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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.

April 20 2012

14:00

How Ushahidi Deals With Data Hugging Disorder

At Ushahidi, we have interacted with various organizations around the world, and the key thing we remember from reaching out to some NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in Kenya is that we faced a lot of resistance when we began in 2008, with organizations not willing to share data which was often in PDFs and not in machine-readable format.

This was especially problematic as we were crowdsourcing information about the events that happened that year in Kenya. Our partners in other countries have had similar challenges in gathering relevant and useful data that is locked away in cabinets, yet was paid for by taxpayers. The progress in the Gov 2.0 and open data space around the world has greatly encouraged our team and community.

When you've had to deal with data hugging disorder of NGOs, open data is a welcome antidote and opportunity. Our role at Ushahidi is to provide software to help collect data, and visualize the near real-time information that's relevant for citizens. The following are some thoughts from our team and what I had hoped to share at OGP in Brazil.

ushahidi.jpg

Government Data is important

  • It is often comprehensive - It covers the entire country. For example, a national census covers an entire country, so it has a large sample, whereas other questionnaires have a smaller sample.
  • Verified - Government data is "clean" data; it has been verified -- for example, the number of schools in a particular region. Crowdsourcing projects done by government can be quite dependable. (Read this example of how Crowdmap was used by the Ministry of Agriculture in Afghanistan to collect commodity prices.)
  • Official - government data forms the basis of government decision making and policy. If you want to influence government policy and interventions, it needs to be based on official data.
  • Expensive - Government data because it is comprehensive and verified is expensive to collect -- this expense is covered by the taxpayer.

Platforms are important

Libraries were built before people could read. Libraries drove the demand for literacy. Therefore, it makes sense that data and data platforms exist before before citizens have become literate in data. As David Eaves wrote in the Open Knowledge Foundation blog:

It is worth remembering: We didn't build libraries for an already literate citizenry. We built libraries to help citizens become literate. Today we build open data portals not because we have a data or public policy literate citizenry, we build them so that citizens may become literate in data, visualization, coding and public policy.

Some countries like Kenya now have the data, and now open-source platforms available not just for Kenya but worldwide. What are we missing?

Platforms like Ushahidi are like fertile land, and having open data is like having good seeds. (Good data equals very good seeds.) But fertile land and seeds are not much without people and actions on that very land. We often speak about technology being 10 percent of what needs to go into a deployment project -- the rest is often partnership, hard work and, most of all, community. Ordinary citizens can be farmers of the land; we need to get ordinary citizens involved at the heart of open government for it to powerful.

Ushahidi's role

Accessible data: The ownership debate has been settled as we agree government data belongs to the citizens. However, ownership is useless without access. If you own a car that you do not have access to, that car is useless to you. In the same way, if our citizens own data they have no access to, it's useless to them. Ownership is exercised through access. Ushahidi makes data accessible -- our technology "meets you where you are." No new devices are needed to interact with the data.

Digestible data: Is Africa overpopulated? If Africa is overpopulated or risks overpopulation, what intervention should we employ? Some have suggested sterilization. However, the data shows us that the more education a woman has, the less babies she has. Isn't a better intervention increasing education opportunities for women? This intervention also has numerous additional advantages for a country -- more educated people are usually more economically productive.

Drive demand for relevant data: Governments are frustrated that the data they have released is not being used. Is this because data release is driven mainly by the supply side, not the demand side -- governments release what they want to release, not what is wanted? How do we identify data that will be useful to the grassroots? We can crowdsource demand for data. For example: The National Taxpayer Alliance in Kenya has shown that when communities demand and receive relevant data, they become more engaged and empowered. There are rural communities suing MPs for misusing constituency development funds. They knew the funds were misused because of the availability of relevant data.

Closing the feedback loop: The key to behavioral change lies in feedback loops. These are very powerful, as exemplified by the incredible success of platforms like Facebook, which are dashboards of our social lives and that of our networks. What if we had a dashboard of accountability and transparency for the government? How about a way to find out if the services funded and promised for the public were indeed delivered and the service level of said services? For example: The concept of Huduma in Kenya, showed an early prototype of what such a dashboard would look like. We are working on more ways of using the Ushahidi platform to provide for this specific use case. Partnership announcements will be made in due course about this.

All this, To what end? Efficiency and change

If we as citizens can point out what is broken, and if the governments can be responsive to the various problems there are, we can perhaps see a delta in corruption and service provision.

Our role at Ushahidi is making sure there's no lack of technology to address citizen's concerns. Citizens can also be empowered to assist each other if the data is provided in an open way.

