Noema is a magazine looking at some of the biggest issues of the 21st century – AI, the climate crisis, the future of democracy and capitalism. This week, its Executive Editor Kathleen Miles tells us about the challenges of publishing in what seems like a very high-brow niche, commissioning and editing writers like Yuval Harari and Francis Fukuyama, and how interests outside of publishing feed back into her work.

In the news roundup Peter and Chris discuss whether taking fossil fuel ad money makes publications complicit in greenwashing, the BBC’s audience figures ahead of its centenary, and whether US media companies should be enviously looking at UK publications.

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

Noema’s mission

Noema is a magazine exploring the transformations sweeping our world. So covering everything from artificial intelligence and the climate crisis to the future of democracy and capitalism, we are seeking a deeper understanding of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century. So, yeah, not an ambitious mission at all.

Accessibility

The most important thing when you’re covering such huge topics is to make sure that the content is accessible to a wide audience and doesn’t speak just to individual disciplines or niche intellectuals, on any given topic. We commission many writers who already know how to write for readers who are not academics or in a certain discipline, but we don’t want to limit ourselves to those writers.

One thing that we do with more academic writers, is we have detailed writing guidelines, we send in advance. And some of those guidelines include, you know, not not including jargon, or making sure to include lots of examples to illustrate their point, so that it’s brought down to the ground and isn’t too theoretical. And we also encourage including character narrative, colour, humour, and even personal anecdotes sometimes to make the piece fun to read and more human.

On crafting engaging leads

That lead makes you feel like you’re just reading a novel with a really fun character. But actually, it’s history, you know, and that’s an effective way to start a piece. They don’t all have to start that way. But we really do emphasize those first few paragraphs. It’s the make or break.

Commissioning artwork

Not only do we wait until [the article] is done, but we also wait until we’ve done a fair amount of editing; the piece can look quite different after the edit process. We also do the packaging, not all the packaging, but at least the headline and a subhead before we send it to the artist. And that’s key because the artwork always appears alongside the headline and the sub headline, so they really need to speak to each other.

Our art coordinator finds the artist who she and the editor of the piece think has a style and tone that matches that of the written piece and reaches out to them with the written draft, and with that headline, and deck in there. And then if the artist is on board, they will then send a handful of black and white sketches for the art coordinator to pick from. She does this with the editor, since it’s really crucial that the art doesn’t misrepresent the nuances of the piece.

The the art coordinator discusses colour palette, especially if it’s for print, and the artist creates what at that point, if we’re lucky, could be the final draft of the art. So it’s a pretty thorough process. But the result is beautiful.

Noema’s print annual

It’s a book, it’s essentially a book, it’s 200 pages. And again, going back to the signalling just touching it looking at it, you can tell that this is not a turned out weekly or even a monthly magazine that you can just flip through and throw on the pile of magazines that stack out. This is something that’s more like a book that you’re going to want to read probably front to finish.

Main story

When do newspapers become complicit in greenwashing?

  • Does accepting advertising make a newspaper complicit in greenwashing? There are decent arguments on either side – But how do papers see themselves?
  • The New York Times’ international president Stephen Dunbar-Johnson told The Drum: “We are not an activist organization. And yet sometimes that’s exactly how they come off. The NYT’s COP26 climate hub… “Science says that global warming can be slowed if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions sharply. But good intentions alone are not enough.” 
  • The NYT is far – far – from the only news organisation which has an environmental bent but accepts advertising revenue from the worst offenders.
  • Dunbar-Johnson said: “The further commercial backdrop is that it was also a great opportunity to grow The New York Times outside of the US.”
  • One thing about the climate crisis is that it is borderless and affects us all. So it was a very interesting commercial proposition to promote and claim our coverage to a global audience and drive that relevancy as to why they should subscribe to The New York Times.”

News in brief:

Twitter Blue’s members get ad-free access to content from more than 300 participating publishers, along with other perks like an undo tweet button.

The bigger appeal for publishers, though, is the revenue/data share opportunities afforded by being part of the partnership. For the publishers, historically burned by the opaque payout models on other platforms, Twitter’s transparent approach to how payment gets split is a blast of fresh air.

More even than that, however, Twitter appears to be offering access to more sophisticated data than other platforms which have hoarded user data like Smaug:

“While we expect that the paid readership from Twitter Blue will more than offset the revenue we would have generated from digital advertising from the relevant page views, that is not our primary focus,” said Lee Fentress, EVP of Business Development and Commerce at the Los Angeles Times.

Ahead of its centenary next year the BBC has revealed some growth figures.

In 2020/21 the corporation achieved record figures – its average audience was 489 million adults every week, an increase of over twenty million from the previous year.

This brings the BBC’s global audience close to the 500 million people target for 2022, which the BBC is on track to exceed in its 100th anniversary year. The BBC’s audience has more than doubled in the last ten years.

Despite that the service is beset on all sides, questioning its value to the taxpayer. The UK’s culture secretary Nadine Dorries, fresh from humiliating herself on the Channel 4 privatisation hearing, has no clue of its value. Its director general Tim Davie is determined to run it into toothless irrelevance as soon as possible And Paul Dacre’s sour grapes after being denied the head role at Ofcom mean there’s choppy waters ahead for the BBC.

What needs to happen? Will the return of BBC 3 make any difference?

Before I read this I was sorely tempted to file it in the ‘grass is always greener’ folder After a closer look, author Heidi Legg has a point.

She lists Future and Tortoise as examples of great, innovative publishing businesses. Her assertion that commercial media innovation has been stifled in the US by the platforms and vulture capital is well made in a week that Alden capital is at it again.

I ignored all the origin story stuff about Fleet Street, our press barons might have come from humble beginnings, but they forgot pretty quickly But the ‘scrappy startup narrative’ is actually true, Axate, Tortoise, Future etc. Independent media needs a self-sustaining revenue model.


Our daily newsletter The Media Roundup brings you the four most important industry stories for media and publishing professionals. Subscribe here:


, , ,