Print is an extraordinarily important, wonderful medium. But I think we’ve seen the passing of print as the medium of news delivery. There are plenty of examples where print was the best we could do because it’s all we had. But the online medium is better.
Posts about big
I like Porkbusters (and I’m about to hear Glenn Reynolds plug the movement on Reliable Sources). It was born the way things are online: a sudden need, a sudden inspiration clicks with a critical mass and movement moves. This is a great example of our distributed world swarming together to accomplish something. Remember: The internet isn’t a medium. It is a means.
So how could the Porkbuster example be extended? At the MT&R fest the other day, Jay Rosen lauded the similar example of Josh Marshall having bloggers uncover the secret vote on the DeLay rule — a movement of the moment much like Porkbusters. Then Jay said he wanted to come up with another idea:
There wasn’t time for me to explain my suggestion for a next big project in open source journalism– a blog-organized, red-blue, 50-state coalition of citizen volunteers who would read and attempt to decipher every word of every bill Congress votes on and passes next year.
Or, in the vein of Porkbusters, start with the budget and create the wiki-annotated view of federal spending.
All it takes is a leader to push the notion the first time and then a lot of people agreeing and willing to pitch in… and maybe a tag or a microformat to help it come together.
This is the smart mob as a new newsroom. Not the new newsroom, mind you: another new newsroom.
On the way into Manhattan this morning, I listened to Mitch Ratcliffe’s podcast version of this post, in which he argues that we are witnessing the growth of “paramedia.” This is parajournalism.
Will Richardson, one of the most forward-thinking educators I know, has been insisting that open-source sharing will come to education. That and this story on CNet made me check into Wikibooks, Jimmy Wales’ effort to revolutionize textbooks, and even though it’s only beginning, it’s already an amazing collection. Of course, I can’t vouch for the quality, neither reading them nor knowing nearly enough. But there can be little doubt that capturing the wisdom of the wisest crowds, freeing it from its ivy bonds, will create amazing resources. I only wish there were a text for journalism.
I suppose it’s appropriate that we had a meeting about the future of media with old media and new, big media and small, mass media and personal at the Museum of Television & Radio’s Media Center. The big guys aren’t history yet. But I suppose they could be.
The good folks at MT&R wanted a session on the intersection of blogging and mainstream news and I got to be a co-convener, helping bring more good folks from the blogging world together with the center’s list of big-media people, all of whom are working at the intersection: Debbie Galant of Baristanet, Jay Rosen of Pressthink, Steve Baker of Business Week, Terry Heaton of Donata and Nashville is Talking fame, Bill Grueskin of WSJ.com, Dan Gillmor of Bayosphere, David Weinberger of Joho and more, Susan Crawford of the amazing mind, Bill Gannon of Yahoo, Jon Klein of pajama fame and CNN, Rick Kaplan of MSNBC, Martin Nisenholtz of the NY Times, Alisa Miller of Public Radio International, Tim Porter of First Draft, Steve Shepard of CUNY, Kinsey Wilson of USAToday.com, Vaugn Ververs of CBS’ Public Eye, Andrew Heyward of CBS News, Paul Steiger of the Wall Street Journal, Bill Grueskin of WSJ.com, Steve Shepard of CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, and Merrill Brown as moderator. A fun and fascinating bunch. Some random notes, first from others, then from me:
: Paul Steiger, managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, summarized the event. Excerpts of my transcription:
The world has really, really changed and will keep changing and we in mainstream media may not like it but it’s a fact and we have to embrace it or we will die.
People, readers, viewers are no longer satisfied with a small number of omniscient narrators. The toothpaste is out of hte tube. They want to be hears as well as be talked to and they want to hear each other as well as talk to us…
[On the blogosphere:] I think I’ve heard that the magic of this revolution is that it allows people to reach each other and it allows people to learn from and teach each other. It also allows people to mobilize together….
At the same time… many people will do this because it’s fun, because it feels empowering…. Some of those folks will decide they really want to do this and will find ways to get paid… They will develop business models…
How can we [mainstream media] respond and embrace and take advantage of this? First of all, the way to do it is to approach with what we do well: [Taking Susan Crawford's illustrations] which is to aggregate, which is to illustrate or to order…
And then there are still two skill sets that are in the mainstream media and not in the general blogosphere, which is the general notion of reporting; the ordinary citizen is not a qualified reporter… and then mechanisms for verifying — those annoying habits of editors, w hich get in the way of reporters blooming free…
I had to send a note to my colleagues the other day to remind them that blogs in specific industries have become every bit as important as trade publications … and if you fail to credit one of them it’s just as bad as failing to credit another print publication. [At this moment, the bloggers looked at each other and mouthed the word "Rafat".]