Open Data leading to Open Government

It takes the following to bridge open data and open government:

  • Community building - Co-working spaces allow policy makers, developers and civic hackers to congregate, have conversations, and build together. Examples are places like the iHub in Kenya, Bongo Hive in Zambia, and Code For America meetups in San Fransisco, just to name a few.
  • Information gathering and sharing - Crowdsourcing plus traditional methods give not only static data but a near real-time view of what's going on on the ground.
  • Infrastructure sharing - Build capacity once, reuse many times -- e.g., Crowdmap.
  • Capacity building - If it works in Africa, it can work anywhere. Developing countries have a particularly timely opportunity of building an ecosystem that is responsive to citizens and can help to leapfrog by taking open data, adding real-time views, and most of all, acting upon that data to change the status quo.
  • Commitment from government - We can learn from Chicago (a city with a history of graft and fraud), where current CTO John Tolva and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel have been releasing high-value data sets, running hackathons, and putting up performance dashboards. The narrative of Chicago is changing to one of a startup haven! What if we could do that for cities with the goal of making smart cities truly smart from the ground up? At the very least, surfacing the real-time view of conditions on the ground, from traffic, energy, environment and other information that can be useful for urban planners and policy makers. Our city master plans need a dose of real-time information so we can build for our future and not for our past.
  • Always including local context and collaboration in the building, implementation and engagement with citizens.

Would love to hear from you about how Ushahidi can continue to partner with you, your organization or community to provide tools for processing data easily and, most importantly, collaboratively.

Daudi Were, programs director for Ushahidi, contributed to this post.

A longer version of this story can be found on Ushahidi's blog.

January 17 2012

13:30

A GarageBand for ebooks: Simplifying publishing could mean a flood of new content

It’s not just the platform — it’s the tools.

That’s the line that kept coming to mind this morning as I read this Ars Technica scoop on what Apple has in store for its press event in New York Thursday. Here’s Ars reporter Chris Foresman:

While speculation has so far centered on digital textbooks, sources close to the matter have confirmed to Ars that Apple will announce tools to help create interactive e-books — the “GarageBand for e-books,” so to speak — and expand its current platform to distribute them to iPhone and iPad users.

…[A]uthoring standards-compliant e-books (despite some promises to the contrary) is not as simple as running a Word document of a manuscript through a filter. The current state of software tools continues to frustrate authors and publishers alike, with several authors telling Ars that they wish Apple or some other vendor would make a simple app that makes the process as easy as creating a song in GarageBand.

We’ll see on Thursday, of course — but making ebook publishing easier has the potential to have a significant disruptive impact on information industries.

The first disruption of the web, after all, was making it possible for people to publish online without caring about money. Ebooks have already allowed a new generation of small-scale (and large-scale) publishers to reach an audience — sometimes for money, sometimes just for passion. But the process of ebook publishing today reminds me a bit of the early days of blogging, when publishing online was possible but still a pain.

The web as a platform dates back to 1991, and nerds like me were publishing personal webpages not long after. But it took the development of tools like Blogger, Greymatter, and Movable Type — nearly a decade after the web launched — for the power of personal publishing to start to be fulfilled.

Doing it by hand meant learning HTML, then manually FTPing an updated .html file to a remote server. It wasn’t outrageously complicated, to be honest — but it was enough of an obstacle to keep most folks from writing online. When tools reduced personal publishing to typing words in a box and clicking “Post,” a whole new universe of potential contributors was suddenly ready to pitch in, and you saw the blogging explosion of the early 2000s.

And further improvements in tools — think Tumblr and Twitter — have brought even more people to publishing. For a host of creative endeavors — think desktop publishing, motion graphics, video editing, data visualization, coding — it’s the arrival of tools or frameworks that abstract away complexity that marks when they move from niche to mainstream (or at least slightly more mainstream).

While there are many hundreds of thousands of them published every year, books have historically been the most constrained form of publishing. Getting a book into print usually convincing an agent, then an editor, then a publishing house that your work was worthy — and that’s before trying to convince the Barnes & Nobles of the world it should have a place on their shelves.

Ebooks have blown open that world of exclusivity — but the ease of use still isn’t there.

There’s a long list of tools that try to make ebook creation easier, from big names (Apple’s Pages, Adobe’s InDesign) to smaller ones (Scrivener) to open source alternatives like calibre. But it’s still a complicated enough business that there’s a healthy ecosystem of companies offering ebook conversion services.

That task is made more complicated by the format divide between Amazon, which uses a proprietary .mobi-based format called AZW, and most other ebook platforms, which tend to stick to a flavor of .epub. My girlfriend is a book editor (buy her books!), and that’s given me a front-row seat to the still-frustrating world of ebook conversion and formatting. The world of iBooks is particularly frustrating because its greater multimedia and formatting capabilities. (The Kindle keeps display options significantly simpler. Although that too is changing with Format 8, the engine that runs underneath the Kindle Fire and, presumably, future tablet Kindles.)

