012, only a faded sign proved that the building on 54rd street once hosted Bill’s Gay Nineties. The joint had disappeared. The bar’s website blamed the landlord. So did The New York Times. There’s no mercy in New York. A bar like that would be a monument in Amsterdam. But in New York, decades of history disappeared because a landlord wanted it that way.

New York comes with pain. With being uncomfortable. White writes how New York offers its visitors and inhabitants two gifts: loneliness and privacy. Then he says:

“The city makes up for its hazards and its deficiencies by supplying its citizens with massive doses of a supplementary vitamin – the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty and unparalleled.”

And this pain comes with advantage too.

“I believe it has a positive effect on the creative capacities of New Yorkers – for creation is in part merely the business of forgoing the great and small distractions.”

I’ve never had as many lonely evenings as I had during my stint in New York. But it was also during those months that I started blogging seriously. I interviewed for example, all Dutch correspondents in New York about their trade. By doing this, I laid the foundation for the career I’m so enjoying today.

White ends his book with impending doom. A fleet of bombers (a somewhat new phenomenon at the time) could wipe New York of the earth. But a couple of sentences later, he links it to a hopeful alternative: the construction of the United Nations building.

“The city at last perfectly illustrates both the universal dilemma and the general solution, this riddle in steel and stone is at once the perfect target and the perfect demonstration of nonviolence, of racial brotherhood, this lofty target scraping the skies and meeting the destroying planes halfway, home of all people and all nations, capital of everything, housing the deliberations by which the planes are to be stayed and their errand forestalled.”

I’m going back to New York in February. Ready to embrace the delightful suffering White so elegantly described four years before my father was born.

E.B. White – Here is New York (1949)

Looking For Advertising Revenues, Advertising Revenues, And Advertising Revenues

Vox Media – home to, The Verge, Eater and others – has raised a lot of money (again). Just like BuzzFeed and Vice did earlier. On The Awl, they know why:

These investments are neither mysterious nor confusing. They are bets that companies with advertising revenue will be able to produce more advertising revenue, or that maybe they will be purchased by companies with even more advertising revenue. Their editorial pitches might be different but their investment pitches are the same: They are, effectively, ad agencies for Facebook or or for YouTube or for Twitter or for Pinterest or for whatever new thing comes along.

I wonder how we should see traditional newspapers if we use the same definition. Ad agencies for kiosks? The main difference of course is that these newspapers used to also rely on subscriptions. And a subscription model leads to more trustworthy journalism.

An ad-based model on the other hand, only makes you look for more traffic – even when it hurts journalism.

To be honest, this is the cynical me talking today.

Because I just as much admire the tech journalism by The Verge, the competing-with-Wikipedia-quest of Ezra Klein and their incredible design skills.

PS. By the way, by its own definition, The Awl is also an ad agency.


Writefull Helps Out Bloggers Like Me

Writefull seems like a great tool for writers who write in English but are not native speakers (like me).

It allows you to check:

  • whether you’ve used the correct expression;
  • if you should use a more common synonym;

Writefull uses the Google Books API for its references. When I’m in doubt about an expression now, I use a regular Google search. Using edited texts as a source is a better idea.

So I have just installed Writefull (it costs $5) and will report back on my findings later.

Update (13:21): Changed ‘the right expression’ into ‘the correct expression’:

Writefull in WordPress
Screenshot of WordPress

Looking For The Best Content Management Systems (CMS) Out There

De Correspondent consists out of two parts: the journalism company and the technology company.

(For those of you who don’t know us: we’re a Dutch journalism platform, raised a world record-breaking $1.7M with a crowdfunding campaign and now have 28,000 paying subscribers – €60p/y.)

The technology company and editor is called Respondens and at some point we hope to market this and use the revenue to further develop the technology for De Correspondent (with which it has an eternal and free licensing deal).

Respondens. The editor behind De Correspondent

On this blog, I’ll publicly research our (often extremely well-funded and succesful) competitors. I’ll gather documentation about these companies, link to articles about them, probably write a couple of thoughts about their strengths and weaknesses. To see if there’s a chance that we can bring Respondens to the market.

Why do this in public?

Wildly succesful marketing author Seth Godin once said: “The act of writing is what moves things forward.” Writing about this research forces me to rephrase the incoherent thoughts in my mind into clear stories you should understand.

