Just came across a couple of great videos on the future of content and journalism from the Web 2.0 Summit 2009. The first is titled The Future of Content, and can be viewed below:
The second is titled Whither Journalism, and is shown below:
Over a year old now. I think the debate has evolved a bit since these panels, but still quite relevant.
I’m going to assume that readers of this post are familiar with the WikiLeaks story. If not, I recommend watching the following Chris Anderson interview with Julian Assange at a TED talk in July 2010:
… as well as the following interview with Julian Assange by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now from October 26th, shortly after WikiLeaks’ release of the Iraq War Logs: WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange on Iraq War Logs, “Tabloid Journalism” and Why WikiLeaks Is “Under Siege”. The first part of the interview can be viewed below:
WikiLeaks, Mainstream Media, and the future of Journalism
Rather, I want to specifically explore mainstream media coverage of WikiLeaks, and what it means for the future of Journalism.
The past two weeks has seen the first, sustained, clash between two ages: a new era of complete online freedom and transparency (and all that this entails, good and bad); versus the old world of secrecy, authority and control. And it’s been paralleled in a clash between a new way of doing journalism and the way the traditional, mainstream media does it.
… I have now come to the conclusion that the future of journalism will not come in any shape or form from the current established media – at least in its present form. … the future of journalism does not lie with the mainstream media.
Westbrook authored this post 2 days after he appeared on Al Jazeera with Robert Fisk – a bit of a journalistic hero of mine – on a panel discussing how WikiLeaks is challenging, and changing, the craft of journalism. The video can be viewed below:
I started with Westbrook because his voice is from a younger generation of journalists that looks to the Internet to provide a visibility and transparency that (I believe) was absent from previous forms of media and journalism. Westbrook makes the case that WikiLeaks represents a new form of journalism made possible by the Internet age, and the “complete and utter transparency” that is made possible by the Internet. He contrasts this with an older, more secretive era of both diplomacy and journalism.
Jeff Jarvis has also commented frequently of late on a new “era of transparency”, and supports WikiLeaks efforts in this regard in his blog post from December 4 2010: Wikileaks: Power shifts from secrecy to transparency.
Jay Rosen provides a very interesting angle on the WikiLeaks phenomena in the video below:
Rosen’s line of thought is not so much whether WikiLeaks is a journalistic force for good or evil (so to speak). Rather, he asks the important question of why WikiLeaks as an organization arose as a trusted source for whistleblowers in the first place? Quoting Rosen:
One of the reasons (why whistleblowers trust WikiLeaks with their information) is that the legitimacy of the press itself is in doubt in the minds of the leakers. And there’s good reason for that. Because while we have what proports to be a watchdog press, we also have … the clear record of the watchdog presses’ failure … to provide a check on power …
So I think it’s a mistake to try and reckon with WikiLeaks and what it’s about, without including in the frame the spectacular failures of the watchdog press over the past 10, 20, 30 years, but especially recently.
And so without this legitimacy crisis in mainstream American journalism, the leakers may not be so included to trust an upstart like Julian Assange and … WikiLeaks.
When the United States is able to go to war behind a phony case. When something like that happens, and the Congress is fooled, and a fake case is presented to the United Nations. And a war follows, and hundreds of thousands of people die, and the stated rationale turns out to be false. The legitimacy crisis extends from the Bush government itself to the American state as a whole, and the American press, and the international system. Because all of them failed at one of the most important things that a government by consent can do – which is reason-giving.
That’s powerful stuff.
Glenn Greenwald on Mainstream Media reporting of WikiLeaks
No journalist, however, has done more to expose the conflicted relationship of mainstream media (in the US) and WikiLeaks that Salon’s Glenn Greenwald – who also gets my vote as the top journalist writing for a US media outlet.
