Argh! Occasionally an article comes a long that is dumb enough that it must be addressed immediately and at length. “How Chicago’s Streets Became the Wild West” published today on the WSJ’s opinion page is one such example. It’s another entry in the Wall Street Journal’s crusade to blame homicide in the US on the Black Lives Matter movement (A crusade they share with the FBI, and the New York Times, who are also trying to push the idea of the “Ferguson Effect”). There are a couple massive problems with this article that would keep it from being published in a real newspaper.
A: There is real suffering in Chicago, and there were more murders in 2015 (488) than there were in 2014 (432). But there were less than there were in 2012 (513) and the numbers are consistently around half of what they were in the 1990s. There are real problems that must be addressed in Chicago, but this idea that the city is going to hell in a bucket is media-driven hogwash. The propaganda value of the article would be de-fanged by any honest look at the figures though, so they are not included.
B: On the topic of those real problems: Mostly because she can’t avoid it, the author of this article mentions the fact that a police superintendent had to resign in 2015 over a video tape of the racist murder of an unarmed black man in 2014. (This isn’t one of the ambiguous ones, an officer is on trial for murder). The author concedes the awfulness of this event, but then goes on to assert that it has nothing to do with the broader culture of the Chicago police department. She then spends the rest of the article whining about the Mayor’s attempts to improve the police department’s culture. The Superintendent’s resignation is a one-off, nothing to see here, the Chicago PD is just being victimized by BLM and those nasty ACLU Social Justice Warriors…
There’s a simple data point here, that kind of destroys her entire argument. In 2007, another Chicago Police Superintendent, Philip J. Cline, had to resign over video-taped police brutality. So two of the last three Chicago police superintendents had to resign over police misconduct. Gawrsh. Maybe the culture of the Chicago police is something that we actually should be looking at. Maybe the Black Lives Matter movement should be praised for raising these issues rather than condemned. Maybe if the Wall Street Journal had any interest in adding to the conversation on urban crime they’d have tried to paint a vaguely accurate picture of Chicago.
The year began on a family holiday in Malta. Getting a cheaper flight from Rome to Istanbul meant waiting a couple days after the new year, so I holed up in a hostel by the Termini train station in Rome. This time was spent working, and occasionally leaving to check out a forum or to eat some of the Asian food which is surprisingly hard to find in Istanbul. I was sharing the hostel with my sister, who made a tremendously useful suggestion. As a sort of joint resolution we undertook to write 750 words a day, every day. This has had a fairly revolutionary effect on my productivity this year. Every day I have to write something. Sometimes I really don’t want to do it, but I often get it done. My performance hasn’t been flawless. Five months into the year I’m about a month behind, but I do it more often than not. This has yielded some great videos, a lot of progress on new essays, and the fact that I finally seem to be catching up on these blog posts. It’s a great thing all around.
Finally having an apartment of my own again is fricking fantastic. It made for some healthier living, and allowed me to produce seven videos in January, some of which were quite ambitious. The first video of the year was “The BBC Is Full of It 2 | Chinese Aircraft Carriers“. I like this video. There’s not much to it, but it deals with the format cleverly. I like the acting out of the internal monologue. I also like the turn-around time. I saw the headline, it matched nicely with the previous video complaining about the BBC, and I was able to quickly bang it out. The joys of that speedy Malta internet. “3 Awesome Things Happening in 2016, Cuba, Colombia and Iran” is an attempt at a positive list video that hasn’t gone very far. It reminds me how far behind I am on these contemplated Syria videos. I wanted to do something positive before producing them, but five months later I still haven’t gotten them out yet. Argh!
“Iran V. Saudi Arabia, the One Thing You Need To Know…” was the first video produced in my new bedroom, ahem, I mean studio. I’ve gotten better at these set-ups, but I think this one comes out alright. The mix between animation and on-camera is one that I like, but a mix that I haven’t quite perfected yet. “Watch Me DESTROY Donald Trump’s Campaign Ad” does exactly what it says it does. It is amazing how little this man is offering to the American people, especially his supporters.
