Journalism

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When my main credit card got yanked for some kind of fraud activity earlier this month (as it seems all of them do, sooner or later) I had the unpleasant task of going back over my bills to see what companies I’d need to give a new credit card number. Among those many (Amazon, Apple, PayPal, Dish Network, EasyPass…) were a bunch of magazines that get renewed annually. These include:

My wife, who is more mindful of money and scams than I am, urged me to stop subscribing automatically to all of them, because all their rates are lowest only for new subscribers. So I looked back through my last year’s bills to see what I was paying for each, and then at what they pitched new subscribers directly, or though Amazon.

Only Consumer Reports‘ price appears (at least in my case) to be lower for existing subscribers than for new ones. All the rest offer their lowest prices only to new subscribers.

Take The New Yorker for example. It’s my favorite weekly: one to which I have been subscribing for most of my adult life. Here’s my last automatic payment, from July of last year:

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Now here is the current lowest price on the New Yorker website:

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That doesn’t give me the price for a year. So I hit the chat button and got an agent named Blaise B. Here is what followed:

New Yorker chat

Meanwhile, here is the New Yorker deal on Amazon:

NewYorker-amazondealIt’s the same $12 for 12 weeks, with no mention of cost after that. Nor is there any mention of the true renewal price.

How is this not about screwing loyal subscribers? That it’s pro forma for most magazines? No. It’s just wrong — especially for a magazine with subscribers as loyal as The New Yorker‘s.

So I won’t be renewing any of those magazines, other than Consumer Reports. I’ll let them lapse and then re-subscribe, if I feel like it, as a new subscriber.

Meanwhile I will continue to urge solving this the only way it can be solved across the board: from the customer’s side. I explained this three years ago, here.

 

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I travel a lot, and buy newspapers wherever I happen to be. That would be true online as well, if I could do it. But I can’t, because that’s not an option.

For example, my butt is in California right now, but my nose is in Boston, where I’m reading the Globe. I don’t want a subscription to the Globe, but I would like to pay for today’s paper, or for at least the right to read a few stories from it.

Not easy. Or even possible, after the first one or two. Because, soon enough this paywall thingie comes up:

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It’ a subscription come-on, modeled after the one the New York Times has been using for years, and I wrote about back in 2012, here. (The switch after the above bait: “$.99*… *That’s less than $1 for 4 full weeks! Then pay the regular low rate of $3.99 per week.”)

I had some advice for the Times at that last link, and I’ve got some for all papers today: create an à la carte option. I know there are lots of reasons not to, all of which arise from system-based considerations on the sell side of the relationship with newspaper buyers.

What I’m saying is that the newsstand option has worked fine for more than a century in the physical world, and should be an option in the networked one as well.

At least think about it. Constructively, as in Let’s see… how can we do that? Not “It’s too hard.” Or “People only want free stuff.” Those are all echoes inside the old box. I want us to think and work outside of that box.

People are willing to pay value for value if it’s easy. So let’s make it easy. The ideas I vetted three years ago are still good, but don’t cover the à la carte option. Let’s just focus on that one, and consider what’s possible.

 

TBasketballhe other day a friend shared this quote from Michael Choukas‘ Propaganda Comes of Age (Public Affairs Press, 1965):

This is not the propagandist’s aim. For him the validity of an image must be measured not by the degree of its fidelity, but by the response it may evoke. If it will induce the action he wishes, its fidelity is high; if not, low. … The standard that he uses in choosing the images to be disseminated — his “truths” — would be a scale based on the range of possible human responses to an image. His criterion thus is established on the basis of overt action.

At first this made me think about journalism, and how it might fit Choukas’ definition of propaganda. Then it made me think about how we might confine the study of propaganda to a harmless subset of human story-telling. That’s when sports jumped to mind.

