December 1, 2004
Mark Glaser: The Media Company I Want to Work For-- Not Someday, But Now
Guest writer Glaser is a columnist for OJR: "Time for someone to do it, to make the case for a new way of doing journalism, to stop talking about change in decades and start thinking about change in months and days. To stop complaining about the way things are, and the way things don't work, and to start doing it differently..."
(Also see my follow up post on the reactions, Notes and Comment on The Media Company I Want to Work For.)
Introduction: The Future of Common Sense in Journalism
When Mark Glaser publishes one of his scrupulously-reported pieces in Online Journalism Review (his latest, on Keith Olbermann, is a gem) he usually keeps himself out of it, or way in the background. But not today. Glaser, a San Francisco-based journalist who reports on developments in online media, is tired of waiting for glimmers of recognition among existing media companies, and fishing around for the two or three people in the newsroom who “get it.”
In the short essay below, he has tried to describe—in wish-list fashion—the kind of company he wants to join, the company that in its entirety “gets it,” and so can retire that obnoxious phrase. “I put out this call in the hope that someone who really does get it will finally get out from behind his or her keyboard and start the media company I want to write for,” he says.
It’s not that anything Glaser wants is so startling; that’s just the point. Many of these things (“a commitment to provide more transparency”) shouldn’t need explaining anymore. For they’re the future of common sense in journalism.
I’ll have some comments at the end of Mark’s statement.
Special to PressThink
The Media Company I Want to Work For
by Mark Glaser
Columnist, Online Journalism Review
I am usually a patient person, but not now. I am tired of waiting for media companies to change and figure out the way that the business is shifting right beneath their short-sighted eyes. When are they going to understand that their readers are more important than their stockholders? When are they going to understand their readers at all? When are they going to “get” the Internet, true interactivity, citizen journalism, blogging and the communities of thought that are rising up?
I put out this call in the hope that someone who really does get it will finally get out from behind his or her keyboard and start the media company I want to write for. I am now convinced that the movement by established media companies, or even by their online or digital divisions, is glacial at best when it comes to changing business-as-usual.
Iím an online journalist, and I write about online media. Here is what I’m looking for:
- A news outlet that creates new content, aggregates the best outside content, and makes sense of everything, presenting it in a clear, simple format for the consumption of everyone.
- A company founded on the values of serving the public and allowing the public to serve journalism by participating in all discussions of mission and direction.
- A company that answers directly to its readers and consumers and doesn’t talk down to them from editorial ivory towers.
- A company that is focused on the value of journalism, the practice, and not only of marketing and stock dividends.
- A group of like-minded people who are willing to start from scratch and build a new way of doing smart, groundbreaking citizen journalism. Not too amateur, not too professional but something in between.
- A company that is flexible and knowledgeable, with people who “get it” and understand how they can tap the latest technology to improve the craft of journalism — and help it survive. These new journalists would blend the research done online via search and databases, the production process of a content management system, the community involvement of bulletin boards and wikis, and the delivery mechanisms of RSS, blogs and mobile platforms. Rather than teach old dogs new tricks, employ techno-literate people from inception. The “everyone gets it” company.
- A commitment to provide more transparency for all writers and editors, including political leanings, conflicts of interest and other details that will help readers know who they are. A balance of privacy for journalists with the public’s need to know who they are and where they come from.
- A staff and board of advisers of englightened media people and bloggers such as Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen, Elizabeth Osder, Susan Mernit, Matt Welch, Howard Owens, Robert Cox, Steve Rubel, John Battelle, James Lileks, Bob Somerby, Dan Gillmor, and many others who walk the talk.
- A company where people realize that the Web audience is potentially global and therefore work together to create stories and packages that cross national and cultural boundaries.
- A place where news will be a conversation and not a one-way lecture. Where the readers will also report, edit, fact-check and photograph the world around them.
Ah yes, grand in theory, but how will it work out practically? I would start small, and focus mainly on the Web site. A good site has parts and so it needs sections, like we find at Salon.com. These sections or micro-sites will each have a human “guide,” not unlike the About.com model. (See this.)
However, there will be one difference. My guides are not just summarizing everything online in pithy paragraphs and articles. Instead they are finding links to stories, writing a blog and news reports, and helping run a community of like-minded people who are also finding links to stories, writing a blog and news reports, and perhaps chatting online or creating stories in a community wiki space. The best of these readers/participants might eventually work for the company as staff or freelancers.
For income, there would be targeted advertising, and perhaps some paid content packages, along with syndication of the best content. The site would include photography, audio and video, and perhaps Flash animation or cartoons. Eventually, the best material could be spun out for print publications, radio or TV shows or even films.
If syndication takes off, then perhaps the service would morph into a giant news wire service, serving content into various media outlets as the Associated Press might do. The difference would be that this service would lack the overhead of the AP, relying on amateur and professional stringers to provide photos and news as it happens in front of them. Contributors would be paid for material as it gets used and reused, making for a nice freelance income if they are good.
The community itself would set the payment for contributors based on how good the work is, how it is received by the community, and whether it brings in syndicated income. It might operate like a content auction of sorts. For example, someone on the ground might take a photo of a plane crash, and submit it to the site. That person would be paid for the photo for use on the site, and then paid for each subsequent use of that photo by other news sources. Contributors might even be paid depending on how many unique visitors viewed the content or e-mailed it to friends.
There would be no registration or walls to content, archives, or old links.
I am not saying this will be easy, or that it won’t be copied by the mainstream media as soon as its successful. What I’m saying is that it’s time for someone to do it, to make the case for a new way of doing journalism, to stop talking about change in decades and start thinking about change in months and days. To stop complaining about the way things are, and the way things don’t work, and to start doing it differently — not gradually, not incrementally, but from whole cloth now.
This is my hope for the future of journalism, because the old way is in tatters and rotting by the side of the road. It’s time for the readers and enlightened journalists to take back their power, to set the media’s agenda, to rip out the reins from the graying media barons who have their blinders on.
If this appeals to you, then feel free to add on my basic skeleton of ideas in the comments section below. Go ahead, seek funding, build the company and hire me already. Or if you think my boat wonít float build your own.