It’s hard to even know where to start to cover the excellent journalism Greenwald has done in holding mainstream media accountable for their inaccurries and mistruths regarding WikiLeaks. Here’s just a sampling of my favorite Greenwald pieces surrounding WikiLeaks:
- Wired’s refusal to release or comment on the Manning chat logs – December 29 2010
- The merger of journalists and government officials – December 28 2010
- What WikiLeaks revealed to the world in 2010 – December 24 2010
- The media’s authoritarianism and WikiLeaks – December 10 2010
- The lawless Wild West attacks WikiLeaks – December 6 2010
- WikiLeaks debate with Steven Aftergood – December 3 2010
- The moral standards of WikiLeaks critics – December 1 2010
- More on the media’s Pentagon-subservient WikiLeaks coverage – October 27 2010
- NYT v. the world: WikiLeaks coverage – October 25 2010
- The Nixonian henchmen of today: at the NYT – October 24 2010
Shameful Assange Media Interview award – CNN’s Atika Shubert
But my vote for most shameful Assange media interview of 2010 goes to CNN’s Atika Shubert who (briefly) interviewed Assange in October 2010. First, the clip:
This interview was conducted right at the time of the WikiLeaks’ release of the Iraq War Logs – an event of enormous import. In this interview, Shubert employs (to my mind) the age-old technique of attempting to discredit the messenger when the message is unpalatable. It’s shameful journalism, and Assange was exactly right to walk away from the interview. I thought he handled the situation with dignity and grace.
In Summary – the birth of a genuinely accountable news media?
I believe WikiLeaks sets a new example and ideal for transparency and accountability in both investigative journalism and world affairs. It’s an organization that could not have been born prior to the current Internet era, and its emergence is being resisted by entities – political and journalistic – that for far too long have not been held accountable to public scrutiny. It’s a very encouraging and hopeful phenomenon IMO.
So I think this is the first post I’ve every written specifically about Content Strategy. Even though I work in the news media industry and face strategic and operational concerns around content strategy daily, I hadn’t really encountered a community of folks who called themselves content strategists – who professed to practice a formal discipline of content strategy.
Meeting Razorfish’s Rachel Lovinger
A couple weeks back I had the good fortune to attend the Smart Content conference in New York city on October 19th. The conference addressed the role of metadata and semantics in content strategy, and one of the speakers at the conference was Rachel Lovinger of Razorfish. Rachel presented an overview of her report Nimble: A Razorfish report on publishing in the digital age – which was published in June 2010. Considering that I work in news media, and I have a passionate interest in semantic technology, I thought the report was absolutely fantastic. It’s definitely the best report I’ve seen summarizing the future impact of semantic technologies in the publishing industry. If you’d like the slideshow version, here’s the presentation Rachel gave at Semtech 2010: Semantics in Publishing and Media.
On Content Strategy
Not only did I greatly enjoy Rachel’s presentation, but I had a chance to hang out with her after the conference for a bit. Like the name of Charles Hugh Smith’s blog, I found Rachel to be “of two minds”. On the one hand, she clearly has an interest and passion for “findability” of content, and semantic technology’s role in making content findable and contextual.
However, she has also played a big part in launching the discipline and community that has formed around Content Strategy. Clearly, Rachel is very passionate about content strategy, and I believe she commented more than once during our conversation, “You know, you too might actually be a content strategist” – in the sense that many people often play the role of content strategist in their company, but don’t always apply that label to what they do. It was pretty cool actually. For the record, I don’t think I am a content strategist … yet. But there’s something there that I find very interesting, and it’s a bit part of the challenge news media faces in transforming itself (more on that later).
Apparently, the Smart Content conference was my time to be introduced to the world of Content Strategy. For not only was the conference heavily attended by content strategists, but I also sat next to Ahava Leibtag, a content strategist in the health care industry. Ahava and Rachel served as my guides that day into the world of content strategy.
