Guardian column: Past the article

My Guardian column this week reprises discussion on the blog about moving past the article as the fundamental unit of journalism.

  • I’m going to channel David Weinberger here and say that “the topic” is not a cut and dry thing. I would say that rather than having sections on particular topics, one would be better off making use of tags.

    After all, anything tagged “Credit Crunch 2008” might also deal with “The History of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac” or general categories like “economics” and “financial markets”.

    I think there just isn’t going to be an atomistic unit of journalism any more. There will just be content, in many different packages. Those could be blog posts (which in turn could have video or images embedded in them), twitter-like microblogging, wikis, or any number of things. The joy of the web is precisely that there need not be one standard package it all comes in; everything is reduced to the level of content.

  • tdc

    “credit crunch” would be a good name for a candy bar this halloween- one bite and there goes 50% of your gold fillings.

  • What Jeff describes sounds like a well designed home page or blog available for each topic. And Adam is right the topic could be something general or based on an ongoing event. Location is important too.

    And of course there is no one size fits all template. Some topics will be more visual while others are full of information.

    But why this page really sounds better than any automated aggregation of links and information is that it has a voice or a personality. You can ask questions and maybe even help guide the conversation.

    It does sound like the ultimate resource to use.

  • This sounds to me quite similar to how its creators refer to Twine ( which has just gone public. The theme or twine is the link to the organisers (bloggers, posters, wiki editors etc) who then post and categorise information to the twine, and invite others to join the conversation.

    I’m not on their payroll, by the way ;-) and it lacks something for me right now that stops me going back all the time. But it’s certainly tapping into the same sense of post-article journalism that you’re talking about, Jeff.


  • Fraser: My feeling is that rather than an automated aggregator, individuals can create their own packages–using Feed Readers, Social Bookmarking, Collaboration centers (such as a Wiki page or a group on Facebook), and even their own blogs.

    Journalists or content creators of any sort will just be able to focus on producing content; and consumers will put them into their own personalized bundles.

  • What do we call it?
    The new concept is based on the old concept. Diffusion of innovation. I’d call the new system WOW for Word of Web as an expansion on what we know works which is Word of Mouth.

  • For an interesting case study in going beyond “the story”, consider the Bureau of National Affairs ( that grew out of the old “United States News” (now US News and World Reports.)
    BNA* publishes a variety of hyper-focused daily newspapers including “Daily Labor Report,” “Daily Tax Report,” etc. Each of the dailies is backed up by weekly, monthly and yearly summaries, books, CD-ROMS, databases, conferences, webcasts, etc. Subscriptions cost, of course, thousands of dollars per year. To the folk at BNA, a story is just one of many ways to monetize the news.

    Another interesting case study can be found in TechCrunch ( TC has a blog-like interface that provides a constant stream of new “stories” but backs it up with detailed historical data on all companies covered, databases (CrunchBase), podcasts, conferences, job boards, etc. For TC, the story is just the beginning of the information monetization process.

    At the recent CUNY Newspaper Business Models summit, folk from said that given the concentration of pharmaceutical companies in New Jersey, they felt it appropriate to have a full time person cover the industry. My question was: “Why don’t you have 10 or 15 reporters on this beat?” Clearly, the newspaper (as a paper product) doesn’t have room for the output of so many reporters, however, if they view themselves as journalists and not newspaper people, they would see that there *IS* a market, a potentially very profitable one, that can pay for the work of 15 reporters providing in-depth coverage of the pharma industry. But, to do this, they need to see themselves as journalists — not newspaper people.

    What BNA and TechCrunch provide is “hyper-focused” journalism — the non-geographic variant of “hyper-local” journalism. By concentrating on a small community of interest, they are able to address the needs of that community of interest with a variety of layered products — some free and advertising supports while others are very expensive. We would be better served if newspapers were to see themselves as the umbrella organizations that host a variety of such hyper-focused journalism bureaus. (Why TechCrunch wasn’t built by technology desk of the San Jose Mercury is a mystery to me…) Almost every major paper can find one or more local industries or other communities of interest for which they should be able to build a full multi-level information services organization.

    Rather than firing journalists to cut costs, what we should be doing is funding them to build multi-level hyper-focused information businesses that go far beyond the mere “story” and view themselves as seeking to be the primary source of news and information for their particular communities of interest.

    bob wyman

    *Disclosure: While in college, I worked at BNA as a proofreader…

  • Newspapers do assembly work. Create endless “Hawthorne Effects”. Change everything except the structure of the basic system.

    “At one time, Cicero, IL, was famous for two things that had absolutely nothing in common: Al Capone and Western Electric. The blue-collar town on the West Side of Chicago served as headquarters for the notorious gangster. But, Cicero also was home to a sprawling manufacturing complex called the Hawthorne Works, which produced some of the most technically advanced products in the world.”