Here are a few questions to ponder as we wait to hear the details from Apple on Thursday:

Will ease of ebook authoring come with greater ease of ebook publishing? Once you have a properly formatted file, getting your ebook in the Kindle Store is a breeze. That’s not true of the iBookstore, where — perhaps inspired by Apple’s app-approval process — it can take weeks from submission to first sale. That’s kept some publishers from jumping on Apple’s bandwagon, particularly in the journalism world where a couple weeks’ wait can have a significant impact on a work’s timeliness. If Apple wants to make the production process easier, will it also make its go-to-market process easier?

Will there be an iBooks for Android? The Kindle and Nook platforms have the advantage of living on multiple types of devices: both on their own e-ink and tablet devices and on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. Apple’s iBooks thus far lives only on iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads. If they’re aiming at widespread adoption in schools, sticking to Apple-only devices could be a hindrance. Apple’s bitten this bullet before, putting out a version of iTunes for Windows when it became clear keeping music purchasing Mac-only was a recipe for irrelevance. An iBooks for Mac seems like an obvious next move, but are sales of non-iOS smartphones and tablets sufficient to also spread the platform in new directions?

Will this new tool publish in multiple formats or simply create iBooks? Apple’s platform is in either second or third place in the ebook race, well behind Amazon and possibly behind the Nook. Will Apple see a new easy-to-use tool as a way to support its ebook platform — by pushing more content into it — or as a way to gain widespread usage by also supporting the bigger Kindle market? The former would support iBooks; the latter would support Apple’s Mac business, since presumably the software would only run on Macs.

Apple’s gone both ways on this before. GarageBand creates MP3s that will play anywhere; iWeb creates webpages that can be uploaded to any server and viewed in any browser; iWork apps will export into the more popular Office formats like Word’s .doc and Excel’s .xls. In each of those cases, Apple supported market-standard technology because the market had the power. But for years, music purchased through its iTunes Store famously included DRM that only let it work on its industry-leading iPods.

If ebook publishing really does become super easy, how should news publishers fit it into their workflows? Imagine it really did take just a few clicks to get a work onto an ebook platform. What would it make sense to publish there? Should every three-part newspaper series be turned into an ebook? Should every sports season produce a newspaper-generated ebook made up of the year’s game stories, player profiles, and so on? Should a compilation of a newspaper’s restaurant reviews be pushed out as a $2.99 ebook each year?

To the extent that news publishers have dipped their toes into ebooks, it’s been for only the most special projects. But if publishing is dirt simple, what other kinds of content should find its way into the paid-content marketplace? And, on the flip side, how would publishers (book, news, and otherwise) respond to an even greater flood of competing content than the ebook world has already produced?

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.

October 24 2011

12:49

Choosing a strategy for content: 4 Ws and a H

Something interesting happened to journalism when it moved from print and broadcast to the web. Aspects of the process that we barely thought about started to be questioned: the ‘story’ itself seemed less than fundamental. Decisions that you didn’t need to make as a journalist – such as what medium you would use – were becoming part of the job.

In fact, a whole raft of new decisions now needed to be made.

For those launching a new online journalism project, these questions are now increasingly tackled with a content strategy, a phrase and approach which, it seems to me, began outside of the news industry (where the content strategy had been settled on so long ago that it became largely implicit) and has steadily been rediscovered by journalists and publishers.

‘Web first’, for example, is a content strategy; the Seattle Times’s decision to focus on creation, curation and community is a content strategy. Reed Business Information’s reshaping of its editorial structures is, in part, a content strategy:

Why does a journalist need a content strategy?

I’ve written previously about the style challenge facing journalists in a multi platform environment: where before a journalist had few decisions to make about how to treat a story (the medium was given, the formats limited, the story supreme), now it can be easy to let old habits restrict the power, quality and impact of reporting.

Below, I’ve tried to boil down these new decisions into 4 different types – and one overarching factor influencing them all. These are decisions that often have to be made quickly in the face of changing circumstances – I hope that fleshing them out in this way will help in making those decisions quicker and more effectively.

1. Format (“How?”)

We’re familiar with formats: the news in brief; the interview; the profile; the in-depth feature; and so on. They have their conventions and ingredients. If you’re writing a report you know that you will need a reaction quote, some context, and something to wrap it up (a quote; what happens next; etc.). If you’re doing an interview you’ll need to gather some colour about where it takes place, and how the interviewee reacts at various points.

Formats are often at their most powerful when they are subverted: a journalist who knows the format inside out can play with it, upsetting the reader’s expectations for the most impact. This is the tension between repetition and contrast that underlies not just journalism but good design, and even music.

