Posts about interactivity
I loved this comment from Michael Rosenblum on my response to BBC ONE Controller Peter Fincham’s speech before the Royal Television society, below, reacting to this line of Fincham’s: “User generated content is great but…..” Says Michael:
I think it only fair to point out to our friend at the RTS that Harry Potter was ‘user generated content’, that JK Rowling was not a ‘professional’. In the world of print, which produces some pretty good stuff, EVERYTHING is ‘user generated’. Soon, the same will be true in TV.
: Proving his point, The Times reports today that a talent agency is now scouting online video stars.
My Guardian column this week brings together a few posts furthering the notion that the internet obsoletes the institutional voice of the editorial writer (translated into British newspaperspeak: leader writer). Column here; nonregistration version here.
: The column is up at Comment is Free and generating interesting comments there.
A throwaway line I used in a post the other day keeps repeating on me like pepperoni pizza: If you want to be big in media in the future, make yourself into an API.
I’ve been wondering what it would mean for a news organization to turn itself into an API — that is, a programming interface that lets the public use and remix and also contribute information. Or put the question another way: What would Google do (WWGD) if it ran a news organization? And I don’t mean GoogleNew but any of the reporting organizations it could afford to buy (though I’m not sure why it would): The New York Times, the LA Times, CBS News, CNN. Or, for that matter, what would YouTube do? Or Firefox? What would it mean to open up the news? I’ll start with a few answers of my own. Please add yours:
* Let people — no, encourage — people to distribute your stuff for you. You can no longer spend a huge marketing budget to get people to come to you. So go to where the people are, with the people’s help. That’s what got YouTube seen: letting people put players in their own space, which in turn drove people to discover and dive into YouTube.
* Think distributed in your business, too. That is how Google makes much of its fortune: by taking its ads to where the people are and sharing just a bit of that wealth.
* Let people — no, encourage — people to remix your stuff. They’re doing it anyway. They’re taking a paragraph from here and a quote from there — or video from here and audio from there — to tell the story from their perspective. Stop thinking of that as theft and start thinking of it as a compliment. If you’re not being remixed, you’re not part of the conversation. And the conversation is the platform of the today. So feel free to set some rules — it’s only polite to attribute and link — but then open the doors and let people create more great stuff on not only your finished product but also your raw material (your quotes, your data, your cutting-room floor). Look at the great things people have built on top of Google, YouTube, and Firefox. You want to be part of that construction project. The BBC has started down this path. So should others.
* So be a platform for news. Enable people to use you to make connections to people and information. Provide the means for them to record those school-board meetings and share the fruits. Give people tools and training to accomplish what they want to accomplish. Create networked reporting tools that let the people join together in acts of journalism (see: NewAssignment.net).
* Experiment. Start labs for news and let the people in to create and criticize alongside you. Don’t be afraid of betas and don’t be afraid of failure. You can’t be perfect. You never could.
From this week’s Media Guardian podcast:
Emily Bell, editor-in-chief of Guardian Unlimited: “In the next two to three to four years, community goes from the edges to the core. Otherwise, you’re not going to have a business.”
Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, at the Tory party conference in the UK: “We have 35 million blogs, doubling every six months. The average blog has exactly one reader: the blogger.”
Hmmm. Why own Blogger, then? Why place ads on them? Why diss them? Perhaps it’s because the core of Google remains not people but machines.
Pardon me for being unimpressed with Current.tv’s new outpost on Yahoo. They’re still not getting the internet. Worse, they’re dissing the internet. And that’s troubling from a content, interactivity, or business perspective. But it’s also puzzling from a political perspective.
The network still does not share its best stuff — or what it thinks is best — with the internet because they’re still afraid of pissing off cable companies, which still aren’t picking up Current in volume. Note that other networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox — are no longer scared of pissing off their channels of distribution. But Current’s business model is predicated on getting cable carriage. I still say they should have built the first big, funded, citizen-created internet TV network. But they didn’t. They could have used Yahoo to get attention for what they put on the “air.” But they didn’t.
The network also remains quite controlling. They create videos that try hard to look and sound just like bad 7 p.m. syndicated unnews shows. They have uninformative but still costly travel pieces sucking up to Dubai … and then teasing a story next week on the sad lives of prostitutes there; they haven’t found their place on the flullometer. Oh, yes, they show videos created by the people. But they put those videos through a process of selection, a gauntlet the citizens have to run — still — before they are heard. Since Current started, YouTube obsoleted that model; the people no longer need to guys with the cables and antennas to be heard. But Current doesn’t see that. Current could have made Yahoo an opportunity to create an open network of the videos of the people. But they didn’t.
