Monthly archive

October 2005 - page 3

Newspapers: The magazines of the future?

I remember when Wick first came back to D Magazine in the early ninties, we had lots of discussions about what made a [D] magazine story, as opposed to other media like newspapers.

My paraphrase of his answer, which has stuck with me over the years:

Newspapers break news. Magazines give you the backstory behind the news. Magazines can’t try to keep up with newspapers on breaking news, because even if they’re first, the printer and the distributor will make them late to the party.

It’s occurred to me over the past few days, partly because the idea was discussed at We Media, that we’re in, or at least moving towards a world where the internet has completely filled the role of newspapers in the mantra above.

So, are newspapers the magazines of the aughties?

(Link via Scott Chaffin.)

Another way of saying it.

And another:

The essence of what makes a great newspaper has nothing to do with paper.
It has to do with being a great community voice, reporting a story very
well, and gaining the trust of your audience and your marketers…No, I wouldn’t say that print media is on its way out. … I would say, however, that it better be very well justified
if it is going to exist. … I think we’ve seen the passing of print as
the medium of news delivery. There are plenty of examples where print
was the best we could do because it’s all we had. But the online medium
is better.

An ancillary goal

Ask me why I wanted to launch Pegasus News, and you’ll find several answers: I hate inefficiencies, and I saw lots in the local news biz. I also, frankly, wanted to build a business where I could directly reap some of the rewards of its (knock wood) success after years of being a hired gun.

But one of the big reasons was social. I passionately want to bring a sense of community and connection to cities. That’s part of why our model is so intertwined with community groups.

Some of our propaganda pieces include a quote from Robert Putnam:

For a variety of reasons, life is easier in a community blessed with a substantial stock of social
. . . . [N]etworks of civic engagement foster sturdy norms of generalized reciprocity and encourage the
emergence of social trust . . . .

[But] by almost every measure,
Americans’ direct engagement in politics and government has fallen steadily and
sharply over the last generation, despite the fact that average levels of
education – the best individual-level
predictor of political participation – have risen sharply throughout this
period. Every year over the last decade or two, millions more have withdrawn
from the affairs of their communities.

Farai Chideya‘s remarks at We Media reminded me of the only quibble I’ve heard from the community groups with whom we’re working: What about the members of our community who aren’t wired?

That’s where my ancillary goal comes in:

We want to help enable free WiFi access for everyone in our coverage area.

This is not entirely altruistic. We’re a digital-only product, which means that anyone who isn’t online can’t use our service.

There’s two components of this goal:

  1. Computer access
  2. WiFi

I don’t know exactly how to do this yet — and I’d like to hear suggestions from our readers. I know it’s not something we’ll necessarily do ourselves. We may serve more of a catalyst role.

Google is trying to put free WiFi in San Francisco, and there’s lots of debate over their motivations and methods.

The computer part is harder. Although there are already ideas out there. I had a conversation a while back with Kerry Goodwin, the Weed n’ Seed coordinator for the Ferguson Road Initiative, about an interesting program he is working on. The idea is to set up a monitored computer lab in a vacant apartment in low-income complexes. This particular program is for students, who would get to use laptops under supervision every afternoon. And, if their grades improved enough over a certain period of time, they would get to take a laptop from the lab for free. Said used laptop would then be replaced with a new one, thus keeping the equipment up to date. Because the center runs on WiFi, then the successful student should be able to use the laptop at home as well.

Obviously, someone would have to pay for this, and it isn’t going to be a young startup. And right now, we’re focused on proving that our business will work. But once we do that, I don’t want anyone saying that our community-driven vision of news excludes lower-income readers.

It takes a (Potemkin) village

Tom Grubisich has a review of citizen journalism sites posted on the Online Journalism Review. (I found it via the heated discussion it spurred on the Online News listserv.)

The reviews aren’t good:

But when you take a closer look, what you see, apart from a couple of honorable exceptions, is the Internet equivalent of Potemkin villages — an elaborate façade with little substance behind it. 

But his conclusion leaves me with some ammo for those who think our plan is too labor-intensive:

The best citizen journalism sites at the community level —
iBrattleboro and WestportNow — buzz with activity. That didn’t happen
spontaneously. The proprietors of both sites know their communities,
are passionately engaged with them and, in their own ways, are not
afraid to put on editor’s (or motivator’s) hats.

Another argument for closed networks

We got over 400 comment spams while I was gone. Since we moderate, they never see the light of day on our site, but it’s (almost) enough to make me close comments altogether.

We Media wrapup

Others (particularly The Media Center and Paid Content; with images available at Flickr.) have already covered the event well, so instead of a full recap, I’ll offer some free-flowing quotes and attendant thoughts:

Chris Willis (Co-author of the original We Media paper, and working on a new edition) on major differences in the thinking this time around (all quote emphases mine):

Not everybody wants to be a "citizen journalist"… They want to collaborate in more traditional means. There is no one-size-fits-all. What works in Greensboro doesn’t necessarily work elsewhere…Community building takes effort…Provide an architecture of participation and let them do what they’re obsessed with.

Larry Kramer points out that as folks only have 10 minutes to catch news on the run, you have to find out what people want quickly.

Lots of discussion of the need for more follow-the-money politics, particularly on a local level.

