Posts about guardian

Twitter

My Guardian column this week is a tribute to Twitter. Since I haven’t written about that much in the blog, here’s the full text:

When I first used the microblogging platform Twitter – which enables users to publish 140-character-long messages via the web and mobile phones – I thought it was silly. Or rather, the uses to which it was being put were silly: people announcing that they’d just woken up or what they’d had for breakfast. I couldn’t have cared less. But then I should confess that when I first used blogs and podcasts, I didn’t fully comprehend their impact either. So, when my son and webmaster told me I should take another stab at Twitter, I did. And I now see it is an important evolutionary step in the rise of blogging.

I just Twittered this: “I’m writing a column about Twitter and Twittering that.” Not everybody on Twitter saw that update on my life, only those people who care to follow me on the site. That is a critical characteristic of Twitter: it’s selective, in that users choose whether to follow me. And it’s social, in that I choose whom to follow. So we’re not publishing to the big, wide world. We’re talking with our friends and acquaintances.

But at the same time, I can choose to automatically feed my tweet – as an individual Twitter message is called – on to my Facebook profile and also on to my blog page, where more friends can see what I’m up to. That’s another key attribute of the service: it creates feeds. I believe we will be seeing more and more news and other content presented as feeds rather than as packaged products.

I read feeds of my friends’ updates on twitter.com or on my phone via SMS (that is what sets the 140-character limit on messages). I also read feeds of news headlines from the Guardian and individual reporters. Jim Long, a network news photographer, Twitters from White House trips. Ana Marie Cox, the former Wonkette blogger and queen of the snarky political post, has been using Twitter to cover the US primaries for Time.com. I blogged about that, saying she has found the perfect medium for her bon mots and snipes. She responded that Twitter is the perfect medium for covering a campaign. The format gives us a glimpse into what’s happening right now, and cuts to the bone. It’s a hack’s haiku.

Some samples from Cox: “Spin room has already started. Can hear the gentle murmur of BS already sloshing about in the hall … McCain donor just announced he was footing the bar bill for the night. You can start calling him ‘ambassador’ now … Ron Paul compresses coal into diamonds in his mouth … Mitt has so many things ‘in my bloodstream’ (cars, Michigan, business) you could make a v powerful vaccine out of him … First washing-of-underwear-in-sink of presidential cycle 2008!… Enjoying immensely that the pundits got it all, all globally wrong. In most professions, you’d lose your job.”

Because Twitter opened itself up with an API – a programming interface that enables developers to create new services on top of it – all sorts of new inventions are springing up. CommuterFeed is a Twitter service that lets fellow travellers share alerts about problems on their routes to work. Whenever you broadcast a live mobile video on Qik.com, it enables you to send a post to Twitter to alert all your friends to watch. PR people are searching Twitter to find hot topics. I used Twitter to create a tool for collaborative criticism (imagine seeing your friends’ snide remarks as you all watch Pop Idol at the same time, each from your own couches). News sites are using Twitter to get witnesses to share updates on major news events, like earthquakes.

Says political blogger Patrick Ruffini: “Traditional news operated on a 24-hour cycle. Blogs shortened this to minutes and hours. Twitter shortens it further to seconds. It’s not right for every piece of information. But when it comes to instantly assembling raw data from several sources that then go into fully baked news stories, nothing beats it.”

All this springs from a deceptively simple idea and tool. And that is what never ceases to amaze me about the internet: create a platform, make it open, and people will do things with it that you never could have imagined. Considering that Twitter was cofounded by Evan Williams, who also cofounded the company that created Blogger and popularised personal publishing, I should have seen it coming. I just forgot that, on the web, big things often come in small packages.