Sports are almost entirely narrative. They also have, as social phenomena go, less importance outside themselves than such highly fraught concerns as politics, religion and business. To the cynic, sports are Kurt Vonnegut‘s foma: “harmless untruths, intended to comfort simple souls…Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”

Yes, sports are more than that, but my soul at its simplest is a fan of the Mets. (And, less simply, a fan of the Red Sox.) Likewise, some of my least productive time is spent listening to sports talk radio — unless I count as valuable the communing of my simplest self with the souls of others who share the same mostly-harmless affections. (Hi, @MichaelSHolley.)

But how much more productive is the time I spend listening to NPR, or reading The New York Times? Some, I would say. So, I am sure, would sports fans who favor getting their news from Fox and The Wall Street Journal.

To see where I’m going here, lets unpack “harmless untruths” into a 2×2:

harmless-untruth2x2

Foma are in the lower right corner. Whether the subject is sports or something else, that seems like a good corner in which to study propaganda.

Sports journalism, like all breeds of the discipline, escapes the foma classification by being about Truth, or at least about facts. But that’s beside my point, which is that interests, talk and reporting about sports all moves toward effects, which happen to be harmless but interesting.

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people,” Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have said. But great minds discuss all three. So, even though events and people are the main subjects of sports (and of most) stories, many great sports journalists also traffic in ideas. Jim MurrayRoger Angell and Frank Deford some first to mind; but so do Howard Cosell and Heywood Hale Broun, whose personalities (or wordrobes, in Broun’s case) often upstaged the events and people they covered. Then I think about David Foster Wallace, Bill LittlefieldJohn McPhee, Andrea Kremer, Keith OlbermannMichael Lewis, Howard BryantTony Kornheiser, Charlie Pierce, John Updike, Norman MailerGeorge Plimpton, Gay Talese, David Halberstam and other greats who work at deeper levels than the the usual bait for eyeballs and clicks.

So, speaking of bait, consider the three words uttered constantly by assignment editors everywhere: What’s the story? 

Stories, I was taught, are the main format of human interest; and all of them have just three elements:

  1. A protagonist, or character. This might be a person, a team, a cause or some other entity the reader, listener or viewer cares about. This character need only be interesting. Likability is a secondary matter. (Example: I hate Christian Laettner, an ESPN film.)
  2. A problem or challenge, This needs to be a situation that keeps the reader interested: tuned in or turning pages. (Classic edtorial instruction: “No story starts with ‘happily ever after.'”) In fact, it helps if the situation gets worse, so long as we have…
  3. Movement toward a resolution. If the war is over, or the home team is up or down by forty points with three minutes left, the challenge vanishes. If you’re at the game, your problem is beating traffic out of the parking lot.

If you’re missing one of those elements, you don’t have a story.

Case in point: Cambodia’s killing fields. The first I heard about them was in a story read by Hughes Rudd on a CBS newscast in the mid-1970s. He said that perhaps half a million people were already dead. On hearing this, I was appalled, because it came, in an “Oh by the way” manner, after stories about the Super Bowl and Patty Hearst (whose developing story sucked huge amounts of oxygen out of nearly every newsroom at the time).

The slaughter happening in Cambodia mattered far more than either the Super Bowl or Patty Hearst; but it wasn’t a story, because it was missing all three of those elements. There was no protagonist, other than a population with a statistic. The problem, while immense, was not ours, and also not moving toward resolution. In fact years would pass before the killing stopped.

For us here in the U.S., the killing fields story didn’t get real until The New York Times ran “The Death and Life of Dith Pran,” by Sydney Shanberg, in the Sunday Magazine. That gave us a character, and made Cambodia’s plight real and compelling. (The story also grew, naturally, into a movie.)

Sports is always focused on those three elements. Is that because sports is always about propaganda? Or is it the case that all stories are, by their narrative nature, propaganda of a sort?

Stories are at least tendentious in the sense that the author needs a point of view — even if that point is what Jay Rosen calls the view from nowhere. (That’s pretty much where CBS stood when it first reported on Cambodia’s many dead.)

