Journalist/developer. Interactive editor @frontlinepbs. Builder of @HomicideWatch. Sinophile for fun. Past: @WBUR, @NPR, @NewsHour.
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Mapbox Faces Union Drive as Labor Organizers Extend Push in Tech

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Employees at Mapbox Inc., which makes mapping tools used by Instacart Inc. and Snap Inc., have announced their intention to unionize, making them the latest group of tech workers to embrace organized labor in a traditionally nonunion industry.

The union seeks to represent all 222 U.S. employees, technical or not, at the SoftBank Group Corp.-backed company. Nearly two-thirds of workers have already signed union cards with the Communications Workers of America, which has increasingly focused on tech workplaces in recent years.

Under U.S. law, companies have the option to recognize a union as soon as a majority of workers have signed cards, or to refuse to do so unless workers go through a government-supervised election, during which employers often campaign against unionization. Mapbox didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether it will voluntarily recognize the union.

As Mapbox evolves, it’s critical for workers to have formal influence, said Trevor Specht, an IT developer. “We don’t know what’s going to happen years down the road with Mapbox. And, we want to have a voice in preserving what’s good, as well as addressing any challenges that we identify,” Specht said.

Changes at Mapbox appear to be on the horizon. In recent months, the company has been in talks to go public via a special purpose acquisition company overseen by SoftBank, and has appointed an Amazon.com Inc. alum, Peter Sirota, as chief executive officer.

Unions can improve retention in an industry where workers regularly change jobs in search of better benefits or pay, said Andy McCoy, a software engineer who has worked at half a dozen venture-backed firms over the past decade. “Tech workers, myself included, have found that we don’t want to keep having to jump job to job.”

Flagship U.S. tech companies have remained nonunion for decades, but workplace activism has increasingly roiled the sector. CWA has guided many of these efforts, recently winning union recognition at a handful of companies, and initiating campaigns at Alphabet Inc. and for tech workers at New York Times Co.

Founding members of the Mapbox Workers Union were inspired by these other organizing campaigns, said Lizzie Gooding, a back-end engineer. She added that tech employees should use their relative privilege in the workplace to advocate for changes that benefit everyone, including those not traditionally thought of as tech employees, such as salespeople or warehouse workers.

“We see ourselves as part of a larger movement -- it’s bigger than just Mapbox,” Specht said. “Things are really moving in organizing in the tech industry. And, you know, we’re part of that.”

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chrisamico
4 days ago
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A Little More Remote Work Could Change Rush Hour a Lot

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“Those who are most reliant also are the folks who are trying to literally go to their dialysis appointments,” said Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins, who works on federal policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council and is a member of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s board. “We totally forget who really is most dependent on our transit system.”

In Cleveland, the transit authority cut downtown rush hour service early in the pandemic and halted express bus routes from suburban park-and-rides. But it didn’t cut service through neighborhoods where officials believed more workers, including hospital staff, had in-person duties.

“Do we have the heart to say after they’ve worked 12 hours to serve the community that now when they walk out to their bus, they’re going to have to wait almost an hour before the bus can pick them up?” said Joel B. Freilich, director of service management for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.

In 2019, the agency planned improvements to off-peak service, now rolling out this month. The pandemic further confirmed for officials, Mr. Freilich said, that every hour is rush hour for someone.

In larger regional transit agencies, these decisions will be more fraught.

“Inside almost every transit agency, inside its politics, inside its decision-making, there’s this inevitable conflict between the suburban commuter interest who’s trying to get out of congestion, who’s very focused on the problem of peak congestion, and then there’s the interest of people trying to get around all day,” said Jarrett Walker, a transportation consultant who led the planning for the Cleveland changes.

But there are other ways in which everyone’s interests better align in a world where travel peaks aren’t so sharp. Less congested city streets could mean faster bus travel, more space for cyclists, and more humane commutes for the people who still drive.

And if all of this means some lower-income transit riders shift to driving on roads that are no longer quite so terrible?

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chrisamico
7 days ago
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Oldies Are Goodies

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So it’s been a while. OK, a very long while. OK, a very very long while.