Every journalist a mojo

My Guardian column this week is about my experience in the Reuters-Nokia mojo project at Davos. Since I haven’t written about my conclusions in the blog, here is the full text of what I wrote (which differs slightly from what was printed; link to the videos at the end):

n82.jpgWe already know that camera-phones in the hands of witnesses have been changing news; there is no better illustration of that, so far, than the 7/7 bombings. But I now see that this same device may change the job of the journalist in ways more radical than I could have imagined until I started reporting with one.

At last month’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, I begged my way into Reuters’ mojo – mobile journalist – project and was one of a score of delegates and reporters to get a Nokia N82 mojo phone. Reuters picked the phone because it has a high-quality camera and operates at high speed. For their own journalists, they kit it out with a wireless keyboard, a tiny tripod, a solar battery, and a decent microphone, together with software that enables reporters to organize and publish text, photos, and video onto blogs. They kitted the Davoscenti – including me, Reuters CEO Tom Glocer and WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell – with just the camera-phone and simpler software that let us upload videos in two clicks.

At last year’s Davos, I recorded interviews and pieces with a small consumer video camera that I was able to take into more places than jealous big media could, lugging their heavy and obvious equipment. I shot YouTube cofounder saying for the first time that Google would share revenue with video producers and I put that on YouTube. To do that, I had to import the video onto my Mac and edit and encode it and then upload it online: a hassle and a delay.

This year, when I ran into David Cameron in the halls of Davos, alone and without handlers, I walked up and asked him about his own small video work at Webcameron, which I’ve covered in this column. I whipped out my mojo Nokia and asked whether he’d mind my recording it. I told him I was doing this for Reuters, but I can’t imagine he took that seriously, for I was just using a phone. How could that be professional?

And there is the first fundamental change brought on by the mojo phone: It’s small, unobtrusive, unthreatening. You don’t feel as if you’re talking to a camera and, in turn, to thousands or millions online. You’re talking to a phone; how silly. Other Reuters mojo journalists told me they had the same experience: It makes recording people more casual and perhaps candid and certainly easier.

The camera-phone also allowed me to record moments without drawing attention to myself. At Google’s Davos party, I recorded 14 precious seconds of long-time White House aide David Gergen boogying on the dance floor. As Henry Kissinger stood before a computer recording a video for YouTube, I stood next to him recording the event myself; I went unnoticed. Of course, there are issues: Is any moment of our lives now fodder for broadcast? It’s sobering enough that Britons are tracked everywhere by CCTV cameras, but now you’ll be followed by camera-carrying citizens who could be journalists (but who, even if they’re not, can still broadcast you on YouTube). Life is on the record.

Another key change to journalism brought on by the mojo camera is a difference in how video is used in telling stories. I felt no need to produce a piece or write a story to surround those Davos clips. The snippet is sufficient. I can also see using such video clips as part of larger stories – they become moving and talking pictures. They become part of a multimedia narrative, now that journalists no longer need to pick one medium but can work in them all. In short, we’re not using cameras to make TV with all its trappings and orthodoxies. We’re just making video, video that’s good enough to tell a story.

There’s one additional and even more radical use for the mojo phone: I was able to use it to broadcast live to the internet using Qik.com. Live changes everything.

I conclude from my few days as a mojo in the rarified and thin air of Davos that all journalists – print, broadcast; writer, photographer; reporter, editor – should be equipped as mojos. The Nokia is lovely and all the better because it can upload or broadcast while mobile and can be used to send photos to Flickr and tweets to Twitter (more on that another week). But for the cash-strapped news organization, may I also recommend the $90 Flip Video, which records 30 minutes for upload straight to YouTube via a PC. At Davos, I showed it to the editor of Bild, Germany’s largest newspaper, and he’s ready to buy them by the gross. For today, a wired journalist without a camera and connectivity is like a hack without a pencil.

(Videos mentioned here may be seen at www.buzzmachine.com/mojo.)

Join the chorus

(This is crossposted from Comment is Free, where the comments are always interesting. It repeats a bit of what I said here yesterday and replaces and expands on an earlier post.)

