Entertainment Weekly, the genesis

EW prototype cover

EW prototype cover

Even with the cringes induced with a few maddening memories, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Anne Helen Petersen’s history of Entertainment Weekly‘s life — and torture — at Time Inc. Others involved might quibble about this or that. A successor said in a subsequent Facebook discussion that synergy wasn’t the problem — well, it wasn’t for him; I remember a top Time Inc. executive calculating the grade-point averages our critics gave (he said we were being too mean to the industry Time Inc. was about to enter: entertainment). Memories will serve us differently. But Petersen’s history is well-researched and well-analyzed.

This has inspired me to scan and post the genesis documents for Entertainment Weekly. Here is my original 1984 memo proposing the magazine (with a few updates for resubmission in 1986). Here, too, is the rejection from on high. The magazine finally started six years after I first proposed it.

I teach EW as a case most terms at the start of my entrepreneurial journalism class at CUNY, so I keep the documents around (I specifically got permission to keep the launch documents when I stormed out of EW). There’s more where these came from.

EW proposal

The right to remember, damnit

A reporter asked me for reaction to news that Google has put up a form to meet a European court’s insane and dangerous ruling and allow people to demand that links to content they don’t like about themselves be taken down. Here’s what I said:

This is a most troubling event for speech, the web, and Europe.

The court has trampled the free-speech rights not only of Google but of the sites — and speakers — to which it links.

The court has undertaken to control knowledge — to erase what is already known — which in concept is offensive to an open and modern society and in history is a device used by tyrannies; one would have hoped that European jurists of all people would have recognized the danger of that precedent.

The court has undermined the very structure of Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention, the link — the underpinning of the web itself — by making now Google (and next perhaps any of us) liable just for linking to information. Will newspapers be forced to erase what they link to or quote? Will libraries be forced to take metaphoric cards out of their catalogs?

The court has, ironically, made Google only more powerful, making it the adjudicator of what information should and should not be found. The court has also given Google ludicrous parameters — e.g., having to decide what is relevant to what; relevant to whom; relevant in what context?

We don’t know how this order will be implemented by the various search engines. One question is what right of notice and appeal a delinked site will have.

If this process is public, as it should be, then doesn’t that have the potential to bring even more attention to the information in dispute? Another question is whether content will be made invisible in Europe but will still be visible — as I hope it will be — in the rest of the world, where the European court has no authority. Will this then allow others to compare search results and make the banned information only more visible? In the end, has the court assured a Streisand effect — or, as the comedian John Oliver said on his HBO show, the one thing that is known about the Spaniard who brought this case is the thing that he does not want known.

Further, what of search engines and sites that have no European offices and thus the court has no authority over them? If they refuse to delink on demand will the court ban these sites for European view?

Finally, I am concerned about the additive effect of this ruling on Europe’s reputation as technophobic or anti-American. Add to this especially various actions in Germany — government officials demanding a “Verpixelungsrecht” (a right to be pixelated) in Google Street View despite the fact that these are images taken of public views in public places; German publishers ganging up on Google to strongarm politicians into passing a law limiting the quoting of snippets of content and now threatening to break up Google — in addition to similarly head-scratching moves in France, Italy, and elsewhere. Is Europe a place where any technology company or investor will choose to work?

You ask about Eric Schmidt and David Drummond cochairing the advisory committee. That is a clear indication of how profound and dangerous this situation is in Google’s view. It so happens I was in Mountain View two weeks ago speaking to the all-hands meeting of Google’s privacy teams and I can tell you they were shocked at the ruling. I also said much of what I’ve said to you there. I am appalled by this ruling. [As a matter of disclosure, Google paid my travel expenses but I have no business relationship with Google.]

Calling all entrepreneurial journalism profs

If you teach or soon plan to teach entrepreneurial journalism, the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism — my colleague Jeremy Caplan and I — invite you to attend a day-long summit at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York on July 10.

Our small, new field has grown like weeds. Dozens of journalism schools and foundations are now training and supporting the next generation of media leaders to report, edit, close sales, capture audiences, and run businesses. Our goal is to enable those of you who’ve pioneered these efforts — as well as those just getting into the field — to share best practices and common challenges.

We plan to invite an expert from entrepreneurial education in another field to speak, and ask some of our former students to discuss their experience starting up companies. But on the whole, the day is about your lessons learned, concerns, and needs — and to see whether and how we should collaborate as a group in the future.

