The Guardian asked me to finish off their Future of Journalism series of lectures and discussions with a talk about the 10 questions we should be asking now. Talk about intimidating. These people are asking and answering questions about the future better than any news organization I know. But I never pass up a chance to visit with folks at the Guardian, and so I went and tried to come up with my list. They videoed it and I can’t imagine why anyone with a life would watch 90 minutes of me but in case you are on a desert island with internet access (can I come?) here are parts one and two (not embeddable, sorry to say). For those with lives, here’s a blog write-up of the session. And here’s my Keynote:
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My Guardian column this week comes out of a tour of the reorganized BBC newsroom with its head, Peter Horrocks. Snippet:
As we stood there, one of many tours of the space was being held for online employees. “They keep asking who’s won,” Horrocks said – did TV take over because they are in TV’s space under a TV person? It had better not be that simple. If newsroom reorganisation – at any news operation – is about nothing more than shuffling desks, then it might as well be an exercise carried out on the deck of the Titanic. Later, Horrocks gave the real answer: “We’ve had to blow up BBC News to totally remake it.”
Here’s my latest Guardian column about Twitter as news (it got trimmed in print — damned scarce paper — and so here’s my draft):
Last Monday, when an earthquake struck China’s Sichuan province, word of it spread quickly from witnesses on the shaking ground via Twitter, the mobile-and-web microblogging service where users share brief, 140-character-long updates with friends. Prolific blogger and Twitterer Robert Scoble at scobleizer.com insists he saw news of the quake on Twitter minutes before the US Geological Service posted the temblor and an hour before CNN and other news sites reported it.
Twitter is becoming the canary in the news coalmine. It stands to reason: If you’ve just gone through such a major event, you are sure to want to update your friends about it. If enough people are all chattering about an earthquake at the same time, that’s a good and immediate indication of a major news story.
Developers at the BBC and Reuters have picked up on the potential for this. They are working on applications to monitor Twitter, the Twitter search engine Summize, and other social-media services – Flickr, YouTube, Facebook – for news catchwords like “earthquake” and “evacuation”. They hope for two benefits: first, an early warning of news and second a way to find witness media – photos, videos, and accounts from the event. This is clearly more efficient than waiting for reporters and photographers to get to the scene after the news is over – though, of course, they will still go and do what journalists do: report, verify facts (which can be wrong from witnesses in the heat of news), package, and take their own pictures (which they then own).
These social services are also a source of witnesses for journalists to interview. After the Chinese quake, user “casperodj” reported his experience – “it did feel like the earth was going to split. literally everything was shaking” – and what followed – “CREEPY! while i’m typing, there’s an aftershock hitting!” – and the mood on the street – “the shitty concrete buildings around me are still ok though. people seem to be going back to work again” – and also told his readers when he’d gotten off the air with the BBC and Dutch broadcasters.
All this comes from a platform that does nothing more than enable anyone to tell anyone what they’re up to. But this is fundamentally new. We online citizens are living in public, revealing small details of our lives with our updates and our content. It’s in the smallness of this personal news that we can keep in touch with friends in ways we have not been able to since we lived in small towns, able to watch our neighbors’ every move. So perhaps this is not new at all but a return to the old ways: the electronic village, indeed.
London blogger Leisa Reichelt at disambiguity.com has a name for this: “Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.” We get to see what our friends had for lunch and with whom, hear about their trips, see their new haircuts. The mundanity of it is the message.
“Isn’t this all just annoying noise?” Reichelt asks and answers: “There are a lot of us, though, who find great value in this ongoing noise. It helps us get to know people who would otherwise be just acquaintances. It makes us feel closer to people we care for but in whose lives we’re not able to participate as closely as we’d like. Knowing these details creates intimacy.”
I have speculated in this space that our new publicness and permanence online will change even friendship, as we no longer need to lose touch with old acquaintances. Just last week, I met up and caught up with my high-school sweetheart after (gulp) 33 years and that was made possible only because she Googled me.