Look at the photos that accompany a sports story. If a team wins, the star player is shown making a great kick, throw, shot or whatever. Or maybe just smiling. If the same team loses, the picture shows the same player messing up or frowning. Never mind that the game was close, or that the photo is of one moment among zillions of others. The entire meaning of the photo is narrative. Its entire purpose is effect, which is both to serve and drive the interests of the reader, the viewer, the listener. What’s that say about journalism as a whole?

Has anybody studied sports or journalism as propaganda? At least one inquiring mind wants to know.

Bonus links:

 

 

 

 

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The blizzard hit coastal New England, not New York City. In fact, it’s still hitting. Wish I was there, because I love snow. Here in New York City we got pffft: about eight inches in Central Park: an average winter snowstorm. No big deal.

I was set up with my GoPro to time-lapse accumulations on the balcony outside our front window. I had two other cameras ready to go, and multiple devices tuned in to streams of news stories, tweets and posts. Instead the story I got was an old and familiar one of misplaced sensationalism. Nothing happening, non-stop. At least here.

The real news was happening in Boston, Providence, Worcester, Montauk, Scituate, the Cape and Islands. But I didn’t have anything useful to add to what thousands of others were showing, posting, tweeting and blogging. Back during Sandy, I had a lot to blog because important stuff wasn’t being said on media major and minor. For example I predicted, correctly, that many radio and TV stations would be knocked off the air by flooding. I also thought, correctly, that New York was under-prepared for the storm.
Not so this time, for any of the places the storm has hit.

With the snow still falling over New England…

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 8.17.02 PM… there’s a good chance that it will break old records (and probably already has in some places). But the cable news system is a still a broken record: endless pronouncements by undersecretaries of the overstate.

As more cords get cut, and more of us inform each other directly, new and better forms of aggregation and intermediation will emerge. To some extent the major media are already adapting, showing videos, tweets and posts from the Long Tail. But I suspect that the next major shift will be to something different than anything we have now.

I suspect the biggest innovations will be around discovery — of each other. Who has the information I want, now? Who or what is being fully useful, rather than just noisy or repetitive? Search from Google and Bing, while good in many ways, seems hidebound and stale to me. Its personalization is mostly about guesswork that’s hard to figure or control, and is jiggered for advertising as well.

For example, right now I’d like to know more about the breached sea wall in Scituate. Here’s a Yahoo (Bing) search. Most of the top results are at boston.com, which says to me — before I even look at any of them — “Oh, boston.com is the Boston Globe, and I’ve already run out the five views it gives me on this browser before it thows up the paywall.” In fact there is no paywall for some of the local stories, but I’ve seen it so many times that I don’t want to go there. The second thing I notice is that they’re all old: from 2014 and 2013. When I look for the same thing at Google News, the top results are the paywalled Globe ones. So I search for Scituate on Twitter, which is more helpful, but not fine-grained enough. What if I want to read only people who live there and are reporting from there?

Try to think outside of the search and social media boxes for a minute. Think all the way outside the Web.

Just think Internet, which is nothing more than a way for anybody or anything to connect to anybody or anything. Let’s find a way to do discovery there. We have some crude beginnings with stuff like this. But we need something much more natural, distributed and outside the control of any company or government — as is the Internet, by nature.

Once we have that, all kinds of amazing stuff will start to open up.

11:31pm — Nobody is saying it, but so far the #BlizzardOf2015 in #NYC is a dud. I mean, yeah there’s snow. But it’s not a real blizzard yet. At least not here, and not in Boston, where it’s supposed to be far worse. “A little bit more than a dusting” says the CNN reporter on the street in Boston, sweeping a thin layer of snow off some pavement. The anchor on the street in New York stands in front of a bare wet sidewalks while the street behind is covered with a couple inches of slush.

Apparently the only vehicle on the streets is CNN’s Blizzardmobile:

Blizzardmobile

(Why is it that my mind drops the B and calls that thing LIZZARDMOBILE?)

Meanwhile, WNYC‘s listeners are weighing in with snow totals that look a lot deeper…

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 11.42.16 PM…than what I’m seeing out my window:

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But the wind is getting stronger now. Maybe this thing will be as big as they’ve been predicting. But I’m not seeing it yet.

