Saturday, February 23, 2013

What FastCompany missed about the MailOnline

As a former photo editor at the +Daily Mail, the Web's most highly-trafficked news website (since Jan. 2012) I was happy to see +Fast Company's take on what makes the site so damn successful [read it here].

But I think they missed the full story.

For FastCo, the MailOnline's success comes down to 4 design choices:

1. The homepage has a million stories and no ads
2. Sidebars on the story level point to a million other stories, eliminating dead ends
3. Stories are organized by category in vertical sections (duh)
4. Content targeted at women is especially successful

While these points are all true, I don't think you can explain the site's success without talking about its use of photos, which goes above and beyond what you see anywhere else on the Web (except for the NYDailyNews, which has basically adopted the Mail's design as its own).

PHOTO COMPOSITES are the MailOnline's killer app.

No photo on the MailOnline is just one photo. All of those stories in the right rail that deal with entertainment and celebrity news and other content targeted at women come with thumbnails that incorporate two or three other images.

The stories on the main page get composites as well, perhaps a crime scene and two mugshots, or a composite of the various main characters, and if the main story is big enough to occupy the entire width of the homepage, you might get a huge panorama that incorporates 5 images or more.

You get so much more content before even clicking on a story than you would on most other sites, which may offer one thumbnail/top image per story. For me this serves as a lure, to let readers know that they have the photos, they have the details, they will SHOW you the news as well as tell you the news.

Once you click in, you are rewarded many times over, as the MailOnline will break up the text every few paragraphs to give you photos of everything and everyone related to the story, and you become a return visitor.

Photo galleries are put together in the same way, as Buzzfeed does, by embedding dozens of images into the body text of a single article. All you have to do is scroll to see the photos, rather thank clicking through each one.

Granted, the use of photos isn't related to the website's design, but it is intimately related to the layout design and the editorial choices that the MailOnline makes, which FastCompany does address in its piece. Unfortunately it left the biggest part of the story out of the story.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Media Diet

I remember an elevator ride with Carl Lavin, the lead editor of, while I worked as an editor at TheStreet, when I asked him what he read; he looked at me with a quizzical expression that took me by surprise, as if he hadn't thought about the question in a long time.

"I read what comes across my desk," he said, "what friends send me or what makes its way into my Twitter feed, what people are talking about."

It was such a simple solution to the problem of information overload that so many of us suffer from, but as I have tried to follow that advice I have found that's it much easier said than done.

My media diet starts every day with the AP and Twitter apps on my iPhone, to see what is driving the conversation around the news, and quickly moves to the one piece of essential reading that Lavin did identify: Mike Allen's Playbook. The over-caffeinated genius behind Politico sends his daily digest of what is driving the day in Washngton to any Inbox that asks for it, and without fail I will see those stories In the major media by the afternoon.

In addition to Playbook, I rely on newsletters to catch up on anything I may have missed from the day before, including The Slatest from Slate, The New York Times's New York Today and the Muck Rack Daily for social media news.

I get my news about the media industry through daily newsletters from MediaBistro and IWantMedia at some point in the morning, and will read anything by the New York Times' David Carr, Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd and Tom Friedman thanks to alerts set up on

Beyond that, I read what crosses my desk and what makes its way into my Twitter feed. I don't ever watch TV news, though I will occasionally catch an episode of the Daily Show or Colbert Report, and I rarely listen to the radio other than maybe 15 min to get the basics on my way to the office on Long Island. I simply can't stand the commercials.

Aside from getting caught up on the news of the day, I go out of my way to read some long-form journalism and magazine features, so my media consumption involves some "lean back" time as well.

I subscribe to Bloomberg Businessweek (brilliant features) and The Economist (essential for world and finance news), which I read throughout the week, and I will spend weekends on Vanity Fair, Wired, The New Yorker and the occasional Fast Company magazine. I read these almost exclusively on my iPad.

If I'm our running or riding my bike, I'm usually listening to a recent podcast from Brian Lehrer, Planet Money, the Moth or This American Life, all essential listening.

And somewhere in all of this I manage to read actual books (sometimes as audiobooks) to get immersed in narratives that take longer than a few minutes to read. It's amazing what a good feeling it is to take several days or weeks to read something.

If all of this sounds overwhelming, that's because it is. Staying informed is an exercise in triage and skimming. If a piece isn't written well, I move onto the next one. If the writing is good though, I read to the end.

Fundamentally, it all comes down to what Lavin told me: the best way to be informed is to read what comes to you. It's filtered by your network, curated by the people you know, trust and are in some way connected to. After that it's about taking pleasure in learning new things.

Otherwise what's the point of any of it?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Jeff Jarvis on his BBC rant and post-rant Twitter rant

After leading author and journalism professor ranted on-air to the BBC, and afterwards to the world of Twitter, I asked the man a few questions about the lessons to be learned from it all. True to form, he was candid.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Review: The Red Market by Scott Carney

The Red Market, by Scott Carney (2011)
[Cover image courtesy of]

If you, like me, are fascinated with the corners of human society that one rarely hears anything about, The Red Market goes above and beyond the voyeuristic appeal of the subject matter and presents a nuanced view of the business of the human body in different corners of the world.

Scott Carney is a great writer, but most importantly The Red Market is an amazing piece of journalism. Exposing the very different ways that value is placed on the many different parts of the human body that the world needs (and uses), the book gives an inside look at the trade in human flesh that is extremely compelling.

The story touches on the completely criminal, the quasi-grey-market, and the completely-aboveboard markets for human hair, blood, organs and adoptive children, to name a few, and what is most amazing is that in each case Carney gives us a look at how it works on the ground – because he went to these places and talked to the people who make their livings off of these markets.

He doesn't tell you "hospitals in India make you bring your own supply of blood if you are going to have an operation that requires a transfusion", he tells you "I went to a food vendor across the street from the hospital, who took me into a back alley and offered to sell me a pint of B- for $20" (not an exact quote but you get the idea).

In some cases, people are abused and exploited. In some cases people are just meeting a need that the legal market is not meeting because our society has established a philosophy that voluntary donation (of kidneys, blood, etc) is the only ethical way to manage the supply. Meanwhile a whole host of middlemen (doctors, hospitals, "adoption counselors") make a ton of money off of those donations.

The result is a nuanced view of the global trade in human flesh that argues above all for transparency in the existing systems that, as they are set up now, offer too many opportunities for profit and exploitation to be of much good to people.

It's a brilliant work of journalism that addresses the micro-level and the big-picture view of the subject matter, which makes it both fascinating and useful.

5 stars.