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December 31 2011

21:00

Filter bubbles burst, blind spots shrunk, curation over SEO: Rachel Sklar’s predictions for 2012

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Bringing us home is Rachel Sklar, a media and cultural critic who is the co-founder of Change The Ratio, an adviser to early-stage startups, and a heavy-to-compulsive-tweeter.

More tattoo parlors

Earlier this week, I was blown away by this: Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt singing a charming version of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”. It wasn’t just that it was an adorable clip of two adorable people singing an adorable duet, nor that it was in sly homage to their adorable movie, nor that it was guaranteed to go viral. I sent it to a dude I know who is very smart in the realm of online video, and the future thereof.

“This,” I wrote, “is the future.” He wrote back: “Every time Zooey Deschanel picks up a ukelele, a hipster angel gets his wings tattoo.” True, but that wasn’t even it. “That’s not even it,” I said. “Her genius is that she knows that, and figured out that she should own a piece of the tattoo parlor.”

Hello Giggles is that tattoo parlor.

Do you know Hello Giggles? It’s pretty brilliant, and simple, as many brilliant things are. It’s Deschanel’s website that she founded with Hollywood-and-Internet It girls Sophia Rossi and Molly McAlleer. It’s adorable and slick, like nail polish in hipster colors. Super-fun content, unabashedly girlish, the cool BFF that you love to hang out with. That was where the video broke.

Sure, it was on YouTube — capable of being picked up by HuffPo, BuzzFeed, and all the other usual suspects — but still, it was on Hello Giggles first. Their Twitter feed pointed to it excitedly earlier in the day and then — bingo, link. (And then — site, crash.) Deschanel and her friends looked around and smartly realized that if they could be the content, they could be the platform, too. Tavi Gevinson — more niche but one who could fairly be called the Zooey of the fashion world — did the same thing with Rookie Mag. Louis CK did it last month. If you know your stuff is going to be picked up, why not pick it up yourself? Owning the tattoo parlor. We’re going to see more of that in 2012.

Up with people!

It’s happened: People matter more than brands. Not all brands — people will always love to obsess over The New York Times — but for the most part, it’s individual people who earn and wield the trust of the consumer. (However that Twitter lawsuit pans out, the world will never be Team Phonedog.) So brands will align themselves more closely, and blurrily, with people. (Watch Tina Fey: She’ll probably do something interesting in this vein, that no one else could get away with, but for which she will open the door.)

Speaking of brands vs. people, it will be interesting to watch what happens to TechCrunch over the next year.

And speaking of Tina Fey, a quick coda about Amy Poehler: On “Parks & Recreation,” Leslie Knope is running for office. Outside in the real world, the 2012 election contest will be under way. There’s no way that show will not be a hotbed of trenchant political commentary this season. (BTW, Poehler was a Hillary supporter back in the day. So hopefully that will mean more goddesses in Pawnee.) Point being, people.

News is the killer app

David Carr loves to say this. And it’s true. News moves the needle, every day. Of course, what counts as “news” can be wildly expansive (latest Iowa poll vs. Iran’s latest in the Straits of Hormuz vs. something crazy Glenn Beck said vs. the new Zooey Deschanel vid) (News You Can Hormuz! Sorry). But technology has made everyone a potential real-time newsbreaker, distributor, and TV station, and that is pretty incredible. What we saw from Egypt this year — incredible. The #Occupy livestream during the Zucotti raid — riveting at 2am as the viewer numbers climbed (and the cablers blithely let their canned programming play on).

This is different from a serendipitous civilian twitpic. This is technology letting people change the game, gatekeepers be damned.

Curation is also the killer app

…that said, though, it’s gotten pretty damn noisy out there. And if 2010 and 2011 were years of opening our hearts to a blossoming Internet, 2012 is going to be the year of letting smart people do it for us. Audiences are done with SEO-baiting and bait-and-switch headlines; we’re going to get more choosy with our clicks. And with our eyeball-access. So you’d better be trustworthy, because I don’t let just anyone curate for me. Because while news will always be the killer app, who it’s delivered by will matter just as much.

This is different from “reported by The New York Times.” This is “do I trust Anthony De Rosa to be my filter?” That’s why for those of us who live on the Internet, Ben Smith going to BuzzFeed made perfect, brilliant, forward-looking sense.

Or, to quote media maven Jason Hirschhorn: “Welcome to the age of the “CJ”. The Content Jockey. Payola-free and programmed with care.” He tweeted that, quoting from his email newsletter. #PlatformAgnostic

Unbubbling and unblinding

One of the arguments for old-school newspapers is discovery — next to the article you’re reading might be a completely different article that you never would have seen, on a subject you didn’t know you were interested in. Online, we’re starting to see the opposite: While we’re opting to follow curators who deliver to us the news we wish to receive, our most trusted sites are automatically giving us what they think we want to see — or, taken dystopically, what they want us to see. Eli Pariser dubbed this “the Filter Bubble.” Things are only getting more customized, tailored, targeted, and algorithm-ized, but in 2012 we will see clear pushback on that.

