December 2, 2004
Notes and Comment on The Media Company I Want to Work For
"But something else surfaced-- better in a way than the launch of another business. Substantial readiness to get going. Talent waiting for action. A mood of expectation." Plus: "I asked two entrepreneurs about their press think and this is what they told me."
“Man, it’s an exciting time to be in journalism.”
— John Robinson, blogger, newspaper editor, Dec. 1, 2004.
“Is this journalism? Not in any sort of traditional sense.”
— Mark Potts, co-founder, Backfence.com, Dec. 1, 2004
Companies without products. Markets without players. Resumes ready to be sent for in-boxes that do not exist. These and other signs of pre-maturity surfaced yesterday in the reactions to Mark Glaser’s plea: The Media Company I Want to Work For. It’s not here yet— the media company, I mean.
But something else surfaced— better in a way than the launch of another business. Substantial readiness to get going. Talent waiting for action. A mood of expectation. Mitch Ratcliffe: “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?”
Glaser didn’t try to provide the model for a media business of the Net age; just a list of demands. But he made an observation with which many people agree— including PressThink readers. “The movement by established media companies, or even by their online or digital divisions, is glacial.” (My italics.) And this is what sprang forward in the reactions to his post. We can move much faster; why don’t we?
To which some people said: we are! Spring 2005 in Dallas. And the reply came back:
“We are too: Early 2005 in DC.” (More on both of them in a moment.)
While others (like Lex Alexander) simply said: I like the sound of Mark’s company. Where do I apply?
Over at LiveJournal, it was twisted chick (who is one very smart blogger, make a great journalist): “Yes. I want to work there too, but I can’t seem to find the place. And, unfortunately, I’d like to be able to make a living at it.”
Here is some more of what I learned yesterday.
John Robinson, the blogging editor of the Greensboro News Record, wrote a reaction post to Glaser’s:
I know this: it’s precisely the sort of media company the News & Record intends to become. Creating new content. Serving the public and allowing the public to serve journalism. Building a new way of doing smart, citizen journalism. More transparency. News as a conversation. We’ve been having serious, detailed, how-to discussions about all of those things here. This blog is one result. All of the recent discussion about aggregated content — what Greensboro 101 is doing — is where we’re going, too. (See Ed Cone on the Greensboro 101 project. He has the links.)
Meanwhile, Adrian Holavaty wrote in with a reminder that some of Glaser’s future is now- in Kansas:
We’re doing something like this already at Lawrence.com — our hyperlocal entertainment site for Lawrence, Kan., with deep databases of local events, musicians, venues, drink specials, restaurants, dynamically-created radio stations and a ton more.
User-generated content has been growing and growing on Lawrence.com for the past year and a half: All (except one) of our blogs are written by members of the community. Our food weblog is written by a local chef, for instance.
Most of the site’s pages — articles, blog entries, songs, bands, album discographies, restaurants — have user-comment functionality, and we’ve recently been expanding (by popular demand) into friendster-esque territory by allowing people to post profiles, rank other people’s comments, create playlists, etc.
The funny thing is: We’re owned by a newspaper. But it’s a family-owned newspaper, which, I think, is key.
So among local news companies that reject “glacial,” there’s the News Record in Greensboro, NC, Lawrence.com in Kansas, the previously known examples of Northwest Voice in Bakersfield, CA and the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, which has gone blog wild. That reminds me of where public journalism was ten years ago, 1993-94. Then the towns I was naming were Wichita, Charlotte, Norfolk, Akron— places Big Journalism would never look for inspiration.
Today Big Journalism is itself one of those places.
After Glaser’s essay about a hypothetical company he’d want to work for; after my pointer to Pegasus News, Mark Potts—who is a PressThink reader and helped found WashingtonPost.com—e-mailed: “We’ve been in stealth mode as well for several months, but I guess it’s time to come out of the closet.” The venture is called Backfence.com. As with Peg, some elements of Glaser’s “dream” company were there: hyper local, content created by readers, use blogs, wikis, RSS.
