Posts about newarchitecture

WWGD with newspapers?

I LOVE this post by Amber Smith adapting the precepts of What Would Google Do? to newspapers.

As long as our industry evolves from newsPAPER to news ORGANIZATION, we’ll survive. And when you think about it, that should be easier for us to do than, say, turn “Dunkin’ Donuts” into a place for great coffee. If Jon Luther can position DD for the future, surely a bunch of passionate journalists can save our profession.

(Well, see the post below about coffee.)

Smith then proceeds to riff on the old and new ways of thinking in news organizations. A few snippets:

Old way of thinking: The newspaper was a product.
New way: News organizations provide a service.

Old way of thinking: Readers became known as “the audience” in the early days of the Internet, describing a one-way relationship wherein readers sat still to observe a performance.
New way: Readers/users are participatory.

Old way of thinking: Newspapers attempted to be all things to all people, serving a mass geographic audience.
New way: News organizations strive to serve a mass of niche communities that already exist, (some geographic, but most based on interests.)

Old way of thinking: Newspapers marketed themselves to a population.
New way: News organizations converse, engage and collaborate with the communities they serve; the population markets the news organization among itself.

Old way of thinking: Newspapers operated in a climate of “scarcity;” news space became tighter when ad sales diminished or the price of newsprint increased.
New way- News organizations have an abundance of space on line. . . .

Old way of thinking: Newspapers that embarked on the Web sought a place to distribute their content.
New way: News organizations see the internet as a 3-D space of reciprocal links. “Every link and every click is a connection, and with every connection, a network is born or grows stronger.” (p. 28) . . .

Old way of thinking: Editors were in charge, choosing which stories to provide to the readers/audience, based on what the editors thought the readers/audience wanted and needed to know.
New way: Readers are in charge. They read what they want, when they want.

Old way of thinking: Newspapers served each reader the same plate of information.
New way: Readers fill their plates with the things they like.

Old way of thinking: Editors decided which beats would be covered.|
New way: “Beats” are based on niche communities that already exist. . . .

Old way of thinking: Newspapers were hesitant to even mention competitors in the newspaper.
New way: News organizations do what they do best and link to the rest, as Jarvis says, and yes, that means even if the link leads to the competition.

Old way of thinking: Soon after the “nut graph” newspaper stories contained a paragraph(s) of background information.
New way: Articles on Web sites link to anything that’s relevant – background information, transcripts that back up interviews, photographs. “On line, content without links is the tree that falls in the forest that nobody hears.” (p. 124)

I could keep quoting and quoting but instead, I’ll urge you to go read her list in full and add your own.

Smith does this in a guest post in Gina Chen’s blog and Gina herself, a few days earlier, also adapted WWGD? to papers with advice on adding value and listening to readers.

We’re fighting for our lives here as an industry. We can’t afford to do anything that doesn’t add value, and figuring out what adds value must be tied to the reader. . .

We forget that we’re a service industry: We’re in the business of helping readers make sense of their world, not of selling them news. And like any business, if we aren’t responsive to our customers, we’ll die.

Another great post.

Somewhat related: See Jackie Hai on applying the precepts of the link economy to journalism schools.

Google: Drop the AP first

Forbes quotes AP head Tom Curley sabre-rattling in negotiations with Google: “Curley warned that if Google doesn’t strike the right deal with the AP soon, ‘They will not get our copy going forward.'” This is more than mere negotiation. The AP has been making noise about trying to force Google to favor it and its members in the search engine’s algorithms.

Forbes explains:

The AP, a 163-year-old cooperative owned by news organizations, won’t discuss its talks with Google, but plans to create landing pages and Web-based “news maps” directing users to original AP stories (and away from secondary sources who post material “borrowed” from the AP). To do this, the AP needs Google’s help. Most likely that means Google creating search protocols similar to those created from the licensing deal the AP inked with Google in 2006.

