The Guardian’s American invasion is fully underway with the launch today of Guardian America. Unlike, say, the Times of London’s international home page — which is just de-Britted a bit — the Guardian is putting resources behind its American effort, with a staff in Washington and reporting aimed at the American audience. Here’s U.S. editor Michael Tomasky’s welcome letter and here’s an enjoyable defense/defence of their stubborn use of British spelling and style. (Disclosure: I write and consult for the Guardian. I’ll be there next week.)
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My Guardian column this week summarizes my lessons from the Networked Journalism Summit at CUNY. I’ve written about that at greater length on the blog. (Here‘s a nonregistration version of the column.)
: UPDATE: The registration wall around Media Guardian has dropped. Bravo. Nevermind that they have the bad sense to let me write for them, Media Guardian is the best media coverage anywhere. So now you have no excuse.
My Guardian column this week argues that the iPod moment for newspapers has arrived — and it’s the iPod:
In these pages, internet parent Vint Cerf wondered when television would reach its iPod moment – that is, the time when we download video more than we sit watching broadcasts. Then TV will face the upheaval music has barely survived. Also here, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has speculated about newspapers’ iPod moment, which he foresees arriving with the emergence of “a relatively mass-market device on which reading a newspaper (and watching it and listening to it) will seem quite normal”. Or as Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams blogged: “When you have a web browser in your pocket, a printed newspaper is redundant.”
Well, I think the iPod moment is here. It arrived with the latest iPod and its off shoot, the iPhone. The momentousness of this event was lost, I think, because Apple made a mistake in its release of the latest iPods in the US. Apple first released the iPhone and then announced the almost identical but phoneless iPod Touch. The problem was that we came to see this new device first and foremost as a phone with a few added features. But if Apple had released the iPod Touch first – as it has done in the UK – we would have seen that this gadget is really a whole computer with wi-fi connectivity, a web browser that has the ability to download and display – and also capture and share – all media: text (I just met an author who’s releasing his novel on the iPod), photos, audio, video, interactivity. The iPhone is then merely the same computer with a telephone added.
These new devices represent the next generation of the computer: small, sleek, powerful, portable. Everything that the computer, the web, and the browser have done to content – enabling it to become infinite but personal; instantaneous yet permanent; unrestricted by medium because it offers all media; and enriched by the conversation around it – is now in the palm of your hand. Everything you can do on the web you can do with media on the iPhone, anywhere, any time.
For decades, I’ve watched newspaper industry thinktanks – the too few that exist – try to invent the next medium for news. This usually takes the mythical form of e-paper, thin as a sheet and just as portable, able to display newspapers like newspapers, very Harry Potter. I have also seen too many newspapers and magazines attempting to use painful PDF technology to display their publications on screens exactly as they appear on paper. Why? Ego, I think, and comfort and fear of change. The New York Times recently did a deal with Microsoft to use its new reader, which looks as attractive, if grey, as the Times itself and enables familiar activities like turning pages, but which loses some of the rich linking and interactivity of the web.
I think that’s all driving the wrong way: backwards. These are attempts to mold technology to old media. What we should be doing instead, of course, is molding media to new technology. We should be asking what new we can do on this new iPhone.
Sadly, I don’t own an iPhone. My teen son has one, bought with the proceeds of his Facebook application programming. His mother has ruled that if he can teach his dad to write apps, then perhaps I, too, can afford the wondrous gadget. But once in a while, he lets me play with it. And more important, I get to observe him using it. And what I see is quite simple and obvious: he’s on the web. For this is just a browser, always connected constantly with him.
Rusbridger has predicted that if and when the iPod moment arrives, “the world of newspapers will shudder on its axis” and journalists will “have a responsibility to have our editorial offering in a shape that will readily adapt to whatever comes along next (the unnerving bit)”. What’s unnerving is that word, “whatever”, and the implication that we don’t know what’s coming next.
But perhaps we do. If all the iPhone does is clip the wires that constrained the browser, then our first iPod moment came 13 years ago this month when the first commercial browser was released. And the challenges we’ve faced since are the same challenges we face now, only yet more urgent: how do we use this wonderful device to give people the news and links whenever, wherever, and however they want it? How do we do that with incredible efficiency? How do we make it local and relevant? How do we take advantage of the two-way relationship we now have, enabling people with these gadgets to share what they know? And – here’s what everyone really means when they talk about iPod moments – how do we make money doing it?
Siobhain Butterworth, the Guardian’s readers’ editor (read: ombudsman), examines the expectation of blog readers not to be spoken to by ghost writers, contrasting this with newspaper readers, who, she says, understand that pieces by pols and sometimes witnesses are often known to be ghostwritten. She quotes me and here’s what I emailed to her:
I don’t define blogs as content. I prefer to define blogs as people in conversation. The link is what enables that conversation. The link connects people and what they have to say. So a blog is presumed to have a blogger behind it: a person, a human voice. Granted, many of those people are hidden behind anonymity or pseudonymity. But they are still people. So when we find out that the person we are talking with behind the curtain is not a person but a PR agent or committee, it immediately robs the conversation of credibility and trust. It makes a lie of the dialogue. It is an attempt to game us, to defraud us.