As online journalism develops dozens of new formats have become available. Here are just a few:

  • the liveblog;
  • the audio slideshow;
  • the interactive map;
  • the app;
  • the podcast;
  • the explainer;
  • the portal;
  • the aggregator;
  • the gallery

Formats are chosen because they suit the thing being covered, its position in the publisher’s news environment, and the resources of the publisher.

Historically, for example, when a story first broke for most publishers a simple report was the only realistic option. But after that, they might commission a profile, interview, or deeper feature or package – if the interest and the resources warranted that.

The subject matter would also be a factor. A broadcaster might be more inclined to commission a package on a story if colourful characters or locations were involved and were accessible. They might also send a presenter down for a two-way.

These factors still come into play now we have access to a much wider range of formats – but a wider understanding of those formats is also needed.

  • Does the event take place over a geographical area, and users will want to see the movement or focus on a particular location? Then a map might be most appropriate.
  • Are things changing so fast that a traditional ‘story’ format is going to be inadequate? Then a liveblog may work better.
  • Is there a wealth of material out there being produced by witnesses? A gallery, portal or aggregator might all be good choices.
  • Have you secured an interview with a key character, and a set of locations or items that tell their own story? Is it an ongoing or recurring story? An audio slideshow or video interview may be the most powerful choice of format.
  • Are you on the scene and raw video of the event is going to have the most impact? Grab your phone and film – or stream.

2. Medium (“What?”)

Depending on what format has been chosen, the medium may be chosen for you too. But a podcast can be audio or video; a liveblog can involve text and multimedia; an app can be accessed on a phone, a webpage, a desktop widget, or Facebook.

This is not just about how you convey information about what’s going on (you’ll notice I avoid the use of ‘story’, as this is just one possible choice of format) but how the user accesses it and uses it.

A podcast may be accessed on the move; a Facebook app on mobile, in a social context; and so on. These are factors to consider as you produce your content.

3. Platform (“Where?”)

Likewise, the platforms where the content is to be distributed need careful consideration.

A liveblog’s reporting might be done through Twitter and aggregated on your own website. A map may be compiled in a Google spreadsheet but published through Google Maps and embedded on your blog.

An audioboo may have subscribers on iTunes or on the Audioboo app itself, and its autoposting feature may attract large numbers of listeners through Twitter.

Some call the choice of platform a choice of ‘channel’ but that does not do justice to the interactive and social nature of many of these platforms. Facebook or Twitter are not just channels for publishing live updates from a blog, but a place where people engage with you and with each other, exchanging information which can become part of your reporting (whether you want it to or not).

Your content strategy will need to take account of what happens on those platforms: which tweets are most retweeted or argued with; reacting to information posted in your blog or liveblog comments; and so on.

4. Scheduling (“When?”)

The choice of platform(s) will also influence your choice of timing. There will be different optimal times for publishing to Facebook, Twitter, email mailing lists, blogs, and websites.

There will also be optimal times for different formats (as the Washington Post found). A short news report may suit morning commuters; an audio slideshow or video may be best scheduled for the evening. Something humorous may play best on a Friday afternoon; something practical on a Wednesday afternoon once the user has moved past the early week slog.

Infographic: The Best Times To Post To Twitter & Facebook

This webcast on content strategy gives a particular insight into how they treat scheduling – not just across the day but across the week.

5. “Why?”

Print and broadcast rest on objectives so implicit that we barely think about them. The web, however, may have different objectives. Instead of attracting the widest numbers of readers, for example, we may want to engage users as much as possible.

That makes a big difference in any content strategy:

  • The rapid rise of liveblogs and explainers as a format can be partly explained by their stickiness when compared to traditional news articles.
  • Demand for video content has exceeded supply for some publishers because it is possible to embed advertising with content in a way which isn’t possible with text.
  • Infographics have exploded as they lend themselves so well to viral distribution.

Distribution is often one answer to ‘why?’, and introduces two elements I haven’t mentioned so far: search engine optimisation and social media optimisation. Blogs as a platform and text as a medium are generally better optimised for search engines, for example. But video and images are better optimised for social network platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

And the timing of publishing might be informed by analytics of what people are searching for, updating Facebook about, or tweeting about right now.

The objective(s), of course, should recur as a consideration throughout all the stages above. And some stages will have different objectives: for distribution, for editorial quality, and for engagement.

Just to confuse things further, the objectives themselves are likely to change as the business models around online and multiplatform publishing evolve.

If I’m going to sum up all of the above in one line, then, it’s this: “Take nothing for granted.”

I’m looking for examples of content strategies for future editions of the book – please let me know if you’d like yours to be featured.