    It’s like meeting somebody. It’s different in person than it is digital. The newspaper is one of the most technically advanced products in the world. People view it as low tech for some reason. I think it will go to a subscription only model and with newsprint going up 20-30% the price will go up a bit.

    “Dear valued customer, we will increase the price of our … newsprint by $60 dollars per metric ton in the fourth quarter.” Between the rising costs and lower revenues it’s a tough business. Then there is the stock prices falling like a rock. It’s almost mission impossible. It’s getting difficult to keep the presses rolling. It’s only going to get more difficult.

  • Interesting press story from over my way.
    When a Chinese-made cookie press breaks down on the countertop assembly line, a trusty old product from Pennsylvania comes to the rescue and saves a Christmas tradition..


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  • has been discussing this for quite some time. You should check it out.

  • Jeff — I’m not going to disagree with you that this is one possible development for the journalistic form, or that this would (possibly) a “positive” development. But I wonder … wouldn’t a change like this require a major transformation, not only in journalistic culture but in human information consumption habits in general? I by major, I mean MAJOR– going far beyond citizen journalism, networked journalism, changing advertising revenues, collapsing business models. I mean, this would be fundamental. At the DNA level, perhaps.

  • Chris,
    Yes. I’m not trying to reinvent it so much as I’m trying to intuit how people are getting and will get news moving forward. I think it’s already happening. We go to blogs and to Wikipedia and to discussions and seek links. The next step is actively bringing this together.

  • It is an interesting example but how do we continue to compare new to old when many can not think for themselves out side the box and it is easier for the world to be square the stars to be Gods and web 2.0 is a scarry fraction of their new world.


  • SteveSgt

    Biases up front: I am an aficionado of the radio, television, and film documentary forms. The more “produced” and inventive, the more character- and plot-intensive the story is, the better. I have no more use for short-attention-span “twitter reporting” than I have for the local “news and traffic every 10 minutes” AM radio station. (It only comes in handy on rare occasion.)

    Chiming in on Chris Anderson’s question: I believe we’re a species of story tellers. Story telling was how knowledge was passed on for most of the existence of our species. A single good story teller is still far more engaging, and memorable, than any virtual room full of people each putting in their two bits.

    I can’t imagine Joe Six-Pack (is that a code-word for John Goodman with week-old stubble and a hard-hat?) will be interested in chasing a hundred distracting links to disjointed blog posts when all he wants is the big picture of what’s “really going on”. Rather, he’ll be mesmerized by the best story teller (even if that person is just telling him a fictional story).

    I’m still convinced that, no matter what the technology facilitates, complex issues, in-depth histories, and vivid explanations require coherent story telling. A hundred one-paragraph blog posts commenting hurriedly and linking to an endless chain of peripherally-related prose or video will never add up to an engaging story without a story teller.

    Now if you’re targeting an academic researcher, the prospect of a hundred disjointed links or footnotes is probably going to get the all moist. That’s a fine format for them.

  • FC

    Love it or hate it, the problem is inequality.

    “Inequality on the Web
    There are about 1.1 billion Internet users, yet only 55 million users (5%) have weblogs according to Technorati. Worse, there are only 1.6 million postings per day; because some people post multiple times per day, only 0.1% of users post daily.

    Blogs have even worse participation inequality than is evident in the 90-9-1 rule that characterizes most online communities. With blogs, the rule is more like 95-5-0.1.

    Inequalities are also found on Wikipedia, where more than 99% of users are lurkers. According to Wikipedia’s “about” page, it has only 68,000 active contributors, which is 0.2% of the 32 million unique visitors it has in the U.S. alone.

    Wikipedia’s most active 1,000 people — 0.003% of its users — contribute about two-thirds of the site’s edits. Wikipedia is thus even more skewed than blogs, with a 99.8-0.2-0.003 rule.

    Participation inequality exists in many places on the Web. A quick glance at, for example, showed that the site had sold thousands of copies of a book that had only 12 reviews, meaning that less than 1% of customers contribute reviews.”

    “How to Overcome Participation Inequality
    You can’t.”

    You can’t because of the 90-10 Rule. Then there’s the unpredictability of innovation which defeats excessive planning. The big guys fail. The little guys fail too, but they move on to the next thing faster. They create the revolution. Successful hospitals specialize,specialize, specialize. Inequality works well because we specialize.

    “But whenever possible, please bring me a brilliant specialist.”

    I’m a chaos specialist. More chaos is ahead, so I plan to keep busy.

  • FC

    Note: Seth is offering a free ebook.
    “Feel free to share it or post it or print it, but please don’t sell it.”
    I’m going to grab a copy and read it. Have fun!

  • FC

    The Dead—Give It Away (and the Getting Never Ends)
    “Through the Dead, those tape traders built one of the first “free content” networks ever, mushrooming a fan base that made the
    Dead year-after-year the highest-grossing touring band in the US.”

    Question. Why are we spending all this money for music? All newspaper websites should have free music content. You mushroom the news fan base.

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