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June 27 2011

13:21

An article on the article

In the Guardian, I pull together thoughts on reconsidering the article, the reaction to those thoughts, and the impact on a digital-first strategy. Excerpt:

The article is no longer the atomic unit of news. It’s not dead. I didn’t kill it. But in the age of online – of “digital first,” as the Guardian defined its strategy this month – we should reconsider the article and its place. No longer do the means of production and distribution of media necessitate boxing the world into neat, squared-off spaces published once a day and well after the fact. Freed of print’s strictures, we are finding many new and sometimes better ways to gather and share information. . . .

In print-as-luxury, the article should be elevated to Economist standards, combining reporting with cogent analysis, unique perspective and brilliant commentary. Should such a newspaper be published daily? Can it meet that standard that often? Perhaps not.

Imagine if a British newspaper with tens of millions of online readers became a digital-only brand freed of the leash of the distance its trucks can drive, able to become a truly international voice. Imagine then if the once-separate Sunday sister title – printed on a more lucrative day of the week than Sunday – became a luxurious journal of reporting and commentary like Die Zeit in Germany (whose print circulation is still growing).

That’s not a recommendation, only an example of where reconsideration of the article could lead. I want to challenge assumptions about the article’s role, not whether it lives or dies. After all, I just wrote one.

June 19 2011

00:35

The article and the future of print

This week, Guardian Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger declared that the paper would go “digital first,” following John Paton’s lead and stopping a step short of his strategy at Journal Register: “digital first … print last.”

My Guardian friends are getting a bit tetchy about folks trying to tell them how to fix the institution, but given that it lost £34.4m last year, I’d say the intervention is warranted and should be seen only as loving care: chicken soup for the strategy. So I will join in.

My thoughts about the Guardian have something to do with my thoughts on the article. That’s a logical connection because the means of production and distribution of print are what mandated the invention of the article. So it is fitting that we consider its fate in that context.

But first let’s examine what it means to be digital first. It does not mean just putting one’s stories online before the presses roll. In that case, print still dictates the form and rhythm of news: everything in the process of a newsroom is still aimed at fitting round stories into squared holes on pages. That, as Jay Rosen says, is the key skill newsroom residents think they have (and the skill journalism schools prepare them for): the production cycle of print.

Digital first, aggressively implemented, means that digital drives all decisions: how news is covered, in what form, by whom, and when. It dictates that as soon as a journalist knows something, she is prepared to share it with her public. It means that she may share what she knows before she knows everything (there’s a vestige of the old culture, which held that we could know everything … and by deadline to boot) so she can get help from her public to fill in what she doesn’t know. That resets the journalistic relationship to the community, making the news organization a platform first, enabling a community to share its information and inviting the journalist to add value to that process. It means using the most appropriate media to impart information because we are no longer held captive to only one: text. We now use data, audio, video, graphics, search, applications, and wonders not yet imagined. Digital first is the realization that news happens with or without us — it mimics the architecture of the internet, end-to-end — and we must use all the tools available to add value where we can.

Digital first, from a business perspective, means driving the strategy to a digital future, no longer depending on the print crutch. That means creating a likely smaller and more efficient enterprise that can survive, then prosper post-monopoly, post-scarcity in an abundance-based media economy. It means serving the commercial needs of businesses in our communities in new ways: not just by selling space but by providing services (helping them with their own online strategies — including Google, Facebook, Groupon, craigslist, et al; training them; perhaps holding events with them). It means finding new efficiencies in the collaborative link economy. It means outrunning the grim reaper and getting past risky dependency on free-standing inserts (the coupons and circulars that will one day, sooner than we know — zap! — disappear) and retail advertising (which continues to implode) and the last vestiges of classified (how quaint) and circulation revenue (sorry!). It means getting rid of the cost of the analog business (“iron and real estate,” as Paton says).

Print last. Note that none of us — no, not even I — is saying print dead. Print, at least for a time, still has a place in serving content and advertising. But let’s re-examine that place even as we re-examine the role of the article, the journalist, and the advertisement in digital.

