Traditional Vs. Non-Traditional Journalism

Chris Anderson and Will Hearst talking shop in May of 2006:

Publisher, Will Hearst, on the evolution of journalism:

[..] In the era of 20 years ago, there was a notion of a professional journalist — I’m not saying let’s race back to that era — what I’m saying is that notion is utterly gone. And what we are seeing as so-called professional journalism is really freelance material, shot in Baghdad, shipped to New York, somebody voice-overs it and that’s supposed to be “live news.”

And we’re covering Israel out of London and we’re covering Nairobi out of Tokyo, you know, we’re kidding ourselves. So in a way, I think the cure is not to go backwards, but to go forwards and to label that stuff and get more of that material and do away with this pseudo-professional news, which it really isn’t.

I mean if we’re gonna have “citizen journalism,” then let’s have it. […]

I completely appreciate the sentiment, but Will Hearst knows better than anybody that isn’t going to occur through the existing mainstream channels.

Mainstream news outlets — television and newspaper alike — are busy attempting to figure out how to keep the best parts of their old revenue model in place while leveraging the independent voices of the information age.

While the conglomerates look for new ways to count the same beans, innovative distribution models with decentralized reporting have already taken hold.

This shouldn’t be the cornerstone of the conversation, though. Even without an organized effort to distribute decentralized reporting, there are already 30 million active blogs in play around the world.

The news is becoming hyper-local and hyper-topical without the steady hand of industry drivers to guide it; traditional journalism is going the way of the stock broker.

Now traditional ethics? Well, that’s another story entirely

The Bottom Line Of CrowdSourcing

crowdsourcing
Wired News
Gannett to Crowdsource News
By Jeff Howe

[…] According to internal documents provided to Wired News and interviews with key executives, Gannett, the publisher of USA Today as well as 90 other American daily newspapers, will begin crowdsourcing many of its newsgathering functions. Starting Friday, Gannett newsrooms were rechristened “information centers,” and instead of being organized into separate metro, state or sports departments, staff will now work within one of seven desks with names like “data,” “digital” and “community conversation.”

The initiative emphasizes four goals: Prioritize local news over national news; publish more user-generated content; become 24-7 news operations, in which the newspapers do less and the websites do much more; and finally, use crowdsourcing methods to put readers to work as watchdogs, whistle-blowers and researchers in large, investigative features.

“This is a huge restructuring for us,” said Michael Maness, the VP for strategic planning of news and one of the chief architects of the project. According to an e-mail sent Thursday to Gannett news staff by CEO Craig Dubow, the restructuring has been tested in 11 locations throughout the United States, but will be in place throughout all of Gannett’s newspapers by May. “Implementing the (Information) Center quickly is essential. Our industry is changing in ways that create great opportunity for Gannett.”

[…]

Well, it looks like Jay Rosen‘s NewAssignment.net isn’t as much R&D as he and many others have thought.

Sure, Jay will have tons more room to explore the creation of a collaborative news model with value for the reader, the participants and the domain alike, but with this news from Gannett, it’s obvious that the owners of these newspapers are finally getting that change is an eventuality.

My question: Is their approach to CrowdSourcing as pure as Jay’s?

As Jay tells it, NewAssignment will evolve over time (without the pressures of a bottom line, as it’s root is based in academia), discovering and iterating different methods of collaboration with citizens who are willing to put time and effort into a story because it absolutely concerns them from either a personal or community perspective.

No matter how much Gannett, the organization, talks that talk, their institutional and primary shareholders will not allow them to walk that exact walk. This is not an egalitarian shift in operating procedures; this is a shift based purely on industry competition and the potential loss of capital.

The motivations of editors and journalists within these organizations align much more with the drivers behind NewAssignment, but the bottom line for their careers is that they are at the mercy of the business drivers of the Gannetts of the world. So when an organization decides to run in this direction, I can only imagine the types of conversations to be found at the water-cooler.

The Future Of CrowdSourcing

My net takeaway of this announcement from Gannett is positive, but only in as much as their organizational methodology doesn’t attempt to leverage the free output of people as a mechanism for reaching a bottom-line. For if people’s creativity, perspectives and thesis’ are tapped into—beyond the aforementioned proactive participation of watchdogging, whistle-blowing and researching—then we’re heading down a path that isn’t progressive; it’s a reversion to the underpinnings of the industrial revolution and the techniques of mass production, only now within the information age.

