Posts about newnews

Pro-am news

Georgina Henry, editor of Comment is Free, asked commenters for help with a panel on rising amateurism and one said this:

We ‘Ams’ are on here for intelligent discourse,to be informed, and a good argument. Pure intellectualism. The ‘Pros’ are here, on the other hand, to promote some agenda or other, or for filthy lucre, or personal gripes with colleagues. That isn’t intellectualism, it’s dubious.

Here there is a mixture of both. That is pretty radical, look at the plaudits such a brave move has garnered. A pro-am newspaper must be more intellectual and less dubious than a crusty old professional one surely?

I like that: the pro-am newspaper. That’s what they all should be.

The next commenter responded:

The comments here in many ways form your answer to the difference between amateurs and professionals. Amateurs often have more heart, but professionals have more head (no jokes). True artistry combines both- professionals get stale or bored, or rest on their laurels, but their knowledge and skill is not easily replaced; amateurs may have edge and hunger, but often little judgement and experience. Some professions (e.g. journalism, politics) are much the better for a steady injection of amateurs’ passion (hence the success of cif), but if you lose a critical mass of people with experience and judgement things will fall apart pretty quickly.

It’s the job of amateurs to think they’d do the job much better than the professionals, and occasionally it’s true- but only occasionally. It’s the job of professionals not to believe them for a minute, but to protect the craft (i.e. the professionalism) of the guild.

To which one commenter notes:

I just wonder how many amateurs here, if the Guardian said “We’d like to pay you for your words of wisdomw,” would say no.

That kind of blurs the lines.

And another replies:

Let’s start a poll here. I’d say no.

: LATER: Tim Worstall adds:

My own take on it is that the difference is quite simply those who get paid to pontificate and those who don’t. Yes, glaringly obvious, but that leads to a further point, that those who are getting paid aren’t necessarily the experts on the specific subject under discussion.

It’s pretty much a truism (well, it is if I’m allowed to mention Hayek here) that the 60 odd million people of the UK know more on any and every specific subject than the 500 or so who work for The Guardian. That within those 60 million there are experts on each and every subject who have more and deeper knowledge than the staff reporters.

It used to be that the job of a reporter was to go and find those people, extract a view or a quote and then write it up. What all this participatory media allows is that those experts can write it up directly themselves: no longer is there a need for a 100 million investment in a set of printing presses.

This doesn’t, I think, mean the death of the editorial team. Prose can still be polished, facts checked perhaps, choices made about what is important to present and so on. But in the longer term I think that the “winners” (in the sense of the brands like The Guardian, NY Times and so on) will be those who realise that the value of the brand lies in those editorial functions, not so much in the actual production of the material. Whoever works out how to tap into that expertise out there in the general population and use it (as freelancers perhaps) is going to beat those who try to produce everything in house.

Just saw this, too:

* Georgina Henry: In the event you return to read this, I wonder if I might make a suggestion: There are a number of exceedingly articulate and well-informed contributors to CIF. Why not elevate them from the fray, blurring the am/pro divisision further, and let them have their own columns. The initial selections could be made by professional columnists and then the top bloggers could compete in an online “hack idol” and get voted into a full-time position at the Guardian by other bloggers….

The vision from Europe

Continuing a string of visionary statements from European media bosses (see the Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger here, Reuters’ Tom Glocer here and here, the BBC’s Mark Thompson here, and Burda’s Hubert Burda here), now add this interview with Gruner + Jahr boss Bernd Kundrun. It’s in German in the Frankfurter Allegemeine Sonntagszeitung (sadly and ironically not free) and I’ll try to translate and paraphrase the good bits (please do correct me):

The journalistic skill in the future wil be the moderation of ‘user-generated content,’ exactly like earlier information and data bases in the internet….

Note that he didn’t say that they’d be a gatekeeper. They’d moderate. I think that’s nearly right: Journalists point you to the good stuff as part of their job (along with reporting).

I believe that journalism must find a new definition. But we are standing just at the beginning. I can’t conclusively describe the job description of journalists today…

Imagine his own journalists reading that. And compare that with American editors still trying to circle their wagons around thier newsrooms.

The journalist stays on the ball, he observes… He will be an approachable partner for the reader, he carries a responsibility to perhaps moderate the discussion that follows. It’s in this context that the merger of the online and print newsrooms is occurring…. That is still a frightening vision for many colleagues. We at Gruner + Jahr are trying to get our journalists excited about this, that this opportunity is a challenge.

