Posts about newsinnovation

You assign the journalists

This is cool: After joining in a blogfest at the BBC this week, the editor of the showcase news program (programme, I should say while I’m here) took a suggestion to heart and handed over a bit of control to the people formerly known as his audience. The BBC’s Jem Stone explains:

One of the guest speakers; Jeff Jarvis, suggested at the beginning when being gently grilled by BBC tech correspondent; Rory Cellan Jones, that news organisations should be commissioned or assigned by their audience to go report on stories.

As it happens one of the guests at the back was Peter Barron, from Newsnight who it appears was quite taken with this idea. The Newsnight blog that afternoon…

“You can tell our editor’s just returned from a blogging conference. Fresh faced and with fists clenched, he’s pushing another Newsnight experiment in audience participation. It’s quite simple – opening up the Newsnight running order to the people who watch us.”

And so for the past three mornings; Newsnight’s daily output editor has been sharing with users their morning email to the production team outlining the potential running order for that night’s programme. . . .

I don’t know how long that NN will keep to this approach but Peter, in a comment to the blog post on wednesday highlights how the running order changed that night to include a story about lifestyle/cancer risk.

“We won’t always be able to oblige – tomorrow for example we have a long film from Mark Urban in Pakistan whether you like it or not – but there’s no doubt that what you tell us will help us form our thoughts. If you’d rather leave it to us that’s fine, if you’re worried that what others say is unrepresentative get on here and lobby for what you’d like to see us do.”

Radio 4′s new iPM programme has gone even further and has been sharing the actual running order from the BBC’s internal news cps for this magazine show. iPM doesn’t air for another 10 days but they’ve been doing pilots leading up to the launch.

What’s doubly gratifying is eeing the helpful comments viewers make. The BBC asks for other stories and possible treatments and the people oblige. A few examples:

* How about covering the ‘creativity’ in education report from the Commons education committee. I find it astonishing that creativity isn’t an integral part of a child’s school and college experience.

* the election hypothetical just sounds desperate. [This refers to a story in the rundown.]

* I think you should cover the WCRF report on lifestyle / cancer risk. I especially like the direct comments about reducing red meat and cutting out processed meat entirely (BACON!?): surely the meat industry have something to say about this? [This refers to the story that was big in papers in London saying that eating bacon and such can kill you]

Dan, an editor on the show, responds:

Thanks for the suggestions. In particular the World Cancer Research Fund report on the links between lifestyle and cancer has attracted lots of interest. Their recommendations seem pretty harsh – try not to gain weight as an adult, avoid sugary drinks, alcohol and bacon. Are they serious? Do these reports do any good or do people just switch off? It would be good to cover this tonight if possible. What do you think?

A viewer responds to him:

The WCRF report is really interesting because it’s not a ‘new study’ – lots of comments on the main story are saying “enough with the new, conflicting advice” – but instead this report brings together all the advice over 50 years and comes up with some pretty stark conclusions. And they’re deadly serious! Whether people have had enough of being drip fed seemingly conflicting advice is another important issue.

And the viewers are grateful for this opportunity:

Wow! We have an interactive Newsnight. There are so many channels that let the viewer decide what they want to see, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it done for a news programme, and I love it. What I’d really like to see is Jeremy grilling Gordon Brown on his latest fiasco – the numbers of migrants in the UK! Failing that GB could talk about his upcoming role in The Simpsons :-)

And then here’s Peter Barron, the boss, with the bottom line: The viewers had an impact:

Thanks for all the suggestions today – I’m not sure what you make of this experiment but we were pleased, and have included the cancer story in tonight’s programme as a result.

Bravo.

In olde London

Some more followup to the National Union of Journalists row brought on when a member of the National Union of Curmudgeons rubbished web 2.0 and a chicken-little commission of the NUJ tried to close the door on change:

Roy Greenslade gave us his considered response to comments on his decision to quit the union. He discusses an anonymous journalist grappling with being stuck between the union and the future and says:

Despite his continuing sympathies for colleagues, and his lingering desire to remain faithful to the NUJ, he will realise that the demands of a paper gradually moving from print to screen are inimical to those of a union that, despite its pro-digital rhetoric, is committed only to preserving outdated demarcation lines, defying the need for flexibility and struggling to fend off staff cuts that, in fairness, will be necessary.

