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April 10 2012


December 01 2011


The newsonomics of tomorrow

Feeling a little stressed about tomorrow? Given the stress of company budgeting, the stress of wider economies turned upside down, the stress of stress itself (Time helpfully chirped in this week with an “Anxiety: Why It’s Good for You” cover this week), many media tomorrows have turned out to be less fun than the days preceding them. Tomorrow just seems to offer a tougher challenge than today. If reality seems a little hard to take, let’s take a little tour of “augmented reality,” a terrain in which those who practice the business of news will soon operate.

Let me cite just a few samples of tomorrow that have filtered recently into my mid-20th-century-minted brain:

  • Soon, information will be delivered to us via contact lenses or glasses. Courtesy of Michio Kaku’s latest book, Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100, and his NPR rounds, we’re hearing a lot about new ways to deliver information. One that makes the tablet seem like very old news very quickly is the contact lens. The idea: Take the tiny chips already in creation and put them in interesting places, like our eyeballs. Why waste time with a middleman device, when you can implant the web onto our eyeball. Sounds bizarre and sci-fi, but apparently it’s been done in the labs — and, of course, our military is playing with it to wargame out future conflict. “Everything will be annotated. Everything will be footnoted, and we’ll love it,” Kaku told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross this week. At one point in their adventurous conversation, where Kaku sounds a bit like a brilliant, mad scientist seeing all upside, Terry puts down the stirrups on the galloping-into-the-future horse, with a “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back up a minute.”
  • Our world ends not in fire or ice, but apparently mice. Our close cousins (with 95-percent-plus of our DNA) are making news with two different tomorrows. First, the end of aging (wouldn’t that be good news for newspaper publishers and PBS NewsHour!), with mice-tweaking scientists able to reverse aging. Second, the implant of memory into mice, or should we say discrete memories into mice. “The researchers, having recorded the appropriate signal from CA1 [tissue], simply replayed it, like a melody on a player piano — and the animals remembered,” reported The New York Times. “The implant acted as if it were CA1, at least for this one task. ‘Turn the switch on, the animal has the memory; turn it off and they don’t: that’s exactly how it worked.’” (And you thought Claire Danes’ Carrie Anderson was a significant upgrade on Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer; think again.)
  • We are learning machines, and we are now learning at warp speed. Duke professor Cathy Davidson, author of Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, talked recently with BioTech Nation’s Moira Gunn. One conclusion of her work: Those who multitask learn better and get more done, contrary to some recent reactionary folk wisdom. It’s how we organize our time, our workspaces and our learning environments, she says.
  • Intel is now planning our 2019 content experience. West of Portland, Intel futurist Brian David Johnson is now finishing his spec — his user requirements — for Intel’s 2019 chips. 2019? While he’s a futurist, drilled in engineering, robotics and artificial intelligence, he’s in the hardware business, and it takes a long time to work through the manufacturing process. We both spoke at a recent European conference, and I was able to spend some time talking through his work, and start thinking about its impact on the news world. Johnson is an engineer, but possesses a sociologist’s curiosity. His team of 100, including an interesting mix of anthropologists, ethnographers, and engineers, tries to figure out how consumers will be consuming digital info and communicating by the end of the decade. “It’s not about prediction. It’s developing an actionable vision for the future that we can build.” A lot of what Johnson has been focusing on is captured in his recent book, Screen Futures: The Future of Entertainment, Computing and the Devices We Love, which projects scenarios into 2015 and came out in paperback this summer. It builds on the iPad/iPhone phenomenon, laying out a connected world of TVs, phones, cars, and computers. Screens, both commercial and informational, are the main way we’ll move through our lives, say Johnson. His — and Intel’s — business goal: “To create a landscape that allows people to connect.” His Tomorrow Project offers next-step ruminations, some sci-fi-inflected, on our common future.

So, what does this begin to tell us about the news, and newsonomics of tomorrow?

First, it should remind us that tomorrow won’t be just an extension of today. We are taking, almost literally, quantum leaps in our ability to corral knowledge, distribute it, and consume it, in ways almost unthinkable five years ago.

Second, technology is the main driver of what’s going to be possible in the news and media businesses. That’s been true, to an extent, in the build-up to today. Tomorrow, though, poses consumers amped up at first on ubiquity — all those screens — and able sooner than later to consume more, know more, and interact more, with electronics extensions added on to them. By chance, this week, I had a talk with Raju Narisetti, Washington Post managing editor and one of the savviest editors in the business. I was checking in on the Post’s once-controversial re-integration, now about two years old.

Narisetti says that that integration, largely done, isn’t what worries him. What worries him, he said, is the coming-together of the content produced by the newsroom (of 650) and of technology. “We must offer a great experience and we need technology to do it,” he said. In a world where many publishers cover similar topics, “technology is a differentiator.” He wasn’t thinking chip implants or web contacts, but today’s technology (developed, maybe 5-10 years ago) that aid the process of storytelling, whether by blog, by video, by audio, by map, or something else. For the Post, he says, one next big challenge is mastering the technology curve, largely within the resources (although maybe purposed differently) that it has today.

In part, that may include just great, problem-solving software, as the Lab’s Andrew Phelps highlighted in his well-tweeted “truth goggles” post last week.

Third, it means stretching some news company vision, Intel-like, well beyond next year’s Excel and Powerpoint. If indeed consumers quickly adopt multi-screen access and are willing to find news in non-traditional places — don’t you love the stat offered by the Guardian yesterday that “Over half (56.7%) of [Guardian Facebook app] users are 24 and under, and 16.7% are 17 and under” — how do news companies themselves have to rapidly change? News companies don’t quite have to forsake the web browser for the genome browser — but their own 2015 product planning might lead them to different investments of time and treasure in 2012.

