Posts about reboot

Kinsley nails it again

A few weeks agao, Michael Kinsley brought blunt sanity to the dreamy talk about charging for news online in a New York Times op-ed. Today in his Washington Post column, he does likewise for dangerous dreams of subsidies. So papers are dying, he says…

What should we do? How about nothing? Capitalism is a “perennial gale of creative destruction” (Joseph Schumpeter). Industries come and go. A newspaper industry that was a ward of the state or of high-minded foundations would be sadly compromised. And for what? . . . .

If your concern is grander — that if we don’t save traditional newspapers we will lose information vital to democracy — you are saying that people should get this information whether or not they want it. That’s an unattractive argument: shoving information down people’s throats in the name of democracy.

But this really isn’t a problem. As many have pointed out, more people are spending more time reading news and analysis than ever before. They’re just doing it online. For centuries people valued the content of newspapers enough to pay what it cost to produce them (either directly or by patronizing advertisers). We’re in a transition, destination uncertain. Arianna Huffington may wake up some morning to find The Washington Post gone forever and the nakedness of her ripoff exposed to the world. Or she may be producing all her own news long before then. Who knows? But there is no reason to suppose that when the dust has settled, people will have lost their appetite for serious news when the only fundamental change is that producing and delivering that news has become cheaper.

Maybe the newspaper of the future will be more or less like the one of the past, only not on paper. More likely it will be something more casual in tone, more opinionated, more reader-participatory. Or it will be a list of favorite Web sites rather than any single entity. Who knows? Who knows what mix of advertising and reader fees will support it? And who knows which, if any, of today’s newspaper companies will survive the transition?

But will there be a Baghdad bureau? Will there be resources to expose a future Watergate? Will you be able to get your news straight and not in an ideological fog of blogs? Yes, why not — if there are customers for these things. There used to be enough customers in each of half a dozen American cities to support networks of bureaus around the world. Now the customers can come from around the world as well.

If General Motors goes under, there will still be cars. And if the New York Times disappears, there will still be news.

Great Restructuring III: The war over change

The emerging war we’re seeing now is over change. I’m not talking about the post-9/11 resurgence of debate over Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations – though that’s certainly a front in this war. Instead, I’m talking about the clash over change within civilizations, the attempt by some to forestall its inevitability, and their attacks on those who enable, predict, and embrace change as if any of those actions cause change. It’s actually rather fatuous to set up a dispute between those who want and don’t want change, those who think change is good or bad. Change is inexorable. The question is not what you think about it but what you do about it.

I’m seeing this personally as attacks on me get more emotional for merely predicting the obvious: the fall of newspapers. Predicting it doesn’t cause it, but sometimes you’d think that’s the case. There’s a lot of attempted messenger murder going on.

I see it in a boggling dispatch from Brigadoon in today’s Observer (the Guardian in Sunday suit) in which Henry Porter goes so far over the edge to liken Google to “something that is delinquent and sociopathic, perhaps the character of a nightmarish 11-year-old,” calling it a moral menace. “Despite its diversification, Google is in the final analysis a parasite that creates nothing, merely offering little aggregation, lists and the ordering of information generated by people who have invested their capital, skill and time.” He doesn’t want to see that in the link economy, Google does precisely the opposite: adding value with its links. If you think those links are so awful, then reject them.

Frighteningly, that’s what’s almost being suggested in another quarter of the Guardian (where, full disclosure, I write, consult, and podcast). But true to my American ways, I must issue my declaration of independence from this line of thinking: “The Guardian Media Group has asked the Government to examine Google News and other content aggregators, claiming they contribute nothing to British journalism.” Pass the aspirin. This from the same organization that wants its content in the fabric of the web via its API – the ultimate expression of the link economy and of thinking distributed, thinking like Google, that is? (As with all thing media in the UK, this has something to do with the BBC.)

The Guardian should know that something is amiss when it finds itself in harmony with the commander of the death star, Rupert Murdoch. To whom I’ll say, fine, cut yourself off from Google search and see how long that hunger strike lasts. The assumption here is that Google owes them something because it caused change and change is hurting them. No, Google exploited change. It did what these publishers should have done. They didn’t. They’re losing and they’re looking for someone to blame – other than themselves.