How could I possibly remain a union member when I now hold such views? To advocate that we need fewer jobs is anathema to the union. That’s why I say it would be hypocritical for me to go on being a member. Nor could I, as some commenters suggest, fight for that position within the union. It would be a laughable option. . . . I cannot, in all conscience, remain within a union I now regard, albeit reluctantly, as reactionary. The digital revolution is here and I am digital revolutionary.

Neil McIntosh shoots the NUJ’s red herring in a barrel.

Donnacha DeLong, said fishmonger, appeared on BBC Five Live’s Pods and Blogs show.

And Suw Charman and Kevin Anderson take a different tack, defending web 2.0 and its benefits.

The mainstream media is not leading the charge to the internet, it is following along behind its audience, laggardly, sullenly and defensively. Many journalists have spent ten years dismissing the internet as a fad and an inferior medium. They are equally dismissive of Web 2.0 without even knowing what it means. DeLong says on the NUJ New Media’s blog, “So there we go – a nice big debate about the issues”, but he has done nothing to move the debate forward and nothing to help of inform NUJ members. Instead, he has engaged in more scare-mongering about the threat of the internet and simplistically focused on perceived, but illusory, dangers to journalism.

Both of us embraced the internet because of the opportunities it presents. It’s the world’s greatest story-telling medium, bringing together the strengths of text, audio, video and interaction. The internet as a communications tool can help journalists tap sources like never before, making their stories richer and more balanced. Why wouldn’t journalists take advantage of the internet?

Yes, the job is changing, and we as journalists need to change with it. The internet may be posing a threat to the business model that support journalism, and it’s understandable that this causes anxiety. But misrepresenting the reality of that change won’t make it go away.

Suw and Kevin are reluctant to feed the troll and though Jay Rosen cheers them on, I understand their hesitation. It’s a mistake, I think, to let the curmudgeons set the agenda and, for that matter, get the attention. It doesn’t move us forward. And I really don’t care if they are left behind. Andrew Keen made suckers of us all when he staged “debates” around teh wrold to promote his awful book and for awhile, I was such a sucker. Now DeLong thinks that he has caused useful debate. But Suw and Kevin are right: He did no such thing.

So I’m looking forward to Neil‘s next post with his suggestions for his union. I leave it to the members whether that is worth the trouble. But I do think that looking forward with tangible strategies for change — best practices, lessons learned — is the only debate worth having.

: MOMENTS LATER: Here is Neil’s five-part prescription for the NUJ. He suggests fixing the union’s publication and web site (irony often noted), creating a place and even a conference for debate, becoming more transparent, and this:

5. Accept muscle has been replaced by knowledge

This final bit is inspired by Jeff Jarvis’s idea of the new collective, posted last week. It’s also the most testing bit for a union, because it can’t be just a token effort.

Here’s the thing: once, a union’s members gained their power only through collective (industrial) action. Today, union members find it both harder to strike legally, and harder to say yes in a strike ballot. That’s led to a diminishing of the power of trade unions, even if diehards refuse to accept the glory days are gone.

It would be better for all if you realised the new power comes through circulating knowledge through the ranks – not the kind of badly filtered, politically tainted, change-is-bad “knowledge” we’ve seen so far, but real information about what the hell’s going on.

I think the problem is this: jsut as we as a profession and industry must learn how to open up, we still talk about it in closed organizations and meetings. I heard the other day from someone who complained about the Online News Association conference in Toronto. I can’t judge the conference since I was thwarted from getting there. But I did find the agenda to be weak tea and I’ve long been troubled that it is (irony noted) an echo chamber.

The essential mistake is organizing around organiztaions. We need to organize around interests, skills, experience. Look to the example of the Facebook hackathons: Interested developers organize themselves and get together to share the best practices and frustrations and needs and ideas, generously, openly. They don’t join a union or an association or work for a company. They just learn from each other.