You heard the man. Tell us what else should be included in the media company we’re missing. Hit the comment button and testify.
Jay Rosen comments:
More than a few of the principles Glaser sets forth are already in motion at a site you should all examine (and pick apart): Pegasus News— Journalism 2.0
, which Steve Rubel called a “stealth project”
in his well-read weblog, Micro Persuasion, thereby undoing the stealth part. First here’s Steve on Nov. 29th:
A stealth project called Pegasus News plans to launch a beta test in Dallas in late 2005 to distribute local news content and advertising via the web, e-newsletters, RSS feeds, a daily print edition, SMS messaging and other mediums, according to an inside source who contacted me. The source currently runs a division of a major media company. Pegasus plans to follow this initial effort with local advertising-supported news sites in 25 major U.S. cities that have a monopoly newspaper.
Now here’s Pegasus News itself (run anonymously, at the moment) at its lively weblog, the Daily Peg, where you can watch the concept evolve:
While the incumbents realize their troubles, because of entrenched infrastructures and slavery to the public capital markets, they are incapable of enacting the revolution that is necessary to create and implement a new model.
Our model has five key differentiators:
- Hyper-local (neighborhood-level) content updated continually and archived for long-term access
- Journalism 2.0: A conversational method of reporting that engages the end user in the process, as opposed to the traditional monologue
- Creation of textual and graphic content without regard to constraints of any specific medium to be delivered via as many mediums as possible
- Subscription price is based on level of engagement, with more specialized content at a higher price; and users who allow us to gather data on their online reading and real-time purchase behaviors paying less (or even nothing)
- Primarily pay-for-performance advertising across all mediums, including print
We will launch our suite of products and services in Dallas, Texas in late 2005.
This part I love. On the theory that competition spurs innovation: “Belo should be funding us. Our existence could be the trigger that finally turns around their circulation decline.” So far Belo hasn’t bitten. But there is something very shrewd about setting a target like that (the Dallas market for truly local news), and going directly at the competition— by giving a date you’ll be in the market by.
Glaser has “the community involvement of bulletin boards and wikis” as part of his new era company. This too is coming closer to a reality with the announcement of WikiNews (demo here), which has drawn a lot of sophisticated comment already. (Joi Ito and Rebecca MacKinnon, for example.) The latest to weigh in on the practicality of news edited-by-community is Mitch Ratcliffe. He discovers all sorts of practical problems with it, as others have. According to David Weinberger in Release 1.0, these include power struggles over the entry for George Bush in the Wiki Encyclopedia, which in theory anyone is supposed to be able to edit. (Fascinating in its implications for Bush news in WikiNews.)
But this is exactly how the future of common sense works itself out. You take ideas that sound great in principle, and try to do them. (Like she did.) It’s called walking the talk. But when you discover problems, that doesn’t mean you failed. It just means you walked.
The Pegasus project is still at the “sounds great” stage— the talk. But from looking in on it the last few months, one has the sense of people who a.) know what they’re talking about, and b.) are deeply frustrated with business-as-usual in the news biz. People, in fact, like Mark Glaser.
Finally, there’s an important ambiguity in the word “company” as Glaser uses it. It refers to a firm with capital and brand and CEO and employees. But there’s also company as in a theatre company, a collegial band of professionals who feed off each other’s achievements and ideas. I found it useful to keep both senses of “company” in mind as I read Glaser.
After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…
Mark Glaser has promised to engage in the back and forth at comments so don’t hesitate to toss him a question.
Lots more at PressThink’s follow up post, Notes and Comment on The Media Company I Want to Work For. (Dec. 2)
Edward Wasserman in the Miami Herald: (Nov. 29) “But we don’t really get it, not the big picture. In fact, the entire media landscape is undergoing basic, fundamental, change. A decade from now, much of what we take for granted will be morphed beyond recognition. What’s vanishing is technical scarcity, and media franchises built on scarcity — as most are — will either remake themselves or die.”
“Great post,” writes blogging entreprenuer Jason Calacanis in the comments. “Reading it I was shocked by the fact that you’re thinking is exactly in line with what Brian Alvey and I were thinking when we launched www.weblogsinc.com.” Read the rest.
Andrew Cline at Rhetorica offers a point-by-point response to Glaser. Check it out: Build it, and they will come…
In Syndication Nation, the everyday philosopher disguised as a tech journalist, Doc Searls, says about this post: “Nice view of where journalism, and journals, are headed, given the nature of supply (writers) as well as demand (readers). Only quibble is with the word ‘consumers.’ Old fashioned, that. Along with ‘audience.’ The reciprocal of writers is readers. What makes the new world so new is that many readers are also writers. The demand side supplies itself, once again.”
Ian Landsman’s Weblog: “I want to work there too.”
Mark Tapscott, a media and public policy expert at the Heritage Foundation, and a blogger at Tapscott’s Copy Desk, reacts: “I think Glaser undervalues the skills of the new journalists. They won’t be ‘somewhere between’ the amateur and professional, but will instead redefine both of those terms, which are themselves relics of a bureacratic era. Today, ‘professionals’ work for MSM companies, amateurs don’t. The presumption, at least in the minds of the professionals, is that they alone are able to do journalism. This is credentialism at its worst.” He has other points on transparency that must be absorbed, so check into it— and keep up.
Vinnie Goldsmith: “A critical mass is being reached. The tide is changing.”
Voice of Experience: Mitch Ratcliffe (Bio) chimes in: “Mark Glaser wants to work for a media company that is open and collaborativeóan excellent complementary read to this piece. Question is, who wants to finance this? I know, having built ON24 to run on the smallest editorial budget imaginable for a 24/7 video news network, a lot of the ins and outs. There are clearly a ton of smart folks willing to participate. Who wants to put the money behind it?”