Content Strategy – the Community
Content Strategy, as far as I understand it, covers the various activities of planning, process, and method that go into creating and publishing compelling content to serve the goals of a digital presence – be it a company, organization, or individual (this is my folk definition BTW). And a community has formed to promote this practice as a formal discipline. Here are a list of some of the important voices in this community that I’ve been able to discern:
- Rachel Lovinger
- Kristina Halvorson
- Jeffrey MacIntyre, and here
- Karen McGrane
- Colleen Jones
- Erin Scime
- Elena Melendy
- Scatter/Gather – Razorfish’s Content Strategy blog
This is just a few names I’ve found that are important voices in the Content Strategy community. But reading their work should give you a feel for what the community is all about.
Seminal articles in the Content Strategy community
Apparently content strategy, as a discipline and a community, really didn’t formally take off until 2009. Rachel credited this significantly to both the community-building efforts of Kristina Halvorson, and to the Content Strategy Consortium that took place as part of the IA Summit 2009. From 2007 through early 2009, several important articles appeared that helped shape and engage the content strategy community. These articles were:
- Content Strategy: The Philosophy of Data, by Rachel Lovinger
- The Discipline of Content Strategy, by Kristina Halvorson
- Content-tious Strategy, by Jeffrey MacIntyre
My bad, but I haven’t even had a chance to read these articles yet. But I just wanted to surface that they seem to have had an important impact in the development of the content strategy community.
Content Strategy and Publishing
So finally, I’m able to get to the core message/topic of my post, which is the role of Content Strategy in News Media companies today. Obviously, it’s critical. It always has been.
But several factors make content strategy in news media companies particular fascinating today. Firstly, the Web has massively democratized the creation and publishing of content. Mainstream media organizations no longer “monopolize the channel” the way they did during the 20th century.
Secondly, digital media publishing has a very low cost structure. And the cost structures of the traditional news organization (along with the costs of publishing a print edition) are very difficult to maintain in the face of pure-digital publishing entities.
Thirdly, the audience now has a voice. The day’s where a news organization could editorialize from on high to a passive audience are pretty much gone. News and content consumers increasingly demand a voice in the content they consume, and they have a much wider variety of sources to from which to consume content that speaks to their particular interests and viewpoints.
The net result of this is that traditional news organizations really do have to significantly rethink how (or even whether, in some cases) they (i) create content, (ii) curate content, (iii) parter with prominent voices in their community, (iv) engage audiences, and (v) make their content compelling, discoverable, contextual, and relevant. Let me tell you, this is a tall order for journalistic cultures that grew up in the days of print journalism. And it really does define nothing less that a fundamental transformation of how we create, curate, and deliver news and content to our audiences.
So I guess you could say that the whole topic of content strategy really “speaks to me”. 🙂
Jeffrey Macintyre and Panel on Elements of Editorial Strategy
The presentation slides can be found here.
Well, I guess I now have a “handle” – i.e. Content Strategy – to provide as an umbrella for considering how to rethink creating, curating, and delivering compelling, relevant, contextual, and timely content to audiences who are demanding a voice in the news they consume. And so the journey continues …
Hellweg talks about how his team made change happen throughout an organization, and the role of putting the users and the community at the center of these efforts.
There are some classic quotes in Hellweg’s presentation, here’s just a few:
I want to just give a brief bit of context around the Publishing industry … I think everyone knows how challenging these times are, and in many ways, self-inflicted I think on the Publishing industry.
But the context is we are all in a battle of attention; we are all in a battle for an ever-shrinking amount of time for any one media property. I think we’re going through one of the the first actual repricing, reevaluation of advertising.
I don’t know if you’ve read the Ken Auletta book Googled, but there’s a great scene where Mel Karmazin – I think he was at CBS at the time – goes in for one of his first meetings at Google, and they’re explaining how Page Rank and Ad Sense work. And Mel, who’s built this empire literally on advertising, looks at them as says “You’re fu**ing with my magic!”