Filed under: online journalism Tagged: content strategy, facebook, formats, infographic, platforms, scheduling, SEO, smo, twitter, video
12:49

Choosing a strategy for content: 4 Ws and a H

Something interesting happened to journalism when it moved from print and broadcast to the web. Aspects of the process that we barely thought about started to be questioned: the ‘story’ itself seemed less than fundamental. Decisions that you didn’t need to make as a journalist – such as what medium you would use – were becoming part of the job.

In fact, a whole raft of new decisions now needed to be made.

For those launching a new online journalism project, these questions are now increasingly tackled with a content strategy, a phrase and approach which, it seems to me, began outside of the news industry (where the content strategy had been settled on so long ago that it became largely implicit) and has steadily been rediscovered by journalists and publishers.

‘Web first’, for example, is a content strategy; the Seattle Times’s decision to focus on creation, curation and community is a content strategy. Reed Business Information’s reshaping of its editorial structures is, in part, a content strategy:

Why does a journalist need a content strategy?

I’ve written previously about the style challenge facing journalists in a multi platform environment: where before a journalist had few decisions to make about how to treat a story (the medium was given, the formats limited, the story supreme), now it can be easy to let old habits restrict the power, quality and impact of reporting.

Below, I’ve tried to boil down these new decisions into 4 different types – and one overarching factor influencing them all. These are decisions that often have to be made quickly in the face of changing circumstances – I hope that fleshing them out in this way will help in making those decisions quicker and more effectively.

1. Format (“How?”)

We’re familiar with formats: the news in brief; the interview; the profile; the in-depth feature; and so on. They have their conventions and ingredients. If you’re writing a report you know that you will need a reaction quote, some context, and something to wrap it up (a quote; what happens next; etc.). If you’re doing an interview you’ll need to gather some colour about where it takes place, and how the interviewee reacts at various points.

Formats are often at their most powerful when they are subverted: a journalist who knows the format inside out can play with it, upsetting the reader’s expectations for the most impact. This is the tension between repetition and contrast that underlies not just journalism but good design, and even music.

As online journalism develops dozens of new formats have become available. Here are just a few:

  • the liveblog;
  • the audio slideshow;
  • the interactive map;
  • the app;
  • the podcast;
  • the explainer;
  • the portal;
  • the aggregator;
  • the gallery

Formats are chosen because they suit the thing being covered, its position in the publisher’s news environment, and the resources of the publisher.

Historically, for example, when a story first broke for most publishers a simple report was the only realistic option. But after that, they might commission a profile, interview, or deeper feature or package – if the interest and the resources warranted that.

The subject matter would also be a factor. A broadcaster might be more inclined to commission a package on a story if colourful characters or locations were involved and were accessible. They might also send a presenter down for a two-way.

These factors still come into play now we have access to a much wider range of formats – but a wider understanding of those formats is also needed.

  • Does the event take place over a geographical area, and users will want to see the movement or focus on a particular location? Then a map might be most appropriate.
  • Are things changing so fast that a traditional ‘story’ format is going to be inadequate? Then a liveblog may work better.
  • Is there a wealth of material out there being produced by witnesses? A gallery, portal or aggregator might all be good choices.
  • Have you secured an interview with a key character, and a set of locations or items that tell their own story? Is it an ongoing or recurring story? An audio slideshow or video interview may be the most powerful choice of format.
  • Are you on the scene and raw video of the event is going to have the most impact? Grab your phone and film – or stream.

2. Medium (“What?”)

Depending on what format has been chosen, the medium may be chosen for you too. But a podcast can be audio or video; a liveblog can involve text and multimedia; an app can be accessed on a phone, a webpage, a desktop widget, or Facebook.

This is not just about how you convey information about what’s going on (you’ll notice I avoid the use of ‘story’, as this is just one possible choice of format) but how the user accesses it and uses it.

A podcast may be accessed on the move; a Facebook app on mobile, in a social context; and so on. These are factors to consider as you produce your content.

3. Platform (“Where?”)

Likewise, the platforms where the content is to be distributed need careful consideration.

A liveblog’s reporting might be done through Twitter and aggregated on your own website. A map may be compiled in a Google spreadsheet but published through Google Maps and embedded on your blog.

An audioboo may have subscribers on iTunes or on the Audioboo app itself, and its autoposting feature may attract large numbers of listeners through Twitter.

Some call the choice of platform a choice of ‘channel’ but that does not do justice to the interactive and social nature of many of these platforms. Facebook or Twitter are not just channels for publishing live updates from a blog, but a place where people engage with you and with each other, exchanging information which can become part of your reporting (whether you want it to or not).

Your content strategy will need to take account of what happens on those platforms: which tweets are most retweeted or argued with; reacting to information posted in your blog or liveblog comments; and so on.