What they did do is create a small and uncompelling collection of videos — a few made by them, a few made by others — about things like driving and flying. Why? Because there are ad dollars there (well, in the case of automotive, there aren’t as many ad dollars from automotive as they may have thought). Making money is fine. But when I saw a button called “action” on Yahoo’s Current, I thought it might be about taking action in the country and the goverment. No, it’s about going fast. Odd, considering how going fast on the ground or above does have an impact on global warming.
Al Gore, inventor of Current and the internet, has been dissing the latter lately. He respects broadcast to the masses more than conversation with the niches. That’s the old way to look at the world in both media and political terms. I’m surprised he hasn’t updated that view and started living it. He also has created venues that are closed, controlled at the center, not generous at the edges. That, too, is the old way of media and politics. So what does this say about Gore the politician these days? I’d say it makes him look out-of-date, not so current.
A grand experiment in the future of news is succeeding. Pity most of you can’t read it, since it’s in German. But thanks to an accident of school scheduling that plopped me into a German class, I’ve been able to follow Netzeitung.de since it was founded in Berlin in 2000 as a net-only newspaper. It’s not a blog, a search engine or an aggregator. It is a newspaper without the paper, but with 60 journalists reporting the news. Netzeitung has not only survived the internet bubble and a ping-pong game of corporate sales, it has acquired other media properties; it is starting an ambitious effort in networked journalism with citizen reporters; and it is set to be profitable this year. Ausgezeichnet!
Dr Michael Maier, Netzeitung’s editor-in-chief and business head, is an experienced and respected journalist: former editor-in-chief of the Berliner Zeitung, Stern and Vienna’s Presse. No blogger, he. When I met him after he and his partners brought the concept of a netpaper from Norway – where its big sister, Nettavisen.no, is still in business – Maier was adamant that he would have his own staff producing news. I tried to push my populist agenda of interactivity and citizens’ media, but he would have none of it. He was starting a newspaper, dammit, and newspapers have reporters.
In the years since, Netzeitung was bought by Lycos, then by Bertelsmann, then by Maier and a partner, who sold it to Scandinavia’s Orkla, which itself is being acquired by the press baron David Montgomery. Maier says he is glad none of his many masters was a traditional German newspaper, for he doubts he could have developed Netzeitung under its roof. I agree. I got nowhere trying to convince American publishers to try a paperless paper. They are addicted to ink.
Netzeitung remains impressive in the breadth, depth and the timeliness of its reporting. It is among the internet’s most cleanly designed news sites. Maier says the service now serves 1.2 million readers per month. It reportedly will earn â‚¬8m this year. It has acquired other large German sites for technology, health and cars. It recently took over a Berlin radio station, and so the online site produces both radio shows and podcasts (what’s the difference?). And it produces online and videotext news for German TV. This experiment in online news has become a budding media empire.
But what brought me back to revisit Netzeitung is its latest effort: Readers-Edition.de, an online paper by and for das volk. True to form, Maier insists that the people must report: “We don’t publish commentary.” So citizen reporters submit news and photos on politics, sports, technology and business. Netzeitung, the parent, puts the best on its home page and then pays the contributors.
Maier says his online journalists were at first afraid of these interlopers. But he also says his reader/writers are better at working with links than ordinary reporters, are fast (helping him scoop competitors), and are smart (they gave him an exclusive on a revival of the 60s radical group the SDS).
One reason we bloggers like blogging is that we have no editors. But the Readers-Edition contributors do: a team of fellow reader/writers act as volunteer moderators with the help of one Netzeitung journalist. They get together in meetings across Germany to share tricks of the trade. They even share rejected stories so contributors can learn what it takes to make the grade. Now that’s transparency.
I wonder whether this model could work elsewhere. The other citizen-written online newspaper of note, South Korea’s OhmyNews, has had difficulty replicating itself in other countries; its political and media landscape may be unique. And when I ran online sites in the early days, I tried to copy what I saw on German sites by having volunteer moderators keep peace in chatrooms. It worked in Germany, where users respected rank, but not in the US, where moderators got power-mad and users revolted.
I would love to see both Netzeitung and Readers-Edition spread, for we need more answers to questions asked at nearly every journalism conference I attend, namely how will we support journalism in the future? What are the business models for news? How does journalism survive post-press? I hope the answers lie in creating vibrant and successful newspapers that do not depend on paper. I hope the answers lie in creating networks that allow professional and amateur journalists to work together. And I hope the answers are also in English, since I didn’t pay much attention in that German class.
David Carr gets this exactly right (or so I think because I’ve been saying the same thing), finding a lesson in the sock-puppetry at the New Republic:
But there is a broader lesson here, a cautionary tale about the mainstream media’s engagement with the Web. Blogs, which may look like one more way to publish, are first and foremost a way to listen, something that journalists at established outlets don’t necessarily do well.
The clichÃ© about not arguing with people who buy ink by the barrelful is in the process of being replaced by another: best not to pick a fight with people who have gigabytes of text at their disposal unless you are interested in a duel on equal footing.