Now it’s also become clear that this publicness and immediacy is yielding both a new relationships and new value: ways to find and report news for a start. Perhaps our chattering will also reveal our collective mood (for that, go to twistori.com and see all Twitter posts that include the words love, hate, think, and wish). Companies are now monitoring Twitter, as the smart ones have been watching blogs, to see what is said about their brands (the cable giant Comcast saw powerful blogger Michael Arrington of techcrunch.com complaining about an outage in Twitter and quickly dispatched a repairman).
When we start putting our lives online, it’s now possible to take our pulse in new ways. And that’s news. For what is news, after all, but what is happening to us?
One theme that came out loud in and clear, to me at least, from the panel on the internationalization of media brands that I ran at OPA this morning is this:
Top brands with international traffic should be banding together to sell that traffic and audience as a group. No one of them has successfully and fully exploited the value of this audience now and, as Martin Nisenholtz of the NY Times pointed out, each of those audiences is relatively small. But together, I say, they represent a powerful, smart readership. I’ve suggested this in the past to the UK brands: Guardian, Telegraph, Times, even the BBC outside the UK. At today’s panel, Chris Ahearn of Reuters — which just agreed to represent ad sales for the Guardian in the U.S. (full disclosure: a introduction I helped make) — said that all these brands are undersold. Of course, there’s self-interest there: Reuters would be happy to sell them. But I do think there’s potential there.
Later: From Jemima Kiss’ report (blogging from the front row):
The BBC’s sanction of advertising on its international website BBC.com was “enormous state-funded intervention in the international news advertising market”, the Guardian’s director of digital content warned today.
BBC.com was beginning to impact on international news sites as UK web publishers moved to monetise their overseas audiences, Guardian News & Media’s director of digital content, Emily Bell, told the Online Publishers Association conference in London.
“The BBC funds the biggest online news site in the world,” she said.
“It will be interesting to see how the New York Times and everyone else reacts. This is not our problem – it is everyone’s problem.
“The BBC is going to be an enormous state-funded intervention in the international new ad market.” . . .
Bell said today that advertising inventory on Comment is Free, the Guardian’s discussion site, was fully sold out because advertisers want to reach its audience of high-end, opinion formers.
Get that: ads sell out on a site with interactivity.
Well, you’d never see this as a promotion from an American newspaper. I just caught this tweet from the Guardian’s Comment is free, in full:
“We can’t keep fucking flying stuff around the fucking globe like their’s no tomorrow. Fuckin ‘ell! We’re fucked”
Well, it did make me click. I thought it might be about American interventionism. No, it’s a reaction to chef Gordon Ramsey declaring that out-of-season vegetables should be outlawed.
The swearing-chef extraordinaire has declared war on out of season produce, suggesting that restaurants should be fined for using, say, strawberries in February.
The Michelin-starred chef thinks that both fruit and vegetables should be “locally sourced and only on menus when in season”. Not only does the produce taste better, but it also helps to cut carbon emissions by reducing the number of miles needed to transport them.
Oh, bloody ‘ell. So just to make ourselves feel good, let’s make a bunch of Mexican strawberry farmers and Chilean asparagus farmers — not to mention truckdrivers, ship crews, port crews, and supermarket help — unemployed. Priorities, people.
Remind me not to go to Ramsey’s restaurants in cabbage season.
Before you read this, do me a favour and go to WineLibraryTV.com Be prepared for a jet engine in your face. That blast of personality is Gary Vaynerchuk, a 32-year-old merchant who has made more than 450 daily wine-tasting shows online – just him, his glass and a spit bucket.
The show, with its audience of 80,000 a day, has transformed Vaynerchuk into a cultural phenomenon. He has appeared on two of the biggest TV talk shows in the US and in the Wall Street Journal and Time. His book, Gary Vaynerchuk’s 101 Wines, comes out next week and the day he announced this on his internet show, his fans immediately pushed it to No 36 on Amazon’s bestseller list. He has a Hollywood agent. He makes motivational speeches. And he has only just begun. Gary Vaynerchuk is on his way to becoming the online Oprah.
This isn’t as simple as using online video to sell wine, though the family store is now a $60m-a-year enterprise. Vaynerchuk is also transforming retail and making it social. He has realised that a store should be a community and so he uses every tool available online – a social wine rating site called Corkd.com, his videos, his appearances on other popular online shows such as Diggnation, his ubiquitous presence on Facebook, and answering countless emails every day – to make and connect with as many fans as possible.