Besides the Post site, Potts was part of the team that started @Home Network, among other ventures. He told me he was a “recovering journalist.” I spoke to Potts and partner Susan DeFife about their plans. DeFife was founder and CEO of WomenConnect.com, a site for professional women, and has been involved in other Net ventures.
They want to debut their service soon— initially in the target-rich advertising environment of Washington, DC. But it won’t be “Washington” or “metro” news in any known sense. Their site will be an aggregator of “tiny scale” sites where you can find news as small as the cast list for the school play, or “who knows a good plumber?” Content “written by the readers” means the drama teacher who knows the cast list for the school play will post it at Backfence because he also knows that’s what Backfence is for.
It’s also for hyper-local advertisers who are not served by weeklies or the metro daily. Plus they’re counting on local search that blows away the alternatives available now. Virtually all content is generated by users, who have an incentive to share with others. Some oversight by editors who understand community ownership of the mini-sites is key.
As far as I can tell there won’t be any reporters’ jobs at Backfence.com, just as there weren’t any pros doing that job when people exchanged news over an actual back fence or at the market in town. There is no question, then, that Backfence sees the de-professionalization of news as a key to its success. The pros gave away the “news of your neighbors” franchise— or never had it. “Local news is just not covered by the daily newspaper,” DeFife said. And it’s hard to argue with that.
Of course, there wouldn’t be any point in contacting a blogger but for argument. I wanted to know from Potts and DeFife: what’s the press think at Backfence? And I asked it that way. I also asked about “the journalism part of it,” and where public service comes in. I think I used the words “social mission,” too, but I would have used any words to convey the spirit of my question. I was asking them if they were in any sense a journalism company, or even wanted to be. And if so, where does the journalism part live?
Their answer on the phone was: this is a business, we claim only that. We want no part of journalism as a noble profession because we intend to be market-driven, user-based, advertiser-friendly, community-level and we know how that sits with “professionals” protecting their social mission, which after a while is just holding on to their turf.
At the end of our interview, I suggested they draft a few paragraphs about it. “I’ll run them,” I said. So this is the first public statement by Backfence. I asked two entrepreneurs about their press think and this is what they told me:
Backfence’s News Philosophy (So far)
by Mark Potts, Chairman, Chief Creative Officer
People care most about news and information about the places, people and things closest to them, but this desire for intensely local (neighborhood-level) information is all but unmet by traditional media. Backfence.com will fill that gap by using blogs, wikis, RSS and other technologies to allow citizens to share community news and information with each other, essentially unmediated by editors.
Is this journalism? Not in any sort of traditional sense. The kinds of things that people talk about in their communities—over the backfence, as it were—can seem mundane to an outsider. Local zoning disputes, youth soccer leagues or how to find a great plumber are topics are of critical importance to members of the community that aren’t being covered by traditional media.
Backfence.com will provide a platform for members of the community to post these items and discuss them. Some have called this “citizens media” or “open source journalism;” it’s definitely not Woodward and Bernstein stuff. But it’s interesting to people at the very local level, and that’s the audience—and content creators—that Backfence.com will serve.
At a time when news consumers are increasingly frustrated by what they perceive as the broad, hit-and-run, top-down nature of most journalism, Backfence.com is a local, grassroots approach to helping community members hare the news and information (and advertising) that they believe is most mportant to them.
Well, what do we think of this statement? Let me know in comments.
Meanwhile, Pegasus News received a flurry of action because I used it to highlight the immediacy of Glaser’s post. Unlike Backfence.com, Pegasus has a blog— the Daily Peg. Because it has a blog, Pegasus the company has had to explain what it thinks. (And also change its mind.) Because it has a blog, Pegasus has been drawing interested parties to it, at least some of whom might help.
Last month, at BloggerCon III in Palo Alto, this was time and again the reason I heard for why you blog— it’s a connection-builder, an extender of your network, it increases your collision rate with others of possibly like mind, or “it puts you out there” in conversational space. (Here’s my post on BloggerCon and “the people of Moore’s law.”) Peg’s founder and chief philosopher is anonymous because he has a day job. Yesterday he found himself explaining why he blogs and remains anonymous:
Of the dozen or so people currently on our virtual team, half found us via this blog. Discussion and pushback from readers— even just the reading enforced by daily blogging — have greatly improved our plan since this game began. Through it we’ve gotten hooked up with some of our closest and best advisors. Just today, contacts we made through this blog look to have helped us shave more than $1.5 million out of the launch expense budget.