The next week featured what is perhaps my favorite one-two punch ever. “Why Do Terrorists Kill People” was my first attempt at filming something on location. The sound is awful, but I really like the way my visit to the scene of an Istanbul suicide bombing works. It was also a nice fraught introduction to a sad fact of journalism: “Oh Look, an atrocity! Let’s find a way to look cool in front of it!” The next day I followed it up with “Why the Cold War Must Be Remembered” one of my favorite videos ever. I’m a huge history dork, and I’m quite proud of what I’ve accomplished here. In seven or so minutes I tell the story of the Cold War, and argue why it’s so important to study it. The next week I got even more ambitious, attempting to put together a video that told the entire post World War II story of the oil industry. I failed to produce that video in January. That Tuesday I was mucking about with After Effects when the power went out. So I decided to bang out “Why Bloomberg For President Should Make You Happy“, with a speed that should be pretty apparent in the production. I kind of like the Chiaroscuro effect forced by the candle light though.
Looking at these videos, it’s pretty clear that I’ve switched to longer ones over the past couple months. I think this may be a side effect of the 750 word pledge. I traditionally aimed for under 500 words a video, but now I aim for 750 to make my quota. This has upsides and downsides. YouTube now prioritizes watch time over views. They are obviously both still important, but this means YouTube likes longer videos. Does that mean that my content is less likely to be clicked on because of its longer times? Probably. It also make for less disciplined videos. Reviewing videos from this month, and from previous years, I’m sometimes kind of amazed by the amount of stuff I manage to cram into three minute running times. Something to consider.
Views continued their upward trend in January 2016, up to 16,224 from 13,939 in December. None of the top five, and three of the top ten videos in January were produced in January. Two of the seven videos crossed 100 views on their first day. Five months later, all seven have topped 200 views, and of those four have also topped 300. At the end of January 2016 we had 142 videos, all but four of which were viewed in January, 70 of which were viewed 10 or more times, 22 of which were viewed more than 100 times, and four of which were viewed more than 1,000 times (FATCA, John Oliver, Hillary Clinton, Putin-Estonia).
In December I finally found a place to live. I am writing this blog post from that apartment, five months later. It’s been great for video production and general sanity to have a solid place to stay. So great, in fact, that I’m diverging from the practice of the past two years and getting a sub-letter for the summer rather than giving it up. The fact that I can do this is a sign of the growing financial viability of this whole thing, largely due to Patreon, and I’m very grateful. But before settling into my new place in January I had one last month of excessive travel to go. In December I produced videos from Italy, Malta, Turkey and the United States.
Despite all the travel, we managed to crank out six videos in December 2015. The subject matter was almost as varied as the places in which it was created and uploaded. “Spotlight, Catholic Priests, and the Ferguson Effect” is an interesting example of the ways this format allows odd connections. The video is partly a review of the excellent Spotlight, and partly a condemnation of the mindset that blames Black Lives Matters protesters for a spike in crime that hasn’t even been conclusively demonstrated yet. “4 Reasons to Stop Paying Attention to Donald Trump” is a throw-away video in almost every sense. That Tuesday morning, while I was putting together the vastly more interesting Saudi Arabia video that came out two weeks later, my computer crashed. So I grabbed the family dog, sat down at the kitchen table, and begged people to stop talking about the politician everybody wanted to talk about. Many thanks to Mom and Wicket for helping me deal with this nightmare situation quickly, if not particularly artfully.
“Ukrainian Parliament Crotch Brawl… Is it Funny?” is my first attempt at a text rather than narration based Facebook-optimized video. I like it, and it’s a fun format to experiment with. Unfortunately I haven’t had much success with the format, either on YouTube or on Facebook. “Trump, the San Bernardino Cover-up and Saudi Arabia” is, I think, one of the more important videos I’ve done. It’s got some actual news analysis in there. Saudi Arabia was the main factor in the San Bernardino shootings, but its involvement was systematically ignored by western governments and media. The vid looks at this problem in detail, and shows how cover-ups like this lead to the success of populist politicians like Trump.
The one thing about viewership I can say with great confidence, after two years of obsessively looking at analytics, is that nobody watches political videos over Christmas week. So I didn’t take that week’s video too seriously. A dog humped my arm and I turned it into “A Frustrated Pug Wishes You A Merry Christmas“. The final video of the year, “The BBC Is Full Of It“, documents my fading love affair with the British Broadcasting Corporation’s news service, and why we should look at all news sources with suspicion.
Views continued their upward trend in December 2015, up to 13,939 from 11,037 in November. One of the top five, and one of the top ten videos in December were produced in December. Two of the six videos crossed 100 views on their first day, and one crossed 250. Five months later, four of six videos have topped 200 views, and those four have also topped 300. At the end of December 2015 we had 135 videos, all but four of which were viewed in December, 74 of which were viewed 10 or more times, 22 of which were viewed more than 100 times, and four of which were viewed more than 1,000 times (FATCA, John Oliver, Hillary Clinton, Putin-Estonia).