Since I spoke about this with Rusbridger last time he was in New York to herald the coming of Guardian for Yanks, I’ve refined my thinking. As I understand the well-known business of the Guardian — unlike many US papers and unlike at least one of its UK competitors, the Times — its Sunday paper, the Observer, is an economic burden. My thought earlier had been to give it up, just as many American papers are contemplating giving up other days of the week but keeping Sunday (and Thursdays and perhaps another … because they are still useful to wrap around those free-standing inserts). No, they won’t keep publishing on those days for journalistic purposes but because they have distribution value. Cynical, perhaps, but true.

But all this talk about the article has made me contemplate a new future: What if the Guardian became an online-only and international brand of news, multimedia, and comment and the Observer became a once-a-week (who cares what day of the week?) print brand of analysis, context, comment, and narrative? The Guardian has 37 million users, two-thirds of them outside the UK. Going online-only would enable it to become a truly international brand. The Observer could compete with the master of the article, the one publication that adds great value through the form: the Economist. As a newspaper of depth, this Observer could mimic Die Zeit in Germany, an amazing journal of reporting and commentary that is still growing in circulation. The print Observer could be printed in America, competing with weak-tea Sunday newspapers in markets across the country. Prior efforts to consider a print Guardian in the U.S. have stopped short. Could this succeed? Dunno.

The point is that the article as a high form of journalistic practice could succeed in a high-value print form while the Guardian could become a journal of news and comment in text, photo, video, audio, graphics, data….

What also makes me wonder about this is The New York Times’ proud announcement that it will remake its Week in Review into the Sunday Review next week. Truth be told, I haven’t read the Sunday Times in ages. I used to hang on its arrival at newsstands on Saturday nights in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but now I find it to be day-old bread, yeasty but stiff. Could The Times turn its plans for Sunday Review into an American Economist? I’m less sanguine about its chances than the Guardian’s. In either case, the winner would be the one that finds the greatest value in the old form of the article.

See, it’s not dead. It just needs a savior.

June 18 2011

01:24

The storyteller strikes back

When I dared question the article’s monopoly as the atomic and only acceptable form of news, I honestly did not imagine the reaction I would get. I thought I was observing a trend and an opportunity. I have tried to provoke plenty of times. But here I truly did not think I was saying anything provocative. But clearly, I plucked a nerve. I’ve been asking myself why I evoked such a strong emotional response, online and off. At Jeff Pulver’s 140 Conference in New York this week, I endeavored to answer that.

In a performance that well demonstrates that I should not quit my day job and hope for a career on Broadway, I tried to take on the voice — in a purposefully simplistic, over-the-top way — of the storytellers who objected to what I was observing. Here’s what I think they were saying: “You can’t have a narrative without the narrator, a story without the storyteller. I am the storyteller. I decide what the story is. I decide what goes in it and doesn’t. I decide where it begins and where it ends.” That’s part of the issue: control. But it’s more than that: “If you don’t need as many articles — if there are other ways to impart information — do you still need me, the storyteller?” That, I think, could be at the heart of their fear and reaction.

Once again, I’m not getting rid of the story, not replacing it or the storyteller. I’m arguing that articles are precious, more precious than ever, and need to add value or we can’t afford to waste our time on them. I’m saying that the journalist takes on new roles and more tasks. But, yes, if as a journalist you see yourself only as a storyteller, a maker of articles, your horizon just got closer.

At 140, I told the room and the cameras that I see something else happening. I referred once again to the Gutenberg Parenthesis, coined by the University of Southern Denmark to describe how the change in our media affects our cognition of our world.

When people say they like newspapers and books they aren’t just talking about the physical form of them: the feel and smell, the portability and tangibility. They are talking about the finiteness of them. Articles and books have beginnings and ends; they have boundaries and limits; they are packaged neatly in boxes with bows on top; they are a product of scarcity. Abundance is unsettling. That is precisely why the internet is disruptive not only to business and government but to culture and cognition. Threatening the dominion of the article is to threaten our very worldview.

You see, I am trying to understand the visceral reaction to what I said. It took me by surprise.

I asked the folks at 140 not to kill the article but to question assumptions about it.

I may live to regret embedding my talk (I haven’t had the courage to watch it yet), but here it is:

Then I got to introduce my friend John Paton, who is challenging assumptions about the form and business of journalism:

June 12 2011

21:13

The orthodoxy of the article, part II

Frédéric Filoux willfully misrepresents me so that he may uphold the orthodoxy of the article. He will be disappointed to learn that we agree more than he wishes. Here is what I am really saying about the article.