Mark Glaser in Online Journalism Review on the commodification of news: Reuters, AP Follow Different Paths in Search of Revenues. (May 4, 2004)
Pegasus credits this article from Reason magazine with a critical contribution to its own strategy: Declan McCullagh, Database Nation: The upside of “zero privacy.” (June 2004) McCullagh quotes Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy. “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”
What McNealy didnít mention, and polls and politicians donít recognize, is the unsung benefits that have accompanied the databasification of American society. More precisely, theyíre unacknowledged or invisible benefits. Itís easy to complain about a subjective loss of privacy. Itís more difficult to appreciate how information swapping accelerates economic activity. Like many other aspects of modern society, benefits are dispersed, amounting to a penny saved here or a dollar discounted there. But those sums add up quickly.
Related PressThink: Matt Welch on Shifting Terms of Authority in the Newspaper Press.
“Good journalism is committed by brave people working hard, day in and day out, says Ryan Tate in the comments thread. “Always has been, always will be. And the work remains remarkably the same, year to year, decade to decade, century to century.”
Four weblogs you should be—oh alright, could—be reading:
- Editors Weblog is international and its about the problems of the newspaper biz— worldwide. Always has interesting stuff, and ocasionally links to PressThink.
- SimonWaldman.net is by Simon Waldman, the director of all things digital at The Guardian, one of the best news sites on the Web. It’s about “newspapers, new media and beyond…”
- John Robinson is the editor—and boss—of the News Record in Greensboro, NC; and he has a weblog. But listen to this: he’s a good blogger. He, uh, gets it. Mostly local stuff, but Robinson also explains his newspaper when needed. It’s called The Editor’s Log (and needs an “about” page.) Good samaritin nod to Greensboro-based blogger Ed Cone, who helped perusade Robinson to try it.
- newsBluntly promises the blunt news about broadcast journalism. We’ll see, I guess. For unlike most weblogs that I read this one is published for a company in the industry, The NewsMarket, by a public relations firm, Plesser Associates.
From American Journalism Review, here’s an extended examination of what journalists think about responding to credibility crises and ethical lapses: Jennifer Dorroh, Knocking Down the Stonewall. “The ill-fated ‘60 Minutes’ story on President Bushís National Guard service is the latest reminder that the defensive crouch doesnít cut it as a response to a serious ethical challenge. What should news organizations do when a story comes under fire?”
Like much of the stubbornly, even defiantly clueless newspaper industry, AJR will include links to its own articles, but not to anyone else in its pages online. Thus PressThink is mentioned (cheers!) but not linked to (boos.) Mystifying. And it makes you wonder: what’s the opposite of “link love?” Here, AJR: feel guilty yet? (Update, Dec. 3: AJR Editor Rem Rieder e-mails: “Jay: Good point about the links. We’ll start adding them to new stories we post and to stories in the archives.”)
Posted by Jay Rosen at December 1, 2004 3:18 AM
I would suggest that the vision of a new media wonít be complete without comprehensively addressing the deficient nature of the current personal computing paradigm and how it detracts from the mass dissemination of useful and entertaining information.
Take the portability of print, for example. I can read a newspaper, book, or magazine on my couch, my bed, my toilet, or even in my car. Try that with your WinTel machine, which for the most part is only accessed from that one chair at that one desk.
Then there are the airwaves, which, when coupled with the television device, really comprise the essential facility from which most people get their news. Some news over the airwaves is free (from the networks or PBS), some you pay for via cable service or satellite. Itís easier and faster to absorb news this way, and itís less intrusive than hunkering down around the keyboard and running through boot-ups, logins, aggregators, and feeds. Iím not saying that those of us who are tapping the evolving blogosphere arenít getting a lot out of it. Iím saying the majority of Americans do not get their news this way and probably wonít for quite some time.
This is one of the risks of allowing MicroSoft to operate a monopoly. They have us stuck in an obsolete technological paradigm because itís much easier for them to make money charging millions for superficial upgrades to MS Word than it is to innovate and bring about real advancement. Can you believe that across America, we still pay millions upon millions for a commodity as utilitarian as typing software? This can only happen when a giant monopoly has control over the essential operating system facility. They hold things in place in order to milk the cow.
On this issue of interaction, bear in mind that we can have a very effective virtual, (i.e. non-human) problem-solving conversation with the phone service, or any number of other companies offering intelligent voice-recognition customer service, but you canít talk to a blog. Keyboarding is far inferior to voice-intelligence. The ramp-up time to have a simple blog interaction (logging in, processing virus control, hitting the aggregator, and so on) is much slower than the immediacy of opening a book or unfolding a newspaper. Again, the extremely deficient human interface that we know as the keyboard and monitor is an obstacle begging for a breakthrough.
So in the spirit of progress, I'll offer two major challenges that need to be addressed to complete the vision for a new way of doing mainstream media:
1. The competitive threat posed by the portability of print.
2. The deficiency of the ultra-clunky tethersome WinTel interface.
I love this idea. And great ideas can survive a little prodding:
"A group of like-minded people who are willing to start from scratch and build a new way of doing smart, groundbreaking citizen journalism. Not too amateur, not too professional but something in between."
Okay. I like this suggestion. But then:
"A staff and board of advisers of englightened media people and bloggers such as Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen, Elizabeth Osder, Susan Mernit, Matt Welch, Howard Owens, Robert Cox, Steve Rubel, John Battelle, James Lileks, Bob Somerby, Dan Gillmor, and many others who walk the talk."
Sounds an awful lot like it's already been decided who will be the new 500 club. I have to admit I like these people, but be careful of having a club that's too exclusive, or too difficult to gain entry into.
On another note, there are a number of former journalists now engaged in specialized types of knowledge, sometimes technical knowledge. I speak most authoritatively for educators, but I know others in medicine for example. We see gaping holes in specialized coverage of these areas in most newspapers, and broadcast.
There are exceptions. For example, the medical reporter at the NYT (whose name escapes me right now) is very good, but he's a physician-turned-journalist.
I think the media company offered by Mark Glaser would also need to redefine the skills and knowledge required to be a "media professional." Perhaps there should be more to it than being able to compose a cogent paragraph and takes quotes over the phone. Maybe even more than just getting "both sides" of a medical or education issue.
Considering the issues facing this nation--such as the potential failure of Social Security, the limitations and ethics of medicine, and the persistent academic achievement gap--it might be time to demand more from journalists than just the same old gumshoe-with-typewriter perspective.