And that’s exactly what’s happening at large with the Publishing industry – is that for the first time, people are able to actually put a real value on advertising, which for most publishing companies is the crux of what their revenues come from.
That’s pretty profound. It’s a story that has been repeatedly told since the Google advertising model took off, but I think it bears repeating. Continuing:
I think when we talk about these kinds of organizational changes, these kind of cultural changes, that we really remember it’s something that’s happening at the individual level. And I think that one of the things that’s happening in the Publishing industry is at the human level, this is a really searing, and almost existential moment for them – in that the entire value proposition that people thought they had in publishing has fundamentally changed. …
As Brandon mentioned in my introduction, I did a fair amount of writing about the music industry back when I lived in San Francisco. And I remember at the time being a reporter, and looking at this industry and just saying, “How could they be so stupid? How could they not see what they need to do?” It’s so clear to me – a 27 year-old reporter – what this industry needs to do be doing with regards to the industry, and engaging its community, and dropping its litigious approach to strategy.
And I realized to my horror about two months ago, that the Publishing industry was actually doing the exact same thing. And I think they’re now at the stage where they’re about to collapse exhausted, defeated at Apple’s feet.
I haven’t finished watching Hellweg’s video, but I suspect there are some important lessons about user- and community-centered design approaches for the traditional publishing industry.
An interesting presentation by Alexis Lloyd, Creative Technologist in the NY Times R&D lab, on profound shifts occurring in user interaction and product design in news media.
So what does working in the NY Times R&D Lab entail? Here’s how Lloyd defines its mission:
The R&D Lab was founded about 4 years ago, and our mission is really to look around corners, to foster innovation at the company by researching technology trends and projecting outward anywhere from 18 months to 2-5 years. And we design and prototype ideas for what future interfaces for news media and content might look like.
Cool. The rest of this post highlights key messages from Lloyd’s talk, and is broken down into 5 sections:
- Introduction (this section)
- Trend #1: From one (or a few) to many Devices
- Trend #2: From a Web of Pages to a Web of Data
- Trend #3: From static web to Real-Time Web
- The Future of News
From Static Publishing to an Interaction paradigm
Lloyd says that if she had to boil her entire presentation down to one sentence, it would probably be this:
The web is shifting from a publishing paradigm to a paradigm of communicating.
And this is having profound effects on the way we understand, experience, and create content.
The old paradigm
First, Lloyd presents the traditional publishing paradigm:
In the old paradigm, information was at the center, and people actively seek it out. So you have a website, and people make this pilgrimage to your website to experience your content.
The new paradigm
Then, the new publishing paradigm:
Again from Lloyd:
In the new model, people have shifted to the center of this equation. And more and more often, content and information is getting pushed to them rather than them actively going and seeking it out. Which really changes how they experience it, how they interact with it. And furthermore, those arrows are now moving in two directions a whole lot more. So not only is content being pushed to users, but they’re increasingly broadcasting it and creating their own content and pushing that outward.
This new paradigm (or model) can be described in terms of three profound shifts. They are:
- From one (or a few) to many Devices
- From a web of pages to a Web of Data
- From static web to Real-Time Web
These three shifts are described in the following sections.
A nice piece of work from Tony Deifell, Tracy Van Slyke and the folks from The Media Consortium titled The Big Thaw: Charting a New Future for Journalism. Here’s my favorite excerpt from the publication, from Volume 2, Chapter 2, page 16:
The new competitive landscape requires publishers to build many new
competencies, including community-building, strategic use of technology, multiplatform agility, greater integrated organizational functions and an ability to experiment, which may require counterintuitive ways of working.
Van Slyke is also the co-author of the soon-to-be-released book Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics through networked Progressive Media. In the past week, she has posted a series of four posts exploring the four layers of networks that she and co-author Jessica Clark explore in their book. There’s some nice visuals, intuitive visuals in these posts.
Aah, the trials and tribulations of news media. I wonder if Clay Shirky is right, that things will get worse before they get better?