‘Radical’ transparency

Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, puts forth the means of what he calls radical transparency. Pardon my blog triumphalism, but I think it takes the culture he has learned in the blog world and tries to lay it over the big-media world. And that is good.

But I do think the truly radical transformation would be to stop looking at the magazine as a thing — a product in print or online — but as a community, for that is what magazines really are and always have been: people who rather around the stuff they all like or need. See my earlier blather on the notion here. The point is that what you really want to do is open the windows on either side of your house and let the people standing around talk directly to each other, with or without you. You do your job, still, creating some stuff that people want to gather around. But then you enable them to share more. And now you have a new role — helping them. So you end up bigger than a magazine.

That said, I like Anderson’s tactics and I think they’ll work:

1) Show who we are. All staff edit their own personal “about” pages, giving bios, contact details and job functions. [e.g. -ED] Encourage anyone who wants to blog to do so. Have a masthead that actually means something to people who aren’t on it. While we’re at it, how about a real org chart, revealing the second dimension that’s purposely obscured in the linear ranking on a traditional masthead? . . .

2) Show what we’re working on. We already have internal wikis that are common scratch pads for teams working on projects. And most writers have their own thread-gathering processes, often online. Why no open them to all? Who knows, perhaps other people will have good ideas, too. . . .

3) “Process as Content”*. Why not share the reporting as it happens, uploading the text of each interview as soon as you can get it processed by your flat-world transcription service in India? . . . After you’ve woven together enough of the threads to have a semi-coherent draft, why not ask your readers to help edit it? . . .

4) Privilege the crowd. Why not give comments equal status to the story they’re commenting on? Why not publish all letters to the editor as they’re submitted (we did that here), and let the readers vote on which are the best? We could promise to publish the top five each month, whether we like them or not: “Harness our tools of production! Make us print your words! Voting is Power!” . . .

5) Let readers decide what’s best. We own Reddit, which (among other things) is a terrific way of measuring popularity. Why should we guess at which stories will be most popular and give those preferential treatment? Why not just measure what people really think and let statistics determine the hierarchy of the front page?

Ah, but those two tactics still separate the magazine from the crowd. It’s still about commenting on what the magazine does (‘but enough about you…’). Go the next step, Chris: Recognize that the crowd has stuff to say that may have nothing to do with what the magazine may be working on but that is of value to the rest. Or as a group, they have information that is valuable to the group. I’ve been saying I want to know the best-selling books among New Yorker readers. I also want to know the best-selling phones among Wired readers (and why).

The magazine is the crowd.

6) Wikifiy everything. The realities of publishing is that at some point you push the publish button. In the traditional world, that’s the end of the story. It is a snapshot in time, as good as we could make it but inevitably imperfect. The errors (and all articles have them) are a mix of commission and omission–we hope for the best yet brace ourselves for the worst. But what if we published every story on a wiki platform, so they could evolve over time, just like Wikipedia itself? . . .

Believe it or not, I almost think that last one may go too far. There is still a role for authorial responsibility. That doesn’t mean control — yes, by all means, show us the corrections and suggestions ,but then do the work to verify and edit. I don’t think you can necessarily hand over your work to the public but you can , indeed, improve your work with the public.

Again, I think the starting point is not what the magazine had but perhaps what the magazine doesn’t have: A wiki of helpful knowledge the public wants to share. And then the editors can come in and polish and verify and report. So then the editors becomes the handmaidens of the crowd. Now that’s radical transparency.

  • http://kempton.ideasRevolution.com Kempton

    Hi Jeff,

    Interesting point of viewing in seeing the magazine as the crowd (I prefer the term “community” as my friend Austin Hill has got me hooked on using now). As you already implied (I think), the magazine is also a resource and an anchor. It is a resource because it has the reporters and accesses to verify and respond to things added by the community. It is an anchor since all the new discussions/topics can be anchored around the magazine’s original article and grow from it.

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  • adslfan

    bring back the neon colors in the mag from the 90’s.

  • http://thesoapboxprophet.blogspot.com/ Andrew Venegas

    I regularly read your blog, and had to comment and giant, “YES,” on this post.

    To myself: You mean there’s someone else out there that’s read Cluetrain?! Sometimes I think I’ve taken crazy pills.

    Go Jeff.

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  • http://network2.tv Chris Brogan…

    Hi Jeff-

    About your point regarding separating the magazine from the crowd, are you saying that the readers have an equal voice to the authors? Or is it that you’re saying let the readers write some “open face” stories? Because wouldn’t that be like opening up BuzzMachine for any old toot to write a post? I’m here for YOU and I appreciate your commenters. But in that order.

    I might’ve mis-interpreted.

    Your fan, Chris. : )

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  • http://ipid.wordpress.com/ digitallantern

    #6 Chris does go to far. It is an interesting point toallow articles to be continually revised (in 1984, that was Winston’s job – to constantly revise past histories). There is something to be said for a pure declarative statement at the time it was said. The artist finds a point when “it is finished” and complete. See the “Clock of the Long Now” for an opposing mentality to the impermanent Web.

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  • http://www.bing.com/ Jenay

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