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August 15 2012

15:42

13 ways of looking at Medium, the new blogging/sharing/discovery platform from @ev and Obvious

[With apologies to Wallace Stevens, the finest poet to ever serve as vice president of the Hartford Livestock Insurance Company.]

I.

Medium is a new online publishing platform from Obvious Corp. It launched yesterday. Obvious is the most recent iteration of the company that created Blogger, Odeo, and Twitter. Blogger was the outfit that, until it was bought up by Google, did the most to enable the early-2000s blogging boom. Odeo was a podcasting service that never really took off — 20 percent ahead of its time, 80 percent outflanked by Apple. Twitter — well, you’ve heard of Twitter.

Ev Williams, the key figure at every stage, tweeted about Medium yesterday in a way that slotted it right into the evolutionary personal-publishing chain he and his colleagues have enabled: Let’s try this again!

II.

Medium has been described as “a cross between Tumblr and Pinterest.” There’s some truth to that, in terms of presentation. Like Tumblr, it relies on artfully constructed templates for its structural power; like Pinterest, it’s designed to be image-heavy. But those surface issues, while interesting, are less consequential than the underlying structure of Medium, which upends much of how we think about personal publishing online.

III.

When the Internet first blossomed, its initial promise to media was the devolution of power from the institution to the individual. Before the web, reaching an audience meant owning a printing press or a broadcast tower. It was resource-intensive, and those resources tended to congeal around companies — organizations that had newsrooms, yes, but also human resource departments, advertising sales staffs, and people to man the phones when your paper was thrown into the bushes (we’re very sorry about that, Mrs. Johnson, we’ll be happy to credit your account).

The web, by reducing potential worldwide access to basic knowledge of [1996: Unix and <table> tags; 1999: how to input FTP credentials; 2005: how to come up with a unique login and password; 2010: how to stay under 140 characters], eliminated, at least in theory, the need for organizations. (Vide Shirky.)

IV.

In theory. In reality, organization still had some enormous advantages. Organizations are sustainable; they outlive the vagaries of human attention. Some individuals flourished in the newly democratic blogosphere. But over time, people got bored, got new jobs, found new interests, or otherwise reached the limits of what people-driven, individual-driven publishing could accomplish for them. The political blogosphere — the cacophony of individual voices on both left and right circa, say, 2004 — evolved toward institutions, toward Politico and TPM and The Blaze and HuffPo and the like.

Personal publishing is like voting. In theory, it’s the very definition of empowerment. In reality, it’s an excellent way for your personal shout to be cancelled out by someone else’s shout.

V.

That was when a few smart people realized that there was a balance to be found between the organization and the individual. The individual sought self-expression and an audience; the organization sought sustainability and cash money. Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

So Facebook built a way for people to express themselves (by providing free content) to an audience (through their self-defined network of friends), while selling ads around it all. It’s a pretty good business.

So Twitter (Ev, Jack, and crew) build a way for people to express themselves, in a format that was genius in its limitations and in its old-media model of subscribe-and-follow — again, transformed from institutions to individuals. It’s not as good of a business as Facebook, probably, but it’s still a pretty good business.

So Tumblr, Path, Foursquare, and a gazillion others have tried to pull off the same trick: Serve users by helping them find an outlet for personal expression, then build a business around those users’ collective outputs. It’s publishing-as-platform, and it’s the business model du jour in this unbundled, rebundled world.

VI.

What’s most radical about Medium is that it denies authorship.

Okay, maybe not denies authorship — people’s names are right next to their work, after all. But it degrades authorship, renders it secondary, knocks it off its pedestal.

The shift to blogging created a wave of new individual media stars, but in a sense it just shifted traditional media brands to a new, personal level. Instead of reading The Miami Herald or Newsweek, you read Jason Kottke or John Gruber. So long, U.S. News; hello, Anil Dash. They were brands in the sense that your attraction to their work was tied to authorship — you wanted to see what Lance Arthur or Dean Allen or Josh Marshall or Ezra Klein was going to write next. The value was tied to the work’s origin, its creator.

And while social networks allowed that value to be spread, algorithmically, much wider, the proposition was much the same. You were interested in your Facebook news feed because it was produced by your friends. You were interested in your Twitter stream because you’d clicked “Follow” next to every single person appearing in it.

VII.

Degrading authorship is something the web already does spectacularly well. Work gets chopped and sliced and repurposed. That last animated GIF you saw — do you know who made it? Probably not. That infonugget you saw on Gawker or The Atlantic — did it start there? Probably not. Sites like Buzzfeed are built largely on reshuffling the Internet, rearranging work into streams and slideshows.

It’s been a while since auteur theory made sense as an explanation of the web. And you know what? We’re better for it. In a world of functionally infinite content, relying on authorship doesn’t scale. We need people to mash things up, to point things out, to sample, to remix.

VIII.

Where Medium zags is in structuring its content around what it calls “collections.” Here’s Ev:

Posting on Medium (not yet open to everyone) is elegant and easy, and you can do so without the burden of becoming a blogger or worrying about developing an audience. All posts are organized into “collections,” which are defined by a theme and a template.

The burden of becoming a blogger or worrying about developing an audience. That’s a real issue, right? I’ve talked to lots of journalists who want to have some outlet for their work that doesn’t flow through an assigning editor. But when I suggest starting a blog, The Resistance begins. I don’t know how to start a blog. If I did, it’d be ugly. Or: I’d have to post all the time to keep readers coming back. I don’t want to do that. Starting a blog means, for most, committing to something — to building a media brand, to the caring and feeding of an audience, to doing lots of stuff you don’t want to do. That’s why ease of use — the promise of Facebook, the promise of Twitter, the promise of Tumblr — has been such a wonderful selling point to people who want to create media without hassle. Every single-serving Tumblr, every Twitter account updated sporadically, every Facebook account closed to only a few friends speaks the same message: You can do this, it’s simple, don’t stress, you’ll be fine.

IX.

So Medium is built around collections, not authors. When you click on an author’s byline on a Medium post, it goes to their Twitter feed (Ev synergy!), not to their author archive — which is what you’d expect on just about any other content management system on the Internet. (The fact we call them content management systems alone tells you the structural weight that comes from even the lightest personal publishing systems.) The author is there as a reference point to an identity layer — Twitter — not as an organizing principle.

As Dave Winer noted, Medium does content categorization upside down: “Instead of adding a category to a post, you add a post to a category.” He means collection in Medium-speak, but you get the idea: Topic triumphs over author. Medium doesn’t want you to read something because of who wrote it; Medium wants you to read something because of what it’s about. And because of the implicit promise that Medium = quality.

(This just happens to be promising from a business-model perspective. Who needs silly content contributors asserting authorial privilege when the money starts to flow? Demoting the author privileges the platform, which is nice if you own the platform.)

X.

At one level, Medium is just another publishing platform (join the crowd): You type in a title, some text, maybe a photo if you want, hit “Publish” and out comes a “post,” whatever that means that days, on a unique URL that you can share with your friends. (And let me just say, as a Blogger O.G. from the Class of ’99, that Medium’s posting interface brought back super-pleasant memories of Blogger’s old two-pane interface. Felt like the Clinton years again.)

XI.

Ev writes that a prime objective of Medium is increased quality: “Lots of services have successfully lowered the bar for sharing information, but there’s been less progress toward raising the quality of what’s produced.” That’s probably true: There are orders of magnitude more content published every day than was the case in 1999, when Blogger launched as a Pyra side project. The mass of quality content is much higher too, of course, but it’s surrounded by an even-faster-growing mass of not-so-great (or at least not-so-great-to-you) content.

Medium takes a significant step in that direction by violating perhaps the oldest blogging norm: that content appears in reverse-chronological order, newest stuff up top, flowing forever downward into the archives. Reverse chron has been key to blogging since Peter Merholz made up the word. (Older than that, actually — back to the original “What’s New” page at NCSA in 1993.) For the pleasure centers in the brain that respond to “New!,” reverse chron was a godsend — even if traditional news organizations were never quite comfortable with it, preferring to curate their own homepages through old-fashioned ideas like, you know, editorial judgment.

Medium believes in editorial judgment — but everyone’s an editor. Like the great social aggregators (Digg is dead, long live Digg), Medium relies on user voting to determine what floats to the top of a collection and what gets dugg down the bottom. (A reverse chron view is available, but not the default.) It’ll be interesting to see how that works once Medium is really a working site: Will a high-rated story stick to the top of a collection for weeks, months, or years, forever pushing new stuff down? Will there be any way for someone visiting a collection to see what’s new since she was last there? The tension between what’s good and what’s new is a long-standing one for online media, and privileging either comes with drawbacks — new material never reaching an audience, or good stuff being buried beneath something inconsequential posted 20 minutes later.

Considering Obvious Corp.’s heritage in Blogger and Twitter — both of which privilege reverse chron, Twitter existentially so — it’s interesting to see Ev & Co. thinking that a push for quality might entail a retreat from the valorization of newness.

XII.

There’s been a lot of movement in the past few months toward alternative, “quality” platforms for content on the web. Branch is based on the idea that web comments are shit and that you have to create a separate universe where smart people can have smart conversations. App.net, the just-funded paid Twitter alternative, is attractive to at least some folks because it promises a reboot of the social web without the “cockroaches” — you know, stupid people. Svbtle, an invite-only blogging platform, is aimed only at those who “strive to produce great content. We focus on the writing, the news, and the ideas. Everything else is a distraction.”

This new class of publishing platforms, like Medium, is beautiful — they share a stripped-down aesthetic that evokes the best of the early web (post-<blink> tag, pre-MySpace) modernized with nice typography, lovely textures, and generous white space. (Medium, in particular, seems to be luxuriate in giant FF Tisa, evocative of Jeffrey Zeldman’s huge-type redesign back in May.)

This new class has also been criticized with a variation on the white flight argument — the idea that the privileged flee common spaces and platforms once they stop being solely the realm of an elite and become too popular. (Vide danah boyd. Also vide your favorite indie band, the first time you heard them on the radio.)

For (just) a moment, strip away the political implications of that critique: What each of these sites argues, implicitly, is that the web norms that we’ve evolved over the past decade err toward crassness and ugliness. That advertising — which all these sites lack, and which is proving to be less-than-sufficiently-remunerative for lots of “quality” online media — is an uninvited guest in our reading experiences. That the free-for-all of a comments thread creates broken-windows-style chaos. That the madness of the web might be tamed through better tools and better platforms. That the web’s pressure to Always Keep Posting New Stuff leads to a lot of dumb stuff being posted. It’s a critique of pageview chasing, a critique of linkbait, a critique of content farms, a critique of SEO’d headlines — a yearning for something more authentic, whatever the hell that means.

I think we’d all like to know what that means. And how to get there.

XIII.

Is Medium the route there? I’m skeptical.

I’m unclear who, beyond an initial crowd of try-anything-once types, will want to publish via Medium, as lovely as it is. Or at least I’m unclear on how many of them there are. The space Medium, er, mediates is between two poles. On one side you’ve got people who want to hang out a shingle online and own their work in every possible sense. On the other, you’ve got people who are happy in the friendly confines of Facebook and Twitter, places where they can reach their friends effortlessly and not worry about writing elegant prose. Is there an audience between those two poles that’s big enough to build something lasting? Is this Blogger or Twitter, or is it Odeo?

But even if Medium isn’t a hit, however that gets defined these days, I think Ev & Co. are onto something here. There are seeds of a backlash against the beautiful chaos the web hath wrought, the desire for a flight to quality. There will be new ways beyond ease of use to harness the creative powers of the audience. And there will be new ways to structure content discovery that go beyond branding authorship and recommendation engines. Those trends are real, and whatever happens to Medium, they’ll impact everyone who publishes online.

Blackbird photo by Duncan Brown used under a Creative Commons license.

July 27 2011

10:43

The Me Media - is traditional media working hard to bend new media to their will?

What makes the new media interesting?

Huffington Post :: For some, it's the many new voices who can now find an audience. Whether it's a blog, podcast or Twitter feed, the new media is less about the consumption of content and aimed much closer to the reality that anyone who has something to say can now publish their thoughts -- in text, images, audio and video -- instantly for the world to see (and it costs next-to-nothing). Along with that comes an equalized back and forth with the audience.

It's that pure concept that drives the thinking and revision of definitions of media and journalism by people like Clay Shirky, Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis and others.

But the real question about new media is this: Is new media really something new and different or is traditional media working hard to bend it to their will?

Continue to read Joel Mitch, www.huffingtonpost.com

Visit the site of Clay Shirky

Visit the site of Jay Rosen

Visit the site of Jeff Jarvis

July 11 2011

19:58

Future of reporting - from "filter, then publish" to "publish, then filter" or ...

Forbes | Disruptive Economy :: Timothy Lee wrote an "aweful" nice piece. In his article "A Crisis in Reporting" he describes the two different working styles of print and digital journalists.

He writes: "Print reporters sometimes waste time on stories that get spiked, file under-reported stories to meet arbitrary deadlines, or cut out interesting material to save space.

Clay Shirky has called this a “filter, then publish,” process. In contrast, Forbes bloggers like me operate on a “publish, then filter” model. We write whatever we want, the Forbes editors decide which content to promote on the Forbes home page, and we’re paid based on the traffic we receive. This is more efficient not only because we don’t have to waste time negotiating with our editors, but also because there are fewer perverse incentives: we get paid if and only if we write stuff people want to read."

Timothy, I would suggest a third way "curate, publish, listen and then respond". It is the working process I propose for the Liquid Newsroom. You first curate a stream of news covering a specific topic, publish what you find interesting and of value for your readers, listen to their response in real-time and respond to it with indepth articles on the subject of interest. I've tried to visualize it here: Liquid Newsroom - proposal for a process of real-time editing

Future of reporting - continue to read Timothy Lee, blogs.forbes.com

June 02 2011

17:30

Is Twitter writing, or is it speech? Why we need a new paradigm for our social media platforms

New tools are at their most powerful, Clay Shirky says, once they’re ubiquitous enough to become invisible. Twitter may be increasingly pervasive — a Pew study released yesterday shows that 13 percent of online adults use the service, which is up from 8 percent six months ago — but it’s pretty much the opposite of invisible. We talk on Twitter, yes, but almost as much, it seems, we talk about it.

The big debates about Twitter’s overall efficacy as a medium — like the one launched by, say, Malcolm Gladwell and, more recently, Bill Keller, whose resignation from the New York Times editorship people have (jokingly, I think?) chalked up to his Twitter-take-on column — tend to devolve into contingents rather than resolve into consensus. An even more recent debate between Mathew Ingram and Jeff Jarvis, which comparatively nuanced, comparatively polite) ended with Ingram writing, “I guess we will have to agree to disagree.”

But why all the third-railiness? 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.

The dissonance here could be chalked up to the fact that Twitter is simply a medium like any other medium, and, in that, will make of itself (conversation-enabler, LOLCat passer-onner, rebellion-facilitator) whatever we, its users, make of it. But that doesn’t fully account for Twitter’s capacity to inspire so much angst (“Is Twitter making us ____?”), or, for that matter, to inspire so much joy. The McLuhany mindset toward Twitter — the assumption of a medium that is not only the message to, but the molder of, its users — seems to be rooted in a notion of what Twitter should be as much as what it is.

Which begs the question: What is Twitter, actually? (No, seriously!) And what type of communication is it, finally? If we’re wondering why heated debates about Twitter’s effect on information/politics/us tend to be at once so ubiquitous and so generally unsatisfying…the answer may be that, collectively, we have yet to come to consensus on a much more basic question: Is Twitter writing, or is it speech?

