Posts about newarchitecture

Citizen journalism ruins the world (again)

On Friday, like clockwork, I got calls from three reporters asking me to defend citizen journalism (again) after its latest mortal sin against the gods of journalism: the report/rumor/lie on CNN’s iReport that Apple’s Steve Jobs had been rushed to the hospital with a heart attack, which spread and sent the company’s share’s diving.

Every time so-called citizen journalism muffs one, I get such calls, as if to say, look what your bratty kid is up to now. Funny, I don’t get them – as a journalist – every time a reporter messes up.

I told these reporters that they were on the tail of the wrong story. This may not be about citizen journalism at all. It may be about someone trying to game Apple stock and using, nefariously, whatever tools were available. I also told them that anyone who sold their stock on the basis of a pseudonymous post on the web was a fool who deserved what they got (are these the same people who invested in subprime mortgages?).

The proper response to this is to ask what our response should be, not to decry all “citizen journalism” because of this.

First, we need to recognize that life is messy. The idea that we could package the world neatly in a box with a bow on top is a vestige of the old means of production and distribution of news: tightly controlled with the limitation-turned-luxury of time.

Ever since the creation of 24-hour cable news, we have lost that luxury of time. Mistakes – let alone rumors and lies – go out live and the public has to learn to judge the news more skeptically. The truth is, they always have. But now rather than ignoring their skepticism, we need to encourage it and educate people to think this way. Call it media literacy. That is one proper response.

Another response from media is that we have to get better at giving caveats. As news rushes by, it is important that we make it clear what is and isn’t confirmed. We thought we were in the business of saying what we know in the news. But we’re more in the business of saying what we don’t know. I’ve often quoted Nick Denton’s definition of what we bloggers call “half-baked posts.” They say to our readers: “Here’s what we know. Here’s what we don’t know. What do you know?”

Note well that CNN iReport issues a blanket caveat on everything it “reports” — hell, this is its tagline and slogan: “Unfiltered. Unedited. News.” Maybe that last word is a problem, but then iReport has had lots of news, including video from the scene of the Virginia Tech massacre. CNN president Jonathan Klein said at a McGraw-Hill conference some months ago that the point of iReport was to have a place to accept stuff from citizens and witnesses that wasn’t CNN. Only that which is vetted, he said, goes up under the CNN brand. But, of course, iReport is near the CNN brand.

It may be a mistake for news organizations to keep begging people to send them stuff. That’s the way they think — centralized, controlling, exclusive. But the better structure may be for journalists to curate the best of what is out on the web. Rather than playing wack-a-mole on the occasional mistake/rumor/lie sent it, editors would better serve if they found the best content anywhere, not just among that which was sent to them.

When the web, like TV, goes live (I can broadcast live today from my Nokia phone over Qik.com), news organizations will have no choice but to find and point to others’ content elsewhere because there won’t be time to send it in.

But the sanest response to reading a report from an unidentifiable source on Steve Jobs’ health is to get on the phone to Apple and find the truth. Note well that that happened quickly online. When I first heard this “news,” it was not that Jobs was sick but that Apple said he wasn’t sick. The reporters I talked to said that was what they first heard as well. Hmm, the system seems to have worked pretty well — except for fools who sell stock based on baseless rumors. But then, that has happened on Wall Street long before there was an internet.

The web, as it turns out, is almost as fast at spreading truth as it as at spreading rumors.

Is this a story of citizen journalism and its failings or of professional journalism and its jealousies?

(Crossposted at Comment is Free)

Replacing the article

Matt Thompson creates one part of what I suggested the other day should be the new fundamental unit of news coverage, replacing the article.

MoneyMeltDown is a well-curated aggregation of links to the best coverage.

To recap, I think the new unit of coverage needs to include:

1. Curated aggreagtion. Do what you do best, link to the rest. Here’s the best of the rest. See: MoneyMeltDown.

2. A blog that treats the story as a process, not a product, with continuing coverage and conversation, asking and answering questions, giving updates, filling in gaps: a reporter showing her work. Have you seen a good example? CalculatedRisk is more of an annotated aggregation and that’s valuable but I think it fits better in No. 1 above. The Christian Science Monitor credit crisis blog looks more like a collection of articles. From an industry perspective, the Inman blog is another annotated aggregation. Can anyone point me to a reporter or expert who is using a blog to both report and discover?

3. A wiki that give us a snapshot of current knowledge. Where else would we find that but Wikipedia?

4. Discussion. Where do you think the best – most intelligent and illuminating – discussion is going on?

The building block of journalism is no longer the article

The old building block of journalism — the article — is proving to be inadequate in the current onslaught of news. I’ll argue here that the new building block is the topic.