This isn’t an easy subject to take a position on because technology isn’t a static delivery platform. Take the search industry as an example.

When a search engine (corporation) indexes billions of web pages (other people’s work) and returns search results with advertising affixed, that search engine is essentially CrowdSourcing to establish their bottom-line. Now, because the vast majority of people and organizations whose web sites, blogs, services, applications, etc. receive a huge benefit of consistent exposure from such an arrangement, the search industry is considered to be a benefit rather than exploitation.

But a particular news organization does not fall into the same sphere as a search engine.

A search engine indexes everything, from the base domain to the most granular content found within. If/when news organizations venture beyond working the wisdom of the crowd in a participatory fashion, and begin to algorithmically tap into the meta-data of external amateur output—whether it be blog posts, video, photography, podcasts, etc.—the fine line between collaboration and exploitation will be crossed in order to impact the bottom-line.

Other people, afar and local, are thinking about these issues as well:

  • Chris Messina is a tireless advocate for community and open-source, so his perspective on CrowdSourcing goes even deeper into the fundamental drivers of our capitalistic society. This interview is an interesting conversation along these lines.
  • Local blogger, The Shu, posted his meandering thoughts along the lines of this very same issue early last year—particular to the announcement that the Greensboro News & Record planned on creating a “Town Square” with the participation of local bloggers—and was painted by journalists and many local bloggers in the comment thread as being everything but a conspiracy theorist.

In numerous circles, the term information age is considered synonymous with the term information revolution, but that association is tenuous at best in my mind.

Are we going to let the revolutionary aspects of technology explicitly serve the capital masters of the world, turning our personal expertise, opinions and creativity into the equivalent of a virtual assembly line of mass media production? I truly hope not.

NBC: Kinda, Sorta, Somewhat Getting Web 2.0

nbc

Back in February, NBC made a completely bonehead business move by making YouTube take down the hugely popular video short Lazy Sunday. My instant response was to fire off a salvo at NBC for being old media ogres (NBC: We Get Web 2.0… Sike!) and not working within the limitless parameters of the web to strike a business deal that suits their needs to protect their copyright, while allowing us to continue to enjoy their content when we want and how we want.

Well, today NBC announced that it’s embracing a few of the ideas I previously lobbed into play:

[…] “Under the deal, YouTube will create a separate channel for NBC video, so that visitors can easily pull up the half-dozen or more items that NBC plans to offer at any given time. It will be similar to channels that other companies, filmmakers and everyday users create. […] NBC and YouTube officials acknowledged the possibility that fans will reject the clips if they appear simply as promotions, but YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley said fans would likely embrace the video if it is compelling and not available anywhere else.” […]

Promotional video is somewhat of a start — I suppose you can’t expect major change from a major television network without them testing the water first. Give the experiment a few months; if uptake begins across numerous types of unbundled content, I’m sure they’ll be banging on YouTube’s door, attempting more creative ways to “let” people upload their content.

Affecting The Interface

In terms of the user experience, I only ask one thing of YouTube: please refrain from creating a pulldown of “channels” on your interface.

Asking people to assign ripped video to a “media channel” in the upload process makes sense:

  • It alerts you (YouTube) to content that needs to be assigned a “shared monetization flag” and
  • It automatically assigns network metadata to the video object to help people finding content they desire

Balancing the two-way participation of a user base with the business opportunities of old media is a difficult conversation to manage and execute, for if you transform your main interface too far towards the navigation of paid-for, primary channels, the entire participatory, community vibe will begin to deteriorate.

Remember, your brand is YouTube.

Should Link Love Pay The Rent?

Citizen media is an authentic media.

The amateur (Etymology: French, from Latin amator lover, from amare to love) doesn’t create out of a responsibility to a deadline or a paycheck; the amateur creates out of a love for the process, the output, the feedback, the very notion of creativity itself. And in this new world of interconnectivity, the availibility of our tangibly crafted desires and dreams has increased exponentially.

We are connected.

connected
photo by Mexicanwave

And entrepreneurs are taking notice.

We’re quickly moving towards a period where a good chunk of the web will be explicitly designed (or re-designed) to take advantage of such authentic creativity. The old 1.0 slogan “Content is king” didn’t die off—it simply redefined itself through the lens of the passionate, authentic amateur.