The contrast in Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns — and their voters — is starkly illustrated in their Super Tuesday speeches.

Obama is the orator, Clinton the manager. Obama’s crowd behaves like a devoted cult Clinton’s like a well-behaved class. Obama has succeeded — with considerable help from media — at portraying his campaign as a movement, while Clinton’s is, well, a campaign.

Obama’s 21 minutes:

My problem with his campaign is also illustrated in this speech. Though he catalogues his issues — Iraq, health care, the standard list — his message is made up of little more than stock marketing taglines. He’s not so much running for office as branding himself.

Listen to last night’s medley of his greatest hits: “Our time has come… Our movement is real… Change is coming to America… We are more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and always will be the United States of America… This time can be different…. Not this time. Not this year…. This time we have to seize the moment…. This fall, we owe the American people a real choice…. We have to choose between change and more of the same, we have to choose between looking backwards and looking forward. We have to choose between our future and our past…. We can do this… We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek…. Yes we can…. Yes we can….” Cue crowd chanting: “Yes we can…”

His supporters, including many New York friends of mine, buy his image and believe he is less political and that he is indeed different. I think he’s more political and his campaign is the greatest example of the selling of the president I’ve yet seen. To state it harshly, I say that relying on these stock phrases — believing that we are going to swallow empty oratory about “change” punctuated with chants of “yes we can” — is a cynical political act.

But then again, I can’t argue with the fact that it’s working. It’s working with voters and it’s certainly working with the media, which have given Obama more attention through much of the campaign. Here’s a chart from Daylife showing Obama getting more coverage even as they racked up equivalent delegate counts.as Clinton amasses more delegates.picture-30.png

Media like Obama’s story. It’s a better story, they say. That is, if the real story is about personality and oratory over issues and competence. See this discussion about some Kennedys’ endorsement of Obama (note not about other Kennedys’ endorsement of Clinton) between the Washington Post’s media critic, Howard Kurtz, and political correspondent, Chris Cillizza, on CNN:

KURTZ: Chris Cillizza, you could argue about whether this Kennedy endorsement was a big deal, but what a collective swoon by the media — ask not why this was such a big story. Are they totally buying into Obama as the new JFK?

CILLIZZA: Well, you know, I do think, Howie, that in the Democratic Party, people have been waiting for the next JFK. A lot of people thought or maybe believed it was Bill Clinton. And I think Barack Obama is the next obvious heir to that legacy. It’s a powerful story, and I think as much as the media gets accused of bias, in the decade I’ve spent in it, I don’t think it’s bias as much as it is good storylines. And I will be frank — this is a very interesting, fascinating storyline….

If you are looking for the next John F. Kennedy, I believe he is it.

You can hear him aching to cover to the Second Coming of the Kennedy. That is obviously a better story than the Second Coming of the Clintons.

Now watch the brief clip of Clinton’s Super Tuesday speech posted on YouTube by her campaign. She delivers the same essential message and about the exact same issues but without the chanting and cheering behind her – without the excitement:

When I complained on my blog that I want to hire a manager not a spiritual adviser for the White House — especially after eight years of grossly incompetent management from someone who thought he had a cause — my commenters responded with their dreamy wishes for an uplifting Obama administration instead. Said one: “I don’t want an executive, I want someone to stoke the fires of political engagement so that the people will be involved in thier government again.” Said another: “We don’t want an executive to lead us – we want someone who will amplify our voices and give us the ability to reach into government.” Nevermind the job title is chief executive.

Indeed, commenter Andrew Tyndall argued that management is a turnoff: “The virtue that many Democrats in the party’s base hail as ‘competent management’ is an attribute that many non-Democrats may see as the vice of being ‘wedded to bureaucracy.’ It may be that a liberal Democrat who talks in generalities, rather than specifics, has an easier time persuading those voters who are reflexively against big government that he does not have the heart and soul of a bureaucrat — or ‘manager’ to use BuzzMachine’s less pejorative term.”