Twitter versus “Twitter”

The broader answer, sure, is that it shouldn’t matter. Twitter is…Twitter. It is what it is, and that should be enough. As a culture, though, we tend to insist on categorizing our communication, drawing thick lines between words that are spoken and words that are written. So libel is, legally, a different offense than slander; the written word, we assume, carries the heft of both deliberation and proliferation and therefore a moral weight that the spoken word does not. Text, we figure, is: conclusive, in that its words are the deliberate products of discourse; inclusive, in that it is available equally to anyone who happens to read it; exclusive, in that it filters those words selectively; archival, in that it preserves information for posterity; and static, in that, once published, its words are final.

And speech, while we’re at it, is discursive and ephemeral and, importantly, continual. A conversation will end, yes, but it is not the ending that defines it.

Those characteristics give way to categories. Writing is X; speaking is Y; and both have different normative dimensions that are based on, ultimately, the dynamics of power versus peer — the talking to versus the talking with. So when we talk about Twitter, we tend to base our assessments on its performance as a tool of either orality or textuality. Bill Keller seems to see Twitter as text that happens also to be conversation, and, in that, finds the form understandably lacking. His detractors, on the other hand, seem to see Twitter as conversation that happens also to be text, and, in that, find it understandably awesome.

Which would all be fine — nuanced, even! — were it not for the fact that Twitter-as-text and Twitter-as-conversation tend to be indicated by the same word: “Twitter.” In the manner of “blogger” and “journalist” and even “journalism” itself, “Twitter” has become emblematic of a certain psychology — or, more specifically, of several different psychologies packed awkwardly into a single signifier. And to the extent that it’s become a loaded word, “Twitter” has also become a problematic one: #Twittermakesyoustupid is unfair, but #”Twitter”makesyoustupid has a point. The framework of text and speech falls apart once we recognize that Twitter is both and neither at once. It’s its own thing, a new category.

Our language, however, doesn’t yet recognize that. Our rhetoric hasn’t yet caught up to our reality — for Twitter and, by extension, for other social media.

We might deem Twitter a text-based mechanism of orality, as the scholar Zeynep Tufekci has suggested, or of a “secondary orality,” as Walter Ong has argued, or of something else entirely (tweech? twext? something even more grating, if that’s possible?). It almost doesn’t matter. The point is to acknowledge, online, a new environment — indeed, a new culture — in which writing and speech, textuality and orality, collapse into each other. Speaking is no longer fully ephemeral. And text is no longer simply a repository of thought, composed by an author and bestowed upon the world in an ecstasy of self-containment. On the web, writing is newly dynamic. It talks. It twists. It has people on the other end of it. You read it, sure, but it reads you back.

“The Internet looking back at you”

In his social media-themed session at last year’s ONA conference, former Lab writer and current Wall Street Journal outreach editor Zach Seward talked about being, essentially, the voice of the outlet’s news feed on Twitter. When readers tweeted responses to news stories, @WSJ might respond in kind — possibly surprising them and probably delighting them and maybe, just for a second, sort of freaking them out.

The Journal’s readers were confronted, in other words, with text’s increasingly implicit mutuality. And their “whoa, it’s human!” experience — the Soylent Greenification of online news consumption — can bring, along with its obvious benefits, the same kind of momentary unease that accompanies the de-commodification of, basically, anything: the man behind the curtain, the ghost in the machine, etc. Concerns expressed about Twitter, from that perspective, may well be stand-ins for concerns about privacy and clickstream tracking and algorithmic recommendation and all the other bugs and features of the newly reciprocal reading experience. As the filmmaker Tze Chun noted to The New York Times this weekend, discussing the increasingly personalized workings of the web: “You are used to looking at the Internet voyeuristically. It’s weird to have the Internet looking back at you….”

So a Panoptic reading experience is also, it’s worth remembering, a revolutionary reading experience. Online, words themselves, once silent and still, are suddenly springing to life. And that can be, in every sense, a shock to the system. (Awesome! And also: Aaaah!) Text, after all, as an artifact and a construct, has generally been a noun rather than a verb, defined by its solidity, by its thingness — and, in that, by its passive willingness to be the object of interpretation by active human minds. Entire schools of literary criticism have been devoted to that assumption.

And in written words’ temporal capacity as both repositories and relics, in their power to colonize our collective past in the service of our collective future, they have suggested, ultimately, order. “The printed page,” Neil Postman had it, “revealed the world, line by line, page by page, to be a serious, coherent place, capable of management by reason, and of improvement by logical and relevant criticism.” In their architecture of sequentialism, neatly packaged in manuscripts of varying forms, written words have been bridges, solid and tangible, that have linked the past to the future. As such, they have carried an assurance of cultural continuity.

It’s that preservative function that, for the moment, Twitter is largely lacking. As a platform, it does a great job of connecting; it does, however, a significantly less-great job of conserving. It’s getting better every day; in the meantime, though, as a vessel of cultural memory, it carries legitimately entropic implications.

But, then, concerns about Twitter’s ephemerality are also generally based on a notion of Twitter-as-text. In that, they assume a zero-sum relationship between the writing published on Twitter and the writing published elsewhere. They see the written, printed word — the bridge, the badge of a kind of informational immortality — dissolving into the digital. They see back-end edits revising stories (which is to say, histories) in an instant. They see hacks erasing those stories altogether. They see links dying off at an alarming rate. They see all that is solid melting into bits.

And they have, in that perspective, a point: While new curatorial tools, Storify and its ilk, will become increasingly effective, they might not be able to recapture print’s assurance, tenacious if tenuous, of a neatly captured world. That’s partly because print’s promise of epistemic completeness has always been, to some extent, empty; but it’s also because those tools will be operating within a digital world that is increasingly — and actually kind of wonderfully — dynamic and discursive.

But what the concerns about Twitter tend to forget is that language is not, and has never been, solid. Expression allows itself room to expand. Twitter is emblematic, if not predictive, of the Gutenberg Parenthesis: the notion that, under the web’s influence, our text-ordered world is resolving back into something more traditionally oral — more conversational and, yes, more ephemeral. “Chaos is our lot,” Clay Shirky notes; “the best we can do is identify the various forces at work shaping various possible futures.” One of those forces — and, indeed, one of those futures — is the hybrid linguistic form that we are shaping online even as it shapes us. And so the digital sphere calls for a new paradigm of communication: one that is discursive as well as conservative, one that acquiesces to chaos even as it resists it, one that relies on text even as it sheds the mantle of textuality. A paradigm we might call “Twitter.”

Photos by olalindberg and Tony Hall used under a Creative Commons license.

May 19 2011

16:21

MIT Sessions Address Prison Blogging, Networked Revolt in Arab World

MIT's Center for Future Civic Media redoubled its public events efforts this past year, thanks to a push by its fellow Ethan Zuckerman. Zuckerman brings a unique perspective -- a civic one -- to media developments so often dominated by politics and business-model debates.

This approach couldn't be more evident than in the case of two recent Civic Media Sessions, videos of which you'll see below. Our sessions, spread throughout the semester, are conversations around civic media topics we're just now defining, including the coalescing of the field itself around information needs, geographic communities, and replicable, sustainable technical innovation.

"Design for Vulnerable Populations" was a session we held last month, and it addressed the fact that designers of new media -- web-based or otherwise -- seem to have in mind an idealized user, someone who's hungry for news, is digitally connected, and feels one technical solution shy of changing the world.

Sadly, that idealized user hardly exists outside of the New York Times' "Weekender" ad. In fact, civic media innovations, to be truly civic, have to work for the marginalized, poor, the ill -- even for the imprisoned. So "Design for Vulnerable Populations" was moderated by our center's own Charlie DeTar, creator of the prison blogging platform Between the Bars, and featured speakers critiquing how we bring environmental justice, health and sustainability into the design of cutting-edge media tools.

Design for Vulnerable Populations
MIT Tech TV

And then earlier this month, Zuckerman moderated "Civic Disobedience," with Clay Shirky, Zeynep Tufekci and Sami ben Gharbia. Zuckerman addressed a key set of questions: What accounts for the rise of networked revolt in the Arab world and elsewhere, and how is it succeeding in some places while failing in others?

Civic Disobedience
MIT Tech TV

We're awfully proud of the intelligence brought to bear on these often-overlooked but critical issues. So as this spring semester wraps up, be sure to sign up for our center's updates to hear what we're planning for the fall.

February 01 2011

15:30

Could BiblioBouts, an online sourcing game for academia, offer lessons for media literacy?

Karen Markey had a fairly straightforward idea: Teach students to steer clear of unreliable sources of information through the use of a game.

What the University of Michigan professor wants her students to focus on navigating is academic research. But instead of citing credible references on the rise of the Medici family, what if we could apply a similar game to distinguishing the credibility of news sources?

“The problem is today’s students still don’t know where to go for authoritative, good information that is trustworthy,” said Markey. “But they sure do know how to go to the web.”

If we swapped out “students” for “readers,” you’d have the basis of an argument for media literacy and the importance of finding a way for readers (and journalists themselves) to find good information.

The game Markey created, BiblioBouts, could potentially be an example to educators, j-schools or nonprofits on how to teach media literacy. It’s an idea that’s getting investment, like the Knight Foundation’s funding of the expansion of a civics and news literacy program in West Virginia called Globaloria.

In BiblioBouts, students gather citations from library databases or online sources and rank them against each other based on credibility, content, and relevance to assigned topics. The game is built off Zotero, an open-source online citation tool that lets users organize and share research. In a way, the game is a little like the academic equivalent of Final Fantasy or World of Warcraft: You assemble the best team possible and hope to come out on top. Though maybe it’s a little like the Legend of Zelda in a “gather the tools you’ll need for the journey” way. (Then again, I may just be a big nerd.)

Through rating and tagging each other’s citations, students evaluate what makes a good source, with (hopefully) the more thorough and useful sources rising to the top. If competitiveness is any kind of factor students will look at the winning sources and want to emulate that process, Markey said. “It puts people in situations where the game-like features encourage them to continue playing,” she said. “And if they continue playing, hopefully they’ll learn more.”

It’s arguable that doing research has never been easier, thanks to the likes of Google and Wikipedia. Markey said professors aren’t surprised by studies saying students lend too much credence to search rankings in Google rather than relevance or authority. But Markey is clear that she’s not entrenched in an anti-Internet camp when it comes to research. She said there are plenty of good tools (Google Scholar, for instance), as well as sources for surfacing information — but students need to learn to be more discerning and know when to look deeper.

BiblioBouts may seem like a technology solution to a technology problem, in that you’re using one system to try and bring order to another (solving the “there’s too much information” problem, or perhaps the filter failure problem). But Markey thinks making more critical readers is the answer, and in that way BiblioBouts is just a tool.

“I think we need to teach people methodologies,” she said. “When you retrieve something on the web, you need to ask questions about what I am looking at and whether the information can be trusted.”

Markey can see a ready analog in journalism and the idea of media literacy. A similar game, call it truth-squading or BS-detecting, could be used either in training would-be journalists how to ferret out information, or creating more shrewd news consumers. “We need to be critical consumers of information to make decisions that impact our lives,” she said.

Image by Kimli used under a Creative Commons license.

January 03 2011

19:30

The cognitive surplus hates pigs. Also, Snooki.

Last week, Josh located Clay Shirky’s cognitive surplus — in an epic battle against pigs.

The fact that Angry Birds consumes 200 million minutes of human attention a day, Josh pointed out, suggests an important caveat to the surplus idea: that the increasing popularity of the web — and, with it, the decreasing popularity of television — doesn’t automatically lead to more creativity capital in the world. “Even if the lure of the connected digital world gets people to skimp on the Gilligan’s Island reruns,” he noted, “that doesn’t necessarily mean their replacement behaviors will be any more productive.”

Today brings another caveat to the creativity-from-surplus concept: a finding that “television remains a refuge in the media revolution.” To the extent that, per The New York Times:

Americans watched more television than ever in 2010, according to the Nielsen Company. Total viewing of broadcast networks and basic cable channels rose about 1 percent for the year, to an average of 34 hours per person per week.

In other words: Each of us Americans spends, on average, nearly five hours boob-tubing it every day.

Having fallen prey to an epic Jersey Shore marathon over the break, I am in no position to pass judgment on this teeveetastic state of affairs. But it’s worth noting that the cognitive surplus, as an argument and a concept, is predicated on the idea that the future will find us paying significantly less attention to TV than we do now. While the Times’s “more TV than ever” framing may not be as black-and-white as it appears — as Table 2 of Nielsen’s Q3/2009 Three Screen Report makes clear, hours-per-month fluctuations are common, and you wouldn’t want to read too much into this particular blip — the numbers here are a reminder of the fragility of the surplus itself. Even with all the new digital distractions available to us, there’s very little about TV, and our relationship with it, that suggests “decline.” In the matter of wiki versus Snooki, to the extent that the two are mutually exclusive, it’s not at all clear who will emerge victorious.

That’s not to question the nuanced ideas that inform Shirky’s framing of the surplus as time spent engaged in generativity and generosity. But it is to wonder: What happens to the cognitive surplus if the surplus itself never fully shows up?

December 30 2010

01:00

I have found the cognitive surplus, and it hates pigs

2008: Clay Shirky, outlining the basic idea that would become his book Cognitive Surplus:

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project — every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in — that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus.

2010: Hillel Fuld, citing data from Peter Vesterbacka of Rovio, the Finnish company behind the hit game Angry Birds:

Another mind boggling statistic about Angry Birds, and you should sit down for this one, is that there are 200 million minutes played a day on a global scale. As Peter put it, that number compares favorably to anything, including prime time TV, which indicates that 2011 will be a big year in the shift of advertisers’ attention from TV to mobile.

Some math: 200 million minutes a day / 60 minutes per hour * 365 days per year = 1.2 billion hours a year spent playing Angry Birds.

Or, if Shirky’s estimate is in the right ballpark, about one Wikipedia’s worth of time every month.

Just a lighthearted reminder that, even if the lure of the connected digital world gets people to skimp on the Gilligan’s Island reruns, that doesn’t necessarily mean their replacement behaviors will be any more productive. They could instead bring an ever greater capacity for distraction and disengagement and slingshot precision.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a couple more levels to get three stars on.

[Aside: Note that Angry Birds still has a long way to go to catch up to television: 200 billion hours a year vs. 1.2 billion hours. And the TV number is U.S. only, while the Angry Birds one is global.]

December 21 2010

16:00

Tablet-only, mobile-first: News orgs native to new platforms coming soon

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2010 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Here are 10 predictions from Vadim Lavrusik, community manager and social strategist at Mashable. Mashable, where these predictions first appeared, covers the heck out of the world of social media and have an honored place in our iPhone app.

In many ways, 2010 was finally the year of mobile for news media, and especially so if you consider the iPad a mobile device. Many news organizations like The Washington Post and CNN included heavy social media integrations into their apps, opening the devices beyond news consumption.

In 2011, the focus on mobile will continue to grow with the launch of mobile- and iPad-only news products, but the greater focus for news media in 2011 will be on re-imagining its approach to the open social web. The focus will shift from searchable news to social and share-able news, as social media referrals close the gap on search traffic for more news organizations. In the coming year, news media’s focus will be affected by the personalization of news consumption and social media’s influence on journalism.

