Scripting News for 4/24/2007

Checkbox News 

Yesterday’s piece got the most positive and enthusiastic response of any technology I’ve proposed in the 10-plus years I’ve been blogging. I love it when an idea takes root like that. Perhaps it’s a measure of how fed up we are with what passes for news on television.

We live in a complex world, and many of us have minds and are educated, and want to understand what’s going on. TV is not a bad way to do it, but the medium needs an overhaul in the age of the Internet. Our attention has mostly been focused on print, probably because we haven’t felt we can do much about TV. But as yesterday’s mockup shows, we’re really not very far from turning TV news upside down much the same way RSS revolutionized written news.

To implement this style of news, two things are needed:

  1. The news has to be unbundled, each segment, each story, has to be available as a separate unit.
  2. Each item needs to be categorized, needs metadata, to fit into a folksonomy.

Both #1 and #2 are easily within reach given the current economics of TV news. They have the technical means to do the unbundling, some are already doing it (examples: 60 Minutes, NewsHour). And I’d guess that some news organizations are already generating the metadata for each story, and if not, many have the editorial staff to do it.

Once #1 and #2 are in place, just turn your news flow into a frequently updated podcast feed, and we can do the rest, building a variety of clients from Apple TV to the Windows Media Player, running on iPods and cell phones, laptops, desktops — who knows where. All of it powered by the enormously simple idea of checkboxes.

PS: A J-school prof at Cal told me that most reporters have absolutely no idea which of their stories people read or don’t read. They’re flying blind. I bet TV news people are too.

Scott Rosenberg: “Not only do most reporters have no idea which stories are read, many if not most don’t want to know.”

Transcription errors 

Jason Calacanis was contacted by the same reporter who contacted me. I’m mentioned in Jason’s post, but somewhere along the line there was a transcription error. I did not offer to do the interview via email, I made a different offer.

Here’s what I said: “Not generally doing interviews these days. If you have a few questions, send them along, and if I have something to say, I’ll write a blog post, which of course you’re free to quote. Sorry that’s about the best I can do.”

Like Jason, I have a lot of experience being misquoted, or having comments linked with others, as if there was some back and forth that didn’t happen. Or I get used to make a point that the reporter wants to make, and my story gets lost. Often, the reporter’s point is that I’m a putz. Why should I work hard to help people do that? Also like Jason, I don’t have any trouble getting my ideas out on my own.

So if you want to work together, let’s find a new way to do it. I’m fed up with the old system. The way we start the reboot is to do all our work out in the open, real-time. Not via email, but in full view of everyone.

I will respect the reporter’s wish not to be identified, and if they want, I won’t even say my comments are in response to an inquiry from a reporter.

Another super-rude comeback from a Wired reporter. And they wonder why we decline to do interviews with them. Look in the mirror guys. Imagine someone talked about you that way, and ask if you’d go out of your way to help them.

Dan Gillmor: “Every journalist should have the experience of being covered by journalists. Nothing would improve the craft more.”

Joe Beda: “Talking to the media has absolutely no upside for me.”

Kevin Tofel: “How about an interview Wiki?”

Postscript: A Wired reporter takes issue with Jason’s post, calling him “cowardly.” As if to prove my point, perhaps. Can’t wait to hear what epiphet they have for me. The weird thing about it is that I know and respect Dylan Tweney, which makes me wonder if he’s trying to make some kind of really bad joke. If you’re trying to be funny, self-deprecating humor works better. Seriously.

Today’s links 

I was curious to find out who is going to Mix 07 next week in Las Vegas so I started a wiki page.

NY Times: “Federal securities regulators said yesterday that they would bring no civil charges against Apple over the backdating of executive stock options. But they stopped short of removing the cloud that for nearly a year has hung over the company’s chief executive, Steven P. Jobs.”

Dan Farber: Apple’s former CFO blames Jobs over options.

Rober Ebert: “Being sick is no fun. But you can have fun while you’re sick.”

13 responses to this post.

  1. Fascinating, fascinating ideas and a great vision for the future of news. I thought I’d point out that NY1 (a New York local 24-hour news channel) released an “On Demand” version of their news to Time Warner customers last February, which basically let you do exactly this – choose the news segment by segment based on the stories and features you wanted to watch. Not a TW customer myself, I haven’t had a chance to check it out (nor do I know if it has been a success), but it seems to fit with your thoughts.