That is the new collective.

Web Zwei

The much-anticipated launch of Der Westen, the new web 2.0 local service from the WAZ regional newspaper group in Germany, comes tonight. Martin Stabe has links and background. Here was my blog post with Katarina Borchert, the most impressive blogger-turned-internet-newspaper exec who has led the development. Here‘s Thomas Knüwer’s interview with her. And here‘s a Spiegel feature about it all. (Those last two links in German.) I’ll be in the air when it goes up but will return with reaction (auf Englisch) soon.

Network them

Through the referrers, I just found the video presentation for one of the Knight News Challenge innovation teams, this one dear to my heart: It pushes networked journalism. The audio dies after the first four minutes but those first minutes are a powerful argument for collaboration.

Hey, kids, let’s gather some data

Among the tools for networked journalism I’m wishing for is a simple one for creating collaborative data bases.

When the Brian Lehrer Show mobilized the people formerly known as its audience to find out the prices of groceries across New York, they entered their findings in blog comments, which were laboriously compiled by hand. How much better it would be if the show had a simple data tool — as simple as blogs and wikis — to set up the basic fields their reporters could have used to report back. It would also be wonderful if that data could then be searched; if calculations could be run against it (give me the mean, the average); if it could visualized in charts; and if it could be exported for mashups (e.g., plotting it on Google Maps).

I don’t know whether this is it. But looking at my referrers this morning, I saw that someone N Levels, a startup, had created a form to gather data I asked for earlier: a collaborative data base of wi-fi speeds and prices in hotels. Here’s a description of N Levels that others of you will understand better than I.

The goal of N Levels is to enable users to create their own “information networks” that overlay and complement today’s web page and hyperlink structure. By information network, we mean a set of objects that are connected by relationships, forming a directed graph.

An object is a collection of properties which represents “something” – it could be a physical entity, animal, person, concept, idea, or absolutely anything. A relationship is a label that defines how two objects are related to each other – for example parent-child, location, containment, etc. An object and its possible relationships is defined by its schema, or “object type”. By having well-defined schema, it becomes easy for humans and software to traverse, consume, and extend an information network.

I was talking about such tools for collaborative journalism I wish someone would build with Clay Shirky when he came to talk and share his wisdom with my entrepreneurial journalism class. Clay’s students could do it and we’re talking about that.

Here’s another one I want: When a reporter, pro or am, uses a camera phone to take a picture — or, for that matter, to upload text, video, audio, anything — wouldn’t it be wonderful to attach the data the device knows: time and date, of course, and also GPS. This then allows gangs of reporters to submit information that can be plotted on maps and timelines and then associated with other data. See this Dutch experiment in which reporters were given mobile phones that fed through a server that did some of this.

And, of course, once news and data is in such a system, it can also be retrieved by location. See Socialight’s brand new service in London: Text 88811 and your GPS phone will give you nearby establishments and also fellow users’ notes.

(And that reminds me of my lunchtime conversation yesterday with Fred Wilson and Brad Burnham about the big trends we’re all watching. One of them is the tying of web to real things and places. Fred took a picture of me on his phone and thanks to Dave Winer’s programming sent it to Flickr and onto Twitter. I said that photo would be so much richer if it had the GPS attached and then folks could see where we were eating and eventually who’s nearby. But I digress.)

What other tools of networked journalism do you wish for?

The new collective

Shane Richmond of the Telegraph tears apart the “report” from the National Union of Journalists — of which he is a slightly sheepish member — that attacks the means of new media in British news organizations. I mocked it yesterday as “whiny, territorial, ass-covering, protecting-the-priesthood, preservation-instead-of-innovation” and Jay Rosen is egging me on for more.

But I’ve decided that a different tack is in order. For it occurred to me that if you’re a union representing journalists today, you probably don’t know which way is up and who’s the enemy and what you’re fighting for. All the old reflexes and relationships are archaic. Unions are structured to fight The Man but now that Man is no longer all-powerful, requiring the joining together of its workers to balance his might. Now the Man is quivering in his loafers, less powerful, poorer, smaller, unsure where the world is headed. Battling The Man could weaken the only guy who is, if not on your side, at least in the same boat with you. Do you really want to go throwing the deckchairs overboard at a time like this?

