Geeks Bearing Gifts, Part II: Forms – The Article is Dead. Long Live the Article.

Screenshot 2014-12-18 at 9.47.58 AMNow I start sharing chapters from the second part of Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News. In the first, I reimagined the relationship journalism has with the public it serves. In the second part, I examine new forms journalism can take. (In the third, I’ll get to the sexy part: business.) The entire book is being posted to Medium, chapter by chapter, here. In this chapter, I deconstruct the article and let links put it back together again. You can read the entire chapter here. The opening:

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I come not to bury the article but to praise it. Machined to near-perfection over a century of production, the article is ideally suited to its form. It has developed a well-defined role for each of its elements: lede imparting the latest — the news; nut graph delivering the essence of the story and telling us why we should bother to read the rest; background graph bringing us up to speed; timelines and catalogues of issues and players to set the stage; explanations to give context; quotes from various perspectives; and as many anecdotes and examples as fit in print. All this is prioritized so readers can easily navigate through and extract information and so typesetters in newspaper composing rooms with scarce time and limited space could lop off lines of type at the bottom of a story — bars of molded lead — without losing the essence of it. This is our inverted pyramid. It is the form we teach in journalism school, and with it the skills of summary and abstraction (what is the story? — perhaps the most difficult skill a journalist learns), of evidence and example, of completeness and fairness, of narrative and engagement, of prioritization and news judgment. This is the form that envelops the essential logic of journalism: that any event, issue, battle, or person can be packaged and delivered in so many lines of type. That is what we do.

Given the gifts of geeks with many new media technologies, we’ve enhanced the digital article, adding not just photos but slideshows, and not just slideshows but video and audio. We’ve added explanatory visualizations and graphics that move and interact with readers’ commands. We’ve curated related links to give readers more from our own archives or from anywhere on the web. For good and ill, we’ve added comments. The article is enhanced, improved, updated. 

But now let’s deconstruct the article into its core assets. Let’s unbundle its elements just as news publications themselves have been unbundled. Draw that inverted pyramid and its constituent elements and then imagine each as a separate entity in its optimal form. . . .

Read the rest of each chapter here. If you can’t wait for the rest, then you can buy the book here. The perfect gift for the journowonk on your list.

Image from Daily Writing Tips.

Geeks Bearing Gifts: New roles for journalists

A two-fer today: I’m posting the last two chapters of the first section of Geeks Bearing Gifts as they are both about new roles and relationships for journalists: one explores engagement, collaboration, and membership; the other looks at the journalist as organizer, advocate, and educator. Earlier drafts of these chapters have appeared online before. Tomorrow, I’ll start posting chapters about new forms and business models, which haven’t appeared before. Snippets from these two chapters:

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What would it mean for members of the community to be truly engaged in news? At the high end of collaboration, a news organization and its journalists could stand ready to complete the assignments conjured up by a community: “We need to know this,” the community says, “and we want you to use your power as a convener to bring us together to gather this information and then to add journalistic value to that work.” True, the community could organize its own task through, say, Facebook or Twitter. But the news organization can help by convening the work, by instructing people how to meet their goal, by verifying facts, by adding context and explanation, and by offering organization.

What does a member give to become a member? Membership is seen by some as just another word for subscription: Give us your money and we will give you access to see our content. It’s another way to say “customer.” A member might well give money to support a journalistic endeavor but a true member will likely want some voice in return. Of course, a journalist will want to make sure that she is not co-opted by her patron’s funds. Journalists should also see that members can contribute value in ways other than money: giving ideas, tips, content, promotion, effort. Membership requires an exchange of value, with each side of the transaction giving something to get something. 

There is one other way to look at membership, one that does not put the news organization at the egocentric middle of the Venn diagram but at the edge: The community already exists and the news organization is just another member of it, contributing value to receive value. . . . Membership is not just a tollbooth. It is a two-way street.