One day, a few weeks ago, Vaynerchuk announced on his online show that he’d throw an event for his video friends at his store in New Jersey. More than 300 people showed up. He calls himself “the social media sommelier”. “Social business,” he says, “is the future of our society.”
Vaynerchuk is on a mission. “I want to change the way that people think about wine and change the way that people do business … This is how I will be remembered.” His secret is generosity and passion. Now that may sound like a line. But I’ve witnessed Vaynerchuk in action. I’ve bought my wine at his store for a few years and watched his sales people eager to help customers find a better, cheaper bottle. I watched him at the South by Southwest conference, where he gathered instant parties via Twitter, having strangers – now friends – sample from the seven cases of wine he had shipped down. I do think this guy’s for real. Authenticity, Vaynerchuk argues, is a necessity in the transparent, social, web 2.0 world. “You’re not going to be able to have multiple personalities,” he says. “Your personal brand is now completely exposed to the world, 24/7. Everyone is media now.” This leads him to a grand conclusion: “So now good is going to win.”
See, he does sound like Oprah. And he acts like her as he constructs his empire. He says he is building – as he calls it – “brand Gary Vaynerchuk”. Online, he issues opinions, not only about wine but about life, like this: “I’d rather have a million friends right now than a million dollars. Your social equity is far greater than your financial equity.”
He even has an inspiring personal story: he came to the US from Russia at age three, a young entrepreneur who made a $1,000 a week selling baseball cards at the mall. When he had to work in the family store as a kid, cleaning shelves, he hated it until he realised that wine was as collectable as baseball cards. And now he has used his expertise, passion and personality – and the power that online gives anyone to speak to the world and make friends anywhere – to turn himself into a star.
As I left the office where he tapes his show, he handed me a copy of his book. Then he went to a “meet and greet” with a fan who just wanted to be near force Vaynerchuk. All this is possible with just a dream and a webcam.
Here’s a debate that just went up at CommentIsFree (please go comment there; the discussion’s already underway): me vs. Michael Tomasky, the Guardian’s man in Washington, over whether, as he has said, bloggers should operate under the rules of journalism…..
Editor’s note: Earlier this month Barack Obama’s election campaign was shaken by a report that Obama had described rural, white voters as “bitter”. The news was broken by a “citizen journalist”, Mayhill Fowler, and was carried on the Huffington Post’s politics blog, Off The Bus. Last week Guardian America editor Michael Tomasky argued on CiF that Fowler’s reporting raised serious ethical questions and argued that blogging, like journalism, needed rules. CiF commentator Jeff Jarvis responded on his blog Buzzmachine that openness, not rules, was demanded in the era of the internet. The answer? Bring the two men together to thrash it out, right here.
Jeff Jarvis to Michael Tomasky:
I believe the rules you long to carry into the new world are inherently corrupting for journalism: We journalists have long traded in the currencies of access and exclusivity with the powerful. But the price we pay is complicity in a system of secrecy. That’s what off-the-record talks and unnamed sources add up to: secrets. As journalists we should be allergic to the idea of helping public officials hide anything from the public.
And as journalists, I’d have thought we’d be rejoicing in the idea that witnesses can now share what they hear from public figures. Openness is our cause, transparency our goal, no? Yes, we may lose some exclusives – but exclusives now have the half-life of a click. With more openness and more reporting – by all – we will end up with more stories, the public will get more information, and politicians will learn that anything and everything they say and do can (and should) be reported.
You want transparency from the citizen journalists. I agree, but I’d expand that: I want transparency from all journalists, and not just about donations but also about influences, especially in the US, where claims of objectivity have lately become a cloak for partisanship. That’s the simplest rule: openness for all.
I think we should be applauding and supporting Mayhill Fowler. Her reporting of Obama’s “bitter” remarks – in spite of her support of his candidacy – is an impressive act of intellectual honesty. She knew those remarks would be newsworthy. She knew they could hurt him. But she opted for openness, directly to the public, around campaign spin as well as press filters: the witness reports. I’d say she showed veteran journalists how to operate under new rules of her own that, in this case, were superior to the old rules of conspiratorial secrecy.