YouTube and flickr have captured the very essence of what makes video and photography communities, respectively, thrive.

  • Instantaneous feedback and discourse
  • The ability to shelve favorites
  • Discovery of new objects based on meshed interests with other community members
  • Being able to add friends and join/start groups to extend the conversation

Between the commitment to upload massive amounts of media and the amount of time and effort one invests participating in these communities, the “throwaway” gap that previously existed for most web services (think about web analytic services or even a blogging platform) has practically disappeared. These particular domains aren’t ripe for member disengagement anymore based on a single bad experience, as they’ve progressed to becoming a part of our psyche, partially defining us through the connections our authentic media creates with others and vice-versa.

Though, as much as I believe in the potential of interconnected authentic media to inform, inspire, entertain and generate new communities, I equally believe that our media should not be leveraged from afar to pay someone else’s bills without explicit financial returns from the ecosystem. So if this perspective became a reality, would it cause authentic media to cease being authentic? Is this perspective just an excuse for a low entry point into the mainstream media ecosystem? I don’t think so.

From Kevin Kelly and The New York Times, Scan This Book:

[…] We see this effect most clearly in science. Science is on a long-term campaign to bring all knowledge in the world into one vast, interconnected, footnoted, peer-reviewed web of facts. Independent facts, even those that make sense in their own world, are of little value to science. (The pseudo- and parasciences are nothing less, in fact, than small pools of knowledge that are not connected to the large network of science.) In this way, every new observation or bit of data brought into the web of science enhances the value of all other data points. In science, there is a natural duty to make what is known searchable. No one argues that scientists should be paid when someone finds or duplicates their results. Instead, we have devised other ways to compensate them for their vital work. They are rewarded for the degree that their work is cited, shared, linked and connected in their publications, which they do not own. They are financed with extremely short-term (20-year) patent monopolies for their ideas, short enough to truly inspire them to invent more, sooner. To a large degree, they make their living by giving away copies of their intellectual property in one fashion or another. […]

Scientists “are rewarded for the degree that their work is cited, shared, linked and connected in their publications, which they do not own.” If we were to view authentic media creations as nodes of input, for which entrepreneurs can generate beyond-hyperlink synapses of interconnectivity, the difference between the goals of science and the intrinsic behavior of the web would be rather slim.

This is where the conversation shifts to the concerns of the elite to the desire of the commons.

What side of the aisle do you sit?

UPDATE: Can we do this together?

The News Is Getting Interesting

globalvoices

When Technorati began presenting blogs on articles pages of Newsweek and WaPo, the blogosphere moved one step closer to credibility. This move by Reuters pushes blogging—specifically bridge blogging—into a whole new stratosphere.

Reuters partners in comment blog
Mark Sweney

Reuters has formed a partnership with an international network of bloggers to provide public comment alongside its own news coverage.

The alliance has been struck with Global Voices Online, an international network of bloggers co-ordinated through Harvard University, that will see blog content used when there are large general interest events such as elections.

“We need to open our website to other voices,” said Dean Wright, Reuters’ global managing editor for consumer services. “There are a lot of conversations going on around news these days and we want to tap into that.”

The blog content will be displayed in two ways—either as clearly labelled posts within the company’s own websites, or as a link to a separate website placed at the end of a Reuters story offering readers a broader perspective.

The material will be made available through Reuters.com and Reuters.co.uk.

Global Voices Online will be taking part in the forthcoming London-based We Media event forum that will examine trust in media and citizen journalism.

Congratulations, Ethan.

SXSW2006 Day Five: Democratization of the Moving Image

rocketboom
Andrew Baron and Amanda Congdon are Rocketboom.

We are in an interesting time, as production tools for mass communication are dirt cheap and accessible.

Rocketboom:

An interesting intersection of blogging, TV over IP, radical advertising, etc. […] The art of the possible.

