Why “Humans of New York” Proves Every Cynical Writer & Artist Wrong

Humans of New York is an experiment in digital art & journalism.A few weeks ago, a journalist met the President. The journalist was a blogger who took photographs and talked to people. He’s also the author of The New York Times bestseller, “Humans of New York.” His name is Brandon Stanton and, in late January, he managed to help raise over a million dollars for Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brownsville, Brooklyn, a school in one of New York City’s most impoverished neighborhoods… and helped the students and principal meet the President of the United States.

He told the story on a blog. He told the story through Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. And, above all, he told the story through photographs of people talking about life.

Stanton is making a living taking photos and reporting on things. He’s not associated with any media publication. He took the tools technology has made available and used them to make a huge impact.

Stanton’s success isn’t just inspirational, it’s a powerful indictment of the cynicism permeating the art world when it comes to social media, art, and the digital world.

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Media Companies: Go Mobile or Become Social Media Serfs

Media companies have to go mobile or they risk becoming serfs in Facebook's kingdom.Media companies are having a hard time trying to get people to pay for digital news. When there are so many sites that just provide headlines and a few paragraphs of sensational context (which is what most people want, anyway), it’s difficult to convince readers that “news” is a product that’s worth any money.

That’s why media companies have come to rely on advertising so heavily. Right now, 69% of all domestic news revenue is tied to advertising. And how do media companies ensure that they get the most potential exposure for advertisers? They bring in traffic. Lots and lots of traffic.

Facebook is responsible for a huge amount of that traffic, so it should be no surprise that the social media giant is enticing publishers with promises of lots of traffic and engagement in exchange for a deal in which, according to The New York Times, “media companies would essentially be serfs in a kingdom that Facebook owns.”

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Don’t Like Native Advertising? Start Paying for News.

633408166_51157f74acLately, there’s been a lot of discussion about one of the newest advertising tactics in the journalism world: native advertising.

You might have seen it yourself, if you’ve felt the need to click one of BuzzFeed’s “10 Reasons Why You Should…” list articles.

You’ll have a series of copyright-infringing GIFs, generally stolen in some capacity from other websites, and, at the top of the article, you’ll see that it’s sponsored by Jack Daniels. Or JetBlue. Or whatever.

The idea is that people reading the article will start thinking BuzzFeed isn’t the only company that can put together some fun GIFs to help people avoid reading anything meaningful. That association will, in turn, benefit the brand.

The BuzzFeed / brand relationship is a dubious one at best, but investors are convinced – that’s part of the reason that BuzzFeed just got another $50 million in funding. The real issue for people, though, is that other publications – like The New York Times – are publishing “native advertising” content, too.

This is turning out to be a huge revenue generator for news publications and a great way to build brand awareness for the company. But when branded content starts flowering in every crevice of a news outlet’s website, it becomes more difficult to decide which is good to eat and which is a poisonous, subjective berry.

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