Please register here if you plan to attend, or aren’t sure yet, but want to reserve a place. If you cannot attend, we will plan to stream the event and actively involve remote participants in the discussion. Watch this space.

The social journalism degree proposal

Some have asked for more detail about the MA in social journalism we are developing at CUNY. Here are major excerpts from the formal proposal that I wrote (well-edited by our dean, Sarah Bartlett). I’m sparing you sections on the facilities. The syllabi will be works in progress until we bring on the faculty to teach the courses; I’ll share those later. As ever, I am eager to hear your thoughts and questions. Link to the Google doc here; PDF here.

A degree in social journalism

I announced this on Medium; reposting here….

community centerSome big news at CUNY: We are developing a new master’s degree in social journalism. We’ve considered calling it a degree in community information and engagement. I will also argue that it is a degree in outcomes-based journalism. It is all those things. Allow me to explain.

I have been arguing for some time that journalism must shift from seeing itself primarily as a producer of content for masses to become more explicitly a service to individuals and communities. Content fills things; service accomplishes things. To provide a service with relevance and value requires knowing those you serve, and to do that requires building relationships with those people. Thus, we must learn relationship skills.

I’ve written about these ideas in the first third of a white paper on new relationships, new forms, and new business models for news that I’ve been working on for a while. (I posted that first third, on relationships, at Medium.) On a trip to California to talk with Reid Hoffman, Ev Williams, Dick Costolo, Vic Gundotra, Bradley Horowitz, and other technology leaders about the future of news, I subjected my new dean, Sarah Bartlett, to the unfinished essay so she’d be forewarned of what I’d be preaching. On the flight out, having completed everything else she had to work on and with a three-hour delay ahead and a crying baby behind, she had nothing left to do but read it. When she got off the plane, Sarah said she agreed with much of what I said. But she also asked whether we would need to find new ways to teach the new skills I’d outlined.

So she suggested a new degree to add to our core MA in journalism and entrepreneurial journalism degrees, and she sketched what it might look like. I wrote a proposal, outlining the curriculum and goals. She presented it to the faculty. My colleagues did an incredible job writing syllabi, which our curriculum committee and faculty just approved. There are more steps yet to walk in this process — seeking approval from the university and the state — before we can formally announce and recruit students. But since we are on the path, I thought it was time to put a stake in the ground and welcome a discussion regarding social journalism and what it is.

First, let me say what it is not. In a series of interesting posts, Ed Sussman has been labeling as social journalism what Forbes, Gawker, the Guardian, and others are doing in inviting contributors to write for their sites. I disagree. That idea continues to keep the focus of journalism on us, our products, our content; it’s a more open (to its credit) and less reliable (to its frequent discredit) way to feed the media beast.

No, I say that social journalism must turn the telescope around and start with the public, with the people being served. The first skill we will teach in this new program is listening to a community, hearing and discerning its needs and then thinking about how best to help it meet those needs. The answer sometimes — often — will be reporting and content. But it can also mean connecting the members of the community to each other to share information themselves. It can mean sharing data and tools rather than developing narratives. It can mean helping a community to organize itself to take action (yes, that’s community organizing). It can be education. It must be collaborative.

Social journalists will judge their success not by the old-media metrics of reach and frequency — or, translated to digital argot, of unique users and pageviews — for those measures are still about our stuff and who sees it. Though social journalism may sound like and use many of the tools of what is known as social media, I will also argue that the proper measurements of success are not likes and friends and shares and even how much time and attention we get from the public — the things we have been calling engagement — for those, too, are about engaging with us and our stuff.

Social journalists will judge their success instead by whether the public they serve and its members accomplish their goals, meet their needs, improve their lots and their communities — and whether they connect with each other to better understand each other through discussion and information. Thus I see this as the discipline of outcomes-based journalism: We take responsibility not only for making a product called news, hoping people consume it and then hoping that they and their communities are better for it. That’s all we could do before, in print and broadcast. Now, online, we have new tools and new means to hear the public, to serve the public, and to measure our impact and value. There lies the essence of social journalism.

So, yes, it’s social but it’s not just about social media. Yes, it’s about engagement but not engagement with us but instead about a community’s engagement with its own work. It’s about results, outcomes, impact.