Leaks and journalism: a new kind of media entity

In 2010, we saw the rise of WikiLeaks through its many controversial leaks. With each leak, the organization learned and evolved its process in distributing sensitive classified information. In 2011, we’ll see several governments prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for his role in disseminating classified documents and some charges will have varying successes. But even if WikiLeaks itself gets shut down, we’re going to see the rise of “leakification” in journalism, and more importantly we’ll see a number of new media entities, not just mirror sites, that will model themselves to serve whistle blowers — WikiLeaks copycats of sorts. Toward the end of this year, we already saw Openleaks, Brusselsleaks, and Tradeleaks. There will be many more, some of which will be focused on niche topics.

Just like with other media entities, there will be a new competitive market and some will distinguish themselves and rise above the rest. So how will success be measured? The scale of the leak, the organization’s ability to distribute it and its ability or inability to partner with media organizations. Perhaps some will distinguish themselves by creating better distribution platforms through their own sites by focusing on the technology and, of course, the analysis of the leaks. The entities will still rely on partnerships with established media to distribute and analyze the information, but it may very well change the relationship whistleblowers have had with media organizations until now.

More media mergers and acquisitions

At the tail end of 2010, we saw the acquisition of TechCrunch by AOL and the Newsweek merger with The Daily Beast. In some ways, these moves have been a validation in the value of new media companies and blogs that have built an audience and a business.

But as some established news companies’ traditional sources of revenue continue to decline, while new media companies grow, 2011 may bring more media mergers and acquisitions. The question isn’t if, but who? I think that just like this year, most will be surprises.

Tablet-only and mobile-first news companies

In 2010, as news consumption began to shift to mobile devices, we saw news organizations take mobile seriously. Aside from launching mobile apps across various mobile platforms, perhaps the most notable example is News Corp’s plan to launch The Daily, an iPad-only news organization that is set to launch early 2011. Each new edition will cost $0.99 to download, though Apple will take 30%. But that’s not the only hurdle, as the publication relies on an iPad-owning audience. There will have been 15.7 million tablets sold worldwide in 2010, and the iPad represents roughly 85% of that. However, that number is expected to more than double in 2011. Despite a business gamble, this positions news organizations like The Daily for growth, and with little competition, besides news organizations that repurpose their web content. We’ve also seen the launch of an iPad-only magazine with Virgin’s Project and of course the soon-to-launch News.me social news iPad application from Betaworks.

But it’s not just an iPad-only approach, and some would argue that the iPad isn’t actually mobile; it’s leisurely (yes, Mark Zuckerberg). In 2011, we’ll see more news media startups take a mobile-first approach to launching their companies. This sets them up to be competitive by distributing on a completely new platform, where users are more comfortable with making purchases. We’re going to see more news companies that reverse the typical model of website first and mobile second.

Location-based news consumption

In 2010, we saw the growth of location-based services like Foursquare, Gowalla and SCVNGR. Even Facebook entered the location game by launching its Places product, and Google introduced HotPot, a recommendation engine for places and began testing it in Portland. The reality is that only 4% of online adults use such services on the go. My guess is that as the information users get on-the-go info from such services, they’ll becomes more valuable and these location-based platforms will attract more users.

Part of the missing piece is being able to easily get geo-tagged news content and information based on your GPS location. In 2011, with a continued shift toward mobile news consumption, we’re going to see news organizations implement location-based news features into their mobile apps. And of course if they do not, a startup will enter the market to create a solution to this problem or the likes of Foursquare or another company will begin to pull in geo-tagged content associated with locations as users check in.

Social vs. search

In 2010, we saw social media usage continue to surge globally. Facebook alone gets 25% of all U.S. pageviews and roughly 10% of Internet visits. Instead of focusing on search engine optimization (SEO), in 2011 we’ll see social media optimization become a priority at many news organizations, as they continue to see social close the gap on referrals to their sites.

Ken Doctor, author of Newsonomics and news industry analyst at Outsell, recently pointed out that social networks have become the fastest growing source of traffic referrals for many news sites. For many, social sites like Facebook and Twitter only account for 10% to 15% of their overall referrals, but are number one in growth. For news startups, the results are even more heavy on social. And of course, the quality of these referrals is often better than readers who come from search. They generally yield more pageviews and represent a more loyal reader than the one-off visitors who stumble across the site from Google.

The death of the “foreign correspondent”

What we’ve known as the role of the foreign correspondent will largely cease to exist in 2011. As a result of business pressures and the roles the citizenry now play in using digital technology to share and distribute news abroad, the role of a foreign correspondent reporting from an overseas bureau “may no longer be central to how we learn about the world,” according to a recent study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of of Journalism. The light in the gloomy assessment is that there is opportunity in other parts of the world, such as Asia and Africa, where media is expanding as a result of “economic and policy stability,” according to the report. In 2011, we’ll see more news organizations relying heavily on stringers and, in many cases, social content uploaded by the citizenry.

The syndication standard and the ultimate curators

Syndication models will be disrupted in 2011. As Clay Shirky recently predicted, more news outlets will get out of the business of re-running the same story on their site that appeared elsewhere. Though this is generally true, the approach to syndication will vary based on the outlet. The reality is that the content market has become highly fragmented, and if content is king, then niche is certainly queen. Niche outlets, which were once curators of original content produced by established organizations, will focus more on producing original content. While established news brands, still under pressure to produce a massive amount of content despite reduced staff numbers, will become the ultimate curators. This means they will feature just as much content, but instead through syndication partners.

You already see this taking place on sites like CNN.com or NYTimes.com, both of whose technology sections feature headlines and syndicated content from niche technology publications. In this case, it won’t only be the reader demand for original content that drives niche publications to produce more original content, but also its relationship with established organizations that strive to uphold the quality of their content and the credibility of their brand. Though original content will be rewarded, specialized, niche publications could benefit the most from the disruption.

Social storytelling becomes reality

In 2010, we saw social content get weaved into storytelling, in some cases to tell the whole story and in other cases to contextualize news events with curation tools such as Storify. We also saw the rise of social news readers, such as Flipboard and Pulse mobile apps and others.

In 2011, we’ll not only see social curation as part of storytelling, but we’ll see social and technology companies getting involved in the content creation and curation business, helping to find the signal in the noise of information.

We’ve already heard that YouTube is in talks to buy a video production company, but it wouldn’t be a surprise for the likes of Twitter or Facebook to play a more pivotal role in harnessing its data to present relevant news and content to its users. What if Facebook had a news landing page of the trending news content that users are discussing? Or if Twitter filtered its content to bring you the most relevant and curated tweets around news events?

News organizations get smarter with social media

In 2010, news organizations began to take social media more seriously and we saw many news organizations hire editors to oversee social media. USA Today recently appointed a social media editor, while The New York Times dropped the title, and handed off the ropes to Aron Pilhofer’s interactive news team.

The Times’ move to restructure its social media strategy, by going from a centralized model to a decentralized one owned by multiple editors and content producers in the newsroom, shows us that news organizations are becoming more sophisticated and strategic with their approach to integrating social into the journalism process. In 2011, we’re going to see more news organizations decentralize their social media strategy from one person to multiple editors and journalists, which will create an integrated and more streamlined approach. It won’t just be one editor updating or managing a news organization’s process, but instead news organizations will work toward a model in which each journalist serves as his or her own community manager.

The rise of interactive TV

In 2010, many people were introduced to Internet TV for the first time, as buzz about the likes of Google TV, iTV, Boxee Box and others proliferated headlines across the web. In 2011, the accessibility to Internet TV will transform television as we know it in not only the way content is presented, but it will also disrupt the dominance traditional TV has had for years in capturing ad dollars.

Americans now spend as much time using the Internet as they do watching television, and the reality is that half are doing both at the same time. The problem of being able to have a conversation with others about a show you’re watching has existed for some time, and users have mostly reacted to the problem by hosting informal conversations via Facebook threads and Twitter hashtags. Companies like Twitter are recognizing the problem and finding ways to make the television experience interactive.

It’s not only the interaction, but the way we consume content. Internet TV will also create a transition for those used to consuming video content through TVs and bring them to the web. That doesn’t mean that flat screens are going away; instead, they will only become interconnected to the web and its many content offerings.

December 20 2010

19:00

Scott Karp: Clay Shirky’s right that syndication’s getting disrupted — but not in the ways he thinks it is

Editor’s Note: For our year-end series of predictions for 2011, we started out with a piece by Clay Shirky in which he predicted “widespread disruption” for the traditional syndication model in journalism. As Clay put it: “This kind of linking, traffic driving, and credit are natively web-like ideas, but they are also inimical to the older logic of syndication. Put simply, syndication makes little sense in a world with URLs.”

Not everyone agrees. Scott Karp runs Publish2, which is trying to build its own syndication model for journalism. Here’s Scott’s response to Clay and his own set of predictions for syndication in 2011.

Clay Shirky predicts that in 2011 traditional news syndication will see widespread disruption. I couldn’t agree more. But I don’t think the disruption will happen the way Clay describes it.

Clay’s prediction assumes that news consumption will continue its shift from traditional media to the traditional desktop web, where the hyperlink rules and news consumers bounce from hyperlinked page to hyperlinked page and from site to site to site. I think that assumption is wrong. In 2011, we’ll see open acknowledgement of what has long been understood about the traditional desktop web as a platform for consuming news content — it sucks.

The desktop web has been a revolutionary platform in terms of access to information, the democratization of publishing, and the socialization of media. But as a medium for consuming news content, from a user interface and user experience perspective, it’s problematic at best and downright awful at worst. News consumption has begun a major shift from the traditional desktop web to apps for touch tablets for a simple reason — the user experience and user interface are so much better, as the recent RJI survey of iPad users reflects. Consumers are choosing tablet apps over the traditional desktop web based on the quality of the user experience and the overall content “package.”

News organizations are already shifting their strategies to take advantage of that consumer shift. But few have thought about the role of syndication in news apps. With the immersive, hands-on experience of a tablet news app, the value of syndication changes entirely. Apps that deliver nothing but one news organization’s content will not compare favorably with the content richness of the web, no matter how good the UI is. And apps that bounce users around from site to site with an in-app browser, mimicking the traditional desktop web model, will fail for precisely the reason why users chose the app in the first place.

But news apps that can deliver full content, curated from a wide range of sources, within a cohesive, optimized — even breakthrough — UI for news consumption, will win because users will have the best of both worlds. Syndication in news apps will not be about republishing news that everyone else has. It will be about combining curated news with original content in order to create consumer packages that are deeply engaging and in many cases worth paying for. With this shift, news organizations will stop ceding to aggregators the huge value creation of curating and packaging news. Instead, news organizations will start defining their editorial brands as curators as much as they define them as original content creators.

It’s important to note that this new paradigm for news consumption isn’t necessarily anti-web on the back end. It can work with an HTML5 site that creates the same immersive UX/UI as a platform-native app, and can be distributed with an app front end via app stores to support the news org’s business model. Web pages are also still necessary for links shared via social networks. But for a news consumer’s primary daily news consumption — for news orgs they have a direct relationship with — syndication that includes the full content in an immersive app experience will be an essential driver of success.

The other reality that Clay overlooks, on the other end of the news evolution, is that syndication for print newspapers still matters because the print product is generating the cash that’s funding the digital transformation. Reducing the cost of filling the news hole in print with disruptive syndication models will generate more cash for digital. In the near term, that will have a significant impact on how the business of syndication is reshaped.

In that context, here are four predictions for how traditional news syndication will be disrupted in 2011:

Social network for news distribution

Traditional syndication is based on a hub-and-spoke model, where a newswire middleman takes in content from many sources, combines it with original content, and redistributes it. This is an inefficient, obsolete model and will be replaced by a model that has proven wildly successful in the consumer world — the social network.

News organizations have already been forming direct distribution networks to route around the traditional newswire middleman. In 2011, these networks will evolve beyond ad hoc email distribution to become truly scalable in a way that only a Facebook-like platform can enable. News organizations will create a network of trusted sources, the equivalent of “friends,” but where the relationships are based on distribution and the affiliation of editorial brands. I call this the “Content Graph,” the analogue to Facebook’s “Social Graph.”

The business of syndication and news distribution will be reshaped by the power of network effects. Why is that important? Watch this Sean Parker talk.

Human editorial judgment redux

Contrary to Clay’s devaluing of the wire editor’s judgment in selecting content, the value of human curation is actually becoming more important in defining the value of news brands. Google’s algorithm has dominated news distribution on the web (ask any news site what percentage of traffic comes from Google), but it’s being overtaken by social curation — links shared through social networks (ask any news site what percentage of traffic comes from Facebook and Twitter).

The same will happen with news organizations, as editors curate their Content Graph and create better editorial products than any algorithm can ever hope to create.

What social networks have proven is that people value most the judgment of other people they trust. You can trust a friend. You can trust the editor of your favorite news publication. But it’s about people. Syndication based on human curation will prove far more valuable to consumers than syndication based on faceless algorithms.

Free content disrupts again, but differently

The news industry has been disrupted by the explosion of content on the web and having to compete with free sources. A new model for syndication turns this disruption on its head by enabling news organizations to publish free content from high quality web publishers in exchange for branding and links back (a model that Yahoo, for example, has used for years).

News organizations can also barter content with partners to trade the value of content they have already paid to produce for content that they need. Syndication based on a barter economy will be extremely disruptive to traditional newswires charging for content.

Free syndicated content will also help the print product generate more cash in the near-term. (Never underestimate the importance of cash flow in business transformation.)

News organizations take back control

News organizations will increasingly take back control over how their own content is syndicated. This begins with taking back their rights from newswire middlemen, so they can have full control over the business strategy for their content syndication, whether they choose to barter, sell, or keep some content out of the syndication market entirely.

News organizations will also take control over how their content is packaged by aggregators, starting by taking control of their RSS feeds. The first big realization will be that RSS is dead as a consumer technology but has growing value as a B2B syndication mechanism. News organizations will start to take down the consumer feeds from their websites as they realize 99.9 percent of their audience who wants their “feed” is following them on Facebook or Twitter.

Instead of working ad hoc with aggregators and other partners, with no control over their B2B RSS feeds, news organizations will look for ways to more efficiently manage the commercial syndication of their content through a common platform that gives them both control and network scale.

December 17 2010

19:30

This Week in Review: Taking sides on WikiLeaks, the iPad/print dilemma, and the new syndication

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week's top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

The media and WikiLeaks’ uneasy coexistence: The current iteration of the WikiLeaks story is about to move into its fourth week, and it continues to swallow up most future-of-journalism news in its path. By now, it’s branched out into several distinct facets, and we’ll briefly track down each of those, but here are the essentials this week: If you want the basics, Gawker has put together a wonderful explainer for you. If you want to dive deep into the minutiae, there’s no better way than Dave Winer’s wikiriver of relevant news feeds. Other good background info is this Swedish documentary on WikiLeaks, posted here in YouTube form.

The big news development this week was WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s release from British jail on bail Thursday. As blow-by-blow accounts of the legal situation go, you can’t beat The Guardian’s. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is trying to build a conspiracy case against Assange by connecting him more explicitly to Bradley Manning’s leak, and Congress heard testimony on the subject Thursday.

— The first WikiLeaks substory is the ongoing discussion about the actions of the legions of web-based “hacktivists,” led by Anonymous, making counterattacks on WikiLeaks’ behalf. Having gone after several sites last week (including one mistakenly), some activists began talking in terms of “cyber-war” — though GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram cautioned against that type of language from all sides — and were urged on from jail by Assange. NYU professor Gabriella Coleman gave a glimpse into the inner workings of Anonymous, and they also drew plenty of criticism, too, from thinkers like British author Andrew Keen. Media consultant Deanna Zandt offered a thoughtful take on the ethics of cyber-activism.