Glad I've stoked your interest.
I agree that the computer interface and the Web are not at all perfect for disseminating news, video and audio quite yet. Portability of print is very important now, until some form of electronic paper becomes a cheap reality. I don't see this new company as being tied to technology or the Web at all, but expect it will have print and broadcast spin-offs. I just figured that online would be a good place to start.
I definitely do NOT want to limit this company to the people I just mentioned off the top of my head. They were just examples of people I think who would "get" the concept. I would really welcome anyone into the company who might understand what I was hoping to do. In fact, I'm calling on other people to start the company, so they can really hire whoever they want. My hope is that they concentrate on the more enlightened media folk, whoever they may be...
I really like your idea for more specialized people within the organization. This goes well with what Matt is saying later about focusing on niches. I would imagine a "health guide" (or even "cancer guide") who does have some first-hand knowledge of medicine, can go out and find relevant health stories, make informed blog posts on the subject, do reporting, etc. These specialists or guides would be in charge of their page or section, and it could get more and more specialized as you dig down -- breast cancer, skin cancer, etc.
Glad to have you on board, Matt! So far I'm only playing with Monopoly money, but when the VCs start throwing real money, I'll get out my Euro converter...
1) I get your point about shareholders, and mostly agree. I don't want this "company" to lose sight of its business, but lately Big Media seems to have lost its sense of balance between serving the public/readers and shareholders. What I'm proposing is to bring that back into balance. It's a tricky area, but maybe by serving readers, the company will actually make more money. I would just hope to "bake in" the idea that the company really needs to serve customers first, make them satisfied, bring them into the business process to build a loyal audience.
2) YES, focus like a laser beam on niches and local content. See above, on drilling down to niches. This is a key.
3) Perhaps I wasn't clear enough in my explanation of the news service, and payment. My understanding of current news services is that they employ stringers who are paid a flat fee for work done. What I'm proposing is that there would be a world of stringers -- professional and amateur -- who would be paid according to how well their work performed (hits, syndication, etc.). The only part that includes price-setting at a community level would be some sort of "rating" function, similar to Slashdot's, that would help bring the cream to the top. I'm pretty fuzzy myself on how this would work, and maybe this is something that would end up being jettisoned if it didn't work fairly.
Hey, 90% ain't bad! Keep your thoughts and suggestions coming. This is most definitely a work in progress...until someone actually builds it...
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 1 Dec 2004 13:10:26 -0800 (PST)
Subject: your new journalism
When you're done installing the wiki, firing the old people, designing the flash cartoons, putting your friends on the board of directors and hooking your reporters' checking accounts up to Web polls, you'll realize something:
Good journalism is committed by brave people working hard, day in and day out.
Always has been, always will be. And the work remains remarkably the same, year to year, decade to decade, century to century.
There is no "new way of doing journalism." There wasn't in 1900, whether by Randolph Hearst or Upton Sinclair. There wasn't in the 1960s, not from Tom Wolfe or Hunter Thompson. There wasn't in the 1980s, not from Mike Wallace or Geraldo Rivera. And there isn't now, from the blogger, the database surfer or the freelancer with a laptop and a digital camera.
The poor bloke trying to commit journalism in your newsroom will be so busy trying to put out a weblog, organize a directory of links and chat with his readers/paycheck signers that he'll scracely be able to make a phone call or two, much less trudge down to City Hall and have a look at volumes of public records. And even if he did, he'd be so worried about feeding his family on "freelance income," attracting hits and not pissing off the readers that he's not going to have much spine to write anything other than advertising copy.
Your article included some good ideas,like aggregating external sources, involving readers and working cooperatively with other news publications. And you're right that traditional media companies are barely moving at all to address the threat that is here, today, to their business models.
But in the end you make the same mistakes as a Gannett or a Fox News: thinking there is something fundamentally wrong with how journalism is practiced in this country, and that you've got just the silver bullett to fix it. You don't. What you've got is an ill conceived shortcut.
With all due respect,
Ryan's comments are understandable, and worth listening to. But what I think we are talking about here is how to run the media company of the future - not how to do journalism in a totally new way.
Someone still has to observe the scene, interview people, collate and order the facts, write a narrative people will enjoy reading, plus the photos, video, bells and whistles.
Since a good percentage of what blogs do is comment on what the press is doing, someone still has to be the press. What is being proposed here, it seems to me, is the model for supplanting or at least challenging the MSM for eyeballs and dollars.
Pay me enough and I can do it all, although it would be nice to have a copy editor, a programmer and a business manager, all partners of course. Readers will catch some things, but it would be nice to get it right before publication.
Since by some definitions blogs are unedited personal diaries, this may seem like anathema for some. By that definition, blogging is online gonzo journalism.
I wonder if Hunter Thompson has a blog? It would beat Drudge in the traffic ratings, if he had someone chasing headline links too.
So, Dr. Thompson, if you are listening, give us a shout.
Nothing new? Of course there are new things under the sun. Evolution may seem incremental, but then there's always the rapid change theory. As far as this southern boy is concerned, the sooner we stop killing the trees the better.
Wikinews strikes me as a high ambitious project on the net worth trying even if I'm a bit cynical. The wiki encyclopedia is quite good on many issues, but can it do news?
No, it can't. I'm a Wikipedia contributor, know its strengths and weaknesses, and it simply won't work. The wiki model is uniquely suited to some things, but not journalism.
A lot of the strength of Wikipedia comes because it has very low barriers to entry. Anybody who wants to can come in and edit--and editing doesn't take much work. Fixing a typo, for instance, costs almost nothing in terms of time and energy, and many, many edits are no more significant than this. My own habits don't include many launches of new articles; instead, I nibble on the edges, add a sentence here or there, and so on--small time stuff that nevertheless helps.
In Wikinews, this will be minimized. People will have to go out of their way to seek out and document news. There would be much less room for the "small edits only" editors, due to the demands of producing a story NOW, and more emphasis on those who are willing to put in the effort to make substantial contributions of material--few and far between. How to locate and encourage contributors willing to put the work in?