First, far from denigrating the article, I want to elevate it. When I say the article is a luxury, I argue that using ever-more-precious resources to create an article should be taken seriously and before writing and editing a story we must assure that it will add value. Do most articles do that today? No. Go through your paper in the morning and tell me how much real value is added and how much ink is spilled to tell you what you already know (whether that is facts you learned through Twitter, the web, TV, radio, et al or background that is reheated more often than a stale slice in a bad New York pizzeria).

How many articles are rewritten from others’ work just so a paper and a reporter can have a byline? How many predict the obvious (every story about an upcoming storm, holiday, press conference, or horse race election)? How often do you see a local TV story with any real reporting and value instead of just someone standing where the news happened 12 hours ago telling you what you and he both read online already? Too many articles passing themselves off as professional journalism are crap and I say we can’t afford to do that anymore. I say we should treat articles with veneration as a luxury.

Second, I am also promoting rather than devaluing background when I say it is best linked to. The background paragraphs in an ongoing story generally do one of two things: they bore and waste the time of people who have followed the story or they underinform the people who have not been following the story. Background graphs were a necessity of print but online we can improve background immensely, investing the effort in truly valuable and long-lasting content assets that give richer and more helpful background on a story. I’ve worked with smart folks at news companies imagining how we could provide multiple paths through background: here’s the path to take if you’re coming to the story as a virgin; here’s a track to take if you’ve missed a week; here’s a track from one perspective; here’s one from another. If someone else did a great job explaining the story or elements of it, we should link to them. Filoux calls that oursourcing. I call that linking. We do that nowadays. This is why I’m eagerly watching Jay Rosen’s project in creating explainers, which is an even richer form of background.

Third, in this entire discussion of the article, I am valuing reporting higher than repetitive retyping. As our resources become ever-scarcer, I say that we must devote more of them to reporting than to articles that add little: asking the questions that haven’t been asked and answered, finding people who can add information and perspective, fact-checking.

But I have angered the gods, first Mathew Ingram, now Filoux, who also misquotes me when he says I say that: “Tweeting and retweeting events as they unfold is a far more superior way of reporting than painstakingly gathering the facts and going through a tedious writing and editing process.” I say no such thing and dare him to show me where he thinks I say that with a direct quote. That sentence could stand a little painstaking editing itself. I do say that while an event is underway, tweeting is an amazing new tool to hear directly from witnesses, to question them, to debunk rumors, to manage collaborative reporting (that’s what Andy Carvin does in the Arab Spring). It is part of the reporting process. It contributes to articles later in the process (that’s what Brian Stelter was asking his desk to do when he covered a tornado).

The point is that there are many new ways to accomplish journalistic goals to cover news and gather and share information: Twitter, blogs, data, visualization, multimedia…. Jonathan Glick wrote a much more constructive answer to the question I raised about articles, saying that now that they are freed from the drudgery of reporting infobits of news — the things we have already been told sooner and by other means — then the article can concentrate on adding true value: context, explanation, education, commentary, further reporting, fact-checking….

That is the sense in which I say that the article is or often should be a byproduct of the news process. Once the public is informed of the facts through faster means, once we put digital first and print last (© John Paton), then we also no longer need to build the infrastructure and process of news around writing articles. We have to break out of that expensive, inefficient, archaic stricture. We can instead architect news around helping communities organize their information and themselves (that is my definition of journalism) and we have new ways to do that, including new ways to report news and write articles.

I dare to question the assumptions about the forms of news and journalism. That’s my job. Some — including apparently Filoux — might argue that it is the job of a university to impart orthodoxy: This is the way we have always done it, thus that’s the right way to do it, and that’s the way you will do it, students. I abhor that view.

I believe it is my job, especially in a university, to challenge assumptions and to free students to invent new forms. That is one of my hidden agendas behind teaching entrepreneurial journalism: to encourage and support students (and the industry) to break assumptions and invent new forms, because they can, because we must.

I fear Filoux’s still upset with me because I could not bear and dared criticize the discussion on a panel he ran at the e-G8 in Paris. It wasn’t him I was criticizing. It was hearing the same old stuff from the same old people. At a conference on the internet and the future, the past was rehashed once more. I can bear that no more than he apparently can bear my temerity to challenge the holy article.

