Ecosystems

For those who found value in yesterday’s media piece, here’s a much, much longer and richer take on the future of news from Steven Berlin Johnson. No, he doesn’t have all of the answers either, but there are a ton of powerful ideas in there that will ultimately help those who do come up with the answers. Among them: an increased focus on the hyper-local, borne of the realization that while we may lament the loss of the city daily because there won’t be a metro section anymore, that metro section never covered what we wanted to see anyway. Neighborhood reporters and bloggers — who will ultimately fit into some form of filtering/aggregation system — will one day make us wonder what we ever did for local news before.

The same goes for sports coverage, I would argue, as team, sport, and subject-specific blogs become increasingly refined, reliable, and findable. The big question — and one near and dear to my heart, of course — is how you compensate people under such a scenario, which I think is pretty essential. Maybe not immediately in that there are and always will be a ton of great amateur blogs out there and some level of amateurism actually ads some depth to the party. But ask yourself: how many good blogs have you seen close shop because the author’s professional or personal life demanded it? I can think of several. Maybe that doesn’t yet matter all that much, but in a brave new world in which people are truly getting their content from multiple sources, won’t we want at least some level of continuity?

Anyway, just one of many things to chew on in Johnson’s piece.

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Comments

  1. Joao said...

    This is spot on. 

    When people bemoan that with the death of newspapers you won’t get actual reporting (versus commentary) on the city council meetings, school board, etc, they forget that you barely get any coverage of those issues from your local paper to begin with.  And they also miss the fact that some of the most important work in those areas is already being done by bloggers, not just in terms of commentary but actually attending city council hearings, Metro board hearings, and on and on.  Take a look at the great site Greater Greater Washington, or to a lesser extent BeyondDC for GREAT and comprehensive coverage of urban planning/transportation/transit issues.  It actually does real reporting and analysis, and its better than anything you will find in the Washington Post.

  2. Leo said...

    The other key about sports reporting/blogging in the future is the great access debate.  Bloggers like Aaron Gleeman continually argue that access to the clubhouse and locker rooms is unnecessary.  But there is a reason why your commentary differs from the stuff you read in your local paper; one reason is that you don’t have to face the players the next day. 

    Similarly, underlying the best blogs are reports that come from credentialed journalists who spend their days gathering information from the primary source: players, coaches, managers, trainers, front office staff, etc.  Without those persons with access, a lot of blogs become irrelevant. 

    Without newspapers, the leagues and teams need to decide how to grant access.  All blogs are not created equal.  How should they decide who is, and who isn’t, allowed into the press box?

  3. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Johnson actually attempts to deal with the problem of who actually gathers the news, and that’s by transforming newspapers from paper-product manufacturing and distribution concerns into news/opinion clearing houses of some sort.  Yes, it’s vague and it will obviously evolve over time, but it’s not a bad idea at first blush.

    The two central hurdles to get over into the new era are (1) the access problem(i.e. who goes into the locker room to get the quotes) and (2) the usability problem of the blogsophere and other online media sources.

    What I mean with the latter is that, while blog savvy folks have no problem finding what we like online, we are and will be for a long time, a minority.  What is needed—and what I (and Johnson, if I’m understanding him) am proposing—is the transformation of newspapers into locally-organized clearinghouses for the vast world of online news and opinion, done mostly by independent agents, bloggers, freelancers, etc. 

    The rough outline:  Ad revenue won’t support the purchase of paper and ink and delivery services and hundreds of reporters on hundreds of beats, but it could support a streamlined editorial staff and some niche reporters for whom access matters.  Guys who cover the pro locker rooms and high level politics in which credentialing is required for space and security reasons.

    So at the outset, burn down the current newspaper office and replace it with (a) the brand, archives, and history of the existing papers; (b) a skeleton crew of highly skilled reporters to cover those access-dependent specailized beats; and (c) a streamlined editorial staff who spends way less time wordsmithing and far more time making sure every conceivable story of interest is covered in a given day’s digital-only edition.

    C is the obvious new thing here, so let’s explore that:  the editorial staff spends its time filtering content from the blogosphere and amateur reporting ranks and oraginizing it into usable form on the paper’s website.  They’re not sitting at an assignment desk, really, as much as they’re serving the function of a crackerjack reference librarian, making sense of the sheer masses of information and opinion out there, and presenting it to the readers, who depend on them to make sense of the chaos.

    They key is not to tie the paper to any specific writer or writers.  Rather, the news dictates it: on Monday the paper may feature, among hundreds of other items, stories/opinion from a guy in Brooklyn about a big housing development that broke ground.  On Tuesday nothing is happening in Brooklyn, so they run with content from the uptown blogger covering the new restaurant and the guy in Queens who has a neat series going about the change in street crime over the years.

    Every day, there are a million things happening, and as the blogosphere expands fewer and fewer things are going uncovered. The editors serve as gatekeepers, gatherers, ensurers of basic standards.  The key is that the paper does not need to tie itself to much of a fixed staff and asociated costs.

    As for the content providers? Tricky, but not insurmountable.  I suppose on some level a paper could have a choice: they could enter into loose and flexible syndication/freelance agreements that would allow the paper to take from the blogger what they think is worthy when they think it’s worthy, paying him some amount for used content and allowing him to otherwise ply their bloggy trade (or whatever their trade is) on their own simultaneously.  If, however, the newspaper thinks they’ve got a great contributor, they can compensate him or her for greater degrees of exlusivity and regularity of content.