4. Scheduling (“When?”)

The choice of platform(s) will also influence your choice of timing. There will be different optimal times for publishing to Facebook, Twitter, email mailing lists, blogs, and websites.

There will also be optimal times for different formats (as the Washington Post found). A short news report may suit morning commuters; an audio slideshow or video may be best scheduled for the evening. Something humorous may play best on a Friday afternoon; something practical on a Wednesday afternoon once the user has moved past the early week slog.

Infographic: The Best Times To Post To Twitter & Facebook

This webcast on content strategy gives a particular insight into how they treat scheduling – not just across the day but across the week.

5. “Why?”

Print and broadcast rest on objectives so implicit that we barely think about them. The web, however, may have different objectives. Instead of attracting the widest numbers of readers, for example, we may want to engage users as much as possible.

That makes a big difference in any content strategy:

  • The rapid rise of liveblogs and explainers as a format can be partly explained by their stickiness when compared to traditional news articles.
  • Demand for video content has exceeded supply for some publishers because it is possible to embed advertising with content in a way which isn’t possible with text.
  • Infographics have exploded as they lend themselves so well to viral distribution.

Distribution is often one answer to ‘why?’, and introduces two elements I haven’t mentioned so far: search engine optimisation and social media optimisation. Blogs as a platform and text as a medium are generally better optimised for search engines, for example. But video and images are better optimised for social network platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

And the timing of publishing might be informed by analytics of what people are searching for, updating Facebook about, or tweeting about right now.

The objective(s), of course, should recur as a consideration throughout all the stages above. And some stages will have different objectives: for distribution, for editorial quality, and for engagement.

Just to confuse things further, the objectives themselves are likely to change as the business models around online and multiplatform publishing evolve.

If I’m going to sum up all of the above in one line, then, it’s this: “Take nothing for granted.”

I’m looking for examples of content strategies for future editions of the book – please let me know if you’d like yours to be featured.


Filed under: online journalism Tagged: content strategy, facebook, formats, infographic, platforms, scheduling, SEO, smo, twitter, video
12:49

Choosing a strategy for content: 4 Ws and a H

Something interesting happened to journalism when it moved from print and broadcast to the web. Aspects of the process that we barely thought about started to be questioned: the ‘story’ itself seemed less than fundamental. Decisions that you didn’t need to make as a journalist – such as what medium you would use – were becoming part of the job.

In fact, a whole raft of new decisions now needed to be made.

For those launching a new online journalism project, these questions are now increasingly tackled with a content strategy, a phrase and approach which, it seems to me, began outside of the news industry (where the content strategy had been settled on so long ago that it became largely implicit) and has steadily been rediscovered by journalists and publishers.

‘Web first’, for example, is a content strategy; the Seattle Times’s decision to focus on creation, curation and community is a content strategy. Reed Business Information’s reshaping of its editorial structures is, in part, a content strategy:

Why does a journalist need a content strategy?

I’ve written previously about the style challenge facing journalists in a multi platform environment: where before a journalist had few decisions to make about how to treat a story (the medium was given, the formats limited, the story supreme), now it can be easy to let old habits restrict the power, quality and impact of reporting.

Below, I’ve tried to boil down these new decisions into 4 different types – and one overarching factor influencing them all. These are decisions that often have to be made quickly in the face of changing circumstances – I hope that fleshing them out in this way will help in making those decisions quicker and more effectively.

1. Format (“How?”)

We’re familiar with formats: the news in brief; the interview; the profile; the in-depth feature; and so on. They have their conventions and ingredients. If you’re writing a report you know that you will need a reaction quote, some context, and something to wrap it up (a quote; what happens next; etc.). If you’re doing an interview you’ll need to gather some colour about where it takes place, and how the interviewee reacts at various points.

Formats are often at their most powerful when they are subverted: a journalist who knows the format inside out can play with it, upsetting the reader’s expectations for the most impact. This is the tension between repetition and contrast that underlies not just journalism but good design, and even music.

As online journalism develops dozens of new formats have become available. Here are just a few:

  • the liveblog;
  • the audio slideshow;
  • the interactive map;
  • the app;
  • the podcast;
  • the explainer;
  • the portal;
  • the aggregator;
  • the gallery

Formats are chosen because they suit the thing being covered, its position in the publisher’s news environment, and the resources of the publisher.

Historically, for example, when a story first broke for most publishers a simple report was the only realistic option. But after that, they might commission a profile, interview, or deeper feature or package – if the interest and the resources warranted that.

The subject matter would also be a factor. A broadcaster might be more inclined to commission a package on a story if colourful characters or locations were involved and were accessible. They might also send a presenter down for a two-way.

These factors still come into play now we have access to a much wider range of formats – but a wider understanding of those formats is also needed.