Michael to Jeff:
Well, sometimes the rules I “long” for (what a word!) are inherently corrupting and result in secrets being kept from the public. But sometimes, indeed more often, it’s just the opposite. Sometimes, only the protection of anonymity will ensure that a source with important information about powerful people comes forward. In this way, the public has learned about a million things, from the Pentagon Papers to the less alarmist intelligence assessments about Iraq before the war. You know that.
And very few journalists I know would favour “[hiding] anything from the public.” They would, however, favour not publishing something until it’s verified. That’s scarcely complicity in secret-keeping. That’s just being responsible. I’ll tell you what. Let’s go ask Alan Rusbridger the following: One of his reporters hears from one source (unwilling to go on the record) that David Cameron praised Oswald Mosley in a private talk. Should the Guardian publish on the basis of that alone? I’m guessing that Alan would prove himself to be “old-fashioned” on this point, and properly so.
But none of this has to do with what Fowler did. To recap: She got in the door because she donated money to Obama’s campaign. This is something no beat reporter would or could do. Then she was able to take advantage of that situation. She “showed veteran journalists” nothing, because “veteran journalists” would not have been allowed in that meeting! You write as if these “veteran journalists” would have heard Obama’s remarks and kept them secret. But the point is that veteran journalists would never have gotten through the door in the first place.
So fine; call them “witnesses” and drop the whole conceit that they’re journalists. And I’m glad you agree about listing witnesses’ donations. Will you take that message to Arianna Huffington and Jay Rosen [the co-sponsors of the Off The Bus citizen journalists' blog]?
Jeff to Michael:
Well, I think you’re mixing apples and kumquats into a bit of a rhetorical fruit salad. There’s quite a difference between hearing a tip from a whistleblower and recording a presidential candidate speaking at a forum. There’s also a difference between verifying such a tip with reporting – which we’ll all agree is necessary – and playing that tape-recording, which itself was the verification anyone needed. Obama’s words and voice spoke for themselves. So I don’t see the connection you make between keeping something off the record and verifying it; the former does nothing in the interest of the latter in this matter.
To make your hypothetical case consistent with the discussion at hand, if the witness who heard David Cameron praise Oswald Mosley put a video of it on YouTube for all to see, I imagine that you and the Guardian would deal with it at face value. You would, as reporters did in the Obama case, report further – you’d put an oyster around the pearl. But these witnesses are the ones who now start the story.
Now let me extend your hypothetical: let’s say that a reporter did get in the room with Obama and had made a pledge to keep it off the record. But a donor – any old donor, with or without a blog – had recorded the session (as Fowler says many did) and put that on YouTube. Does it now matter that there was a journalist there? Who is serving the public better? I say the journalist should be delighted that word got out and that demanding such off-the-record pledges is now fruitless.
This is a crucial element in a new architecture of news: when witnesses share what they see publicly we need to figure out how to integrate that into our journalism. It will become even more complicated when they share what they see live with their camera-phones, as technology allows today. Veteran journalists may be nowhere near that news – because, as journalists, they had not been allowed in the door or merely because they had not arrived yet – but they will depend on such reporting or witnessing, call it what you will. It will still add up to journalism in the end.
As for your challenge on disclosure, I’ve done more: I reveal my politics on my blog’s disclosure page, including my vote for Hillary Clinton in the primaries. I’ve blogged my expectation to see similar behaviour from bloggers and journalists alike. I went so far as to ask my readers recently whether, having revealed my preferences anyway, I should put my money where my mouth is and donate to Clinton’s campaign. Their view (like mine) was mixed. But it’s worth asking: if I’m going to be a citizen journalist, shouldn’t I act like a citizen?
Michael to Jeff:
You make a fair point in the bulk of your third and fourth paragraphs, but then you end, for me, on a false note. I suppose Fowler served the public interest in the sense that, sure, those remarks of Obama’s were revealing of something or other. But I still say it’s a little sneaky and sleazy to be a citizen for the purposes of making a donation, and then getting to be a journalist for the purposes of writing it up. There is a certain duplicity there, Jeff. Let citizens or witnesses videotape and audiotape to their hearts’ contents. But no, it doesn’t add up to journalism. It adds up to recording, or transcribing.