In addition, credibility would be an even larger problem than it is on other wikis. If, for example, Wikinews broke the story of the killing of the prisoner in Iraq, it would be automatically written off, because nobody could trust the source, or for that matter even identify him/her. Of course, reporting of events could be limited to certain classes of users (logged-in, approved by a committee, etc.), but this would negate many of the advantages of a wiki, and would exacerbate the problem of finding people willing to put in the effort.
In short, Wikinews would be unverifiable and unsustainable.
In my opinion, Microsoft's operating system business is a natural monopoly, like a power company. It has cleverly created another monopoly in office products. The company has rarely innovated but it also doesn't usually stop technological advances, just slows them down. If it were up to me, a conservative, Microsoft would be split up by the government.
The paper vs. computer dichotomy simply has to go away. In some technological areas, pushing for a breakthrough is like pushing a rope or herding cats. I don't think that is true in this case. Many folks are working on various electronic papers, tablets, etc. Besides, how can we know what is the shape of solution space? Innovation may produce something none of us has thought of that does the job well enough.
I think there is an almost insatiable demand for live video news. The boundary blurs between news and entertainment somewhere in there. However, increasing wireless bandwidth may allow a service that uses this space for collection of content. Of course, if its live, there's not much editorial function other than maybe a 5 second delay and a kill switch (virtual, of course).
The Lawrence, Kansas operation sounds interesting, but I'm a bit skeptical. The World Company was early into technology and I guess still is. But Lawrence is a unique market, with a big University in a Kansas City bedroom community, and virtually nothing else. Hence unusual customers, cheap labor, and lots of creativity.
Finally, I agree with other commenters - a lot of news gathering requires human processes involving phone calls, etc. If you want to see an example of the failure to replace human processes, look at all the businessmen flying when they could be teleconferencing. Personal contact is valued.
In trying to explain my blog addiction to my wife, I was forced to examine why it is I spend so much time reading and writing online (and why I think a news outlet that adopts blogging methodology would product superior content and attract a healthy readership). Here's a couple of reasons I came up with:
ē Tone: The more I read blogs, the harder it is to slog through the studied blandness and forced balance of traditional newspaper stories. While some bloggers are unreadably uncivil, cynical snark is often a good way to weed out the spin. It also just plain fun to read, if it's well-written.
ē Healthy skepticism: The bloggers generally leave no stone unturned on a story, and certainly don't hesitate to call a spade a spade. Frequently I'll be come across an assertion in a news report (sometimes again and again) that the bloggers have already picked apart, making me question the rest of the article's facts. It's made me a much better news consumer. Thanks to the bloggers, I've also built up a fair-sized database in my head of many media figures' conflicts of interest and, in some cases, dubious history.
ē Understanding: That's probably not the right word, but I've found that reading blogs helps me get my mind around complex stories like no other medium. Perhaps it's the repetition of the basic outlines of a story as I bounce around the net. I also think it's because bloggers usually build their posts around a unique, personal insight based on their own knowledge, experience and reactions to other bloggers and commenters. Stitch those insights together, and you get a much better image of the whole "elephant" than you can in reading one or two media accounts.
There are many other reasons I like blogs, including the unfettered access to expert opinion from excellent academics ;). There are also a number of drawbacks, including the blogosphere's schizophrenic nature, pettiness and short attention span. Nor is it a very efficient means of gaining knowledge (as my wife will attest).
The challenge is to channel all that talent into a format that's accessible to non-junkies without strangling it. I've wracked my brain trying to think of a format that would present a unified, coherent and compelling central narrative yet allow numerous independent voices. There should also be a way to keep attention and discussion focused on an issue for more than a news cycle (maybe that's going against the grain of human nature, I don't know).
I can visualize the process in my head; it's the same one I go through in comprehending a story through the blogs. People bring pieces of the "puzzle" to the table. Those interested get a crack at figuring out where each piece fits. Eventually it all comes together to form the big picture, "The Story."
Wow. I'm really impressed that my little rant has brought up so much intelligent thought by so many great and informed people. At the very least, I flushed out a few "stealth" companies. ;-]
I'm glad that I left my general skeleton wishlist broad enough that a lot of people seem to have fastened on to it as theirs. I don't see why Pegasus and Backfence can't consider themselves as this very company. However, the idea that journalism and journalists are completely out of the equation was not really what I had in mind.
What I envision is some sort of collaboration between journalists and readers, and not the removal of editors or reporters completely, a la aggregators such as Google News. I think automation, combined with the work of editors and reporters, is bound to be the future of journalism.
I don't believe the people and ideas of Big Media companies should be totally discarded, as much as the idea of Big Media. I think investigative journalism, service journalism, and public journalism are intensely valuable and should not at all go away. But if they can be improved in some way via new technologies and a new way of conceiving them and interacting with the subjects and readers, all the better.
I don't know if I buy the notion that we don't need media companies at all, and that a million blogs and micro-sites will replace the status quo -- as much as it might fatten your wallet, Henry. I think there's a value to having a real company with products and services and customers and shareholders that would legitimize and extend this new media company into the mainstream of American thought. I'm OK with a somewhat virtual company with low or no overhead, but I think the entity of a company should exist in some manner.
That doesn't mean that I would want it to eventually emulate the News Corps and Time Warners of the world -- but maybe rethink the way a media company would operate in an enlightened interactive landscape. I think Google is redefining what an American company can be.
Personally, I find the hyperlocal news trend fascinating and illustrative, but my vision was for something much further beyond that, covering national, international, local, niche. I keep coming back to About.com, and thanks for your note, Matt. It would be great if About could really morph into this company, and perhaps lose its baggage as a pop-up monster for readers.
I'll keep coming back for more helpings of your comments -- so keep them coming.
"What I envision is some sort of collaboration between journalists and readers, and not the removal of editors or reporters completely, a la aggregators such as Google News. I think automation, combined with the work of editors and reporters, is bound to be the future of journalism."
Mark. I think you've missed the point here. It's not that editors are replaced by automation like Google news. They are removed because they are replaced by the *community of readers* doing it's own distributed editing.