The story was all we had before — it’s what would fit onto a newspaper page or into a broadcast show. But a discrete and serial series of articles over days cannot adequately cover the complex stories going on now nor can they properly inform the public. There’s too much repetition. Too little explanation. The knowledge is not cumulative. Each instance is necessarily shallow. And when more big stories come — as they have lately! — in scarce time and space and with scarce resources, each becomes even shallower. We never catch up, we never get smarter. Articles perpetuate a Ground Hog Day kind of journalism.

Talking this over with some smart folks over the last few days — in one set of conversations about newspapers and online technology and in another conversation with NPR’s David Folkenflik for a story he’ll air shortly — I came to see that we haven’t yet created the proper elemental unit of coverage of stories like these.

Six years ago, in an insightful essay, Blogger cocreator Meg Hourihan wrote that the elemental unit of online media was no longer the publication or section or page or story but the post. I think that’s right: countless grains of information, thought, or opinion, each with its own permanent link so it can become connected to something larger — carbon atoms adding up to earth.

But that alone won’t work as an organizing principle for informing a world. It is the underlying base from which we have to start. But we have to add more value atop that shifting beach.

We have many tools to work with now, first and foremost the link. The link can take us to more or less background, depending on how much each of us needs, and to original source material and to many perspectives.

The link becomes more important than the brand in news. I said to Folkenflik last night that I never would have thought to go to This American Life as a brand to find the best explanation of the credit crisis, but I did. (Its reporters are working furiously on a sequel for this week’s show.) Lots of people discovered that report and spread the word around — with the link. The link changes everything.

I think the new building block of journalism needs to be the topic. I don’t mean that in the context of news site topic pages, which are just catalogues of links built to kiss up to Google SEO. Those are merely collections of articles, and articles are inadequate.

Instead, I want a page, a site, a thing that is created, curated, edited, and discussed. It’s a blog that treats a topic as an ongoing and cumulative process of learning, digging, correcting, asking, answering. It’s also a wiki that keeps a snapshot of the latest knowledge and background. It’s an aggregator that provides annotated links to experts, coverage, opinion, perspective, source material. It’s a discussion that doesn’t just blather but that tries to accomplish something (an extension of an article like this one that asks what options there are to bailout a bailout). It’s collaborative and distributed and open but organized.

Think of it as being inside a beat reporter’s head, while also sitting at a table with all the experts who inform that reporter, as everyone there can hear and answer questions asked from the rest of the room — and in front of them all are links to more and ever-better information and understanding.

This is the way to cover stories and life.

It’ s not an article, a story, a section, a bureau, a paper, a show. We have to use the new tools we have at hand to create new structures for covering news and informing each other. As I said in the post below, old structures are crumbling and new structures will be built in their place. We need to create that something new now.

What do we call it? I don’t know. The topic table. The beat bliki (ouch). The news brain. We’ll know what to call it when we see it.

: LATER: See Steve Yelvington on community memory and what he’s building.

Here’s Folkenflik’s story.

Sigh

What are the objections that are constantly thrown in your face when you try to talk about new opportunities on the internet?

I’m thinking of writing my Guardian column this week responding to some because I’m tired of having to answer the same complaints over and over. I sometimes despair at being able to advance the discussion about the opportunities of the connected age, as someone in the room will inevitably say: “Yes, but there are inaccuracies on the internet.” Or: “Most people watch junk.” Or: “There are no standards.”

It happened last night as I gave my first presentation based on my book to a group of scary smart foundation grantees doing great work in areas from housing to science to women’s health to taxation. I was asked to speculate on what Googley charities would be like and we discussed themes including transparency and openness, acting as a platform and network, and new roles in a linked ecology of news and information. I’ll grant that their circumstances are different from those of companies and other institutions because they deal in often controversial and sometimes sensitive areas and their goal is often to influence not the population but policymakers (though I’m still enough of a cockeyed democrat to hope the population is who should influence the policymakers). Halfway through, those same old objections arose. I take it as personal failure that I’m sometimes not able to keep the discussion headed toward the future and find us spinning wheels in the present or, worse, sliding backwards.

Sigh.

And then I got email for a panel discussion at NYU on Oct. 21 called Crossing the Line, which asks these questions: “Are there any ethics on the web?” “Should bloggers be held to journalistic standards?” “Who makes the rules — the media, the courts or YOU?”

Sigh.

The implied answers, of course: The web has no ethics… Bloggers have no standards…. The wrong people are making the rules (if there are any).

To hash over these weightless questions they have nothing but the products of big, old media: David Carr of the NY Times, Liz Smith of the NY Post, Jim Kelley of Time, Judge Andrew Napolitano of Fox News, and Sherrese Smith, counsel for WPNI.

Mind you, just across campus, NYU has at least two of the country’s greatest thinkers on the internet and its implications for society, Jay Rosen and Clay Shirky. But they’re not on that panel. New York is thick with great practitioners of new ways on the internet, but they’re not there.

