February 6, 2006
Introducing PressThink's Blue Plate Special
This blog has to expand. One way of doing that: a new spin-off site called Blue Plate Special, written by students in my blogging 101 class, plus others we may drag in. Each Special to offer fresh intelligence about one thing going on in the Net-meets-journalism world. First up: newspaper blogging.
We’re starting with simple format: a swarm of edited posts and reported features, short and long, held together by a big picture post that stands on its own, and links to all the other posts. Good information and multiple perspectives on a single theme— for now, that is the formula for a Blue Plate Special. (The domain will be www.blueplatespecial.net, but it’s not operative yet.)
State-of-the-art in newspaper blogging
Our intent in the debut is to execute well upon a basic form in journalism: the snapshot, or state-of-the-art report. The first one will be about blogging at American newspapers. Newspapers are definitely past the “let’s start some blogs” stage, but what stage are they at? Where’s the action, traction, and satisfaction in the growing world of newspaper blogs? NYU students and I, joined by a few special guests, pros and amateurs, will try to find out.
Blue Plate Special Number One—to appear later this month—will have a core team of 12 correspondents, 5 editors, two of them also Web producers, plus assorted contributors, who are now being hunted down. (To view the story line-up, go here.)
If you’re a newspaper blogger or an editor who’s overseeing blogs, expect an e-mail or call. We may want to interview you. And if you want to be in this package or help us out, e-mail me. We can use you. If you’re a blogger, journalist, writer or aspiring press critic who reads PressThink, and you want to contribute to the debut of Blue Plate Special, we don’t pay in dollars but we plan to pay in readers and linkage.
Current plans (which could change) call for Blue Plate Specials on a monthly schedule— February, March, April, May. But we’ll see how it goes.
One thing I want to know from PressThink readers: what ideas do you have for the Blue Plate series? After we kick things off with newspaper blogging, where should we go next in the Net-meets-journalism, press-in-transformation world?
Examples of blog expansion.
As a matter of form, PressThink has remained more or less the same since September of 2003. I haven’t built any additions. But I have been watching how blog expansion happens. Some creative examples:
There’s Weldon Berger’s BTC News, which added a White House correspondent, Eric Brewer, in 2005. (See Dan Froomkim on it.) At the time I didn’t catch the significance of Berger adding a White House reporter. Now I think it’s one of the smartest moves any political blogger has made; and I have been considering how PressThink might develop its own network of correspondents.
An example I continue to admire is Terry Teachout’s About Last Night, which has a second contributor, Laura Demanski. (“TERRY TEACHOUT on the arts in New York City, with additional dialogue by OUR GIRL IN CHICAGO” is says at the top.) I have considered in the past expansion by adding a second contributor.
There’s the more ambitious example of Chris Nolan (see her PressThink post, The Stand Alone Journalist is Here) who expanded her own blog, Politics From Left to Right, into a group of writers on politics, who range from left to right. Her new (and very handsome) site is called Spot On; it’s the home of six authors.
And there’s the example of Talking Points Memo by Josh Marshall. He expanded by adding a spin-off site, TPM Cafe, which has a roster of talented part-time contributors and reader-written blogs. It also has comment threads (Talking Points Memo does not.) Marshall will soon debut a second spin-off. TPM Muckraker, for which he has raised money.
All those expansions make sense to me, and they give me ideas.
Creating Blue Plate Special is part of a larger project: figuring out what the re-built 2.0 version of PressThink should be. The site is overdue for an overhaul and re-design, which I am starting to raise money for. I have to decide what should be added or “fixed” in the second version, and what directions to expand in. As soon as I have the funding for it, I will begin to solicit ideas from PressThink readers.
Posted by Jay Rosen at February 6, 2006 6:53 PM
Here's the Line-up so far: Not all of these will work out of course. Each is supposed to be a blog post, but in the old media style ("cover story") as noted.
