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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:

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 These sections or micro-sites will each have a human “guide,” not unlike the 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:

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” 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:

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