Same old questions/objections/complaints/fears. Where is the talk of new opportunities in our new reality?

So please share the questions/complaints you hear all the time and how you answer them. Then instead of repeating ourselves in the future, we can just hand the curmudgeons and worriers a link.

: LATER: Here are the complaints I’m working with now.

* There’s junk on the internet.
* Most people watch junk.
* Anyone can say anything on the internet.
* There are inaccuracies on the internet.
* Wikipedia has mistakes.
* We need a seal of approval for internet content.
* Bloggers aren’t journalists.
* The internet has no ethics.

Any others you hear?

I’m writing my responses in the column.

Zell is not your problem. You are.

A bunch of current and former reporters at the LA Times are suing the new boss, Sam Zell, “accusing him of recklessness in the takeover and management of the newspaper’s parent, the Tribune Company,” says the NY Times.

Journalists are such a whiny bunch, always complaining, constantly blaming someone else for their problems. But friends, as the Rev. Wright would say, the chickens are coming home to roost.

Newspapers and newspaper companies are about to die. The last remaining puddles of auto, home, job, and retail advertising are about to be sucked down the drain thanks to the economic crisis and credit is about to be crunched into dust. So any newspaper or news company that has been teetering will fall. If Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, and AIG can fall, so can a puny newspaper empire — and there’ll be no taxpayer bailout for them. When this happens, will it be Sam Zell’s fault? Hardly.

The Times veterans should not be suing Zell. They should be suing themselves. Oh, I, too, am angry at the state of newspapers in America but I’m angry at the right people. The LA Times’ problems — like those of other papers — were caused by by decades of egotistical and willfully ignorant neglect by the owners, managers — and staff — at the paper.

When more than one editorial regime had the hubris to think that they should turn the Times into a national – even international – paper, opening bureaus all over the globe and insisting on writing every commodity news stories under their own bylines while letting local coverage suffer, did you protest, litigators? No, those bylines and bureaus were yours.

When the paper was the most overwritten, under-edited consumer of wasted ink and paper in the United States of America, boring its audience with jump after jump of self-indulgent text and forcing readers to flee for TV, did you get out your pencils and start trimming and tightening? No.

When the paper failed even at covering its own hometown industry, did you jump in to fill the void? No.

When the internet came, did you all – every one of you as responsible, smart journalists, on your own – leap to get training in audio and video? Did you immediately hatch new ways to work collaboratively with the vast public of bloggers able and willing to join in local journalism? Not that I saw.

When the link economy emerged, enabling papers to find new efficiencies by saving resources long spent on commodity news so they could concentrate on their real mission — local — did you grab the opportunity by the horns and beg to cover the hell out of Encino? No.

When the Chandlers and the erstwhile Tribune management did not invest sufficiently in building new products online and driving audience, advertisers, and resources to it and to the future, did you protest? Did you sue? No.

You bear your share of responsibility for the paper’s past and thus its present. Whether Sam Zell is the guy to get the paper to the future, I have no idea. But I can look at your stewardship and see the results.

Want to see who’s to blame for the state of your paper? Get a mirror.

The start of reverse syndication (and end of the AP?)

New Jersey’s Star-Ledger today put out an entire edition without anything from the Associated Press within. The sharp-eyed reader will notice lots of local news by staff plus articles from other papers–Washington Post, LA Times, McClatchy, the Glouceseter County Times–and content from online services such as Sportsticker.

It’s one more nail in the heart of the AP as other papers cancel their contracts and more threaten to.

At the same time, Political announces that it will give stories to papers with ads attached that Politico and Addify sell and they will share revenue with the papers. Politico’s deal is the first major substantiation of the reverse-syndication model, a product of the link economy. It’s another nail in the heart of the Associated Press, which is built instead for the content economy.

The old syndication model in the old content economy just won’t work today when all the world needs is one copy of a story up in the cloud with links to it. Today, the more links that article can get, the more valuable it is. So sharing value with those who send links to it only makes sense.

The AP is not bad (no matter what foolish things it may have done in the blog kerfuffle recently). It’s just expensive. Papers the size of the Cleveland Plain Dealer say they pay $1 million a year. As they get more local, as reverse syndiction models come to the fore, as they have to tighten budgets, the industry-supported AP syndication model is mortally threatened. Still, this isn’t about the AP. It’s about the new architecture of news and media.

The myth of the creative class

As I near the end of writing my book, one lesson that has struck me is about the will of most people to create, and the new possibilities the Google age brings us.