— The second facet here is the emergence of Openleaks, a leaking organization formally launched this week by WikiLeaks defector Daniel Domscheit-Berg as an alternative to Assange’s group. As Domscheit-Berg explained to several outlets including Forbes, Openleaks will act as a more neutral conduit to leaks than WikiLeaks, which ended up publishing its leaks, something Openleaks won’t do. Wired compared it with WikiLeaks’ rejected 2009 Knight News Challenge proposal, in which it would have functioned primarily as an anonymous submission system for leaks to local news organizations. Openleaks won’t be the last, either: As The Economist noted, if file-sharing is any guide, we’ll see scores of rivals (or comrades).

— The third story is the reaction of various branches of the traditional media, which have been decidedly mixed. WikiLeaks has gotten some support from several corners of the industry, including the faculty of the venerable Columbia School of Journalism, the press in Assange’s native Australia, and Northeastern j-prof Dan Kennedy and numerous other British and American professors and journalists, both in The Guardian. But it’s also been tweaked by others — at the Nieman Foundation Thursday, New York Times editor Bill Keller said that if Assange is a journalist, “he’s not the kind of journalist that I am.”

Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald ripped what he called the mainstream media’s “servile role” to the government in parroting its attitudes toward WikiLeaks, then later argued that the government’s prosecution of WikiLeaks would be a prosecution of investigative journalism in general. Arianna Huffington also chastised the establishment media, arguing that they’re just as much establishment as media. Likewise, Morris’ Steve Yelvington listed five reasons the media hasn’t shown outrage about the government’s backlash against WikiLeaks, including the point that the segment of the American mainstream media concerned about national issues is a shell of its former self.

— All of this provided plenty of fodder for a couple of conferences on WikiLeaks, Internet freedom, and secrecy. Last weekend, the Personal Democracy Forum held a symposium on the subject — you can watch a replay here, as well as a good summary by GRITtv and additional videos on the state of the Internet and online civil disobedience. Micah Sifry offered a thoughtful take on the event afterwards, saying that longings for a “more responsible” version of WikiLeaks might be naive: It’s “far more likely that something far more disruptive to the current order — a distributed and unstoppable system for spreading information — is what is coming next,” he wrote.

And on Thursday, the Nieman Foundation held its own one-day conference on journalism and secrecy that included keynotes by the AP’s Kathleen Carroll and Keller (who distanced himself from Assange but defended The Times’ decision to publish). If you want to go deeper into the conversation at the conference, the #niemanleaks hashtag on Twitter is a good place to start.

Will the iPad eat into print?: The iPad news this week starts with the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute, which released a study that suggests, based on survey data, that iPad news apps may cut into newspaper subscriptions by next year. There’s a ton of other interesting data on how iPads are being used and how users are comparing them to print newspapers and newspaper websites, but one statistic — 58 percent of those who subscribe to a print newspaper and use their iPad for more than an hour a day planned to cancel their print subscription within six months — was what drew the headlines. Alan Mutter said publishers have to like the demographics of the iPad’s prime users, but have to wonder whether developing print-like iPad apps is worth it.

Several news organizations introduced new iPad apps this week, led by CNN. Poynter’s Damon Kiesow talked to CNN about the rationale behind its photo-oriented multitouch design, and MocoNews’ Ingrid Lunden looked at why CNN might have made their app free. Steve Safran of Lost Remote liked the app’s design and sociability. Also, the New York Daily News launched a paid (though cheaper than the New York Post) app, and Harper’s added its own iPad offering as well.

Meanwhile, Flipboard, the inaugural iPad app of the year, launched a new version this week. Forbes’ Quentin Hardy talked to Flipboard’s CEO about the vision behind the new app, and The Wall Street Journal wrote about innovative iPad news apps in general. The Washington Post’s Justin Ferrell talked to the Lab’s Justin Ellis about how to design news apps for the iPad. In advertising, Apple launched its first iPad iAd, which seems to be essentially a fully formed advertisement app. One iPad app that’s not coming out this week: Rupert Murdoch’s “tablet newspaper” The Daily, whose launch has reportedly been postponed until next year.

Looking ahead to 2011: We’re nearing the end of the December, which means we’re about to see the year-end reviews and previews start to roll in. The Lab got them kicked off this week by asking its readers for predictions of what 2011 will bring in the journalism world, then publishing the predictions of some of the smartest future-of-news folks in the room.

All of the posts are worth checking out, but there are a few I want to note in particular — The AP’s Jonathan Stray on moving beyond content tribalism (“a news product that refuses to provide me with high-quality filtering and curation of the rest of the world’s information will only ever be an endpoint”), NPR’s Matt Thompson on instant speech transcription (“the Speakularity”), tech pioneer Dave Winer on adjusting to the new news distribution system (“That’s the question news people never seem to ask. How can we create something that has a market?”), and a couple of paid-content predictions on The New York Times and by Steven Brill (who has skin in the game).

The prediction post that generated the most discussion was NYU professor Clay Shirky’s piece on the dismantling of the old-media syndication system. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram expanded on the idea, connecting it explicitly to Google News and the Associated Press, and asking, “In a world where the power to syndicate is available to all, does anyone want what AP is selling?” USC’s Pekka Pekkala explained why he sees this as a positive development for journalists and niche content producers.

As if on cue, Thomson Reuters announced the launch of its new American news service, one that seems as though it might combine traditional news syndication with some elements of modern aggregation. Media analyst Ken Doctor gave some more details about the new service and its deal with the Tribune Co., and Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan was skeptical of this potential new direction for newswires.

Reading roundup: A few good pieces before I send you on your way:

— First, one quick bit of news: The social bookmarking service Delicious was reportedly shutting down, but a Friday blog post seemed to indicate it may live on outside of Yahoo. Here’s a short ode from Mark Luckie at 10,000 Words and a list of alternatives from Search Engine Land.

— At the London Review of Books, British journalist John Lanchester has written an essay making a case for why and how the newspaper industry needs to charge for news online. Anti-paywall folks aren’t going to be crazy about it, but it’s far from the stereotypical revanchist “Make ‘em pay, just ’cause they should” pro-pay argument: “Make the process as easy as possible. Make it invisible and transparent. Make us register once and once only. Walls are not the way forward, but walls are not the same thing as payment, and without some form of payment, the press will not be here in five years’ time.”

— A couple of close looks at what news organizations are doing right: The Atlantic’s web transformation and tips on multimedia storytelling from NPR’s acclaimed Planet Money.

— A North Carolina j-prof and Duke grad student came together (!) to urge news organizations to incorporate more of the tenets of citizen journalism. They have a few specific, practical suggestions, too.

— British journalist Adam Westbrook gave his goodbye to mainstream media, making a smart case that the future lies outside its gates.

— Finally, Jonathan Stray, an AP editor and Lab contributor, has a brilliant essay challenging journalists and news organizations to develop a richer, more fully formed idea of what journalism is for. It may be a convicting piece, but it offers an encouraging vision for the future — and the opportunity for reform — too.

December 13 2010

15:00

What will 2011 bring for journalism? Clay Shirky predicts widespread disruptions for syndication

Editor’s Note: To mark the end of the year, we at the Lab decided to ask some of the smartest people we know what they thought 2011 would bring for journalism. We’re very pleased that so many of them agreed to share their predictions with us.

Over the next few days, you’ll hear from Steve Brill, Vivian Schiller, Michael Schudson, Markos Moulitsas, Kevin Kelly, Geneva Overholser, Adrian Holovaty, Jakob Nielsen, Evan Smith, Megan McCarthy, David Fanning, Matt Thompson, Bob Garfield, Matt Haughey, and more.

We also want to hear your predictions: take our Lab reader poll and tell us what you think we’ll be talking about in 2011. We’ll share those results later this week.

To start off our package of predictions, here’s Clay Shirky. Happy holidays.

The old news business model has had a series of shocks in the 15 or so years we’ve had a broadly adopted public web. The first was the loss of geographic limits to competition (every outlet could reach any reader, listener or viewer). Next was the loss of progressive layers of advertising revenue (the rise of Monster and craigslist et alia, as well as the “analog dollars to digital dimes” problem). Then there is the inability to charge readers easily without eviscerating the advertising rate-base (the failure of micropayments and paywalls as general-purpose solutions).

Next up for widespread disruption, I think, is syndication, a key part of the economic structure of the news business since the founding of Havas in the early 19th century. As with so many parts of a news system based on industrial economics, that model is now under pressure.

As Jonathan Stray pointed out in “The Google/China Hacking Case” and Nick Carr pointed out in “Google in the Middle,” the numerator of organizations producing original news is tiny — absolutely tiny — compared to the denominator of those re-publishing that news. Stray notes that only 7 of the 121 outlets running the China story were based mainly on original reporting, while the vast majority was just wire service copy. Carr similarly pointed out that Google news showed 11,264 separate outlets for the Somali pirate story in 2009, almost all of them re-running the same couple of stories. (I was similarly surprised, last year, to discover that syndicated content outweighed locally created content in my old hometown paper by a 2:1 margin.)

The idea that syndication should be different in a digital era has been around for a while now. Jeff Jarvis’s formulation — “Do what you do best and link to the rest” — dates from 2007, and the AP started talking about about holding back some stories from subscribers in order to drive their PageRank up last year. What could make 2011 the year of general restructuring is Google’s attempt to give credit where credit is due, in the words of their blog post, by offering tags that identify original and preferred sources for syndicated stories.

This kind of linking, traffic driving, and credit are natively web-like ideas, but they are also inimical to the older logic of syndication. Put simply, syndication makes little sense in a world with URLs. When news outlets were segmented by geography, having live human beings sitting around in ten thousand separate markets deciding which stories to pull off the wire was a service. Now it’s just a cost.

Giving credit where credit is due will reward original work, whether scoops, hot news, or unique analysis or perspective. This will be great for readers. It may not, however, be so great for newspapers, or at least not for their revenues, because most of what shows up in a newspaper isn’t original or unique. It’s the first four grafs of something ripped off the wire and lightly re-written, a process repeated countless times a day with no new value being added to the story.

Taken to its logical conclusion, giving credit where credit is due will mean things like 11,260 or so outlets getting out of the business or re-running the same three versions of the Somali pirate story. If Reuters has the best version, why shouldn’t people just read it from Reuters?

Like other forces brought to bear by the web, there’s no getting around this one — rewards for originality are what we want, not just as consumers but as citizens — but creating an environment that generates those rewards will also mean dismantling the syndication model we’ve had since Havas first set up shop.

December 10 2010

15:00

This Week in Review: The WikiBacklash, information control and news, and a tightening paywall

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week's top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

Only one topic really grabbed everyone’s attention this week in future-of-news circles (and most of the rest of the world, too): WikiLeaks. To make the story a bit easier to digest, I’ve divided it into two sections — the crackdown on WikiLeaks, and its implications for journalism.

Attacks and counterattacks around WikiLeaks: Since it released 250,000 confidential diplomatic cables last week, WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, have been at the center of attacks by governments, international organizations, and private businesses. The forms and intensity they’ve taken have seemed unprecedented, though Daniel Ellsberg said he faced all the same things when he leaked the Pentagon Papers nearly 40 years ago.

Here’s a rundown of what’s happened since late last week: Both Amazon and the domain registry EveryDNS.net booted WikiLeaks, leaving it scrambling to stay online. (Here’s a good conversation between Ethan Zuckerman and The Columbia Journalism Review on the implications of Amazon’s decision.) PayPal, the company that WikiLeaks uses to collect most of its donations, cut off service to WikiLeaks, too. PayPal later relented, but not before botching its explanation of whether U.S. government pressure was involved.

On the government side, the Library of Congress blocked WikiLeaks, and Assange surrendered to British authorities on a Swedish sexual assault warrant (the evidence for which David Cay Johnston said the media should be questioning) and is being held without bail. Slate’s Jack Shafer said the arrest could be a blessing in disguise for Assange.

WikiLeaks obviously has plenty of critics: Christopher Hitchens called Assange a megalomaniac who’s “made everyone complicit in his own private decision to try to sabotage U.S. foreign policy,” and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Joe Lieberman called for Assange and The New York Times, respectively, to be prosecuted via the Espionage Act. But WikiLeaks’ many online defenders also manifested themselves this week, too, as hundreds of mirror sites cropped up when WikiLeaks’ main site was taken down, and various online groups attacked the sites of companies that had pulled back on services to WikiLeaks. By Wednesday, it was starting to resemble what Dave Winer called “a full-out war on the Internet.”

Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan looked at the response by WikiLeaks’ defenders to argue that WikiLeaks will never be blocked, and web pioneer Mark Pesce said that WikiLeaks has formed the blueprint for every group like it to follow. Many other writers and thinkers lambasted the backlash against WikiLeaks, including Reporters Without Borders, Business Insider’s Henry Blodget, Roberto Arguedas at Gizmodo, BoingBoing’s Xeni Jardin, Wired’s Evan Hansen, and David Samuels of The Atlantic.

Four defenses of WikiLeaks’ rights raised particularly salient points: First, NYU prof Clay Shirky argued that while WikiLeaks may prove to be damaging in the long run, democracy needs it to be protected in the short run: “If it’s OK for a democracy to just decide to run someone off the internet for doing something they wouldn’t prosecute a newspaper for doing, the idea of an internet that further democratizes the public sphere will have taken a mortal blow.” Second, CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis said that WikiLeaks fosters a critical power shift from secrecy to transparency.

Finally, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and Salon’s Dan Gillmor made similar points about the parallel between WikiLeaks’ rights and the press’s First Amendment rights. Whether we agree with them or not, Assange and WikiLeaks are protected under the same legal umbrella as The New York Times, they argued, and every attack on the rights of the former is an attack on the latter’s rights, too. “If journalism can routinely be shut down the way the government wants to do this time, we’ll have thrown out free speech in this lawless frenzy,” Gillmor wrote.

WikiLeaks and journalism: In between all the attacks and counterattacks surrounding him, Julian Assange did a little bit of talking of his own this week, too. He warned about releasing more documents if he’s prosecuted or killed, including possible Guantánamo Bay files. He defended WikiLeaks in an op-ed in The Australian. He answered readers’ questions at The Guardian, and dodged one about diplomacy that started an intriguing discussion at Jay Rosen’s Posterous. When faced with the (rather pointless) question of whether he’s a journalist, he responded with a rather pointless answer.

Fortunately, plenty of other people did some deep thinking about what WikiLeaks means for journalism and society. (The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal has a far more comprehensive list of those people’s thoughts here.) Former Guardian web editor Emily Bell argued that WikiLeaks has awakened journalism to a renewed focus on the purpose behind what it does, as opposed to its current obsession with the models by which it achieves that purpose. Here at the Lab, USC grad student Nikki Usher listed a few ways that WikiLeaks shows that both traditional and nontraditional journalism matter and pointed out the value of the two working together.

At the Online Journalism Review, Robert Niles said that WikiLeaks divides journalists into two camps: “Those who want to see information get to the public, by whatever means, and those who want to control the means by which information flows.” Honolulu Civil Beat editor John Temple thought a bit about what WikiLeaks means for small, local news organizations like his, and British j-prof Paul Bradshaw used WikiLeaks as a study in how to handle big data dumps journalistically.