But in the end, we almost agree. Filoux argues that newspapers should become, say, “biweeklies offering strong value-added reporting and perspectives, and using electronic media for the rest.” Hmmm. He’s saying, just as I am, that articles should be richer and more valuable and that reporting news bits can be accomplished by other means. So where do we disagree?

June 03 2011

19:58

Is Twitter writing, or is it speech? Speech or writing, writing or ... [break, uff]

Niemanlab :: [An existential crisis] Twitter, like many other subjects of political pique, tends to be framed in extremes: On the one hand, there’s Twitter, the cheeky, geeky little platform — the perky Twitter bird! the collective of “tweets”! all the twee new words that have emerged with the advent of the tw-efix! — and on the other, there’s Twitter, the disruptor: the real-time reporting tool. The pseudo-enabler of democratic revolution. The existential threat to the narrative primacy of the news article. Twetcetera.

[Megan Garber:] Twitter is simply a medium like any other medium, and, in that, will make of itself ... whatever we, its users, make of it.

What is Twitter? - Continue to read Megan Garber, www.niemanlab.org

June 02 2011

15:50

The news article no longer make sense to mobile users for consuming news

Business Insider :: Mobile technology is pulling apart the centuries-old format of the article. News and analysis are getting a divorce. There is nothing sacred about the article for the transmission of news. It is a logical way of packaging information for a daily print run of a newspaper and a useful format around which to sell display advertising. It has survived into the Internet age for reasons of tradition and the absence of better formats. We have come to accept it as a fundamental atom of news communication, but it's not.

[Jonathan Glick:] Given faster, easier alternatives, the article no longer makes sense to mobile users for consuming news.

Continue to read Jonathan Glick, www.businessinsider.com

May 30 2011

12:25

Mathew Ingram - Twitter's real-time news format can't replace journalism

GigaOM :: In the wake of a number of events, including the use of Twitter as a real-time reporting tool by New York Times writer Brian Stelter during the aftermath of the recent tornado in Missouri, media theorist and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis has written a post about how the “article” or traditional news story may no longer be necessary. With so much real-time reporting via social networks, he argues that the standard news article has become a “value-added luxury..” But Mathew Ingram disagrees.

[Mathew Ingram:] while real-time reporting is very powerful, we still need someone to make sense of those streams and put them in context. In fact, we arguably need that even more.

Continue to read Mathew Ingram, gigaom.com

September 18 2010

12:11

What I read today…

September 07 2010

17:12

Channel 4′s latest web project reinvents quotations for the Twitter age

Quotations are ubiquitous, from Facebook and Twitter to media coverage and watercooler chats. But the experience of finding a quotation online is often messy and reliant on amateurish sites that seem to rely on the same old quotes – and that’s the problem a new Channel 4 project is aiming to fix. By Jemima Kiss


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Jemima Kiss, for guardian.co.uk on Thursday 2nd September 2010 12.05 UTC

“My favourite quotation is £8 10/- for a second-hand suit,” Spike Milligan once said.

Quotations are ubiquitous, from Facebook and Twitter to media coverage and watercooler chats. But the experience of finding a quotation online is often messy and reliant on amateurish sites that seem to rely on the same old quotes – and that’s the problem a new Channel 4 project is aiming to fix.

New Zealand quotations (1)
Photo by PhillipC on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Quotables wants to reinvent the quotations dictionary. Co-founded by Channel 4 and the Arts Council, there’s a focus on literature but also some priority C4 areas including comedy, news, the arts and independent British cinema. C4′s new media commissioner for factual, Adam Gee, said that despite the number of quotations sites already out there – from Wikiquote and ThinkExist to BrainyQuote and QuotationsBook – there’s room to do much better, because many of those reuse the same databases and rehash the same misattributions and inaccuracies.

Charlie Brooker: “Snakes. They’re like bits of rope, only angrier.”

“We had the realisation that the way we interact with quotes online is really lacking in many respects,” said Gee. “It’s not a fun experience or an easy experience, and when you do find something you have no idea if it is accurate or not. Quotables is starting from a blank sheet, built from the preferences of an active community.”

Oscar Wilde and Socrates will make the cut eventually, but there’s as much of a focus on events, TV and popular culture; the end of Big Brother has been a focus for Channel 4.