Which is exactly what the people at BloggerCon meant by “puts you out there.” None of this means Pegasus has a winning idea in local news. (Likewise with Backfence.com.) It means the founder—who is still anonymous—was wise to start a blog. It’s already a dialogic company. You can have a conversation with it. In fact, it’s happening now. The Daily Peg gave a point by point comparison between what Glaser wants and what they’re planning to do. Companies without products aren’t so bad, really. They’re forced to have ideas.
A few reflections: My interest in all this was initially: what would Mark have to say? I mean if you asked him: what’s does your dream company look like? I was curious.
PressThink, I often tell people, is “my own personal magazine.” That’s how I run it. So as managing editor of my blog (inspiration by Robert Cox, who calls himself that) I’m thinking: ask Glaser. I mean, look at what the guy has done. He knows what’s out there. He’s talked to most everyone else who knows. He’s a journalist.
Behold the mysteries of magazine editing. Find smart person who knows subject, ask him what he thinks. Twelve hundred words, due in a week.
Now in this sense I am very much a traditionalist about journalism. I share with the newsroom mind a bias for the voice of the person who has “done the reporting,” itself a kind of magic phrase for generating internal authority in Big Journalism. “We have a right to say that,” someone might say in editing a big series, “we’ve done the reporting.”
To me its common sense: Glaser’s voice has more voices in it. He’s done the reporting. Of course I want his opinion. And his information. And any tips he has. An objective account of a hot dispute? Mark, if you’ve got it, send it. I rely on Glaser, like I rely on hundreds of other journalists whose work I consume, including bloggers like Dave Pell, beat reporters like Liz Halloran and big shots like Howard Kurtz. They’re all “my” journalists.
In all cases I want them to have done the reporting. In all cases, I want their opinion as well as their facts. I want ways to argue with them because I know there are always blind spots. I also want a way to say: could you check this out, please? When they come back from an assignment I want to de-brief them. I want them to alert me when something big is about to blow, or just did. I need their irony and humor, especially about big events and powerful figures in the news. They’re my journalists. They’re my people. They’re essential. I knew Mark Glaser would know something, he’s on the beat.
Between the informed and the informable there is a human connection. It is interactive, something “alive.” This is where many future possibilities in journalism lie. If you wanted it stated as a law, this would be the law. Your ability to inform people today is limited by the quality of your connection to them.
After Matter: Notes, reactions and links
Howard Kurtz on Backfence.com in his Media Notes column, Dec. 13:
This Just In, From The Guy Next Door.
There are already some community sites practicing what’s been dubbed “open-source journalism,” and the potential appeal to people who feel little connection to metropolitan dailies is obvious. Backfence is generating some online buzz because of its national ambitions, its founders’ track record and the notion of stealing some turf in the shadow of the nation’s capital.
Kurtz doesn’t say the news first surfaced at PressThink because of the reaction to Mark Glasser’s piece. Should he?
Big news for readers of this blog: Tech columnist, blogger and We the Media author Dan Gillmore is leaving the San Jose Mercury News for a citizen journalism start-up! This is from Silicon Beat, which has more the announcement (Dec. 10):
Dan will be starting a grass-roots journalism venture, and says he has gotten seed funding. The plan is typical Gillmor. It reflects his appreciation of the need for news to bubble up from the masses. It also allows him to partake of the dream that he has written so much about: The entrepreneur starting something interesting. “I’m jumping off a cliff with the expectation of assembling a hang-glider before I get to the bottom,” he told us this evening, in a phone call from Boston, where he is attending a conference at Harvard. “I figured the worst risk is that I’d be out of work in six months.”
