‘The Baffling History of Tronc,’ and 5 Other Stories You Should Read

Here’s what you missed while you were counting the days until November 8

The New York Times: Want to Know What Virtual Reality Might Become? Look to the Past

Selected by Jordan Teicher, senior editor

VR, we’re told, is a storytelling tool. We expect filmmakers and game developers to create immersive plots we can jump right into. But what if that’s the wrong approach?

In this week’s New York Times Magazine, Steven Johnson examines the state of VR by doing something unusual: going back to the 19th century. He recalls the phenomenon of “natural magic,” or scientific illusion exhibits that became popular in Europe in the early 1800s. In these instances, story was secondary to immersion.

As Johnson writes: “You didn’t go to see these illusion shows because you wanted to follow the arc of a compelling character; you went because you wanted to be present in some stunning place, or time, or perspective, that would otherwise be impossible to inhabit.”

Today’s VR may be known for narrative, but if the past is any indication, the technology’s potential could lead us to a different kind of reality—one full of experience and exploration.

The Ringer: Why Emoji Are Getting More Realistic

Selected by Craig Davis, editorial intern

Until recently, emojis were a colloquial language for millennials—something to be overused by preteens and misapplied by parents. Nowadays, however, they’re ubiquitous in consumer culture. Brands get in on the fun through social media and customized emoji keyboards.

When a set of more realistic emojis were announced for the iOS 10.2 update, people were not pleased. The Ringer’s Molly McHugh examines this backlash and offers an interesting explanation using the idea of the “uncanny valley”: As computer-generated images and human replicas become too lifelike, they elicit feelings of unease and discomfort.

Instead of quirky, cartoonish illustrations perfect for innuendo, the new emojis are much too true to life. “It stops being a symbolic language and instead becomes a series of almost-photos,” McHugh writes.

While the revisions will take some getting used to, people will eventually adapt. But if the smiling poop emoji ever changes, I’m switching to clip art like Paul Pierce.

The Ringer: We’re Not Ready for a Voice Assistant That Understands Us

Selected by Brian Maehl, talent development manager

In this article, The Ringer’s Alyssa Bereznak cleverly flips everything we assume about communicating with voice technology on its head. She argues that robots don’t have trouble talking to humans—it’s humans who don’t know how to talk to robots. Google unveiled Google Home this week, its electronic home assistant, and Bereznak writes that the product may struggle to reach its full potential because, well, we’re simply not ready for it.

Devices such as Google Home and Amazon Echo are capable of controlling appliances, learning schedules, and connecting with home entertainment systems through voice recognition. These companies want you to walk in your door and say, “Google, turn on the Yankees game,” as you comfortably plop down on the couch.

Typically, we speak in jagged, concise sentences to the robo-operator connecting us with someone at Time Warner, or even when asking Siri for directions. In other words, we speak to these virtual assistants like robots. I’d guess our resistance to talk to them like humans will fade away, though it may be strange for our grandchildren to learn we used to speak to our refrigerators without conjunctions.

The New York Times: Making Online Literature Pay Big in China

Selected by Erin Nelson, marketing editor

Apparently being an online writer in China is a sweet gig. In this Q&A, Zhang Wei, China’s top-earning novelist, illuminates the country’s idiosyncratic marketplace for online literature. Digital writers cultivate substantial followings by posting fresh content each day. Literary and video game publishers, as well as film producers, then snatch up the intellectual property rights to these stories, creating franchises and making authors like Wei outrageously rich.

This digital marketplace is unique to China. It’s also a fascinating model for the creative community, with free digital content serving as marketing for the larger franchise.

Yet perhaps the most interesting part of Wei’s interview has to do with his development as a writer. He wrote 2,000 characters per day when he was just starting. Now he writes up to 16,000. This culture of online publication has not only made him a wealthy man and online influencer, it also forced him to become prolific.

BuzzFeed News: How Macedonia Became A Global Hub For Pro-Trump Misinformation

Selected by Dillon Baker, associate editor

If you’ve seen blatantly fake news floating around your Facebook News Feed, you’re not alone. As BuzzFeed News, The New York Times, and many others have investigated, this election cycle has led to an explosion of hyper-partisan, clickbait content factories on Facebook.

This article takes a close look at how Macedonian teenagers use Facebook to make a quick buck, mainly by plagiarizing and posting outright false articles like “Hillary Clinton In 2013: ‘I Would Like To See People Like Donald Trump Run For Office; They’re Honest And Can’t Be Bought'” and “Pope Francis Forbids Catholics From Voting for Hillary!”

Incredibly, the posts have racked up millions of interactions. The “Hillary Clinton in 2013” article, for example, has generated 305,000 more interactions than the Times’s exclusive look at Trump’s 1995 tax returns, perhaps the biggest mainstream media scoop of the election cycle.

It’s a depressing state of affairs for all parties involved. Trump supporters are being suckered, misinformation spreads, and Facebook’s reputation for clickbait continues.

Bloomberg: The Baffling History of Tronc

Selected by Ann Fabens-Lassen, communications manager

If you’re involved in media, tech, or marketing, there’s a high probability that you mocked the rebrand of Tribune Publishing to “tronc” (with a lowercase t!) in at least one of your Slack channels. Maybe you passed around mocking articles, like this one from Slate, or tweeted tronc’s cringe-worthy marketing videos.

This article, despite the headline, is not actually a profile of tronc, but rather a profile of its chairman and largest shareholder, Michael Ferro. To be honest, I mostly read this article because I love long, mocking profiles about people in the public eye, and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Early in the profile, rapper Lupe Fiasco (yes, you read that right) says, “There’s a method to [Ferro’s] madness.” As the authors Felix Gillette and Gerry Smith paint a picture of Ferro both professionally and personally, it becomes increasingly clear they disagree. It’s worth a read to decide for yourself.

Image by Pexels / CC Zero
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