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March 29 2012

16:01

Dave Winer: Here’s why every news organization should have a river

A river

Editor’s note: Our friend Dave Winer, one of the most important creators of what we now think of as the web, wrote a piece advocating that news organizations take better advantage of the work of their surrounding communities. We’re republishing it here.

To me it’s self-evident that every news organization, like every blog, should define a community of bloggers. People who write with passion about their expertise. I’ve been writing about this, evangelically, since the mid-90s. Still there are very few rivers out there. Someday they will be a fixture. It will be self-evident to everyone else too.

So here’s the pitch.

1. News organizations are shrinking, but readers’ demand for news is exploding. This has been true for the last 15 years, and shows no signs of letting up.

2. The tools of news are available to more people all the time. Blogs, podcasting, video, audio, realtime distribution, low-cost networking. And meanwhile the software keeps getting easier to use.

3. News organizations have to redefine themselves. Yes, their mission is still centered on what it has always been. Getting valuable and timely information to the people in their community. Some define community in terms of geography, others in terms of a common interest like photography, travel, food.

4. Users have a special kind of insight that most news orgs don’t tap. You can get a review from a famous columnist, a Pogue, Mossberg, Gruber or Levy, or you could get a review from a user, later — perhaps in more depth (they had more time) and more likely to relate to experiences a user would actually have with the product (because they are users).

5. Therefore, the challenge for news organizations has been, for the last couple of decades, to learn how to incorporate the experience of these users and their new publishing tools, into their product — the news.

6. Like anything else related to technology, this will happen slowly and iteratively. It takes generations for the kind of change that is happening in news to be fully realized. So if you see this coming, take whatever steps you can, when you can. This is an attempt to reserve a seat at the table for yourself when the revolution is finished sweeping through news.

7. The first thing you can do is show the readers what you’re reading. The Times is starting to do this, and it’s good — but it should be systematic, and it can go much further. And once you’ve shown them what pubs you’re reading, a natural next step is to aggregate them into a river, a newsfeed of postings from all the blogs and news orgs you follow. This accomplishes many important things. It gets more news to flow through your site, which makes your site more valuable to more people. It also tells the people you read that you’re reading them. And it gives them something to kvell about. It creates a bond between you and them, and it cost you almost nothing to do this. It will give you access to their ideas. And it will help their ideas get heard. And it will make your venue the place people go to get the latest and greatest ideas. Look at how many ways you win!

8. Having the river will also focus your mind. You’ll see trends you wouldn’t otherwise see. You’ll get ideas for stories you wouldn’t otherwise get. Seeing things from other people’s perspective always does that. You see things you didn’t see before. Seems almost self-evident, but until you do it, you don’t experience it, and experience is very important here.

9. Then, once your river is up and running for a while, have a meeting with all your bloggers. Get someone who is respected and well-known in your community give a keynote. Sit back and listen to what people talk about. Again, your mind will open, you’ll get tons of new ideas.

Starting a river is the first step down the road to the future. It defines community. Gives you a way to experience it. And honestly, it gives new power to your role as gatekeeper.

How do you start a river? For the first few pubs, I’ll get you started. I have a server I’ve started that can run five to ten of them. I’m already doing one for my friend Jeremy Zilar at the Times. I’ve got a project started with the editors of Wired. I’d like to do a few more. Because for me, as a software developer and evangelist, my community is publishers of news. By helping you get your rivers started, if you choose to do it, I will learn from your experience, learn how to improve the software to better meet all our needs, and help further the integration of all kinds of news gathering into the flow of news.

How do you start a river, from a content point of view? It’s just a list of feeds. You can add to the list, or remove from the list. You’re the curator, though you’re not just curating stories, you’re curating flows. The software is easy to use, I’ve spent many years working on that, but for some reason people are scared of it. So I will get it started for you, and when you’re ready, you can take over.

BTW, of course I have a river for my blogging work. Think of it as the river associated with my news feed and blog.

I know I’m seen in news as a radical, but I am also a conservative. I want to conserve the value we already have in news, enhance it, and help all of us make the transition into the fully-networked future.

October 21 2010

20:30

June 16 2010

13:00

Agents of immediacy: Nick Carr on why journalists need to “teach people to pay attention again”

[Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with its latest issue, and its focus is the new digital landscape of journalism. There are lots of interesting articles, and we're highlighting a few. Here, Internet provocateur Nicholas Carr writes about the tension between immediacy and understanding online. —Josh]

“Thought will spread across the world with the rapidity of light, instantly conceived, instantly written, instantly understood. It will blanket the earth from one pole to the other — sudden, instantaneous, burning with the fervor of the soul from which it burst forth.”

Those opening words would seem to describe, with the zeal typical of the modern techno-utopian, the arrival of our new online media environment with its feeds, streams, texts and tweets. What is the Web if not sudden, instantaneous and burning with fervor? But French poet and politician Alphonse de Lamartine wrote these words in 1831 to describe the emergence of the daily newspaper. Journalism, he proclaimed, would soon become “the whole of human thought.” Books, incapable of competing with the immediacy of morning and evening papers, were doomed: “Thought will not have time to ripen, to accumulate into the form of a book—the book will arrive too late. The only book possible from today is a newspaper.”

Lamartine’s prediction of the imminent demise of books didn’t pan out. Newspapers did not take their place. But he was a prophet nonetheless. The story of media, particularly the news media, has for the last two centuries been a story of the pursuit of ever greater immediacy. From broadsheet to telegram, radio broadcast to TV bulletin, blog to Twitter, we’ve relentlessly ratcheted up the velocity of information flow.

To Shakespeare, ripeness was all. Today, ripeness doesn’t seem to count for much. Nowness is all.

Keep reading at Nieman Reports »

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