Trust Is Scarce

How is it that a lowly email newsletter has become one of the most trusted news outlets in America? Ask Dave Pell, the creator of NextDraft, one of the most successful newsletters on the internet:

"It is no surprise as to why Dave has done so well with NextDraft. In this day and age of fake news and clickbait nonsense, people recognize the lack of quality content and the trust between the reader and publications is slowly fading away. That’s why someone who personally has made it his mission to provide only high-quality, carefully assimilated materials and does it in an engaging way has managed to become a modern day news hero. This builds up a very special relationship with audiences."

This is what I've strived for in my newsletters since I started sending them out in 1990s. I started with paper newsletters, and when technology allowed, moved to digital formats (making them on 3.5" floppies and sending them by snail mail). Email newsletter technology was a godsend.

With every iteration of format and subject I learned more about how little mattered next to trust. I stopped stressing over design, delivery methods and even sometimes topics (if a story is good, it often applies across several subjects). Starting in the late 90s, I focused on totally on trust. But, trust takes years of proving yourself to your readers. It means rejecting the early, easy money for the long-term hope of relationship building. That's hard. It's why it's so extremely rare. 

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by our inboxes. But, a trusted, well-"curated" email newsletter is a thing of beauty. It saves you huge amounts of time and protects you from the throngs of hustlers vying for your attention every minute of every day.

It's my favorite form of publishing online.

I hope you subscribe to my personal newsletter and stay tuned for something new in the near future.

 

A List of Reasons to Pick Up a Film Camera

John Crane has many reasons for sticking with film during his career, but this is one of my favorites:

"I spend so much time in front of the computer that when the time comes to get away and enjoy photography – the last thing I want to do is pick up another computer."

That's a new one to me and I love it. His photos are wonderful too.

I've been dipping my toes back into analog photography for a year or two now. It's more than a nostalgia trip. Forcing your brain to think more about what you're shooting really helps.

And it's fun. Who says this can't be about fun? Unless you're a pro, fun is the only reason you ever need to justify using film.

 

Content Omnivores

I wrote yesterday about not being precious with the work you release online. I followed it up with an apology on Twitter of how precious I've gotten with my work since leaving Tumblr.

Tumblr was built to kill preciousness about creative work. It made posting content of any length or type almost trivial. Tumblr understood something about the way we consume online that no other CMS or service I've used has: we are content omnivores.

Google looks for original content of significant length to rank higher in searches. Content marketers swear by long reads with significant research for successful promotion of their businesses. So, it's taken for granted that if you're a reader, you want a long read on a blog.

It's also taken for granted that if you're a watcher, you want a 6-12 minute Youtube video (so I've been told by Youtubers). If you're a photography lover, you want a quick hit on Instagram. If you're a podcast listener, you want a short, highly edited podcast or a long, conversational podcast with people you care about.

But none of us fit these descriptions. We all read. We all watch videos. We all listen to something at some point.

That was the real innovation Tumblr discovered: a mix of media is best and that mix should be easy to create and fun to experience.

I left Tumblr because instead of charging for their service, they went with an ad model. Then, they sold out to Yahoo and became just another acquisition to be ignored by their parent. Tumblr has since become the back alley of Yahoo, more known for its porn than for the creators who still post there, like Merlin Mann and Austin Kleon.

I want to become less precious again. Doing it without the ease of Tumblr makes it more difficult technically, but the real difficulty is in being brave enough to just post a quote or a photo because  I like it, not because it says something profound.

 

Let It Out

How many of us create every day in journals, on our phones, and in our photo databases? Probably all of us to some degree. How much of it do you let out?

What if you publicly released just a fraction more of what you've been creating for yourself? Would it make the idea of a daily blog or a weekly podcast seem like a less daunting task? I think you'd find you're already doing much of the work.

The real hurdle is overcoming our own preciousness about what we release.

 

If You Still Haven't Started that Blog...

Here's a little more inspiration to get you started.

First, realize the purpose of a creative person telling their day-to-day story:

"When you communicate your inspiration and efforts behind your pieces, you allow viewers to see your art through your eyes. This gives the viewer something tangible to share with others in conversation – something that a two-dimensional piece rarely can do on its own terms." - Jacqueline Lara

Then, realize the infinite number of ways you can put that blog to work for you.