One survey I quote says that 81 percent of us say we have a book in us. Another survey says that a coincidental 81 percent of young people think they have a business in them. We make tens of millions of blogs. We take hundreds of millions of Flickr photos. A few hundred thousand people write applications for Facebook. Paulo Coelho (see the post below) asks his readers to make a movie of his book and they eagerly do so. Stephen Colbert challenges his viewers to remix John McCain and they do. Howard Stern doesn’t even ask his listeners and they produce no end of song parodies and anthems to Baba Booey. The art and entertainment of Lonely Girl 15 becomes not just the videos they make but the videos viewers make. Every minute, 10 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube. People create T-shirt designs on Threadless and sneaker designs on Ryz and things of all descriptions on Etsy. BMW invites drivers to color a car and 9,000 people do. And on and on.

This has surely always been the case. The internet doesn’t make us more creative, I don’t think. But it does enable what we create to be seen, heard, and used. It enables every creator to find a public, the public he or she merits. And that takes creation out of the proprietary hands of the supposed creative class.

Internet curmudgeons argue that Google et al are bringing society to ruin precisely because they rob the creative class of its financial support and exclusivity: its pedestal. But internet triumphalists, like me, argue that the internet opens up creativity past one-size-fits-all mass measurements and priestly definitions and lets us not only find what we like but find people who like what we do. The internet kills the mass, once and for all. With it comes the death of mass economics and mass media, but I don’t lament that, not for a moment.

The curmudgeons also argue that this level playing field is flooded with crap: a loss of taste and discrimination. I’ll argue just the opposite: Only the playing field is flat and to stand out one must now do so on merit – as defined by the public rather than the priests – which will be rewarded with links and attention. This is our link economy, our culture of links. It is a meritocracy, only now there are many definitions of merit and each must be earned.

We have believed – I have been taught – that there are two scarcities in society: talent and attention. There are only so many people with talent and we give their talent only so much attention – not enough of either.

But we are shifting, too, from a culture of scarcity to one of abundance. That is the essence of the Google worldview: managing abundance. So let’s assume that instead of a scarcity there is an abundance of talent and a limitless will to create but it has been tamped down by an educational system that insists on sameness; starved by a mass economic system that rewarded only a few giants; and discouraged by a critical system that anointed a closed, small creative class. Now talent of many descriptions and levels can express itself and grow. We want to create and we want to be generous with our creations. And we will get the attention we deserve. That means that crap will be ignored. It just depends on your definition of crap.

This link ecology does potentially change the nature of creativity. It makes it more collaborative, not just in the act but in the inspiration. Coelho’s Witch of Portobello is the spark that leads to a movie made by its readers. Same with Stern, LonelyGirl, Colbert. Perhaps the role of the creative class is not so much to make finished products but to inspire more to be made. It is the flint of creativity. It’s the internet – Google, Flickr, YouTube, and old, mass media as their accessories – that bring flint and spark together.

I’ve long disagreed with those who say that copyright kills creativity, for I do believe that there is no scarcity of inspiration. But I now understand their position better. I also have learned that when creations are restricted it is the creator who suffers more because his creation won’t find its full and true public, its spark finds no kindling, and the fire dies. The creative class, copyright, mass media, and curmudgeonly critics stop what should be a continuing process of creation; like reverse alchemists, they turn abundance into scarcity, gold into lead.

When we talk about the Google age, then, we do talk about a new society and the rules I explore in my book are the rules of that society, built on connections, links, transparency, openness, publicness, listening, trust, wisdom, generosity, efficiency, markets, niches, platforms, networks, speed, and abundance.

I start by talking about business: how all this affects company, industries, and then institutions and how to react and find advantage in this change. But it will also affect life, and that is what I am writing in the last section of the book. I’m doing that starting today so, as always, I’d be grateful for your generous, wise, open, and abundant thoughts on the topic. Thanks.

: Other categories of ideas I think I’m dealing with in this ending on the impact of Google on society: its impact on our relations; on our attitudes, ethics, and skills; on our institutions and organization.

: LATER: In the comments, Sean says I should link to Richard Florida’s books on the creative class. I have to confess that I bought one of them but never got through it. Books are such an echo chamber.

Coelho’s quest

Here is the bookend to my Guardian column about Paulo Coelho, Googley author. He writes in The New Statesman about his journey online. Snippets:

So I’ve spent a lot of time on my website, knowing that it is one of the rare public platforms, besides the traditional book signing, open to me. Yet, despite the success of the site and newsletter, I felt that more could be done – but what? The answer is the result of ten years’ fascination with the medium. . . .

I knew from previous experience that the free-sharing of my book over the internet would increase its visibility, so I didn’t hesitate to post it on peer-to-peer websites and on my blog.

The more I’ve ventured into the virtual world, the more I have realised that the internet has a logic of its own and its credo is: share everything freely.

When I was with Coelho, I asked him whether he’d ever write a book about the internet. He said no. I still won’t bet against it. He sees as only he can a mystical world in those wires and tubes. It’s a magic land, the internet.