‘Facebook and the New Colonialism’ and 5 Other Stories You Should Read

By Contently February 12th, 2016

Here’s what you missed while you spent the whole week failing to understand how gravitational waves work…

The Telegraph: How ‘Valley of the Dolls’ went from a reject to a 30-million best-seller

Selected by Jordan Teicher, senior editor

The novel Valley of the Dolls was before my time. In fact, I had never even heard of it until I read this article, let alone knew that it sold over 30 million copies after being rejected by publishers.

These kind of rags-to-riches story tend to blur together—perseverance, good attitudes, blah blah. But what made this article so interesting to me is the marketing. Fifty years ago, author Jacqueline Susann wrote a book about drugs, sex, and Hollywood, and then made sure people found out about it. Not only did she send 1,500 free copies to influencers, advertisers, and publishers, but she drove across the country with her husband to physically put her book in stores that didn’t have it yet.

Susann was equal parts generous and relentless—which is probably why she succeeded. As she put it, “A new book is like a new brand of detergent. You have to let the public know about it. What’s wrong with that?”

Mashable: How ‘The Cyanide & Happiness Show’ landed on NBC’s Seeso

Selected by Brian Maehl, talent development manager

“Cyanide and Happiness,” the popular Internet webcomic, is coming to life on NBCUniversal’s streaming channel Seeso. The channel typically focuses on late night NBC broadcasting, such as Saturday Night Live, but it’s shifting more into original content—go figure. While Internet shows with big fanbases have been leveraged this way before, like Grumpy Cat’s holiday special, this announcement could lead a charge of more Internet shows heading to streaming services, particularly if young viewers keep cutting the cord.

The Huffington Post: New York Times Eyes Ambitious Overhaul In Quest For ‘Journalistic Dominance’

Selected by Carly Miller, editorial intern

Content strategy is top-of-mind at The New York Times newsroom, where a string of new channels like podcasting, video, and live news blogs have been testing the Times‘s storytelling muscles.

After a couple years of constant production, the masthead editors are taking a step back from growth to develop a strategic plan. But what will that mean for the publication’s core 1,300-person newsroom?

New Republic: The Iconic Images Behind Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ Video

Selected by Erin Nelson, marketing editor

It was hard not to take interest in Beyonce’s “Formation” video, which in the days following the Super Bowl, was seen as both an artistic experiment and political declaration. Bey fans celebrated, police protested, and Red Lobster profits rose 30 percent.

Here, Moira Weigel examines the photographs that inspired the video set in Storyville, New Orlean’s historic red light district. The images, taken by EJ Bellocq, a wealthy creole man, give context to Bey’s set—a brothel—exploring what it meant to be a prostitute in New Orleans in the 1910s. Given Bellocq’s societal stature and the inaccessibility of Storyville to those who wanted to document it, the existence of the images is surprising. More unexpected, noted Weigel, is the way the women in the photographs come alive as subjects, not victims.

Which brings us back to Bey. “The video seizes the classic site associated with the abuse of women—the brothel—a place that was used as a pretext to police and patronize them, and reclaims it as a source of power.” If only Bellocq knew his photographs would be fit for a queen.

The New York Times: Delivery Startups Face Road Bumps in Quest to Capture Untapped Market

Selected by Ann Fabens-Lassen, communications manager

There’s this well known theory about buzz and technology called the Gartner Hype Cycle. According to the hype cycle, the “peak of inflated expectations” is inevitably followed by the “trough of disillusionment” (both hilarious names, by the way).

While reading this Times article about how food delivery startups are struggling, I was struck by how accurate this hype cycle is. I’m not saying it’s always true, but almost every time an industry disrupts life as we know it, people eventually circle back to show how it’s failing. More importantly, I’m hoping food delivery startups make a quick move to the “slope of enlightenment” because I have no intention of leaving my apartment to get takeout.

The Atlantic: Facebook and the New Colonialism

Selected by Dillon Baker, associate editor

Earlier this week, influential tech VC Marc Andreessen posted a bad tweet. After India’s government banned Free Basics—Facebook’s controversial platform built to provide free but limited Internet access to developing countries—Andreessen said the decision was morally wrong, before making the big mistake of likening Free Basics to colonialism.

While his tweet was blown out of proportion, the backlash—and Facebook’s immediate distancing from the tech evangelist, who is also a Facebook board member—speaks to how real the parallels are between Facebook’s efforts and colonialism (as well as how much Facebook wants to hide them).

I don’t agree with every word of this Atlantic article on the controversy, but Emory professor Deepika Bahri’s list of the similarities between Free Basics and historical colonialist ventures like the East India Company hits hard:

1. ride in like the savior

2. bandy about words like equality, democracy, basic rights

3. mask the long-term profit motive (see 2 above)

4. justify the logic of partial dissemination as better than nothing

5. partner with local elites and vested interests

6. accuse the critics of ingratitude

As she says, “If it isn’t a duck, it shouldn’t quack like a duck.” Maybe Andreessen, who later tweeted he is “100% opposed to colonialism,” should take the comparison more seriously.

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