Posts about ona08

Stewardship v. ownership of our news, money, and society

In this week’s news from Wall Street and in last week’s news convention we are seeing the problems that arise when people who are granted stewardship over our assets — charged with the care of our news or our money — instead think they have ownership of them.

The most appalling moment at last week’s Online News Association meeting in Washington came when a representative of the World Association of Newspapers showed off a would-be “standard” for publishers to tell search engines what they may not do. He demonstrated how a news site marked up its content and then showed how a search engine — French, no surprise — followed the instructions. Et voilĂ : The news site’s content didn’t show up at all. And they were proud of this. I was frightened. They have created a system to hide news. (Our news.)

Here was WAN’s protectionist view of how to preserve news — or rather, its control of news. Luckily, search engines are ignoring it, pointing out that most of these controls exist already and that WAN’s reputed standard could become a boon to spammers. The standard is meaningless, useless, and dangerous. But according to a representative of the Newspaper Association of America, that hasn’t stopped them from signing on. What are they thinking? We need to find more ways to get our journalism into more hands and more conversations and to involve more people in that process, sharing more information. Not our august associations of newspapers. They want to protect their ownership of news.

I heard more than one news executive I respect say at this year’s meeting that the ONA feared becoming the online organization of a dying medium. Wonder why. The hall was filled with employees of old-media organizations that happened to have added new-media arms. The awards they give each other are almost all to their own kind. And they say the blogosphere is an echo chamber.

If I were the ONA, I would cancel whatever schmanzy digs it has reserved for next year’s fest in San Francisco and hire an abandoned factory floor or put up tents in an empty field and I’d open the thing up, begging all the new practitioners of news to come and share. The organization acts as if online news is their domain because theirs was the news business. They owned news.

No more. Now — thank goodness — the press-sphere is made up of an endless variety of players: professionals, former professionals, bloggers, witnesses, technologists, aggregators, analysts, networks, platforms, business people, foundations, NGOs, search engines….

News organizations didn’t own the news as they thought. They were stewards of it. Their stewardship is proving to have been inadequate. Their definition of protecting the news has been to protect their control of it — see: WAN, NAA.

The same can be said of our financial institutions. Their stewardship of our own assets is proving to be disastrous. They thought they owned the industry. Instead, they had the privilege of handling our money so long as they had our trust. They have failed horribly.

The same is said — but too often not meant — when we talk of government. Politicians’ stewardship is clearly lacking.

The original definition of stewardship made it clear that the people who took care of a household and managed its assets — its stewards — acted as servants, not owners. Their control was granted based on trust.

We need new systems and new stewards. I’m not suggesting that the mob take over news, finance, and government. We’re too busy for that. We need stewards but we need stewards we can trust. The key to trust today, in any of these arenas, is openness and transparency. Hiding from the world is no way to get there.

The beast

I’m at the Online News Association hearing Tina Brown talk about her Daily Beast. She told me last night it will capture the daily zeitgeist with editors–more than 20 of them–rather than algorithms.

She throws over her past in print. She says it is good to work online in a medium that is “vibrant with life instead of constantly obsessed with fears of its own extinction.”

“Old war stories about the glories of media in the past,” is no longer exciting. “Yes, it was great but hey, it’s over. The tipping point has happened.”

She confesses being new to the web world. She’d never heard the word “wireframe” and says that tech geniuses are in another hemisphere. She recalls having scoops to hold onto in print but that day is over. She is happy not to be boxed in in presentation. She discovers the new world. She’s a convert.

She discovers “citizen journalism” as well but she cites big media efforts to get contributions rather than citizens’ enterprises. It’s a paragraph taken from some speech in 2004.

Now she gets to her pitch. Wind up: “People seeking to be informed are becoming increasingly overwhelmed.” Cue the stats about how many blogs and YouTube videos there are. She said that at the Democratic convention, everybody was filming everybody else: “a hall of mirrors.” Now she quotes Nick Davis bemoaning “churnalism.” Methinks she’ll cure.

She says we fear we’re going to miss that special moment of news. She says there’s so much we can’t believe: splogs, flogs, and misinformation. “That’s the part that scares me the most.”

Tina to the rescue. “What can we do to cut thorugh all this static, fake stuff, and noise…. There’s nothing wrong with algorithms. They’re fantastic…. It is the time for editors to reassert themselves ot curate in a more rigorous way.

Forward to the past. She praises other aggregators — Real Clear Politics, HuffPo, Arts & Letters Daily — “but there is still room, I think, for more metaaggregation with a distinctive voice just as there was always room for another magazine with a distinctive point of view.”

She says they started development eight weeks ago and hope to be up in the early fall. The launch will be evolutionary, she says, with new features up every 4-6 weeks.

She offers a site for “the news junkie who wants a speedy scan of the zeitgeist.”

She says her job as an editor was the write clever billings and headlines to get readers to read stories they wouldn’t otherwise read. The first duty of the journalist whether in print or online or no TV is to attract interest, she says. The next is to bring skepticism.

One underestimates Brown at one’s peril. From the sound of it, it’s magazine-think to the web, editing the world. For the proof, I’ll await the pudding.

In questions, she says she wants people who will forego the wisdom of the crowd to have their own take.

She says “there has to be pushback” against big-media companies hiring young people without experience and making writers put out too much. “It will indeed destroy their brands.”

It’s all very magazinethink.

“I think this period where anybody thought that anybody could write a posting for a venerable brand is a terrible mistake…. There hasn’t been enough pushback from the creative world…. The great con of the 20th and 21st century is the way that talent has been exploited by this technology boom….”

A journalism student asks for advice. She’s a print student but she’ll take a job in print, online, anything. “Well, you’re an easy lay, aren’t you,” says Tina, who advises not to go to a big company like Time Inc, where “you’ll be making big-media slugs coffee all day long.”

One person from the audience tries to hear more about her business plan. Tina won’t talk about it. Another tries to get her to talk about her video strategy. She won’t talk about it, saying she doesn’t want to give Forbes any ideas I get up and ask her to give us some idea of what the Daily Beast will be and she cuts me off and she she won’t talk about it. “I don’t want to give a press conference about The Daily Beast.”

As I sit down, the friend next to me says, “She’s a tough lay.”