Also at the Lab, CUNY j-prof C.W. Anderson had some thoughts about this new quasi-source in the form of large databases, and how journalists might be challenged to think about it. Finally, if you’re looking for some deep thoughts on WikiLeaks in audio form, Jay Rosen has you covered — in short form at PBS MediaShift, and at quite a bit more length with Dave Winer on their Rebooting the News podcast.

How porous should paywalls be?: Meanwhile, the paid-content train chugs along, led by The New York Times, which is still planning on instituting its paywall next year. The Times’ digital chief, Martin Nisenholtz, dropped a few more details this week about how its model will work, again stressing that the site will remain open to inbound links across the web.

But for the first time, Nisenholtz also stressed the need to limit the abuse of those links as a way to get inside the wall without paying, revealing that The Times will be working with Google to limit the number of times a reader can access Times articles for free via its search. Nisenholtz also hinted at the size of the paywall’s target audience, leading Poynter’s Rick Edmonds to estimate that The Times will be focusing on about 6 million “heavy users of the site.”

Reuters’ Felix Salmon was skeptical of Nisenholtz’s stricter paywall plans, saying that they won’t be worth the cost: “Strengthening your paywall sends the message that you don’t trust your subscribers, or your subscribers’ non-subscriber friends: you’re treating them as potential content thieves.” The only way such a strategy would make sense, he said, is if The Times is considering starting at a very high price point, something like $20 a month. Henry Blodget of Business Insider, on the other hand, is warming to the idea of a paywall for The Times.

In other paid-content news: News Corp.’s Times of London, which is running a very different paywall from The New York Times, may have only 54,000 people accessing content behind it, according to research by the competing Guardian. The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle announced it’s launching an metered model powered by Steve Brill’s Press+, a plan Steve Yelvington defended and Matthew Terenzio questioned.

While one paid-content plan gets started, another one might be coming to an end: Newsday is taking its notoriously unsuccessful paywall down through next month, and several on Twitter guessed that the move would become permanent. One news organization that’s not going to be a pioneer in paid online news: The Washington Post, as Post Co. CEO Don Graham said at a conference this week.

Reading roundup: Other than the ongoing WikiLeaks brouhaha, it’s been a relatively quiet week on the future-of-news front. Here’s a bit of what else went on:

— Web guru Tim O’Reilly held his News Foo Camp in Arizona last weekend, and since it was an intentionally quiet event, it didn’t dominate the online discussion like many such summits do. Still, there were a few interesting post-Newsfoo pieces for the rest of us to chew on, including a roundup of the event by TBD’s Steve Buttry, Alex Hillman’s reflections, and USC j-prof Robert Hernandez’s thoughts on journalists’ calling a lie a lie.

— A few iPad bits: News media marketer Earl Wilkinson wrote about a possible image problem with the iPad, All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka reported on the negotiations between Apple and publishers on iTunes subscriptions, and The New York Times’ David Nolen gave some lessons from designing election results for the iPad.

— The Guardian’s Sarah Hartley interviewed former TBD general manager Jim Brady about the ambitious local online-TV project, and Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman looked at TBD and other local TV online branding efforts.

— Advertising Age’s Ann Marie Kerwin has an illuminating list of 10 trends in global media consumption.

— Finally, two good pieces from the Lab: Harvard prof Nicholas Christakis on why popularity doesn’t equal influence on social media, and The New York Times’ Aron Pilhofer and Jennifer Preston provided a glimpse into how one very influential news organization is evolving on social media.

November 12 2010

16:00

This Week in Review: An objectivity object lesson, a paywall is panned, and finding the blogger’s voice

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week's top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

Olbermann and objectivity: Another week, another journalist or pundit disciplined for violating a news organization’s codes against appearances of bias: This week (actually, late last week) it was Keith Olbermann, liberal anchor and commentator for the cable news channel MSNBC, suspended for donating money to Democratic congressional candidates, in violation of NBC News policy. Olbermann issued an apology (though, as Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici noted, it was laced with animus toward MSNBC), and returned to the air Tuesday. There were several pertinent peripheral bits to this story — Olbermann was reportedly suspended for his refusal to apologize on air, it’s unclear whether NBC News’ rules have actually applied to MSNBC, numerous other journalists have done just what Olbermann did — but that’s the gist of it.

By now, we’ve all figured out what happens next: Scores of commentators weighed in on the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of Olbermann’s suspension and NBC’s ban on political contributions. The primary arguments boiled down to the ones expressed by Poynter’s Bob Steele and NYU’s Jay Rosen in this Los Angeles Times piece: On one side, donating to candidates means journalists are acting as political activists, which corrodes their role as fair, independent reporters in the public interest. On the other, being transparent is a better way for journalists to establish trust with audiences than putting on a mask of objectivity.

Generally falling in the first camp are fellow MSNBC host Rachel Maddow (“We’re a news operation. The rules around here are part of how you know that.”), Northeastern j-prof Dan Kennedy (though he tempered his criticism of Olbermann in a second post), and The New York Times’ David Carr (“Why merely annotate events when you can tilt the playing field?”). The Columbia Journalism Review was somewhere in the middle, saying Olbermann shouldn’t be above the rules, but wondering if those rules need to change.

There were plenty of voices in the second camp, including the American Journalism Review’s Rem RiederMichael Kinsley at Politico, and Lehigh j-prof Jeremy Littau all arguing for transparency.

Slate media critic Jack Shafer used the flap to urge MSNBC to let Olbermann and Maddow fly free as well-reported, openly partisan shows in the vein of respected liberal and conservative political journals. Jay Rosen took the opportunity to explain his phrase “the view from nowhere,” which tweaks traditional journalism’s efforts to “advertise the viewlessness of the news producer” as a means of gaining trust. He advocates transparency instead, and Terry Heaton provided statistics showing that the majority of young adults don’t mind journalists’ bias, as long as they’re upfront about it.

On The Media’s Brooke Gladstone summed up the issue well: “Ultimately, it’s the reporting that matters, reporting that is undistorted by attempts to appear objective, reporting that calls a lie a lie right after the lie, not in a box labeled “analysis,” reporting that doesn’t distort truth by treating unequal arguments equally.”

Commodify your paywall: We talked quite a bit last week about the new numbers on the paywall at Rupert Murdoch’s Times of London, and new items in that discussion kept popping up this week. The Times released a few more details (flattering ones, naturally) about its post-paywall web audience. Among the most interesting figures is that the percentage of U.K.-based visitors to The Times’ site has more than doubled since February, rising to 75 percent. Post-paywall visitors are also visiting the website more frequently and are wealthier, according to News Corp.

Of course, the overall number of visitors is still way down, and the plan continued to draw heat. In a wide-ranging interview on Australian radio, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger expressed surprise at the fact that The Times’ print circulation dropped as their print-protectionist paywall went up. That, he said, “suggests to me that we overlook the degree to which the digital forms of our journalism act as a kind of sort of marketing device for the newspapers.” ResourceWebs’ Evan Britton gave five reasons why news paywalls won’t work, and Kachingle founder Cynthia Typaldos argued that future news paywalls will be tapping into a limited pool of people willing to pay for news on the web, squeezing each other out of the same small market.

Clay Shirky used The Times’ paywall as a basis for some smart thoughts about why newspaper paywalls don’t work in general. The Times’ paywall represents old thinking, Shirky wrote (and the standard argument against it has been around just as long), but The Times’ paywall feels differently because it’s being taken as a “referendum on the future.” Shirky said The Times is turning itself into a newsletter, without making any fundamental modifications to its product or the basic economics of the web. “Paywalls do indeed help newspapers escape commodification, but only by ejecting the readers who think of the product as a commodity. This is, invariably, most of them,” he wrote.

A conversation about blogging, voice, and ego: A singularly insightful conversation about blogging was sparked this week by Marc Ambinder, who wrote a thoughtful goodbye post at his long-running blog at The Atlantic. In it, Ambinder parsed out differences between good print journalism (ego-free, reliant on the unadorned facts for authority) and blogging (ego-intensive, requires the writer to inject himself into the narrative). With the switch from blogging to traditional reporting, Ambinder said, ”I will no longer be compelled to turn every piece of prose into a personal, conclusive argument, to try and fit it into a coherent framework that belongs to a web-based personality called ‘Marc Ambinder’ that people read because it’s ‘Marc Ambinder,’ rather than because it’s good or interesting.”

The folks at the fantastically written blog Snarkmarket used the post as a launching point for their own thoughts about the nature of blogging. Matt Thompson countered that Ambinder was reducing an incredibly diverse form into a single set of characteristics, taking particular exception to Ambinder’s ego dichotomy. Tim Carmody mused on blogging, voice, and authorship; and Robin Sloan defended Ambinder’s decision to leave the “Thunderdome of criticism” that is political blogging. If you care at all about blogging or writing for the web in general, make sure to give all four posts a thorough read.

TBD’s (possible) content/aggregation conflict: The new Washington-based local news site TBD has been very closely watched since it was launched in August, and it hit its first big bump in the road late last week, as founding general manager Jim Brady resigned in quite a surprising move. In a memo to TBD employees, TBD owner Robert Allbritton (who also launched Politico) said Brady left because of “stylistic differences” with Allbritton. Despite the falling-out, Brady, a washingtonpost.com veteran, spoke highly of where TBD is headed in an email to staff and a few tweets.

But the immediate questions centered on the nature of those differences between Allbritton and Brady. FishbowlDC reported and Business Insider’s Henry Blodget inferred from Allbritton’s memo that the conflict came down to an original-content-centric model (Allbritton) and a more aggregation-based model (Brady). Brady declared his affirmation of both pieces — he told Poynter’s Steve Myers he’s pro-original content and the conflict wasn’t old media/new media, but didn’t go into many more details — but that didn’t keep Blodget from taking the aggregation side: The web, he said, “has turned aggregation into a form of content–and a very valuable one at that.” Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman, meanwhile, noted that while creating content is expensive, Allbritton’s made the necessary investments and made it profitable before with Politico.

A new iPad app and competitor: There were two substantive pieces of tablet-related news this week: First, The Washington Post released its iPad app, accompanying its launch with a fun ad most everyone seemed to enjoy. Poynter’s Damon Kiesow wrote a quick summary of the app, which got a decent review from The Post’s Rob Pegoraro. For you design geeks, Sarah Sampsel wrote two good posts about the app design process.

The other tablet tidbit was the release of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, which runs on Google’s Android system. Kiesow rounded up a few of the initial reviews from All Things Digital (a real iPad competitor, though the iPad is better), The New York Times (beautiful with some frustrations), Wired (more convenient than the iPad, but has stability problems) and Gizmodo (“a grab bag of neglect, good intentions and poor execution”). Kiesow also added a few initial impressions of the Galaxy’s implications for publishers, predicting that as it takes off, it will put pressure on publishers to move to HTML5 mobile websites, rather than developing native apps.

In other tablet news, MediaWeek looked at the excitement the iPad is generating within the media industry, but ESPN exec John Skipper isn’t buying the hype, telling MarketWatch’s Jon Friedman, ”Whenever a new platform comes up, people want to take the old platform and transport it to the new platform.” It didn’t work on the Internet, Skipper said, it won’t work on the iPad either.

Reading roundup: More thoughtful stuff about news and the web was written this week than most normal people have time to get to. Here’s a sample:

— First, two pieces of news: First, word broke last night that Newsweek and The Daily Beast will be undergoing a 50-50 merger, with the Beast’s Tina Brown taking over editorship of the new news org. The initial news accounts started to roll out late last night and into this morning at The New York Times, Washington Post, and NPR, who posted an interview with Brown. Obviously, this is a big, big story, and I’m sure I’ll have much more commentary on it next week.

— Second, U.S. News & World Report announced last week that it’s dropping its regular print edition and going essentially online-only, only printing single-topic special issues for newsstand sales. The best analysis on the move was at Advertising Age.

— Two great pieces on journalism’s collaborative future: Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger in essay form, and UBC j-prof Alfred Hermida in audio and slide form.

— Poynter published an essay by NYU professor Clay Shirky on “the shock of inclusion” in journalism and the obsolescence of the term “consumer.” Techdirt’s Mike Masnick added a few quick thoughts of his own.

— Two cool posts on data journalism — an overview on its rise by The Columbia Journalism Review’s Janet Paskin, and a list of great tools by Michelle Minkoff.

— Finally, two long thinkpieces on Facebook that, quite honestly, I haven’t gotten to read yet — one by Zadie Smith at The New York Review of Books, and the other by The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal. I’m going to spend some time with them this weekend, and I have a feeling you probably should, too.

Olbermann photo by Kirsten used under a Creative Commons license.

October 04 2010

18:00

A movie with its own backchannel: How “The Social Network” shows our reweaving of conversations

Many of the big-time reviews of The Social Network have focused on the film’s characterization of Mark Zuckerberg, “the youngest billionaire in the world.” Is he an evil genius — or simply a genius? Is he a menace to society, or a savior of it?

To know where the film stands, at any rate, all you have to do is listen to its score — so ominous, so severely simplistic, so straight-out-of-Jaws, that, at moments, you’re sure you see a dorsal fin poking through Zuck’s hoodie. It’s not just that The Social Network is plagued with anxiety about its subject matter; it’s that The Social Network is plagued with anxiety about territory itself. The film’s settings — the dorm rooms, the board rooms, the back rooms — feel tight and dark and crowded, even when they’re not. The spaces suffocate. For a movie named for a collective, The Social Network has a bad case of claustrophobia.

And the BuhDUMBuhDUM brand of anxiety that the film indulges toward its pseudo-protagonist translates to its 500 million other pseudo-protagonists: the “friends” — the film’s corps and chorus, omnipresent if mostly absent — who lurk just beyond the borders of its other confined space: the screen. While its trailer, a work of art unto itself, highlights The 500 Million, people-izing them, implying the profound consequences they suggest for human communication and connection, the film deals with their power by marginalizing them. In director David Fincher’s rendering, the individuals we find at the other end of the Internet are numbers, little more. (“Thousand. Twenty-two thousand.”)

But here’s where things, for the Lab’s purposes, get interesting. If Facebook teaches us anything, it’s that people don’t tend to appreciate being blurred together as backgrounds to other people’s stories. And, not content with being marginalized, several of the 500 million have fought back against the film’s downplay of their power — by, simply, asserting it. By creating a backchannel to the movie and contributing to it. People I’ve never seen writing movie reviews before have been reviewing The Social Network in earnest — writing their reactions on their blogs and sending them around on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr. Others have posted, appropriately enough, directly to Facebook. The background has blossomed to life. In addition to the typical movie-subsidiary stuff — the director/writer/actor interviews, the professional reviews — we’re seeing as well a counterweight to the mainstream narrative: the embrace of the sense that we viewers are not merely viewers at all, but characters. We own this film. We are this film.

The Social Network’s backchannel, in other words, represents the crystallization of a phenomenon playing out across the culture, not least in journalism: the normalization of participation. Until recently, when it came to films, that participation was pretty much limited to the up-or-down vote that was a ticket purchase at the box office. Now, though — via, appropriately/ironically enough, the new architectures for discourse whose foundation Facebook helped to build — our participation is much more than facelessly financial. We augment the film through our public reactions to it. (Sometimes, we augment it even more directly than that.) We challenge the thing-itself quality of the movie by insisting that we are part of the thing in question.