But let’s move – please – beyond newspapers and Google. Look at Europe last week, at the silly if larcenous protestors and their futile fight against globalism – we’re all connected now; that’s the essence of our change – and their insipid signs: screw the consumer, death to capitalism, end currency.

Robert Kagan wrote in The Washington Post Friday that Obama and the Americans represent too much change in Europe.

“They don’t want more excitement. . . . The creative destruction of the business-oriented political economies of the Anglo-Americans is too violent and unstable, too brutal and unpredictable. Better to regulate more tightly the international capitalists who can cause havoc through their inventiveness. Better to be less rich than less secure.

Americans are creators of turmoil. Europeans see them the way the ancient Greeks saw the Athenians, as “incapable of either living a quiet life themselves or of allowing anyone else to do so.”

Surely, they wish, they can legislate and regulate the change away.

To me, the lesson of our current turmoil is that change is inevitable – indeed, I argued here and here that it is millennial shift we are experiencing, our passage to a new age – and that resisting that change, trying to delay or protect against it, is what is leading to the death of great swaths of the newspaper, music, auto, and retail industries and their imminent replacements by new players who understood, embraced, and exploited change. There’s the difference. There’s the war. Rather than complaining about and resisting change, the wise course seems clear:

1. Recognize the inevitability of this change.
2. Try to understand it. (That’s why I wrote the book and think another may be in order.)
3. Rush toward the change; seek it out, embrace it.
4. Find the opportunities in the change and exploit them.
5. Recognize, too, the turmoil, uncertainty, and risk of the change and try to soften the impact but don’t let that stop you from 1-4.

Screw us, lose us

I made some travel reservations just now. Continental – on which I am a too-frequent flier – wouldn’t give me a seat assignment because their latest trick is to hold them out until 24 hours before and then cause a land rush among the overbooked. I called and said if you’re going to sell me a seat then sell me the damned seat. I got the scripted lecture about their rules. I said this was my rule: The economy’s in the crapper, airlines are in bad shape, if you want me to give you my money for a seat then give me the seat or I won’t buy the ticket. I got the seat.

Next, hotel: Rates for the Hilton are about the same as for the Marriott. The Hilton site won’t say whether they charge for internet access. I call. They charge. I hang up. I book the Marriott, where it is included.

Remember that the economic meltdown only makes us customers more powerful and our money more valuable. At every encounter, teach companies a lesson: Screwing your customers is no longer a viable business model. Screw us, lose us.

: LATER: While I’m at it, how could this conversation not turn to the kings of screwing customers as a business model: cable. Can anyone tell me why on earth they insist on sending a technician out (not cheap for them, by the way) just to put a cable card in a TiVo? I can install phones, mobile phones, alarm systems, routers, modems, anything without having to spend forever on hold with any company and without being required to wait home 8am to 8pm – no exaggeration! – for this to happen. What are they thinking? Oh, for the days of white spaces and wifi on steroids and waving goodbye to these twits.

Why Google should want Twitter: Currency

Here‘s a good clue as to why Google should be interested in Twitter. It’s not just search. It’s currency. Google isn’t good at currency. It needs content to ferment; it needs links and clicks to collect so PageRank can determine its value.

But in this report (full PDF here), Google chief economist Hal Varian and analyst Hyunyoung Choi demonstrate that Google search trends are good at predicting the present. That is, rather than waiting weeks or even a month to get aggregated figures on auto, retail, home, or travel sales to be collected and analyzed and released, Google search patterns can give a good indication of sales now.

Note that to do that, Google’s value is not in its analysis of content but in its collection of our behavior, which is faster.

Of course, Twitter is even faster, even more immediate. It collects what we’re doing and talking and thinking of doing right now. I’d love to see Varian et al take its data and put it through their algorithms.

Imagine the value of that knowledge, harnessed, for retail and manufacturing forecasting, stock and currency trading, and politics. There’s the vein of value in Twitter. Monetizing it may not come from advertising but from knowledge.

When analyzing the value of enterprises in the digital economy, it’s important to figure the value of its knowledge. I argue in my book that Amazon is really a knowledge company, that delivering books and stuff – atoms – is the price it pays to know more about our shopping than any other company on earth. Google knows the most about what we’re looking for. With maps and mobile, Google is also trying to be the company that knows where we are. Facebook knows the most about our relationships. And Twitter is headed to knowing more about what we’re doing and thinking. (Next: just wi-fi the brain.)

