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January 23, 2005

A Few Key Moments at the Blogging, Journalism & Credibility Conference

The podcasting era dawns for Powerline. How public involvement leads to information hunger. Blogging may be profitable for some media owners but not others. A passion for neutrality and Wiki News. Keep your eye on the open archive. And more.....

I asked participants in the Conference on Blogging, Journalism and Credibility to e-mail me one thing they changed their mind about or saw differently. Deadline for replies is 2 pm Monday, and I will report what they said in a separate post. (See “Big Wigs From the Blogging & Journalism Conference Say What They Found.”)

Background essay for the conference is PressThink, Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over (Jan. 15, 2004, rev. Jan. 21.)

Meanwhile, here were the key moments for me out of Friday and Saturday’s sessions:

1. Public involvement leads to information hunger.

Rick Kaplan, head of MSNBC, explaining that cable news is going to survive: “on people’s involvement.” That’s what will feed their hunger for news and talk. Look at the the way the ratings for news rose because of the campaign. It’s not just that people were interested; they were involved. Kaplan’s thinking: the bloggers are connected to the people who really care about events in the world. That’s my core audience. That’s the driver of demand. (It’s also the argument civic journalists were making all through in the 1990s, which is another post.)

People need news and facts to inform their participation. That’s one way of thinking. When people get involved and participate, they seek out information. That’s a different way of thinking.

2. Profitable for whom? How blogging makes money.

Rick Kaplan teaching us why blogging has economic value to MSNBC that it might not have if you don’t run an operation like MSNBC. He likened the situation to Ted Turner owning the Atlanta Braves. They were not worth as much to most owners because it was hard to make money running a baseball franchise. “The team would have to go to the seventh game of the World Series, not the sixth, to turn a profit every year,” said Kaplan.

But since Turner owned a cable network and selling air time is a business that does make money, the Braves were profitable for him to own. They fed good content through the pipes. Blogging, he suggested, would be profitable in this way, even if you can’t “make money at it.” Exactly how the analogy applies he did not say.

3. There is no continuum on which journalists and bloggers fit.

David Weinberger arguing that what drives bloggers is their interests, as in “I blog about what I am interested in.” Journalists follow events, bloggers pick and choose. This is why he sees a discontinuity between blogging and journalism. The “driving” force is essentially different. Journalism is an effort to record the world, blogging an attempt to be in it. They cannot be placed on some “information” continuum. Most bloggers aren’t trying to provide information at all.

Dave put it this way: “This discussion assumes that blogging is continuous with journalism and ought to be judged by the same criteria. And it isn’t. The change to the institution of journalism will come, I think, not from bloggers who think they’re sort of journalists but from the 99.999999% of us who don’t think we’re journalists at all.”

Later on he put it this way: “The media is owned. The blogosphere isn’t. We together are building it. The media have to try to get us interested in what they do, but the blogosphere is constructed out of our interests.” (Salon’s Scott Rosenberg, commenting from afar, agrees.)

4. A passion for neutrality and the challenge from Wiki News.

Jimmy Wales on the Wiki community, its neutrality principle and the Encyclopedia Brittanica dismissing competition from a “free” site because, after all, $350 million had been invested in the Brittanica. “Well Wikipedia is kicking its butt without having a single employee.” That’s how David Weinberger put it in his his recap of that moment, which was the most eye-opening of the conference for me. Jeff Jarvis captured it this way:

Jimbo Wales, founder of Wikipedia, says that a few years ago, nobody could have predicted that a bunch of unpaid citizens could replace the Encyclopedia Brittanica with its budget of $350 million but it happened. He said that the business model of The New York Times is not sustainable. Abramson shudders, of course. Kaplan said Wales doesn’t know what he’s talking about; he has not been in a place like Baghdad and does not know the dififculty of getting information there and does not know how the existing system can be replaced.

That was the moment of the biggest gulf. Each thought the other naive— clueless, even! But it did pass. Previously I had been skeptical about Wiki News, as many others were. But now knowing a little more about “the Wiki community,” I am re-thinking what such a network could do with news. The surprising thing to me is the emergence of a community passionate about neutrality. This, for obvious reaons, is rare— people who believe strongly in what Wales calls a neutral point of view.