As for curators, an example: The AP’s top Oscar tweets of 2011 — all men. Compiled by Jake Coyle, who follows 191 people on Twitter. Whose tweets did he choose to see? Whose tweets did he ignore? Who was completely in his blind spot? This is just one example, but lemme tell you, I got lots and lots and lots and lots and lots. And lots.

When we began 2011, that blind spot was a frustrating ongoing reality. As we end it, something has shifted — the pushback isn’t only frustrated, it’s mocking. Because the rise of social has surfaced incredible demographic activity and information. Turns out, lots of under-repped constituencies are moving lots of needles. And honestly, those who leave out women, minorities, and other under-noted groups really no longer have a excuse for it — and in so doing, look like tools. (See how the Daily Dot owned that, and moved to make immediate amends.) I watch this stuff closely, and I really do see that trend pushing forward in 2012. (Even if just to keep me from sending you angry emails. WHICH I WILL.)

There isn’t just a single story. In 2012, the audience will expect — nay, demand — to see more of them.

#NoFilter

No relation, but — #NoFilter has become a tag of note this year, thanks to Instagram. What is real? What is fake? What is Kardashian? I think 2012 will demand that we say so up front.

“‘Modern Family’ is the funniest show TV”

I said that the other day. Then I realized I’d never watched Modern Family on TV. I downloaded the first season to my iPad and I have watched it on the elliptical, on planes, in bed, waiting in the security line at the airport, on the subway and walking home from work. This goes double for most other things that I expect to be able to get, see, upload, download, send, save, share or otherwise interact with using the various pieces of technology at my disposal. Our smartphones are now our universal remotes. If you’re not offering your product on-demand in 2012, you’re losing customers in 2012.

Michelle. Sheryl. Mindy. Kristen. Kirsten. Hillary. Zooey.

Mmm-hmmm, I’m not saying anything. I’m just gonna sit back and watch.

20:00

Keli Goff: 2012 will be a golden age of minority-focused media

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Next up is Keli Goff, author, political commentator, and contributing editor at Loop21.com.

Though the last few years in media have been described in doomsday terms, we will likely look back on this time, and particularly the coming year, as the golden age of minority-focused media.

While mainstream media institutions have struggled to stay relevant and stay afloat, in their demise many of the walls that kept the less connected and less privileged out of media have begun to fall. There are many who would argue that those walls were essential to keeping media credible and honest. I would argue that those walls kept many diverse voices, in terms of both race and class, from being heard by wider audiences.

But thanks to the end of the reign of mainstream print media as the defining journalistic institution, the rise of the Internet as the predominant source of news and information, and the proliferation of blogs, more voices that would not have been widely read or heard just years ago are helping to define mainstream conversations.

The election of President Obama only increased the role that online minority media vehicles such as The Root, The Grio, NewsOne, Loop21.com, BET Online, Huffington Post Black Voices, and others have played in reaching audiences that for a long time felt ignored by mainstream outlets. With another presidential election looming, these outlets will continue to grow in both audience and relevance, and we will see more of them, as well as more focus on them, in 2012.

December 30 2011

18:30

Clara Jeffery: What nonprofit news orgs are betting on for 2012

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Next up is Clara Jeffery, co-editor of Mother Jones.

Predictions are a chump’s game. So this is more like a window into what the editors of a small nonprofit news organization are betting on.

There is no spoon

Forget distinctions between blog posts and stories because readers don’t care. What they care about is a source — be it news org or author — that they trust and enjoy.

Data viz

We at Mother Jones had a breakout hit with our income inequality charts. 5 million readers, 240K Facebook likes, 14K tweets, and counting. Charts were pasted up on the walls of Wisconsin state capitol during the union fight; #OWS protestors blew them up and put them on signs, and distributed them in leaflets. Partly, it was the right message at the right time. But it was also that a very complicated story was boiled down into 11 charts and that the sources for the charts’ information were provided.

More broadly, in 2011, chart fever swept media orgs — hey, USA Today, you were right all along! In 2012, I am sure we’re not the only ones who are investing in ways to make data more frequent, and more interactive.

Blur the lines between writer/producer/coder

If you want to do visual storytelling, you need people who can marry words with images, animation, video. We’re not only hiring people who have advanced data app and video skills, but we’re also training our entire editorial staff to experiment with video, make charts, and use tools like Document Cloud and Storify to enrich the reader experience. To that end, anything that makes it easier to integrate disparate forms of media — whether it’s HTML5 or Storify — is a friend to journalists.