And so we close another year. It was a good one. Total views were up to 158,049 from 90,079 in 2014. When I started 2015 I was pretty certain that it was time to give up on the whole video thing. By the end of 2015 I was convinced it was worth going all the way to the November 2016 election. Quite a switch. Many thanks to all of you who have watched, liked, shared, commented, and most importantly contributed. Thanks for making this all seem possible.
November was the month I decided I really needed to get a solid place to live. I’d been living on the road from June and it was beginning to wear on me. I spent the last third of the month back in the US for the Thanksgiving holiday. This is always a joy, but my family’s approach to the holiday is not what anybody would call relaxing. Prior to that I had to re-shuffle all of my belongings in Istanbul. My month and a half sublet was just long enough to re-collect everything I owned, throw a bit of it out, and then re-distribute it. This, and a fair amount of freelancing kept me limited to just the required 4 videos this month.
As a side note, it was also a fairly grim month in Istanbul politically speaking. In the June elections the ruling AK party had finally lost its majority in parliament after more than a decade. The AK party has done a lot for Turkey, but in recent years the mask has slipped to reveal a more authoritarian face. We were literally dancing in the streets after the June election. But the opposition parties failed to do anything with this victory. No coalition was established, triggering new elections on November 1st, which the AK party won by a larger margin than ever, restoring its parliamentary majority. The only thing that can challenge the AK now is internal party dissension. It’s been a very sad thing to watch, and that too influenced my mood this month.
November 2015’s first video, “3 Reasons Putin Will Never Touch Estonia“, was the most successful, and is now, six months later, my fourth most successful video ever. It’s also the last truly break-out video I’ve had. So it’s worth looking a little harder at why it was successful, and perhaps developing a lesson or two that I can use for future vids. Videos come to me in a number of ways. Some I work hard to put together. Some are one good idea, that I flesh out with some random thoughts. The best videos, and usually the best performing ones, come to me in a flash, almost fully formed. This was one of those. Inconveniently, these typically come to me after I’ve already turned out the light and am trying to sleep. It’s important to write it down quickly when I get one of these ideas. This week, here in May 2016, I’ve got about three video ideas that came to me days or weeks ago that I’ve still got to write down. They’ll probably get done, but they won’t be as good as they would have been if I had written them when I thought of them. When I write them down immediately, the visual ideas that go with the script flow more naturally as well. Coming up with stuff as I edit, my usual practice, can lead to some fun discoveries, but the videos are better when at least some of the visual structure is planned ahead of time. Looking at the video now, I also notice that it’s fairly data-heavy, incorporating solid animated visuals reflecting that data.
That week in November I was already thinking about list videos after the success of “3 Reasons China Will Never Rule the World“, my fifth most successful video. List videos work, that’s a lesson I’ve already learned. Not all of them break out, but almost all of them break 500 views, which still puts a video in the top half as far performance goes. I need to do more list videos. So was it the subject matter? I think that’s a part of it. There is very little in mass media that looks at the “threat” from Russia rationally. There’s a real appetite for videos that contradict the US push for a new cold war. This video does that quite effectively. One other theory I have is the virtue of covering a small country. People from small countries like Estonia don’t get a lot of media that is aimed directly at them or their concerns. This video does that. Over the past year I’ve gotten 5,688 views from Estonia, and 5,464 of them have been of this video, making up over half of its total views.
So there you have it! All I need is to be inspired to make data-heavy list videos that focus on small countries. Then I am sure to go back to churning out break-out videos! Joking aside, it’s a bit of a concern that few videos from the past six months have out-performed. Only two of them have made it close to the 1,000 view mark (“Trump, The San Bernardino Cover-up, and Saudi Arabia” and “Why Bernie Sanders Is No George McGovern“. I think it’s got something to do with creative back up. I’m still delaying completing the cycle of Military Industrial Complex videos I first envisioned back in July of 2015. I finally got another one of those out a week or so back. In November 2015 I also started thinking seriously about a series of videos on the war in Syria. Six months later, not a single one of those has been produced. If my subconscious is busy mulling over those MIC and Syria vids, it’s got less time to get inspired to throw together truly great vids about other issues. I’ve really got to push these older videos out.
