Stiles, Reeve and I went with boss Evan to Texas Tech University in flat, windy Lubbock this week for the first stop in the Texas Tribune College Tour. The day included a civic engagement fair, a debate between two statewide candidates (who traveled to Lubbock together, actually), and an afternoon session on the future of journalism featuring us reporters. It reminded me that I forgot to post my notes from a much meatier future of journalism panel, the one at SXSW in Austin last month. So, to recap:
Andrew Huff, editor of Gapers Block, a digglike, crowd-sourced zine in Chicago
Jeff Jarvis, media futurist, professor, blogger at BuzzMachine.com and author, “What Would Google Do?”
Brad Flora, WindyCitizen.com
Jeremy Zilar, blog specialist at the NYTimes
Adrian Holovaty, web developer, WashingtonPost.com, co-developer of web programming language Django (which we use for the TT) and creator of EveryBlock.com.
BIGGEST CHALLENGES AHEAD
Jarvis: Biggest challenge is getting ourselves out of old models – the page based, product based world. Because we’re now in a screen based, process based world. Content curation is as important as content creation.
Engagement is a challenge (the belief that if news is that important, it will find me), efficiency is a challenge (we’re still way over bloated).
In an ecosystem of overabundant creation you need more help finding stuff. Everything should get turned on its head. Don’t operate under “old industrial age assumptions”. Turn those upside down to rethink what we do, how we do, how we communicate and collaborate.
Flora: Staying above, rising above the noise floor has value for future. We aren’t there yet in the physics of how the internet works right now such that the re-writer (content farms) get much more SEO than a curator who provides links. Challenge for news organizations is to keep staying ahead of content farms “stealing” search results while still providing original information is tricky. Newspapers will likely fall back on personalities – people who are able to bring a cult of personality to work are getting more attention, visibility.
Holovaty: Biggest challenge is the business model. But another issue is our current/traditional reporting process. Journalists gather all kinds of information that they just “throw away.” All the data, all the input collected during the reporting of an issue is typically just compressed into one big blob of text, when we simply write a story about it. It’s rarely “how can I take this data and do cool things with it”?
“I’m really interested in journalists who are actually taking all this data we mine and treating it with respect,” Holovaty said. He wants to see more publicly accessible databases. and more people taking the data, and then doing a story based on the data.
“We struggle with how to teach data as news. Should journalists learn computer programming? Not necessarily. But journalists should know how to communicate with developers just as they know how to communicate with photographers. There’s a wealth of stuff there, we’ve got to get at it, plumb it better, help audience get at it,” said Holovaty.
HOW TO RISE ABOVE WHEN AUDIENCES ARE DROWNING IN NEWS?
Pull it together, piece it together in an interesting way that can convey information to citizens. Windy Citizen is essentially just a front page for Chicago that can point people to the good stuff. Crowd power is used to recommend good bits of information to others. Readers/consumers are smart. Give people a way to leverage that knowledge and contribute back, weigh in on things. How can we encourage the community to better create, and get them to curate… Top stories and who’s linking to them, such that evetything’s really related.
Other suggestions: Crowdsourced wikis, wiki-based reporting structure, rethinking how we use data to create millions of watchdogs.
“We aren’t storytellers anymore,” said Jarvis. “That’s a one-way perspective to look at things. It’s not my story to tell you… we are story enablers.”
The panel argued collaborative forms are better. While many of us can be gatherers of information, editors, and marketers/distributors, the place journalists add value where distribution’s going on already is by adding deeper reporting, context and vetting.
BUSINESS MODEL FUTURE
JARVIS: The NY Times won’t die, but Boston Globe might. Newspapers should just move into the future. Newspapers are being replaced by an ecosystem, not a single company. News will become the providence of many different players who are supported by many different business models. “One becomes many,” Jarvis said. Bloggers can and have been making revenue. Optimize that by saving money, improve what you’re selling to advertisers and creating networks. Hyper local advertising is a building block. Jarvis envisions some measure of publicly-supported journalism that the market won’t meet, “the broccoli journalism”. He projects that a hypothetical market for journalism in the future, which will be a mix of publicly-supported, commercial and individual models, is an ecosystem worth about $45 million annually. “We will have an equivalent number of journalists, who are more answerable to the community, closer to community,” Jarvis said. ” The amount of waste in the current structure still gargantuan.”
Build networks. The marginal cost of news online is zero. Journalists should add unique value. We need to ask ourselves – how do you combine people who create good content/stories with people who can sell?