So I appear to be the odd man out. Maybe I should just join the chorus. Ch-ch-ch-changes:

(Disclosures: I am a partner at Daylife. And I voted for Clinton yesterday.)

DLD08: My Guardian column

Here‘s my Guardian column about the DLD08 conference and the social theme I heard through it. The lede:

We natter on these days about how people are becoming social online. But we have always been social; the internet merely provides more ways for us to connect with each other. What’s truly new is the opportunity for companies, especially media companies, to be social. I spent much of last week in the company of a social corporation: Burda, the German media giant (where I have consulted). In Munich, New York, and Davos, its chairman, Hubert Burda, throws parties where he delights in bringing together the most interesting, creative crowds. I’ve seen his company benefit from bringing in new experience, talent, ideas, and relationships.

Last week was Burda’s biggest party, the Digital Life Design conference in Munich, with 1,000 media people trying to figure out their future. And the theme I heard strung through much of their discussion was about how to rethink media in social terms.

And here‘s David Kirkpatrick’s column in Fortune on the same event.

The year

Here’s my year-in-review piece for Media Guardian. The lede: “Never mind websites. Forget page views. They’re so 2006. This was the year of Facebook.” The kicker: “This may have been Facebook’s year. But so far, it is still Google’s century.”

Friendship

Here’s my Guardian column this week, a much shorter and more cogent version of this post about changes in friendship brought on by the social web.

Updating Bill Keller

In a speech in London for the Guardian, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller says this about bloggers and this blogger in particular:

My friend Jeff Jarvis, a blogger of long-standing and professor of journalism at the City University of New York, refers to news bloggers as “citizen journalists”, which has a sweet, idealistic ring to it. Jeff, like many of the most ardent true believers in the blog revolution, suggests that the mainstream media can be largely replaced by a self-regulating democracy of voices, the wisdom of the crowd.

First, I have never said that the crowd of bloggers would replace mainstream media and professional journalism. That’s a red herring that is too often attributed presumptively to bloggers and their advocates. It’s never properly cited because it can’t be. Where’s the link to the quote with me saying that? It’s fiction. I don’t say that. I don’t believe that. Jay Rosen shot that fish in the barrel a year and a half ago when he responded to hearing it again from Keller’s deputy Jon Landman:

Jay Rosen says that no one is saying that news will be decided by poll. Nobody is saying that we don’t need reporters. Nobody is saying that you should stop reporting and just listen. But these things are being said: The audience knows a lot of stuff and if you don’t tap that knowledge you’re not keeping up with your craft. And journalism has become interactive and if you’re not interacting, you’re not keeping up with your craft. And, he says, trust isn’t made the way it was; the trust transaction is different.

So can we please can that talk and stop accusing bloggers of wishing to eliminate journalists? The problem is, it serves the narrative Keller wants — and he’s not alone in this: to make us make them the enemy. The image they’re trying to present is that we, the people, are at their door trying to bash it down when, in truth, we’re only knocking and offering to help. Which leads to my second objection:

I have long since recanted the use of the phrase “citizen journalist.” I did, indeed, use it in an email/blog conversation with Keller back in 2005 (read from the bottom up), in which he suggested:

(btw, why “citizens”? Isn’t that a little insensitive to stateless bloggers, or bloggers bearing only green cards? “People’s media” strikes me as more inclusive, and it has a pedigree. Just a thought.)

A year later, I wrote:

I carry some of the blame for pushing “citizens’ media” and “citizen journalism” as terms to describe the phenomenon we are witnessing in this new era of news. Many of us were never satisfied with the terms, and for good reason. They imply that the actor defines the act and that’s not true in a time when anyone can make journalism. This also divides journalism into distinct camps, which only prolongs a problem of professional journalism — its separation from its public (as Jay Rosen points out). In addition, many professional journalists have objected that these terms imply that they are not acting as citizens themselves — and, indeed, I believe that the more that journalists behave like citizens, the stronger their journalism will be.