Minutes of the meeting were kept via mural:


Farai Chideya talked about the old "Town Hall" function of newspapers that has been eroded by media fragmentation, pointing out that the good ol’ days weren’t necessarily so good, as the Town Hall was built by and for rich white guys. She suggests that the collaborative peer-to-peer media could create a "more inclusive town hall," but points out the large numbers of folks who are not wired, or even illiterate who could be left out of the conversation.

I can’t remember who said it, but someone said that amidst all this highfallutin’ national conversation, it is the mayors of cities who are responsible for getting broadband to the masses. It’s going to be a growing socio-economic problem, and the "last mile" issue needs to be solved.

This really struck me– one thing I noticed is that most everyone seems to be working national-down, instead of local-up. I wonder that a lot of that national-down won’t become commoditized and/or redundant. People live locally, and local is the one thing that’s much harder to commoditize.

I have a lot of thoughts on this whole "last mile" issue, and another fleshed-out post on what we can do is forthcoming.

Jennifer Feiken of Google:

Talking about local election coverage and locally-focused blogs:

If the information was there, we would connect to it.

Also, the buried lede in Jennifer’s talk: Google is going to start offering paid-access video.

My favorite quote of the day, from Feedster founder Scott Rafer, when the panel he was on was asked for three, five and ten year predictions on the state of We Media:

I won’t even give VC’s three-year projections.

Lots of discussion in the "We Invest" session on platforms versus content. (Follow the link to hear me talk about how middle America don’t know from RSS.) Consensus was that the value is in gathering audience, and that with the masses of content available, good filters are exceptionally valuable. There was the usual (and I think unrealistic) bias towards entirely automated filters.

There was almost universal agreement that for start-ups, attention (number of users and stickiness) was more important than revenue.

Rafat Ali (from the audience):

VC’s never invest in content.

Someone in the We Invest session talked about the high value of leveraging social metadata across a closed network. That’s exactly what we’re doing — glad to hear someone acknowledge it, as I’m seeing so many people get giddy over open networks.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear Henry Copeland talk about the value and high ad yield on "Mommy Bloggers."

Great quote from Copeland on building audience:

The best thing is to have a couple of idiot enemies.

My second-favorite quote of the day from Steve Rubel (link mine):

Message boards are like blogs with their knuckles on the ground.

Not a dig at the Media Center, because it seems that everyone who ever puts on a conference (myself included) makes the same mistake: Remember– never put the interactive group project stuff at the end of the day. Half the group leaves and those left behind are brain dead. Interaction first; talking head later.

Why is it that every conference on the media biz, big or small, inevitably turns into a political diatribe, with the assumption that everyone in the room must be in agreement? The final panel of the day featured a lot of broad and apocalyptic bashing of the right, and Al Gore’s much-criticized talk was filled with some interesting paranoia. (Dan Rather’s exit from CBS had nothing to do with faked documents, dontchya know.)

Whether I agree or disagree with these points of views in this context is irrelevant– it’s that they have precious little to do with the media business, the alleged topic du jour. I always leave these things making a mental checklist of people whom I owe an apology for the times I’ve skewered them for their rants on liberal media bias.

Livin la vida meta

As soon as I catch my breath, I’ll have more to say about the We Media conference, but I found this to be a through-the-looking-glass moment that illustrates how ridiculously interconnected we’re all becoming:

So I’m sitting in the conference next to AP reporter Seth Sutel watching over his shoulder as he writes a piece on the proceedings. After he’s done, I turn my attention elsewhere.

Less than an hour later my Blackberry buzzes with the following email from Kevin:

From: Kevin McCrea 
Sent: Wednesday, October 05,
2005 1:18 PM
To: ‘Mike Orren’
Drudge is linking this article about your media
President, Community Affairs
Pegasus News, Inc.

And there’s Seth’s article.

Keep Reading

Live where you live

NEW YORK — On my flight up to the We Media conference, I picked up a copy of the New Yorker and found a (criminally unavailable online) Ken Auletta piece about the strains of Tribune ownership on the LA Times.

I was struck by how pat the whole picture painted seems — corporate bosses under Wall Street pressure slashing costs as revenues decline; journos sneering at local coverage while insisting that expensive international investigations and awards are all that matters; newsrooms and boardrooms so hopelessly out of synch that they’re not even speaking the same language…

It’s the type of stuff I wrote about in a "manifesto" just over a year ago. A manifesto that has been painstakingly shaped into a plan. A plan that we’re now starting to execute.

As a newspaperman, I found it depressing. As an entrepreneur, I found it reassuring.

Some key quotes:

The people who decide the fate of Los Angeles’s newspaper now live in Chicago.

Dean Baquet:

It’s an experience that reporters don’t have much anymore, where you cover the town you live in and see the impact of your stories.

Baquet again:

We haven’t mastered making the paper feel like it is edited in Los Angeles.

John Carroll:

If we decide that we’re not going to cover the world ourselves, we’ll become a second-tier paper.

This particular quote is symbolic of the problem that major market editors need to face up to: If you’re the LA Times, your primary responsibility is to cover LA. If there are resources to do more than that, then more power to you. If not, then the seven part Pulitzer-winning series on Asian labor practices will just have to be won by somebody else.

PaperOr, as it was put more elegantly, in one of my favorite newspaper movies:

Paul Bladden, New York Sentinel:
Well, I hope you’re satisfied, @$#! You just blew your chance to cover the world!

Really. Well guess
f@%#$&* what? I don’t really f@%#$&* care. You wanna
f@%#$&* why? Because I don’t f@%#$&* live in the f@%#$&* world! I
live in
f@%#$&* New York City!

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