The click heard ’round the world

The click heard ’round the world

: Martin Nisenholtz, the very smart and focused head of New York Times Digital, gave a visionary speech this week to the Information Industry Summit [via PaidContent] in which he says that media is awaiting its Pong, its application that unleashes something wholly new and with it a new creative class and a new industry.

Martin keeps dancing around the idea that weblogs could be that thing. He won’t take the last step to annoint them. (“The jury is still out.”) But perhaps he’s reluctant because he’s using the wrong word and thus looking at this thing too narrowly. Yes, a weblog per se won’t change the world. But citizens’ media will. And the weblog is the proof of that concept: It is the Pong. It is the click heard round the world.

Martin lists many characteristics of this messianic Pong he awaits and I agree with all his criteria: It evolves media past its current roles of “sorting, distributing, and making accessible content created principally for other formats, to creating content that is native to the computing world.” It brings users “new and original ways of communicating.” It, like the Web, “is designed to foster social interaction, not just information retrieval.” It causes a “control shift” giving the user that control. He sets up a test:

: First, the medium must be large, global and spawn a new profitable industry.

: Second, the medium must be expressive. It must delight people on an emotional level. It must become a regular part of their life experience.

: Third, the medium must ultimately engender a new collective class of creative people. Think of film, with actors, directors and set designers; or videogames, with art directors and programmers; or newspapers, with reporters, editors and photographers….

Ah, but Martin, that new creative class is nothing less than the people themselves. The citizens create. That is revolutionary beyond creating a new, closed industry that employs a new, limited cast of trained professionals, a new priesthood. This is more than Pong. This is Gutenberg, baby!

But my friend Martin remains cautious even as he is visionary (that’s why he’s successful):

Many are now postulating that Web logs


  1. Ebb Tide says:

    What a great post!!! I can’t wait for part 2!!!
    I do think blogs are CB radios but that’s ok, no one thought talkies were going to catch on, either.
    I make my living in information retrieval, so, I’m listening. Good buddy. 10-40 or whatever. CQDX over and out.

  2. OTB says:

    You had me up to the ‘Gutenberg’ line…sigh. The person who ‘invented’ blog technology (if there is one person) would be the Gutenberg; Blogger, et al are the publishing houses who have pushed this new technology; but the bloggers themselves are more like the Danielle Steels and Elmore Leonards – loads and loads of info-/entertainment, precious little “news”.
    Besides, the web itself is the Pong–it’s the killer app that has converged telephony, television, commerce, publishing, etc.
    Enabling HTML-ignorant clatterboxes to instantly publish their random musings has been a really nice addition to the mix, but methinks thou dost self-import too much.

  3. Blue Eyed Devil says:

    “Citizens’ media” What a beautifully succinct expression. I love this blog thing how ever it is described. I’m not waiting for the approval of the High Priests of the big J schools and big media. The internet and it’s Blog offspring’s are “The Vernaculator”. Most of us who follow blogs and are news junkies are capable of collating lots of information from many sources and sorting out the bull shit. Many of those behind the media altar screen would like to maintain the mystery. They’re nervous like the priests of old that once we get hold of the raw material we’ll realize that they’re just humans not gods. Big journalism has no monopoly on the truth. Note the publication in major rags every few years of the story of the bogus Norwegian tax official who dies at his desk and is not discovered for a week.

  4. Crank says:

    Blogads and the like may be a part of this mix. Costs of blogging vary, depending on whether you buy a domain name, pay a host service, whether blogging causes you to upgrade your internet access, etc. But most bloggers will be profitable enough to justify their time (since it’s in part a labor of love) if they pull in just $100-300 per year. And it’s not terribly hard to do that, once you have built an audience.

  5. Steven Ibanez says:

    Jeff, the free flow of ideas shouldn’t be slowed by technology and I think you are dead on in this. . . . I hope one day the rest of the media folks get it too.

  6. Katherine says:

    I just started my blog on the last day of December, and I just received two offers: one to write magazine articles and one to write part of a book… so their is a symbiosis between traditional media and weblogs. (And my blog, Low Carb Freedom, covers a lot of opinion, news, and not just recipes, etc.)
    And I do go back to CompuServe forums that he mentions in his speech! I ran ZiffNet and ZDNet on CompuServe so I didn’t have to pay the $22.80 an hour for the connection! (How the barrier to entry has fallen so everyone can join in!)

  7. Chuck Olsen says:

    Just got around to reading this. Great stuff Jeff! Your idea for structuring news is really intriguing. Going to try it out anytime soon?
    I few years ago I was pitching the idea of harnessing the DV revolution for a tv show. Democratic, amateur media (people with video cameras) woven together into a thenme-oriented show. Then I discovered blogs and I’ve gotten away from the video idea, but I think they could be combined… many interesting experiments awaiting the cross-pollinization of blogs and old media.

  8. chris willis says:

    a few years back (2001) we wrote about a way to structure news stories with a similar philosophy. it is called “Amazoning the News.”
    we presented at the American Society of Newspaper Editors. the idea was soon published in The American Editor magazine.
    at the time blogs were just starting to take off and RSS had yet to find much of a use beyond headline feeds for portals.
    the point of the “Amazoning” talk was to spur editors out of a traditional mindset and start them thinking network before they fell too far behind the curve. however, with the exception of one editor from poland (god bless him), we didn’t get any response from the “old media types.”
    i mention this because my experience (including stints at The Detroit News and Dallas Morning News) gives me little hope that old media will be able to embrace or encourage new forms of journalism any time soon – at least beyond delighting in it’s novelty.
    to jeff’s point it might be smart to be cautious while being visionary – but how far can that really get you? the potential for change is too great to be considered incremental. and there is the corporate culture for control, which will only grow with changes in FCC ownership rules.
    remember: old media wants to own the network. it wants to sanction the message. that is it’s nature.
    but, what does old media do when innovation stops being incremental. what does it do when its audience suddenly finds its voice?

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