Andrew Keen (author of Cult of the Amateur) makes a good talk show guest, and a good panelist too. He’s patient. Smart. Calm. Doesn’t shout. Doesn’t get angry. Makes some rather weird facial expressions sometimes, but on the whole, he’s very civil.
Keen has adopted a position that social networking is basically bad for society. He’s concerned that all this user-generated content, blogs, etc., are going to “ruin media.”
Keen was one of three panelists in a discussion hosted by CBC News (you can watch it online) on Wednesday evening in Toronto. Leonard Brody, of NowPublic.com, and Rahaf Harfoush, a 20-something research analyst, completed the panel.
The purpose of media, Keen said, is to inform and entertain. He doesn’t mention communication.
Brody, on the other hand, proclaimed: “Your children will not read newspapers” — because they can’t communicate there.
As you might imagine, it was a fairly interesting discussion. I’ve seen Keen a few times on TV, pimping his book, and he wasn’t all that much different here — except that the addition of co-panelists tempered his authoritative manner somewhat. Keen’s idea of an “independent source” of information is the Guardian (he likes to call it “the London Guardian”; maybe he’s afraid we will think it’s still in Manchester). He made sneering and incredulous faces in response to a questioner from the audience who suggested that we need more diverse sources such as Al Jazeera. It’s the only time I’ve seen him being bluntly rude (it wasn’t pretty).
Tell Me a Story
“The basis of news, to me, is stories about people,” Harfoush said.
Brody emphasized stories and also analysis as important products of journalism. We need good quality analysis and good quality content packages, he said — and we need journalists to produce them. Breaking news will likely leave the purview of journalists, replaced by “a network of eyes and ears that traditional journalists can use,” Brody said.
Keen agreed that critical analysis — performed by trained journalists — is vital. However, he remained certain of his righteous cause: “We have nothing to learn from children,” he said, provoking a growl or gasp from many in the audience of some 300 people. His reference, if I’m not mistaken, was to Facebook users, and to the repeated examples offered by Harfoush and Brody of how younger people interact with media today.
“It’s a return to the medieval,” Keen said. Today we have an elite of super media-literate individuals, while everyone else is swimming in garbage.
Friday’s keynote speaker expressed some of the same ideas, although in a less arrogant manner.
“Our audiences are literally drowning in information,” said Mike Oreskes, executive editor of The International Herald Tribune and author of a new book about the U.S. Constitution. (You’d think a guy who’s spent 30 years in journalism would have learned to use the word literally correctly.)
“The solution to information overload is journalism,” Oreskes said. People want orientation and direction to lead them through the thicket of information. This sounded a lot like Keen, to me, and not like what I had heard from Brody and Harfoush. (Read more from Oreskes’s speech.)
How Do You Decide What to Believe?
Brody said people don’t trust — and don’t want to trust — only one news source. The days of the authoritative source have ended. “They want to triangulate truth on their own,” he said.
“If you care, you’re going to pursue the information,” Harfoush said. There are topics that a given person does not consider interesting, but the same person will invest time and effort in finding out more about other topics. This is true whether that person is clicking on the Internet or standing in front of a rack of magazines at the newsstand. (Mathew Ingram live-blogged this panel discussion.)
I was wondering whether journalists can make people care. I think if you tell a story really well, you can.
Oreskes worries that “the solar system of YOU” (referred to by Brody on Wednesday night) is in mortal conflict with “the actual solar system” of reality, the world outside your personal life. The victim of that mortal conflict might be democracy itself, because democracy requires consensus and compromise — and you can’t achieve those if you don’t understand other people.
I’ll be the first to stand up and agree with Oreskes that a key role of journalism is to help people understand the world — both the world outside their own home and the world on the other side of an ocean. But I question his assertion that there exists “an actual solar system” that any one journalist can accurately portray. The world represented by one person, or one news organization, is never going to be the same as the world seen by every other person. Everyone lives in the center of “the solar system of YOU.”
Call Up Merleau-Ponty
Oreskes believes you can “set aside your own views and lay out a set of facts, a sequence of events,” in a way that is accurate. I would argue that the best you can do is call it the way you saw it. And the way you saw it … well, there’s bound to be at least one other viewing angle, isn’t there?
The reason we need Al Jazeera, Mr. Keen — and a whole lot of other voices besides that, and besides the Guardian (which is, without question, a shining beacon in the journalistic world) — is because every voice comes from a source, a person with two feet on the ground in the world, and no two of us are ever standing in the same spot.
Democracy is messy, noisy, disorganized. Democracy means you have to shut up and listen. You’ll get a chance to speak too. But this one-way authority thing isn’t working very well, at least not in my country, that big aging empire sandwiched between Canada and Mexico. Stories are great because — unlike a shouting match, an argument, or a debate — stories invite people to listen. Stories are entertaining and informative. But stories are also communication. A storyteller has to listen to other stories, the same way musicians listen to other people’s music. The people in a democratic society need to listen to one another — not just to a mediated, filtered version of the truth.
“In this new world,” Oreskes said, “we [journalists] are no longer gatekeepers.”
The morning started with a keynote speech by Hilary Schneider, a Yahoo marketing VP and former high-level executive at Knight Ridder Digital. While her talk was a little too obviously a pitch for newspaper companies to partner with Yahoo, it held my attention and even made me stop and think a few times.