Fourth, pay some journalists to learn about this new developing world, this odd nexus of technology, learning and humanity, which, not to put too fine a point on it, is changing what it means to be human. I have little doubt that 50 years from now, our descendants will think of us as somewhere-up-from-Neanderthals, but in the shorter term, there is good and necessary journalism to be done about these profound changes before us. This isn’t the next generation of Red Bull we’re talking about; it’s about addition of electronics to the human body, making us different, if not better, people. Imagine, for a moment, the profound ethical, social, political and legal questions those raise. A smart journalism should be in the middle of framing those questions.

March 19 2010


4-Minute Roundup: Google TV Disrupts; Facebook Passes Google

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by the Knight Digital Media Center, providing a spectrum of training for the 21st century journalist. Find out more at KDMC's website. It's also underwritten by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

Here's the latest 4MR audio report from MediaShift. In this week's edition, I look at Google TV, the new alliance between Google, Intel, Sony and Logitech to create a new TV or set-top box that will finally connect the TV with the Net in a simple way. Plus, Facebook last week surpassed Google in traffic for the U.S., according to Experian Hitwise, and Facebook referrals to news sites were more loyal visitors than referrals from Google News or the Google search engine. And I asked Just One Question to Time magazine TV critic James Poniewozik, getting his take on Google TV.

Check it out:


>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Listen to my entire interview with James Poniewozik:

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Google and Partners Seek TV Foothold at NY Times

Google TV Should Finally Push Apple TV Beyond A Hobby at TechCrunch

It's Official - Facebook Rules the Web at PC World

Facebook surpasses Google in weekly traffic at San Jose Mercury News

How Facebook overtook Google to be the top spot on the Internet at Fortune Brainstormtech

Facebook edges past Google for weekly traffic at SFGate's Tech Chronicles

Facebook Visitors Come Back Again and Again at Hitwise blog

If You Tell Them On Facebook, They Will Come...Again and Again at ReadWriteWeb

The Google giant begins to topple at Network World

Check out some of our write-in answers to last week's poll question about what people thought about geo-location services such as Foursquare:

survey answers foursquare.jpg

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about what you think about your cable or satellite service:

What do you think about your cable or satellite TV service?answers

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by the Knight Digital Media Center, providing a spectrum of training for the 21st century journalist. Find out more at KDMC's website. It's also underwritten by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

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November 20 2009


The FTC should give nonprofit news a closer look

You know the old saying about how we’re from the government and we’re here to help you? That’s what came to mind as I read the Federal Trade Commission’s notice for its workshop on journalism in the digital age.

The notice makes the case that “news organizations,” which it notably does not attempt to define, are suffering at the hands of aggregators and other online actors that have drained the fun and profit from news gathering. Among the solutions the FTC wants to examine are some that would seem to support nonprofits — tax treatment and greater public funding, for example.

Memo to the FTC: No thanks.

It’s not that the FTC’s proposed solution are so bad, though I don’t much like the idea of government funding non-broadcast news operations. It’s that they provide fresh fodder for misinformed critics who have come to the conclusion that nonprofits pose a threat to for-profit news sites and journalism generally.

Mention “nonprofit” to some of these folks, and you’re likely get an allergic reaction. No sooner had San Francisco investor Warren Hellman ponied up $5 million for the Bay Area News Project than somebody complained errantly that the new venture would rely on unpaid college students, forcing other media to cut staff to remain competitive. News flash: Old media aren’t competitive in the online age, and that isn’t the fault of Warren Hellman or any nonprofit. Others fretted that donated money like Hellman’s comes with agendas and strings attached. And advertising dollars don’t?

But I digress. Nonprofits offer a viable solution to the decline of socially responsible journalism. By design, they put mission ahead of profit. And as a result, they will live or die based on their commitment to transparency. When the government gets involved, it introduces the appearance of special favors and the potential for political interference. That’s the death of transparency.

To be clear, I don’t object to the notion of government oversight. A little can go a long way — witness the FTC’s late-1990s antitrust investigation of Intel Corp. At the time, Intel dominated the computer chip market and, along with Microsoft Corp., seemed capable of devouring anything in its path, much as Google appears today. But just before trial began in 1999, Intel signed a settlement with the FTC in which it admitted no guilt and essentially agreed to be nicer to the smaller kids in the technology sandbox.

Based on this experience, we can assume that what the FTC workshop really hopes to accomplish is to once again nudge the bullies into being nicer. I would submit that there are better ways to accomplish this goal. One might be to bring in witnesses who can explain how the nonprofit model works and how it complements the work of for-profits in journalism and other sectors.

My nomination would go to Duke’s Jay Hamilton, author of All the News That’s Fit to Sell, which is cited in the FTC notice. In the book, Hamilton makes the case that journalism is becoming a public good. He writes:

The point here is that since individuals do not calculate the full benefit to society of their learning about politics, they will express less than optimal levels of interest in public affairs coverage and generate less than desirable demands for news about government.

I do agree with the FTC that the stakes are high because unlike the great oil and steel trusts of old, the big powerhouses of the Internet are in the business of ideas. As Bill Kovacic, then a law professor at George Washington University and now an FTC commissioner, told me during the Intel case: “I think the impact is so important because its impact on information services affects everything we do.”

The FTC workshop will be held in Washington Dec. 1-2.

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