Alright, enough navel-gazing. November’s second video was “The TPP is Super Racist“. I love this video. My brother, a fairly serious artist, kindly provides somewhat scathing critiques of each of my videos. This is the first one he ever gave his full approval to. It also provides a damning critique of the new trade agreements you won’t find anywhere else. Sadly it hasn’t done very well. “Stop Saudi Money, Not Syrian Refugees” is a reaction to the Paris attacks, and includes some kick-ass animation on my part if I do say so myself. “Why Turkey Shooting Down a Russian Plane Is a Big Deal” answers exactly that question. I think that actually qualifies as the worst news of 2015. The possibility of a real war between great powers, no matter how remote, is horrifying, and it’s something we haven’t really had since 1989. Tensions between Russia and Turkey deserve a lot more attention than they get. All told I’m pretty pleased with this month’s videos. There weren’t many of them, but they were all killer no filler. Except for the Sound! I’ve only figured out compression in the past couple months or so, and man do these sound rough to me now.
Views recovered a bit in November 2015, up to 12,452 from 11,037 in October. One of the top five, and three of the top ten videos in November were produced in November. Two of the four videos crossed 100 views on their first day, and one crossed 200. Six months later, all four videos have topped 200 views, and three have topped 600. At the end of November 2015 we had 129 videos, all but eight of which were viewed in November (kind of a shocking jump in non-viewed vids), 67 of which were viewed more than 10 times, 15 of which were viewed more than 100 times, and four of which were viewed more than 1,000 times (FATCA, John Oliver, Hillary Clinton, Putin-Estonia).
October saw me returning to Istanbul after a month and a half’s absence. Berlin was fun, but Istanbul is home at this point. As I come up on the five year mark in September 2016, I’ve been thinking more and more about leaving. It’s probably time, but damn it I love Istanbul! It’s just a great place to live. If my video project survives beyond the US election, I’ll probably be happily forced to stay. As of this writing, between freelancing and Patreon I’m finally making enough money to live comfortably in Istanbul. Revenue would have to at least triple to allow me to move to even a small city in the United States. Also impacting these calculations, Most of my family and friends are in New York and Washington, DC, two cities that are not the least bit small or affordable.
Speaking of Patreon, October 2015 was a banner month in that department. Patreon is a kind of on-going Kickstarter that allows people to donate a buck or two (or 5 or 8!) for each video I produce. It started off slow. In October, after six months, donations had finally reached a point where it made sense to take my first actual chunk of money from the website. Seven months later, I now make as much as I did those first six months every month. I am extremely grateful for that. My video channel certainly has an audience, the 20 to 25,000 views I get each month make that pretty clear. But that’s nowhere near enough to keep bread on the table through advertising alone. Patreon is getting to the point where it provides a real chunk of that bread. I’ve only got a few Patrons that I don’t know personally, but the group now stretches pretty far beyond the people I see day to day, or even year to year. I’ve been honored by the willingness of folks from every phase of my life to support my weird little project. I’d be grateful if you too, dear reader, considered doing the same.
For October and November I secured a sub-let in Istanbul’s Pangalti neighborhood. It lent itself well to productivity. I managed six videos in October 2015. “Pope Francis’s Decision to Meet With Kim Davis Was Genius” was one of my most transparently headline driven videos ever. Have you already forgotten who Kim Davis is? Good. I won’t explain her. I think the video makes a valuable point though. The current Pope is an extremely effective politician. His willingness to advocate for more traditionally “left-wing” causes is a savvy switch on the part of the Vatican, after two more reactionary popes. I should probably do a Pope Francis take-down at some point. Sure, he’s a more effective 21st century communicator, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less of a weird medieval theocrat than Benedict was. Rarely have I been happier to be wrong than I was with “Marco Rubio Is Probably The Next US President“. And yes, even with the threat of a Trump Presidency, I still think it’s good that Marco Rubio has been shuffled off the stage. It’s a sign that the current two-party system, which has been failing so miserably for so long, is about to be scrapped as well. 20 years from now we’re almost certain to still have Republicans and Democrats, but they will both be very different animals. This process won’t be pleasant, but it’s getting us to a better place.