I had never seen Yahoo’s MapMixer before, for example. “Upload an image of your map, use our layering tool to align it with Yahoo! Maps and we’ll do the rest! Your map will have all the features of Yahoo! Maps (zooming, panning). You can also syndicate it on your own site or blog.”
Schneider also showed off Yahoo’s Democratic Candidate Mashup, in which users were invited to create video mashups from segments of the TV debates. The package got 4.4 million pageviews, and visitors spent an average of 7 minutes on the page.
She did urge news organizations to embrace rapid prototyping and “rapid failure,” which far too few editors and managers in this field understand. (I wrote about rapid prototyping here in May.)
News organizations should be working to increase the reach for ALL the content they create, Schneider said. Yeah, no kidding! Her shtick is that by partnering, the organization increases its reach tenfold. You link to them, they link to you, they carry your content, you carry theirs, and everybody wins! Woot!
Here’s the ONA student journalist’s coverage of Schneider’s speech.
The blurred lines make many uneasy. “There’s a lot of uninformed opinion on the Internet and not a lot of solid reporting,” said Fred Brown, vice chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics committee and a columnist at the Denver Post. A professional journalist “respects the truth and lives up to standards of ethics. Certainly that isn’t the case in the blogosphere.”
That kind of attitude is killing the newspaper business, Mr. Brown. Maybe it’s time for you to learn how to use an RSS reader. And read something online other than the Drudge Report.
Newspapers should make a clear distinction between staff-written and blogger-generated material as a service to their readers, said David Ardia, director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.
I agree with that in principle, but I would not use it as an excuse to “ghetto-ize” your community bloggers. Sticking them off in an ugly little ad-cluttered space of their own broadcasts, loud and clear, what you REALLY think about them.
But what if a blogger gets a fact wrong or makes a defamatory comment about someone?
Newspapers have to be careful, but federal law generally protects a website owner from postings by its users. As long as employees of a newspaper site have nothing to do with a blogger’s work, Ardia said, the newspaper is probably protected, because it is simply posting content produced by an outsider.
Translation: You do NOT have to moderate comments before posting them.
At the same time, the law allows newspapers to act as good Samaritans to protect their readers, and Kinsey Wilson, executive editor of USA Today, said his paper had been doing just that.
Translation: You own the Web site. You’re allowed to delete stuff that is offensive or illegal.
But — be cool. Don’t delete stuff just because it’s edgy, or “may offend some viewers.” Threats about, say, hanging up nooses would be worthy of deletion, in my opinion. But someone saying the president is an idiot? Last time I checked, we were still allowed to say that in the United States.
The USA Today site has run excerpts from such blogs as College Football Resource and A Socialite’s Life, the latter a gossip site that discusses and mocks fashion, celebrities and the media.
Wilson said in an interview that the industry wasn’t adopting blogs in place of traditional reporting but in addition to it. In any event, he said, newspapers can’t afford to think about distributing information the way they used to.
“The walled garden is dead. We’re living in an era of distributed content,” he said. One important role of a newspaper nowadays is to sift through rafts of information online, he said, and help readers use it.
It’s nice to give credit where credit is due. For many years, business reporters at publications as lofty as The Wall Street Journal have “borrowed” liberally (some would say shamelessly) from the trade papers. If a journalist is tipped by a blogger, it’s only decent to refer to the source. Let’s not go down a dark road where journalists act like blogs are inferior while at the same time stealing from them.
One possibility is to welcome the best and the brightest into your own journalistic fold:
Some popular blogs have been “absorbed,” to use the New York Times’ term, into mainstream media sites. Freakonomics, a blog about economic thinking in everyday situations, runs on the New York Times site, and its authors share the ad revenue.
Stephen J. Dubner, a Freakonomics coauthor, said the partnership provided an opportunity to be featured on one of the most prominent newspaper sites in the world “with all the readership and support that comes along with it.”
Everybody wins! Not mentioned in the LA Times story was The New York Times “acquisition” in June 2007 of young Brian Stelter, the TVNewser blogger, almost immediately after his graduation from Towson University with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication.
So if you’ve heard anyone recently disparaging bloggers’ credibility or usefulness or integrity, why not ask them to name specifically which bloggers they are reading?
And if they’re reading such unreliable and unethical bloggers — I have to ask — why? Why aren’t they reading the good bloggers?
More of the same: I gave a 90-minute talk about similar ideas at a workshop for journalists last weekend.
The SNDies competition honors online journalism story presentations, with an emphasis on effective design. We see different winners here, compared with other competitions, because the judges in this competition focus on how well the package works, as well as its overall aesthetic (and the journalism must be good).
Joe Weiss has tagged them all for us — easy links to each winner (thanks, Joe!):
Lee Glynn, a multimedia artist and designer at The St. Pete Times, in Florida, showed off a package about the Sputnik anniversary at a workshop held Saturday at our university. It’s kind of a workaday package, but that’s worth thinking about. It’s an anniversary story — you can plan ahead. It’s not a huge story — but it’s got special appeal in Florida.
Lee explained how the print and online artists and designers worked together to create both packages concurrently. She drew the storyboards (above) for the online package and asked the print graphics folks to provide certain views and angles of the 3-D model. Lee did the photo and video research herself.
You can see the full-page graphic that ran in the newspaper at right, and a few screens from the online package at left. Notice how both treatments can use the same assets.
This is a good example of how every newsroom should be working.