That's what's really going on in weblogs. Only about 10% of it is generating interesting and new writing (or reporting).
The other 90% is bloggers picking things up elsewhere and deciding if it's worth *amplifying* its importance by repeating it or linking to it. In doing so, sure they fuel Google and Technorati, but more importantly they *filter* it : add their interpretation, make new connections, explain it, come up with a pithy phrase, and otherwise polish and refine it.
This is why the BroadCatching model is actually a misguided (though understandable) hope. It's based on the idea that the community can and will create lots of good stuff, but somehow doesn't know how to sift through and identitfy and organize it. So there's a role for an elite of centralized expert curators who will be able to "make sense of it" for the masses.
That's a wet-dream for big media, of course. You still get to be central gatekeeper, *and* get paid but people out there just come up with your content for free.
Not gonna happen. People don't *want* keepers of any kind. The community are great at sifting and shifting material all by themselves. That's why more people make mix-tapes than play musical instrucments. And why more people write blogs that go "XYZ said blah. Brilliant! Yeah, me too, I agree with that" than actually write something original and worthwhile.
Real investigative reporters are, indeed, much more difficult to replace. We theoretically still need them.
But they face the economic problem. If there's no center to employ them, who'll pay? Reporters without media companies to employ them need a new business model
Some will go freelance and get donations from their blogs. Others will write (and sell) books. (Books are *not* being disrupted by online media anything like as much.) And others will possibly work as subcontractors for a more succesful book author.
Maybe some will work for political thinktanks or other institutions who's motivation is power or self-education rather than profit.
Reading it I was shocked by the fact that you're thinking is exactly in line with what Brian Alvey and I were thinking when we launched www.weblogsinc.com.
We have 45 bloggers in our group now, and 65 blogs. Some are niche, some are broad. All of them are written by folks with passion for the subjects, and no one is filtered/censored.
All the bloggers talk to each other all day long on an email list, and the page growth has been stunning.
We're signing up advertisers like crazy, and we're actually paying thousands and thousands of dollar to bloggers every month. It's a great feeling to know that we are able to pay folks for writing about what they want, when they want, how they want, etc.
If you look at a 100 writers and ask them what they would most like to spend their time writing about only 10 would say they were actually doing that for a living. Most writers are writing to make a living, and the topic they really love is something they do on the side.
Our goal at weblogsinc.com is to have all 100 bloggers writing about the thing they are most passionate about... the thing that makes them want to investigate, share, research, and debate. The things that jazz them up.
When I had 70 people working at Silicon Alley Reporter I know that half the writers were there because they needed a job and we paid well. Many were writing freelance on the topics they really loved when they got home or on the weekends (truth be told they did it at work too... but who cares, people need to be happy first right?).
Anyway, I'm not sure if we are going to make this model work. The model your propose is very hard on a business level. It takes someone willing to put the business in the hands of the "worker bees," and most folks in publishing hate that idea.
Most CEOs/Publishers think that they know best, but the truth is that the writers on the front line know best. If you step back and just let the writers go nuts, writing whatever they want and then just sell the traffic you can actually get *further* then if you as the publisher try to take/push people somewhere.
It's been crazy, the first 11 months of this business... however, I can tell you that i've never seen a business grow so fast, and I watched Silion Alley Reporter grow from nothing to 12M in revenues over four short (and very hard) years.
This business is a dream come true... if anyone wants to join, email me... jason at calacanis dot com. we don't pay a lot, but we're paying, and every couple of months we pay more.
Soon, we will be able to have bloggers making a living off blogging... not just a 1/4 or a 1/2 a living. That is my goal... I want to be the company that helps people blog for a living.
PressThink: An Introduction
We need to keep the press from being absorbed into The Media. This means keeping the word press, which is antiquated. But included under its modern umbrella should be all who do the serious work in journalism, regardless of the technology used. The people who will invent the next press in America--and who are doing it now online--continue an experiment at least 250 years old. It has a powerful social history and political legend attached...
The People Formerly Known as the Audience:
"You don't own the eyeballs. You don't own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones. You don't control production on the new platform, which isn't one-way. There's a new balance of power between you and us." More...
Migration Point for the Press Tribe: "Like reluctant migrants everywhere, the people in the news tribe have to decide what to take with them. When to leave. Where to land. They have to figure out what is essential to their way of life. They have to ask if what they know is portable." More...
Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over: "Here is one advantage bloggers have in the struggle for reputation-- for the user's trust. They are closer to the transaction where trust gets built up on the Web. There's a big difference between tapping a built-up asset, like the St. Pete Times 'brand,' and creating it from scratch." More...
"Where's the Business Model for News, People?" "Itís remarkable to me how many accomplished producers of those goods the future production of which is in doubt are still at the stage of asking other people, ďHow are we going to pay our reporters if you guys donít want to pay for our news?'" More...
National Explainer: A Job for Journalists on the Demand Side of News
This American Life's great mortgage crisis explainer, The Giant Pool of Money, suggests that "information" and "explanation" ought to be reversed in our order of thought. Especially as we contemplate new news systems. More...
The Beast Without a Brain: Why Horse Race Journalism Works for Journalists and Fails Us. "Just so you know, 'the media' has no mind. It cannot make decisions. Which means it does not 'get behind' candidates. It does not decide to oppose your guyÖ or gal. It is a beast without a brain. Most of the time, it doesnít know what itís doing.." More...
They're Not in Your Club but They Are in Your League: Firedoglake at the Libby Trial: "Iím just advising Newsroom Joe and Jill: make room for FDL in your own ideas about whatís coming on, news-wise. Donít let your own formula (blog=opinion) fake you out. A conspiracy of the like minded to find out what happened when the national news media isnít inclined to tell us might be way more practical than you think." More...
Twilight of the Curmudgeon Class: "Weíre at the twilight of the curmudgeon class in newsrooms and J-schools. (Though they can still do a lot of damage.) You know theyíre giving up when they no longer bother to inform themselves about what they themselves say is happening." More...
Getting the Politics of the Press Right: Walter Pincus Rips into Newsroom Neutrality "The important thing is to show integrity-- not to be a neuter, politically. And having good facts that hold up is a bigger advantage than claiming to reflect all sides equally well." More...