But since this post is about the value of old stuff, perhaps it’s appropriate it’s been three years or so since I wrote a real new post. (Although the real reason for not writing for a while is, as I’ve noted here, that I’ve been kinda preoccupied.)

In any case, I was struck by this interesting article at Digital Content Next that asks the thought-provoking question: What if the value of news isn’t what’s new? It cites the example of the Daily Nation, Kenya’s largest national paper, which is starting a subscription service – not for current news, but for anything older than seven days old. In other words, the “new news” is free; it’s the “old news” you have to pay for. As the piece notes:

So, can an approach like this work? Can you effectively sell a “news” subscription where the content you’re charging for isn’t, well, new?

Spoiler alert: Yes.

Or: Probably yes. Or: Possibly yes, if… And we’ll get into what those ifs are, and some reasons more people aren’t trying this strategy. And why, perhaps, they should.

But back to the article, which goes on to cite examples like National Geographic, Esquire and others that have managed to monetize their archives. The Daily Nation may well be the first – I admit, I haven’t done exhaustive research on this – to bank its entire subscription strategy on selling, well, old news.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. True, some readers/users really value getting information first – and certainly I work at a news organization which is largely built around speed, sometimes to the tune of milliseconds. But let’s set Reuters and the like apart for a moment, and focus on the vast majority of other newsrooms. A lot of news is widely reported, and if the information is behind a paywall at one site, I can probably get the gist of what I need to know from another site. True, I may really like one news organization’s take on a particular event, but in many cases there’s not necessarily enough differentiation to make me take out my credit card.

Sure, there are exclusive stories, features and deep investigative work, but most news sites pin their value on news.

But speed is only one metric that readers value. As I noted a decade ago:

All those events mattered in some way or another, but knowing about them minutes – or even hours – ahead of others isn’t critical to most of us. What often matters more is the thoughtful, considered analysis of events, or perhaps the exploratory database/interactive that lets us understand the information on our own terms, or the insightful commentary piece a couple of days later.

And that’s where archives – or previous reporting, or well-structured data – can really bring new, and sometimes instant additional value to an audience. Very few events happen in a vacuum; if there’s a plane crash, how many others happened at that location, or with that airline, or with that type of aircraft? If a politician makes a claim, who else has made the same assertion, who has debunked it, what other claims has he or she made? And so on.

Yes, a good journalist can dig that all up in the heat of coverage, and get it into a well-written and nuanced story. But it’s tough to do on deadline. More importantly, much that information probably already exists in the site’s old stories; why not just let readers find it – or better yet, let it find readers?

That’s the trick – not to just let readers hunt for historical stories, or even just surface related articles from the archive, but to really use the information in those stories as the building blocks of new stories, databases or information graphics, and created automatically. That’s the idea, at least, behind structured journalism. (You knew I was going to get to that at some point.) And that’s part of the broader idea that there is embedded value in older information.

And if that’s too complicated, we could at least make our archives more useful to readers.

So would this be a compelling subscription offering? Maybe not by itself, but it would certainly enhance the value of a site beyond telling people’s what’s new or letting them find a five-year-old article. And more importantly, it situates users and their needs at the center of the experience, rather than what we produce and what we’re good at.

The Digital Content Next article puts it well.

So, why is there reluctance to make these archives the core tenet of a news subscription as the Daily Nation has done, rather than hitching our future to up-to-the-minute coverage? It’s partly due to a discrepancy between what journalists and editors value versus what audiences consider worth paying for. I recently spoke to Ramus Kleis Nielsen, the director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, about that dissonance. He argues:

“When news organizations who are turning to reader revenues are trying to sell subscriptions, that light is very focused on us and not very focused on the public that we aim and claim to serve. They are the ones who have to convince. You don’t need to convince me or journalists that what we do is important, or that we want more people to engage with it and even pay for it. You need to convince the people who aren’t doing it.”

Because those of us who work in journalism focus on the now, on being first. And, therefore, we can lose sight of what audiences actually need: context. It’s natural that we should fear putting our most valuable content out there for free. This is why hackles raise whenever someone brings it up. But if what we value isn’t what audiences value? How can we know what they think is really worth paying for?

All good questions. Now just go and read my old posts. Please.

Otherwise I’ll have to write some new, up-to-date ones. And who wants that?