Whatever the business model, in order to keep getting paid, people in the blogosphere or traditional media would need to do at least one of two things very well… either provide uniquely broad credibility, which will still have value even in this revolutionary world, or uniquely exciting argument… You have to at least do one of them or you’re not going to get paid.
: Go read Susan Crawford’s post to get the perspective of a nonmedia person who was amazed at the bubble we media people live in:
The print guys are very proud of their priesthood, and the culture of journalism is just about the strongest professional bond I’ve ever seen. The emotional energy that filled the room when the print guys started decrying the “potentially deadly” inaccuracy of bloggers was remarkable. We Are The Truth, they seemed to think — We Have Standards. Those bloggers, they’re just typing. We do so much more.
That’s the part — the pride — that made me worry about beloved print journalism. It seemed like a hallmark of descent. We were the best, we were the truest, and even though the blood is running thin and our chins are weaker and our shoulders are rounder, we come from the finest stock. (Speaking of stock: not a diverse group.) I’m familiar with this kind of thinking — I myself am a lawyer and a WASP, two groups that have priesthoods and enormous pride. And are no longer what they used to be….
Under its surface, this well-dressed roundtable discussion (complete with waiters) was really about a future that none of us can hope to control.
: More from the participants: Weinberger thinks the were usual suspects were there. I’ll plead guilty but I’ll argue that Galant, Porter, Heaton, Crawford, and Baker are not. (Later: David agrees.) They’re doing real things so they soon will be. David also says: “The bloggers didn’t have to spend half the morning explaining that most bloggers aren’t journalists, that bloggers are in conversation, etc. Progress. There were still elements of hostility and misunderstanding, especially around the question of accuracy. But there is definitely progress…” Here’s Heaton’s take. Here’s Baker’s Here are Porter’s prep. And here’s Nora Ephron on another blogging blatherfest across town; Garrick Utley went to both and said MT&R’s was better. Both events, as all the posts above note, were too male and too white.
: Jay Rosen’s cogent notes include:
* Still, it was agreed: Big Media does not know how to innovate. What capacity for product development do news organizations show? Zip. How are they on nurturing innovation? Terrible. Is there an entreprenurial spirit in newsrooms? No. Do smart young people ever come in and overturn everything? Never. Do these firms attract designers and geeks who are gifted with technology? They don’t, because they don’t do anything challenging enough. They don’t innovate, or pay well. So they can’t compete.
* In competing on the Web, the bloggers do not alarm big media. It’s people like Bill Gannon. Yahoo worries them, with its surging revenues, huge traffic flow, and recent moves in news and editorial that involve original content. The portals attract talent, and with their billions they can fund innovation, and roll out new products. This capacity dwarfs what the old line media companies can do, even if everyone on the editorial staff became a Webbie overnight.
: Now my disjointed notes….
: The tone has changed. There is no dismissive huffing from the big guys about blogs. There is still that argument about who’s trustworthy (see the note here). Old hat. But there is an acknowledgment that the change is gigantic and has only begun.
: Heyward surprised and impressed me when he talked about the weaknesses of mainstream media today:
* “The breakdown of our formulas.” He said the presentation must become more authentic, more natural.
* “The illusion of omniscience. A lot of television news is based around the notion that there is one truth the reporter gets to. The public has to accept the notion of ambiguity… and we have to be bold enough to acknowledge that there is more than one answer.”
* “The introduction of a point of view… The notion of objectivity in mainstream news needs to be reexamined.”
That, I believe, was a big moment, reflecting a cultural change in meanstream news.
Jay says: “This was probably the most significant surprise of the meeting: an actual shift in press think. At the top, no less.”
: One of the editors said that one roole for big media is to be a smart aggregator: if people are already in a community, he said, then they’ll find each other. But for those who have not found each other yet, we can help.
: Jay Rosen: “There is not a law of God that there needs to be a business modl for everything. There may not be a business model for the internet. The internet may just be part of life.”
He says that big media saw the internet come along and used it to repurpose their content. Bloggers came along and instead asked what the web can do. So they have taught jouranalists about links, the blogosphere, nonduplication of effort (an important and underappreciated lesson). The bloggers did this “because they were of the web, not on the web.”
: More Jay on how journalism got that way: “Journalists do a lot of thins simply because they have to for their production routines, not because it’s a good idea, not because it’s necessarily sound but because they have to meet deadlines… Your production routines you begin to mistake as the nature of journalism.”
This is the prison of the medium. This is why it is vital that journalism has to break free of his media.
