Davos07: Media discussion notes

Some notes on the media discussions at Davos:

* I remain concerned about the lack of innovation in the news business. Too much of the discussion was a rehash of what we’ve heard before: blogs v. msm, print v. online, falling news budgets, objectivity, professionalism in journalism. Insert scream sound-effect here. This was the year when big, old media realized there is no going back — in the year of the collapse of Knight Ridder and Tribune, they realize that there but for the grace of a stockholder or two so they go. But too many of them haven’t yet realized that the only path out of this is brave, bold, strategic innovation. They can’t even buy the new kids anymore because the kids are worth more than $1.5 billion. I still heard too much argument and depression when what we should be seeing is cooperation and optimism. If I had any message at Davos, that was it.

* There was a lot of talk about passion (no, not that kind). Arianna Huffington said that what separates bloggers is their passionate determination to dog a story; this is why she called Nick Kristof at The Times very bloggish because he has not let up on Darfur. She said that bloggers have obsessive-compulsive disorder while reporters (or more likely, their editors) have attention deficit disorder. Some editors resented this — ‘we have passion, too’ — and some agreed. I think the media determines much of this; for in scarce space on paper, you can’t afford to keep pushing a story few care about while online, you have unlimited space and the definition of ‘too few’ changes.

* I heard a lot of discussion of brands, especially from one magazine editor. The big media people believe that their brands are their power, and perhaps they’re right, but this editor also sees that the definition of their brands must expand to include their writers and their readers (that is, you are defined by who creates and who collects around you). Being a collection of brands vs. one big brands may be the way of the future: those brands rub off on the big guy as much as the big guy’s brand rubs on on the rest (which is how media has worked: you were hot because you worked at the Daily Blatt but soon the Daily Blatt may be hot because you work with it).

* I hear more talk about rewarding those amateurs out there who contribute news. Bild, the giant German tabloid, pays its “reader-reporters” (not a bad term, the more I think about it) and YouTube is getting ready to share revenue with its producers. I had a long talk with an entrepreneur about new distributed ad models to support the new media of the people.

* That damned objectivity fight came up a few times. I’m too tired of it to even bother recounting more of it. But I will quote one European editor who said that journalists should not consider what they want the world to be but instead to merely explain the world. That strikes me as another way to say “objective,” and I find it disingenuous, for reporters and editors crusade precisely because they do want to change the world and that is the basis for much of their editorial decision-making; now they simply need to admit it.

* We keep thinking of news as a product. John Battelle quoted someone (sorry, can’t remember who) saying that news people have the same problem Microsoft has had as it switches from a shrink-wrapped to a service business. Journalism is and always has been a service, only we made the mistake of defining it by its packaging.

* I also argue that journalism in the future isn’t a product but the product of a network: an ongoing, distributed service many contribute to. See a later post about Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s view of the elegant architecture of distributed information services.

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