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“Community organizer” sounds like a punchline to a Fox News joke about Barack Obama. But if news organizations are to serve communities, they often need to act as community organizers to marshal the forces of communities in very practical ways: listening to their needs, drawing their attention to an issue, convening them to gather together and discuss the issue, urging them to action, and helping them reach their goals. That would seem to violate our professional myths of objectivity and distance — that, like the crew of the Starship Enterprise, we operate under a Prime Directive not to interfere with other life forms, only to observe them. But the truth is that news organizations have long convened communities to take action — isn’t that our desired outcome in investigative (that is, crusading) journalism: to get our readers to demand action of government, to have an impact, to bring change? I’ll avoid the tired battle over journalistic objectivity and confess that on this question I have a strongly held belief: We are not objective. 

If traditionalists in my field haven’t already crumpled up this essay — or whatever one does in disgust, post-paper, with a digital screen — at my contentions that we are not in the content business and are not first storytellers, this may cause them to strike a match or pull the plug. Still, I’ll go even farther and argue this: If it isn’t advocacy, it isn’t journalism.

Read the rest of each chapter here and here. If you can’t wait for the rest, then you can buy the book here.

Geeks Bearing Gifts: News ecosystems

Here’s chapter 4 of Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News about news ecosystems and the New Jersey model, posted to Medium for free. A snippet:

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This notion of an ecosystem can be confusing as we leave an era dominated by monolithic media — large, vertically integrated companies with tangible products, obvious control over scarce resources, and clear brands. Now we have this untidy hydra we call an ecosystem. No one is in charge. It has huge blank spots — there are 565 towns in New Jersey, each an opportunity for corruption needing a watchdog, and only a few dozen of them covered. There is no longer a single, simple business model: circulation + advertising. Quality and credibility are sometimes question marks. Surely, you say, this is not an improvement. Perhaps not yet, but it can be. My state is a blank slate where innovation and collaboration can bloom, where more voices than ever can be heard, where citizens can end up better informed and more engaged than they were. But to get there, the ecosystem needs help and its members need to help each other. Members of an ecosystem can share content, audience, and best practices. They can share effort on collaborative projects, accomplishing more together than they could alone. They can share revenue through joint advertising sales and other activities, like events. They can also save on expenses by pooling their purchasing power for space, technology, or services. Later, when I explore new efficiencies for news, I will examine the impact of the link on a news ecosystem: how it forces each member to specialize and concentrate on what it does best and how it enables every member of an ecosystem to link to its complementary colleagues. Members of an ecosystem eventually learn a Golden Rule of linking: Linking to others is a service to readers and a courtesy to the site that receives the link. Linking can and should be a virtuous circle.

Read the rest of the chapter here. If you can’t wait for the rest, then you can buy the book here.

Spain’s link tax forces Google News to shut there

Google News just announced that Spain’s recently passed link tax has forced the net giant to remove Spanish publishers from Google News and shut off the service in Spain come Tuesday.

Thus a link tax intended to protect Spain’s publishers will only end up harming them — depriving them of untold audience — and could even end up killing the weakest among them. Spain will also bring damage to the web itself and to the country’s reputation, establishing itself as a hostile environment for investment in technology.

Be careful what you wish for, you old, threatened institutions of media and government, huddling together against the cold wind of the new.

Spain’s link tax is inspired by a similar ancillary copyright law in Germany but goes well beyond the Teutonic statute in one key aspect: The Spanish law requires aggregators (read: Google News) to pay publishers (read: newspapers) for linking to and quoting content at any length. Publishers cannot waive the payment. Thus, come January 1, Google said it could not afford to pay for quoting and sending traffic to the publishers in a service where Google places no ads and says it makes no money.

In Germany, the game over its ancillary copyright law — the Leistungsschutzrecht in local parlance — played out as a theatre of the ridiculous. Quoting a piece I wrote about the sequence for Die Zeit:

Their battle reached a crescendo of absurdity as:
(1) a Leistungsschutzrecht was written to forbid Google et al from quoting snippets of publishers’ content;
(2) the legislation was amended to allow snippets;
(3) publishers sued Google anyway for using snippets, demanding 11 percent of Google’s related revenue;
(4) Google said it would stop using snippets from the litigious publishers;
(5) those publishers accused Google of blackmailing them for taking down the snippets the publishers were themselves using to blackmail Google;
(6) government officials laughed the publishers out of the cartel office;
(7) most of the publishers capitulated because they need traffic from Google;
(8) Springer pulled permission to publish snippets from Die Welt and three minor sites but not from its superbrand, Bild; and
(9) Springer itself capitulated after confessing it lost too much traffic from Google and arguing this demonstrated Google’s crushing market power.
The publishers have succeeded in humiliating themselves, their industry, and their nation.