“Vladimir Putin: An Appreciation” points out what an incredible service that man has done for the American public. Putin’s actions have been horrible for Ukraine, unfortunate for Syria, and will almost certainly end up being terrible for Russia. But the way that he has run circles around Washington, DC has highlighted just what a mess the Military Industrial Complex has made of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Facing up to this idiocy is long over-due. Putin should be thanked for highlighting it. Occasionally I’ll see a film so bad that I have to make a video about it. “Black Mass Is A Very Bad Film” is a product of exactly that kind of experience. “How Benghazi Gave Us Donald Trump” lays out the way that Conservative media made Donald Trump’s take-over of the Republican party easy. As a side-note, I’ve just changed the name of this video to “How Fox News Gave Us Donald Trump”. Changing the name and/or the Thumbnail of a video can help it to become much more successful. When I published the video Benghazi was in the headlines. Now that that has faded, it makes sense to high-light a more “evergreen” aspect of the video’s message. “Cops Are Victims Too“, this month’s last video, makes the essential point that society as a whole is much more to blame for the crimes of policing than individual officers are.
Views fell again in October 2015, falling down to 11,037 from 13,002 in September. One of the top five, and three of the top ten videos in October were produced in October. Four of the six videos crossed 100 views on their first day. 7 months later, all six videos have topped 200 views, and four have topped 300. At the end of October 2015 we had 125 videos, all but three of which were viewed in October, 65 of which were viewed more than 10 times, 21 of which were viewed more than 100 times, and three of which were viewed more than 1,000 times (FATCA, John Oliver, Hillary Clinton).
September was a fascinating month. YouTube operates a number of Spaces throughout the world that are available to its larger producers. The resources are fantastic, including cameras, multiple stages, green screens, courses and professionals on staff that can help you operate everything and teach you how to improve every aspect of your channel. To access most of these spaces, you now need to have 10,000 subscribers. But last summer the Berlin space was just getting started, which meant that they were happy to take anybody who had more than 1,000 subscribers. As of July of 2015 that included me.
My month in Germany was great. I got to meet a lot of people who understood what I was doing, which was a pleasant change. The workshops I did, with input from directors, and fellow YouTube producers were fantastic. It’s amazing how something as basic as an Adobe Premiere keyboard shortcut can revolutionize production. Everyday at the space I learned something new. There were drawbacks as well. I didn’t realize just how weird what I’m trying to do is until I got there. The other video creators were lovely, but none of them were trying to do any political content. The YouTube market wants video gaming and make-up tutorials, not political essays. My audience is one that I have to build from scratch.
Also, I couldn’t really use the resources on offer for video production. My work isn’t exactly what you’d call strictly compliant with traditional approaches to Intellectual Property. I’m confident that everything I do fits under an expansive view of “fair use”, but Google is not interested in helping to produce anything that doesn’t fit under the strictest interpretation imaginable. To produce something at the studio I would have to track down permissions for every video clip and photograph I used. It just wasn’t possible for the videos I was producing that month. With some planning, I am confident that I can fully use this resource at some point in the future.
Berlin, by the way, is fantastic. The museums and cultural offerings are all top notch. More importantly for my purposes, the history is unparalleled. It’s got everything. Highlights for me included the Hohenzollern palace at Potsdam, and the alien like Soviet war memorial at Treptower Park.
Somehow, between all the walking and the learning, I managed to produce six videos this month. The first was the product of some incredibly good luck. In the first week of September, the Syrian refugee crisis came to a head at the Keleti Palyaudvar train station in Budapest. This happened to be a 10 minute walk from the AirBnB I was staying at. My footage from the train station became the centerpiece of “The Syrian Refugee Crisis Was Created By US Policy“. Next up was “Deez Nuts Is More Serious Than Donald Trump” which uses one of my favorite stories from the early election cycle to take a quick jab at Donald Trump.
Views fell a bit in September 2015, falling back down to 13,002 from 16,485 in August. One of the top five, and two of the top ten videos in September were produced in September. None of the six videos crossed 100 views on their first day. 8 months later, five of the six videos have topped 200 views, and two have topped 700. At the end of September 2015 we had 119 videos, all but one of which were viewed in September, 76 of which were viewed more than 10 times, 17 of which were viewed more than 100 times, and four of which were viewed more than 1,000 times (FATCA, John Oliver, Hillary Clinton, Syrian Refugees).
August initially found me back in Istanbul doing some serious couch-surfing. I’m extremely grateful to the folks who were kind enough to put me up. Istanbul is a bit miserable in August. Washington, DC, where I spent much of my 20s, is worse, but they have air conditioning absolutely everywhere. Istanbul does not. About halfway through August I gave up and fled the country, not making it back until October. Homelessness has its perks. First I went to Budapest, Hungary, where I found myself in the middle of the migration crisis that the world was about to notice. Budapest is strikingly beautiful and shockingly affordable. Over the course of a full week I spent less than 300 dollars total, including airfare. Budapest has also got some troubling nationalist undertones, that I really need to get around to making a video about. After Hungary I proceeded to Berlin to take advantage of the city’s YouTube Space. More on that in next month’s report.
