Posts from May 23, 2005

Stupidity averted

Stupidity averted

: So the filibuster meltdown option is avoided. And a good thing it is. I don’t think the peopel would have tolerated political war and a congressional shutdown. Powerline is despondent; Hugh Hewitt is wondering whether to be depressed but the gray mood is bipartisan: Avedon at Atrios doesn’t like it. Kos calls it limited victory. I call avoiding stupidity victory, myself. I call moderation virtue.

Nonblogger snarks

Nonblogger snarks

: Romenesko keeps trying to insist he’s not a blogger but he sure sounds like one – a snarky one at that — with this link to the post below that mentions a Museum of Television and Radio Media Center event:

Don’t you hate it when journalists get together and refuse to share their brilliant ideas?

Well, the rules aren’t mine. But I wonder whether they would have gotten leaders of big organizations there with the promise that a snarky blogger (like, oh, Romenesko) was in their midst. I’m as transparent as we get — so see-through I could wear the emperor’s new clothes and you wouldn’t notice (think about it) — but even I have to acknowledge that sometimes, people get together to just talk without worrying about how they say what they say. This wasn’t journalists meeting with officials off the record; this was journalists meeting with journalists about the business of journalism. And I will respect the rules of engagement. So I blogged my own thoughts, not those of others. When a commenter snarked below about a blogger attending an off-the-record session, I said that I have off-the-record meetings every day. They’re called conversations. I didn’t blog every meeting with my boss and we’re both journalists. I don’t blog every conversation with my wife because, well, as my father says, His mother didn’t raise any idiot sons (think about it). I didn’t blog about my new professional endeavors before it was time. Though I know that it may be hard to imagine, even for a bloggers, Some of life is simply off-the-record or, if you prefer, not for blogging or publication.

On the air

On the air

: On MSNBC’s Connected at 5p re Newsweek’s new unnamed sources policy.

: Imagine my surprise to see SF Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein sitting with Monica Crowley going over scripts; he’s subbing for Ron Reagan tonight.

New business models for news

New business models for news

: The discussion that the news industry — print, broadcast, online — needs most today is not more blather about who and isn’t a journalist but instead about how to pay for journalism.

I was lucky enough to go to a roundtable about the future of news last week at the Museum of Television & Radio. It was off-the-record, so I’m not supposed to quote anyone. But I was making notes for a catalogue of new business models for news. Some of this is about saving money — for audience and ad revenue to big media are falling and will continue to fall. But some of this is about opening up and taking advantage of what’s happening in technology and media to expand, to explode. Here’s are a few buckets, each broad and abstract; please add more and fill them up with specifics:

: New sources: See the post below about gathering news from many sources, including those outside the newsroom. Whether it’s hyperlocal news around the corner or news in far-off places where reporters can’t go or assigning the entire audience to help with news (tell us your stories of waste about health insurance), there is tremendous untapped knowledge and energy “out there.” News organizations cannot afford to expand staff but this is how they can expand coverage. Or to look at it another way: This process of the people publishing news will go on anyway; the question is whether the news organizations can get involved and add value with content, promotion, and education.

: Replacing anchors with authentic voices: Is it still worth the money to have expensive anchors on TV? They supposedly added trust to the news, though Dan Rather burst that balloon. They also supposedly put a human face on the news — a voice. But they became so homogenized that they added no voice at all; they became background noise, Newsak. So imagine instead having various people giving us news with various perspectives. I don’t know whether that would work; we still like consistency and this, too, can create expensive stars (see: Bill O’Reilly). But I believe that the explosion of news will lead to a lessened dependence on high-priced faces.

Look at it another way: Does every newspaper across the country need its own movie critic? The movies are the same coast-to-coast. The information we need to decide whether to go is the same. So why not plop in Roger Ebert? Or why not plop in reviews by your funny neighbor who knows the good stuff?

Ditto sports columnists. Ditto political columnists. Get rid of the voices on high and get more voices from down on the ground and you’ll improve the conversation and save money.

: Death to commodified news: As an industry, we waste a fortune manhandling the same commodified news everybody already knows. But it’s more than just a waste; it drags us down into an oppressive sameness. We all got overdosed on Schaivovision and Popevision and Bridevision. The programmers behind the cable news networks were afraid not to blanket those stories because their competitors were blanketing them. But by that act, they made themselves the same as their competitors, they turned themselves into commodities. Breaking away from the pack is extremely difficult and risky, but every news outlet needs to have a unique voice and value or it will get lost in a crowd.

Similarly, newspapers and their audiences would be best served concentrating on what they do best: local, local, local. If they gave us the local news that no one else could gather and report, they’d be worth more to us. But this, too, is a hard habit to break: not sending the 15,001st correspondent to the political conventions, not editing the already edited AP report, not printing the stock tables….

: Death to the masses: One-size-fits-all news was a product of the mass market and the mass market was an aberration brought on by a scarcity and thus hegemony of broadcast channels which, in turn, led to a scarcity of newspaper choices. The internet explodes the mass market and brings the press back to its natural state of choice. So does it still make sense to print those stock tables — costing, say, $1 million a year in paper and ink — when only a small portion of the audience still uses them? Can you afford to let those readers go — on the off chance that they do cancel their subscriptions; can you afford not to? In the old mass-market days, you put a little of this and a little of that in your product to serve everyone, in little ways. Now maybe it makes more sense to have separate products — news, sports, entertainment, lifestyle, business — to serve those audiences in big ways… and serve targeted and efficient advertising as a result. The transition would be painful, in some cases fatal, but this is where the audience is now heading online.

