I’ve come to rely on The Atlantic as one of my primary news sources (despite the occasional sensationalist ploys). Today, they tweeted, “Photoshopping dissent: How Internet memes are used to circumvent China’s censors,” and I was immediately intrigued, thinking it might touch on a metadata discussion.
You can read the story here, but I’ll ruin it now by saying that a) it doesn’t provide enough detail to get into the technicalities of avoiding censorship, and b) it brought up instead a bunch of little content issues that I’m going to use as an excuse to study.
Here’s what I was hoping for.
So many professional discussions revolve around making content findable, searchable, accessible, quantifiable. Images should be properly tagged and treated as content; the right behind-the-scenes labels and descriptions, coupled with the right context and captions, makes images wonderfully friendly to both robots and humans.
But The Atlantic‘s tweet alone made me realize: what if you DON’T want your content found? What if you don’t want your images labeled “accurately”? What if the political climate necessitates that your content be unfindable, unsearchable, inaccessible?
Everything good web professional work for, turned on its head to get around censors? This idea floors me. Photoshop an image — complete with snide humor and layers of meaning — and then purposely fail to tag it. Interesting. Of course, the article doesn’t address the technical aspects of this (doesn’t even hint at them), but instead suggests that successful workarounds rely on “confusing” the censors. It’s a fine notion; I was just hoping for more details.
COPE isn’t set-it-and-forget-it.
So I don’t have the issues to discuss that I thought I’d have. That’s cool. Let’s talk about delivery instead. I was disappointed with the execution of the article on this particular platform. Usually The Atlantic has some great content strategy principles in place, but this article was rife with tiny failures.
The article originally appeared on Tea Leaf Nation — a fact that isn’t revealed until the end. Credits are usually fine at the end, but the article was deeply self-referential; if you’ve never heard of it (I haven’t), that’s several stumbles (“Why did they just say ‘own’ when referring to this Tea Leaf Nation place?”) while trying to understand the content.
Another example: captions from the original article weren’t carried over. An image of a meme made sense just fine in The Atlantic‘s version:
but a quick peek at the original showed a caption that would have contributed more clarity to the article:
Later in the article, the author references “the image to the right.” That sort of context-specific direction is a no-no, and this is exactly why. In the Tea Leaf Nation run, this image was the intended target:
But in The Atlantic‘s version, there IS no image to the right — but it did make me look all the way to the right, to the page’s sidebar content, distracting me from the content I was reading:
Good content strategy should tell you that “create once, publish everywhere” doesn’t work without care going into the distribution model. Repurposing an article on another platform requires a thoughtful editorial eye, not a templated approach. Even careful content strategy and consistent writing doesn’t eliminate the need to check our work.