Caring about social sharing, more or less

I recently made a non-trivial change in how I share links to my work on social media, and I’ll bet you didn’t notice: I stopped touting my work on Tumblr and resumed sharing it on Google+.

Social-network icons

But why would you, when my Tumblr presence has seen so little (sorry, buzzword alert) engagement since I opened an account there in February 2012 basically to augment my social-media literacy?

I had no idea at the time that in less than two years Yahoo would have bought Tumblr and that I would begin writing for a Yahoo site that uses Tumblr as part of its editing system. In other words, so much for worrying about being Tumblr-illiterate.

I kept on sharing a link to each new story to my several dozen Tumblr followers anyway, but a few weeks ago, Yahoo Tech switched to a new editing workflow that required me to set up a new Tumblr account. Having to log in and out of accounts on the same site as I alternate between writing stories and sharing them makes for a lot more work.

At almost the same time, I got some professional advice that Tumblr is not the right place to market your work anyway: At a panel during the Online News Association’s conference, Mashable’s Ryan Lytle said less than 1 percent of Tumblr posts are link shares, making that site “not a traffic play.”

Meanwhile, I’ve realized that while Google+ isn’t going to threaten Facebook or Twitter anytime soon, it continues to function fairly wel as an off-site comments thread. It does, however, remain the last place I share my work, after my Facebook page and then Twitter: Not only is my audience there smaller than on Twitter, Google+ doesn’t give me any useful analytics about how many people saw a post and clicked on its link. Maybe I’ll ditch G+ too in six months?

That ONA panel reminded me that I could be doing a lot more to flack for myself online–notice my absence from Instagram and Snapchat and my pitiful Pinterest participation?–but my leading occupational hazard is online distraction. I’d like to think that limiting my social-media marketing gives me that much more time to participate in the oldest social network of all, e-mail, but we all know how behind I am at that.

 

Unsubsidized words on subsidized travel

Two summers ago, I got an intriguing travel offer in my e-mail that had the added benefit of not being spam: Would I be interested in an expenses-paid trip to Berlin to cover the IFA electronics trade show?

I'm not used to having my country listed on these things. USA! USA!I’d already gotten interested in IFA after reading some of Harry McCracken’s coverage of the 2011 show, and the prospect of having anybody else pay for my travel certainly got my attention. In two years of full-time freelancing, I’ve yet to have a client reimburse airfare or hotel costs.

But being possessed by Catholic guilt, I replied to the sender (a publicist working with the ShowStoppers PR firm that runs IFA’s U.S. outreach) that I’d have to check with my regular editors to see if they’d object.

To my surprise, their responses ranged from “Should be fine” to “say hello to my old haunts!” So I took the mostly-free trip–I paid miles and cash to upgrade to business class on the flight over,  then the subsidy didn’t cover all of the high-end hotel the organizers had booked–filled my notebook, and learned a great deal about the non-U.S. gadget business that’s since informed my coverage back here.

I was also surprised to see the company I had in Berlin that year and again earlier this month after I accepted the same offer. The contingent of maybe two dozen U.S. journalists included full-time staffers for tech-news hubs like ZDNet, PCMag.com, TechNewsDaily and SlashGear as well as freelancers whose outlets include the likes of CBS and the New York Times–not some scruffy bunch of junket-grabbing hacks, in other words. And I got a lot out of comparing notes with writers I’d only known before through Twitter.

Were I still at the Post, none of that would have happened. The career-limiting move wouldn’t have been getting turned down after requesting permission to take a travel stipend–it would have been my being a jerk for asking in the first place. And even as a freelancer, I can’t sell to some places under these circumstances. My occasional client Ars Technica turned down my offer to file something from the show.

I recognize that letting somebody besides an employer or client pay for my travel can look bad. But I think there’s a meaningful difference between a company I cover paying for a flight or a hotel so I can go write something about its event or product, and the money coming from a third party organizing or sponsoring an event.

The first case looks a lot worse to me and would be harder to explain to readers, so I’ve declined the few invitations I’ve received so far. (Two digital camera vendors wanted me to try out their new hardware in scenic settings, and a couple of tech companies offered to cover travel costs to attend events in New York.)

I’m not going to say first-party travel subsidies are always an ethical foul. Cranky Flier blogger Brett Snyder, my favorite chronicler of commercial aviation, covers an industry in which the product can come with a four- or five-digit price tag; his way of dealing with that conflict is to disclose not just the subsidized trips he’s taken but the ones he’s declined. I continue to trust his work.

You can also argue that third-party subsidies are economically indistinguishable from Samsung or Google writing a check. But if you start looking at how money flows in the tech-news business, you’ll never stop–who do you think buys the ads that support tech-news sites? Besides, I already write for a blog sponsored by a tech trade association and before that contributed to a much larger tech lobby’s blog; turning down organizer-paid travel wouldn’t make me any less guilty under that argument.

Transparency is an overrated response to situations like this but still necessary. My disclosures page breaks down my sources of income but also notes speaking fees and paid travel I’ve picked up (usually for participating in one panel discussion or another). But I also remember that if I’m not going to find enough news or networking when I arrive to keep me busy, it’s not worth being apart from my family.

Edited 11/18/2013 to clarify what I see as the difference between a company directly paying for me to cover its event or product and an organizer or sponsor paying travel costs.