    Especially interesting is how this “Nuggetized” viewing translates into much better metrics for commercial advertising.

    Reply

  2. Your vision is really cool. I think that it might evolve a different way though. Once people are streaming all this content onto their computers rather than traditional tv, they will make their own content meta data.

    Say – if I like a piece on a new program that just captures my views – I just twitter
    ‘just finished seeing cool news meta::stream=0.12.33|0.17.33|news24@www.bbc.com:tags=bush,election,defeated’
    The meta coming from my streaming TV client and you can just click on it to see the section.

    Say you have a bunch of twitter friends, or follow a bunch of blogs, well your rss aggregator pulls out all these meta tags and makes a recommended viewing list.

    Once people are doing this for them selves, traditional media will change to match.

    AJ

    Reply

  3. Dave,

    One potential worry is that by getting feedback at the level of an item means that ‘news’ becomes more market oriented in that more resources are allocated to Anna Nicole Smith stories than real news. Its not that this dosent happen already, but since ‘most people’ will check the Anna Nicole smith Box (and this may be a wrong assumption), the networks will justify removing resources from real journalism for such fluff.

    Personally I think that feed remixing is going to be key. While I’d be happy with a check box interface, a viewer might be happier with a Scoble-remixed feed, or a Imus remixed feed, or a Limbaugh feed (you get my drift). Feeds will need to be tagged by urgency too, so my aggregator can pre-empt me for the latest breaking news on virginia tech.

    Finally a fading algorithm would need to be applied to tags so they receed further away from a story. Or perhaps an adaptive techmemey notion of importance where i stay subscribed to Virginia-Tech but only see it if the story went above a certain level on techmeme or got dugg so much.

    Advertising will need to be figured out as i can see add spammers pushing the budweiser (for eg) ad containing news segments up on diggy sites. But perhaps advertisers could also be the rescue for real news as ‘quality’ advertisers may prefer to be associated with ‘real-news’
    tags. Ofcourse google like adsense revrse auction would come to these tags very fast. (I see it now..google takes over time warner).

    The remixers would act like the new local stations, and further remixing at the aggregator could bring the local stations back in for weather and sports and such.
    The remixers or locals would dilute revenue for the networks though, on the assumption that we want to keep the ads down to a manageable level, so one needs to find a way for upstream revenue transport from locals and remixers to the networks.

    Sounds like fun.
    Rahul
    (I’d outlined such a netork for blogging based news in 2003 at http://tig.nareau.com/stories/2003/03/28/blognn.html, some of which has already come true. But tv feeds are a more challenging network structure, and more fun, and perhaps more likely to happen..)

    Reply

  4. Dave, how about an “interview Wiki”? No, we wouldn’t open a Wiki interview to the masses for editing, but proper editing between the interviewer and interviewee with a final draft lockdown feature might turn out to be a more collaborative interview and make for an more intriguing piece for the readers. Could be an interesting startup service for someone….an independent site that hosts the interview workspace….hmmm….. ;)

    Reply

  5. I think you’re right, offering news in that way just makes sense. CNN could pull this concept off easily. They’ve been stepping up their online video content for awhile now with their “Pipeline” service and so forth. I don’t think it would be quite as revolutionary in determining news content as some people are suggesting, since websites can already track which stories are being clicked on. The information garnered from your concept would be much more useful and much easier to make sense of, to be sure, but I doubt it would make our news culture any more tabloidy than it already is.

    I wonder, though, as TV content marries itself to the internet more and more, will we even call it TV? The word “TV”—just in my own personal experience–is getting to be kind of an old-school term, since it describes a device I rarely even turn on anymore. I wonder the same thing about radio, whereas even “internet radio” is now often getting sliced up and served as individual “podcasts.”

    Reply

  6. Good stuff, Dave. And in a weird coincidence, I just noticed a similar format at the Scientific American blog (blog.sciam.com; not the main site, unfortunately)

    It’s not perfectly consistent with your idea, but note the category list with checkboxes and number of stories on the left sidebar. An embryonic form, perhaps, but it wouldn’t take much work to really sync it up well with your ideas.

    Reply

  7. Dave – a bit unrelated but can you add a link to the comments from pda.scripting.com – I read your blog through my blackberry and often miss the great feedback.

    Thanks!