And I do want to see it, because I love snow. A sampling:

Plus everythjing else I’ve tagged “snow.”

Enjoy. I’ll check back in the morning. I should be putting up fresh photos then.

 

Check out this map:

deflationgate-mapThis isn’t new. Way back in 2008, after the Patriots’ undefeated season ended with a Super Bowl loss to the Giants, The Onion wrote Patriots Season Perfect for Rest of Nation. It’s easy to hate an overdog.

Sports is an emotional thing. We care about teams, games and players because we care about them. And, because we care, we have inventories of sports knowledge that we enjoy enlarging through reading, watching, listening and talking to others who care about the same stuff.

Sports also holds us together. When I was a kid growing up in the 1950s, there were four topics everybody talked about: the Depression, the War, sports and TV. The first two are long gone, and TV is shattering into a zillion sub-breeds of video. In fact the only breed of TV programming that still needs to be seen live, on schedule, is sports. Thus sports rules what’s left of broadcasting. It’s also what keeps newspapers alive.

When games aren’t on, about all you can do with sports is talk about it. Subjects come and go, but all are fueled by the need to talk about something, or anything. Hence the big topic of the moment: #deflationgate.

I’ll put my loyalty cards on the table: I like the New England Patriots. But I’m not hard core, or a lifer. I’ve hung out in New England for the last eight and a half years, and I’ve come to favor the teams there. But I also grew up in New Jersey, just across the river from New York, where I am right now. When I was a kid I cared a lot more about the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Mets, Giants and Knicks than I do now about the Patriots or the Celtics. During my twenty years in North Carolina, I became a Duke basketball fan. (I also like Carolina, Wake, State and Virginia, in roughly that order.) When I lived in the Bay Area, for more than a decade and a half, I became a fan of the Giants, 49ers and Warriors. In fact I had season tickets to Warriors games for several years. So mostly I like sports, and that’s my main point. Can’t help it.

Yet something I care about more than any team or sport is journalism. That’s been my vocation or avocation for all my adult life, and I take its virtues seriously. I also see those virtues lacking in most coverage of #deflationgate. Sure, sports coverage is mostly about opinion, the best of which is “analysis.” But how about just some actual journalism here?

I mean, wtf are the facts? Do we actually know the ones that matter, for sure? We know some of the rules and official procedures, and that’s cool. But as for who did what, when and how, we have nothing. From Bill Belichick and Tom Brady we have denials of knowing anything about the under-inflated balls used by the Patriots in their last game, against the Colts. (Note that I don’t say “deflated,” because I’ve read or heard nothing from anybody about deflation of the balls; but we all know they had to have been inflated at some point.) Those denials, even if they prove wrong, are facts. As for the rest of the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How Much, the ratio of fact to opinion in coverage of the topic runs about one in a thousand, or worse. Who inflated and/or deflated the footballs, when, where, and how? Who inspected them — where, when and how? Perhaps by now the league knows. But the rest of us haven’t heard much more than speculation.

The most unhelpful speculations are ad hominem arguments made against the Pats, Belichick and Brady. Yes, the Belichick and the Pats were caught cheating once. That doesn’t mean they cheated this time. Matt Leinart tweets that every team tampers with their footballs. Presumably that’s an informed opinion, but it’s still just an opinion. Where’s the proof? The same question survives John Madden fingering Brady as the buck-stopper. It’s just opinion. No facts there.

But sentiment runs strong, especially against overdogs. I hated the New York Yankees when I was growing up, even though I liked Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and other Yankees players. It’s easy to hate the Patriots, with their pretty-boy quarterback and their coach who bathes in a tub full of warm entrails. But we need facts here.

Credit where due: CBS Sports, Heavy. Got any others? Love to see ’em.

On Saturday I invited Serial listeners to recall the Edgar Smith case. Smith got away, literally, with murder. He did it by convincing the media and the public (and to a lesser degree the courts) that he was innocent man, falsely convicted of brutally killing a teenage girl. After he was released he attempted another murder, confessed to the original one and went back to prison.

