[[Twitter Blue, Tony Haile, McCratchety, The Kansas City Star, and David Blue]]
As much as I want to unabashedly celebrate the investment Twitter, Inc. is inexplicably now demonstrating in Lists - a feature I’ve tirelessly advocated for out of perceived obscurity - with Twitter Blue, there’s at least one example which they’ve managed to fuck up such investment. The official list of publishers participating in Twitter Blue’s “Ad-Free Articles” rehash of Scroll is exclusively documented in the from of @TwitterBlue’s singular Twitter List, which makes it conveniently quite difficult to share. Aside from that anecdote, I have another which is both mostly personal and yet inexcludable.
The day Twitter acquired Scroll, I had the bizarre, completely unexpected opportunity to ask Tony Haile - Scroll’s founder, who also played a substantial role in creating the Ad-Tech Hell it was founded to counter in creating Chartbeat, some years ago - a question. I’d been listening to a Twitter Space hosted by Chris Messina and Brian McCullough for TechMeme featuring Haile while I’d been showering. Somehow, the two ran out of questions to ask Tony, so they turned to the audience. I requested to speak and Chris - who’d done so a few times before - let me in almost immediately.
Nude and still very wet, standing in my bathroom, I suddenly found myself on a call, essentially, with certainly the most interesting media industry figure of the moment. Chris, who knew me well enough already as a regular in his Spaces to know my speech often includes long pauses, said something like “quickly.” I began by bringing back a topic from an hour before, at least, and noted that Twitter’s “Tips” feature was no more than a list of hyperlinks as it stood (it basically still is,) before (more or less verbatim:)
“I just got out of the shower but uh… I forgot about Tony Haile. (yes, he was listening directly to the Space and I did say that) …but I would ask him to narrate how exactly he got from Chartbeat to Scroll to Twitter.” Yes, I spoke of him in the third person even though I could all but hear him breathing. I then retired from my speaking role, but - from what I could tell, passively listening as I finished getting ready for some time-sensitive engagement - my question basically sustained the rest of the interview.
This experience, alone, wouldn’t necessarily be worth mentioning, but after discovering The Kansas City Star - one of the oldest, most established local mastheads to my home state (Missouri,) to which I maintain a subscription - among the aforelinked List list of participating publishers in Twitter Blue’s Ad-Free Articles program, I reached out to the one Star reporter I know, asking simply if she’d heard anything whatsoever about the program from editors or just ambiently in the newsroom. She had not.
For an explanation, I dug just a bit further and found out the Stars’ corporate owner, McClatchy, had in fact “tested” a “partnership” with Scroll before, and appeared to have opted its whole handful of local American news institutions - including the Star - in again, en masse, to its new, Twitter-owned form.
Before I go on, I should note that one can indeed utilize Ad-Free articles’ benefit within your preferred web browser, but the process is very specific. On iOS, you’ll need to open an Ad-Free Article in the Twitter app first (marked with blue text) and then tap the Safari icon in the bottom right to open your default browser. You’ll know you’ve authenticated correctly when you see one of these two motherfuckers1 (depending on your system’s current light/dark theme setting) in the bottom right of your browser window:
For thoroughness’ sake, here’s what the official help document has to say:
As long as you stay logged in to Twitter, and use the same browser each time, you should get ad-free reading when you subsequently visit that same Twitter Blue site.
Have a peak at The Kansas City Star’s Wikipedia page and you’ll note that it’s over 150 years old, once claimed Ernest Hemingway on its masthead, has been awarded eight Pulitzer Prizes, and that it depends on a combination of advertising dollars and possibly in duress subscription revenue to stay afloat. This in mind, note the screenshot I’ve embedded below, comparing how a Twitter Blue-participating Star article appears within a desktop browser - without Twitter Blue vs Twitter Blue.
Captures of each respective webpage demonstrate that Twitter Blue exempts a reader from about half of the content weight of the non-Blue-authenticated render2. Old school banner ads account for a portion of the missing content, but at least three elements for converting visiting readers to paying subscribers make up for most of it, I’d wager. None of what’s gone is content anyone on Earth wants to see, mind you, but frankly, it’s disrespectful of the paper’s classically villainous, recently bankrupt corporate overloard to opt it in with a program fundamentally designed to intentionally forgo advertising engagement.
Tony Haile, if you’re reading this, you can exhale now. Yes, the theory behind Scroll, and now “Ad-Free Articles” in Twitter Blue, suggests that the fifteen cents I’ve earned the Star so far (the graphic above can be found in the “See Your Impact” selection within one’s Twitter Settings) will be paid directly to… Whom, exactly?
The answer offered by Twitter, Inc. to the question of “How does my ad-free reading support journalism?” (asked of themselves:)
Each month, we pay publishers within the Twitter Blue Publishers Network based on the content you and other Twitter Blue subscribers read ad-free through Twitter Blue. Our model is designed to help publishers continue to fund the journalism you love to read.
Publishers. I suspect that means cash-desperate McClatchy and not The Kansas City Star. All to be done at the moment, at least, is to ask ourselves how much of that cash will ever be seen by the paper.