Collaboration 2.0

There are a number of cool content collaborations out there — MoJo is in the Climate Desk collaboration with The Atlantic, Grist, Slate, Wired, CIR, and Need to Know, for example. But in retooling that project for 2012 (coming soon!), we really started thinking about collaborating with tech or content tool companies like Prezi and Storify. And why shouldn’t news orgs on the same CMS potentially collaborate on new features, sharing development time? So, for example, we, TNR, Texas Monthly, the New York Observer, and Fast Company (I think) are all on Drupal. Is there something we all want? Could we pool dev time and build a better mousetrap? We actually built a “create-your-own-cover” tool that, in keeping with the open-source ethos of Drupal (and because I’m friends with editor Jake Silverstein) we handed over to Texas Monthly; they improved on it. The biggest barrier to collaboration is bandwidth within each constituent group. But ultimately it makes sense to try learn collectively.

Where am I?

As people increasingly get news from their social stream, the implications for news brands are profound. If nobody comes through the homepage, then every page is a homepage. Figuring out when (and if) you can convert flybys into repeat customers is a huge priority — especially for companies that have subscription or donation as part of their revenue stream. If everyone is clamoring for this, then somebody is going to invent the things we need — better traffic analysis tools, but also A/B testers like Optimizely.

It also means that being a part of curation communities — be they Reddit or Longform/Longreads — is as important as having a vibrant social media presence yourself. As is the eye candy of charts, data viz, etc. Lure them in with that, and often they’ll stay for the long feature that accompanies it.

User generated content 2.0

Social media and Storify are making users into content producers in ways that earlier attempts at distributed reporting couldn’t. Especially on fast-breaking stories, they are invaluable partners in the creation process, incorporated into and filtered through verified reporting. For MoJo, for example, the social media implications surrounding our Occupy coverage were profound. We were reporting ourselves, as well as getting reports from hundreds of people on the ground. Some became trusted sources, sort of deputized reporters to augment our own. And we found ourselves serving an invaluable role as fact-checkers on the rumors that swirled around any one incident.

It was heady and often exhausting. But it won us a lot of loyal readers. We could do all that in real time on Twitter and use Storify to curate the best of what we and others were reporting on our site, beaming that back to Twitter. (And Al Jazeera’s The Stream, for example, is taking that kind of social media integration to a whole new level. Of course, it helps to be bankrolled by the Al Thanis.)

Mobile, mobile, mobile

To me, especially within the magazine world, there’s been an overemphasis on “apps,” most of which thus far aren’t so great and are often walled off from social media. But anything that improves — and monetizes — the mobile experience is a win. And any major element of what you’re offering that doesn’t work across the major devices is a sunk cost. Sorry, Flash.

Investigative reporting renaissance

Despite all the hand-wringing of a few years ago, it turns out that people do read longform on the web, on tablets and readers, and even on their phone. They love charts and graphs and animation and explainers. They want to know your sources and even look at primary documents. And they want it all tied up with voice and style. There’s no better time to be an investigative journalist.

17:30

Joshua Young: 2012 will be the year we focus, again, on the writer

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Here’s Josh Young, who currently handles the contributor network at the real-time media company Sulia, and who formerly headed social news at The Huffington Post.

The first of Google’s ten core principles has framed the way we think about the content on the Internet:

Focus on the user and all else will follow.

Of course, that user is really what technologists and economists both call the “end user.” When it comes to content, that means the reader. This principle presumes that users have information needs and that the information to satisfy those needs already exists. The task is culling, discovering, finding.

This is essentially the idea that content just happens. Search is the easy example, but you can see it in curation, too. The answers are all there — disguised by the blooming, buzzing confusion of even more information — and we just need a better filter.

Almost all content platforms are informed by this principle, as well — at least as a matter of positioning. WordPress has no agenda. Tumblr doesn’t care what you write. Pinterest doesn’t have a say in what boards you pin together. Quora doesn’t care what you ask or answer. Nor does YouTube care what you upload. Soundcloud doesn’t care what you create. Read It Later doesn’t care what you read later any more than Twitter cares what you Tweet. The list goes on and on.

The formula for today’s most successful content platforms is to give a bunch of writers each a soapbox and then to give vastly more readers some tools to find the soapbox best for them. In any two-sided market, after all, an economist might tell you to subsidize the side that’s more price-sensitive and to charge the side that has more to gain from network effects. Blah blah blah.

Of course, audiences will never just happen. Likewise, “Focus on the writer and all else will follow” doesn’t seem like a promising economic model.

But I am not an economist, and I think 2012 will be the year in which we realize that Google’s first core principle misses something important. We will recognize all over again the value in catering to the writer — or, rather, the best writers. We will thus also invest in giving them tools to reach the right readers. Maybe readers aren’t so price-sensitive, and maybe they stand very much to gain from network effects. 2012 will show us.

Image by Steven Depolo used under a Creative Commons license.