Gillmore also announced it at his weblog. “I hope to pull together something useful that helps enable — and demonstrates — the emerging grassroots journalism that I wrote about in my recent book. Something powerful is happening, it’s in the early stages and I have a chance to help figure this out.”
Steve Outing of Poynter thinks “the citizen journalism trend is inevitable,” and wonders if the lethargic Big Media can even play in that game.
Entrepreneurs, as first movers in this space, will establish the dominant brands in open-source journalism before mainstream media companies figure out that there’s real opportunity available (or get past their trepidation about diving in). If in citizen journalism there’s an enterprise that grows to be a clear market leader, it may expand so fast that mainstream media companies — by the time they get over their fear of the idea of normal people contributing to their news products — will have difficulty catching up.
Jeff Jarvis writes: Follow the money… if you can find it. “There’s a mesmerizing exchange going on among lots of smart people looking for where the money will be in this explosion of citizens’ media (which, in this case, I broadly define as media controlled by citizens). My quick answer: I don’t know. Wish I did. But I don’t.”
Simon Waldman, head of the Guardian’s online operation: Citizens media: when’s the right time? where’s the right place?
Steve Rubel at Micropersuasion says the competition is not old media— it’s e-bay, plus Craig’s List: “While Rosen points to a couple of stealth projects that will try hard to create a profitable business around hyper-local citizen journalism when they launch next year, I believe they will face massive competition from a successful company that’s already right under our noses - eBay.” Rubel sees “a new era where citizen journalism is directly funded by person-to-person commerce.” Read the rest to find out why he thinks that.
Blogger and ex-CNN’er Rebecca MacKinnon responds with: the The Global News Department I’d like to build. She calls it “participatory world news”— in contrast to “foreign coverage.” Check it out.
“Publishers think that they know best, but the truth is that the writers on the front line know best.” Blogging capitalist Jason Calacanis in the comments to Mark Glaser’s essay:
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.
… The model you 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.
Plus: he says he’s hiring, if you have the passion. Read the rest.
erik at niload appears to work for the Washington Post Company in some way. Noting the plans for Backfence.com, he says the Post “might want to start thinking about ways of tapping into this kind of mindset, without alienating the very people it would rely upon for content. Otherwise, they’re going to miss an opportunity — not just for boosting revenue, but also for boosting their presence.” (I am continually amazed at how many bloggers refuse to include a simple “about” link.)
Blogger Dan Michalski: WHO ARE THESE CRAZY PEGASUS NEWS GUYS?
Susan Mernit: “The funny thing about this moment in time is that many of the media barons, I venture, would agree with Mark—they just don’t know what to do to replace their ad base. Like dragons sitting on piles of treasure, publishers have built up client relationships and sub lists that fuel their businesses and keep margins high. Like the polar ice floes, that all seems to be melting away, and at a similarly alarming rate. Since I don’t believe new dragons are necessarily better than old dragons, I would invite everyone to change and rethink their business as well as start new one.”
Hmmmm. LeMonde is offering blogs to readers. (Via JD Lasica.)
John Robinson, editor of the New Record, continues the conversation. From his weblog:
OK, we’ve seen the future, but some of it is still unclear
I am excited about the possibilities presented by expanding the voice and reach and impact of journalism. Blogs are a vibrant addition to the more traditional formats of journalism. Blogs have scooped the newspaper. People talk to you and you talk back. Everyone who wants has a voice. It’s journalism at its core.
We’re trying to transform the newspaper, and blogging is changing the face of journalism. In my mind, it’s a nice fit. For weeks now, I’ve read about the need for traditional journalism to change or die….
I don’t know the right model. Our vision isn’t far enough along to answer many of your questions. We’re experimenting and learning like everyone else. But as I look ahead, I don’t think it is possible for us or any other media company to control/dominate/crush the citizen media. Really, we don’t want to….
Ed Cone: “blogs are the long tail” and the (Greensboro) News & Record “may be emerging as one of the players in the fat part of the curve.” Great Wired article on the long tail effect.
Mark Hamilton: “Glaser touched off something that’s still spreading. In that way, his essay is as clear an example as you’ll find of journalism as conversation.”