1. The Best Blogging Newspapers
2. Who's Blogging: The Chart
3. The Worst Newspaper Blogs
Cover story package
4. The Editor as Blogger: John Robinson of Greensboro
5. Reporters Who Blog
Major feature with interviews
6. Timeline of newspaper blog history
7. Funniest Newspaper Blogs
8. Blogs at college newspapers
Report and critique
9. Dead and Abandoned Blogs
10. Ultra-Specific or Hyper-Specialized Blogs
11. David Carr's Carpetbagger Blog
12. The Design Sensibility of Newspaper Blogs
13. International Newspaper Blogging
14. Close-Up on the Houston Chronicle Bloging section
15. Rating the transparency blogs
16. Comments: State of the Art
17. Miniature best-ofs: sports, tech, family blogs
18. Guide to Business and Giant Company Bloggers
19. National Newspaper Blogging
Notes and Commentary
20. Blogging at the Alt Weeklies
21. Canadian Newspaper Blogging
Overview with Links
22. Blogging at Smaller Newspapers
Overview with Links.
Comments welcome, additions and edits too. We have writers for some of these; students will handle many. Still looking for contributors for some.
Web 2.0 (the concept, dammit, not its promoters -- don't change the subject) suggests that what's new and transformative online isn't new whiz-bang tech, but the social applications of basic tech tools.
So if the revolutionary aspect of Web 2.0 lies within social networks, perhaps the place to go in search of the answer to our constant question (where will we find the money and support for quality new media journalism?) lies not in technology or in journalism or in various convergence theories, but in the untapped capabilities of person-to-person online networks. Specifically: their financial capabilities.
What's the big hurdle for so many endeavors? Capitalization. And how do you get capitalization? You go to a bank. Or your parents. You schmooze VCs or you mortgage your house. Either you've got money/connections to money, or you work through the traditional intermediaries, none of whom give a damn about your product or your interest. They're in it for the return on investment, whether you're selling porn or quality niche journalism.
Maybe the last piece of the puzzle that has to fall into place is the creation of reliable online social tools that allow groups to build capitalization around shared interests. Just as the power of the blogosphere lies within the magic of the distributed network, so too might personal financial networks change our ideas about capitalism.
We want better stuff, and there are clearly people out there who are making that better stuff. But when we ask for it, the people with the money to invest tell us there isn't a sufficient market. Which is bullshit -- it's just that the people with the capital expect different scales of profitability. They want the largest possible markets, and that means averaging of taste and interest and quality.
Never mind that if you had perfectly targeted products for every niche you'd sell a lot more stuff -- it's that everybody wants the big quick score. And that means you get generic journalism, generic summer blockbusters, generic bestsellers.
More than two years ago I proposed a way that people with a shared interest in particular kinds of fiction could work together cooperatively to select and publish new novels -- using classic market capitalism and online social tools. When I think about that idea today, I realize that my Virtual Publishing Groups concept was an awful lot like what Craig's List does. Give people the opportunity to create relationships and conduct business.
Craig's List is what Phil Meyer calls "a bad competitor" because it doesn't have the same profit expectations as newspapers. consequently, it can do a better job for less. It's still capitalism, but with different rules.
Maybe what emerging media needs is some kind of Open Source Capitalism.
Old, yes, but relevant here (which is why I bring it up.)
I read Michelle Malkin's column about this, and was struck when she bemoaned that this event would eclipse the rest of Cheney's service to his country.
It made me think of Howard Dean, and understand what happened to him a bit better. I've never understood why the caricature of Dean was so different from what I know about his actual record as a Governor.
I never quite understood why the "Dean scream" became his defining moment.
Yesterday, I thought about -- I think it was Matt Taibbi, who I saw recounting his time on the road during campaign '04, speaking about how the Press Corps sort of has a sense of a candidate and pokes and pokes until they know whether or not their sense of that candidate is accurate. They poked and poked Dean to find out whether he was as "prickly" as the caricature -- and they found that he was.
So "the scream" became a really handy metaphor -- synechdoche really -- for this public persona as a wildman.
In the same way, I see this happening with Cheney in the press.
Taken by itself, this event is minor, and clearly an accident. But it has become a metaphor -- an instant metaphor -- and an apt metaphor for so much of how this White House does business. That's why we all knew that the night comedians would have a field day. Humor traffics in metaphor and analogy. It is Iraq and it is secrecy. It is aiming at Bin Ladin but hitting Saddam instead. And as far as the press is concerned, it is the unwillingness to engage.
This is why this event is eating itself, and why the failure to address the press has become the issue. That's the press's issue -- and this is the metaphor.
If this is Cheney's defining moment, it will not be because everyone just wants to make fun of him for making a serious blunder here, but because it is (much like Katrina was) a powerful and visual metaphor.
My prediction is that Garry Trudeau will debut a new icon ... Cheney as shotgun.