The very notion of the collective — the essence of the union — is changed. No longer is it about employees gathering together inside an institution to battle for their share of that institution’s value. Now the collective is more likely to be a gathering of independent agents who may work collaboratively, with or without that institution.

Indeed, some of those independent workers used to be employees and union members, but then they got laid off and decided to try to make a go of it on their own. See the story of Rick Waghorn, made redundant from his newspaper and now covering football on his own. See the similar story of Debbie Galant, who left behind the platform of the New York Times and created hyperlocal pioneer Baristanet. See, also, plenty of people who are starting journalistic endeavors on their own without a history of working for newspapers under union protection: Brian Stelter moved from blog to newsroom. Josh Marshall has a media empire growing. Rafat Ali wanted to be a journalist and is now hiring them.

So what is their relationship with the old institutions, including the union? Through old lenses, you’d say their the competition, the enemy. The old union cant is that they are taking work and jobs away from the professionals. That has been the NUJ’s attitude toward citizen journalists. But what if those citizens are your former members? What then? And in the new economic ecosystem of journalism, the relationship should be collaborative. As Mark Potts said at the Networked Journalism Summit, if you’re going to succeed at being small, you probably need to be part of something big. And the Jarvis corollary: If you’re going to succeed at being big, you need help from many smalls.

So what is a union’s role in that universe? That’s a hard question. I’ll propose a few answers.

I’d say that a union has to make itself valuable by making its members more valuable. That won’t come from sitting back and making demands — for just as the institution no longer has a stranglehold on news and distribution, the staff no longer has a stranglehold on creation. So I’d suggest that the union should make sure its members are trained in every medium and means of newsgathering and storytelling — and don’t just demand that employers train, do the training yourself. Act like a collective, a generous community: Get members to train each other. In the comments under this post, Time Inc.’s guild says it’s pushing training. Well, good. Can’t have enough.

I’d rethink the idea of job descriptions. Unions were built to protect them. Look at that NUJ “report” — it gets pissy about nonphotographers making photographs. Get over it! Look at Flickr. We can all — reporters among us — take photographs. So help them take better photographs. Train them.

Rather than whining about doing new jobs, demand to do new jobs. I content that everyone — everyone — in a newsroom should be trained to make slideshows and videos and podcasts even if they never actually make them, for it opens up their thinking to new ways to tell stories and helps them understand why the world is doing this and perhaps helps them improve the products they’re working on. So train away!

Then I’d rethink what membership means. Is it just employees? Maybe it’s those dreaded independent folks you see as a threat. Why would they become members? Well, you’d better give them something: In the U.S., that would be health insurance. And training. And libel insurance. And networking to get work. You have to make your union valuable to them — by making them more valuable in the marketplace of news and content — and only if they do that, will they join. And once they have, it’s in your interest to improve their work and value. So no longer can you sniff about these damned amateurs trying to do what the professionals you protect now do. Now you’re in this together.

If you want to get really fancy, a guild could become an ad network to help support its members. But that gets mightily complicated, for that puts the union in competition with the institutions with whom it now negotiates. Messy world, this.

And you’d also try to become a catalyst for innovation and invention and the creation of new companies. And you’d try to help make them as successful as possible. You’d see yourself in partnership, not at wawr.

It’s hard to imagine a union thinking this way. But I’ll argue that if they don’t, they’re more quickly doomed that the news organizations they’re still trying to wrestle with.

Guardian column: Networked Journalism Summit

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.

Carr’s dreams

Curmudgeonly contrarian Nick Carr picks his head up and comes to the defense of TimeSelect — after it is dead and buried — but misses some obvious economic realities. Carr quotes a Financial Times columnist who quotes a University of Chicago study (warning: a PDF filled with formulae) that points to the Washington Post and argues that the paper and its online site were not complementary but competitive and so the Post should have tried (as the Times did) to get money out of its online audience while the getting was good.