He talks about the relationship of blogs and big media and says that “the revolutionary attitude of the first bloggers… is understandable but is not a mass phenomenon.” He doesn’t attack blogs, as others do, but he does say that just as magazines have to get readers to give them their trust, so do new online brands — and blogs — need to earn trust. So he says his company has an “expand your brand” program to reach out into all the trends we know, which he says are not really about technology but sociology: blogs, MySpace, Wikipedia, and so on. He says they should not dread them but find possibilities in them.

The interviewer asks whether a big journalism award (a Pulitzer, of sorts, I think) will be awarded to a blogger. “Not yet, but I wouldn’t exclude that in the future.” He says the prize should reward the essence of journalism. By implication, that can include blogs.

All the European media bosses linked above talk the good game but they all have great challenges still to change the cultures of their empires and find new business success. But at least they’re playing.

BBC 2.1

More on the BBC’s bold plans in today’s Media Guardian. Owen Gibson hears BBC head of journalism Mark Byford talk the talk:

The shift in distribution should be accompanied by a shift in tone, he argues. “They [the audience] like its accuracy, its authority, its authenticity. They want it to be a bit more modern, a bit more accessible, a bit more courageous and we’ve got to adapt to that as well.” And that shift in mindset should apply to the way in which complaints are treated too, he says. “In the past, people thought that if they admitted a mistake it would make them less authoritative. In fact, the audience feel it makes you more so,” he says, perhaps alluding to Hutton and bringing to mind his unhappy spell as stand-in director general following the departure of Greg Dyke. “You’ve got to understand that over time that’s got to change. Trust is about reliability but it’s also about responsiveness,” he adds.

Below that on the page, Anthony Lilley says, properly, that if they mean it about going 2.0, they have to stop talking about audiences.

At least once in his speech, the DG referred to changing “audience behaviour”. And therein lies a clue to the fundamental problem. The biggest change in audience behaviour is that for much of the time, the folk out there have stopped being an “audience” at all. They are, increasingly, members of various communities and some of the time they listen and talk to the BBC.

The BBC clearly understands this idea. It’s shot through Thompson’s speech. But acting on it goes further than putting new media on an equal level to radio and TV. This is the BBC’s main problem. Once a broadcaster, always a broadcaster. We don’t need the BBC’s permission to talk among ourselves and we don’t need to do it on the BBC’s (virtual) premises.

f there’s one thing that really differentiates so-called “new media” folk from our brethren in “established” media, it’s our version of the idea of control. Google knows that you don’t need to control everything. You provide, in its case, the best search service and use it as a platform to become a key player online. From the rhetoric, the BBC gets this. It just doesn’t seem to be able to resist going too far.

It appears determined to keep “audiences” within the confines of the BBC. But to do this, it plans to expand its means of delivery into every new area of media, and without questioning whether this is a) desirable or b) what the BBC is for. So we have the BBC developing search software. Is there a market failure in search engines?

See also Emily Bell.


David Shribman, editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, tells his fellow newspapers editors to quit whining.

: Later: John Robinson, the now famously forward-thinking editor in Greensboro, says Shribman expains why he skipped the editors’ convention.

But from my reading of the reports that have come out of the convention, it was more of the same….

But it’s not what I need. About every presentation described in the daily ASNE reports, I already felt I knew.

As an editor who wants journalism to endure, I need to learn about participatory journalism, about breaking out of silos and about passing along authority and control. I need to listen to futurists, to specialists and to readers talk about what I’m missing — in their habits, in their communication, in their lives. I need to hear about teenagers and college students discuss connection — to their friends, to their communities and to their interests — and why newspapers aren’t a part of it.

How about a conversation about exploding the newsroom, realigning beats behind community priorities, and being the community? (Thanks, Tim.) Maybe a session on all the newest technological innovations. I know that hundreds of sites are dedicated to just that, but for a techno-idiot, it’s hard for me to separate the hype from the reality, the 8-track from the cassette. What about the methods of casting off the moorings of traditional commodity content, and how to manage the repercussions?

Perhaps that happened in Seattle, and it didn’t make the daily reports. Perhaps it happened in the hallways and the bars. If so, I’m sorry I missed it.

Because that’s what I need.

What Robinson calls for next is the unconference. Yes, we need a national Norgs meeting, a session whose mission is to reform news. Shall we?

The sun never sets on the Beeb

The BBC just announced big, strategic initiatives to change its very essence as a broadcaster. Rafat Ali has a characteristically brief and informative summary and there’s Media Guardian coverage here, here, with kvetching by rivals here, a story on the new BBC website here, another summary here, and BBC boss Mark Thompson’s speech here.

But Guardian Unlimited Editor Emily Bell writing at Comment is Free puts this in perspective and says the BBC is doing what many of us have been insisting that media companies must do: break free of their media.

Thompson no longer wants to be a broadcaster, he almost certainly doesn’t want to just be British, and he would clearly rather be a dot com than a corporation. As of today that old linear BBC is dead – long live the BBC.