Despite all the travelling I managed to have a fairly productive month, producing six videos. I don’t do much of what you’d really call “film-making” but I’m really pleased with how “America is Old – A Conservative Manifesto” came out. It’s kind of a Vlogbrothers style “Thoughts From Places” video, that uses the aging infrastructure of New York City’s commuter rail to talk about the advanced age of US institutions and why that age is a good thing. I really like the video, and as is traditional with such videos, very few people have seen it. “Trump Free Republican Debate Highlights” took a loooot of work for not all that much reward. It’s a bit dated now, but I think it provides a nice introduction to the clown car that Trump eventually demolished.
“What Is The Military Industrial Complex“, the first of two installments in the MIC series this month, has done very well. It hit that sweet spot of answering a very search-able question in a satisfying way. Viewed over 3,500 times and counting 9 months later. Vids like the next MIC video, “The Last Ship Is US Military Propaganda” are fun to make. Crafting commentary about TV shows or movies using available footage is fun, not too challenging, and visually interesting. Unfortunately they are also a good way to get into copyright trouble with YouTube, so I don’t think I’ll be doing too many more of them going forward.
“You Won’t Believe Who Has An Ashley Madison Account!!!” is exactly the quick grab for views in the wake of the infidelity facilitation site hack that it looks like. But I think it also makes a valid point about privacy, and the way we overlook its erosion whenever it impacts someone we don’t see as worthy of protection. “Donald Trump Is A Democrat” gets a few of the details wrong. It turns out he can, in fact get the Republican nomination. 9 months later though, I find the central argument more compelling rather than less compelling. Has anybody done any investigative work on his Old Post Office contract? They really, really should.
As I’ve covered earlier on this blog, I had a theory about a “summer slump”. Turns out I was wrong, because August 2015 views were great, shooting up to 16,485 from 11,745 in July. None of the top five, though four of the top ten August videos were produced in August. Four of six videos broke 100 views on the first day. 9 months later, all six videos have topped 200 views, and three have topped 1,000 views. At the end of August 2016 we had 113 videos, all but three of which were viewed in August, 75 of which were viewed 10 or more times, 17 of which were viewed 100 or more times, and 5 of which were viewed more than 1,000 times (FATCA, John Oliver, Hillary Clinton, China, Sanders-Paul).
July of 2015 involved a lot of running around the United States. I stayed with family in Connecticut and then drove up to Northern Michigan for my annual Fourth of July reunion with my college buddies. There are few things more American than a long drive. The 17 hour solo trip from Northern Michigan back to CT was probably unwise, but there’s nothing quite like putting on some country music, throwing in some dipping tobacco and just driving. If I can get the Patreon support over 100 bucks a video I intend to rent a car and spend a few weeks driving through the states to cover the US election this upcoming July.
All of last July’s travel cut down on video production a bit. I only managed five videos, but I got started on a series on the Military Industrial Complex that I’m very proud of. First up we had, “Kids Are the Worst: How Colorado Is Beating Poverty“. The video celebrates Colorado’s incredible success in reducing teen abortion and pregnancy through state provided contraception (duh!) but it also lays out one of my favorite points: that poverty is essentially impossible in the United States if you don’t have children. “3 Ways Vox Doesn’t get the American Revolution” was a response to a snarky article they published, claiming that the American Revolution was a mistake. I love responding to articles with video, but it’s important to get the timing right, or rather immediate. Because of travel, I didn’t get around to publishing the video until 12 days after the article it was responding to. This was waaay too long. Any buzz the conversation had on social media was long over.
Also published in July was my first and what I hoped was my last video on Donald Trump, “Everything Worth Saying About Donald Trump“. Unfortunately this ended up being the first of many videos on that particular subject. This first one, however, is probably the best. We wouldn’t be in the fix we’re in today if more media outlets had followed my lead in their coverage of Trump.
In July of 2015 viewership fell again, from 13,142 views in June to 11,745 views. None of the top five, and only two of the top ten videos in the month of July were produced in July. Only one of the five videos broke 100 views on the first day. 10 months later, all five July videos have broken 200 views, but only two of them have broken 300. At the end of July 2015 we had 107 videos, all but one of which were viewed in July, 63 of which were viewed more than 10 times, 17 of which were viewed more than 100 times, and 5 of which were viewed more than 1,000 times(FATCA, John Oliver, Hillary Clinton, China, Sanders-Paul).