I love Gary Vaynerchuk in small doses. There's something unbalanced in his brain that creates a drive no normal human should have. But, every once in a while he produces something I totally endorse. In this video, he explains why you need to get started on that blog now and the incredible possibilities that open up for you when you do:

There's so many actions I'm taking away from that video. I feel my next manifesto coming on.

 

The Gruber Model

Every time I see an article about the last gasps of newspaper journalism, I think about the Gruber model.

For those who don't follow tech blogs, John Gruber is the blogger behind Daring Fireball, arguably the most successful and trusted Apple-related blog ever. I agree with pretty much everything he has to say about Apple, and almost nothing he has to say about anything else. He's opinionated about a lot of things (the Yankees and politics comes to mind), which is great for creating rabid fans (and critics).

What I really respect about Gruber is the publishing model he created. 

A decade ago, through trial and error, John discovered that instead of jamming as many ads and trackers as possible into every article, as newspapers do, he would have one tiny ad on the site and one RSS "native" ad per week. He focused on exclusivity and scarcity to drive up the ad price. It worked. He sold t-shirts and memberships to the site as well, for the truly devoted fans.

He proved that one man on a simple, all-text, reader-friendly blog with trusted content could create a very lucrative publication. Imagine if a newspaper, filled with talented writers, set those writers loose to to create their own Daring Fireballs based on their niches. I don't think we'd have the crisis we have now.

In 2014 John gave a talk at XOXO about how his blog started and how it became such a success. It's simple: respect the reader and build your publication on trust. Everyone knows, if you want to know what's really going on at Apple, you need to read Daring Fireball. That's trust.

There’s an obesity crisis at newspaper websites and it’s costing you money, time, and privacy. It’s all because they couldn’t figure out what John Gruber did more than a decade ago. They actively cultivate mistrust. They chose the typical ad model, which is a race to the bottom: more reader-hostile ads at cheaper prices. As we've all heard, "the problem with a race to the bottom is you might win."

In the years since that XOXO talk, Gruber has found podcasting to be equally (or more) lucrative than his blog. He experimented a bit with Youtube as well. These are routes regional and local newspapers should be looking at to add to their revenue. I'm not at all confident they can pull it off with their current philosophy, however. Every local newspaper in this country should be paying Gruber a consultant's fee and watching his talk on a loop until it sinks in.

 

When the Right Tool for the Job is Wrong

Designing a website for my wife has me thinking about this essay from from a while back, It's OK Not to Use Tools by Jonas Downey, a designer from Basecamp. Jonas abandoned his fancy tools when he created a website for an animal shelter using plain old HTML and CSS, with friendly, clear writing:

"As builders, we like tools and tech because they’re interesting and new, and we enjoy mastering them. But when you think about the people we’re building for, the reality is usually the opposite. They need simple designs, clear writing, less tech, and fewer abstractions."

It's way too easy for style to get in the way of the message.

Family Photography

The snapshot is the king of all photographs and the family is the king of all subjects.

Before becoming a dad, I would've said that photojournalism was more important, and the master printers of the zone system age owned the gallery wall. But, now I realize that everything in this world, from the birth of a baby to global war, starts with the family.

Family photographs represent what's most valuable about photography. They are of a time, context and place that's not repeatable (unlike landscapes). They pack the greatest personal punch due the people involved (unlike fine art or typical photojournalism). They are simply the most important photographs we can make. Yet, they are underrepresented in what gets the attention of the photo world.

This week I spotted a newish book, Family Photography Now, at the library and loved the idea of treating family photos like the art objects they really are. The book is a catalogue of some of the most creative and haunting family photo projects taken on by talented photographers from all styles.

Some of the images are meticulously printed black and white photos worthy of hanging in any museum for their technical mastery alone. Some are whimsical plays on color. Some, which deal with truly dysfunctional families, you'd rather skip than deal with. But you can't.

It's a big, thick photo book.

Good. It's about time more paper was devoted to this topic.

It's inspiring me to up my game with my own family photos. Check it out. I bet you'll never look at your family's photo albums the same way again.