Thompson’s sweeping vision laid out in the Creative Futures presentation takes the Beeb into a web 2.0 world of “user generated content” and “findability”, of community and metadata. This is undoubtedly the right thing to do to keep a large global audience – a commercial organisation in the position of the BBC would do the same thing (if it had, by chance, £2.8 billion of guaranteed income). He wants more big programmes – Planet Earth is apparently the new Blue Planet – and to take on the competition in a global and aggressive fashion. MySpace, Flickr,, watch out.

This is the vision of some kind of future, but it is not the future of a broadcaster; it is not even the future vision of a content creator. It is the future of an entity which just wants to continue to occupy the same percentage of the media horizon – a horizon which has expanded by a zillion per cent…..

Thompson’s speech is filled with gems about respecting the contributions of the public (formery known as the audience), about killing boundaries between media, about the new ubiquity of media. Just a few:

When I look at Creative Future, I see five big themes. We decided to call the first Martini Media, meaning media that’s available when and where you want it with content moving freely between different devices and platforms…. It means we have to adopt a completely new approach to development, commissioning and production by the BBC:
· from now on wherever possible we need to think cross-platform, across TV, radio and web for audiences at home and on the move;
· we need to shift investment and creative focus towards on-all-the-time, 24/7 services;
· on demand is key – and it’s not just a new way of delivering content, it means a rethink of what we commission, make and how we package and distribute it;
· we have one of the best websites in the world but it’s rooted in the first digital wave – we need to re-invent it, fill it with dynamic audio-visual content, personalise it, open it up to user-generated material – work on this is already underway in a project called BBC Web 2.0;
· and we need a new relationship with our audiences – they won’t simply be audiences anymore, but also participants and partners – we need to know them as individuals and communities, let them configure our services in ways that work for them. An early example is a competition launching tomorrow inviting our audience to reinvent our home page….

So what does all this mean for the different areas of output? First we have an incredible opportunity in news and current affairs. BBC News is an offer that transcends any one channel or medium or device. It already reaches more than 240 million people around the world every week and is the world’s most trusted source of news. If we get this right now, it can grow even stronger:
· we want to shift energy and resources to our continuous news services; …

The BBC’s always felt a bit less confident about its mission to educate than it has about the mission to inform. Even the words we use – learning, educative, specialist factual – can feel a little uninspiring. That’s got to change. This second digital revolution is going to enable the public to explore and investigate their world like never before. Programmes won’t be shown once and then forgotten. They’ll be there forever to be linked, clipped, rediscovered, built into bigger ideas; …

[I]f we don’t coordinate our content, make it easy to find and brand it clearly, it may just disappear. Let’s call the fourth theme findability. And here’s what we’re going to do about it.

· within a year we’ll launch a new, more powerful search tool – with both video and audio search – as part of the overhaul of our website; …
· next Ashley Highfield and his team will lead work to achieve one clear and comprehensive metadata solution for all BBC content. Good metadata gives content legitimacy. People know exactly who it’s coming from and the BBC will get the credit back to our brand and no one else’s….
· we’ll use contact with individual users, data bases and recommendation engines to build a far closer and more personal relationship with audiences. …

The final theme may turn out to be one of the most important. It’s the active audience, the audience who doesn’t want to just sit there but to take part, debate, create, communicate, share. This raises any number of editorial questions for us, but I believe – and I know lots of the other members of the Creative Future team believe – that this is going to be big and it’s going to touch pretty much every area of output:
· we want to build on our early experiments in user-generated content in News – we also want to be the best guide to the blogs on the big stories and debates; · it’ll be a key element in our local TV project and in the way we cover and debate sport, especially in the run-up to 2012;
· we’ll try to engage audiences in adding their content and their ideas across the whole range of knowledge-building from natural history to health;
· and we’ll make sure that our plans for search and metadata enable the public to add their comments and recommendations so that they can help each other find the content they want. Tomorrow we launch a prototype of our programme catalogue – some one million programmes from the last 80 years. It will be the first opportunity to see what our audience does with such a source.
· in journalism, we will develop the best interactive web forum in the world for audience engagement with our editors and correspondents, discussing our decisions, dilemmas and reporting with the aim of being the most open and transparent news organisation in the world.

In a word: Wow. If they can do half that — and convince the company’s culture of half that — the Beeb will lead again.

I’m going to be spending some time with BCC people in London over the next two weeks. I can’t wait to hear (and report) more.

One more thing: Note well that the media-boss speeches that have made waves lately all came from Britain: from Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger, from Reuters head Tom Glocer, and now from the BBC.

Are the days of America’s leadership in media over? You tell me.