Jay continues: “Journalists do certain things because they know they are going to be criticized and they anticipate criticism and they need ways to deflect criticism…. The production miracle, which is what daily newspapers are called, worked and still works but is an intellectual disaster…
“Journalists believe in a certain heirarchy of goods: … information is a higher good than opinion; commentary is a derivative good. On the web, people don’t necessarily think that way.” Journalism prides itself on starting with the facts; sometimes people on the web start with opinion and get to the facts. They can end up at the same place.
: Various BMEs (big media execs) said that their greatest problem is not the will to change but the ability to force change through the alimentary canals of their giant companies. They complained about the lack of product development. And they complained about the difficulty of hiring technology talent.
: Terry Heaton wows the group with his accomplishments working with Young Broadcasting stations in Nashville and San Francisco: Inviting bloggers into the stations to listen and talk; training bloggers how to shoot better video, using “dumb” (automated) and “smart” (edited) aggregation of bloggers (see NashvilleIsTalking.com; and starting an ad network with the bloggers. These are all the steps I hoped I’d see Young take when I had lunch with Terry and their execs a year ago. I can’t believe that they’ve accomplished so much. If you want to see who’s leading in this space, go to Nashville.
: Terry said he asked vloggers whether they would pay a subscription fee to have access to stations’ video for remixing and they all said yes.
: Terry also says that media is the biggest issue in the country today but media is not covering media as an issue.
: Dan Gillmor says he fears that media execs will think it’s over already: We have a blog, we have citizen journalists, we’re done. Dan says we’re just at the beginning. He asks big media to surface the best we’re seeing from the community and do some projects with citizen journalists. He suggests that big media team up with the citizens on covering the reconstruction after Katrina because there is a lot of reporting to do.
: David Weinberger: “I think the revolution has happened… The big change has already happened… It turns out that we the audience are much more interesting to us than the news media are… I don’t mean disrespect. There’s good and bad in that because we’re not very good journalists.” (Don’t shoot at David. He was saying that the proportion of bloggers who want to do journalism is small.)
: Steve Baker of Businessweek says that “one of the best things a mainstream journalist can do is blog” because they get more information and change relationships. “If Ilost my job tomorrow, I’d be happy that at least I had a blog going, as a little bit of a rowboat.” He says that “more of us are going to be on our own with our own little brands.”
Dan Gillmor later urged the BMEs: “If there’s someone in your organization — a Steve Baker — let him try stuff.”
Google commodifies everything.
I’ve been thinking about that in relation to Google’s new program to sell advertising into print magazines. Rather than choosing and dealing directly with a print brand, advertisers can now go to Google, which buys pages in certain magazines and resells ads on those pages over a Google logo. So in the process, Google supercedes the print brand. I’m surprised that any magazines are going along with this. The big, slick publishers I’ve worked with are loath to allow anyone else to sell — or certainly undersell — their space. And they are very protective of the value of their brands because, well, that’s the only value they really have (otherwise, they’re just pages with words). Clearly, some publishers want the money.
What Google is really doing is commodifying those magazines and their brands: Their pages are just space, their audiences just eyeballs.
Google certainly has done the same thing with online advertising. It’s doing that on this very page (half the time; the other half, Yahoo’s doing it) and it’s doing that with the big guys, too. And we all take it because, yes, we want the money. With AdSense, Google has commodified the content and brands of online content. It turns our pages into opportunities to play its advertising Match Game, placing ads on pages not on the basis of brand, context, content, environment, engagement, or trust — all the things advertisers supposedly care about and pay a premium for — but on the basis of the simple and perhaps coincidental occurrence of a word.
In that sense, Google also commodifies the audience. We’re not seeing these ads on the basis of our demographics or behavior or interests or relationships — also things advertisers value and pay for — but only because we have eyes. Everybody’s like everybody else. We’re just users. Might as well be pork belllies. We are a commodity.
Advertisers, too, are commodified, all presented in the same little boxes. You’d think they’d object; they are, after all, the foremost creators and defenders of brands. But they want the money, too.
Google commodifies news now. Though without transparency into its algorithms, it’s hard to say whether the use of one news brand or another is a value judgment or a roll of the dice.
And, of course, Google commodifies the world’s content by making it all available on a level playing field in its search.
Google hopes to do the same with books, letting an obscure, out-of-print, hard-to-find tome as easy to find as a Stephen King or a Charles Dickens. I support that.
Mind you, I’m not saying any or all of that is bad. Quite the contrary: The leveling that the internet and Google enable is what makes it possible for a mere blogger to swim alongside Big Old Media.
But in that process, let’s note that the unique identities, brands, qualifications, interests, relationships, and values we have as publishers, citizens, users, or marketers — the very values the internet enables! — are lost. We’re commodified.
The real conclusion one should come to with this is that we are presented with new opportunities to find new definitions of brands and new ways to bring them to the surface and highlight them and find value in them.