A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism "It's mine, but it should be yours. Can we take the quote marks off now? Can we remove the 'so-called' from in front? With video!." More...
The Master Narrative in Journalism: "Were 'winning' to somehow be removed or retired as the operating system for news, campaign reporting would immediately become harder to do, not because there would be no news, but rather no common, repeatable instructions for deciding what is a key development in the story, a turning point, a surprise, a trend. Master narratives are thus harder to alter than they are to apprehend. For how do you keep the story running while a switch is made?" More...
He Said, She Said Journalism: Lame Formula in the Land of the Active User "Any good blogger, competing journalist or alert press critic can spot and publicize false balance and the lame acceptance of fact-free spin. Do users really want to be left helpless in sorting out who's faking it more? The he said, she said form says they do, but I say decline has set in." More...
Users-Know-More-than-We-Do Journalism: "It's a "put up or shut up" moment for open source methods in public interest reporting. Can we take good ideas like... distributed knowledge, social networks, collaborative editing, the wisdom of crowds, citizen journalism, pro-am reporting... and put them to work to break news?" More...
Introducing NewAssignment.Net: "Enterprise reporting goes pro-am. Assignments are open sourced. They begin online. Reporters working with smart users and blogging editors get the story the pack wouldn't, couldn't or didn't." More...
What I Learned from Assignment Zero "Here are my coordinates for the territory we need to be searching. I got them from doing a distributed trend story with Wired.com and thinking through the results." More...
If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn't. So Let's Get a Clue: "Those in journalism who want to bring ethics to blogging ought to start with why people trust (some) bloggers, not with an ethics template made for a prior platform operating as a closed system in a one-to-many world." More...
The View From Nowhere: "Occupy the reasonable middle between two markers for 'vocal critic,' and critics look ridiculous charging you with bias. Their symmetrical existence feels like proof of an underlying hysteria. Their mutually incompatible charges seem to cancel each other out. The minute evidence they marshall even shows a touch of fanaticism." More...
Rollback: "This White House doesn't settle for managing the news--what used to be called 'feeding the beast'--because there is a larger aim: to roll back the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country." More...
Retreat from Empiricism: On Ron Suskind's Scoop: ""Realist, a classic term in foreign policy debates, and reality-based, which is not a classic term but more of an instant classic, are different ideas. We shouldn't fuzz them up. The press is capable of doing that because it never came to terms with what Suskind reported in 2004." More...
Karl Rove and the Religion of the Washington Press: "Savviness--that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, 'with it,' and unsentimental in all things political--is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain." More...
Journalism Is Itself a Religion: "We're headed, I think, for schism, tumult and divide as the religion of the American press meets the upheavals in global politics and public media that are well underway. Changing around us are the terms on which authority can be established by journalists. The Net is opening things up, shifting the power to publish around. Consumers are becoming producers, readers can be writers." More...
News Turns from a Lecture to a Conversation: "Some of the pressure the blogs are putting on journalists shows up, then, in the demand for "news as conversation," more of a back-and-forth, less of a pronouncement. This is an idea with long roots in academic journalism that suddenly (as in this year) jumped the track to become part of the news industry's internal dialogue." More...
Two Washington Posts May Be Better Than One: "They're not equals, but Washington and Arlington have their own spheres. Over the newspaper and reporting beats Len Downie is king. Over the website Jim Brady is sovereign. Over the userÔŅĹs experience no one has total control. There's tension because there's supposed to be tension." More...
Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die: "An industry that won't move until it is certain of days as good as its golden past is effectively dead, from a strategic point of view. Besides, there is an alternative if you don't have the faith or will or courage needed to accept reality and deal. The alternative is to drive the property to a profitable demise." More...
Grokking Woodward: "Woodward and Bernstein of 1972-74 didn't have such access, and this probably influenced--for the better--their view of what Nixon and his men were capable of. Watergate wasn't broken by reporters who had entree to the inner corridors of power. It was two guys on the Metro Desk." More...
Maybe Media Bias Has Become a Dumb Debate: "This here is a post for practically everyone in the game of seizing on media bias and denouncing it, which is part of our popular culture, and of course a loud part of our politics. And this is especially for the 'we're fair and balanced, you're not' crowd, wherever I may have located you." More...
Bill O'Reilly and the Paranoid Style in News: "O'Reilly feeds off his own resentments--the establishment sneering at Inside Edition--and like Howard Beale, the 'mad prophet of the airwaves,' his resentments are enlarged by the medium into public grievances among a mass of Americans unfairly denied voice." More...
Thoughts on the Killing of a Young Correspondent: "Among foreign correspondents, there is a phrase: 'parachuting in.' That's when a reporter drops into foreign territory during an emergency, without much preparation, staying only as long as the story remains big. The high profile people who might parachute in are called Bigfoots in the jargon of network news. The problem with being a Bigfoot, of course, is that it's hard to walk in other people's shoes." More...
The News From Iraq is Not Too Negative. But it is Too Narrow: "The bias charges are getting more serious lately as the stakes rise in Iraq and the election. But there is something lacking in press coverage, and it may be time for wise journalists to assess it. The re-building story has gone missing. And without it, how can we judge the job Bush is doing?." More...
The Abyss of Observation Alone. "There are hidden moral hazards in the ethic of neutral observation and the belief in a professional 'role' that transcends other loyalties. I think there is an abyss to observation alone. And I feel it has something to do with why more people don't trust journalists. They don't trust that abyss." More...
"Find Some New Information and Put it Into Your Post." Standards for Pro-Am Journalism at OffTheBus: "Opinion based on information 'everyone' has is less valuable than opinion journalism based on information that you dug up, originated, or pieced together. So itís not important to us that contributors keep opinion out. Whatís important is that they put new information in. More...
Out in the Great Wide Open: Maybe you heard about the implosion of Wide Open, a political blog started by the Cleveland Plain Dealer with four "outside" voices brought in from the ranks of Ohio bloggers: two left, two right. Twelve points you may not have seen elsewhere." More...