Phil Jones says in comments that even some “new” media companies don’t get it:
The problem is, despite the rhetoric about localization and decentralization, a company which wants to put itself in this space, still sees itself as a centre or hub. It’s where the local soccer teams and drama teachers and zoning complainers will go (together) to have their conversations with each other.
And it’s by aggregating this local variety, the media company hopes to keep itself in the value chain, with something to sell to advertisers.
But the evolution of the tools is against it. The whole point of this revolution is to put communication technology at the edge of the network, in the hands of the public. If they want aggregators they can put them on their own desktops. They’ll find like-minded people in the blogrolls of their friends. They’ll build social networks on Friendster, share photojournalism on Flicr, run their own wikis from SocialText…
The Daily Peg replies to this post and the discussion in comments: “I realized that there are actually two distinct schools in this new media cabal: there’s us; and there’s everybody else (Backfence, Baristanet, Ventura, etc.).” Read the rest.
Bubblegeneration (new to me) is a London-based blog about strategy, economics, innovation, and business models. Umair Haque writes:
Backfence and the future of journalism.
Like I’ve argued before, I think the market will fragment into two big spaces - for high-quality publishing markets, and relatively low-quality open-source bazaars. I don’t think there is room for a Backfence in the middle (unless it simply wants to be an ohmynews clone).
Newsroom refugee JennyD steps forward: Old Media is Dying.
Before I became an education wonk and statistician, I was the editor of a magazine, and a newspaper reporter. The whole time I worked in newspapers, I had the sense of being in a world of flat-earthers, where dullness and straightforwardness and plain vanilla was served up day in and day out…
Jenny links to this report on mainstream journalists at sea: “Served recently on a panel at the annual convention of the Association of Opinion Page Editors. (You see, there is a club for everyone.) Never have I spoken to so many sad-looking people. Maybe it was the tweeds, the frayed corduroys. Maybe it was what they ate. Or what they had to swallow at work.”
Posted by Jay Rosen at December 2, 2004 10:02 AM
While I don't have The Answers, I have the answers to some of the above as it relates to us:
"Jay, I'm struck by the Backfence remark dismissing the "social mission" of journalists. That's the real tension in Glaser's story. He can see all the good stuff coming along. But where is the place for him?"
-- That's where our model and BF's differs substantially. While I believe that citizen journalists can be a HUGE part of the conversation, they are, by necessity, ancillary in the news gathering. You can't really cover news without someone whose daily bread depends on going out and getting the story. I'd call BF's take on this completely new-media. We're more of a hybrid.
"So I'm wondering if news outfits have to reorganize in a way that takes specialty reporting out of the local, geographically based business of news and media, and instead relies more on pooled resources to obtain specialty reporting."
-- We think you have to have both, to a point. We plan to deploy very junior geographic beat reporters for the hyperlocal content. When they hit on something bigger, they collaborate with the topical (and more senior) beat reporter-- Crime, City Hall, what have you. We also see the geobeats as a service provider. A reader sees helicopters flying around his neighborhood and emails the reporter, who finds out why and posts it.
"Also, there are layers of editors who all look at stories, and that might change when the story can be edited and updated constantly. It would resolve that "dog and bush" style of editing so prevalent in some newsrooms (editors need to "pee" on a story to mark it as theirs).
"One of the most interesting parts of thinking about this is to consider that the entire structure of news reporting can be ripped up and rebuilt. That leads to interesting ideas."
-- See the edit workflow on our site.
-- As to the more specialized beats, I don't see too many in our model. If there's a science story, unless the research was done in our town, we're just going to link it. All resources deployed on local content...
I probably shouldn't be a party-pooper, but ... Ouch ouch ouch. As a programmer, I'm a big supporter of Open Source. I can give several arguments in favor of it.
However ... there's a certain type of reaction, though nominally in favor of it, where, like a cartoon character, you can almost see someone's eyes turn funny and a big thought balloon appear above their head: "PEOPLE WORK FOR FREE!".
There is a similar phenomena in journalism and related areas.