Now I invite Serial listeners to recall a counter example: the West Memphis Three, who were convicted as teenagers in 1994 for the murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993. One was sentenced to death and the other two were given life sentences. It was alleged, on debatable evidence gained by poor police work, that the victims were killed in a Satanic ritual.

All three are now free, having given Alford pleas. These are “guilty” pleas in which innocence is still maintained. (It’s complicated. Look it up.) To make a long story too short, it is now clear that they got bum raps and that other persons are the more likely perps. The miscarriage of justice in the case is so extreme that the dad of one of the victims has taken up the Three’s cause.

I met two of the Three, plus the dad, in 2012 after a screening of the documentary West of Memphis at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. I’m sure they are innocent.

The Memphis Three’s case, like Edgar Smith’s, is irrelevant to Adnan Syed’s. (He’s serving time for murder in the case Serial explores). The jury is still in for that one, and Adnan is still officially guilty. But maybe keeping these other cases in mind will help us all keep our minds open.

Meanwhile, HuffPo has a nice set of takes by prosecutors and defense attorneys.

I’m now four episodes into Serial, the hugely popular reality podcast from WBEZ and This American Life. In it reporter Sarah Koenig episodically tugs together many loose ends around the murder of Hae Min Lee, a Baltimore teenager, in 1999. The perp, said the cops and the proscecutor at the time, was former boyfriend Adnan Syed, who was convicted by a jury of first degree murder. They deliberated about as long as it takes for an afternoon nap. He’s been in prison ever since.

My provisional conclusion is that the court was right to find Adnan guilty. My case for that conviction (or vice versa) is an ad hominem one: the whole thing is eerily eminiscent (for me) of Edgar Smithedgar-smith, (that’s his mug photo on the right) who served a record length of time on death row before successfully arguing for a retrial, which resulted in a lesser conviction and his release — after which he kidnapped and tried to kill someone else, confessing as well to the original crime. He’s an old man now, serving time for the second crime.

While still in jail for the first crime, Smith earned a high degree of media attention and celebrity with his book Brief Against Death, which was a bestseller at the time. I read it and believed him. So did William F. Buckley Jr., who befriended Smith, and was instrumental in getting Smith’s case reconsidered, by both the courts and the public. Buckley even wrote the introduction to Smith’s book.

Think of the media-intensive Smith case as the Serial of its time.

Back then a good friend of mine was studying at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and interviewed Smith. “He’s guilty,” my friend said. “The guy is brilliant, but he’s also a liar.” Later Bill Buckley said the same thing.

It haunts me that I was snookered by Smith, and comforts me none to know I wasn’t alone.

This of course makes no case at all against Adnan Syed. He might be innocent as a lamb. And I’d like to say he’s innocent until proven guilty. But his guilt has already been decided by a court of law, so now it’s the other way around: he needs to prove his innocence. Or at least raise the shadow of doubt to a height under which he can be sprung.

I worry about what will happen if all the current interest in this case results in Adnan’s release. What if he really did kill Hae — meaning he’s as remorseless and manipulative as Edgar Smith?

With the case headed to an appeals court, this now appears possible.

I’ll keep my mind open as I listen through the rest of Series. It’s outstanding radio. And I also invite the @Serial team to look at the Smith case as well — if they haven’t already.* It may not be relevant, but it is similar.

Bonus case: Jack Henry Abbott.

* (14 December) Have they? I’ve now listened through Episode 7 and so far they haven’t mentioned it.

gaudifaceIn an email today I was asked by a PR person if I wanted to talk with somebody at a major newspaper about its foray into “native” advertising — a euphemism for ads made to look like editorial matter. Among other things they asked if native advertising would “signify the death of credible journalism.” Here was my response:

I think tricking up advertising to look like journalism crosses a line I wish (name of paper) would keep up as a thick wall.

In publishing, editorial is church and advertising is state. The difference should be clear, and the latter should not be confused with the former. For nearly all its history, this was the case with (name of paper), and all serious publications.