Albert Einstein: “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”

Gee said there are four dimensions to the project. He hopes Quotables will become to quotes what Delicious is to links, a standard utility for saving and sharing. There’s also a buzz element, capturing trends in quotes on different days; Tony Blair was a hot topic yesterday. And over time it value as a reference tool will increase, as will its community.

David Gibson, from the Edinburgh Fringe: “I’m currently dating a couple of anorexics. Two birds, one stone.”

Is the popularity of short quotes a symptom of how the internet is rewiring our brains, impairing our ability to process long-form content? These are 75-word quotes. “By having these nuggets from great works of literature, great speeches, great articles, we’re encouraging the entirety to be read and that’s part of the ongoing programme of functionality. One aspect is we’re building a batch upload process of independent publishers so they can upload a selection of the best quotes from recent publications, and it gets published alongside links to Amazon or their own online shops. But concision is really about encouraging a more considered, careful submission so people don’t submit a whole paragraph – what is the essence you are put across?”

Quotables was conceived and commissioned by Channel 4, built by Mint Digital and co-founded by the Arts Council and Channel 4. Gee describes it as halfway between a standard Channel 4 commission and an investment, more like that of 4ip. The aim is to make Quotables a sustainable, standalone business and it already has an office base and small team in Glasgow. Gee would not say how much had been invested in the project.

Terry Pratchett: “Build a man a fire and he’ll be warm for the night. Set a man on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”

“It’s not extravagant but it’s not tight. And it has been budgeted for the long view. The emphasis is on building a lovely experience and a core of enthusiastic users and around them a community people enjoy being a part of.” He said that as well as advertising, there are plans to help the project sustain itself by adding merchandising – “Moo-style” hard products.

“People have been very generous in sharing the repositories of inspiration,” said Gee. “Quotables has the edge over what’s out there at the moment; the fact you have proper tools for the quotes – the ability to edit tags, the ability to correct things, for finding duplicates, proper attribution and more accuracy. And a system of lists as well as tags so you can keep your own stuff sorted.”

All of which reminds me of a line my Dad used to say was by Virginia Woolf, along the lines of: “Efficiency cuts the grass of the mind to its roots.” I’ve never been able to find it – does anyone know?

There’s more from Quotables on its blog and you can subscribe to daily quotations from Quotables on Twitter.

Woody Allen: “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”

• Elsewhere, Channel 4 is working with Six to Start on a project with the working title ABC – Arts Buzz Culture. “It’s an early-warning cultural radar system, particularly picking up on online buzz around discovering and sharing arts and culture events,” said Gee. If you frequently find events are sold out or are over by the time you’ve heard about them, this will be for you. It’s a working prototype, and the design side is being developed with Rob Bevan of XPT. “It’s a difficult design job – you’ve got to make it seem very simple and not overwhelming. The creativity and brilliance of the design is hidden in its simplicity, in many ways.” It’s personalised, social – and due out in 2011.

Dolly Parton: “I’m not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb… and I’m also not blonde.”

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guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

July 30 2010

15:50

Turn your Twitter stream into a people parade

Twitter visualisations come in many forms, but IS Parade is arguably the most inventive yet…. As an example, check out this visualization of @cyberjournalist Twitter followers.
Powered by Guardian.co.uk

This article was written by Jemima Kiss, for guardian.co.uk on Wednesday 28th July 2010 10.59 UTC

Twitter visualisations come in many forms, but IS Parade is arguably the most inventive yet. Start a ‘parade’ of tweets across your csreen either by keyword, or by Twitter ID.

Use your own Twitter ID and you’ll see a parade of your own followers, which is a bit of an ego boost at least…

You can set up your own real-time parade by getting friends to tweet the same keyword, and then setting up a parade to follow it.

Not the most fuctional Twitter tool yet, but it does draw you in. All done by a Japanese agency to promote Sharp’s new IS series Android netbook/smartphone.

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guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


June 28 2010

23:35

Help with the format of a profile article!

Hello all!

Can you please offer me your advice / opinion of the following:

Can a 'profile article' be in the format of questions and answers?

Is a profile article a definite spec for the FORMAT of the article (ie biog, blurb, q&as) or does it just mean an article profiling (ie concentrating on) the particular subject?

Any help would be GRATEFULLY received ASAP!

Many thanks

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