Weekly output: PR pitches, Google I/O (x2), photo-album apps, smartphone multimedia

I spent the workweek in San Francisco–as in, my flight left National Airport at 8 a.m. Monday, and my flight home landed at Dulles around 6:30 p.m. Friday. Next week will also involve a long commute: I’m off to Las Vegas tomorrow for the CTIA 2013 wireless trade show.

5/13/2013: Your Brand Message Sucks: How to Pitch Your “Amazing” Product to Journalists, Influence HR

I spoke on a panel with Reputation Capital’s Mary Ellen Slayter, the Starr Conspiracy’s Lance Haun and Angles PR’s Ania Kubicki about good and bad ways PR types can deal with the press. (What was I doing at an HR-oriented conference? Mary Ellen’s an old friend from the Post and invited me onto the panel.)

I talked to WTOP about Google’s I/O news on Wednesday, but that interview doesn’t seem to have been preserved on the station’s index for that day. Drat!

Google I:O Discovery News post

5/16/2013: Google Probably Knew About This Post Before Me, Discovery News

The headline for this Google I/O recap popped into my head almost fully formed. I’m glad the editors stuck with that; I’m a little disappointed nobody picked up the Suzanne Vega reference in the excerpt that shows up in search results and on D News’ home page.

I was interviewed again that evening–this time at a press reception, along with USA Today’s Ed Baig, by Thai tech journalist Chatpawee Trichachawanwong. I don’t know if that piece has run, or how insightful Ed and I might sound in it. (We didn’t have much time to prepare.)

5/17/2013: Google’s I/O News: A Reminder Of How Apps Don’t Just Write Themselves, Disruptive Competition Project

Here, I tried to put Google’s developer-focused I/O news in the context of iOS’s continued lead in one important area: profit potential for the average developer.

5/19/2013: Q&A: What’s the best basic Windows photo program?, USA Today

A question from a relative looking to prune the assortment of photo apps on his laptop led to this column. It also includes a tip about the difficulty you may have sharing some of the neater multimedia-enhanced photos your phone’s camera can take.

Most of this week’s posts on Sulia covered particular I/O announcements or sessions–for instance, a talk on Android’s design principles, an upcoming fix for buggy Bluetooth, an uncertain detail about Google’s stock-Android version of Samsung’s Galaxy S 4–but I also reviewed the Lyft and SideCar ride-sharing services and described my experience being served, slowly, by a robot bartender.

5/20/2013, 12:52 p.m. And here’s my brief Flickr set from I/O 2013.

Relationship status with Apple PR: It’s complicated

SAN FRANCISCO–I’d planned to spend this morning covering the keynote opening Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference here. But after getting some optimistic replies from Apple PR over the last two weeks, I was told last Wednesday that they were out of room.

Apple Sept. 2010 press pass

My press pass at Apple’s Sept. 2010 event to introduce the redesigned Apple TV

An e-mail reiterating my interest (in addition to Discovery News, I had a tentative assignment from a larger regional newspaper to write up the keynote) and asking if Apple had concerns with my coverage or the scope of my potential audience yielded the same answer: sorry, nothing personal, we’re out of space.

This was not a total surprise. With Apple, working for a big-name media property does not guarantee access–while I was at the Post, smaller news organizations and even some individual bloggers got review hardware days before I ever could. But it’s also possible for a site to get an advance look at one year’s highly-anticipated Apple gadget and then get left out the next year.

I have written some uncomplimentary things about Apple–this rant about App Store rules comes to mind–and, as a Mac user, gripe about OS X issues often enough on Twitter. But  while I haven’t gotten any review hardware or media-event invitations from Apple since leaving the Post (when I reviewed the new iPad, I elected not to deal with Apple PR and worked out an alternate loan arrangement), its reps still return my e-mails and phone calls reasonably quickly, especially in recent months.

Since those steps don’t involve allocating scarce review hardware or seats in exhibit spaces, there’s always the ego-deflating possibility that my current outlets don’t promise enough exposure in Apple’s estimation. Or maybe it’s something else. With a company as set on keeping its own secrets as Apple, you never know.

At the same time, on a personal level the Apple publicists I’ve talked to have been among the nicer people I’ve met in my work. After I announced my exit from the Post, two of the first “good luck” e-mails I received came from people there. One wrote that he hoped our conversation at the iPad 2 introduction wouldn’t be the last time we met; I hope so too, but our next chat may take a while longer.

I’m not writing this to beg for sympathy or brag about my fierce journalistic independence. Apple has its job to do and I have mine, and most of that doesn’t require liveblogging product-launch events. Worst case, the money saved on three annual roundtrips to the Bay Area (for new-iPad, WWDC, and new-iPhone events) would more than cover buying all the Apple hardware or software I’d review in any year, even if I have to do the karma-denting move of returning a review iPhone to a carrier within two weeks to avoid getting stuck with a contract.

I am, however, writing this to document that covering this company involves a certain low-level angst I don’t get when dealing with some of its competitors. That imbalance amounts to another influence I need to factor out of my evaluations–customers don’t deal with Apple PR or anybody else’s. And now that I’ve talked about this issue instead of pretending it doesn’t exist, you’ll know to call me on it if you see it skewing my judgment.