16:00

Alfred Hermida: 2012 will be the year social media gets boring

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Here’s Canadian news pioneer Alfred Hermida, a founder of BBCnews.com and currently an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia School of Journalism.

I am always hesitant to make predictions, but 2012 may just the year that social media starts to get boring. And this is a good thing.

Bear with me while I explain. Social media is largely still seen as a new, shiny entrant into the world of media.

As with all new communication technologies, there are those who argue social media is changing everything, creating a more open and democratic media space. Others take a diametrically opposed viewpoint. For them, social media just offers new ways to do old things.

Both are right and wrong at the same time. There is no doubt that social media technologies do offer new affordances, creating an open, networked, and distributed media ecosystem at odds with the one-way, broadcast model of mass media that dominated the 20th century.

At the same time, history shows us how dominant institutions, be they governments or media conglomerates, appropriate new technologies and cancel out some of their innovative potential.

The problem is how we frame new technologies. There is always a degree of hype that greets a new technology; we’ve seen it in talk of Twitter revolutions and Facebook uprisings.

Initially we are enchanted by the novelty of what these tools and services enable us to do: upload funny videos, post updates of our lunch, and share links to worthy articles.

Technologies reach their full potential when we forgot about the novelty. Instead they become boring and blend into the background. How often do we think about the technology behind the telephone, or the television set in our living room?

With any luck, this is what will happen with social media. Social media tools and services will be so ingrained within our everyday experiences that we forget that they are such recent developments.

Essentially, the technology will become invisible as we shape it to meet our political, social, and cultural needs.

Mediated sociability will be with us at all times, no matter what we are doing. Arguably, for younger adults, this is already happening. Facebook is part of their lives, just like the telephone is simply there.

For journalists, what this means is that social media will become part of everyday routines. Facebook or Twitter won’t be simply add-ons, but an inherent component of the media environment for journalists.

December 21 2011

19:00

Vadim Lavrusik: Curation and amplification will become much more sophisticated in 2012

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Next up is Vadim Lavrusik, Journalist Program Manager at Facebook.

Ladies and gentlemen, we can rebuild it. We have the technology. We have the capability to build a sustainable journalism model. Better than it was before. Better, stronger, faster.

Okay, putting “Six Million Dollar Man” theme aside, I do believe every word of that. And here’s a small sliver of the way I think the process can be improved: curating information in a way that both puts it in proper context for consumers and amplifies the reporting of the citizenry.

For the last year, much of the focus has been on curating content from the social web and effectively contextualizing disparate pieces of information to form singular stories. This has been especially notable during breaking news events, with citizens who are participating in or observing those events contributing content about them through social media. In 2012, there will be even more emphasis not only on curating that content, but also on amplifying it through increasingly effective distribution mechanisms.

Because anyone can publish content today and report information from a breaking news event, the role journalists can play in amplifying — and verifying — that content becomes ever more important. Contributed reporting from the citizenry hasn’t replaced the work of journalists. In fact, it has made the work of journalists even more important, as there is much more verification and “making sense” of that content that needs to be done. And journalists’ role as amplifiers of information is becoming more crucial.

What does that mean? It means journalists using their skills to verify the accuracy of claims being made on social media and elsewhere, and then effectively distributing that verified information to a larger audience through their publications’ community of readers and fact-checkers on the social web.

Curation itself will continue to evolve and become more sophisticated. As the year has gone on, breaking news itself has taken on new forms beyond the typical chronological curation of a live event. In the new year, we’ll also see new curated story formats. And we’ll see new tools that allow those formats to take life.

But the mentality of content curation needs to evolve, as well. It’s still very much focused on how to find and curate the content around a news event or story, but much like the old model of content production, there is still little emphasis on making sure that the content is effectively distributed, across platforms and communities. The cycle no longer stops after a piece is written or a story is curated from the social web. The story is ever evolving, and the post-production is just as important.

Though there are plenty of journalists doing a great job at recognizing that — and though news organizations themselves are increasingly putting emphasis on content amplification — the creation of content, rather than the distribution of it, remains the primary focus of news outlets.

The coming year will see a more balanced approach. Whether it’s a written story or one curated from the citizenry using social media tools, we will see a growing emphasis placed on content amplification through distribution, and an increasing effort to ensure that the most accurate and verified information is reaching the audience that needs it. Information will, in this environment, inevitably reach the citizenry; at stake is the quality of the information that does the reaching. If content is king, distribution is queen.

Image by Hans Poldoja used under a Creative Commons license.

18:00

Steve Buttry: From a dropped paywall to a social media Pulitzer, expect a year of transformation

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Next up is longtime digital journalist Steve Buttry, the director of community engagement and social media at the Journal Register Co. & Digital First Media.