In Germany, publishers led by conservative powerhouse Axel Springer used their considerable political capital to enlist politicians at all levels to play a game intended to box their boogeyman giant, Google, into a corner. They lost to fight another day. In Spain, though, something was gained in the translation and the government, goaded by its publishers, struck a tragic blow against the web itself.

Of course, the internet is suffering many more bruises in Europe. There is the fight against Google Street View in Germany and Google’s right to take pictures of public views from public streets, pushing Google to abandon updating its photographic maps there. There is the so-called right to be forgotten from a European court, which tramples over the right to remember, the right to free speech, and the right to a free press, as publications are quickly learning. As the inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, said in Paris this week: “The right to access history is important.” And there is the political pressure brought to bear from publishers that drove the European Union to abandon its antitrust settlement with Google.

I bring my own perspective to this story. I am an American. I am a fan of technology, of Google, of capitalism. As a matter of disclosure, please know that Google has paid my travel to events in Spain and Germany to speak on this topic (like Google, I don’t much like losing money) but never a fee. So take what I say about Google with a grain of salt the size of a cow’s saltlick, if you’d like.

But consider the damage to the web and the internet brought by these protective measures from disrupted publishers and politicians conspiring together. Consider the damage to Spain’s, Germany’s, and Europe’s hopes to build their own futures in technology, to attract entrepreneurs and investment and the risk that invention requires. Consider the damage to speech, to the ability of any of us to quote and link to anyone else.

Last month, I attended an “unconference” of journalists, publishers, educators and technologists convened in Phoenix by Google and the Knight Foundation (further disclosure: the latter is a funder of my work at the City University of New York). In an unconference, the participants set the agenda. I was one of more than a few participants who requested a session asking what Google could do for news. At that meeting, we discussed many wishes.

Myself, I wish Google would help news organizations new and old break out of old business models and find new means of sustaining themselves on the net. I wish that Google would help us explore new means of distribution, going to the public rather than making them come to us. I wish that Google would increase its investment in media startups — especially in Europe.

But more than anything, I wish that Google would speak up more often and more boldly in defense of the net itself. I wish Google would defend the net more aggressively against spying by the NSA and GCHQ. I wish Google would defend itself and the net against the protectionism and political opportunism of publishers and politicians. That is just what Google has done in refusing to capitulate to Spain’s link tax. Google is defending the freedom of the link and thus of the web itself.

Geeks Bearing Gifts: Content vs. Service

Here is the second chapter of my book, up on Medium for free. It argues that journalism is a service. That means that we’re not in the content business. That is heresy. So shoot me. The lede:

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Is news really a content business? Should it be? Perhaps defining ourselves as content creators is a trap. That worldview convinces us that our value is embodied entirely in what we make rather than in the good people derive from it. The belief that our business is to produce a product called content is what drives us to build paywalls around it — to argue that the public should pay for what we make because it costs us money to make it and, besides, they’ve always paid for it. It motivates us to fight over protecting our content from what we view as theft — using copyright — rather than recognizing the value that content and the information in it can bring in informing relationships. As content creators, we separate ourselves from the public while we create our product until we are finished and make it public — because that is what our means of production and distribution long demanded; only now are we learning to collaborate during the process. Our monopoly over those means of production also convinced us that we could own, control, and wield pricing power over this scarcity called content. 

These circumstances left us ill-prepared for a technological era when copies cost nothing; when content and thus competition are abundant; when information becomes a commodity the instant it can be passed on with a link and click; and when the value of information — before it is spread and known — has a half-life now measured in milliseconds. Content, it turns out, is not a great business. 