It is the belief of many of my friends in the blogosphere that what sets it apart is precisely that we are hearing authentic human voices and not ghost- and flack-writen spin and that we have the opportunity to converse with these people. The internet, after all, is a conversation.
I do think there’s a desire to put the ghost writer out of business. And I’ve done my ghostwriting myself. I wrote others’ first-person stories in magazines (as the “as told to” cloak) and every time I’m stuck writing a press release (something else that should be put out of business) I’ve had to make up quotes for folks. We may all know that this happens but it doesn’t mean we like it. And I do think blogs are a reaction to that false voice.
My Guardian column this week looks at the implications of the death of TimesSelect (nonregistration version here). The bigger issue that keeps hitting me is that this indicates not just the death of pay content — and, good news, we hope, the strength of advertising — but I also think it tells us something about the strength of destinations . . . and perhaps brands. Snippet:
I think the loser could be the power of the media destination or portal – the notion that consumers should come to us and pay us for scarce information that we control. The death of TimesSelect is an affirmation of the new media reality that says the public will seek out our brands less and less and will detour around the front doors we design for them. Instead, they will arrive because of their own need (via search) or peers’ recommendations (via links). So we in media must open ourselves to the public in every way possible. Tearing down walls – pay, registration, archive, or just obtuse navigation – is only the start of it. I believe this also means finding more ways for our audiences to distribute us: we’ll widgetise. And I believe that we must think like Google and see ourselves as platforms on which others build that larger conversation.
At the Online Publishers Association confab in London last spring, Times Company strategic guru Martin Nisenholtz and I got into a theatrical tiff over my contention that we in media should all be asking WWGD (What would Google do) and getting ourselves distributed widely. Martin held that some brands are worth coming to. Is that still the case? Will it be for long? For how many? Clearly, this has big implications for media’s distribution and branding strategies. In a widgetized architecture, they need to figure out how to get their brands and value to stand out in search and links; they need to figure out how to maintain and prove the value of those brands, for Google commodifies everything. They are already beginning to redesign their products around this, opening up to search and links and rewriting pages for SEO and making friendly with linking bloggers. They also need to get their public to distribute them.
The death of TimesSelect is about more than just the death of paid content. It is a fulcrum point in the evolution of media architecture.
So here’s the question: is what Jimmy Justice does journalism? Consider: he is performing the watchdog function of journalism, holding government and its agents to account. He is recording facts; his video camera – oscillating between the no-parking signs and the cops’ licence plates and badges – does not lie. He is asking tough questions. Then he shares what he learns. . . .
But Jimmy’s not slick, he’s sloppily dressed, he has a grating accent and manner, and his camera wobbles. In short, he’s unprofessional.
Aren’t journalists supposed to be professional? Not necessarily. Not anymore. That is precisely what the professional class – in many trades – fears from the internet: it enables the amateurs. And that’s not always pretty. Institutional journalism considers its ability to package – to make things look neat and complete – a key value. But that expectation was really just a necessity of the tools of production: you have one chance to print this story, so make it good. In truth, a news story is a process to which many can now contribute. Life is messy. So is reporting on it. . . .
But I still say that if we care about a watched government and an informed society, then the response to Jimmy shouldn’t be to scold him but perhaps to teach him. Indeed, a commenter on my blog suggested a gadget for Jimmy that would help him hold his camera steadier. Perhaps journalistic organisations should arm a thousand Jimmys with cameras and microphones. Perhaps they should assign the public to report alongside the professionals, to gather more news than could ever be gathered before. Maybe, just maybe, this is an element of a new means – and one new business model – of news: armies of Jimmy Journalists.
MORE: Or they could be Johan Journalists. Martin Stabe says that the German tabloid Bild has used more than 400,000 photos sent readers via their mobile phones and that politicians aren’t happy about it. That must mean they’re doing something right. (Full story auf Deutsch here.) Here’s a key to it: The paper pays â‚¬500 if the picture gets in the national edition, â‚¬100 in a regional edition. Still cheaper than having 2,500 photographers on staff all over the country.
We need new and innovative journalistic products and companies with sustainable (read profitable) business models. We need to pay for journalism.
This means that journalists need to take responsibility for their economic fate. But that’s not the way most of us were brought up in the trade. I was instructed to stay far away from business – and the people who did it. But, of course, with the internet, that has changed. Now the news industry is desperate for new products and new business models. But journalists often do not have the knowledge of business required to build sustainable enterprises. Indeed, their culture is famously resistant to change and to business.
So I wonder whether and how innovation can spring from within.