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

Newsweek Blog Talk: An Innovator?

blog-talk

Newsweek and Technorati are in bed together and I’m really hoping it isn’t a monogamous relationship.

I’m not sure when this started, but Newsweek is now citing “Blog Talk,” creating a contextual column from the Newsweek article page that links to a full Blog Talk page which presents the last 10 blogs posts that have linked to the Newsweek article. This is being done automatically, sans any editorial review.

I’m currently working on a project for which I presented this exact context scenario for our blogger design persona. I couldn’t believe the serendipity. So to ensure the API and execution would support our needs, I ran a quick test and posted a response to the “I’m So Sorry” article, linking back to the story URL. Within 10 minutes of pinging Technorati, my post appeared on the Newsweek page. Okay, that’s very progressive. Sure, it’s only a glorified trackback system, but the underlying philosophy has huge implications.

We’re quickly moving to a sustainable model for presenting the individual perspective on the same level as mainstream media’s editorial-driven journalism. It’s a win-win; a site like Newsweek gets an increased blogger readership and bloggers have the opportunity to share their perspectives with people that may not even know how to navigate the scattered blogosphere.

From my perspective, this is the first step to truly legitimizing the blogosphere.

What’s next? Well, if Google, Yahoo! and other mainstream news aggregators begin to index blogs for their search queries, we’d be one step closer to breaking through the mainstream media stranglehold on information for the average American that receives their news on-line. All of this is what the promise of Community TV was supposed to provide twenty years ago, but ran into the obvious production challenges.

This is really good. It’s good for business, good for bloggers, and most importantly, good for bubbling up numerous perspectives of a story to the surface. This is discourse.

Tag! We’re it!

Alright, I admit it—I didn’t get out (or online) much while I worked for Ameritrade. 60 hour work weeks for two straight years while building a design practice and a forward-thinking trading platform will do that to your peripheral vision. Well, I’m making up for lost time, slowing down to explore the web… big time.

The IA in me is smiling. No, not for the sheer joy of seeing community indexing, the IA in me is smiling because it’s becoming clear to me where the web is heading, and it’s not following a topical, structured, media-filtered path.

Take Technorati for example; the approach is like a Bizarro perspective of the mainstream media.

bizzaro

Technorati isn’t dumb, ugly, inhumane or bizarro as a nemesis dimension in a comic book, but they are backwards in their approach to presenting a political/news media lens of corporate America… in a very good way.

The mainstream media presents the news by using explicit filters to ensure that what is published or broadcasted supports the primary objectives of capitalism. In the past, I’ve ranted about the much needed expansion of the Google and Yahoo! news model to place blogs into the mix when drawing from indexed sources. Well, Technorati flipped the model entirely with a communal approach to exposing and digesting information. There are no “vanilla” labels of a topical navigation, splitting the world into simplified categories and driving a pre-conceived notion of “valuable” content (i.e. politics, business, sports, etc.) into the skulls of society.

Technorati leverages tagging to present information based on our desires.

Run a tag search on “free speech” and you get a descriptive page of the latest blog entries, flickr images and a contextual list of social bookmarks which include mainstream media articles (based on del.icio.us and Furl tagging). It took me a few returns to stumble upon the revolutionary aspect of this approach. I mean, three months ago, I would’ve been happy if Google News simply added a column of contextual links of blog post that corresponded to a search query. Technorati has flipped the script and featured bloggers, reducing the media to a column of “see also’s.”

This is how you build community. I love it.

So where can this go? Can this approach sustain a movement towards fundamentally altering how American society exposes and digests information? Man, “it depends” is such an understatement.

  • If Technorati can reach a tipping point, similar to Google a few years back, and devise a marketing campaign, where, say, Tony Soprano is shown “Technorating” waste management on his computer, the impact on society could be huge. People will start to look for information from other people (sans an editorial slant), which flips the trust and credibility model
  • If Technorati partners with a Google to provide user-generated content within their results pages, society will begin to experience contextual alternatives to mainstream reporting, entertainment, et al without being forced to have to go search for it through RSS and other technical means.
  • If Technorati is bought by a Google, all bets are off. Only time would tell if Chomsky’s “propaganda model” proves itself to be a truism or if new media and its superstars are exceptions to the rule.

It’s obvious that the web’s semantic synapses are continuing to form. This is only the beginning.