As I said in my original CiF column, I overwhelmingly embrace the blogosphere, and I like most of what I’ve read under the Off The Bus rubric. (I felt you didn’t acknowledge this in your original Buzzmachine post, which practically made it sound like I have a Linotype machine in my basement to which I pay secret ritualistic obeisance.) But I admit that I’m a little less persuaded that it’s such a great and necessary thing that we know every single word public people utter. People say dumb things and things they don’t really mean. They misspeak. Whether constant recording of such missteps, and the inevitable intense fixation on them, will over time serve the public interest and help voters make more “informed” decisions is not yet settled in my view.
That it will lead to more “gotcha!” moments on the campaign trail as candidates are caught saying naughty things isn’t a particularly stellar claim to make for the blogosphere, which actually does far more important work in the areas of media-monitoring and community-building. What I like about the blogosphere is that, at its best, it elevates the debate. Mainstream journalists would think I’m out of my mind to say that, but it’s true – there are, for example, all manner of policy experts with blogs who shed real light on substantive questions, or bloggers with the intellectual chops to make really interesting and important observations about something happening in the news. Or look at what FireDogLake did during the Scooter Libby trail, which was awesome. All those things are great. Catching pols putting their feet in their mouths may make news, but it’s not exactly why John Peter Zenger went to jail.
Jeff to Michael:
I don’t think this is really about bloggers. It’s almost coincidental that Fowler had a platform at Huffington Post. If she hadn’t, she’d still have found the way to tell her story, if only on YouTube. This weekend, at an open house for students at the City University of New York graduate school of journalism, where I teach, I spoke with a potential student who has been volunteering in the Clinton campaign and she has a great story to tell about the reaction she has gotten, as an African-American woman, from Obama volunteers. Now the fact that she’s a volunteer is not just something to be disclosed, it’s at the heart of the story. Hers is a great story that is revealing about the campaigns and, more so, the country and the times. I urged her to start writing and said she should pitch it to a magazine. Or better yet, wouldn’t the Guardian like to see it?
I think this discussion is balancing on what will add up to journalism and who all does that adding. I believe that coverage of stories and topics will, more and more, become molecules that attract all different sorts of atoms: a bit of reporting – and, yes, it’s reporting – from witnesses; reporters’ work adding balance, depth, vetting, answers to questions; editors packaging and adding links to background and source material; readers and bloggers adding – as you indeed point out – corrections and context; sources having the chance, at last, to respond in kind. Journalism becomes less of a product and more of a process. When I was at the Guardian a few weeks ago to talk about its new newsroom, this notion was at the centre of the discussion. What you’re really talking about, I think, is not rules but is a new organizing principle of journalism.
I’m glad that Fowler had her recorder and shared what she heard. That, I believe, is the seed for journalism and we in the business and in the society will benefit. And so, in the long run, will politicians, once they learn the benefits of living and working more transparently. Will we have silly gotcha moments? Sadly, yes. But sadly, we had those long before bloggers were born. Was what Fowler reported a gotcha moment or a revealing one? Well, that’s where our perspectives – and our transparency about them – come into play. I thought it was revealing, but I’m a Hillary voter and you’d be within your rights to judge what I say accordingly. You have been laudably open about your preference and so it’s right for you and your readers to wonder what impact that might have. This becomes one more ingredient in what it turning into a bigger and bigger pot of journalism stew.
Michael to Jeff:
Regarding your last paragraph, I already said that Fowler served the public interest. I think the quote was revealing of something; at the least, the fact that Obama has comparatively little direct experience dealing with and talking to white, rural working-class people and not enough familiarity with their way of life. So that’s a fair knock. It’s just that these things do get blown out of proportion, and it gets comical (or sometimes worse) watching millionaire pundits natter on about “elitism.”
I’ll just end where I started. I still say she came by the quote at best surreptitiously because she got in the door as a citizen (via her donation) and then became a journalist when that was handy, a contention you haven’t seriously refuted except to say (1) that’s the way it is these days, and (2) okay, then, let’s drop the word journalist from our description of Fowler et al and just call them witnesses. That’s my claim, and you haven’t said anything to dissuade me from sticking to it. On all this other meta stuff, we don’t especially disagree.