Moreover, by doing this publicly, I embrace the chance that some of you might point me to CMS’s I hadn’t seen yet or come up with better ideas about these competitors.

So here goes part 1. I’ll start with an obvious one. My blog has run on it since 2006 and when I was the digital editor of NRC Handelsblad, we used this service to build its news site WordPress.

Read the WordPress review here.

How Subscription Models Lead to More Trustworthy Journalism

Ryan Holiday is a marketer.

Even his name sounds catchy.

Just like the title of his first book: Trust me I’m Lying. Confessions of a Media Manipulator (2012). Being a top marketer – Holiday served as Director of Marketing at American Apparel -, his book is also written in a catchy way – stuffed with punch lines.

That’s not by accident, a short read on Holiday’s blog teaches us. He links to a blog post where he explains how he ‘growth hacked’ his latest book:

“I designed this book to be viral. [..] I tried to keep my sentences short and make my revelations big and exciting. I wanted people to leave with important and actionable sound bites.”

It’s a funny paradox, since Trust me I’m Lying forms a powerful argument against the clickbait-culture, while at the same time its author uses the exact techniques behind the very same culture to ‘optimize’ his book.

That being said, I gained plenty of new insights through Holiday’s book. Specifically about how most of online journalism is broken.

The diagnoses goes as follows:

  • Most online media outlets make money by selling ads;
  • In general, the more traffic they have, the more ads they sell;
  • Thus the task of most online journalists is: generate traffic;(Gawker’s famous page views leaderboard in their newsroom comes to mind);
  • In their quest for traffic, journalists are desperately looking for juicy stories;
  • ‘Media manipulators’ like Ryan Holiday supply those journalists with what they need, meanwhile serving their own agendas.

On the opening pages of the book, Holiday explains how he does this:

  • He designs a controversial billboard for one of his clients and makes sure it gets a good spot in LA;
  • Holiday then gets himself a spray can and defaces his own billboard;
  • In act three, Holiday drives by in a car and snaps a photo of the demolished billboards;
  • He then sends it a blogger, who gladly posts it. Uproar follows. Box office soaring.

(Holiday urges media manipulators to ‘trade up the chain’. Send your news to a low-profile blogger with zero to none journalistic standards. He’ll probably post it. You now have a link to your fake controversy. Then it’s just a matter of waiting before a more well-known blogger picks it up).

The billboard example is quite innocent. But what happens when Politico starts following obscure presidential candidates just to get more traffic (and thus sales)? It changes the political arena.

Holiday also hints to a solution: subscription-based publications. Just like The New York Times once created an opportunity to steer away from the sensationalist-sells-good-on-the-streets pulp journalism by introducing subscriptions, web publishers can now escape the ad-drive race to the bottom.

subscriptions versus ads

That’s exactly what we did at our Dutch journalism platform De Correspondent. First we organized a crowdfunding campaign to get started without investor capital (and raised $1.7M), then – as soon as we launched – we introduced a membership. For 60 euros a year, you can access all our articles, podcasts and videos and can contribute to stories. We now have 28,000 subscribers.

I’m not saying we’re immune to media manipulators (they could still mingle in our comments section ), but as I read Trust Me I’m Lying, I took comfort in the fact that our journalists only have to serve one purpose: inform our readers in a thoughtful, trustworthy and careful way.

Ryan Holiday – Trust me I’m Lying. Confessions of a Media Manipulator (2012)

My public scrapbook now has 10,000 followers

Just posted this on my Writers at Work Tumblr (more info about that hobby here):

Dear literature friends,

I normally just post photos of literary giants at work, but I’d like to take a moment today to thank you.

Screenshot 2014-11-19 16.34.50


As of today, 10,000 people follow this photo collection. Wow. I couldn’t have imagined that when I started this website in 2011 as basically, well.., a public scrapbook. Let alone that someone like Salman Rushdie would call the collection ‘fascinating’.

Moreover, I want to thank you for sending me photos I hadn’t found yet. Together we’re building an archive that will hopefully inspire us every day to get to work ourselves.

Yours sincerely, 

Ernst-Jan Pfauth (@ejpfauth)
Amsterdam, The Netherlands