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Tyler Cowen interviews Ezra Klein

08/10/2016

This morning, I listened to this very good conversation between Tyler Cowen and Ezra Klein.

Tyler Cowen is an  economist at the libertarian leaning George Mason University who blogs on all manner of subjects at marginalrevolution.com. Ezra Klein is the founder and editor in chief of Vox.com, an American news website which effectively deploys  written, visual, and audio content.  Their short video explainers on different subjects, such as this one on study tips, can usefully distill detailed research into digestible visual portions. Vox leans ideologically to the American left.

I blogged last year on a couple of earlier “Conversations with Tyler”, the series of which Cowen’s discussion with Klein is a part, episodes, and, like earlier conversations, this one is well worth a listen (or you can read the full transcript at the link above).  As someone in “the media” and someone who possesses a broad general curiousity about things, I found it interesting. I’ll just touch on a couple of points of interest, rather than detailing the whole conversation, in this post.

Video

Video is the big obsession for media companies as they try to adjust to a changing commercial landscape by deploying a medium which can be used to effectively convey information in a short and accessible fashion. There is also a growing expectation for modern journalists to take video as well as write conventional stories. The thinking is often that a short video may help to supplement the information provided in the text of a story. The problem is, at least in my opinion as a consumer of news, that this new medium is often not well used and merely serves to irritate the consumer without “adding value”. But, at least in the way major news sites use it, I think things are improving.

I find autoplay on videos of news stories particularly annoying and distracting. I also think news organisations in New Zealand (where I live) are still not sure how best to use video either to attract eyeballs or to tell a compelling story (I sure don’t know how to do this). Klein’s thoughts on the use of video are, therefore, thought provoking. Video, Klein says, needs to be seen as a medium quite separate from text stories and it is important to think seriously about which stories are “visual stories” and, therefore, best conveyed through that medium. Long form interviews with two people just talking were tried on the Vox site and, Klein says, didn’t really work. “International” (he means not from the USA) content which can include maps and also people in a foreign context going about their daily lives can work visually because they differ from the normal experience of a typical site user. International video explainers, such as this one of the Syrian conflict cited by Cowen as a good example, are also good because they give background history which means they remain relevant and useful. Interesting here also are Klein’s remarks that cable tv news is not really  different from writing because cable is, primarily, about the script.

Brands

Good visual and audio content also helps a media organisation to set themselves apart from the herd in a cluttered modern internet news landscape as a purveyor of intelligible material which makes sense of a complex issue in an accessible fashion. In short, it helps to build a brand. Klein’s thoughts were interesting here, too. As the internet grew in importance, Klein says, he expected that, with the growth of sharing any and all content through social media channels, brands would become less important. Now, of course, it’s plain to see that the opposite is true and people look to particular brands which can cut through the vast simulacra of information to distill the essence of a story. I, for example, am a fan of The Economist.

Side note points of interest from the conversation are that Klein says the film The Matrix and founder of National Review and, to many people, the modern American Right William F Buckley are both underrated.  His best time management tip is making lists.

The whole conversation takes an hour and seventeen minutes to listen to or, according to medium, the transcript takes 55 minutes to read and I recommend it for more besides the above points I have briefly sketched.

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