Some Bloggers Meet the Bosses From Big Media: "What capacity for product development do news organizations show? Zip. How are they on nurturing innovation? Terrible. Is there an entreprenurial spirit in newsrooms? No. Do smart young people ever come in and overturn everything? Never." More...
Notes and Comment on BlogHer 2005 "I think the happiest conference goers at BlogHer were probably the newbies, people who want to start blogging or just did. They got a lot of good information and advice. Some of the best information was actually dispensed in response to the fears provoked by blogging, which shouldnÔŅĹt be avoided, the sages said, but examined, turned around, defused, and creatively shrunk.." More...
Top Ten List: What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The weblog comes out of the gift economy, whereas most of today's journalism comes out of the market economy." More...
A Second Top Ten List: What's Conservative About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The quality of any weblog in journalism depends greatly on its fidelity to age old newsroom commandments like check facts, check links, spell things correctly, be accurate, be timely, quote fairly." More...
Blogging is About Making and Changing Minds: "Sure, weblogs are good for making statements, big and small. But they also force re-statement. Yes, they're opinion forming. But they are equally good at unforming opinion, breaking it down, stretching it out." More...
The Weblog: An Extremely Democratic Form in Journalism "It's pirate radio, legalized; it's public access coming closer to life. Inside the borders of Blogistan (a real place with all the problems of a real place) we're closer to a vision of 'producer democracy' than we are to any of the consumerist views that long ago took hold in the mass media, including much of the journalism presented on that platform." More...
No One Owns Journalism: "And Big Media doesn't entirely own the press, because if it did then the First Amendment, which mentions the press, would belong to Big Media. And it doesn't. These things were always true. The weblog doesn't change them. It just opens up an outlet to the sea. Which in turn extends 'the press' to the desk in the bedroom of the suburban mom, where she blogs at night." More...
Brain Food for BloggerCon: Journalism and Weblogging in Their Corrected Fullness "Blogging is one universe. Its standard unit is the post, its strengths are the link and the low costs of entry, which means lots of voices. Jounalism is another universe. Its standard unit is "the story." Its strengths are in reporting, verification and access-- as in getting your calls returned." More...
Dispatches From the Un-Journalists: "Journalists think good information leads to opinion and argument. It's a logical sequence. Bloggers think that good argument and strong opinion cause people to seek information, an equally logical sequence. What do the bloggers bring to this? My short answer to the press is: everything you have removed."More...
Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes "Journalists, you can stop worrying about bloggers 'replacing' the traditional news media. We're grist for their mill, says Satullo, a mill that doesn't run without us. Bloggers consume and extend the shelf life of our reporting, and they scrutinize it at a new level of intensity.."More...
Raze Spin Alley, That Strange Creation of the Press: "Spin Alley, an invention of the American press and politicos, shows that the system we have is in certain ways a partnership between the press and insiders in politics. They come together to mount the ritual. An intelligent nation is entitled to ask if the partners are engaged in public service when they bring to life their invention... Alternative thesis: they are in a pact of mutual convenience that serves no intelligible public good." More...
Horse Race Now! Horse Race Tomorrow! Horse Race Forever!: "How is it you know you're the press? Because you have a pass that says PRESS, and people open the gate. The locker room doors admit you. The story must be inside that gate; that's why they give us credentials. We get closer. We tell the fans what's going on. And if this was your logic, Bill James tried to bust it. Fellahs, said he to the baseball press, you have to realize that you are the gate." More...
Psst.... The Press is a Player: "The answer, I think, involves an open secret in political journalism that has been recognized for at least 20 years. But it is never dealt with, probably because the costs of facing it head on seem larger than the light tax on honesty any open secret demands. The secret is this: pssst... the press is a player in the campaign. And even though it knows this, as everyone knows it, the professional code of the journalist contains no instructions in what the press could or should be playing for?" More...
Die, Strategy News: "I think it's a bankrupt form. It serves no clear purpose, has no sensible rationale. The journalists who offer us strategy news do not know what public service they are providing, why they are providing it, for whom it is intended, or how we are supposed to use this strange variety of news."More...
He Said, She Said, We Said: "When journalists avoid drawing open conclusions, they are more vulnerable to charges of covert bias, of having a concealed agenda, of not being up front about their perspective, of unfairly building a case (for, against) while pretending only to report 'what happened.'" More...
If Religion Writers Rode the Campaign Bus: "Maybe irony, backstage peaking and "de-mystify the process" only get you so far, and past that point they explain nothing. Puzzling through the convention story, because I'm heading right into it myself, made me to realize that journalism's contempt for ritual was deeply involved here. Ritual is newsless; therefore it must be meaningless. But is that really true?."More...
Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Their Credentials: "No one knows what a political convention actually is, anymore, or why it takes 15,000 people to report on it. Two successive regimes for making sense of the event have collapsed; a third has not emerged. That's a good starting point for the webloggers credentialed in Boston. No investment in the old regime and its ironizing." More...
Philip Gourevitch: Campaign Reporting as Foreign Beat: "'A presidential election is a like a gigantic moving television show,' he said. It is the extreme opposite of an overlooked event. The show takes place inside a bubble, which is a security perimeter overseen by the Secret Service. If you go outside the bubble for any reason, you become a security risk until you are screened again by hand."More...
What Time is it in Political Journalism? "Adam Gopnik argued ten years ago that the press did not know who it was within politics, or what it stood for. There was a vacuum in journalism where political argument and imagination should be. Now there are signs that this absence of thought is ending." More...
Off the Grid Journalism: ďThe assignment was straightforward enough,Ē writes Marjie Lundstrom of the Sacramento Bee, ďtalk to people.Ē When a writer dissents from it or departs from it, the master narrative is a very real thing. Here are two examples: one from politics, one from music. More...
Questions and Answers About PressThink "The Web is good for many opposite things. For quick hitting information. For clicking across a field. For talk and interaction. It's also a depth finder, a memory device, a library, an editor. Not to use a weblog for extended analysis (because most users won't pick that option) is Web dumb but media smart. What's strange is that I try to write short, snappy things, but they turn into long ones." More...