Axios Series and The Art of Journalism From Jonathan Swan

I came across the first episode of Axios Season 2 on HBO and was blown away by the ability and courage to ask tough questions by Jonathan Swan.

Jonathan covered various controversial and sensitive topics, asking questions on Jared’s alleged conflict of interest in using his position in the government to further business interest, Jared’s close relationship with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Jared’s opinion on Palestine – Israel, whether Jared thinks Trump is a racist, whether he discussed with Trump on his security clearance and so on. Jonathan wasn’t afraid to challenge Jared’s answers on the spot and to follow with clarifying and dissecting questions.

Some of the questions asked are (edited a bit for publishing purpose)

  • You are a son-in-law, a husband (to his daughter), a senior advisor, does it make it harder to tell him the truth? Where do you stand on abortion?
  • Do you believe that the Jewish people have a God given right to The West Bank?
  • Do you believe the Palestinian government is capable of governing themselves without the Israeli interference?
  • You are talking about what Palestinian people want, but how do you frankly know what they want?
  • The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, what do you see in this guy personally? How many conversations have you had with MBS about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi? Will you join Khashoggi family in calling for the release of his body?
  • Why didn’t you pick up the phone and call the FBI about the email from Roger Stone about the meeting with Russia?
  • Has Trump ever said anything racist? Was Birtherism racist?

Not only is this a refreshing air breathed into journalism, but the interview is one of the rare looks into the mind of one of the top advisors in the government, Jared Kushner, who doesn’t do many interviews. Very well done by HBO and Axios.

Chernobyl Miniseries – The lesson on failure to look the truth in the face

If you have some time to spare and an active HBO account, I’d recommend the miniseries Chernobyl, whose trailer is below

The series is based on a real historical event – a nuclear catastrophe some 30 years ago in Chernobyl, Ukraine, which at the time still belonged to the USSR. There have been 4 episodes released out of the possible 6 so far. Admittedly, it’s pretty heavy, gripping, astonishing and gut-wrenching. Deaths by radiation portrayed in the miniseries are very shocking and horrific. Nonetheless, it’s even less shocking than the efforts to sugarcoat and cover up the situation at the authority at the time. Had there been more courage to face the truth, there would have been fewer deaths, I believe, based on what I have seen so far in the series.

This Twitter user, who was born and raised in the Soviet Union at the time, can attest to the authenticity and attention to detail of the show

As I watch the series, I am drawn towards a belief that the more serious a situation is, perhaps the more we should tell the truth as soon as possible. Most likely, anyone of us has been there before – not courageous enough to face the truth once or twice. I have. With dire consequences. I wish I could have done differently in those situations and told it like it was, no matter what.

Just like Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones said, “look the truth in the face”.

“Game of Thrones” Keyword on Google Trends

Hundreds of millions of people around the globe love and watch the show. Game of Thrones needs no introduction. As the two-year wait ended on Sunday, the show is back on with the last season ever. I did a little bit of experiment to see how popular it is on search engine.

Since I use Google Trends as the tool in this experiment, it’s good to revisit what Google Trends is. I’ll let one of their own explain it

Trends data is an unbiased sample of our Google search data. It’s anonymized (no one is personally identified), categorized (determining the topic for a search query) and aggregated (grouped together). This allows us to measure interest in a particular topic across search, from around the globe, right down to city-level geography.

You can do it, too — the free data explorer on Google Trends allows you to search for a particular topic on Google or a specific set of search terms. Use the tool and you can see search interest in a topic or search term over time, where it’s most-searched, or what else people search for in connection with it.

Source: Google News Lab

To display different levels of online interest, Google uses a scale of zero to 100 for the index. Here is how Google defines the metric:

Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means there was not enough data for this term.

So what is the difference between this season and last seasons in terms of online interest? Below is the chart I took last Saturday with the “Game of Thrones” keyword. The spike in 2017 was during the premiere of season 7.

Taken on 13th April, 2019

Here is what the chart looks like at the moment. Same market, same time frame, only a few days apart

Taken on 17th April, 2019

The previous spike in 2017, as shown in the screenshot above, looks like Arya next to the Mountain, which is the expected spike this week. Data from Google predicts that folks will search on and talk about the show a whole lot this week.

While the data clearly shows an increase in online interest, it’s only an index and there is no telling on how many searches this season garnered compared to the previous seasons. Plus, it’s not clear on what contributes to the spike. Is it because of the household name Game of Thrones already possesses? Is it because of the wait? Is it because of the finality of the show? Or is it because of the strongest marketing push I have seen from HBO?

I find it a very interesting phenomenon. A show like GoT has been aggressively advertised. Magazine covers, interviews on TV shows, newspapers articles, behind-the-scene clips, several trailers, a viral tactic to place the full-sized thrones in undisclosed locations around the world, a red carpet in New York, you name it. If anybody says that brands such as GoT don’t need marketing, show them what has been done in the past few weeks. They are not dumb and they don’t throw money at unnecessary tasks. But at the same time, I wonder how the marketers can analyze and objectively pinpoint whether the marketing actually works for a show like GoT.