We talk about the problem of context in news: the fact that a single article or segment, while it works fine as a singular narrative, is a poor conduit for the contextual information that people need to understand a story in full. The response to The Social Network is a reminder that our evolving relationship with context extends far beyond the news. It represents, in fact, something of a perfect storm of new media maxims — Shirky’s cognitive surplus, Jarvis’ network economy, Rosen’s people formerly known as the audience — waving its way into the culture at large. The film suggests something of a critical mass…expressed as, quite literally, a critical mass. Amid our anxieties about the atomization of cultural consumption — the isolation of Netflix, the personalization of choose-your-own-adventure-style news — we’re seeing a corrective in collaborative culture. We’re re-networking ourselves, flattening our relationship with Hollywood as much as with The New York Times.

What’s most noteworthy about that is how completely un-noteworthy it seems. Movies, of course, have always been more than what they are; films have always had as much to do with the social experience outside the theater as the personal experience within it. What’s new, though, and what The Social Network suggests so eloquently, almost in spite of itself, is our ability to transform the sidewalk experience of theater-going, the how’d-you-like-its and what’d-you-thinks, into cultural products of their own. There’s The Social Network, the film…and then there’s The Social Network, the experience — the conversations and contributions and debates and ephemera. And those two things are collapsing into each other, with the film-as-process and the film-as-product increasingly, if by no means totally, merging into one experience. Participation is becoming normative. We know that because it’s also becoming normal.

August 31 2010

14:10

What the Spot.Us Community Thinks of Objectivity

Objectivity in Journalism Wordle

The following post comes to us from Sameer Bhuchar, who is helping Spot.Us from Austin.

It has been said a thousand times before: The landscape of the modern media is changing. With today's more complex, active Internet ecosystem, the accepted norms of journalism are constantly being rewritten or tossed out all together. The Internet has bypassed the once highly regarded norms of gatekeepers at a news desk, and it now seems to be challenging the long held model of objectivity in journalism.

If there is an underlying theme to Spot.Us it is the idea that we expect our community to tell us what is important in journalism, rather than dictate it ourselves. With that in mind, several weeks ago, thanks to a generous sponsorship from Clay Shirky, we asked for your honest feedback about objectivity and journalism. We let the 500 users who took the survey decide where the sponsorship dollars should go. In other words, we handed over a part of our budget to community members who let us figure out what the ethos is around objectivity in journalism. Community-focused sponsorship for the win! (Try our newest CFS. Let us know about important story ideas in your region and fund a story on Spot.Us for free).

Survey Results

Is there a clear divide between those who support the traditional idea of objectivity and those who take a different stance? Are there exceptions to the standard? How should journalism work for you? Some believe objectivity means reporting facts without bias, and that an article must be balanced and include multiple points of view. To many, objectivity in journalism is the most important standard of the profession. It was once considered the glue of the business, the one aim that let media consumers decide for themselves what was right and wrong.

Increasingly, however, the idea of traditional objectivity is being challenged by this new, proactive age of media consumers. To those who challenge the ideal, it is an outdated standard that has crippled journalists from digging deep into stories.

Keep in mind the survey results are not scientific and, as the political leanings graph shows, there was perhaps a self-selecting audience (the Spot.Us community). Nonetheless, with 500 respondents there was a diverse set of answers.

First and foremost it is important to note that about 52 percent of the survey takers were female and 48 percent male.

Also, close to 60 percent of the respondents identified themselves as liberals, with only 10.8 percent identifying as conservative. Close to 30 percent said they were independents. This could be reflective of where Spot.Us' traffic comes from (heavy in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New York).

Responses to the question, "Is objectivity even possible?" show there are a large percentage of people with a changing idea about objectivity. Of the survey questions, perhaps this one and the responses associated with it were the most telling when it comes to attitudes towards objectivity. Only 13.5 percent (60 respondents) very clearly identified "objectivity" as being what journalism is all about.

This view point can best be explained through Spot.Us member Craig Gaines' extended response. "I define an objective piece as one that represents all viewpoints in a piece and allows readers to make up their minds about those viewpoints," Gaines said. "To do anything less is a disservice to, and disrespectful of, the reader."

A staggering 44.6 percent (199) people agreed with the answer, "Objectivity is possible but difficult. It separates wheat from chaff." In essence the answer implies that objectivity should be seen more as a quest for honest, factual reporting. Spot.Us member (and NewsTrust executive director) Fabrice Florin summed up this viewpoint well.

While objectivity is difficult to achieve, it is an important journalistic quality to strive for, particularly for factual news reporting, not for opinion pieces," Florin said. "For news reports, a neutral perspective helps present views from different sides without interjecting the author's personal opinions. Authors are welcome to post their own perspectives in their own opinion pieces, as long as they are clearly labeled as such. But journalists who want to serve society as neutral observers and referees should continue to report objectively on public issues they cover.

Of the respondents, 27.6 percent (123 people) chose the answer "transparency is the new objectivity," implying that it is the reporting of truth that is most important, rather than a detached account of a scene.

"I think that reporters ought to reveal their biases in each story as part of the narrative so as to partially disarm whatever criticism of bias they may receive," said member Paul Balcerak. "Doing so will provide a better service to the public and will create better journalism."

There were also 55 people who believed objectivity was impossible, and 9 people went as far to answer that objectivity "is a crutch to prop old media up."

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Other questions sought to discover the community's view of how important objectivity is (always required, sometimes, never, etc.), and to help gauge the respondents' relationship to journalism (a professor or as an avid news reader, for example). We believe that in aggregate this survey provides unique insight into what people from the Spot.Us community want and expect from the media.

To drive the point home, we've included anecdotal responses from our insightful community members who gave us permission to publish their answers. (These were used to create the above Wordle.)

Perhaps what we can learn from all of this is that objectivity, while important as an ideal of fairness, should not be seen as a way of achieving "detached-ness," if you will. But heck, this blog post is by no means unbiased, so even that assumption may not be accurate, or apply to you personally. One thing the respondents did uniformly agree upon is that reporters should unabashedly seek truth. While pure objectivity may be impossible, being honest isn't.

Community Views

Below is a selection of comments from the wisest people we know -- our community. Here's what they had to say about objectivity:

"In journalism school I was very swayed by the 'Transparency IS the new objectivity' school of thinking, and the notion that everyone has bias and perspective, and so any attempt to avoid that is foolhardy. From my insider perspective, my own biases and opinions seemed magnified and huge. However, since I haven't been working as a journalist and have been, instead, consuming local media (increasingly independent and citizen/blog driven, as the local establishment journalism withers away) I've longed for the ideal of objectivity while recognizing it might never have been truly practiced. I've grown to strongly dislike the strongly and biased opinionated citizen journalism I am now surrounded by, because it so often willfully refuses to dig deeper and more broadly and is so very proud of its 'perspective'. I am often left with a long list of simple questions I think *I* would have asked just to get the whole story." -- Saheli Datta

"I don't believe what we've traditionally defined as objectivity in the media is actually objectivity--it's more like perceived impartiality. I think that reporters ought to reveal their biases in each story as part of the narrative (writing in first-person would make the process a lot less awkward, by the way) so as to partially disarm whatever criticism of bias they may receive. Doing so will provide a better service to the public and will create better journalism." -- Paul Balcerak

"Objectivity was a marketing technique invented by the AP 100 + years ago. It's well suited for monopoly style newspaper production but shits the bed when media representation of similar events increases... Debunking objectivity as a concept is as easy as shooting ducks in duck hunt, but fact of the matter is that if *we didn't* believe in objectivity our lives would be intolerable.

"Therefore the question isn't about whether objectivity in journalism is possible, it's how does a person come to see media as objective? That's where things get interesting and where a lot is getting disrupted. The meaning of an event doesn't happen until it's represented and what we are seeing is an explosion in meaning at the sign of *any event*. See Stuart Hall, he's pre-Twitter but his points are just as valid." -- Cody Brown

"Transparency means more than understanding where the journalist's bias lies; it means that the journalist or reporter does things like crowdsource some questions, work in partnership with community journalism initiatives already underway, blog about the progress on a story and explain what the next steps are (unless it's a super-secret undercover investigation), record interviews and give public access to the full transcript as well as the audio file, etc. Transparency means addressing reader concerns and input about pieces and continuing the conversation after one story is published." -- Suzi Steffen

"A journalist's background certainly matters in how they interpret subjects, but the job is to look close, ask questions, and get the details right. More and more, unfortunately, it's also about checking out sources and making sure none of them are lying. With more and more resources dedicated to "spin" this part is important and often accounts for why a lot of people reject a good story as objective or biased - because they've been dished the spin in other platforms. But objectivity really is the name of the game." -- Lee van der Voo

"In most mainstream news reports I hear, including a good number on NPR, there's an annoying trend toward presenting one side and then the other, while completely evading the question of which side might be right! This is a perverted effect of the mania that journalism has for supposedly unbiased an objective reporting. Too often in the name of objectivity journalists avoid taking principled stands on anything; too often monied interests can distract the public's attention from their own dubious business practices by trotting out a voice of dissent rationalizing their stand -- which, of course, will get equal air-time." -- Anneke Toomey

"There is a saying somewhere: Objectivity is not possible, but fairness is. That is to say: are all sides, all points of view represented honestly and with the same weight? Ultimately, I'd say objectivity is a personal trait, fairness is a professional trait that pertains to our profession as journalists. Strive for fairness." --  Barbara Gref

"No journalist is truly objective, if that term is meant to mean someone who has no opinions about the subjects he or she covers. Subjectivity starts right from the point at which a journalist chooses a subject to cover and goes right on through to who is interviewed, what quotations are selected, how the headline is written, and on and on. But what makes journalism different from other practices with which it is sometimes confused, such as PR or politics, is that journalists are in the business of *independent* verification of fact." -- Robert McClure

"No one is truly unbiased or objective but that doesn't mean that a good reporter doesn't look for the truth behind everyone's agenda. Objectivity means not sitting on a story that would make someone look bad just because you're invested in their success. I almost said "Transparency is the new objectivity" only because it is the latest and most fabulous word to throw around. Transparency only helps identify lapses in objectivity, it doesn't replace it. As for transparency, it certainly helps identify lapses in objectivity, but it doesn't replace it." -- Amanda Hickman

"Objectivity often means portraying both sides of the story but without considering power & privilege, you can never get both sides of story. It would be like looking at African Americans & crime in inner cities without looking at the effects of institutional racism and how poverty/availability of drugs/housing blight/welfare policies etc contributes to crime. Journalism needs to put more emphasis on telling the stories of the underserved and marginalized and those most impacted the those who have power." -- Micky Duxbury

"No one is objective. The best we can do (instead of  pretending to be objective) is being transparent about our biases so readers are aware and can judge our content as they feel is appropriate. That said, it doesn't mean we should turn every article into a ranting, biased blog post, or even take a side on an issue we're covering. We just need to stop pretending true "Objectivism" exists." -- Lauren Rabaino

"While objectivity is difficult to achieve, it is an important journalistic quality to strive for, particularly for factual news reporting (not for opinion pieces). For news reports, a neutral perspective helps present views from different sides without interjecting the author's personal opinions. Authors are welcome to post their own perspectives in their own opinion pieces, as long as they are clearly labeled as such. But journalists who want to serve society as neutral observers and referees should continue to report objectively on public issues they cover." -- Fabrice Florin

"I find writing by people who disclose and discuss their biases/backgrounds dramatically more compelling than sterile I-refuse-to-take-sides-so-decide-for-yourself writing. I think it's possible to explain and analyze both sides of a story and fulfill a journalistic purpose without sitting on the fence." -- Katie Lohrenz

"Everyone has opinions, and we are all entitled to have them. Journalists are no different. I like it when a journalist tells me how he/she arrived at an opinion, and any part of his/her backstory that will help me to assess credibility. Transparency is certainly part of the picture. What isn't helpful is a journalist who simply reports the sound bite from one side and then gathers the sound bite from another side and calls it a story - without stopping to investigate whether the facts can back up either side." -- Laurie Pumper

"I don't think it is absolutely necessary to be objective, but if you aren't going to be objective, it is absolutely necessary to be honest about it." -- Luke Gies

"Objectivity should be the goal for journalism. Reporting all sides of the story without bias is ideal. Unfortunately we live in a very polarized climate. Shock value, knee jerk reactions and stubborn opinion rule the day. I really appreciate news sources that don't resort to playing to that audience." -- Marie Rafalko

"Basically, 'objectivity' in journalism began post WWII as a strategy to make news content more palatable to a broader advertiser base. That worked -- and it helped enable newspaper consolidation in many cities. But the strategy took on a life of its own -- and while it yielded some benefits, it's a fundamentally not credible premise. Journalism is created by people, and people are not objective. As media has become multidirectional, it's become ridiculous to try to ignore that reality. News organizations that choose a veneer of objectivity over the practice of transparency undermine their own credibility. The sad thing is, many news orgs cling to their veneer of objectivity because they think it builds credibility. They're eating their own dog food." -- Amy Gahran

"I chose my answer by eliminating the others. I know it's not always possible. It's really tough. But transparency is absolutely not an alternative to objectivity. Fox News is transparent. It's not good journalism. Saying transparency can replace objectivity basically says that journalism can be produced by interest groups, as long as they're honest about who they are. That's no good for anyone, except for the interest groups." -- Molly Samuel

"The U.S. journalism establishment has determined that they are smarter than consumer sand therefore must talk down, water down, simplify news stories. Their fear was that no one would read the paper. Really.

"If all the facts were reported AND an effort was made to make media literacy an elementary school requirement we might have real journalism again in this country in a generation or so. Or promote and support online platforms that present facts and commentary separately. Then let traditional media fend for themselves." -- Todd O'Neill

"It's never possible, but always desirable. That is, complete objectivity is probably impossible, because we aren't always aware of our prejudices. But, it is what we should strive for, regardless. So, it is very important to attempt, but also to be aware that we may have blind spots, in order to avoid the arrogance of believing you are able to step completely out of your own biases." -- Rebecca Church

"To an extent, I agree with 'Transparency is the new objectivity,' but I don't think it's sufficient. I think pursuing objectivity while being transparent is crucial. Journalists should make every effort to escape their biases, explore other perspectives, and challenge their assumptions of what are and are not significant/authoritative voices, but they shouldn't do so at the cost of reporting and storytelling. However, they should acknowledge where they can where they are coming from, what perspectives they might take into the discussion, and what assumptions they are starting with so readers/audiences are able to make an informed analysis of the journalist's credibility." -- Bill Lascher

"'Transparency is the new objectivity' is a fun riff, and it's close, but I think we (in the media business) grossly overstate the public's interest in our affiliations and conflicts." -- Ryan Sholin

"Science, going back to the Heisenberg principle in the 1920s has proven that observation has an effect on the thing observed. Also, you can play 'he said-she said' journalism, but one statement has to come before the other. Determining the order is the reporter or editor's subjective choice and determines the slant of the story." -- Kellia Ramares

"Objectivity is not rewarded by anyone, not the public and not the corporate new organizations. It's become like Don Quixote chasing windmills." -- Shari Brandhoy

"Objectivity is impossible. There is no such thing as a human or institution without opinion. Therefore, it's best for us to know the bias of the reporters. That said, a statement of bias doesn't give license to lie or omit facts. Transparency is twofold:
• a statement of bias
• a commitment to releasing all information in an honest manner." -- Joey Baker

"Shirky has made me bias on the topic - journalist was a special class of citizen when you needed a press. Now every resident has a responsibility to be a journalist. Who is going to write about neighborhoods - when crime is not the topic? Newspapers and other media outlets have always done a poor job covering my home. So who does that responsibility fall to - someone with a stake in the future of that neighborhood. And while I want accuracy and independence, I want the reporter, journalist, or citizen to offer their educated take on what this all means for the future of the area." -- Eddie North-Hager

"The very definition of dialectic is pastiche. How can anyone be objective while still being informed? Transparency at least offers honesty and a path for the reader to follow." -- Clarisa Morales Roberts

"I define an objective piece as one that represents all viewpoints in a piece and allows readers to make up their minds about those viewpoints. To do anything less is a disservice to, and disrespectful of, the reader." -- Craig Gaines

"There is fairness but not objectivity. Everyone decides where to look, what facts to portray, how to frame what they're seeing. Even a pointed camera is not objective -- where the lens is pointed, how the zoom is set ... these all determine what's seen and how." -- Dorian Benkoil

"Debating object/subject is an endless philosophical waste of time. Facts, and trends, data, information, systems analysis all are much more relevant to discourse around solving the complex problems we face today and in the future." -- Stephen Antonaros

"I believe that objectivity is the single most dangerous goal journalism can work towards. It is impossible for a human being to produce a genuinely non-biased piece of writing, but it is simple for a writer to mimic the tone of authority that a member of society is educated to frame as truth. Journalism should strive for transparency - not as a new objectivity, but as a drastically different and more democratic concept of media's responsibility to present and portray information." -- Rebecca Glaser

"Objectivity is impossible, it's an illusion and a myth often used to maintain flat, two-dimensional reporting that implies there are simply "two sides." What's far more important is accuracy, vigorous inquiry and story dimension--looking for texture and layers of debate, and letting the facts tell the story; two 'sides' are not 'equal' if one is heavily fact-based and the other is just opinion." -- Christopher Cook

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14:10

What the Spot.Us Community Thinks of Objectivity

Objectivity in Journalism Wordle

The following post comes to us from Sameer Bhuchar, who is helping Spot.Us from Austin.