I believe, for example, that there will be a need to put together trusted networks of distributed content for advertising (how to put them together, measure them, serve ads on them, and verify them, and how to define trust are the things we’ll be talking about at my ad panel at Web 2.0).
I think that people will need to use microformats, tags, and other means to better identify themselves and stand out in the endless level playing field and to find each other and stick together.
I fear that we’ll all end up with flacks as we try to find ways to get noticed: In a commodified world where every pig is just another pork belly, we sometimes need Charlotte and her web to make us stand out (and survive).
And I think that things created by humans — content, connections, relationships, meantingful metadata — vs. things created by machines — Google and so much else — will come into new demand and have new value.
: On a related note: I like the level playing field. But in some cases, the levelness is an illusion; someone has an advantage of someone else and that’s based on an algorithm we can’t see but that some try to discover and manipulate (that’s what led to the new industry called search-engine optimization). And it’s another hall in the house of mirrors when the algorithim is rigged to alter our behavior.
Robert Cringely writes [via Battelle] that Google’s AdSense seems to play commercial Skinner by rewarding advertisers who increase what they’re willling to spend but punishing those who try to decrease. It’s not so level after all.
: ALSO: Tim O’Reilly writes an op-ed in today’s Times supporting Google’s Library Project and I wholeheartedly agree. I can’t imagine writing and publishing a book and then directing that it should be hidden in the bookstore so no one can find it and destroyed as soon as it’s no longer current so no one can find it. That’s in essence what the authors are trying to do. But then again, that’s what content sites also do when they hide their stuff in data bases and behind pay walls making it unsearchable. Today, if you’re not searchable, you don’t exist.
(Comments fixed, I hope.)
In my latest Guardian column, I argue that the big, old networks won’t die but they won’t grow and in business, isn’t that as good as dying? Here it is on The Guardian (and here it is on Buzzmachine). I go over some of the same turf longtime readers/sufferers will find familiar: How the netework that no one owns, the internet, is more powerful than the network the big guys own. And then I compare the businesses of CNN and every media commentator’s new-age darling, Rocketboom. I point out all the things Rocketboom doesn’t have: expensive studios, equipment, staffs, lawyers, deals, marketing budgets.
But they do have audience. Rocketboom serves at least 60,000 downloads a day. Compare that with Crossfire’s audience on CNN: 150,000. So Rocketboom has more than a third of the big network show’s audience at a fraction of the cost. And, by the way, CNN’s audience is near retirement age while Rocketboom’s fans (excluding me) are young enough to be CNN viewers’ grandchildren.
Rocketboom itself won’t kill CNN. But a thousand Rocketbooms will explode television.
Last week, Paul Farhi at The Washington Post explored the same thicket and came out with different burrs. He still believes that the networks have “some unrivaled competitive advantage.” And that’s true, if being big is the goal, if blockbusters remain the basis of your economics. But in this new small-is-the-new-big you no longer have to be No. 1 (or 2 or 3) to survive. You can be No. 3000 or 30,000 and be big enough to succeed. And so the networks will find themselves with 30,000 or 30 million new competitors nipping at them.
There’s quite a trend in books springing from blogs lately.
: I’m already enjoying Tom Evslin’s Hackoff, the online novel playing itself out on a blog. It uses the faux-reality of online to let us dig through the tale, the clues, the personalities, and the process. Unlike other fiction — just plain words on pages — this is inventive not only in the story but also in the form. Go enjoy. I am. (I’m meeting Tom for lunch today; I’ll make him promise not to tell me whodunit, no matter how much I beg.)
: I started reading my copy of John Battelle‘s The Search\ and particularly enjoyed the humble beginning, in which Battelle confesses that he blew up and blew up with the bubble and here he is writing about the next one, the Gooble. John was similarly transparent in the process of writing his book, revealing and talking through and listening about the facts and findings of his research. It makes us all feel more involved in the book that results.
: And I got a galley of Blog! by Dan Burstein and David Kline. Among other things, it compiles interviews with a host of bloggers (me included), among them: Scoble, Shirky, Cox, Huffington, Denton, Wheaton, Curry, Ito, Trippi, Kos, Rosen, Simon, MacKinnon, Calacanis, Lee (the agent), Teachout, and more. If only it were a podcast!
And there are others out there. The point is obvious: Blogs are a new source of proven talent, ideas (and promotion) in words-on-pages publishing. Other media should view them similarly.
The Freakonomics guys are excited about a project that tracks the moods on LiveJournal blogs by hour to see reaction to such events as the London bombings. If the timeframe were greater than two days and one saw longer term vectors, I wonder whether this could be a leading indicator: an upswing of “happy” means greater consumer confidence; an upswing of “bored” means higher TV ratings.