The professional community of journalists, like the Wiki community, is a bunch of people who, strange as it sounds, believe strongly in the virtues of neutral description. One of the biggest advantages mainstream journalists feel they have, as providers of information, is this belief system and a knowledge of how to make it work. The Wiki people are learning how neutrality works when there are “open” conditions, rather than the closed ranks of a profession. They are also learning how to care about the neutral role, and even fight for it. A most unusual development in the life of human passions. (See Rebecca MacKinnon on her Wiki revelations.)

5. The podcasting era dawns for Powerline.

John Hinderaker of Powerline, after an extremely effective explanation by Brendan Greeley of the Public Radio Exchange, “getting” podcasting for the first time. One of the pleasures of the conference was gettng to know John a little and watching him in action.

This particular moment topped all “aha’s” because you could see the idea break across his face: now that I know what this is, we are going to be reaching way more people. And it’s true; they will. Hinderacker, of course, already has his own radio show. (A link to which I have been unable to find.)

On Friday he had written at his blog, “One of my goals was to figure out what the heck a ‘podcast’ is; no luck yet, but I’ve got another day to work on it.” Saturday he did figure it out, and it taught me why Dave Winer has the influence he does. As soon as Hinderacker realized what a podcast is, and what it doesn’t require, Hinderacker knew what do with Winer’s co-invention—the podcast—and didn’t need Winer any more, or need to agree with him. “He’s got it,” said Winer, smiling. Hinderacker posted:

Through info from our readers and a presentation I’ve just listened to here at the Blogging/Journalism conference, I now understand podcasting. More or less. This is intensely interesting to me; as most readers know, we have a radio show in addition to this site. Podcasting could offer an interesting alternative means of getting our show (or the equivalent; no radio station is necessary) out to our readers through our RSS feed. We’ll see whether anything develops out of this.

“I came to admire John Hinderaker, of Power Line, even though our politics are opposite,” said Winer at Scripting News. “We have deeper values that bind us.”

6. Keep Your Eye on the Open Archive

I made one empassioned plea during the conference, and it was on an issue I didn’t know about or care about a year ago: the open archive. Most of the big news combines have, I believe, the wrong policy— wrong for the future of the news industry, wrong for the practice of journalism, and wrong for the public on the Web. They believe in charging for their archive, and they change the urls (or Web address), meaning that all links to the original address go dead.

But link death and the pay wall are killing the news business for reasons explained by Simon Waldman of the Guardian: The Importance of Being Permanent. At the conference I asked whether the newsroom troops fully understood what the generals had decided about their work: that through this ill-fated archive policy all their good journalism will be “lost to Google, lost to bloggers, lost to online forums and conversation, lost to the long tail where value is built up.” (From the Waldman post.)

Shortly after, Weinberger’s notes show, “Bill Mitchell of Poynter says this discussion is changing his mind. He came in thinking that archives were one of the reliable sources of revenues, but now he’s thinking about the social impact of locking up the archives and about alternative business models.”

For those who wonder whether Big Journalism can change itself and get with the more open language of the Web, the key issue to watch—the signal for a big switch in philosophy—is the archive policy. My suggestion: Open archive, permanent url’s, free public access, make your money off smart advertising keyed to search, plus added-value services that make sophisticated use of the data in the archive, which you know better than anyone else because you own it and create it. Weinberger: “Jay calls upon journalists to demand this.”

In fact I do. But not just to demand it— get involved in trying to figure this thing out so that the open archive pays for itself, or even makes money.

Dan Gillmor knows way more about the economics of it and has written a knock-down post with a great title Newspapers: Open Your Archives. A must read. Gillmore suggests a strategy for how to make the open archive pay. I think his post will get the buzz going. To me, it’s the signature policy of the old regime, and that’s why any movement to reverse matters.

One more thing: News organizations, once they grasp Waldman’s argument about content accumulating in value on the Web, will figure out how to do journalism so as to continually improve the (future) value of the open archive.

A simple example would be: if you make an effort to always do the bios of the key actors when you have any sort of newsmaking public controversy, then you are always building your public actor bio file, and new products may emerge from that.

After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…

I don’t understand tags yet but I am supposed to put in.

