Five Things: April 13, 2023

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Why journalists can’t quit Twitter | Casey Newton

For the moment, though, Musk has learned the same lesson Jack Dorsey did: Twitter is extremely hard to kill. And for the journalists who have come to rely on it, there is almost no indignity they won’t suffer to get their fix.

Newton nails journalists’ fundamental problems with Twitter and why so few news organizations have abandoned the increasingly problematic platform they took years to fully embrace. It was a good read last week, and offers insightful context for what happened next…

The day after Newton rebuked his profession and colleagues, NPR’s Twitter account was misleadingly labeled ‘state-affiliated media,’ to which NPR responded by putting their account on hiatus. Twitter’s response was to change the label to the similarly misleading (and seemingly newly created) ‘Government-funded Media,’ but NPR has decided they’ve had enough and weren’t going to take it anymore. They briefly returned to Twitter with a handful of tweets pointing their followers elsewhere; removed Twitter from their sharing options on articles; and their Twitter profile is no longer linked in the site’s footer.

Tangible actions backing up fighting words? More of that, please!

My two cents: every news organization and journalist still using Twitter at this point is getting clowned.


Once more with feeling | Raw Signal Group

The most immediate win that comes from any team opening a review this way is that we learn whether we’re on the same page or not. Six people feeling clear and calm about how the quarter went is a story. Four people feeling clear and calm, while the other two feel worried and underwater, is a different one. And the numbers won’t necessarily tell you which story we’re reading.

RSG’s approach aligns with my core belief in being “data-informed, never data-driven.” I’ve been in situations where quarterly KPIs weren’t great on paper, but other metrics offered reasons for optimism, or at least useful context. I’ve also seen seemingly positive KPIs mask legitimate concerns about the state and/or direction of the business, usually because those KPIs weren’t measuring the right metrics.

“What gets measured gets managed” can imply focus, but it can also be smoke and mirrors intended to distract from the most relevant KPIs.

The end of any quarter is an opportunity to see how you’re tracking towards annual goals, but the first quarter can be the most important one because it’s easy to miss, or dismiss, early warning signs of troubled waters ahead. Over my career, I’ve worked for a range of direct bosses and CEOs — from the aggressively transparent to the passive aggressively deceitful — including two dealing with potential bankruptcy scenarios. Oddly, both were at the same company nearly 10 years apart; one succeeded in avoiding it, while the other succeeded spectacularly in ensuring it happened, filing right before the end of the first quarter. -_-

I don’t consider myself the greatest Manager of people, particularly in rigid hierarchies, tending to be more of the player/coach who tries to get the best out of whatever team I’m working with, filling in gaps myself wherever possible. What I lack in active mentorship I try to offset with transparency, collaboration, and leading by example. Those are the traits I’ve valued in leaders I’ve learned the most from, and they’re what’s allowed me to be successful in challenging situations where resources and structure weren’t always ideal.


Unf#ck Your Business | Joe Biel & Dr. Faith G. Harper

I knew that this was an underserved niche, because this is the niche that I, myself, was a part of. The best advice that I can give you is to find something that you are passionate about and carve an underserved niche within it, rather than trying to sell what you think ‘most people’ want.

I don’t usually read business books, and it’s been years since one even caught my attention, but I’ve been a fan of Microcosm for years; Biel’s pragmatic approach to publishing is very much in line with my own; and I’ve been intrigued by their “Unf#ck Your…” series for a while — so I backed this one on Kickstarter recently without hesitation.

It’s a breezy, insightful, relevant, and mostly validating read for me — similar in tone to Biel’s A People’s Guide to Publishing, which convinced me that I did not actually want to start my own publishing imprint — with some useful objective context from Dr. Harper sprinkled throughout.

There’s a definite downside to working in an area you’re too passionate about — burnout is more likely, and way more likely to leave scars — but I’ll take that risk every time if it involves a chance to solve tangible problems over doing something boring, uninspiring, and/or lucratively evil.



Two Failure Modes of Emerging Technologies | Dave Karpf

It is certainly worth imagining what sort of world will be created if companies like Palantir build products that work as-advertised. But I think we should be at least as concerned about the potential harms that arise when their products don’t work nearly as well advertised.

The VC/techbro “Move fast and break things!” mantra requires a whole lot of privilege, funding, and incredulous media coverage most people don’t have access to. It also conveniently frames failure as inevitable, desirable bumps on the road to presumptive success. Fawning industry media outlets and clueless mainstream journalists love it as a hook, while consistently ignoring calls to examine the potential downsides of even temporary failures.

I’ve gained a reputation over the years for being a “No.” guy, seemingly quick to reject half-baked Underpants Gnomes schemes. A “No.” from me is always informed by data and context, though, fueled by a healthy dose of skepticism having lived through almost every major iteration of the computer and internet era, seeing the impact of ill-conceived pivots on staff while the executives making the decisions move on to ruin other companies.

Karpf is quickly becoming one of my favorite thinkers on technology, and his level-headed take on failure modes relative to the shiny du jour is extremely insightful and applicable well beyond the insufferable AI debate. It’s a long read, but worth the time.


Driven to Fail: Larry Chen | Sam Smith

I wanted to talk to Larry because he believes, in a very specific way, that he is not any good. How he sees holes in his work, his constant drive to move past something he views as weakness—those things make him who he is, and they’re why he’s made the difference that he has.

One of my least favorite podcast formats is the hagiographic interview with a notable business leader or creative professional. They’re usually full of bland aphorisms, inflated resumes lacking context, and success stories lacking supporting data — and they rarely offer any actionable takeaways. Smith, to his credit, wanted to do something different, and having listened to the first four episodes, I think he’s mostly nailed it — and Larry Chen’s episode is my favorite so far.

Chen’s a successful and celebrated photographer at the top of his game, but he’s very candid about his perceived weaknesses and what it takes to overcome them. As a creative professional, his story was the most relatable of Smith’s first four guests, but also the only one without an explicit failure on his resume, partly because good photography is subjective, and ultimately the product of multiple little failures no one else ever sees.

Because photography and writing are both creative endeavors, I think Smith has a stronger rapport with Chen, too, frequently offering relevant insights from his own career in journalism, including a line I’m now considering for my next tattoo: “Cynicism and pessimism… that’s its own kind of failure.”

NOTE: Zoë Rom’s DNF for Trail Runner took a similar approach to exploring failure from a runners’ perspective and is one my all-time favorite podcasts.

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