Ukraine Invasion? That's A Good Time for a Cute Selfie, Says NowThisNews

I have been watching the news through NowThisNews.com, primarily a news site for mobile users. It is determined to keep everything very short and apparently, also extraordinarily mindless.

Accuracy is iffy, because it’s hard to be precise in six or 10 seconds. On March 1, NowThisNews had this headline: "Putin Declares War," though in fact, the story was that the Russian parliament gave him the permission to send Russian troops into Ukraine. Not war, precisely, but whatev. It’s like war.

This morning's headline was "Selfie With Soldiers." Here's the entire text, with another headline included:

"Crimea Selfies: Ukrainians Pose With Soldiers As War Looms"

What do you do when a bunch of heavily armed soldiers from the neighboring super power show up in your town? Pose for selfies! As the world watches the Ukrainian region of Crimea, where Russian troops seized control over the weekend, Instagram is lighting up with smiling photos from the locals with the new invading army.

What follows is a series of photos of Crimeans, apparently, posing with Russian soldiers. I do notice that between March 1 and March 4, what NowThisNews had at first declared war got downgraded to the watch list. Now, war just “looms.” Whatev, whatev.

You may recall that in the second week of January, NBCUniversal News Group took a minority stake in NowThisNews. NBC is a stuffy news organization that doesn’t know how to reach the totally digitized millennial generation, and that’s why it’s in knee-deep. Ken Lerer, co-founder of NowThisNews and managing partner of Lerer Ventures, called the partnering “a win-win for the new news consumer who wants all video, all the time, built for social and mobile."  NBC and NowThisNews will join forces in an arrangement that I would want to hope leads to nothing but heartache and recriminations.  

NowThisNews packages about 50 very short news-pops every day, which leads to some incredibly funny shorthand. But even the longer stories are laughably thin, like one of those college blue-book essays you tried to bluff your way through. “Every revolution is different, but similar and follows this pattern,” says a voiceover of a NowThisNews documentary-length, “The Anatomy of a Revolution: How Protesters Topple Governments” (1 minute, 31 seconds) that packed in several very broadly-accurate facts about civil strife in Ukraine, Bosnia, Venezuela and Egypt. Our narrator tells us one of the telltale signs of an insurrection brewing is this: People are unhappy.

I thought so! So be on the lookout for that.

If you are walking around with a mobile phone, NowThisNews can be enjoyable eye candy, and since it never, ever seems to make self-deprecating notice to the banality of its reporting, it’s possible, though unlikely, that neither will you. Some of the video clips and Instagram photo-mobiles come with stories that have links to fuller collections of words that I recognize immediately as news stories. Many don’t.

I guess you can give Lerer half-credit for half-news. By not allocating a lot of time to important facts (because it’s designed for quick mobile use), it’s not like NowThisNews can really deliver anything more than the names that are floating around the news.

And it does that. Literally. Today, one of the pieces it produced was “The One Thing You Need to Know About Crimea.”

NowThisNews pieces are aided by attractive on-screen graphic. In this story, a text graphic overlay reads:

Global tensions are heightening. (Image change.)

Due to an internal struggle. (Image change.)

In this region. (map of Crimea, image change.)

But how do you pronounce it?

What follows is a quick run through of old-media types on air trying to pronounce Crimea, and concluding with a slide graphic triptych of a man crying (Cry), a woman pointing at herself (Me) and a woman looking a little dumbfounded (Uh).  

Now That's News.

 pj@mediapost.com  

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