While native ads don’t signify the death of credible journalism, they do signify a sell-out by publishers using them.

If (person at the paper) wants to try convincing me otherwise, I’m game. But be warned that the likelihood that I’ll give native ads a positive spin — for any pub — is close to nil.

Bonus link — Andrew Sullivan on Native Ads: Journalism has surrendered. Great interview.

While doing research on another topic, I ran across this post by Amy Gahran (@agahran) in Poynter, riffing off a March 2007 post on my old blog titled Giant Zero Journalism.

Reading it, I feel like I just opened a time capsule — especially when I also just finished reading Robinson Meyer‘s Atlantic piece, And Just Like That, Facebook Became the Most Important Entity in Web Journalism — In one chart! (from Peter Kafka) and A Eulogy for Twitter The beloved social publishing platform enters its twilight, which Robinson co-wrote with Adrienne LaFrance.

Twitter and Facebook were still their old (young) selves way back then, and not the social media giants they’ve become since then. (Oh, and Google still mattered too. Remember them? Just half-kidding.)

Some of what I wrote holds up, however, as does what Amy adds about credibility — which always meant everything, or damn close.

Here’s the post:

We’ll start with Corporations Co-opt Citizen Journalism, by Frank Beacham, who concludes,
I predict that in a world overflowing with dreadful citizen-made images, talented photographers and videographers will survive. Perhaps they will not be on the payroll of the traditional news organizations. Yet, they will always be in demand by a group of discriminating consumers who will pay for their services.
News dominated by citizen journalists will be just like the neighbor who makes you sit through a viewing of his 300 vacation snapshots or baby pictures from Costco. Your eyes will begin to glaze over, followed by an urge to scream.
Beware of news organizations that think they can replace professionals with citizen-made free content. It will stink. Always has, always will.
I found that through The Fatal Attraction of Free, by Dan Kennedy, who says,
There is, however, a significant flaw in the corporate-defined citizen-journalism model. Good journalism may be hard, but technology is easy. And rather than giving it away to Yahoo, Reuters et al., most citizen journalists are doing it themselves.
Dan also points to Citizen Media: Fad or the Future of News? — The rise and prospects of hyperlocal journalism, from the Knight Citizen News Network. It’s a big report. A press release about the report begins,
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Local news web sites offering content generated by users are securing a valuable place in the media landscape and are likely to continue as important sources of community news, according to a report released today by J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism.
“Citizen sites are developing as new forms of bridge media, linking traditional news with forms of civic participation,” said J-Lab director, Jan Schaffer, author of the report, which was funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation.
These sites, which take many forms, have rapidly emerged since 2004. But rather than delivering comprehensive news and “finished stories,” most sites are “forming as fusions of news and schmooze” that pay particular attention to key issues in their communities, Schaffer said…
Most citizen media ventures are shoestring labors of love, funded out of the founders’ own pockets, and staffed by volunteer content contributors. While they¹d like more readers and revenues, site founders nevertheless professed a solid resolve to continue: 51% said they didn’t need to make money to keep going; 82% said they planned to continue “indefinitely.” Nearly all would welcome reinforcements and the ability to make even token payments to writers.
Kudos to KCNN: the whole report is in .html rather than .pdf. (Kevin Marks:HTML is now the default document format. Exactly.) My only complaint: they apparently didn’t talk to Edhat.
Dan’s bottom lines:
I think it’s likely — or at least I hope — that the very real problem identified by Beacham will turn out to be self-correcting. Corporate media executives who genuinely want to use citizen-media tools to build community and experiment with new business models will be rewarded for their efforts.
But those who think they can profit by suckering amateurs into giving away their content will soon discover that what they’ve created a host of new competitors.
A commenter under Dan’s piece pionts to NY Times publisher: Our goal is to manage the transition from print to internet, by By Eytan Avriel in Haaretz. An irony-packed excerpt:
Will it be free?
No, Sulzberger says. If you want to read the New York Times online, you will have to pay.