  • Does the event take place over a geographical area, and users will want to see the movement or focus on a particular location? Then a map might be most appropriate.
  • Are things changing so fast that a traditional ‘story’ format is going to be inadequate? Then a liveblog may work better.
  • Is there a wealth of material out there being produced by witnesses? A gallery, portal or aggregator might all be good choices.
  • Have you secured an interview with a key character, and a set of locations or items that tell their own story? Is it an ongoing or recurring story? An audio slideshow or video interview may be the most powerful choice of format.
  • Are you on the scene and raw video of the event is going to have the most impact? Grab your phone and film – or stream.

2. Medium (“What?”)

Depending on what format has been chosen, the medium may be chosen for you too. But a podcast can be audio or video; a liveblog can involve text and multimedia; an app can be accessed on a phone, a webpage, a desktop widget, or Facebook.

This is not just about how you convey information about what’s going on (you’ll notice I avoid the use of ‘story’, as this is just one possible choice of format) but how the user accesses it and uses it.

A podcast may be accessed on the move; a Facebook app on mobile, in a social context; and so on. These are factors to consider as you produce your content.

3. Platform (“Where?”)

Likewise, the platforms where the content is to be distributed need careful consideration.

A liveblog’s reporting might be done through Twitter and aggregated on your own website. A map may be compiled in a Google spreadsheet but published through Google Maps and embedded on your blog.

An audioboo may have subscribers on iTunes or on the Audioboo app itself, and its autoposting feature may attract large numbers of listeners through Twitter.

Some call the choice of platform a choice of ‘channel’ but that does not do justice to the interactive and social nature of many of these platforms. Facebook or Twitter are not just channels for publishing live updates from a blog, but a place where people engage with you and with each other, exchanging information which can become part of your reporting (whether you want it to or not).

Your content strategy will need to take account of what happens on those platforms: which tweets are most retweeted or argued with; reacting to information posted in your blog or liveblog comments; and so on.

4. Scheduling (“When?”)

The choice of platform(s) will also influence your choice of timing. There will be different optimal times for publishing to Facebook, Twitter, email mailing lists, blogs, and websites.

There will also be optimal times for different formats (as the Washington Post found). A short news report may suit morning commuters; an audio slideshow or video may be best scheduled for the evening. Something humorous may play best on a Friday afternoon; something practical on a Wednesday afternoon once the user has moved past the early week slog.

Infographic: The Best Times To Post To Twitter & Facebook

This webcast on content strategy gives a particular insight into how they treat scheduling – not just across the day but across the week.

5. “Why?”

Print and broadcast rest on objectives so implicit that we barely think about them. The web, however, may have different objectives. Instead of attracting the widest numbers of readers, for example, we may want to engage users as much as possible.

That makes a big difference in any content strategy:

  • The rapid rise of liveblogs and explainers as a format can be partly explained by their stickiness when compared to traditional news articles.
  • Demand for video content has exceeded supply for some publishers because it is possible to embed advertising with content in a way which isn’t possible with text.
  • Infographics have exploded as they lend themselves so well to viral distribution.

Distribution is often one answer to ‘why?’, and introduces two elements I haven’t mentioned so far: search engine optimisation and social media optimisation. Blogs as a platform and text as a medium are generally better optimised for search engines, for example. But video and images are better optimised for social network platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

And the timing of publishing might be informed by analytics of what people are searching for, updating Facebook about, or tweeting about right now.

The objective(s), of course, should recur as a consideration throughout all the stages above. And some stages will have different objectives: for distribution, for editorial quality, and for engagement.

Just to confuse things further, the objectives themselves are likely to change as the business models around online and multiplatform publishing evolve.

If I’m going to sum up all of the above in one line, then, it’s this: “Take nothing for granted.”

I’m looking for examples of content strategies for future editions of the book – please let me know if you’d like yours to be featured.


Filed under: online journalism Tagged: content strategy, facebook, formats, infographic, platforms, scheduling, SEO, smo, twitter, video

September 08 2010

10:54

Andorid audio editing apps: no joy for Journos?

Android robot logo.
Image via Wikipedia

I’m currently putting together stuff for my Digital Newsroom module for this year.

One of the things I ask the students to do is to record and edit a short audio vox-pop*.We have a number of audio recorders of varying levels of ‘quality’ at the Uni and access to Audacity and Adobe Audition. But I don’t stipulate what the audio should be recorded on or how it’s edited. My line is always ‘if you can do it and submit it by banging nails in to a piece of wood, go for it”.

I want the students to explore the range of resources that are out there and I’m always keen to add to the list of possible tools and resources they can use. So Uber blogger and font of endless multimedia journalism info Mark Luckie couldn’t have timed his latest post better.