Slices of a new journalism pie

The AP reports that Huffington Post is going to announce tomorrow the creation of a $1.75 million fund with various donors to pay for investigative reporting. First target: the economy.

This, I’ve long held, is where foundation and public support will enter into the new ecosystem of journalism: not by taking over newspapers but by funding investigations and other slices of a new journalistic pie.

I’ve been hoping to get the resources to preform an audit of the current resource allocation in journalism: Take a town, add up all the journalistic spending there (paper, TV, radio, magazine) and then see how much is spent on investigative reporting (I’ll wager it will be tiny; a fraction of a percent of the total) as well as the beat reporting that feeds it – and judge the value of the results.

When we see that number, I predict, it will be feasible to imagine support from foundations and the public (that is, in the NPR and Spot.US models) to pay for investigative journalism. Indeed, I’ll bet that we could multiply the amount spent on and the output of investigative reporting today. This is how to subsidize news. It’s happening now, as Pro Publica stories run in The New York Times. That is a form of subsidy.

Now to touch the third rail in the debate over the future of news: This is how paid content will work, how news will get money from its public — not by putting content behind walls and charging all readers (the few who’ll remain) to see it but instead by setting up systems to take advantage of the 1 percent rule online that decrees you need only a limited number of contributors (of money or effort) to support great things in a gift economy. See: Wikipedia and NPR. But the public’s contributions won’t go to lifting the sinking Titanics of the old-media failures; I don’t want to contribute to failed newspapers anymore than I want my tax money to go to failed banks and their dividends and salaries. Instead, contributions will need to go directly to supporting work people care about.

The future of journalism is not about some single new-fangled product and company taking over from the old-fangled and monopolistic predecessor. News come from a broad ecosystem with many players adding in under many models for many reasons. News organizations will organize news in this diverse new framework, aggregating, curating, organizing. Laid-off journalists are starting blogs, alongside other bloggers. Some people will volunteer, podcasting their school-board meetings, just because they care. When we demand transparency from government as a default, data will become part of the news ecosystem we can all examine. Some of this will be supported by advertising, some by contributions from foundations, some by contributions from individuals, some by volunteer effort. And it will all add up to a new pie, one slice of which will be efforts such as the one HuffPo is about to announce.

: Huffpo’s announcement:

Work that the journalists produce will be available for any publication or Web site to use at the same time it is posted on The Huffington Post, she said. . . . She hopes to draw from the ranks of laid-off journalists for the venture. “All of us increasingly have to look at different ways to save investigative journalism,” she said. . . . The HuffPost also promises to give a higher profile to work produced by other reporting groups, such as The Center for Public Integrity and The Institute for Justice and Journalism.

: LATER: Here‘s Jay Rosen’s post about the project. He’s an adviser.

It is important to stress that the new Investigative Fund is separate from the Huffington Post as both a legal entity and an editorial producer. It is a new non-profit, and so the announcement of its birth, along with the $1.75 million starter budget, is really the launch of a new Internet-based news organization with a focus on original reporting. You might say the operating principle is: “report once, run anywhere” because work the Fund produces will be available for any publication or Web site to publish at the same time it is posted on The Huffington Post. (Probably through a Creative Commons license, but this has not been decided.)

Much about how the fund will operate has yet to be determined, but mostly what the money is for is to pay journalists and the costs of investigations. Some of those journalists will work for the fund as staff, some will be contracted for as freelancers on a story-by-story basis. Some of the money will, I hope, be used for innovative projects that move in a more open source or pro-am direction. That is one of the reasons I am joining up, to advise on that portion. I also think the Fund is an important and public-spirited thing to do; I want to see it come out right, and gain more resources than it has at the moment. . . .

One of the reasons I signed on with the project is to find ways of supporting that more innovative work. But I also counseled Nick and Arianna (who will help raise money for the fund, and find partners for it) that the best approach is to have no orthodoxy and to support very traditional investigative reporting by paid pros who are good at it, as well as teams of pros and amateurs, students working with masters of the craft, crowdsourced investigations, and perhaps other methods. They were already there with an ecumenical approach, combining old and new.