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chrisamico
8 days ago
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Resist flattening your neighbor

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version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Describing political perspectives on a left-right spectrum began with the French Revolution.

In the National Constituent Assembly of 1789, deputies most critical of the French monarchy began to congregate in seats to the left of the President’s chair. Supporters of the monarchy to the right. No assigned seating. Just a natural affinity for sitting near those with which you most agree. So developed the party of movement, and the party of order.

Left-right is a metaphor. It only means something because the concept developed widespread familiarity, and it’s a helpful framework for explaining complex identities. Helpful, at least, in that it neatly described a spectrum of opinion on that very specific question in 1789: where do you identify on this spectrum between movement and order during this open debate on the role of monarchy?

Following the well-established trend line of metaphor in language, this nuance has been largely sanded down. Many of us even reduce ourselves to this single axis: how far left or right or near the center am I (on every issue)?We attempt to incorporate all of our hopes, beliefs, experiences and philosophies into a single point that is either to the right or the left of some (shifting!) middle.

Surely we know this can’t hold up under scrutiny. People are complex. Yet it’s how we treat each other (and ourselves).

When we understand someone as a single point on a single axis, I think of this as a kind of flattening of that person. We do this to historical figures. I was reminded recently of an off-handed comment buried in a 2017 book review.  We understand the complexity of a friend or a contemporary, the reviewer wrote, but “the moment someone becomes a feature of the past, however, he is reduced to a vector with a single transit and historical purpose.” 

We don’t have the memory to hold nuance about every person. Flattening is a feature of our mental data storage. We remember simple narratives about historical figures and celebrities and distant acquaintances. Simple, unoffensive. Until we do it to everyone. When we do that, flattening becomes a tool of war. War could be defined as a period in which all complexity is flattened down to two opposing forces. There are no politics in the foxhole

Outside of war, though, democracy depends on “free trade in ideas.” We’re struggling to maintain that marketplace as a single-axis. Us versus Them becomes constant. In his farewell address, President Obama called this the Great Sorting. It seems an unworkable premise to reduce everyone to a single point on a single axis of “good” or “bad.” If we do, for practical purposes, it seems to be that we are in a societal war. “We must end this uncivil war” is then not a metaphorical call but a literal one. 

It’s worth remembering what happened in 1789 after the right-left ‘great sorting’ of the French Revolution. (I am not even mentioning here the Dark Enlightening neo-reactionaries of recent years). During the ensuing Reign of Terror, hundreds of thousands of people were imprisoned for their views and 17,000 people were executed. A dictator followed. So, too, did many lasting societal concepts we cherish today. The French Revolution is too complex to flatten and put on a single good-bad spectrum. People are too.

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chrisamico
17 days ago
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Emily Wilder’s firing is a story of bad faith, not bad tweets. Newsrooms must do better.

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The AP should have guided a young reporter through a crisis — not caved to a right-wing mob.
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chrisamico
22 days ago
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And so the cutting begins

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Alden Global Capital is wasting no time in taking a chainsaw to its newly acquired newspapers. NPR media reporter David Folkenflik tweeted a thread that contains some horrifying details about what the hedge fund has in store for Tribune Publishing:

How about that? A $60 million loan with a 13% interest rate that Alden will pay to itself.

The cuts, by the way, will come on top of massive downsizing that took place in 2020, when Alden was a mere minority shareholder. Tribune’s Chicago Tribune reports:

Last  year, Tribune Publishing employment fell by 30%, dropping from 4,114  employees at the end of 2019 to 2,865 employees at the end of 2020,  according to the company’s annual reports. The company had a total of  896 newsroom employees across its eight markets entering this year.

Finally, the New York Post’s Keith Kelly writes that Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, who was in a better position than anyone to stop the sale of Tribune to Alden, is “taking a lot of heat” for not voting against it — or at least for not abstaining in a way that would have stopped the deal.

Kelly quotes an unnamed source who calls Soon-Shiong “second most despised man in newspapers today behind Heath Freeman,” Alden’s president. Nice quote. I wonder who said it?

Please become a member of Media Nation today.



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acdha
14 days ago
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Washington, DC
chrisamico
23 days ago
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Boston, MA
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