Congruent Thoughts

Warning re limited inbound Twitter txts

Image by Roo Reynolds via Flickr

For some time, I have been saying that the problem with the media industry is that we are stuck on stories, or packages, whether they be articles with photos in print or online, or video packages.  I have limited time, and limited brainpower, and I want to see current, relevant information, in context, anywhere and anytime.  I don’t think we can get there until we create our content, in the first instance, as a “post” or “tweet”, and organize from there.  It is nice to see others expressing the same thoughts.  We need all the conceptual clarity we can muster to tackle the Three Gorillas.

Jeff Jarvis says the “article” can no longer be the building block, and that we have to build, from the “post” to a new organization:

Instead, I want a page, a site, a thing that is created, curated, edited, and discussed. It’s a blog that treats a topic as an ongoing and cumulative process of learning, digging, correcting, asking, answering. It’s also a wiki that keeps a snapshot of the latest knowledge and background. It’s an aggregator that provides annotated links to experts, coverage, opinion, perspective, source material. It’s a discussion that doesn’t just blather but that tries to accomplish something (an extension of an article like this one that asks what options there are to bailout a bailout). It’s collaborative and distributed and open but organized.

Steve Outing explores the value of Twitter:

The (fast-)growing number of people who use Twitter find it to be an easy and fast way to share their lives, thoughts, opinions, links, stuff they have for sale, recommendations — their personal newsfeed — just with the people who care. They can do so whether sitting in front of a computer or out in the world via their cell phones. By also “following” Twitter feeds of news organizations, you can even get a pretty good overall view of the big-picture events of the day. Ergo, Twitter already can, to a degree, serve the expanded version of “the news” that I’m describing — from the globally significant to the micro-personal

As a subscriber to a news Web site, you’ll be able to configure your account to the type of news you wish to receive. The content will come from a variety of sources (listed here from global sources at the top down to micro-personal ones at the bottom):

* Wire services and syndicates with which the newspaper already has contractual agreements.
* Unaffiliated news Web sites. (Bring in their feeds; think Google News or Topix-like functionality.)
* Unaffiliated blogs. (Ditto; think Technorati or Google Blogsearch-like functionality.)
* Newspaper staff and freelance content. (Local and national. Text, photos, audio, video, multimedia.)
* Staff and freelance blogs.
* Citizen-/user-contributed content.
* User comments and interaction on all content.
* Discussion forums.
* Personalized news based on user preference. (Topic selection and/or keyword searches.)
* Micro-personal news from a user’s social networks, filtered from external sites by capturing user’s log-in data for those services.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see anyone who offers this range of news. News aggregators (Google News, Yahoo! News, Topix, et al) bring us the world via hundreds or thousands of sources; but they omit the micro-personal, leaving that to the social networks. Sites like FriendFeed can tap into multiple social networks and bring you micro-personal news from your social circle; but they don’t work well (if at all) at providing conventional news.

Perhaps the opportunity for newspaper companies is to evolve into the one source for ALL of an individual’s news needs.

Amy Gahran, who was most gracious as I spied her on the street in Boulder, expresses the urgency for us to act now:

What if the core of a news org wasn’t only a staff of trained journalists and editors gathering information primarily to produce packaged stories based on just a small fraction of available info? What if librarians and technologists also were on the job, getting as much info as possible into useful, modular, searchable formats that could be easily searched and mixed according to relevance to particular communities, interest groups, or even individuals?

What if news orgs’ core offering was not a basically one-size-fits-all newspaper, but rather a statewide or regional “relevance window” service that could be tailored to meet the needs of lawyers, businesses, property owners, schools, activists, healthcare providers, parents, teens, etc.? What if news orgs became very, very structured and flexible about how they collect, collate, and distribute information? What if, as a result, citizens, organizations, and communities could easily stay better informed than was ever before possible?

This isn’t just my bright idea, of course. Remember Robin Sloan’s classic prediction EPIC 2014? My Tidbits colleague Barbara Iverson observed, “Today, when you look at Epic 2014 or the update, you can hardly tell the imagined fictions from actual fact. …And look at the list of activities of a ‘newsmaster’ in Bill French’s 2004 post From WebMaster to NewsMaster, because it is more specific than what Jarvis says, but certainly calling for the same kind of changes in how we pull together information.”

Seems to me there’s a huge potential window of business opportunity here. Temporarily.

It is not just a business opportunity, it is an opportunity to create a new way of interacting with information that is relevant to us.  Our current packaged articles and products just won’t do.

What do you think?

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3 responses to “Congruent Thoughts

  1. “What if librarians and technologists also were on the job, getting as much info as possible into useful, modular, searchable formats that could be easily searched and mixed according to relevance to particular communities, interest groups, or even individuals?” — This is just what the newly formed Data Team in the newsroom will and should be doing. I believe we’re taking steps in the right direction. Little steps now but I hope they soon become bigger and bigger steps.

  2. I think that services like ProfNet and HARO show us how the dynamics of tomorrow’s
    newsroom might look.

    The challenge, in a world where we will all be challenged to find ways to do more with less, will be to work with librarians and technologists in a way that is harmonious with their existing responsibilities.

    Unfortunately, the dynamics of email don’t do that. For example, no librarian wants to sift through another hour’s worth of email, no matter how excited they might be at being part of the local news ecosystem.

    I think Twitter shows us a different dynamic: we are able to participate in a plethora of conversations simultaneously; we choose the memes we feel we can make a contribution in; and most importantly, we don’t feel obligated to backtrack and read all of the tweets we might have missed while we were doing other things, like living our lives.

    Two years ago I began working with one of McDonald’s marketing agencies on a mobile “group reply” service: instead of calling or emailing lots of people, make a request either through SMS or by making a phone call, which triggers an SMS to a pre-defined list of people, and specify how many responses you want to get back.

    “I’m doing a special report on how restaurants are coping with the downturn,” you ask. “I need 5 bloggers to write 250 words on this by 5pm today along with a 450px wide photo.”

    The request goes to the dozens of bloggers who are “friends and family”. The system collects the first 5 responses who can make the deadline, and lets you know that your request is completed along with a list of who responded.

    The guys that responded get instructions on what to do next. The 6th and 7th responses, etc., are notified that the project is filled and to move along. The job is automatically published as RSS so one could build an eventstream by reporter, by beat, by newspaper, etc.

    If you think I’m full of salami, that’s okay. But, if you think there’s something there, I want to hear from you. I’ve entered this in the Knight Ridder News Challenge Garage, and I’d love to get your feedback.

    http://garage.newschallenge.org/projects/help-blogger-out

  3. You’re right: It’s hard to implement a new model with an old mindset. I’m glad to see some new thinking going on in the “old” media.

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