In the age of bloggers, what is the future of online newspapers and the profession in general? There are millions of bloggers out there, and if the Times forgets who and what they are, it will lose the war, and rightly so, according to Sulzberger. “We are curators, curators of news. People don’t click onto the New York Times to read blogs. They want reliable news that they can trust,” he says.
“We aren’t ignoring what’s happening. We understand that the newspaper is not the focal point of city life as it was 10 years ago.
“Once upon a time, people had to read the paper to find out what was going on in theater. Today there are hundreds of forums and sites with that information,” he says. “But the paper can integrate material from bloggers and external writers. We need to be part of that community and to have dialogue with the online world.”
Then there’s Mark Glaser’s report on We Media, at PBS’s MediaShift. Sez Mark,
My personal definition of “we media” is the movement toward an empowered audience, who can customize their media experience and create their own media, leaving behind the old model of the mainstream media control.
Later he points out,
The conference was marketed as being a conversation among various players in the media industry. As the conference site put it: “The program includes a series of roundtable discussions and a variety of participatory activities involving communities, individuals and organizations to help participants understand and address the challenges of a changing multi-media world.”
But some individuals, who wrote complaints on the We Media website, were put off by the $1,000+ walk-up registration fee...
It’s true that there are other low-cost unconferences such as BloggerCon, where there are no fees and no sponsors, and the space is donated. But this is not what We Media is aiming for. I chatted with the conference organizers, Dale Peskin and Andrew Nachison (a.k.a. the new media Blues Brothers), this morning before the confab started, and they explained the high cost of We Media...
Nachison said that registration fees only pay for 20% of the costs to put on the conference, with sponsor money making up the rest of the income. Their group, iFocos, is non-profit, but they obviously aren¹t looking for charity here. This is about business, and how the media business is changing, and it¹s not just the army of citizen media people.
I got to Dan and all the other stuff above through We are the Web, at howardowens.com. Howard, looking at all the above, offers this summary:
There’s a book end of attitudes about big media companies and distributed media. On one end is the suggestion that MSM’s only interest in UGC is as free content, and on the other end, the meme that MSM is just big, dumb media that somehow stands apart from social media instead of a part of we media.
He concludes,
If people didn’t get something out of their contributions, they wouldn’t write, shoot and submit. Not all compensation is monetary. MSM companies that make available a distribution channel for UGC assume the financial risk associated with the effort (a risk not shared by contributors), and provide a valuable service to contributors looking to reach a wider audience than might be available to a solo act. Yes, MSM getting into UGC are hoping that the effort will generate audience, and hence revenue, but it¹s a complete misunderstanding of the economics of the matter to say the whole process is just a rip off. You¹ve got to start some place, and maybe some day UGC will generate sufficient revenue to justify monetary compensation for contributors, but for most newspapers still incubating UGC, that just isn¹t possible right now.
Of course, I’m one of those corporate MSM guys who believes in UGC, so you might think I have a conflict of interest here.
Here¹s the thing though: As I watched the Web 2.0 video, I revisited a thought: “We are the media.” And by We, I don¹t just mean the so-called citizens of citizen journalism. We also includes the MSM. Like it or not, every MSM outlet is part of the conversation. Some are reluctant or even resistant contributors to the conversation, but every report in MSM is ripe for citizens to expand on, comment on or react to.
Those of us who work on the MSM side of the conversation also believe that in building the means of participation we aren¹t just looking for free content — we believe in the conversation. That should mean something.
I found Howard through I, Reporter, which I found through a search for Gannett+citizen+journalists, because I was wondering what happened with Gannett’s CJ (or crowdsourcing) efforts since I last wrote about it.* I was doing that as part of an offline dialog with Sheila Lennon, who has been working for some time at the juncture of newspapering and blogging.
All this was also on the front of my mind, since several people had spoken or written to me about a Frontline piece — I’m guessing it’s either the whole Newswar series, or Part III: What’s Happening To News. One of my correspondents, Dave Winer, makes a point he says Frontline misses: we are the sources, going direct.
Exactly. That brings me to a related point, which is about the Net as an environment.