July was a very US focused month, both in terms of my physical location, and the videos I produced. The US is the country I know best, and it makes sense that I would do a lot of videos on the topic. But having an entire month’s production be almost exclusively about the US is something I should probably avoid. This is good to keep in mind as the 2016 US election process begins to really heat up.
June 2015 was the last month of a lack-of-money-induced exile in Istanbul. I couldn’t afford to fly anywhere, so I spent a lot of time sitting in a very small room, thinking about how to make better YouTube videos. I prefer the more mobile lifestyle I live now, but I did get a lot done during this pre-exodus period. From this month through January of 2016, I didn’t live anywhere for more than a month, and very few places for more than a week. That got pretty old too.
I didn’t start travelling until the end of the month, so I managed to get a fair amount done, doing a lot of freelancing and producing seven videos. We started off with “FIFA, FATCA and the New World Order“. It may seem like a bit of a stretch to use the FIFA prosecutions to talk about FATCA, but I think it’s valid. We have to be careful about cheering the prosecution of bad guys, both internationally and in the US. When you give a government the jurisdiction to prosecute someone who needs prosecuting, no matter how bad that actor is, that grant of jurisdiction can bite you in the ass. The production of this video looks a bit silly to me most of a year later. The sound is terrible, and I was obviously watching a lot of After Effects tutorials that week. The animations are a bit rough and over-used. Learning: It’s a process.
The next vid,”Rand Paul Vs. Bernie Sanders in 2016 Would Be Awesome“, illustrates nicely how unpredictable and unjust YouTube success can be. I typically put between 15 to 20 hours into the writing, performance and production of each video, over the course of at least a week. Some of my videos marinate in the back of my head, or in half-written states for months. This video took about 6 hours from idea to publication, and that includes two hours of upload time. It’s rambling, repetitive, semi-coherent, and is basically just me riffing on a theme. It had one of my biggest opens ever, almost 300 views the first day, and it remains the channel’s sixth most watched video almost a year later. Its success has something to do with the public’s thirst for news about Bernie Sanders, but it’s mostly just a title that people want to click on, and a message that people agree with, no matter how poorly executed it is. Improving my craft is important to me. I like the more complex videos I make, and I want to get better at them. But if I want this YouTube channel to be successful, I need to throw more shit at the wall to see what sticks. I should be producing at least one improvised video a week to accompany my more produced videos.
“Egypt And A Plea For Mohammed Morsi” is a video that took awhile. It involved actual research on the history of Egypt, Turkey, and Russia, as well as some less jarring After Effects animations. I think it does a good job of making its central point, that killing old leaders is always a mistake. “Jeb Bush Is Not Electable in 2016” Is another quickly produced riff on a good idea, inspired by the success of The Paul-Sanders video discussed above. It closes with a farewell to the big pink wall that served as the back drop to my videos for most of a year. God that room was small.
“Rachel Dolezal, White Envy, and White Guilt“, is not a video I wanted to make, but it’s since become one of my favorites. The Channel’s first Patron outside of my gene pool requested it, so I did it. It allowed me to do some truly horrific rapping, and get a number of other thoughts off my chest. It’s a fitting 100th video, and has a lot of elements I should use more often. I’ve found that going after specific politicians who make me angry is not such a great strategy, and it didn’t work very well for “Santorum and Huckabee: Attack of the Hate Zombies“. The vid took forever to cross 200 views. But man, I hate those guys. It was a delight to watch them get exactly what they deserved this election cycle: total obscurity. BTW, I published this video a week before the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage nation-wide, so my estimate in the video of how long that would take is obviously a bit off.
Ah, now this is how you use Adobe After Effects! “The 3 European Myths That Brought Us The Greece Crisis” is a pleasantly surprising video to view most of a year later. I like it a lot. The animations are unobtrusive but effective, it covers a lot of history, and it explains current events in unique way. If only the sound wasn’t so terrible. I am generally pretty critical of my videos, so it’s nice to see one, especially from this far back, that I can uncritically enjoy.