Adrian Holovaty of “Open newspaper archives are good for the community. Forget monetization, forget maintaining newspapers’ authority, forget being higher than competitors in search rankings. Journalism exists, in its golden ideal, to spread truth and give people information that helps their lives. Journalists should advance that cause as far as possible.” And he has a compelling example.

Seth Finkelstein has some thoughts on the archive question which amount to, “A-listers take a short break from reputation enhancement and stumble into doing something kinda useful.”

Matt Stoller isn’t buying it:

Berkmaniacs still see more Dan Rathers, huge wedges of socially liberalish broadcast cheese sitting there for them to chow down on. But whatever. That stuff is fated to die. It’s the new culture of participatory Fox that is the danger, because protecting civil society means more than protecting one’s career in the emerging field of public journalism. It means taking on those who attack the public’s ability to have faith in its own judgment, the public’s ability to do journalism and participate civically. It means calling out organized propagandizing attempts and delegitimizing those who propagate them.

Or maybe I’m just wrong. After all, Intelligent Design and Evolution are both theories with evidence, right?

Mark Tapscott was listening to the webcast: “There came a point in that discussion when Jill Abrahamson of The New York Times asked in a voice that dripped with condescension if the bloggers present had any idea how much it costs the Times to maintain a Baghdad bureau. The implication was that such a bureau - i.e. infrastructure - is required to cover Iraq.” His post has a lot in it. (Link.)

I wrote this at the conference weblog last night: “The forces of denial are in retreat.”

That’s the statement with which I ended Saturday. “The forces of denial are in retreat.” Which is simply my impression—an educated guess, really—about where the mainstream journalism world is, right now, on matters of blogging, journalism, Internet, and trust. The “forces” of denial aren’t people, but tendencies within people. For a very long time, the mainstream press has tended to deny that it needs to change any of its ideas about journalism in order to survive and prosper on the new platform.”


Robert Cox, Faith Without Works. A great list of projects for the Media Bloggers Association, a group to which I belong. What I like about Cox is that he does things, a rare quality. Many of his ideas address “the problems of standing alone,” as I wrote in this post: Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over.

And Monday, Cox e-mails in with:

The “big idea” behind MBA offering CARR (computer-aided research and reporting) training is the potential for “distributed blogging”; bringing together, say 1,000 bloggers - trained and organized - to analyze a complex government document like the Federal Budget and produce a detailed analysis of the report within a matter of hours and then disseminate that information to tens of millions via a network of blogs. If you think CBS News did not like the treatment they got by bloggers, imagine how Congress will feel when they realize every bit of pork they to slip into the federal budget is going to be broadcast worldwide by an army of bloggers. Now multiply that for state and local budgets, government departments and so on.

Uh, yeah.

Steve Rubel at Micropersuasion points to Firefox: an amazing case of media tool building by citizens. “There is no greater example of the power of blogging and open source marketing than the rise of the Firefox Web browser. Firefox isn’t just a browser. It’s a religion.” And it’s working, gaining market share. Fascinating post. “Open Source Marketing 101 is in session,” says Rubel in closing, “and there will be lots more to learn.”

I too find the Firefox story pretty astonishing. But it’s very much a continuation of the narrative Ed Cone had going back in the fall of 2003, writing not about the browser wars but the political game. The Marketing of a President.

John Palfrey of the Berkman Center: “Some of the leadership may well come from people who participated, one way or another, in this conference. Some of the leaders are people lucky enough to have power today. But the leaders of this changing environment are most likely not people who are yet empowered, or well-known, or conference-goers. The leaders are most likely clacking away on laptops somewhere, editing a wikinews post or launching a blog in the long tail or carrying around a tape recorder somewhere remote.”


…it’s only the right wing bloggers who are obsessed with the notion that blogs are “self-correcting” and “more accurate than the MSM” [argh, please kill that acronym] and “big media’s being destroyed by bloggers!!!” and “I’m not a blogger I’m a freelance distributed journalist” and “Bl0gggerzzz r00l!”

While left wing bloggers are highly critical of the media, it’s rarely in that self-aggrandizing and demonstrable false kind of way.

blogging’s great, but get over yourselves.

Posted by Jay Rosen at January 23, 2005 1:15 PM