To suggest that we are not in the content business is to argue that journalists are not primarily storytellers: high heresy indeed. That idea pulls the rug out from under everything we assume and hold dear about our craft and trade: our job descriptions, our production processes, our legal status, our measures of success, and certainly our business models. Fear not: Content will continue to be valued. But content’s value may be more as a tool than as an end in itself and certainly not as our only product. 

Well then, if we are not in the content business, what business are we in? Consider journalism as a service….

Read the rest of the chapter here. If you can’t wait for the rest, then you can buy the book here.

That German guy and his beard


Just a brief post to cross the language barrier with an amusing story going on in German media.

Kai Diekmann is the explosively colorful, diabolically charming, dangerously brilliant, stunt-prone editor-in-chief of the largest paper in Europe, Bild (it’s a tabloid in spirit that is printed on really big paper so the bare breasts are bigger). His company, Axel Springer, scares even big, (not) bad Google. He unseated a German president. He is powerful.

For reasons I cannot remember — I think it had something to do with his nine-month-long visit to Silicon Valley, during which he partook of many delicious, digital lotus leaves — Diekmann started growing a beard that became his temporary trademark. His Christmas card last year was of him with a beard that wouldn’t stop growing. He retweeted every beard joke about him.

Today, in a stunt to end all stunts (well, probably not), Kai is shaving the beard on national TV. To benefit the Bild charity Ein Herz Für Kinder (A Heart for Children), the razor giant Gillette — of course — and supermarket giant EDEKA are paying 100,000€ to shave off Kai’s beard.

The German advertising magazine W&V calls it what it is: content marketing with a beard. The editor as native advertising.

One can hardly imagine a stuffy American editor doing such a thing. Heaven forbid. But, of course, American journalism used to have such larger-than-life editors: Hearst, Pulitzer, and James Gordon Bennett, Jr., whose paper, the New York Herald, was the namesake of the square where he is now memorialized and who funded expeditions to Africa (Stanley, meet Livingstone) and the Arctic:

bennett herald square

Digital media may breed such characters. Arianna Huffington was herself a bit of a swashbuckler, until she disappointingly — in my mind — shifted her ambitions from running the world to being Oprah. This week at CUNY, we gave the Knight Innovation Award to Shane Smith — he just returned from jumping off a helicopter in the antarctic — who has built an impressive empire atop his strong editorial voice. (Disclosure: He and Knight awarded the school $500,000 to establish a fund to support young journalists around the world.) But how many others are there?

Well, anyway, tonight Diekmann will be clean-shaven once again. I understand his wife will be relieved.

: Half-a-postscript: Halfway there:

Finally:

Geeks Bearing Gifts: No Mas Mass Media

Screenshot 2014-12-05 at 1.13.57 PMI’ve just posted the first chapter of Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News on Medium. The gist of it: The mass is dead. Or we should kill it, which is only fair because we in media started it. The mass was a relic of Gutenberg-era technology. The idea of the mass determines and corrupts our business model and our relationships with the public and our forms of news. The net allows us to see people as individuals and communities. We need to start. Here’s a snippet of that brief chapter:

I still hear people my age lament the passing of the Cronkite era’s grand shared experience of media, as if we all were meant to sit at the same time watching the same images of the same news. That was a short-lived era indeed, from the mid-’50s — when the arrival of television killed the diversity of voices from competitive newspapers in most American cities, leaving the lone survivors to serve everyone the same — to the mid-’90s and the arrival of the internet, which mortally wounded those monopolistic newspapers and threatened TV’s media hegemony. But the net’s real victim was not one medium or another. What it killed was the idea of the mass. 

Should we continue to serve people as a mass now that we can serve and connect them as individuals? I will argue throughout this essay that relationships — knowing people as individuals and communities so we can better serve them with more relevance, building greater value as a result — will be a necessity for media business models, a key to survival and success. Yes, of course, we will still make content. But content is not the end product. It is only one tool we will use to inform and serve our communities and their members.

Read the rest here.

I’ll be putting the entire book up on Medium. But, of course, you can still make our publishing imprint and my bosses happy by buying the book or the Kindle or you can buy it directly from our friends at OR books.

