David, meet Goliath

After joining in the tweetfire over the NYTimes’ slam on bloggers and bloggers’ slam back, Guardian colleague and friend Charles Arthur took the amazing move – have to try this sometime – of sitting back and reconsidering. And he saw what I was trying, without complete success, to express: the class of cultures, expectations, assumptions, and practices in online news:

OK: now see the publishers of Gizmodo, Engadget, Gawker, TechCrunch et al as the Davids, fighting the Goliaths of the New York Times and, of course, the Guardian and all the other papers. Should they fight on the same terms? If they want to get beaten, sure. They’ll never be able to find the experienced journalists, the experienced sales people, the special something that the papers have been able to build up over decades. The papers have the news process down pat. They can get those stories into paper-sized parcels and out to people so effectively there’s no room left.

So the blogs have to create their own battlefield, their own rules, and fight there.. . .

Such as what? Such as doing stuff that the papers won’t. Post rumours, and declare them as such; copy and rewrite like mad, so that how fast you can get the post up is more important than whether you checked it; let the readers in effect write the news; publish galleries of Photoshopped “is this the next iPhone?” galleries.

All the while, the Goliaths of the news industry stand by, shaking their heads. Hell, they’re doing it wrong! That’s not how you put stuff into a news parcel! It’s like this… hey, doesn’t anyone want it? Funny, the orders have dried up. And the Davids count the money they’re getting from adverts supplied against millions of page views. (They don’t have as many journalists as in a traditional news room, you say? Yeah. Life’s like that sometimes.)

There is one note of relief: unlike war, it’s not absolute. There’s plenty of room for everyone to thrive in this: the Davids and the Goliaths can live alongside each other. But the latter have to adapt so that they can get it right, and trade on the things that have got them where they are – which in effect means their brand reputation – and capitalise on it. Else those Boston Globe cuts aren’t going to be the last.

Right. They have things to learn from each other if they can stop sniping long enough to notice how few of them are left standing on the battlefield. But their culture expectations get in the way. To continue Charles’ war metaphor: It’s the Redcoats vs. the rebels; the GIs vs the Vietcong. When the new guy breaks the rules, protesting that they’re doing it wrong does no good. Learn. That’s what I was trying to say.

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I liked Charles post so much, I left what I think is my best comment ever. Others didn’t agree. It was:

This is why http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1155056/

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Charles made one more somewhat related point in his post: Where are the publishing side people on Twitter and blogs and all that? What are they learning from the Davids/rebels/Vietcong?:

  • The other comparison that did occur to me, but I thought the post was getting too long, was peoples’ attitude to hip-hop/rap. “Call that music? You’re just using other peoples’ music and doing that whip-whipp sound with the record deck! You haven’t created anything yourself, you’re just talking over the top!”

    Though in retrospect it’s probably apposite.

    I thought it was a clever comment. Very interweb.

    • Aw, you’re just saying that.

      (Yes, the hiphop sampling thing would have brought out the copyright arguments. You don’t want that.)

  • Tim
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  • Mike Manitoba

    An honest question:

    Should we be concerned about a potential weakness of “process journalism” — that it can sometimes be mistakenly (or destructively) used to excuse lazy or perhaps even nonexistent investigation, that as long as you get it right eventually it doesn’t matter how poor your original report was?

    Or am I worried about nothing? I really hope it’s the latter, so I can save my antacid money for a Disney World vacation.

    • Andy Freeman

      Be concerned about whatever you’d like.

      However, the alternative to process journalism isn’t perfection, but “get it right” journalism, which is a disaster. Process journalism can be pretty bad and still be significantly better.

    • Absolutely. That’s why the connections among people and identity and reputation matter and that’s why there are opportunities in curation and education.

  • Deez

    If you want to battle Goliath (NY TImes) their way? Put on glasses that only let you see one side of the political spectrum, write stories, even if fake or unsubstantiated, and watch your readers and viewers flee.

    The blogs most definitely should not fight the Goliath’s their way. They’ll run themselves out of business.

    • Mike Manitoba

      Hi, Deez! Do you and Andy Freeman take turns feeding your bloated canards?

  • Laid Off Too

    Thanks for refering me to the New Yotker article Jeff. It was very insightful. Keep up the thought provoking posts!

    • Laid Off Too

      Sorry should’ve been New Yorker article inside Charles’ excellent article. I guess I’d be a real hypocrite if I complained about media accuracy!

  • I could watch Schdilenr’s List and still be happy after reading this.