    Reply

  8. Journalist know what the problems are in journalim; truth be told, every piece has a political slant to it; usually crafted by the Journalist. When I was in journalism school in college I would intentionally argue the otherside just to manipulate. That is all it is, and all the power you really have. Journalist get pissed cause their work is hard; they get no respect, want it, and hate the blogosphere (my first use of the word ever) b/c they’re stealing their thunder.

    Reply

  9. Lemon, as usual you cut through the BS and get right to the heart of the matter.

    I also think the Wired guys are doing their imitation of a blogger, they think bloggers insult and say personally nasty things, so on their blogs that’s what they do. I don’t think they see how much restraint is built into most blog posts.

    Calling Jason cowardly is no joke — I just don’t see the humor in calling someone’s character into question in such a personal way.

    Reply

  10. I’ve actually been burned really badly by reporters, in addition to many good experiences. Between being editor of the student paper at Berkeley and being a tech journalist during the dot-com boom I have probably been in front of TV cameras and in print more than other journalists have. Or not — you’d be surprised how many of us _have_ been interviewed by other journalists.

    I’ve also been burned badly by friends, lovers, acquiescences, family members and strangers in print, verbally, on the Web, over email, on the phone, etc.

    Nevertheless, I choose to continue to have friends, lovers, acquiescences, family members and strangers and to communicate in the mediums of print, verbally, on the Web, over email, on the phone, etc.

    And I continue to do the rare interview with a journalist (the last one was for a local TV segment 16 months ago, and went well).

    Life is filled with risks of getting burned. I am fine with most every type of relationship. I can always judge people as individuals and choose whether to engage with them (and almost always do anyway).

    For me, the benefits of being engaged with the world outweigh the risks.

    Other people choose otherwise. Some think the whole reporter-source-press relationship is dysfunctional and can never work, even though it is explicitly listed (and protected) in the U.S. Constitution. Others just think most journalists are dysfunction and choose to rule out working with them in anything like a real working relationship.

    So be it! Dave and Jason for example have their fame and fortune and are inundated with press requests. Why do they need the press? They don’t. So they disengage. It’s just a different set of values and way of being.

    Other people will continue to try and engage in relationships with the press and other relative strangers for both selfish and altruistic reasons — activists or software users or politicians or real estate developers or voters or “citizen journalists” or other bloggers or usenet users or WoW Guild members ….

    Mosts journalist are well familiar with this divide. You get loads of unsolicited pitches from people trying to get attention, maybe for their startup or some other money making venture, maybe for a political cause. And you pay attention, because some are interesting and worthwhile and make for a good story (or so you think, at least).

    Then there are the people who *you* are trying to get attention from, in the form of interview time usually, and they either shut you out or just require some work. Large corporations usually fit the bill. Famous people. Rich people. Businesses who want to hide their activities from public view (can’t count how many times a real estate developer has promised to give me an interview after his project is approved by the city council … duh, my article is a lot less valuable if I wait until then).

    I’d put Dave and Jason obviously in the latter category. This is honestly not intended as a slam. They have decided not to talk, at least not in an actual real human conversation. One of looking at it is, they have the _freedom_ to not have to deal with the press. There are less flattering ways of phrasing it too. I won’t presume to know which is the more accurate way of putting it. But I do recognize that the more charitable phrasing might be the more accurate one.

    Reply

  11. My writing was muddled (long day) but one of my points was:

    There are all kinds of other relative strangers other than journalists who can and will distort your words, including:

    -people you speak to at conferences, either as a formal speaker or doing networking
    -people you communicate with online, for example on usenet or in a forum or on email or in a multiplayer online game
    -people you speak with in a political context, or who hear you give a speech in a political context, at a meeting or convention or going door to door
    -people who read your blog
    -friends, family members, friends of friends, friends of family members

    In the context of more and more people self-publishing on the Web, a ban on live conversations with journalists gets you less and less “protection” against distortion every year. Doesn’t it? Because every year there are more and more opportunities for people outside your ban, who I guess would be non professional journalists, to distort your words based on your live conversations with them.

    Reply

  12. Woops, I typed “acquiescences” but meant “acquaintances” … It was Firefox spellcheck, not Freudian slip. Really. ;->

    Reply

  13. PPS The category I was putting Jason and Dave in is “people who the press tries to get the attention of, rather than them trying to get the attention of the press.” NOT the category of people trying to hide their activities.

    Reply

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