Scripting News for 3/24/2007

Berkeley CyberSalon tomorrow 

Tomorrow’s Cybersalon, at the Hillside Club, 5-7PM, $10, is entitled “Life After TV.” Moderated by Andrew Keen, whose upcoming book is an embarassment to Berkeley, and panelists Mary Hodder, Evan Berg, and Joe Savage.

I’ll be in the the back dressed as a bird, and twittering away on my MacBook Pro, devising new ways to conquer the world. πŸ™‚

The experiment worked 

On Thursday I wrote about my intent to reposition Scripting News as a place where ideas originate, and it seems to be working. My piece about reforming journalism is now the #1 item on TM. Re-wiring the attention of the TechMeme bot, while it resulted in a short term loss of attention, seems to have had the long-term benefit. πŸ™‚

Saturday Twitter thoughts 

First, it seems we have the OPML Editor updating corner-turn done. Everyone who tried the new RSS-based code updating method reports that it works as advertised, so I can now start pushing new code down the modern highly-scalable pipe. That’s pretty cooool.

The first bits I’m going to push is new script glue for the Twitter API, making it easy to write little apps in the OPML Editor (or Radio or Manila, for that matter) that use Twitter as a back end. I think some interesting pub-sub apps will be made possible by this.

So, as I was beginning to test the new code, I created a new test account on Twitter, one of many that I’ve created, for each of the channels of content that my little robots are maintaining. This one is called simply enough “opml.” Then something occurred to me — exactly the right people are signing up to Twitter these days to make it possible for another bootstrap to occur, one that many people seem to want, as do I — we could make Twitter the open identity system we’ve been looking for. Make your Twitter ID the one that you use to log on to other services. It seems we’re going to go through that bootstrap anyway, and it also seems that if the Twitter folk want to do something good for the Internet they could.

So I wonder if any of the identity gurus are watching this and see the opportunity?

Anyway, I’m going back to my coding for now.

system.verbs.apps.twitter is on the way! πŸ™‚

Trouble at the Chronicle 

Tim O’Reilly is hearing rumors that the SF Chronicle is in “big trouble.” It’s a fascinating piece, a must-read, it’s kind of scary to think that the mainstream press is going down without a fight.

At a breakfast meeting yesterday with a CTO at a major print pub, I observed that the MSM guys love to hear Jeff Jarvis’s message of gloom and doom, but feel threatened by my prescription for embracing the new media, a message of hope, of finding new relevance for the skills and experience of professional journalists.

It’s worth another try…

First, reform journalism school. It’s too late to be training new journalists in the classic mode. Instead, journalism should become a required course, one or two semesters for every graduate. Why? Because journalism like everything else that used to be centralized is in the process of being distributed. In the future, every educated person will be a journalist, as today we are all travel agents and stock brokers. The reporters have been acting as middlemen, connecting sources with readers, who in many cases are sources themselves. As with all middlemen, something is lost in translation, an inefficiency is added. So what we’re doing now, in journalism, as with all other intermediated professions, is decentralizing. So it pays to make an investment now and teach the educated people of the future the basic principles of journalism.

Second, embrace the best bloggers. How? Easy — every time someone is quoted in your publication, offer them a blog hosted on your domain. This has a couple of advantages: 1. It gives the reporters the ultimate say on who gets to share some of your authority, who gets a chance to be the next amateur star. 2. It gives the reporters an incentive to only use sources that are qualified, it would improve the quality of your reporting. It also has a third benefit, as you expand the number of people writing under your banner, you also expand the reach of your publication, into school boards, local government, sports teams and businesses. It’s also important because it’s how you decentralize, aligning your interests with the “grain” of the web, as opposed to the current positioning, against it.

Of course you run ads on each of the pages, that’s your reward for sharing your authority with the people who used to be your sources (and who still are, in every sense). Now your reporters just have to read the blogs to find the new trends, the quotes for their articles. They will learn a lot and perhaps even start having fun, instead of (as Markoff puts it in the O’Reilly piece) feeling like they’re at a wake. That’s depression, and you can feel it in the articles they write, and you can’t possibly dig out of a hole when you’re depressed. You need to find a way to tap into the excitement of the Internet, to bring it into your publication. In the tech business they call this “embrace and extend.”

Eventually new businesses will form out of the messy brew of sources, editors and reporters you’ll be supporting and in some cases, employing. The publishers and owners must also keep their eyes and minds open, be creative, no one knows the future, but there certainly is one, even if some days it feels like there isn’t.

Thanks to Tim for opening the door to this discussion.

11 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jim Posner on March 24, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    Dave, at the moment your article is the lead story on Techmeme. Nice job. Your attention experiment may be producing results.


  2. I know, I had the same thought. Think it would be boastful to blog it? πŸ™‚


  3. Actually, I’m giving a spiel at the University of Texas at Austin this week titled, ‘Why I am a cock-eyed optimist about journalism,’ demanding that we end the mewling, moaning, and mourning and see all the opportunities we have to expand journalism by working together, among other things. I’m quite tired of old MSM guys complaining. It is time to innovate in the ways you suggest and more. That’s what I celebrate. I blogged about seeing a race to innovate in London; we should be seeing a competitive race here.


  4. Jeff, go get em!

    Tell them to make lemonade!

    And hay.


  5. How about if Twitter supported OpenID?


  6. Dave, journalism is no more a “middlemen” task than carpentry is. And, just like carpentry, while everyone can do it to a certain degree there’s a distinct difference between what a skilled amatuer can do and a professional.

    Actually, I think I’m going to start a movement for “citizen carpentry”, getting everyone to build their own furniture rather than going to stores to buy it. πŸ™‚


  7. Ian, if the majority of professional carpenters gave us nothing but crappy furniture that fell apart at nothing more than a wipe of the dust cloth then the humble efforts of the leagues of amateurs out there would be far preferable. Sadly, in journalism we have reached that stage long ago. Look at the wholehearted swallowing of the lies about Iraq an WMD to name but one very obvious example. And it’s not as if they learn – right now the public is fed lie after lie about Iran by the professional journalists working for the biggest names in old media!


  8. @Ian

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that citizen journalism will replace professional journalism. However, it can make it better. And we are generally better off as a society when individuals have the tools to do what professionals do.

    Carpentry is, in fact a great example. While furniture is done to less a degree, amateur carpentry has been practiced for centuries because the tools to do so are easy to come by. BTW, companies like Home Depot, Lowe’s and Stanley tools have led that campaign–you may be a little too late to capitalize.

    Now, we are seeing the same thing happen in journalism because the tools are making is easy for amateurs to produce good content. In many cases, much better than their professional counterparts.

    I particularly like to read my tech news written by practitioners rather than professional journalists. There are too many erros and reporter misunderstandings in “mainstream tech” journalism for me. I assume there are many other cases like this.


  9. In carpentry the raw materials are dead things — wood, nails, screws. In journalism the raw material are sources, living people, who can, if they want go direct, if they get tired of being misquoted, or if no reporter ever asks them what they think (or if when asked, they don’t understand). That’s the sense in which reporters are intermediaries.


  10. Dave, I think your suggestions re what the papers need to do are some of the best I’ve heard. Creative and practical.


  11. and that of course is why they _ought_ to be at the top of techmeme


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