We will see more newspaper-company transactions in 2012. After a few years where no one wanted to sell at the price the market had dropped to, we’ve had Journal Register Co., the Oklahoman, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and the Omaha World-Herald (am I forgetting one?) sell in the second half of 2011. I believe those sales have helped set the market value, and some people who were refusing to sell will swallow their losses and get out of the newspaper business.

In the transactions mentioned above, people with sufficient wealth appear to have bought the companies outright, taking on little or no debt. (Take the World-Herald, which was bought by the ultimate rich person, Warren Buffett, at the helm of the ultimate public company, Berkshire Hathaway.) I believe we’ll see more transactions involving publicly held companies in 2012. We may also see more creative transactions that fall short of a sale, such as the Journal Register Co./Digital First Media deal to manage MediaNews Group.

I think Google+ will add a new feature (probably more than one, but one will get all the attention) that will make more of a splash than the initial launch of G+ did.

At least one Pulitzer Prize winner (most likely Breaking News Reporting) will have used Twitter and/or Facebook significantly in its coverage and its entry, and the social media use will be cited by the judges (or their refusal to cite it will be glaring).

The winner of the 2012 presidential election will work harder on reaching voters through social media than through the professional media.

Gene Weingarten will write a disapproving column about the changing news business that is funny but dead wrong. (After last year, I had to throw in one sure thing.)

Those are third-person predictions about what other people/companies will do. This last new prediction should carry the disclaimer of obvious self-interest, since I am leading community engagement and social media efforts for the company — but I am confident that Digital First Media will continue to lead the way in transforming the digital news business.

Beyond that, I will re-offer last year’s predictions, since they largely didn’t happen in 2011 (I suppose I can claim #newnewtwitter as being partial fulfillment, though it doesn’t include the features I mentioned):

  • Twitter will make some notable upgrades, including targeting and editing of tweets, historical searching, and some innovative commercial uses.
  • A leader will emerge in location-based news, social media, and commerce.
  • We will see some major realignment of journalism and news-industry organizations. Most likely: the merger of ASNE and APME, mergers of some state press associations, mergers of at least two national press organizations, and mergers of some reporter-beat associations. One or more journalism organizations will close.
  • At least one high-profile news organization will drop its paywall.
15:00

Paul Bradshaw: Collaboration! Data! 2012 will see news outlets turning talk into action

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Next up is Paul Bradshaw, the author of the Online Journalism Handbook and a visiting professor at City University London.

The problem with making predictions is that a year is too short a timescale; and five is too long. The secret, I’ve realized, is to actually talk about things you already know are going to happen, and then accept all the glory when they actually do.

Having broken the Magicians’ Circle of journalistic punditry, then, here are the developments I see shaping 2012.

1. 2012 will be the year we finally move away from the traditional homepage

Liveblogging has been taken up by the news industry more enthusiastically than perhaps any other web-native form of journalism. It’s sticky, great for SEO, and provides a simple way to turn a newsroom used to daily news cycles into a rolling news operation.

Indeed, its influence has been so great that some news organizations are seriously considering the very way they present their news — and in 2012 I think that influence will generate significant changes in how certain media organizations make that presentation.

The “stream” as an interface will move from being the preserve of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to being a serious consideration for news website homepages. We’re all 24-hour news channels now.

2. In 2012, “Collaboration Is King”

If you’re not already tired of conference speakers staging their own coronations where some aspect of journalism is crowned “king” — from content to curation and context to conversation — expect there to be another one in 2012.

I’m betting on “collaboration”: partly with users who have valuable expertise to share; but also between media organizations, strapped for cash and looking for new economies and new opportunities.

3. News organizations turn talk into action on data

In 2009 and 2010, the MPs’ expenses and Wikileaks stories helped news organizations see the potential of data journalism. In 2011, they spent plenty of time talking about it. In 2012, more of them will be ready to start doing it.

At the BBC, the College of Journalism has embarked upon a significant training program to build data journalism literacy among the corporation’s journalists, with other broadcasters making plans in the same area. The Guardian and The FT continue to set the pace for the UK newspaper industry, and the magazine industry is starting to look at the possibilities of data, too.

This slow skilling up of journalists can expect to get a fresh injection of pace with further open data developments in 2012, from the UK government’s attempt to stimulate the economy with further data releases, to the “carrot and stick” of pushing releases of data at an EU level. Any news organization that is serious about its fourth estate role is building the skills to interrogate those datasets.

15:00

Dan Kennedy: 2012 will bring “the great retrenchment” among newspaper publishers

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Next up is Boston-based media commenter Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University, a regular panelist on WGBH-TV’s “Beat the Press,” and the author of the Media Nation blog.

Following years of retreat in the face of shrinking readership, mounting financial losses, and a rising chorus of digital visionaries telling them they’re doing it all wrong, 2012 will be a year of retrenchment for newspaper publishers.