It has been said a thousand times before: The landscape of the modern media is changing. With today's more complex, active Internet ecosystem, the accepted norms of journalism are constantly being rewritten or tossed out all together. The Internet has bypassed the once highly regarded norms of gatekeepers at a news desk, and it now it seems to be challenging the long held model of objectivity in journalism.

If there is an underlying theme to Spot.Us it is the idea that we expect our community to tell us what is important in journalism, rather than dictate it ourselves. With that in mind, several weeks ago, thanks to a generous sponsorship from Clay Shirky, we asked for your honest feedback about objectivity and journalism. We let the 500 users who took the survey decide where the sponsorship dollars should go. In other words, we handed over a part of our budget to community members who let us figure out what the ethos is around objectivity in journalism. Score one for community-focused sponsorship.

Survey Results

Is there a clear divide between those who support the traditional idea of objectivity and those who take a different stance? Are there exceptions to the standard? How should journalism work for you? Some believe objectivity means reporting facts without bias, and that an article must be balanced and include multiple points of view. To many, objectivity in journalism is the most important standard of the profession. It was once considered the glue of the business, the one aim that let media consumers decide for themselves what was right and wrong.

Increasingly, however, the idea of traditional objectivity is being challenged by this new, proactive age of media consumers. To those who challenge the ideal, it is an outdated standard that has crippled journalists from digging deep into stories.

Keep in mind the survey results are not scientific and, as the political leanings graph shows, there was perhaps a self-selecting audience (the Spot.Us community). Nonetheless, with 500 respondents there was a diverse set of answers.

First and foremost it is important to note that about 52 percent of the survey takers were female and 48 percent male.

Also, close to 60 percent of the respondents identified themselves as liberals, with only 10.8 percent identifying as conservative. Close to 30 percent said they were independents. This could be reflective of where Spot.Us' traffic comes from (heavy in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New York).

Responses to the question, "Is objectivity even possible?" show there are a large percentage of people with a changing idea about objectivity. Of the survey questions, perhaps this one and the responses associated with it were the most telling when it comes to attitudes towards objectivity. Only 13.5 percent (60 respondents) very clearly identified "objectivity" as being what journalism is all about.

This view point can best be explained through Spot.Us member Craig Gaines' extended response. "I define an objective piece as one that represents all viewpoints in a piece and allows readers to make up their minds about those viewpoints," Gaines said. "To do anything less is a disservice to, and disrespectful of, the reader."

A staggering 44.6 percent (199) people agreed with the answer, "Objectivity is possible but difficult. It separates wheat from chaff." In essence the answer implies that objectivity should be seen more as a quest for honest, factual reporting. Spot.Us member (and NewsTrust executive director) Fabrice Florin summed up this viewpoint well.

While objectivity is difficult to achieve, it is an important journalistic quality to strive for, particularly for factual news reporting, not for opinion pieces," Florin said. "For news reports, a neutral perspective helps present views from different sides without interjecting the author's personal opinions. Authors are welcome to post their own perspectives in their own opinion pieces, as long as they are clearly labeled as such. But journalists who want to serve society as neutral observers and referees should continue to report objectively on public issues they cover.

Of the respondents, 27.6 percent (123 people) chose the answer "transparency is the new objectivity," implying that it is the reporting of truth that is most important, rather than a detached account of a scene.

"I think that reporters ought to reveal their biases in each story as part of the narrative so as to partially disarm whatever criticism of bias they may receive," said member Paul Balcerak. "Doing so will provide a better service to the public and will create better journalism."

There were also 55 people who believed objectivity was impossible, and 9 people went as far to answer that objectivity "is a crutch to prop old media up."

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Other questions sought to discover the community's view of how important objectivity is (always required, sometimes, never, etc.), and to help gauge the respondents' relationship to journalism (a professor or as an avid news reader, for example). We believe that in aggregate this survey provides unique insight into what people from the Spot.Us community want and expect from the media.

To drive the point home, we've included anecdotal responses from our insightful community members who gave us permission to publish their answers. (These were used to create the above Wordle.)

Perhaps what we can learn from all of this is that objectivity, while important as an ideal of fairness, should not be seen as a way of achieving "detached-ness," if you will. But heck, this blog post is by no means unbiased, so even that assumption may not be accurate, or apply to you personally. One thing the respondents did uniformly agree upon is that reporters should unabashedly seek truth. While pure objectivity may be impossible, being honest isn't.

Community Views

Below is a selection of comments from the wisest people we know -- our community. Here's what they had to say about objectivity:

"In journalism school I was very swayed by the 'Transparency IS the new objectivity' school of thinking, and the notion that everyone has bias and perspective, and so any attempt to avoid that is foolhardy. From my insider perspective, my own biases and opinions seemed magnified and huge. However, since I haven't been working as a journalist and have been, instead, consuming local media (increasingly independent and citizen/blog driven, as the local establishment journalism withers away) I've longed for the ideal of objectivity while recognizing it might never have been truly practiced. I've grown to strongly dislike the strongly and biased opinionated citizen journalism I am now surrounded by, because it so often willfully refuses to dig deeper and more broadly and is so very proud of its 'perspective'. I am often left with a long list of simple questions I think *I* would have asked just to get the whole story." -- Saheli Datta

"I don't believe what we've traditionally defined as objectivity in the media is actually objectivity--it's more like perceived impartiality. I think that reporters ought to reveal their biases in each story as part of the narrative (writing in first-person would make the process a lot less awkward, by the way) so as to partially disarm whatever criticism of bias they may receive. Doing so will provide a better service to the public and will create better journalism." -- Paul Balcerak

"Objectivity was a marketing technique invented by the AP 100 + years ago. It's well suited for monopoly style newspaper production but shits the bed when media representation of similar events increases... Debunking objectivity as a concept is as easy as shooting ducks in duck hunt, but fact of the matter is that if *we didn't* believe in objectivity our lives would be intolerable.

"Therefore the question isn't about whether objectivity in journalism is possible, it's how does a person come to see media as objective? That's where things get interesting and where a lot is getting disrupted. The meaning of an event doesn't happen until it's represented and what we are seeing is an explosion in meaning at the sign of *any event*. See Stuart Hall, he's pre-Twitter but his points are just as valid." -- Cody Brown

"Transparency means more than understanding where the journalist's bias lies; it means that the journalist or reporter does things like crowdsource some questions, work in partnership with community journalism initiatives already underway, blog about the progress on a story and explain what the next steps are (unless it's a super-secret undercover investigation), record interviews and give public access to the full transcript as well as the audio file, etc. Transparency means addressing reader concerns and input about pieces and continuing the conversation after one story is published." -- Suzi Steffen

"A journalist's background certainly matters in how they interpret subjects, but the job is to look close, ask questions, and get the details right. More and more, unfortunately, it's also about checking out sources and making sure none of them are lying. With more and more resources dedicated to "spin" this part is important and often accounts for why a lot of people reject a good story as objective or biased - because they've been dished the spin in other platforms. But objectivity really is the name of the game." -- Lee van der Voo

"In most mainstream news reports I hear, including a good number on NPR, there's an annoying trend toward presenting one side and then the other, while completely evading the question of which side might be right! This is a perverted effect of the mania that journalism has for supposedly unbiased an objective reporting. Too often in the name of objectivity journalists avoid taking principled stands on anything; too often monied interests can distract the public's attention from their own dubious business practices by trotting out a voice of dissent rationalizing their stand -- which, of course, will get equal air-time." -- Anneke Toomey

"There is a saying somewhere: Objectivity is not possible, but fairness is. That is to say: are all sides, all points of view represented honestly and with the same weight? Ultimately, I'd say objectivity is a personal trait, fairness is a professional trait that pertains to our profession as journalists. Strive for fairness." --  Barbara Gref

"No journalist is truly objective, if that term is meant to mean someone who has no opinions about the subjects he or she covers. Subjectivity starts right from the point at which a journalist chooses a subject to cover and goes right on through to who is interviewed, what quotations are selected, how the headline is written, and on and on. But what makes journalism different from other practices with which it is sometimes confused, such as PR or politics, is that journalists are in the business of *independent* verification of fact." -- Robert McClure

"No one is truly unbiased or objective but that doesn't mean that a good reporter doesn't look for the truth behind everyone's agenda. Objectivity means not sitting on a story that would make someone look bad just because you're invested in their success. I almost said "Transparency is the new objectivity" only because it is the latest and most fabulous word to throw around. Transparency only helps identify lapses in objectivity, it doesn't replace it. As for transparency, it certainly helps identify lapses in objectivity, but it doesn't replace it." -- Amanda Hickman

"Objectivity often means portraying both sides of the story but without considering power & privilege, you can never get both sides of story. It would be like looking at African Americans & crime in inner cities without looking at the effects of institutional racism and how poverty/availability of drugs/housing blight/welfare policies etc contributes to crime. Journalism needs to put more emphasis on telling the stories of the underserved and marginalized and those most impacted the those who have power." -- Micky Duxbury

"No one is objective. The best we can do (instead of  pretending to be objective) is being transparent about our biases so readers are aware and can judge our content as they feel is appropriate. That said, it doesn't mean we should turn every article into a ranting, biased blog post, or even take a side on an issue we're covering. We just need to stop pretending true "Objectivism" exists." -- Lauren Rabaino

"While objectivity is difficult to achieve, it is an important journalistic quality to strive for, particularly for factual news reporting (not for opinion pieces). For news reports, a neutral perspective helps present views from different sides without interjecting the author's personal opinions. Authors are welcome to post their own perspectives in their own opinion pieces, as long as they are clearly labeled as such. But journalists who want to serve society as neutral observers and referees should continue to report objectively on public issues they cover." -- Fabrice Florin

"I find writing by people who disclose and discuss their biases/backgrounds dramatically more compelling than sterile I-refuse-to-take-sides-so-decide-for-yourself writing. I think it's possible to explain and analyze both sides of a story and fulfill a journalistic purpose without sitting on the fence." -- Katie Lohrenz

"Everyone has opinions, and we are all entitled to have them. Journalists are no different. I like it when a journalist tells me how he/she arrived at an opinion, and any part of his/her backstory that will help me to assess credibility. Transparency is certainly part of the picture. What isn't helpful is a journalist who simply reports the sound bite from one side and then gathers the sound bite from another side and calls it a story - without stopping to investigate whether the facts can back up either side." -- Laurie Pumper

"I don't think it is absolutely necessary to be objective, but if you aren't going to be objective, it is absolutely necessary to be honest about it." -- Luke Gies

"Objectivity should be the goal for journalism. Reporting all sides of the story without bias is ideal. Unfortunately we live in a very polarized climate. Shock value, knee jerk reactions and stubborn opinion rule the day. I really appreciate news sources that don't resort to playing to that audience." -- Marie Rafalko

"Basically, 'objectivity' in journalism began post WWII as a strategy to make news content more palatable to a broader advertiser base. That worked -- and it helped enable newspaper consolidation in many cities. But the strategy took on a life of its own -- and while it yielded some benefits, it's a fundamentally not credible premise. Journalism is created by people, and people are not objective. As media has become multidirectional, it's become ridiculous to try to ignore that reality. News organizations that choose a veneer of objectivity over the practice of transparency undermine their own credibility. The sad thing is, many news orgs cling to their veneer of objectivity because they think it builds credibility. They're eating their own dog food." -- Amy Gahran

"I chose my answer by eliminating the others. I know it's not always possible. It's really tough. But transparency is absolutely not an alternative to objectivity. Fox News is transparent. It's not good journalism. Saying transparency can replace objectivity basically says that journalism can be produced by interest groups, as long as they're honest about who they are. That's no good for anyone, except for the interest groups." -- Molly Samuel

"The U.S. journalism establishment has determined that they are smarter than consumer sand therefore must talk down, water down, simplify news stories. Their fear was that no one would read the paper. Really.

