Core of all the Gorillas

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Steve Outing gives a hopeful roadmap for transforming a newspaper into a more relevant community connection, using micro-bloggers organized by community of interest with geo-tagged content to focus on local:

But there’s trouble with going deeper on local coverage. Most newspapers already do a good job with staff reporting of the most important and interesting local news. To dig down deeper is, for one thing, probably impossible using existing staff (which likely has been reduced in the last year or so). The obvious next step is to reach out to community members, local experts, students, teachers, community group leaders, retired journalists, etc. Yes, it’s the dreaded “citizen journalism” model.

For some reason, I thought of the blockers in a traditional media company trying to transform into a C3 as three separate big issues, or Gorillas, that stood in the way of progress – culture, organization and technology. All three are evident in Outings column, and this quote from Amy Gahran

Also, today’s journalists can — and probably should — consciously shift away from jobs that revolve around content creation (producing packaged “stories”) and toward providing layers of journalistic insight and context on top of content created by others (including public information).

Outing still focuses on reporting stories, even using expanded community resources, and even Amy melds content creation with product creation, which shows how deeply one of the main blockers is embedded in our organizations. We are organized to produce products on deadlines. Those products have changed from 5 broadcast and 2 print deadlines per day to numerous creation of online and mobile products, but we are still organized around products. We do not think first of communities of interest, affinity or micro-geography, then creating or collecting snippets, or tweets, of factual information of interest to that particular community, placing them into a contextual framework ( think wiki) and only later arranging them into the narrative of a print story, broadcast package or online update. We are focused from the first on our task of creating the product, perhaps online first and then print or broadcast, but still a packaged product.

Those products have sustained us, by providing vehicles for mass-distribution advertising. We don’t want to rock that boat, leading to our culture, developed over the last decades, of risk aversion. We still don’t want to rock that boat – we have to protect the core franchise. To see one of the most intense expositions of these issues, see this October 10 post on Xark. But if we only produce packaged products, we are limiting ourselves and not allowing users to define their information requests in only ways they can imagine, and targeting actionable advertising messages much closer to the point of purchase.

Even if we had the organization and culture to focus on information in context for multiple communities on multiple platforms, we are bound by our technology, which at its very core is designed for publishers or broadcasters to create and distribute packaged products. We think it is great to be able to take that packaged product and distribute it online or on a mobile device. What we need is the ability to create and collect, in the first instance, textual snippets, audio, video, and visual assets in native XML, tag them appropriately, and place them in a contextual framework that has meaning for the community or communities that have interest in that information. Several of us have been working on those technical issues under the NAA’s Integrated Content Management Framework initiative. e-Me Ventures in Oak Park has been an integral player in conceptualizing these issues, including the need for unique asset identifiers.

What can we, as traditional media companies do to tackle these three Gorillas?

1. Assure that top management understands the issues, and the magnitude of change necessary.

2. Define a community of interest or affinity to develop.

3. Dedicate experimental resources to using native XML digital assets to create a framework for that community to add its own assets. This will probably take cooperation among several media companies and selected vendors.

4. Develop a contextual framework (flexible wiki) to allow the community to place those assets in context, and for trusted members to modify the contextual framework. This will also take some tweaking of existing “wiki” platforms, best done in concert.

5. Use that information to “seed” packaged stories for mass distribution, referencing the community, to develop a “virtuous cycle” of strengthening the effort.

6. Develop a business model that shares revenue from actionable advertising messages with all content creators, or an organization for the benefit of the community (school booster club).

Is this possible?

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7 responses to “Core of all the Gorillas

  1. Welcome back, Chuck. šŸ™‚

    Re: No. 3. “Dedicate experimental resources to using native XML digital assets …” Traditional media companies may not (probably do not) have adequate resources with the necessary skill sets, so we cannot underestimate the learning curve here.

    And @neomaxcom makes a good point at WeMediaCommunity.org in response to this. He’s right, we are “too quick to discount as worthless those citizen contributions that don’t fit the notion of journalism.” We can be quite snobbish and must let go of being central figures if we are to successfully grow online communities.

    We also cannot just label it a “democratic space” and allow everything in the name of free speech. There must be a clear mission, moderation and tools for the community to successfully maintain and protect itself.

  2. Just popping in quickly — I think you raised a great point and I’ll explore it further in my own blogging. But in the meantime, to clarify, the “layers of journalistic insight/context” I described could definitely be an aspect of building online community (where community, not product, is the focus).

    Looking forward to continuing this discussion.

    – Amy Gahran

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  4. Interesting blog, Chuck, and some definite food for thought for those of us who make a living from delivering information content to readers.

    I find Ms. Gahan’s comment in your post interesting. She suggests journalists move away from what we typically think of as working a beat, and instead rely on users to generate at least some of that content while the journalists then provide analysis and context. Seems to me that’s what bloggers do right now, with varying degrees of success and earning differing amounts of scorn from journalists — they take content created by journalists or others and then provide context, amplify points, analyze, etc.

    Ms. Gahan proposes flipping that on its head to a certain extent, which definitely flies in the face of the way most news operations work, and would probably incite all three of your gorillas.

  5. Possible? Yes. But in what context? In a business context, you’re talking about executing a complex maneuver within existing institutional structures and doing it well enough that you can gain ground on competitors who are better adapted to this space in the market.

    Realistically, how do you rate the odds of most poorly run newspaper companies when it comes to pulling off such a maneuver? At a moment when most newspaper chains are struggling to comprehend where they are now that they’ve lost most of their market value.

    What you prescribe is correct, but your first point whistles past an enormous graveyard: HOW do you convince top management to understand the issues? Because you simply can’t act with any hope of success until that happens, and top management believes this kind of thinking is just hippie-talk.

    The revolutionary thought? Why bother? Why not go outside these companies and start from scratch? Traditional media had an opportunity to extend its brand successfully into new media forms, but our industry botched that move several years ago (because profits weren’t high enough and the culture of the Web annoyed and offended us).

    The good news is, once these old companies lose their grip on local markets, there will be more meaningful opportunity to find the capital needed to challenge for shares of that market. I think we’ll see historic and significant capital formation around new media startups during the coming recession.

  6. Pingback: Information in the First Instance « C3 - Complete Community Connection

  7. Pingback: What should BarCamp NewsInnovation be? « Jason Kristufek’s We Media blog

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