Since that deal was struck, Google has paid the AP undisclosed fees to carry AP content on the Google News section of the site. Search rankings on Google News give priority to recognizable news brands like the AP. But Google applies no such algorithmic discretion to general searches. The broader search rankings spread AP content out across the Web, says Curley, encouraging misappropriation by other sites. Curley wants Google to “protect content from unauthorized use and pay us for the longtail.” By “longtail,” Curley refers to the thousands of small sites that collectively drive vast herds of traffic using AP content.

THe AP is trying to play victim here, saying that Google is pointing to sites that steal its content. Name two. When I search for news, I can’t remember being taken to a thief. I’m often taken to the AP, which rewrites news and cuts the links to original journalism and thus cuts off the value of links. But not reputed thieves.

Now, apparently, the AP wants to start to rectify its role in the link economy by creating these news maps. OK, I’ll agree that there must be more linking directly to journalism at its source. But I don’t know why Google needs the AP to do that. It could improve its algorithms not to favor certain brands but to favor original reporting wherever it occurs, at the AP, at newspapers, or at blogs.

So it’s in the sense that I’ll suggest Google should cancel the AP contract first – not as retribution but as a service to journalism. Now GoogleNews runs full AP stories it licenses from the wire service, taking traffic away from AP members’ sites and pointing to rewrites of reporting rather than original reporting. If what we want is an ethic of linking to original journalism, then Google should consider no longer presenting full AP stories and, for that matter, linking to AP rewrites. That would serve original reporting. But we have to wonder whether serving journalism or the AP is the AP’s real strategy in these negotiations.

Danny Sullivan links us to an explanation of the AP’s tactics at AllThingsD earlier this month:

This has been construed in some quarters as a plan to create a search engine or news portal. But it’s really just an attempt to upgrade the AP’s search engine optimization strategy — that is, trying to get its stuff to show up higher on Google’s (GOOG) search results. It will do that via “search pages,” or “topic pages,” which are par for the course in the Web world….

If the search page plan works, the pages will be generating plenty of page views when people land on them, and it’s possible that the AP will sell ads on that inventory, Kennedy says. But their real function is to shuttle searchers to the original source material from the AP’s members.

So Google could cut out the middleman – the AP – and just link to the original journalism itself. But being bullied into linking to the AP and its members is not the way to go.

Sullivan explains:

Google’s web search quality team — which has nothing to do with Google’s business folks — generally does not take well to people suggesting they’re somehow going to own the search results. AP content probably will start ranking well for some things, but if it started showing up Wikipedia-style for everything, people outside the AP would start complaining about favoritism.

That’s what makes the Forbes piece so puzzling. AP chief executive Tom Curley (who the AP told me was “unavailable” to talk; nor after nearly two hours, does anyone else seem available) sounds naive enough to believe he can force Google into a deal that would give AP preferential treatment in regular search results….

Google News doesn’t give “recognizable news brands” a boost. I’ve never seen them say this, nor have I seen it actually happen in real life. Google News includes large and small news sites and lists a diverse collection of stories. I know lesser-known news sites do well because I run one of those. At times, I can have a headline story that beats the AP or other mainstream outlets in Google News….

Certainly if Google starts ranking brands better than other content, they’ll have issues. Brands do not equal trust. Enron had a brand; AIG has a brand — being a brand doesn’t mean that you are more trustworthy or deserve an automatic ranking boost. From my perspective, Google’s algorithm has continued to change over the past few years to reward trusted sites. Many brands have sites that Google has decided are trustworthy, but some don’t.

Curley is foolish if he thinks he’ll browbeat Google into somehow changing its algorithm in web search to reward AP as part of this deal. Google’s search quality engineers wouldn’t stand for that, any more than a journalist would stand for a newspaper CEO marching into a newsroom and demanding that certain advertisers get favorable stories written about them.

There’s the irony: Journalists would never stand for what the AP is allegedly trying to do on behalf of journalism. If an editor walked into a newsroom and told reporters: ‘I want you all to quote only big-company and government officials from this approved list and stop quoting little people,’ there’d be a proper revolt. Google’s engineers will protect the authority of their algorithm just as self-respecting journalists would protect their own independence and reputation.

So, Google: Resist the bullying and blackmail. Drop the AP. Perfect ways to link to and thus support journalism at its source. That is the better service to the public and news.