The post highlights 3 Unique ways to record, edit, and publish your audio. It includes Monle, a four track editor for iphone/touch which is useful if you use you phone to record your audio interviews. Which got me thinking about the students who might want to use their mobile to record audio but don’t have an iphone or touch.

Android audio apps?

I see a lot of iphones at work but I also see a serious number of Android based phones so I thought I would do a quick scoot around and pick one or two apps that none Apple users could consider. And the result…

Nothing….

Nada….

Move along now, nothing to see.

Well, OK, there was one; ringdroid which, on the surface, looks pretty good. But that was it.

Iphone/touch is the platform of choice

From my reading round its seem the stumbling block is  a dodgy audio api on android – delays etc. But I was genuinely surprised that there wasn’t at least an attempt to try. Maybe it’s too niche!

I’m nervous of the eulogizing that goes on of the iphone/touch as the ‘tool of choice for multimedia journalists’ but I have to say that as an all in one device (the new touch in particular) it’s looking pretty good.

If you know about a good audio recording/editing app on Android or other mobile platforms for that matter, please let me know.

* Before the anti-vox brigade have a go I should say that this is part of a series of competency ‘tests’. I want to be sure that the students have exprimented with recording audio and vox is an easy ‘reason’ to record audio.

Update: Transom.org has a nice article looking at the Monle and Hindenburg audio apps.

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June 02 2010

14:00

Step aside, brand loyalty; we’re loyal to information now

The Pew Research Center released an interesting study last week that offers some sobering — if unsurprising — insights for the news business.

Researchers examined top news stories in the mainstream press as well as what news got traction on blogs, Twitter and YouTube. A main finding was that what’s hot on social media differs — a lot — from what leads in the mainstream press. But what’s even more interesting, I think, is that what’s popular on one form of social media differs significantly from what’s trendy on another. For example, Twitter’s domain is technology, not surprisingly. Blogs and the mainstream press focus more on politics and government. Also not a shocker. As my kids might say: “No duh.”

But what isn’t so obvious is what this might mean. I’ve written before about how I believe the real reason many people don’t subscribe to news online — or in print — is about commitment, not money.

This study crystallizes my thoughts. I suggest these findings illustrate the radically different way today’s consumers think of news, compared with the past. It’s not brand based. It’s not even platform based. It’s based on niche, which many have said before. But the niche isn’t just in the content or the subject matter; it’s in the mechanism of transmission.

Modal switching of media

In other words, the people formerly known as the audience know if they want a certain type of information, they head to Twitter. Another type, they’ll go to YouTube. Something else, that’s what FourSquare is for.

It’s likely not a conscious decision — it’s more visceral than that. But the important point is that the loyalty isn’t to the platform, the application, the delivery system, or the brand. The loyalty is to the need for the information. Another Twitter-like service could spring up tomorrow, and if it fit a niche — or a micro-niche — it could go great guns. People wouldn’t stay loyal to Twitter because “We’ve always been on Twitter.” They’d go where they can get what they want.

That’s why social media flourish and then flounder.

It’s a very different mindset than the one still cherished by some in the mainstream press. That mindset was built on the idea of brand loyalty that grew over time as people saw the brand (the newspaper) as a symbol of something in their lives. A rite of passage into adulthood. A sign of respectability.

Media as tool, media as meaning

For example, when I was growing up in the 1970s, my parents subscribed to the New York Daily News to sate my Yankees-obsessed father’s love for sports coverage. But they also took the local daily for the hometown news. As I grew into adulthood, those papers were a staple on our kitchen table, which would have seemed oddly empty without them. The newspapers weren’t just a delivery source for information.

My children likely won’t ever have that kind of bond with any kind of media. They’ll replace one platform with another as technology improves and their interests evolve. They won’t expect any to have staying power. They’ll instinctively know they are fleeting.

Who creates the information, who creates the news may be meaningless to them. Worrying about the demise of one online platform will be as odd to them as bemoaning the loss of the rotary-dial phone would have been to me.

The question is: How do those in the news business deal with this reality? That’s a tough one. I can suggest what won’t work. Teaching your staff to use Twitter and Facebook as if these are these are the news tools of the trade, the notebooks and pens of an earlier day, won’t cut it. By the time the news professionals get proficient in one platform, the rules and the platforms will change. As I tell my introductory journalism students, my goal isn’t to teach you how to use social media for reporting; it’s to teach you how to be able to spot the next smart app that comes down the pike.

The key is to be fluid and to realize that readers want relationships with people, not brands. That targeting audiences won’t work. You must target your content to the right platform at the right time and be ready to change in a moment’s notice. In short, the goal is to become like the news consumers you are trying to reach.

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