This is what I told the public media conference in my closing remarks there:The Net is a giant zero. It puts everybody zero distance from everybody and everything else. And it supports publishing and broadcasting at costs that round to zero as well.
It is essential for the mainstream media to understand that the larger information ecosystem is one that grows wild on the Net and supports everybody who wants to inform anybody else. It no longer grows inside the mainstream media’s walled gardens. Those gardens will continue to thrive only to the degree that they do two things: 1) open up; and 2) live symbiotically with individuals outside who want to work together for common purposes.
Framing is a huge issue here. We have readers and viewers, not just “audiences” and “consumers”. We write articles and essays and posts, not just “generate content”. “User-generated content”, or UGC, is an ugly, insulting and misleading label.
“Content” is inert. It isn’t alive. It doesn’t grow, or catch fire, or go viral. Ideas and insights do that. Interesting facts do that. “Audiences” are passive. They sit still, clap and leave. That might be what happened with newspapers and radio and TV in the old MSM-controlled world, but it’s not what happens on The Giant Zero. It’s not what happens with blogging, or with citizen journalism. Here it’s all about contribution, participation. It involves conversation, but it goes beyond that into relationship — with readers, with viewers, with the larger ecosystem by which we all inform each other.
As I’ve said before (and I said it again at the conference), we don’t just “deliver information” like it’s a Fedex package. We inform each other. That is, we literally form what other people know. If you tell me something I didn’t know before, I’m changed by that. I am not merely in receipt of a box of facts. I am enlarged by knowing more than I did before. Enlarging each other is the deepest calling of journalism, whether it’s done by bloggers, anchors or editors.
We are all authors of each other. What we call authority is the right we give others to author us, to make us who we are. That right is one we no longer give only to our newspapers, our magazines, our TV and radio stations. We give it to anybody who helps us learn and understand What’s Going On in the world. In that world the number of amateur informants goes up while the number of editors on newspaper staffs goes down. Between these two facts are many opportunities for symbiosis.
“Curation” and “curative” are words tradition-bound journalists like to use when they defend their institutions. But these are museum words. They suggest collections of artifacts behind locked doors in basement collections. The New York Times may have a financial success with Times Select, its online paper. But Time Select is a walled garden with a locked gate. You can’t look up anything there in Google, because its “conent” is trapped behind a paywall. Only subscribers can see it, and there’s a limit on how much archival material they can see without paying more.
The majority of papers today still lock up their archives. It’s time to stop that, for the simple reason that it insults the nature of the Giant Zero environment on which they now reside. They can make as much or more money by exposing those archives to Google’s and Yahoo’s indexing spiders, by placing advertising on them, by linking to them and bringing interest and visitors to them, by making them useful to other journalists (many of whom will be bloggers) seeking to write authoritatively about their communities and their communities’ histories.
Established media institutions have enormous advantages. But they can’t use them if they continue to live in denial of the nature of their new world — and of the interests, talents and natural independence of the other inhabitants there.
[Later…] *Greg writes,
Re: Gannett’s “crowd sourcing,” here in Poughkeepsie, the Journal keeps bugging readers to blog for its site on its terms, but doesn’t seem interested in acknowledging local bloggers who are already covering these area/issues on their own. Community opinion matters only to the extent that it’s expressed under the Gannett roof.
Our own Daily Nexus at UCSB (where I am a research fellow) just published a piece today that covered placeblogging, with narry a link and hardly a mention of Edhat, which has been doing an awesome job for years as both supplement and alternative to the daily paper here in Santa Barbara. Credit where due: The piece does give props to the excellent work being done by the Independent, our local weekly.

 

Bonus link: Remembering Peter Sklar, placeblogging pioneer. Peter was the founder, publisher and main writer for Edhat. In character with Peter’s lack of self-aggrandizement, he remains an unsung hero. But placeblogging, by whatever name we use, would not be the same without him. He was a true original and in that sense alone (plus many others) he was an exemplary journalist.

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