"If all the facts were reported AND an effort was made to make media literacy an elementary school requirement we might have real journalism again in this country in a generation or so. Or promote and support online platforms that present facts and commentary separately. Then let traditional media fend for themselves." -- Todd O'Neill

"It's never possible, but always desirable. That is, complete objectivity is probably impossible, because we aren't always aware of our prejudices. But, it is what we should strive for, regardless. So, it is very important to attempt, but also to be aware that we may have blind spots, in order to avoid the arrogance of believing you are able to step completely out of your own biases." -- Rebecca Church

"To an extent, I agree with 'Transparency is the new objectivity,' but I don't think it's sufficient. I think pursuing objectivity while being transparent is crucial. Journalists should make every effort to escape their biases, explore other perspectives, and challenge their assumptions of what are and are not significant/authoritative voices, but they shouldn't do so at the cost of reporting and storytelling. However, they should acknowledge where they can where they are coming from, what perspectives they might take into the discussion, and what assumptions they are starting with so readers/audiences are able to make an informed analysis of the journalist's credibility." -- Bill Lascher

"'Transparency is the new objectivity' is a fun riff, and it's close, but I think we (in the media business) grossly overstate the public's interest in our affiliations and conflicts." -- Ryan Sholin

"Science, going back to the Heisenberg principle in the 1920s has proven that observation has an effect on the thing observed. Also, you can play 'he said-she said' journalism, but one statement has to come before the other. Determining the order is the reporter or editor's subjective choice and determines the slant of the story." -- Kellia Ramares

"Objectivity is not rewarded by anyone, not the public and not the corporate new organizations. It's become like Don Quixote chasing windmills." -- Shari Brandhoy

"Objectivity is impossible. There is no such thing as a human or institution without opinion. Therefore, it's best for us to know the bias of the reporters. That said, a statement of bias doesn't give license to lie or omit facts. Transparency is twofold:
• a statement of bias
• a commitment to releasing all information in an honest manner." -- Joey Baker

"Shirky has made me bias on the topic - journalist was a special class of citizen when you needed a press. Now every resident has a responsibility to be a journalist. Who is going to write about neighborhoods - when crime is not the topic? Newspapers and other media outlets have always done a poor job covering my home. So who does that responsibility fall to - someone with a stake in the future of that neighborhood. And while I want accuracy and independence, I want the reporter, journalist, or citizen to offer their educated take on what this all means for the future of the area." -- Eddie North-Hager

"The very definition of dialectic is pastiche. How can anyone be objective while still being informed? Transparency at least offers honesty and a path for the reader to follow." -- Clarisa Morales Roberts

"I define an objective piece as one that represents all viewpoints in a piece and allows readers to make up their minds about those viewpoints. To do anything less is a disservice to, and disrespectful of, the reader." -- Craig Gaines

"There is fairness but not objectivity. Everyone decides where to look, what facts to portray, how to frame what they're seeing. Even a pointed camera is not objective -- where the lens is pointed, how the zoom is set ... these all determine what's seen and how." -- Dorian Benkoil

"Debating object/subject is an endless philosophical waste of time. Facts, and trends, data, information, systems analysis all are much more relevant to discourse around solving the complex problems we face today and in the future." -- Stephen Antonaros

"I believe that objectivity is the single most dangerous goal journalism can work towards. It is impossible for a human being to produce a genuinely non-biased piece of writing, but it is simple for a writer to mimic the tone of authority that a member of society is educated to frame as truth. Journalism should strive for transparency - not as a new objectivity, but as a drastically different and more democratic concept of media's responsibility to present and portray information." -- Rebecca Glaser

"Objectivity is impossible, it's an illusion and a myth often used to maintain flat, two-dimensional reporting that implies there are simply "two sides." What's far more important is accuracy, vigorous inquiry and story dimension--looking for texture and layers of debate, and letting the facts tell the story; two 'sides' are not 'equal' if one is heavily fact-based and the other is just opinion." -- Christopher Cook

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July 27 2010

16:30

When do 92,000 documents trump an off-the-record dinner? A few more thoughts about Wikileaks

Sometimes you can spend an entire morning racing the clock to put together the perfect blog post, and once you’re done, find a quote or two that would have let you sum up the entire thing in a lot less time. Such is the case with this great exchange between veteran reporter Tom Ricks (now blogging at Foreign Policy magazine) and David Corn at Mother Jones. Ricks pretty much trashed the “War Logs“/Wikileaks story that has been the buzz of the journalism world for the past few days, and dropped this gem:

A huge leak of U.S. reports and this is all they get? I know of more stuff leaked at one good dinner on background.

David Corn responded with a thoughtful post that is worth reading in full. The essence of it, however, is this:

These documents — snapshots from a far-away war — show the ground truth of Afghanistan. This is not what Americans receive from US officials. And with much establishment media unable (or unwilling) to apply resources to comprehensive coverage of the war, the public doesn’t see many snapshots like these. Any information that illuminates the realities of Afghanistan is valuable.

This captures the essence of the question I was trying to get at in the fifth point of yesterday’s post (“journalism in the era of big data”). I noted the similarities between “War Logs” and last week’s big bombshell, “Top Secret America.” The essence of the similarity, I said, was that they were based on reams of data, which, in sum, might not tell us anything shockingly new but that brought home, in Ryan Sholin’s excellent phrase, “the weight of failure.” And this gets me excited because I think it represents something new in journalism, or something old-enough-to-new: a focus on the aggregation of a million “on the ground reports” that might sometimes get us closer to the truth than three well placed sources over a nice off-the-record dinner. And I’m fascinated by this because this is the way that I, as a qualitative social scientist, have always seen as a particularly valid way to learn about the world.

Ricks’ quote, on the other hand, captures a certain strain of more traditional thinking: the point of journalism is to learn something shockingly new, hopefully from those elites in a position to really know what’s going on. Your job, as a journalist, is to get close enough to those elites so that they’ll tell you what’s really going on (a “nice” dinner, now, not just any old dinner!), and your skill as a journalist lies in your ability to hone your bullshit detector so that you can separate the self-serving goals of your sources from “the truth.” Occasionally, those elites will drop a big stack of documents on your desk, but that’s a rare occurrence.

I want to be clear: I don’t think one “new” type of journalism is going to displace the traditional way. Obviously, both journalistic forms will work together in tandem; indeed, it seems like most of what The New York Times did with “War Logs” was to run the data dump by its network of more elite sources for verification and context. But we are looking at something different here, and I think the Ricks-Corn exchange captures an important tension at the heart of this transition.

To conclude, two more reading links for you. In the first, “A Speculative Post on the Idea of Algorithmic Authority,” Clay Shirky wrote late last year that the authority system he sees emerging in a Google-dominated world values crap as much as it does quality.

Algorithmic authority is the decision to regard as authoritative an unmanaged process of extracting value from diverse, untrustworthy sources, without any human standing beside the result saying “Trust this because you trust me.”

This notion gets at the fact that a lot of the documents contained in the “War Logs” trove might have been biased, or partial, or flat-out wrong. But it doesn’t matter, Shirky might argue, in the same way that it might in the world that Ricks describes — a world where, in Shirky’s terms, an elite source is “standing beside the result saying ‘Trust this because you trust me.’”

The second link is a little more obscure. In her book How We Became Posthuman, N. Katherine Hayles argues that one of the major consequences of digitization is that we, as an informational culture, no longer focus as much on the distinction between presence and absence (“being there,” or not “being there”) as we do on the difference between pattern and randomness. In other words, “finding something new” (being there, being at dinner, getting the source to say something we didn’t know before) may not always be as important as finding the pattern in what is there already.

This is a deep point, and I can’t go into it much more in this post. But I’m thinking a lot about it these days as I ponder new forms of online journalism, and I’ll probably write about it more in the months and years ahead.

15:28

Spot.Us Goes National, Gets Clay Shirky as Sponsor

Anyone that has followed Spot.Us from the beginning knows we've tried to remain iterative and agile. In the earlier stages of Spot.Us I thought this was one of the larger lessons for journalism-entrepreneurs. I went through the iterative and agile process and tried to document it so others could repeat. I hope to continue this tradition as I get ready for an academic fellowship at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Indeed, the heart of this post addresses two features of Spot.Us (expansion and community-focused sponsorships) which will be my focus while in Missouri.

Inherent to this mindset is the ability to acknowledge missteps and pivot. There are countless things I believe we've done right (pats self on back); but there are other things where we made the best guesses we could and upon failure had to pivot. Recently, Spot.Us made one big pivot and is openly thinking about how to dance around two remaining problems. Before we analyze those, let's get to the good news (pats self on back again, rewards reader with cute kitten photo).


Community-focused sponsorship continues.

We have another community-focused sponsorship, this one made possible by Clay Shirky (how cool is that!).

In this sponsorship we are asking the community questions about objectivity and journalism. Not only do we reward your time by giving you control over a part of our budget, but we will release answers to these questions so that we all may become smarter and learn about what the Spot.Us community thinks about this subject.

Community-focused sponsorships was also a notable entry at the Knight-Batten awards and we've created a sponsorship package to help spread the word. The next step is an affiliate program. If you help us sell a sponsorship, you'll get the commission. Interested? Contact me at david at spot.us.

Editorial Highlights

Just about every week we complete a reporting project and publish a handful of blog posts. Some of the recent victories are highlighted below:

  • The Los Angeles Times imitates Spot.Us reporting: They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. If that is true, then the L.A. Times gave Spot.Us a huge kudos recently. Our ongoing investigation into the UC Regents found that one regent has invested lots of money into private educational institutions. The L.A. Times followed up our reporting, giving a small nod to the original investigation without really giving full credit. In a separate email the L.A. Times reporter did admit that our reporting inspired his column. The Spot.Us community can collectively pat itself on the back for that one.
  • Our most dynamic collaboration ever -- covering the Johannes Mehserle trial: This week we published the 40th post in our coverage of the Johannes Mehserle trial. Mehserle, a former BART police officer, was found guilty of the second degree murder of Oscar Grant. What was unique and interesting for Spot.Us about this project was the number of partners that participated. Our pitch had seven different organizations taking part including Oakland Local, New American Media, California Beat, KALW and The Bay Citizen. In another era, each organization would have hired its own reporter and provided competitive (and perhaps overlapping) coverage. Through Spot.Us we were able to create a ethos of "co-opetition." We hope to see more pitches like this in the future, and our hat is off to these organizations who were able to pull it off.
  • The Treasure Island investigation: Our partners in crime, the SF Public Press, put out a print product recently with an exhaustive spread on Treasure Island. It's a fantastic look at development in SF from several angles and will be adapted and republished by Shareable.Net this week.

Lessons Learned and Missteps


1. Expansion isn't clean: A careful observer of Spot.Us would have seen this coming and may have even noticed the change last week. We have removed the networks on Spot.Us. We used to say we were based in SF, LA, Seattle, Minnesota and expanding; we are now open to anyone with a good local/regional pitch anywhere in the United States.

As I noted in a previous post in June:

From the start, I thought Spot.Us would expand a la Craigslist: Pick locations, create sub-domains and let people aggregate around them. Certainly San Francisco and Los Angeles have worked like this. We always have about five active pitches in both locations at any given time. Seattle however, might not be that way. I fear I'm viewed as an outsider ... But that shouldn't stop me from expanding. Especially not when I am getting very solid pitches from around the country.

It makes little sense for me to tell a good pitch from Illinois or  Texas that they can't put their pitch up until we find a handful of other pitches in their region. So, as of last week, the sub-domains at Spot.Us have been removed. Trying to convince people in a specific region to use the site -- while stopping others from using it because they aren't in the right region -- is not the best use of our time or energy.

So the lesson here is really one about internal expectations and external realities. While in my mind's eye it still makes sense for Spot.Us to expand region-by-region, I don't see this happening anytime soon. This is not the end of the world. In some respects I find it freeing. In the end Spot.Us is a platform, not a news organization. Opening up the platform is a positive endeavor, especially considering the vast majority of pitches so far have been successful.

The major misstep then is not making this change sooner. The challenge going forward is finding a different organizing mechanism so that people can find pitches that are relevant to them as quickly as possible on our search page without expecting those pitches to be grouped geographically.

2. Letting go isn't easy: Related to the misstep above is a larger phenomena. Put bluntly I was a smothering Jewish mother (trust me, I know what these are like). I think I clung to the "babyness" of the Spot.Us project instead of letting it go free. It's natural for anybody who starts something to hold onto it and fear releasing it into the wild. I've tried to avoid that, but  I'm afraid I've put Spot.Us into a tough position of wanting it to expand but also being protective over the pitches that are uploaded into the site.

There are some pitches I felt very comfortable rejecting. The best example was a pitch from a Seattle fortune teller that was going to read people's future via the Internet and publish on Spot.Us. I feel justified in saying "that's not for us." As a non-profit, we have a mission to fund local/regional reporting.

At the same time, this tension hasn't always been easy to negotiate. Some pitches we get exist in a much more difficult space. The tension exists between being a site where the founder has authority over what pitches are included, and a site that is truly open but still filters out pitches that don't meet our mission. I am not 100 percent sure how we will negotiate that tension.

For the immediate future, Spot.Us will be a site where I filter pitches. I will not be filtering pitches based on "credentials" but rather the topic of the reporting and the earnestness and eagerness of the reporter. Ideally Spot.Us and its community board members will be able to come up with a system whereby pitches can be accepted and/or rejected not at the whim of my decision, but by the community and its representatives.

In Conclusion

Spot.Us continues to push forward. We've had some missteps and some beautiful moments. I suspect both will happen in the future as well. The beauty of all this continues to be that both happen in public, and that it is only with the public's participation that either can happen. This remains an experiment in transparency and public control over the process of journalism. It will continue to be such an experiment as we move forward.

July 15 2010

16:00

With surplus comes expendability? When the publishing club expands

[Matthew Battles is one of my favorite thinkers about how we read, consume, and learn. He's reading and reacting to Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus and Nicholas Carr's The Shallows. Over the next several weeks, we'll be running Matthew's ongoing twin review; here are parts one, two, three, four, and five. — Josh]

It’s a common belief that the average human uses a mere 10 percent of her total brain power. Of course, it’s a myth. “Brain power,” after all, is an impossible quality to define. Are we talking about the kinds of things Mensa tests for, such as computational ability, spatial intelligence, and logical acuity? Do we mean artistic genius, emotional intelligence? And how do we separate these things from the social expression of thinking, the emergence of powerful new ideas and cultural forms, the rebooting of beliefs and ethical norms? Even (and perhaps especially) in brain science, the terms are constantly shifting — as in recent research suggesting that the ratio of glial and neuronal cells is roughly equal, and that glial cells aid intervene in cognition to a previously unknown extent. Most authorities agree that while a small percentage of neurons are firing at any given moment, over the course of a day the brain is active throughout its entire cellular complement. We use the whole brain — even if not always to our own satisfaction.

While Shirky never mentions it, the 10-percent meme haunts the notion of the cognitive surplus — the linchpin of Shirky’s argument, which remains murky throughout the book. In fact Shirky is not talking about free cognitive power or brain cycles per se, but free time — time we may choose to spend on cognitive or creative work, but which may be spent in other ways as well. Eighteenth-century Britons, in Shirky’s telling, spent newfound funds of time getting pissed on gin. (It’s worth pointing out that this is a very selective view of the 1700’s, and the passages in which Shirky discusses gin are unsourced.) If the tools to make use of spare time — not only gin but religion, books, and newspapers, to name a few — seem crude by our lights, so too were the machinations that princes and politicians could undertake to bend spare cycles to their own ends. As our tools for sharing and creating grow more sophisticated, it becomes crucial that we understand whose purposes they truly serve.

Surpluses are complicated things. In a post dark with foreboding, Quiet Babylon’s Tim Maly quotes Ira Basen of the CBC’s Media Watch column on the effects of a surplus of quasi-journalistic documentation at the G20 protests in Toronto: “Perhaps the best way of understanding police behaviour,” Basen writes, “is to recognize that almost everyone in that crowd had some sort of camera-equipped mobile device, which meant that, in the minds of the police, almost everyone was a potential journalist. That meant they could either give special treatment to everyone or to no one. They chose no one.” Maly follows Basen’s logic to its scary ends:

In a network of cheap ubiquitous sensors, any given node becomes disposable. At highly documented events, the rate at which recordings are made far outstrips the rate at which we can view them. Any given photo or video can be lost but the loss is not that great. Any given observer can be beaten, arrested, even killed, and the loss is not that great. At least not that much greater than if it was any other participant.

This is the terrifying endpoint that Basen does not reach. When everyone is a journalist, not only do their fates no longer warrant special attention by the people being covered, their fates no longer warrant special attention by the people consuming their work.

There’s much to be celebrated in the technological changes that have driven the costs of recording, broadcasting, and publishing towards zero. But we do well to remember that with surplus comes expendability. Basen’s concerns notwithstanding, the danger is less to professional journalism than the nature of the public sphere: the prospect that, faced with the potential marginal costs of spending our cognitive surpluses on oversight, witness, and commentary, we nodes in the network will choose to stick to LOLcats and fanfiction.

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