Still standing some three years after the near-implosion of the newspaper industry in 2008 and 2009, executives will point to their continued existence as proof that their situation was never as bad as it seemed, and that a few tweaks here and there will restore them to pink-cheeked, if downsized, health.

Their rallying cry will be Dean Starkman’s essay in the November/December 2011 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, “Confidence Game.” In the course of nearly 8,000 words, Starkman dismisses those he calls the “news gurus” (principally Clay Shirky and Jeff Jarvis), arguing they are more interested in promoting their own the-sky-is-falling agenda than in the fate of public-interest journalism. Starkman calls for the preservation of traditional journalistic institutions, which brought a memorable retort from Shirky:

Saying newspapers will provide a stable home for reporters, just as soon as we figure out how to make newspapers stable, is like saying that if we had some ham, we could have a ham sandwich, if we had some bread.

Starkman’s essay is actually a nuanced, deeply intelligent meditation on the future of journalism, but it’s the caricature — newspapers good, news gurus bad — that traditionalists will embrace. That is especially true with respect to the notion that online readers have been getting a free ride, and that it’s time to insist that they start paying.

At the Boston Globe, for instance, several staff members have taken to tweeting “This is why we pay for journalism” whenever their paper has published something particularly noteworthy — a reference to the Globe’s newly instituted paywall. Never mind that we have always paid for journalism — until recently, primarily through advertising. Never mind that NPR, some commercial broadcast outlets and a rising tide of non-profit news organizations are producing excellent journalism every day that is paid for by someone other than the end user. The unspoken message is, We hard-working journalists have been giving away our work for 15 years, and we’re finally putting a stop to it.

In fact, there are reasons to hope the traditional newspaper industry might have a bit more life left in it than we thought a few years ago. The Globe and The New York Times, both owned by The New York Times Company, are pioneering the use of flexible paywalls that keep much of their content open to social networks and blogs while imposing a fee on regular readers. The Times, at least, has had some success; the Globe has not yet released any numbers. Publishers everywhere are hoping to emulate them.

The forces that have been undermining newspapers since the rise of the commercial web in the mid-1990s will come back to the fore.

Since advertising comprises an ever-shrinking share of revenues, publishers have to persuade readers to pay in the form of higher prices for print and something — anything — for online access. The alternative is to continue sliding toward oblivion. And despite some promising experiments here and there, it’s still not at all clear what would replace newspapers, especially at the local level. For every community that has a high-quality non-profit news site like Voice of San Diego (currently experiencing its own problems) and the New Haven Independent, or a for-profit like The Batavian or Baristanet, there are hundreds without anything but their shrinking, debt-ridden, chain-owned local newspaper.

The great newspaper retrenchment may prove to be more than a dead-cat bounce. As the economy slowly improves, the newspaper business may well enjoy a semi-revival. But before long, the forces that have been undermining newspapers since the rise of the commercial web in the mid-1990s will come back to the fore. Some progressive newspaper executives, like John Paton of Digital First Media, are trying to figure out how to combine the best of the new and the old before it’s too late. For the most part, though, you can be reasonably sure that newspaper companies will continue to cut costs, maximize profits (or minimize losses), and do their best ostrich imitations until they find themselves under siege once again.

After all, they’re standing up for traditional values — and what could be more traditional than failing to plan for the future?

Wall image via Mark Heard used under a Creative Commons license.

14:00

Emily Bell: 2012 will be the year of the network

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Next up is Emily Bell, formerly the director of digital content for Guardian News and Media and currently the director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Making predictions about journalism is a hopeless business: Jay Rosen, who is much wiser than I am said he never does it, and I salute him for that. But like Karaoke, some of the things you end up doing during the holiday period are regrettable but fun.

What we saw in 2011 was a sudden consciousness among news organizations and individual journalists that the network, and the tools which create it, are not social media wrappers for reporting but part of the reporting process itself. The poster child for this is the inimitable Andy Carvin, with his amazingly valuable journalism conducted throughout the Arab Spring. The network sensibility will grow in newsrooms which currently don’t tend to have it as part of their process — it is still seen in the vast majority of places as more of a “nice to have” rather than a “must have.” The strongest news organizations we know are those which can leverage both the real time social web and provide relevant timely context and analysis.

While this use of distributed tools and new platforms continues at speed, I think we will also see some much-needed closer scrutiny on what this new reality means for journalism and its constant redefinition of products and services. Or at least I hope so. While a fan of a networked approach, there are important caveats. It is remarkable how much journalism is now conducted on third party commercial websites which do not have journalism as a core purpose — Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. — and the attendant ignorance of what this means in the long term will begin to be addressed. Issues about privacy and user information, about the protection of sources, about ownership of IP , about archiving, and about how we can have a “fourth estate” in a digital world will all become vital for individual journalists and institutions to understand.

