An update on my Forbes experiment

It’s now been a year and change I started writing about the intersection of media, policy, and technology at Forbes. It’s also been two months and change since I last published anything there.

That might look like a conclusive verdict against the experiment I started last June, but the reality is a little more nuanced. On one hand, I’ve very much enjoyed the ability to “write and publish as I see fit instead of waiting for an editor to okay a pitch and then edit my copy” (as I wrote last summer). On the other hand, I’ve yet to clock enough page views in a month to earn above the minimum rate.

So when I had a bunch of new work come my way starting in April, I had to decide at the start of May if I would commit to writing my monthly minimum of five posts–my arrangement doesn’t provide partial pay for posting less than that–or take a break to focus on this new business. And since I had gone months without seeing any Forbes post crack a five-digit number of page views, that was an unavoidable call for me.

My most-read story at Forbes, a post I wrote at the end of November about the strange lifeline AT&T and, to a lesser extent, Verizon provide to the hoax-soaked One America News Network, has drawn a total of 35,747 views as of today. But most have done much worse than that unspectacular total, with many failing to crack a thousand views. That’s frustrated me to no end–not least since I’ve seen pieces at other outlets do great in the same time–but at a certain point, I had to stop banging my head against that wall and direct my attention to work that didn’t have Web-traffic stats between me and my payment. 

It’s possible that the subscription paywall Forbes put in place late last year (you should see the dialog above after reading five stories at the site in a month) has made it much harder for a post to go viral there. But I’ve seen at least one friend who writes at Forbes continue to hit numbers that should earn a decent bonus. Maybe I’m just page-view Kryptonite at this client in particular?

If I am, and if I decide to call it a day for this experiment, I will have no regrets. I’ve been able to address important topics–for example, Apple’s retelling of app-distribution history, the self-owns of some senators trying to interrogate tech CEOs, Google’s abusive conduct of its display-advertising business, President Trump’s clumsy and illegal attempts to regulate social media–as I saw fit. (Thinking about that, it would have been nice to toss up a post Thursday about the lawsuit by 36 states and D.C. against Google over its control of the Play Store instead of limiting my commentary to a Twitter thread that made me no money at all.) And the effort I put into focusing on media-policy issues also made me a sharper, better-sourced reporter in that area.

Meanwhile, management at Forbes has made some smart moves–in particular, bringing on the Houston Chronicle’s former tech columnist Dwight Silverman to cover the computing industry was a great call on their part. And nobody there has told me that time’s up on my contributor gig. But I do know that July already looks shot in terms of writing bandwidth that would let me return to it.

Weekly output: Ranking Digital Rights, COVID-19 exposure-notification apps, mass-media misinformation

This week saw me wrap up writing for one large project that’s at least a few weeks away from publication. Still a good feeling to cross that off the to-do list.

Screenshot of the story, as shown in an iPad's copy of Safari2/24/2021:This new digital rights report flunks the tech giants, Fast Company

Participating in a panel discussion in January that featured Ranking Digital Rights director Jessica Dheere reminded me that this group was working on its latest assessment of how tech and telecom firms around the world support human rights. And then I almost forgot to follow up with RDR a month later to get an advance copy of the report.

2/24/2021: COVID-19 exposure warnings for iPhone, Android phones: Apps still await widespread adoption, USA Today

This column was originally going to run a week earlier, but we set it aside to cover changes to password managers. The numbers I got from the Virginia Department of Health about adoption of a simplified iOS exposure-notification option jumped dramatically over that time; I can’t complain about a delay in publication that gives me a chance to tell more of a story.

2/24/2021: The Point A House Hearing Almost Missed About How TV News Keeps Making Us Angry And Dumb, Forbes

I spent three and a half hours of my Wednesday watching this hearing of the House Energy & Commerce Committee–ostensibly about how pay-TV providers prop up the right-wing propagandists at Newsmax, One America News and the Fox News commentariat, although the members rarely stuck to that script–so you didn’t have to.

Weekly output: One America News, how to exceed Comcast’s 1.2 TB data cap, tech and humanity, Big Tech, remote teamwork in a pandemic

We’ve finally reached the last month of this ordeal of a year.

11/30/2020: The Most Trump-Tastic Network Might Lose Its Biggest Carrier Next Year, Forbes

I’ve had this story on my to-do list since seeing a Bloomberg report this summer about the precarious prospects for One America News after its current carriage deal with DirecTV expires, reportedly in early 2021. It was gratifying to write this at last–and see it get a bigger audience than my other Forbes posts so far.

12/2/2020: Comcast’s 1.2 TB data cap seems like a ton of data—until you factor in remote work, Fast Company

After seeing some readers tweet their skepticism about anybody possibly topping 1.2 terabytes a month, I talked to three Comcast users who had done just that–and who, despite their technology backgrounds, could not identify an app or service that had pushed them over and which they could have foregone without excess pain. (One even sent screengrabs of data-usage stats from his Ubiquiti router, which Patreon readers got to see today.) The story seems to have resonated with readers, including a sarcastic retweet from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) taking a whack at Comcast’s phone support.

12/2/2020: Technology: The key to making us more human, Web Summit

My first of two panels for this year’s online-only Web Summit had me talking to Ikea chief digital officer Barbara Martin Coppola and AI Now Institute co-founder Meredith Whittaker about various tech-ethics issues, from ways to shrink a global organization’s carbon footprint to tech-policy advice for the incoming Biden administration.

12/2/2020: Who’s afraid of Big Tech?, RI Digital: USA 2020

My second virtual panel of the week consisted of a discussion at Responsible Investor’s conference about tech policy in such areas as privacy and global warming. My fellow speakers: ClearBridge Investments analyst Hillary Frisch, Migrant Nation director Simon Zadek, and Responsible Investor co-founder Hugh Wheelan. My major line of argument: The most effective way to rein in the power of large technology companies would be to pass effective digital-privacy laws, but since that seems to be a task beyond the reach of Congress, we keep getting sidetracked into less-useful discussions about how we might make life less pleasant for one or two of the tech giants.

12/4/2020: Evolution from the inside out, Web Summit

My second Web Summit panel had me quizzing Weight Watchers CEO Mindy Grossman and Julien Codorniou, Facebook’s vice president for its Workplace collaboration platform, about how WW had to accelerate existing moves towards distributed work once the pandemic hit.