Views made a small recovery in June 2015, going up to 13,142 from 12,434 in May. None of the top five videos was produced in the month of June. Four of the 7 videos produced broke 100 views in the first day, 11 months later, they have all broken 200 views, and 4 of 7 have broken 600. At the end of June 2015 we had 102 videos, all but two of which were viewed in June, 64 of which have been viewed more than 10 times, 18 of which were viewed more than 100 times and a very impressive six videos were viewed more than 1,000 times( FATCA, John Oliver, Hillary Clinton, China, Black On Black, and Paul-Sanders ). This month was great, and it was a fitting end to my Istanbul exile. My skills with After Effects made great progress, and I learned a lot about YouTube. It was exciting to be getting out of my small room in Tophane, though I would come to miss it in the coming months.
So in May views came back down to Earth. I found it pretty depressing. For the second time, a video had done really well, leading me to believe the channel was finally taking off. And for the second time that video’s viral moment came and went, leading to a massive decline in viewers. Views for “FATCA Explained in 4 Minutes…” rose and fell between April and July 2014, and “How Powerful Is John Oliver” rose and fell between January and May 2015. The graph below shows the whole arc of monthly views from the start of weekly production through to April 2016.
The impact on my mood is significant because it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The one thing I’ve learned for sure about the YouTube algorithm over the past couple years is that it values quantity. More videos is always better. No matter how those videos do, the more often you post, the more likely YouTube is to serve up your entire back catalog of videos. In May of 2015 I got depressed about views and only managed to complete my required video a week. Less production due to less views leads quite directly to even less views.
Getting bummed and unproductive is unwise, and it is also unjustified. A longer-term review of the viewership stats makes this clear. After both of these roller-coaster rides, the level of views was set at a new level. Before the FATCA video’s rise, views hovered around 2,000 a month. After that vid died down again, monthly views were in the 5 to 7,000 view range. After the John Oliver video died down, views settled around 10 to 15,000 views. The slump of a heavily viewed video is annoying, but some of the eyeballs that come in stick around, and if the other content is at all decent, a semi-viral video will do any channel a ton of good.
This was a fairly light month for videos. In the Spring of 2015 my savings were dwindling so I started taking freelance projects, which slowed down video productivity. We started off with the “5 Dumbest Parts of The Black on Black Crime Myth” a topic that really gets to me. The vid is super simple, but with some good stats, and a dollop of anger it has performed really well. “Macedonia and the Endless Falls Of Empire” is a fun one as well. I like taking more obscure news items and using them to draw broader lessons. This gun battle in Macedonia, that nobody was talking about, provided a nice window on the history of the Ottoman, British and American empires. This is also one of my first videos to intensively use .SVG maps. This has become more and more of a thing over the past year. Prior to this vid, I put together older map videos in photoshop, which involves a lot of work and isn’t very precise. Starting here, I switched to vector based graphics, which allows for quicker workflow, and much more powerful animations through the use of Adobe Illustrator and Adobe After Effects. Fun stuff.
“The New Economy And What We’ve Lost” is a weird one. I think it’s well produced, and I like the graphics and the music shift. What’s weird about it is the way making these videos takes me away from what I think I believe. If I were more serious about Libertarianism, then inequality would be a topic to avoid. It is something I think about a lot though, more so this year as the success of Sanders and Trump makes it clear that it’s something we need to deal with if we want a functioning system. I’m not all that doctrinaire, so it’s fun to see the way that thinking about these issues actually changes my mind. My thought process is very much on display in this video, and in later vids on the topic like this one. “Sri Lanka and the Power of Elections” was fun to do. We hear a lot about Democracy’s failings, but less about its successes. This vid was consciously aimed at Turkey’s election in June, which resulted in a slap in the face for another strongman. Unfortunately the story did not end as happily in Turkey, mostly because the opposition could not get its shit together. Argh! But I digress…
As I mentioned above, views collapsed in May 2015, falling from 17,963 in April down to 12,434. Only one of the month’s top five videos was produced in May. Two of the four videos produced broke 100 views on the first day, and 12 months later all of them are over 200 views, and three of four are over 300. At the end of May 2015 we had 95 videos, all of which were viewed at least once in May, 68 of which were viewed more than 10 times, 13 of which were viewed over 100 times, and four of which (FATCA, John Oliver, Hillary Clinton, Black on Black Crime Myth) were viewed more than 1,000 times. It was a good month, but I wish I had produced more videos. The balance between freelancing and video production is one that I continue to struggle with. There’s only so much time really. If you’d like to earn my undying gratitude, please click here to support this project through Patreon. Please do reach out to us through Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, or our e-mail newsletter.