Journalists have always been very skilled at stories and projects and fairly awful at thinking about platforms. We need more engineers who want to be journalists, and we need to teach students more about the implications of publishing in a digital environment — whatever the format their journalism originally takes.

December 20 2011

16:00

Robert Hernandez: For journalism’s future, the killer app is credibility

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Next up is multimedia journalist Robert Hernandez, aka WebJournalist, currently an assistant professor at USC Annenberg.

Granted, this will make for a weak lede, but allow me to start this piece with a disclosure: I, like many of you, am not a fan of prediction posts.

Typically, they aren’t based on anything real and are often used to make grand statements we all roll our eyes at… and don’t get me started on how often they’re wrong.

That aside, here’s another piece to roll your eyes at.

But here’s a tweak, this is not really a prediction… this is, to be honest, more of a hopeful wish.

Okay, ready? Here goes.

We know that Content is King. There is no doubting this concept. If you don’t have ‘it,’ no one is going to engage with you.

We know that Distribution is Queen. In this modern age, what’s the point of having ‘it’ if no one will find it?

My prediction is that this ruling monarchy will be augmented by… a prince. Perhaps a duke? Whatever. And it’s called Credibility.

In the age that we live in, content is relatively cheap. Anyone can create it. If not through their computer, everyone’s phone can basically do live shots, record newsworthy sound clips and file stories. Some can do interactive 360 videos or augmented reality presentations. Really cool stuff.

And everyone can distribute their content in 140 characters, their own livestream network or their blog (how traditional).

With technology empowering everyone with the ability to create and to distribute, I predict — and wish — that in 2012 the new dominating factor will be Credibility. Actually, earned Credibility.

What will stand out from the sea of content will be the voices we turn to time and time again. Trusted sources of news and information will transcend their mastheads and company brands…and become their own brand. Brands that are solely based on being known for the quality and reliability of their work.

Just to make Gene Weingarten angry, brands brands brands brands brands. Look, that’s all marketing speak for the most important quality journalists have to offer: Credibility.

And, sure, some of us get a head start by being associated with the Washington Post, NPR, CNN, etc. But I predict — hope — that in the coming year, individual journalists will be valued more than their distribution companies. More than the media format of their story.

Judged by the content of their character. (Wait, that’s a different dream.)

Many news consumers are tired of the political left and the political right fighting, and making journalism — or I should actually say “journalism” — the fight’s platform. Hell, I’m tired of it, too.

We want people who will cut through the spin and tell us what’s going on, how it will affect us and what can we do about it. We want transparent news. We want news that, while it may not always achieve that goal, honestly strives to be objective.

We want to trust journalism. And to do so, we need to trust journalists.

And bypassing the blogger-vs-tweeter-vs-media company-vs-journalist debate, it is going to come down to one thing: Credibility.

Can I reliably trust you to tell me what is going on? If the answer is yes, then I don’t care if you work out of a newsroom or out of your garage.

Let’s see what the new year brings, but that is my predication…that is my wish.

Okay, roll your eyes. Or post a comment. Share your thoughts.

Correction: We initially listed Richard, rather than Robert, Hernandez as the author of this post. We deeply regret the error, and want to stress that it’s the R. Hernandez of USC, rather than the R. Hernandez of Berkeley, who wrote this prediction. Apologies to both.

Image by vagawi used under a Creative Commons license.

December 19 2011

17:00

Dave Winer: We need to improve tech criticism. Here’s how.

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Today, it’s web pioneer Dave Winer, a man key to the evolution of many of the publishing technologies we use online today, and currently a visiting scholar in journalism at NYU.

Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard has asked me to contribute a piece for their end-of-year roundup. I did one last year. I guess we were thinking about paywalls then. It’s not such a hot topic now.

At the end of this year I’m thinking about the need for proper criticism of software, alongside other arts like theater, movies, music, books, travel, food and architecture. It’s finally time to stop being all gee whiz about this stuff. Tech is woven into the fabric of our culture, as much as or more so than the other arts. And it’s headed toward being even more interwoven.

We all need this, on all sides of the art. As users and creators. There’s very little understanding of how we work. That’s illustrated perfectly by the Isaacson bio of Steve Jobs. We now see what a disaster this is going to be, from the future-historian point of view.

I’ve thought that perhaps a panel of product creators could give awards to journalism that really captures the spirit of technology. The goal would be to move away from the lone inventor myth and see tech projects as more like film production or a even more apt, a TV series. Software is a process. It’s not like Starry Night, as Joni Mitchell said, but it’s not like a song either. It’s like Breaking Bad or Dexter or Boardwalk Empire.1

If I could nudge the editorial people in a new direction, this would be it.

Let’s advance the art of technology criticism.

PS: I’d also like to see J-school students learn how to manage infrastructure.