A that moment, I turned to using the phrase “networked journalism” and explained why:

“Networked journalism” takes into account the collaborative nature of journalism now: professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story, linking to each other across brands and old boundaries to share facts, questions, answers, ideas, perspectives. It recognizes the complex relationships that will make news. And it focuses on the process more than the product. . . .

In networked journalism, the public can get involved in a story before it is reported, contributing facts, questions, and suggestions. The journalists can rely on the public to help report the story; we’ll see more and more of that, I trust. The journalists can and should link to other work on the same story, to source material, and perhaps blog posts from the sources (see: Mark Cuban). After the story is published — online, in print, wherever — the public can continue to contribute corrections, questions, facts, and perspective … not to mention promotion via links. I hope this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as journalists realize that they are less the manufacturers of news than the moderators of conversations that get to the news.

Indeed, this led in a straight line to my application for a grant from the MacArthur Foundation and the hosting of the Networked Journalism Summit, which the aforementioned Jon Landman attended.

But Keller needs to set up his competitive straw man because he wants to calculate his value on what he controls more than what he enables:

It is certainly true that technology has lowered the barriers to entry in the news business. The old joke that freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one is now largely inoperative. Freedom of the press now belongs to anyone with an Internet Service Provider. This is all unsettling to the traditional news business, but it is also an opportunity. In an easy-entry business, success goes to those who – and here you must supply those ironic quote marks – move up the value chain. That is, you succeed by offering something of real value that the newcomers cannot match.

As it happens, newspapers have at least two important assets that none of the digital newcomers even pretend to match. One is that we deploy worldwide a corps of trained, skilled reporters to witness events and help our readers understand them. This work is expensive, laborious, sometimes unpopular, and occasionally perilous. . . .

The civic labour performed by journalists on the ground cannot be replicated by legions of bloggers sitting hunched over their computer screens. It cannot be replaced by a search engine. It cannot be supplanted by shouting heads or satirical television shows.

What is absent from the vast array of new media outlets is, first and foremost, the great engine of newsgathering – the people who witness events, ferret out information, supply context and explanation. . . .

And the other is that we have a rigorous set of standards. We have a code of accuracy and fairness we pledge to uphold, a high standard of independence we defend at all costs, and a structure of editorial supervision to enforce our standards.

Again, I hear no one saying he wants that work replicated. But can’t it be complemented? Witnesses to events can now help report what they see and context and explanation can come from both journalists and the experts they quoted who can now also publish. That means more journalism. I see that not as a competitive threat but as a grand opportunity. Knock, knock. Someone’s at the door, Bill. Invite them in. I’ve been suggesting that since 2005. Perhaps you can even teach them about your standards. I’ll offer your my classroom next door at CUNY and I’ll bring the bagels. Perhaps you can leave not just with a mutual understanding and respect but even with some journalism you can do together.

Keller tries to issue a caveat. Some of his best friends are bloggers.

I am a convert to blogs, those live, ad-libbed, interactive monologues that have proliferated by the millions, with an average audience consisting of the blogger and his immediate family. The Times actually produces more than 30 of them, in which our reporters muse on subjects ranging from soccer to health to politics. Blogs can swarm around a subject and turn up fascinating tidbits. They allow you to follow a story as it unfolds. And, yes, there are bloggers who file first-hand reports of their experiences from distant places, including Iraq – and sometimes their work is enlightening or intriguing. But most of the blog world does not even attempt to report. It recycles. It riffs on the news. That’s not bad. It’s just not enough. Not nearly enough.

No one says it’s enough. Point me to the person who does. Cite a quote.

If I were a Times blogger, I’d be insulted by this from my editor. They don’t just muse. They do report. And they dig up more than tidbits; they are writing news that starts online and ends up in the pages of the paper. In just the last week, talking with news executives from other large institutions, I’ve been praising those Times blogs, particularly Saul Hansell’s Bits blog, Virginia Heffernan’s video blog, and the campaign blog, Caucus.

