In this episode we hear from Sophia Waterfield, editor and founder of Paranting Magazine. It’s a magazine for parents, but for parents that don’t have time for some of the aspirational BS that a lot of lifestyle magazines cover. We spoke about the name, funding a start-up with the aim of actually paying freelancers – oh, and accents.

In the news roundup the team discuss the collateral damage of the New York Times’ success, a busy week for News Corp, and Facebook’s first ever loss of active daily users. Peter and Esther mistakenly think they are arguing, are in fact loudly agreeing with one another.

The full transcript will be live here shortly, but for now, here are some highlights:

How Sophia got started

I’ve been a writer since I was 15. My first published work was in the East Riding Gazette, which is my really like mini, local micro local paper at the time, I don’t even know if it’s still going to be honest. And I basically did book reviews. And I still have the book that I was given as payment for that piece

I’ve been freelancing I would say, for about three or four years, I’ve had the privilege to work for Newsweek. I was a freelance reporter for them for 18 months. I’ve been really privileged to write for some really big names, and some small names as well, which is just as important. I’ve got a really varied background, but I think that, you know, being a writer, being a storyteller has always been there since I was 15.

On glossy magazines and the origins of Paranting

I just want to set the record straight and say it’s pronounced ‘ Pa-Ranting’ Its purposeful. You know, the name is a mixture of ranting and parenting. It’s basically a conversation that only parents understand.

I’ve always loved magazines. That’s why I got into journalism. I just love them. But one of the things that I really felt that nothing really spoke to me, there was nothing even that looked vaguely functional as a parent. I’m not going to spend 300 quid on an outfit that clearly I’m going to get messed up in like two seconds. You have to have that disposable income that I just didn’t have as a working class, pregnant woman.

On being a working class Northerner

The hurdles that I faced as a Northern person were real. And I don’t just mean, like, excluding me from things or missing out on job opportunities, but how I had the mick taken out of my accent. When I went to uni, that was a real issue and I actually ended up changing my accent a lot, just to fit in. I became very resentful of the fact that I was Northern, because it just became a bit of a joke.

I’m from Hull and the South have a thing about how Hull’s a bit of a joke. And it shouldn’t be. There’s a lot of talent in Hull. It rivals Shoreditch in terms how independent businesses thrive.

When I came back, after, you know, when I was pregnant with my son, I really felt that I had neglected that side of me that I tried to push it away, when in fact, I should have really embraced it. And I do now, it’s very much part of who I am.

Focusing on attainable aspiration

It’s a real balancing act, but I would say it has to be affordable. We don’t look at the Primarks of this world in that we want it to be sustainable. We don’t support fast fashion. We try and be as green as possible, but it isn’t always possible… the working class can’t afford to be green, sometimes.

We are not about news hooks, we are about being beyond the headlines and getting to the real discussion points that are affecting the typical parent basically.

On funding Paranting

Paranting is self funded and reader funded. We tried a Kickstarter campaign and we didn’t meet our first target. We actually got more in that first Kickstarter from backers than we did in our second one, but we didn’t meet the target so we didn’t get the money.

I ended up taking out a start-up loan from the British business bank. Again, that was a learning curve. I took out the money to get started, but when we went back for the second round of funding, we didn’t get it, which was really disappointing.

So we are now in a situation where we are funded by readers. It’s a massive scramble and that’s the only way I could describe it. It’s not juggling, it’s scrambling. I really want to give a shout out to my freelancers. Some of them are the most patient people and understanding people I’ve ever worked with, they really get what parenting is trying to be about.

Main story

The New York Times is at it again – acquiring Wordle for its incredibly success word games subscription business. That’s what it is – as many people pointed out this week, between the acquisition of The Athletic and Wordle, the NYT is moving from a news-centric business to an attention business more widely.

  • Will Shortz, editor of the New York Times Crossword, said: “What’s nice about Wordle is how simple, pleasant and attractive the computer interface is. It’s a great puzzle and it doesn’t take long to play, which makes it perfect for our age when people have short attention spans.”
  • As our old boss Neil Thackray noted, this is a shift back to more traditional publishing strategies: “Delete the crossword and you are toast. Always been true. Twenty years ago Puzzler Media which sold sudoku to newspapers (you could write the code to do this) sold for over £120m. (They also stuck these in magazines). Puzzles are worth more than news.“
  • Wordle is something of a phenomenon, and well done to James Wardle for creating something so popular and selling for something in the low seven figures. No complaints here. Buuuut…
    We need to have a chat about the NYT more widely. Not its editorial strategy, but its impact on the journalism economy more widely. We’re seeing the collateral damage of its success – and its latest results show it’s only going to continue.

In other NYT news, it hit its goal of 10 million subscriptions a few years early.

  • It gained 1.2 million via The Athletic acquisition, which completed this week.
  • It added 375,000 digital subscriptions in the last 3 months of 2021, with 171,000 of those to its core news products and the rest to cooking, crosswords, product recommendation site Wirecutter, and Audm – that’s 55% of new sign-ups NOT to news products.
  • That means The Times has 8.8 million subscriptions, 5.9 million for digital news (67%), 2 million+ for other digital products (the rest for print).

News in brief

  • The UK and Canada are both lining up to copy Australia’s legislation to allow newspapers and publishers to negotiate with Google and Facebook for payment for their stories. Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton has done a superb takedown who explains exactly why trying to force tech giants to pay for linking to stuff is utterly batty.
  • A number of academics from Australian universities are questioning its tie-up with the Digital News Academy (in cooperation with Google) on the basis that it is an ‘incursion of a high-profile and controversial media company into the higher education sector and the extent to which that is funded by a large disruptive digital search company’. Then it was the subject of a hack from China, which puts the identity of some of its confidential sources at risk. And finally it announced results, demonstrating a 13% increase in revenue as digital subscriptions grow.
  • Facebook’s user numbers are down for the first time in it’s 18 year history. Its  stock crashed 26 percent and its market value was down more than $230 billion, more than Estonia’s GDP apparently. What I was surprised at was the idea that it’s game over, pushed by some people I respect (A. The threat to society is bigger than Facebook so let’s not wait until it all falls apart. B. Meta still has 1.9 billion users. C. The world is a very different place than when Alta Vista disappeared.):

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