Notes
  1. And when a developer sells out and the acquirer shuts the service down, it’s like Deadwood, leaving the users in a lurch, wishing to know how it turned out! :-(

    Ian MacShane: “You’ll never know what the fuck really happened.”

    Joni Mitchell: “That’s one thing that’s always, like, been a difference between, like, the performing arts, and being a painter, you know. A painter does a painting, and he paints it, and that’s it, you know. He has the joy of creating it, it hangs on a wall, and somebody buys it, and maybe somebody buys it again, or maybe nobody buys it and it sits up in a loft somewhere until he dies. But he never, you know, nobody ever, nobody ever said to Van Gogh, ‘Paint a Starry Night again, man!’ You know? He painted it and that was it.”

14:00

Nicholas Carr: 2012 will bring the appification of media

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

To kick things off, it’s Nicholas Carr, the veteran technology writer, whose most recent book — The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains — was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize.

For years now, the line between the software business and the media business has been blurring. Software applications used to take the form of packaged goods, sold through retail outlets at set prices. Today, as a result of cloud computing and other advances, applications look more and more like media products. They’re ad-supported, subscribed to, continually updated, and the content they incorporate is often as important as the functions they provide. As traditional media companies have moved to distribute their wares in digital form — as code, in other words — they’ve come to resemble software companies. They provide not only original content, but an array of online tools and functions that allow customers to view, manipulate, and add to the content in myriad ways.

During 2011, the blending of software and media accelerated greatly, thanks to what might be termed the dis-integration of the internet. The old general-purpose web, where everyone visited the same sites and saw the same stuff, is rapidly being supplanted by specialized packages of digital content geared to particular devices—iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Kindle, Nook, Xbox — or to particular members-only sites like Facebook and Google+. Not only has the net left its Wild West days; it’s entered the era of the gated suburban subdivision. As part of this trend, the open, html-based website is being replaced, or at least supplemented, by the proprietary app. In app stores, the already blurry line between software and media disappears altogether. Apps are as much content-delivery services as they are conventional software programs. Newspapers, magazines, books, games, music albums, TV shows: All are being reimagined as apps. Appified, if you will.

Appification promises to be the major force reshaping media in general and news media in particular during 2012. The influence will be exerted directly, through a proliferation of specialized media apps, as well as indirectly, through changes in consumer attitudes, expectations, and purchasing habits. There are all sorts of implications for newspapers, but perhaps the most important is that the app explosion makes it much easier to charge for online news and other content. That’s true not only when the content is delivered through formal apps but also when it is delivered through traditional websites, which may themselves come to be viewed by customers as a form of app. In the old world of the open web, paying for online content seemed at best weird and at worst repugnant. In the new world of the app, paying for online content suddenly seems normal. What’s an app store but a series of paywalls?

Appification opens to newspapers the powerful marketing and pricing strategy that the Berkeley economist (and now Google executive) Hal Varian dubs “versioning.” Long a cornerstone of the software business, versioning is the practice of creating many versions of the same underlying informational product, packaging them in different ways, and selling them at different prices to different sets of customers. A software maker, for example, may give away a bare-bones version of an application, sell a version with more features to mainstream consumers at a modest price, and offer a high-end version, perhaps combined with added services, to professional users at a premium price. As Varian explains, “the point of versioning is to get the consumers to sort themselves into different groups according to their willingness to pay. Consumers with high willingness to pay choose one version, while consumers with lower willingnesses [sic] to pay choose a different version. The producer chooses the versions so as to induce the consumers to ‘self select’ into appropriate categories.”

We already see versioning strategies at work in the “metered” programs operated by a growing number of papers, including the Financial Times, The New York Times, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Readers lacking a willingness to pay get limited access to the papers’ sites for free. Readers who value the content more highly, and hence are willing to pay for it, subscribe for a fee to gain unlimited access. And readers with the greatest willingness to pay shell out even more money to receive both the print edition and unfettered online access. Appification provides an opportunity to create many more versions of the same basic content and deliver them to different customer segments. In 2012, we’ll see versioning strategies become not only more common in the newspaper business but more intricate, sophisticated, and lucrative.

The orthodox view among online pundits has been that paywalls and subscription fees won’t work for general-interest newspapers, that people simply won’t pay for a bundle of news online. Last year, media blogger Jeff Jarvis dismissed The New York Times’s metered plan as “cockeyed economics.” Earlier this year, Nieman Lab blogger Martin Langeveld opined that “newspapers are slowly digging their graves by building paywalls.” It seems likely that 2012 will be the year when we stop hearing such gloomy proclamations. Well-designed versioning strategies, spanning various devices, formats, functions, content bundles, and access plans, will provide smart newspapers with new ways to charge for their products, in both digital and print form, without sacrificing the unique opportunities presented by online distribution. That won’t mean the end of the industry’s struggles, but it does portend a brighter future. And that’s good news.

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