My new book coming to Medium: Free!

Starting today, I’ll be putting my new book onto Medium, all of it for free.

Screenshot 2014-12-03 at 9.35.05 AMGeeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Future for News is an essay that metastasized into a book. It is my attempt to answer the question I’m often asked: “OK, smartass, now that your damned, beloved internet has ruined news, what next?” When asked what I had to say about paywalls or advertising or the fate of the article or the ideas behind social journalism, I wanted something to point to. This is that. It is not a prediction or a prescription but instead a call to focus on the opportunities technology presents to news rather than the problems. A snippet from the introduction, which I’m posting today:

If I had a plan, I’d be eliminating possibilities. I’d be predicting the future and prescribing it. But I’m not trying to do that. If we define the future today, we’ll do so in the terms of our past. Horseless carriages. We still have more imagining to do. That’s what this essay is: an exercise in personal brainstorming — one I’d like to see undertaken by journalism students, journalism teachers, journalists, publishers, media companies, technologists, investors, activists, and anyone who cares about news and society. If we don’t imagine many futures, we can’t build any. We must start by questioning three key industrial assumptions about news, or we’ll never get past trying to preserve them. 

* First, that the natural role of the public in relation to journalism is as the mass, as an audience — or as my friend Rosen calls them now, the people formerly known as the audience. Who are they today? What roles can they play? How does this shift in roles affect the value of the journalist in this new relationship? In the first part of this essay, I will propose different perspectives for conceiving of the role of journalism in society: as a service, a builder of platforms, an organizer, an advocate, a teacher, an incubator. I will argue that journalism must learn how to get into the relationship business; that, I believe, can be a foundation for a new business strategy for the news industry. 

* Second, that the article is the atomic unit and necessary product of news and that journalists are storytellers. Articles, I am sure, will remain a key tool journalists will use to add value to a flow of information — with narrative, organization, context, summary, example, and discussion. But in the second part of this essay, I will try to move past the article or story to examine other forms news may take: as data (our current darling) and also as functionality, as platforms, as sets of information assets with many paths through them, as curation, as conversations. 

* The final assumption: That old business models can be recreated in a new reality, that newsrooms will (or won’t) be preserved, that print won’t (or will) survive, that people will or should (or won’t) pay for news, that advertising must (or can’t) support news, that media companies will control news (or die). I don’t believe that news is in jeopardy. We see increased access to news, interest in it, need for it, means of sharing it, and discussion about it online. I don’t think demand is the problem. Business models most certainly are a problem (though to say that business models are the only problem is to fool ourselves into thinking that the rest of journalism needn’t change). So I will concentrate in the third part of this essay on possible new models, including some we have been studying at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, which I direct at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. The goal is to find sustainable — that is, profitable — support for news. But that is not merely a discussion of replacing lost revenue; we also must examine new efficiencies in what will surely be smaller, post-monopoly news enterprises. Mostly, we must concentrate on where and how journalism adds value to a community’s knowledge and only then consider how it can extract value for its sustenance. So perhaps the news industry must think past the idea that it is in the content, advertising, and distribution businesses. Perhaps we should ask whether — like Google and Facebook — news instead should be a service that helps people accomplish their goals. Here I return to the relationship strategy for news and explore the opportunity to build new business models around value over volume.

I’ll be posting every chapter of the book on Medium, one or a few at a time, over the coming weeks. Of course, you can still make our publishing imprint and my bosses happy by buying the book or the Kindle or you can buy it directly from our friends at OR books.

This week at my journalism school, we held a summit on innovation and gave the Knight Innovation Award to Vice’s Shane Smith. My great and good friend Bill Gross started off the day with a keynote about what he has learned starting 125 companies. I recommend it highly. As you watch it, imagine what journalism could be if it were filled with entrepreneurs like Bill and Shane who saw problems at things to solve and found opportunities there.

I want to thank the wonderful Kate Lee at Medium and the great creative services team there for making Geeks Bearing Gifts look so great. I will be posting the first chapter tomorrow.