(Full disclosure: I’m a partner at another aggregator, Daylife. As I’ve blogged before, I’ve discussed both there and at GoogleNews the need to link to and thus support journalism at its source, wherever it occurs.)

: LATER: In the comments, Paul Colford of the AP corrects me:

AP sells only a selection of its staff-generated international and national news stories to Google and other commercial customers. A very small slice of this — less than 2 percent of the mix — comes from member newspapers, typically scoops that are credited to the papers.

Stories from member newspapers make up a much larger piece of AP’s state wires — but the state wires are not available to Google and others outside the AP membership.

I stand corrected. But then I would also say that the AP now has an unfair advantage over its members by selling its content to Google to distribute in full. Google does this only for wire services, not for anyone else. And I don’t want it to do this for others, because someone will get left out of the mix. So I still think Google should link instead, and link directly to original journalism.

GeoCities = MySpace = newspapers

It’s fate that GeoCities dies at the same moment that MySpace reshuffles and reboots its management in the face of no growth (which, on the internet, is the same as shrinkage). What they have in common, of course, is that they are platforms for creating content.

But content is not king. What is? Well, the junta in charge of growth online is Google, which is about search; Facebook, which is about social; and now Twitter, which is about live and social.

There’s a lesson here for newspapers because they’re about content. And they’re not as open as GeoCities and MySpace, which are (or were) at least platforms for others to create content. Newspapers create and control their own content and then allow others to comment on it (but enough about you….). Every effort newspapers have made to bring their content online and to update it with new ways to make it – audio, video, Flash, or the next flavor – still leave them in the exact same spot. That’s why they seem to be spinning their wheels. They still define themselves as content.

Newspapers must define their value differently – not as paper, for God’s sake, and not even as content but as a platform. But a platform for what? Content? No, there go GeoCities and MySpace. I think they should follow the advice of Mark Zuckerberg, member of the ruling junta, that their job is to bring communities elegant organization. In a sense, they always have done that; they helped communities organize their knowledge so they could organize themselves; that’s the essence of an informed democracy.

But now there are so many more ways to organize ourselves and we naturally use those tools to do it. As Clay Shirky teaches us, we don’t need organizations to organize. We need tools and maybe support. That’s what Google, Facebook, and Twitter provide. Should newspapers create such tools? No. They’re not good at it. But they should use the tools that exist to help communities organize themselves. They need to figure out how they add value to that.

Or else the will go the way of GeoCities and MySpace.

Journalists: Where do you add value?

Every day, with everything they do, the key question for journalists and news organizations in these tight – that is, more efficient – times must be: Are you adding value? And if you’re not, why are you doing whatever you’re doing?

Sitting in a hotel room, cruising by CNN the other day, I caught a behind-the-scenes segment that wanted to show us just how cool it is to be a reporter dashing from story to story. It did the opposite for me. I was disturbed at the waste.

The correspondent – I won’t pick on him; it was just his turn to play show monkey – stood in front of the new Mets’ stadium to tell us that there’s controversy about naming it after a sponsor. It was just a stand-up. There was no evidence of reporting as he was standing alone in a parking lot. The knowledge was a commodity. Anybody could have read it. But they wanted to scene and invested a correspondent and crew to get it. Then he dashed to the UN because there was a vote happening. But he didn’t run to report. He ran to the bureau to do another stand-up with another background. Again, what happened in the vote was commodity knowledge. Anybody could have read it.

So there is a reporter not reporting. But, of course, that is hardly unique to CNN. How much of the dwindling, precious journalism resource we have – on national and local TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines – goes to original reporting, to real journalism? How much goes to repetition and production?

Journalism can’t afford repetition and production anymore.

Every minute of a journalist’s time will need to go to adding unique value to the news ecosystem: reporting, curating, organizing. This efficiency is necessitated by the reduction of resources. But it is also a product of the link and search economy: The only way to stand out is to add unique value and quality. My advice in the past has been: If you can’t imagine why someone would link to what you’re doing, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. And: Do what you do best and link to the rest. The link economy is ruthless in judging value.