: Anytime, anywhere, anyhow: There is no such thing as a medium anymore; it’s all media, it’s all multi. The public demands its news — rather than waiting for it to be served — anytime, anywhere, to serve any interest or need. So news organizations must do just that. Thus a newspaper needs to gather and share the news it knows anytime (which, I have learned, is far more difficult than it appears) via online and audio and video and the internet and phones (also not easy). Thus TV networks have had to hire people to write and package text online. And they need to be able attach sponsorship (or payment) to all this (and that’s not easy, either: just try selling sponsorship of BitTorrent or ad on RSS).

: Charity: NPR is growing on the strength of its news and its audience contributions. I do believe the audience will pay for news in certain (limited) circumstances. And, yes, that does present a new bucket of church-v-state issues (e.g., how come we can get money only to report on why there isn’t global warming vs. why there is?). But the same issues of journalistic integrity prevail (the answer is that you can pay to support reporting but not conclusions).

: Quality will out: One way or another — with their eyeballs or their checkbooks — the public will support quality, unique reporting. See 60 Minutes. See NPR. I have to believe that the best way to find news business models is to give people unique value and quality. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?

: Join the conversation: This is the most important one. The conversation that is news will be going on with or without you — so better to be withit: Better to find the ways to stand in a position to gather and share news. So, for example, look at RSS feeds as a way to get your content out there and not only drive traffic back to your site and brand but also to be consumed and sponsored in a distributed manner.

: MORE: It so happens that The Wall Street Journal asks a bunch of smart media people about new business models for media today: free links here and here. Comments later.

My favorite line from the first Journal story:

“The newspaper of the future is going to be a coalition of niche products,” says consultant S.W. “Sammy” Papert III.

Big radio on small radio

Big radio on small radio

: NPR’s Morning Edition did a segment on podcasting this morning and they interviewed me (sitting under William Paley’s bookshelf at the Museum of Television and Radio, by ironic chance). They edited out plugs for podcast pioneers Dave Winer and Adam Curry (I swear it, Dave, on a stack of RSS manuals!). Take a listen here.

Editor as news gatherer

Editor as news gatherer

: I think we’re getting ready to define a new job description of the journalist.

One of my favorite soundbites — oh, I got a million of ‘em — is that we in the press need to think of ourselves not just as news creators but also as news gatherers, collecting news from inside and outside our newsrooms and sharing it wherever, whenever, and however people want.

Or to say it in another obnoxious soundbite: We need to stop being controllers and start being enablers.

I read Stephen Baker’s post on the Businessweek Blogspotting blog recounting lunch at a Korean restaurant (note outsourcing irony) with a media exec who argued that we will soon the rise of a new kind of newsperson. They see it as a new kind of reporter.

I think it’s a new kind of editor who gathers and sifts and vets and shares and guides and goads — and does all that not just with beat reporters but with beat citizens: readers turned writers.

Baker and lunchmate think these people will be higher paid because of their multimedia skills. As editors, that may be true (though multimedia skills are today the birthright of the young: no big deal). As reporters, I think, however, that there will not be a scarcity of talent and eagerness out there — witness the blogs — and so payment for reporting could decline. From their lunch:

He said that the day of the classic “beat reporter,” is coming to an end. Replacing the legions of beat reporters banging out their stories in newsrooms, he predicts, will be a far smaller group of so-called multimedia journalists. These people will be higher paid. They will know how to harvest the knowledge of experts and citizen reporters alike, and will fashion new journalistic products out of various media. They will have entrepreneurial skills and many will create their own brands….

In many ways, the trend he described to me (as we struggled with metallic chop sticks in a Korean eatery) mirrors what is happening in the software industry. There, many of the commodity jobs are moving offshore. The winners are those who can put together entire projects, who know how to manage cross-cultural teams, who understand the business and can deal with customers.

More and more, the winners in the industries I’m seeing are those who–inside or outside a company–can run their own show.

(Cue quotes from Tom Friedman’s The World Is Flat.)

: So imagine the job description of a real city editor of the near future. Duties include:

1. Aggregate, organize, and highlight the best of newsroom and citizen media: good reporting, good story ideas, new viewpoints, public pulse points.

2. Make assignments inside and outside the newsroom: You need someone to cover a school-board meeting where there’s a controversy brewing, you might allocate one of your staff reporters. For another meeting, you might go out to bid with citizen information entrepreneurs, picking someone who has your trust because she has training and a track record. For another meeting, you know that the event will be covered by citizens anyway — some with a stated viewpoint — and you’ll aggregate those. But you’ll make sure that what needs to be covered gets covered. The insiders will be on salary. The outsiders may get a payment or may be part of your company’s ad network or may just get promotion that benefits them when they sell the ads.

3. Identify, train, and support reporting talent: What you have done in the newsroom, you will need to do outside. You will find promising and motivated citizen reporters and put the best into a company training program — or take the best from journalism schools that now serve the industry and the public with citizen training. On an ongoing basis, you will work with this distibuted reporting base to improve their work. You won’t be able to edit every line of every report to which you link, but you will try to educate them — and earn their respect as they earn yours.

4. Share news anywhere, anytime, in any medium: You will package and enable news gatherers to share news as it happens in and through any appropriate medium — text, photo, audio, video, conversation, shared resources.

5. Converse: It’s important to stay in conversation with the community: Get out, meet people, read their blogs, read their comments, respond to them, be a member of the community.

Come to think of it, I know such a journalist. She’s called the Barista.