Art Prophesying Reality?

three-days-of-condor

It was around 1989 when I read Six Days of the Condor, a story chock full of deceit, murder, paranoia, sex, intrigue and spies; a perfect story for an 18 year-old kid. For some reason, possibly my attention span at the time, the end of the book threw me for a loop. So tonight, I kicked back with my Netflix choice of the week and watched the film adaptation: Three Days of the Condor.

It was made 28 years ago, yet the plot line has come to life in eerie fashion over the last few years. I don’t want to ruin the movie for you, so if you are going to rent it, don’t read on.

Condor (played by Robert Redford) is a spy, and per chance, misses a hit on his office that leaves the all seven of his colleagues executed. After some brilliant screenwriting, we come to find out that one of his previous reports sent off to Langley hit a nerve within a secret faction of the CIA that just happened to be playing war games concerning the overthrow of an unstable regime in the Middle East in order to gain control of oil reserves.

Sure, the US has been meddling with numerous foreign spots in the Middle East over the past 50 years to keep a stranglehold on power, but shivers the size of nine inch nails traveled down my spine just the same.

The rogue CIA unit ordered the execution of the entire office after reading Condor’s spot-on investigative report, so he does the only thing he can and goes off the grid to plan his next steps. After outwitting numerous suits over the course of the film, he ends up confronting the CIA Director directly in front of the New York Times office in Manhattan.

After a quick verbal sparring over the morality of what our government was doing, Condor tells the Director that the story is out and the Times will be publishing it all. The film ends with the CIA Director asking Condor,

“What if they don’t print it, then where will you go?”

Redford’s face drops a bit as the last frame freezes on him.

Does Our Press Get Squeezed?

Forget the uncanny plot line that syncs up with the recent activity in Iraq and the coincidence of the NYC CIA office being found within the WTC. It’s eerie to experience this 70s flick being so prescient, but I’m more interested with the final jab.

I often wonder how free the press is in our capitalistic society, where over the years the fourth branch has moved away from reporting and more toward media. Our government has indoctrinated us to speak harshly against news practices around the world, especially during the eighties during the heart of the Cold War (when I was an impressionable teenager); the old “look, over there!” trick has build a sycophantic capitalist society of productive worker bees at home, much less apt to question authority or the authenticity of “news” when delivered.

Here’s something to ponder: Did you know that congress is on the verge of passing unprecedented legislation that allows media entities to merge with minimal to no limitations? Can you imagine what this could mean in an Orwellian novel? Or in this actual capitalist society where one individual, such as a Bill Gates, has more wealth than the bottom 45 percent of American households combined?

A less competitive press = a singular perspective.

  • Advertising revenue begins to drive the editorial premise and impedes journalistic objectivity
  • Agendas are deployed and met
  • A top down, targeted media push (via news, marketing, advertising, programming, etc.) becomes the mainstay of communication operations

Our society has evolved from watching the news on TV at 6 and 11 (1970’s) to digesting news 24 hours a day on TV, radio, and the internet (1990’s) to having access to hundreds of thousands of individual perspectives of news events blasting on blogs (present). With all this newfound decentralized access we should feel both informed and empowered, right?

That’s what they want us to think.

For even the most invested netizen, information technology is still a hindrance when trying to decipher noise from news, and fiction from fact. Simple to use, individually operated publishing channels are now available to the masses through blogging, but actual reach to the mainstream, less tech savvy, older audiences is minimal at best as information is still presented in a hard-to-access online ecosystem.

I can imagine the power elite in media and government thinking something along the lines of:

Let the bottom feeders play with their toys—be it bloggers publishing opinions based on theory or fact—no one will be able to tell the difference. It’ll be our facts that they base their opinion upon. And the noise in the sheer amount of opinions projected outwards will make all opinions null and void.

Our organized, top-down messaging is so strong via advertising, marketing, media, etc., that the bottom-up representation of the people will become lost in the noise of the the mainstream media, as well as in it’s own scattered presentation.

We’ll then use their information as data to feed our strategic messaging and market right back to them.

Americans have turned into thought veal over the past twenty-years. We’ve been tenderized perfectly to be devoured oh-so-nicely in a propaganda system that is set up to succeed only if the masses over-consume everything from food to entertainment to material goods to political punditry.

This is the boogie man that lives under my bed.