The question every journalist must ask is: Am I adding value?

Look at a service such as PaidContent. They have a small (though growing) staff and they choose carefully what they do, whether it’s worth it to send someone to a conference, whether they can add reporting to a story that’s already known, how they can curate links to the best of coverage that already exists. They fire their bullets carefully, economically, to contribute maximum unique value. PaidContent doesn’t – and can’t afford to – record stand-ups or rewrite others’ reporting for the sake of rewriting it or waste money on production and design niceties.

That’s the way that journalism will have to be executed in the future: efficiently.

I’ve been wanting to get funding to perform an audit of the journalistic output and value of the entire legacy structure of news in a market. It’s not that the current state of news should be the model for the future but it is where the discussion begins: ‘How do we make sure we’ll maintain this level of reporting?’

Once journalism becomes efficient, I think it can do much better than maintain what we have now. When we cut out all the incredible waste – those standups and rewrites and frills and blather – and when we have an ecosystem that rewards unique value, as the internet does, then I think we could end up with more journalism, more reporting.

Bloggers have had to learn that, too. Just linking to and commenting on others’ reporting won’t get you much attention. Every blogger who does original reporting and tells the world something it doesn’t know but wants to know learns that this is how to get links and audience. Arianna Huffington told Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger in London months ago that she was hiring reporters because their stories get more traffic; it’s enlightened economic self-interest. This is a lesson we teach our journalism students at CUNY, when we have them add reporting to the conversations that are going on online.

Whether you’re a blogger or a new form of news organization, you’re going to have to ask with every move whether it will add value to the news ecosystem. If it doesn’t, you shouldn’t do it.

In the link economy, the value given to original reporting will rise. The ability to waste money on old practices of egotistical journalism will plummet. And what is left standing, I think, is more efficient and valuable reporting.

Death of the curator. Long live the curator.

For a long time now, I’ve been pushing hard the idea of journalist-as-curator. It appears that curators are looking at journalists and worrying about their loss of control, as evidenced by this post about the death of the curator, inspired by journalists – the Guardian – and curators – the Saatchi Gallery – enabling the great unwashed to help curate a show:

Museum curators and print journalists have a lot in common, in that it is their skills that turn an amount of information into something worth giving a damn about. There are plenty of other places to find out about the DefCon of journalism, especially the ever increasing problem of how to get paid. At this current moment in time, the museum curator is “safe”, got nothing to worry about. “It will all blow over”. The fact that there is a gallery in London who are going to offer thousands of people, many without art history degrees, the ability to choose what goes on the wall. The first step new media did to try to kill old media was to make the skills unimportant under the banner of “democratising”. “Everybody can get involved!” also means “It doesn’t matter what you know!”. Suddenly, your art history or archaeology degree isn’t looking so important, your museum post-grad may not be enough and your years of experience don’t mean much in the world of facemuseumtube when your job can be done by a thousand unpaid contributors. Curators may be safe now, but they would do well to look over their shoulders to their destitute journalist buddies.

Every priesthood, it seems, is having a fit over loss of its centralized control: How dare people pick what they like without history degrees or share what they know without journalism degrees! The nerve!

Except the irony in this comparison is that journalists need to learn better curatorial skills. Yes, in a sense, they’ve always curated information, collecting it, selecting it, giving it context in their stories. But now they have to do that across a much vaster universe: the internet. I hear all the time about the supposed problem of too much information online. Wherever you see a problem, I advise, seek the opportunity in it. There is a need to curate the best of that information (and even the people who gather it). We have many automated means to aggregate news (including Daylife, where I’m a partner). Curation is a step above that, human selection. It’s a way to add value.

I think that curators have things to teach journalists and that’s why I’m planning a symposium on curation at CUNY, bringing together museum curators, event curators, possibly even sommeliers to share their views of the value they add to collections of things, people, information – or wine. Note that one of the suggestions I make in What Would Google Do? is to capture the data of dining room – which wines went well with which dishes, according to diners – to crowdsource the job of the sommelier. Yes, every priesthood is vulnerable to the crowd.

[via Das Kulturemanagement blog]