To teach these skills, we are proposing a three-term, year-long program with:
* two journalism courses — one on identifying, meeting, and listening to communities, the next on presenting information to and helping inform a community;
* two listening courses — the first helping students to interact with and learn from diverse communities, the second about the ethics (and legalities) of working with and serving a community;
* two data courses — about using data as a means to listen to and learn about a community, to gather information with and from a community, to present information to a community, and to measure the impact of working with a community;
* two tools courses — understanding how best to use the many platforms communities use and will use to connect and share, and also learning how to work with technologists to adapt tools to help communities;
* intense business training (a subset of beat-business training we are offering this summer at CUNY — more on that shortly); and
* an intense practicum serving a community of the student’s choice, working to meet goals of the community’s definition.

We will bring in teachers with various skills to work with students — journalists, of course, and also data specialists and community organizers and social anthropologists and more.

If approved, this new degree will be taught alongside CUNY’s MA in journalism and MA and certificate in entrepreneurial journalism. Each will attract distinct cohorts of students seeking a variety of jobs (note that the Center for Investigative Reporting depends on six engagement editors and Al Jazeera’s new AJ Plus is hiring 13 people of that description) or starting their own ventures. We have talked with many leaders in the field and they have convinced us there is a need and demand for this program and its graduates. Each of our degree programs will have a positive impact on the others, bringing new skills and perspectives to the school and adding courses and options for all the students. At CUNY, we pride ourselves on being a startup still, on learning as we go and adapting our curriculum to new needs and opportunities. This new program is also part of that process.

We are operating on what passes — in our field — for a fast track. If we pass all our tests, we hope to offer the new degree in 2015 (we haven’t decided yet exactly when). Between now and then — and here is the reason I am writing this — I would like to hear your suggestions and questions about what and how we should teach. We’ve received very helpful reaction from our school’s board of advisers and other friends. On that trip to the Bay Area, Sarah and I discussed our idea with most everyone we met and met in turn with gratifying enthusiasm.

Indeed, I am honored to tell you that Reid Hoffman — who has given me very useful advice about the entrepreneurial journalism program since its inception — is generously seeding the development of the new degree. And we just learned that the Knight Foundation — the preeminent funder for journalism in America — will match Reid’s gift. Thank you, both.

We will be raising additional money to fund scholarships, research on engagement and impact, and events bringing together researchers and practitioners from various fields to discuss social journalism and engagement under the auspices of the Tow-Knight Center.

Just when I thought things were starting to settle down in our eight-year startup of a journalism school…..

A German business model

You will never find a finer example of a certain German business model popular in the internet age than in an open letter to Google’s Eric Schmidt written by Mathias Döpfner, head of the conservative German publishing giant Axel Springer. (English translation courtesy of the all-seeing, all-powerful Google here.)

The essence of that business model, as practiced especially by German and sometimes French legacy publishers, is to stomp their feet like pouty kindergartners missing a turn at kickball, whining “that’s not fair” and yelling that everything wrong on this playground is the fault of another kid, then running to hide behind the skirt of the teacher. That is what Döpfner does here, demonizing Google (and Mark Zuckerberg while he’s at it) for numerous perceived sins I’ll explore below and — here’s the real agenda — demanding that the European Commission rescue the dinosaurs (his word) with regulation.

What a humiliating moment it must be for a powerful businessman to admit that he cannot compete in the marketplace. The entire letter struck me as an act of economic self-castration. It must also hurt for the head of a bastion of political conservatism in Germany — the publisher of the newspaper Bild, a Fox-News-with-boobs, and the leader of the company that constructed its headquarters ass-on the Berlin Wall just to extend a middle finger to the communists across it — to now beg government (the EU at that) for regulation. You’d think Döpfner lived in San Francisco and was a dancer in clown suit blocking Google buses. This is a call for big-government interference in the market we wouldn’t see even from the Guardian or The New York Times.

There’s history here. Döpfner and Springer led a fight by German publishers to stop Google from, in their view, stealing snippets of their articles on Google News — even though, as Eric Schmidt likes to point out, Google sends 10 billion vists to publishers every month. Here, too, the big boys of publishing ran to hide behind the skirts of government, getting a law called the Leistungschutzrecht passed. That seemed like victory until all the publishers went ahead and allowed Google to quote and link to them because, to paraphrase Woody Allen, they needed the eggs. Insert pouty foot-stomping here.

In the meantime, the antitrust forces of the European Commission investigated Google and negotiated an agreement. But this doesn’t go far enough for Döpfner. And, besides, a defanged, pacified, regulated, cooperative Google is no fun if you want to kick up dust on the playground and blame someone else for all your woes. Young Döpfner needs Google to be a big, bad bully.