    So much of that system depends on the newspaper’s editorial staff making good content decisions, of course, and as we know from the present state of the papers, good decisions in this area aren’t a given.  In a printing pressless age, however, the barriers to entry for such an aggregation service are relatively low, so if the new era newspaper is not serving the public well, a competitor “paper” will spring up and offer a better menu of contributors.  Editors would soon learn, I suspect, that their job as gatekeeper isn’t as robust as that term is typically meant to mean, and the concept of “quality” is not synonymous with “a report written by a person trained at a J-school and put through a given paper’s corporate ladder.”  People want facts, some attention to grammar, balance, but not to an ignorant fault, and when we’re talking about opinion writing, intellectual honesty.  Elsewise? Let people be themselves.

    That’s all rough, but it seems to solve the two immediately identifiable problems of outsourcing content to the blogosphere (and other online folks).

  4. kendynamo said...

    it must really suck to watch someone do the same job you do but charge nothing for it.  kind of a reverse wal-mart.  the little guy’s pricing the big corporations right out of business.

  5. kendynamo said...

    Johnson’s Mac World example reminded me of the old school nintendo days and how things have changed for gamers.  back in the days of eight bits, if you wanted to find your way out of the forest maze i zelda or wanted 30 extra lives in contra, you either had a subscribtion to nintendo power or you knew a friend that did (or a friend of a friend etc etc).  now you just google the game your playing and gamefaq and you’ll get more than you ever wanted to know about any game ever published.

  6. Joao said...

    Leo,

    The issue of blogger access is a non-debate.  Some teams already have a blogger access policy.  Washington Capitals, for instance, issued one several years ago and they have one of the more interesting blog communities.

  7. DavidB said...

    A couple of things which warrant mention:

    1) With the death of newspapers….consumers are LOSING an option.  We can hope that the replacements are superior, but that doesn’t change the fact that our total options for news are now FEWER.

    2) Professional journalism, at least in theory, aspired to objectivity.  (I know, I know, insert jokes about the ‘New York Times’ and Fox News, but most news outlets were at least lightly influenced by an ethical canon.)

    Blogs and online news, on the other hand, often times celebrate their opinions and the fact that they’re just trying to be provocative and desperate craving hits so they can “monetize those eyeballs”.

    (Now, I personally think that the mainstream media – from the tabloids to CNN – is a total farce (how many of them ever reported on Building 7?), but at least they show that people do want professionals sworn to objectivity, rather than snarky bigots, obtaining and reporting data.)

    So, many people think that they look hip and cutting-edge if they celebrate this change, and so they overlook the fact that there ARE negative aspects.  Can we change it?  No.  But let’s not all get so busy trying to look hip to the change that we overlook very basic drawbacks.

  8. Craig Calcaterra said...

    David—who’s celebrating the death of newspapers?  I’m not, nor are either of the two writers I’ve linked to in the last two days, nor are any of the posters around here.  I think the most that can be said is that people are noting what may very well be an inevitable thing and brainstorming as to what the world will look like in the future.

  9. Melody said...

    I think it is a little scary to think about what might happen to the media as we know it—for one thing, people are more and more able to seek out news and opinions they already agree with, and to avoid those they disagree with.  There are good and bad things about that, but it does have the effect of polarizing people.

    In regards to compensation, I also wonder whether there will be money for projects that are very important, but require a lot of investigative work.  One problem with the increased profit motivation in the media currently is that there is much less support for those kinds of projects, and much more emphasis on getting the easy story.  In what way can we address this problem?

  10. Leo said...

    Jaoa, no, it’s not a non-debate.  That the Capitals (and a few other teams – don’t the Dallas Mavericks allow in some bloggers?) have blogger access does not settle the debate by any means.  In fact, it remains one of the biggest debates out there.

    There are at least 10-12 or more outstanding blogs on every pro team in every league.  There are probably hundreds or more good blogs on the more popular teams. There are also dozens, if not hundreds, of decent blogs that aren’t team focused, but that provide solid commentary and reporting. 

    Clubhouses, press boxes and locker rooms are workplaces.  The athletes, coaches and staff are working.  They don’t have time to deal with amateurs who don’t know how to ask the right questions in the right way to the right people.  A minimum level of professionalism is necessary.  The fanboy who writes well but is an unabashed homer who is in the clubhouse to gather autographs should not be treated the same as the blogger who is there to do his blogging job.

    There needs to be a screening process to determine how many of these dozens, or hundreds, of bloggers can be allowed in.  If you’re the PR guy for the Nashville Predators, you can probably allow a blogger from all eight or so blogs that cover your team.  The PR staff of the Yankees has to cull the herd to the 30-50 (or 20 or 100, whatever)or so allowed into each game.

  11. Glen L said...

    I think everyone is getting worked up over nothing.  The internet has removed any artificial barriers to entering the newsmarket.  The internet will literally become an ACTUAL free market for news (both in terms of production and consumption).  This will necessarily invite loads of competition and the price to consume will fall.  The demand for news (be it political, financial, sports, whathaveyou) will determine how indepthly it is reported and analyzed.  Given that there will be a huge demand in general for news, the news will undoubtedly be reported and reported well by myriad sources

  12. BCBarney said...

    I haven’t read the link from today yet but I will later.  I’ve enjoyed reading all of the opinions and there are some great thought out comments.  One thing that I think will be lost in this conversion is the lack of newspaper or institution driven reporting.  I think that what everyone has been calling investigative reporting falls under this.  I’ve broadened it a bit to include reporting on the state science fair as well as digging into the fiscal scandal of the state senator.  Now the science fair may not need to be covered but I’ve got to imagine that there will be events that will be lacking in blog coverage at some point in time.
    The idea of the editors as an aggregator of sorts assumes that the items that should be or they want included in their “newspaper” are being reported on.  In addition, I already have something similar with RSS feeds.  But I do agree that any ideas we have now are only the jumping off point to where we’ll end up.

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