"Wheee .. let's just provide a website, and EVERYONE ELSE WILL DO THE WORK!"
Where do I sign up for a gig like that too? :-)
There's a gold-rush about how to capture all the chat, the gossip, the what-do-*you*-think, that is so cheap to deal with, compared to anything involving facts and reporting.
This is very seductive because there are a few notable successes. But what sometimes isn't obvious is that there can only *be* a few successes, due to network effects, and they are in fact still businesses. The work has not disappeared. It has simply moved from creation to maintenance and distribution.
Telling people that there's a workable business model here, is real and perhaps worthwhile. But it is not nearly as sexy as telling them that the leprechauns will grant their wishes if they merely leave a glass of milk on the porch.
Still, someone will win the lottery, and it's understandable why people try.
As the word "blog" topped the Merriam-Webster's list of most searched entry in 2004 -- http://www.Merriam-Webster.com/info/04words.htm -- it's time to take a snapshot of the changing face of journalism.
Citizen journalism is inevitable not because it is new but because it is becoming more accepted. Those of us who were new to 'blogging' years ago are being joined by more our colleagues. When legal structures prevent the formation of daily newspapers, radio or television stations, individuals are taking up their issues with a passion online.
Traditional print journalism suffered in 2004 as more papers erected barriers to access, including registration. While for some it is not a problem, for others remembering a hundred passwords for a hundred different news sources is a hassle. Likewise, the incessant pop-up ads that appear for readers of USA Today and other papers seem to tell the reader, "Don't bother!"
In 2004 Planeta.com -- http://www.planeta.com -- celebrated our first decade online. Back in 1994 we were the hip 'gopher' site that became a popular archive for those interested in environmental news and ecotourism. When we registered for a website in 1995, it was with a sense of anticipation of a kid jumping into a brand new sandbox.
Flash forward ten years and the sand box is a bit more crowded (and keeping with the metaphor, not without its share of cat turds), but there is a similar sense of excitement.
Last year Planeta teamed with a journalists and research organizations to create the Latin America Media Project (LAMP) -- http://www.planeta.com/lamp.html -- to highlight quality reporting from and about the region.
Planeta (Spanish for "Planet") covers the globe and gives preferential treatment for the Americas as our view is that those in the United States don't have a good understanding of our neighbors and that most LatAm coverage is crisis-driven.
Nevertheless, there is a discouraging trend. The paying market for international news, particularly with an 'eco' or an 'ecotourism' focus, has dramatically declined in the past decade. In terms of quantity of publications, environmental journalism reached its peak during the 1992 Earth Summit!
When mainstream media is not covering disaster, news tends to spotlight sports news, celebrity sightings and holiday celebrations (Christmas, Day of the Day, Solstice, Easter, Ramadan, etc.)
What's covered well? Earthquakes, coups, military action, sports. What's not covered? Things that work -- including conservation, clean beaches, education campaigns, etc.
Conduct a photo search via Yahoo's News Directory and review at least three of the following galleries. Pictures do change on a regular basis, so you will be viewing the most recent newsworthy images.
What do you see? How well do these pictures represent the reality of the country? What's missing? What is shown out of context?
We have a long way to go toward improving how we see the world and create the media ventures we can take pride AND make 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?" "It’s 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, “How are we going to pay our reporters if you guys don’t 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 guy… or gal. It is a beast without a brain. Most of the time, it doesn’t know what it’s doing.." More...
They're Not in Your Club but They Are in Your League: Firedoglake at the Libby Trial: "I’m just advising Newsroom Joe and Jill: make room for FDL in your own ideas about what’s coming on, news-wise. Don’t 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 isn’t inclined to tell us might be way more practical than you think." More...
Twilight of the Curmudgeon Class: "We’re at the twilight of the curmudgeon class in newsrooms and J-schools. (Though they can still do a lot of damage.) You know they’re 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 userï¿½s 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 it’s not important to us that contributors keep opinion out. What’s 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 shouldnï¿½t 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: “The assignment was straightforward enough,” writes Marjie Lundstrom of the Sacramento Bee, “talk to people.” 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...