So in his letter, Döpfner pulls out every last stop to demonize Google. He compares Google with the Mafia, complaining that the EC’s agreement with Google — stipulating the ability of competitors to buy ads on Google — smacks of “protection money.” (Would Springer’s Bild take ads from its competitors?) But that’s nothing. Döpfner says Mark Zuckerberg views on privacy could come from the head of the Stasi (I find this trivialization of an evil regime offensive); he says Google “sits on the entire privacy of mankind like the giant Fafner in the Ring of the Nibelung;” and then, giving up is last shred of subtlety, invokes Orwell. “Forget Big Brother,” Döpfner squeals, “Google is better!”

Döpfner complains about Google’s search-engine market share, not mentioning that German users — last I knew — gave Google its second-highest penetration in the world, and he also makes its success in creating great services in video, email, and mobile sound ominous. He complains about Google’s self-driving cars competing with Volkswagen and about Google buying Nest and entering our homes. Parody comes to life:

But Döpfner goes much farther in his effort to portray Google as a dark specter overtaking Europe when he frets about Google buying drone companies and allegedly planning huge ships and floating offices operating in stateless waters and wonders whether it will create a superstate floating free of laws. “One needn’t be a conspiracy theorist,” he says, “to find this disturbing.”

Then Döpfner makes a series of recommendations that I am confident he knows are absurd, for I know Döpfner and he is as very smart man. He asks that Google reveal the quantitative criteria behinds its search algorithm, though, of course, that would only enable every spammer on earth to game Google, making it worthless as as service. He asks Google to not store IP addresses and to delete cookies after every session, making targeted advertising impossible and also making Google and its advertising business worthless. He complains about Google and other companies — singling out Jawbone — collecting and using behavioral data to support free services, concluding that “it is better and cheaper to pay with something old-fashioned: simply with money.”

Aha. That is — or was — Springer’s business model until it failed at newspapers and sold most of them, except Bild and its ever-struggling Welt — buying digital enterprises to replace them. Döpfner would like to force the world into his model: People used to buy our content with money so they must continue. To invent new models, well, that’s just not fair, is it? Anything else should be stomped out by government protecting the incumbents. There’s his real agenda.

I find this more tragic than comic. Just as Germany is moving past its reputation for being skittish with entrepreneurial risk and failure, just as it is giving up its bad habit of copycatting American internet startups rather than inventing their own, and just as Berlin’s start-up scene — very near Springer’s headquarters in what used to be the East — is coming into its own as a real creative, technical, and entrepreneurial powerhouse, here comes a titan of old industry making his nation appear technophobic, uncompetitive, and even slightly anticapitalistic.

I don’t think Döpfner believes most of what he wrote, just as Springer and its fellow travelers really didn’t believe in their Leistungschutzrecht. I heard publishers there say that they pushed for the law just so they could strengthen their negotiating position with Google. Too bad for them it didn’t work. So now Döpfner continues to play, thinking that by bullying Google in the press and with government, he can get a pity turn at kickball. But he should beware the unintended consequences of his game, affecting the reputation of Germany as a source of technological and industrial innovation and inviting greater government regulation and interference in markets.

I am surprised you fear Google, Mathias. I thought you were stronger than that.

[Disclosures: Axel Springer flew me a few years ago to speak at its managers' retreat in Tuscany and I've also been engaged to speak at its headquarters. Google is flying me to its headquarters -- with no other fee -- in two weeks to speak to its privacy group. I own Google stock. I have always found Döpfner and the editor of Bild, Kai Diekmann, to be charming and smart and I've said much of what I just said here to them over wine.]

What now for news? Relationships

Here are links to the next parts of an essay I’ve been working on about new relationships, new forms, and new business models for news. These links are the last two bits of the section on relationships:

Part IV: Engagement, collaboration, and membership
Part V: Organizer, advocate, educator

The earlier sections:

Part I: No mas mass media
Part II: Content vs. service
Part III: Ecosystems and networks

The entire essay will try to answer the question I often hear in one form or another: “Now that your damned internet has ruined news, what now?” I don’t pretend to make predictions, only to explore opportunities. It’s on Medium. Now I have to get to work on the next piece, about new forms.

stop collaborate

Good metrics, bad metrics

Screenshot 2014-03-10 at 10.28.01 AMChartbeat CEO Tony Haile writes an important piece about bad media metrics online. He pokes holes in the value of the click as the be-all-and-end-all of media measurement. He reveals that sharing turns out to be a bad measurement of engagement and value because we often don’t read what we “like” or share (we just bother other people with it). He deflates the value of native advertising, demonstrating with hard data that readers understand the difference between real content and — let’s call it what it is — advertising and they quickly abandon it.