But this ignores the essential economic fact here that newspapers are no longer monopolies. With the internet, they gained new competitors the world around and lost the pricing power that their monopoly over production and distribution gave them. So it’s foolish to judge the Post or Times in isolation as if they could demand and get money from consumers who can now go to plenty of other sources.

Carr et al also ignore the economic reality of Google and the link becoming the new means of media distribution. If you hide your stuff, it cannot be found. And so long as you are hidden, your competitors will grab that distribution and marketshare from you.

Fred Wilson quotes a commenter on Carr’s blog, SidneyV, who instructs:

In periods of fundamental technological change & discontinuity, leaving money on the table may well be a smart strategy. . . . Sam Walton (whose descendants collectively are now the richest people in the world) pointedly refused to price the goods at the “going rate”, which a Harvard Business School prof of that time would have considered stupid. So Times would have been better off if they had recognized it at that time. At least they are smart enough to recognize it now. . . .

BTW, in late 80′s, Larry Ellison, nobody’s fool as a businessman, enunciated it thusly: in early markets, maximize marketshare, not profits. NY Times should have become *the* go-to place for news & views online. They always had the breadth & depth of content. The fact that they let a whole lot of other sources jump ahead speaks volumes of their failure of vision.

Carr thinks the Times left money on the table by taking down the wall. I think they burned money by putting it up. And once again, nowhere have I seen a decent financial analysis of the cost of TimesSelect: the cost of marketing to acquire subscribers and cope with churn, the cost of customer service, the cost of ad revenue lost, the cost of traffic lost to other sections and advertising lost there as a result. Clearly, the Times made that analysis and tore down the wall.

Matthew Ingram also rebuts the study Carr so dearly wishes to rely upon, first quoting the its conclusion regarding the Post: “Removing the [news website] from the market entirely would increase readership of [the newspaper] by 27,000 readers per day, or 1.5 per cent.” To which Matthew responds:

He therefore concludes that the Post has lost $5.5-million in newspaper revenue as a result of providing its news online for free. Does that make any sense? It might to an economist, but I would argue his thesis fails the reasonability test. If the washingtonpost.com website were to disappear or be locked behind a pay wall tomorrow, does anyone really think that 27,000 people would suddenly go out and start reading the paper edition?

Gentzkow clearly does. I think they would be more likely to just go elsewhere for their news, such as Google News or Yahoo News or MSNBC or CNN. It might be tempting — and make for a much simpler business case — to argue that a product like the Post competes primarily with its own website, and vice versa, but I don’t think that is the way things work.

Rob Hyndman also points out to Carr and company that lots of the people formerly known as readers like using the internet and wouldn’t it be foolish for a newspaper such as the Post or the Times to push them to competitors by putting up a pay wall?

Note finally Alex Patriquin’s analysis at Compete.com of NY Times op-ed audience since they took down that wall: “…[T]he Opinion section has more than doubled unique visitors, while the overall NYTimes.com site has grown by roughly 10% in the same period.”

Carr accuses of me being a member of the free-content hallelujah chorus who, he says, “take as a personal affront any attempt to charge for ‘content’ online.”

But Carr misinterprets me and projects a motive on me that is not there. I’m not saying necessarily that I want content to be free; hell, I’m a writer for a living and if I could be paid for my writing — and paid more than I am — I’d be delighted.

Instead, I am saying that content is free and companies like the New York Times and writers like me (and my students) as well as Carr had damned well better figure out how to work with that essential economic reality. Wishing that you could charge as if you were still a monopoly protected by the size of the gas tank of your nearest competitor’s trucks is foolhardy and dangerous. Carr’s analysis is as wistful as it is incomplete, sloppy, and hazardous.

And — this is what blows Carr’s mind — one response to this new networked economic reality is to view other media sources — your paper, the other guy’s news web site, your writing readers’ blogs — not as competitors but as complementary sources that enable you to do what you do best (and get the maximum value you can for that via advertising) and link to the rest (saving you the expense of inefficiency that news media still carries from its legacy today). One response to competition everywhere is to open up to collaboration, enabling you to identify and exploit your greatest value in a new economic reality.