  • Personal filters (media, people they meet, events, etc.) – always on the lookout for more information.
  • Design – “One of the most important aspects of Rocketboom is… interface design; making the interface comfortable and easy to use.” The simplicity of the interface equals the experience for all viewers/users.
  • Global – “Audience is scattered all around the world. Correspondants are in Kenya, Prague, all over the States.” Very interested in global stories. Rocketboom.jp just launched to communicate from Japan, presenting video stories which isn’t language-centric.
  • Time – “Time is power.” Whoever has information before another will have a huge advantage. Large organizations cannot be agile enough to move fast. Rocketboom is daily, so it becomes habit-forming. “Simple concepts, but so important to us and our success. It’s worth considering them in-depth.”
  • Consequence – Unlike other business models built on one, two year business plans, Rocketboom deals with consequences in the moment. They’re able to shift their approaches in the moment to take advantage of emerging opportunities. Being open to change is huge.
  • Interactive – 25% of Rocketboom stories are user-generated. Then there are comments, emails with viewers, etc. They feel very strongly about the communities this interaction with viewers build. This medium is interactive, so even though a user is digesting video, it’s not TV.

The show is already available on cell phones (thanks to a fan hack), TiVo viewers, PSP and iTunes.

SXSW2006 Day 4: Cluetrain: Seven Years Later

docsearls
Doc Searls

On marketing consulting:

There’s money to be made in prolonging the problem.

On the title:

The cluetrain stopped there (Silicon Valley) four times a day, but never made a delivery.

How the book came after the site received a buzz:

The book deal got worked out based on how much consulting money wey’d have to give up.

Companies that get it:

  • Dresdner Kleiner Wasserstein; the CIO completely bought into Cluetrain through Rageboy.
  • Microsoft is a huge blogging community.
  • Sun microsystems is trying to retain people, so they encourage blogging as well.

On the future of 2.0 and women in the mix:

There’s going to be a huge explosion of indie film and video production… the larger trend is independence… and women are best served to manage these communities.

heatherarmstrong
Heather Armstrong

Heather stumbled into the marketing department of Nikon. She posts images and labels them with, “Shot by a Nikon XXX” and her audience is now buying the camera by the thousands. The problem? She’s having issues with the camera and Nikon isn’t paying her. So there’s guilt and then there’s justifiable bitterness.

When will companies get it?:

Cluetrain will be realized when BestBuy goes out of business.

Brian Clark

On the web:

Less than entranced of the web as human-computer interaction (as oppossed to cd-rom).

On productivity:

Cluetrain predicts the idea that we can work smarter than that.

On the future of business models:

Ad agencies are starting to build around groups of freelancers, thereby reducing traditional organization, and increasing collaboration.

Q&A

Before getting into the question of how do we empower individuals, I told Heather that I’ve been dooced twice; once when blogs were just web sites, and once within the thriving blogosphere. She asked me, “didn’t you listen to me?” and I laughed it off with a no, but the truth is strange. I didn’t get dooced twice for shitting on my boss or coworkers, I got dooced for openly talking about how smart we were being within our company(s) at the time. Yes, I got dooced for having pride in our work and sharing it. Nothing secretive or clandestine, just for daring to speak to people and not go through “proper” channels. That’s a big difference.

As for empowering bloggers to a point of sustainability, I understand Doc’s response. Blogs will provide monetary returns via the relationships and opportunities they create—through the development of respected, personal perspectives and grass roots authenticity (sorry for paraphrasing, but this is a post-lunch wrap-up). That’s all good, but my question (which I didn’t quite get out) was more about how do we empower the voices around the US and the world who might be online, but are scraping to get by and don’t (or can’t) see the benefit of sharing their voice.

I feel reaching a critical mass of participation is important; not because I necessarily want to experience *everyone’s* POV, but because the chance that you or I might discover these voices is an extremely powerful, politically empowering concept, as down the road, a yet to be designed interface will make discovering such varient perpsectives within a huge ecosystem of information rather simple. So to get a critical mass, a potential monetary incentive might become the tipping point for participation.

So my original question remains; how can we develop implicit hooks between bloggers and businesses? Maybe it’s not about that direct hook either; maybe it’s about creating an algorithm service which can sense when a blog reaches:

  • a readership tipping point
  • a query match tipping point (enough people land on x site because they were looking for y)
  • a tagging tipping point (enough posts fill the context of a particular topic that matches a business’s controlled vocabulary of value keywords [matching services, inventory, etc.])
  • a local readership tipping point (based on a radius from the “home” of the blogger)

This way, community based small businesses can be alerted to potential local blog advertising possibilities and participate with smaller, more targeted payouts to audiences directly engaged within the context of their business model. Instead of creating hooks directly between domains, instead, we’d be creating hooks between people.