The bottom line of Tony’s data is bad news for cynical publishers who have tried to manipulate readers with link-bait headlines and lists, and who are trying to pull the wool over advertisers’ eyes by selling them link-bait listicles and so-called native advertising. Certain emperors have no clothes. The readers know it. The advertisers will wake up and realize it.

But that’s the bad news.

Where we should turn the discussion next is to what the right metrics for media should be. As they say, you get what you measure. So what should we measure? How do we create positive feedback loops that improve the news, not degrade it as unique users, pageviews, and other relics of mass media have done?

I’ll start with the most important and most difficult thing to measure: outcomes. Were people more informed because of what we gave them? Did they accomplish what they wanted as individuals (Sally got new health insurance and saved money) or as communities (Riverdale cleaned up that messy park)? I just had breakfast with Robert Rosenthal of the Center for Investigative Reporting and he told me they start the process of reporting by considering impact and they end by trying to measure it. Why deal in bad proxies for good journalism, based on popularity, when we could get to the reason journalism should exist: to improve the world?

In his book News: A User’s Manual, Alain de Botton says that news has “the power to assemble the picture that citizens end up having of one another; the power to dictate what our idea of ‘other people’ will be like; the power to invent a nation in our imaginations.” And it has the power to help us get there. (Many more quotes in my post about the book, here.) Mark Zuckerberg says that platforms, including news, should offer communities “elegant organization.” These are higher aspirations than mere exposure.

On a tour of technology companies in Silicon Valley a few weeks ago with my dean, we talked about metrics and found different measurements being used for different platforms with different goals. Ev Williams’ Medium values total time spent reading. That is appropriate for a platform that wants to get people to explore ideas in depth — and I find I’m spending more time there reading more posts; it’s working.

Attention, in the form of time spent, is used by many in media as a measure of engagement. But that’s not always the case. Attention can also be another egocentric media metric: how many people come to look at my stuff; how many pages of my stuff do they look at; how much time do they spend with my stuff? No, sometimes, the less time spent the better. What if news were more efficient? Sometimes, spending less time to get what I want is the right metric. That metric doesn’t serve the old media business model of delivering as many eyeballs to as many ads as possible. That is why Yahoo shifted from — in the words of cofounder Jerry Yang — getting you in and out with the answer you needed as quickly as possible to instead trying to bombard you with content and keep you around as long as possible to show you as many ads as possible. Attention, in the wrong hands, can also be a corrupting metric.

Cir.ca has a fascinating metric: follows. When a reader follows a story, she is telling Cir.ca, “Please bother me and let me know when something new happens here.” That is a measure of true interest.

Similarly, Flipboard keeps track of how many people subscribe to a publication — and even to an advertiser’s publication. It also watches what people “flip” or save to read later, which strikes me as a much better indication of interest than sharing.

Google has long valued links as a digital version of citation. That has served search well. Google News also uses citations to try to infer which news organization created or is staying on top of a story — if everyone writing about Walter Reed Army Medical Center quotes the Washington Post then there’s a good chance it’s the Post’s story.

Repost.US and YouTube and now Getty Images track embeds — how many people truly want to share a video or an article because they repost it in their own space on the web. The problem with just “liking” or “sharing” on Twitter and Facebook is that there turns out to be no cost for those transactions; it’s too easy to just keep passing things on. Embedding uses my space and affected my reputation with you. I would like to see more such higher friction means of sharing that really do impute engagement.

What is engagement? It’s likely not one measure of one method of interacting with content. It could be that I spend time with something, that I interact with it or the people gathered around it (though don’t we know that comments are no indication of quality), that I save it, that I take action based on it.

We want to find good proxies for engagement in the hopes that they will lead us to indications of quality, which in turn should tell us something about the authority of the creator and the trust the public has in her. None of these is easy to measure, like “likes.”

Another word for engagement is relationship. I have been arguing that we in news should stop seeing ourselves as content factories and start seeing ourselves as members of our communities who are in the relationship business, who use what we know about people to better serve them. Thus, I ask media companies how many relationships they have with the people they serve and what they know about them — what signals they have, enabling them to improve relevance and thus value and often impact. Those are metrics that start with the public rather than with media. Those are metrics that matter.