In the rest of his speech, the meat of it, Keller is meant to talk about the state and future of newspapers. I don’t hear a vision for that future from him. He is confident in print, at least for sometime, at least at The Times. He is proud, with reason, of the paper’s migration of content onto the web. He confesses that he doesn’t know they will get to the Promised Land or what that land is. Instead, he offers his defense of the Times and its verities and value.

That’s the part that scares me. I so want to hear a vision for the future because I, too, am not sure how we’ll get there, but I wish that people in a position to execute their visions were eagerly trying many things to find some way over the void. Says Keller:

And then there is the business of our business. As has been widely reported, many daily newspapers are staggering from an exodus of subscribers, a migration of advertisers to the web, and the rising costs of just about everything. Newspapers are closing bureaus and hollowing out their reporting staffs.

At places where editors and publishers gather, the mood these days is funereal. Editors ask one another, “How are you?” in that sober tone one employs with friends who have just emerged from rehab or a messy divorce.

What I wish they were asking themselves instead is, “What’s new?”

* * *

I’ll leave it to others to dissect Keller’s views in his speech on America today, the Times’ verities, and the Bush White House:

The Bush administration has merely fed a current of public antipathy that has been running against us for a long time, a consequence of our own failings and, perhaps, a tendency to blame the messenger when news is bad.

For those collecting them, here is Keller on the Times and the start of the war in Iraq:

Even with audiences like this one, who are presumed to be well read and world-savvy, I’m constantly surprised by the presumption of bad faith when people talk about our business. That is in some measure the fault of our own shortcomings, the well-publicised examples of journalistic malfeasance, the episodes of credulous reporting in the prelude to the war in Iraq, the retreat of some news organisations from serious news into celebrity gossip, and so on. It also reflects the fact that we live in cynical times, in a clamorous new media world of hyperventilating advocacy. And so I always feel obliged to pause and state what, to me and many of you, is obvious. . . .

At the other end of the culpability scale, I’ve had a few occasions to write mea culpas for my paper after we let down our readers in more important ways, including for some reporting before the war in Iraq that should have dug deeper and been more sceptical about Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction. It’s not fun to take yourself to the woodshed, but it is essential to our credibility, and it is not something all institutions do. Come to think of it, we’re still waiting for the White House mea culpa on those elusive weapons of mass destruction.

: LATER: More comments over at Comment is Free.

The fight for world domination

Editors Weblog at the World Association of Newspapers notes that the Guardian now has a bigger audience online than the vaunted New York Times:

With 18.4 million users in October, the Guardian was ahead of nytimes.com, which registered 17.5 million users in the same period, according to Nielsen / NetRatings. This was a record for both sites, as The New York Times’ user pool grew due to the shutting down of TimesSelect, and the Guardian launched Guardian America. Considering these recent results, the Guardian seems to be winning its bid to become the referential international news site. Guardian Unlimited’s US readership was already very strong before the launch of Guardian America. And US readers are reportedly drawn to the British online editions.

Here I speculated on the impact on products and operations of once local or national news brands going international. This also raises questions about business strategy — it’s not easy selling advertising around the world. But the race is indeed on: Who will lead at least the English-speaking universe?

(Disclosure: I write and consult for the Guardian. So I’m rooting for them.)

Also: I found this clip via the still-in-beta journalists’ bookmarking service, Publish2.com from Scott Karp (and disclosure: I’m on the board there so I’m rooting for him, too. You’ll soon be there, too.)

LATER: Guardian writer Bobbie Johnson in the comments and another Guardian colleague in the email say that the Editors Weblog is comparing apples and kumquats here; the stats are not equivalent. It’s still great growth and impressive size for both and the international question is still fascinating. But the sun still does set on the British empire. For now.