Doc Searls on “Giant Zero” journalism

March 19, 2007

My posts have dwindled in this the “crunch time” of Spring semester, when grading piles up, birds chirp and baseball begins. Net-net: not a lot of time left for blogging. My apologies to all. The guilt is killing me.

On to Doc Searls, whose alma mater is the middle of my hometown. (I’m from Guilford College, the part of Greensboro with Western Guilford, Charlie Teagues, Jam’s Deli and Lakewood Pool. Ahhhhh…. Good times.) He has me thinking, as he usually does. Doc recently wrote about the vanishing of space online and of the changing information ecosystem that is forcing mainstream media to adapt. Giant Zero, which has all the wrong connotations, refers to online’s ability to make physical distance irrelevant and to reduce publishing costs to zero or near it. These liberating and uniting forces are forcing old media to re-think their business models, methods and practices.

It is essential for the mainstream media to understand that the larger information ecosystem is one that grows wild on the Net and supports everybody who wants to inform anybody else,” Searls writes. “It no longer grows inside the mainstream media’s walled gardens. Those gardens will continue to thrive only to the degree that they do two things: 1) open up; and 2) live symbiotically with individuals outside who want to work together for common purposes.”

Good stuff here. Opening up means a lot of things, most importantly transparency. How do you make decisions? How do you filter information? How do you determine what makes it through the gate and what does not? What are your biases? What is your point of view?

Searls urges media to come clean on framing, as well. What is the “frame” for the story, and how was it determined? Transparency also means fessing up to your mistakes, welcoming correction in the first place, and honoring and valuing readers’ contributions. (Searls shares my distaste for the term, “user-generated content,” a term that suggests homemade butter or the crayon pictures we put on the fridge.) This conversation, collaboration and even community are the manifestations of the symbiosis Searls mentions.

Dr. Randy Richardson and I are researching credibility as it is measured and evaluated and valued online. We looked at A-list blogs and why their readers trust them. We’ll present the findings at this month’s International Online Journalism Symposium at the University of Texas, but I can go ahead and share that the new paradigm of and for credibility online includes dimensions not traditionally a part of credibility operationalizations. These new dimensions include transparency, dynamism, goodwill and identification.

The new paradigm doesn’t mean that expertise, accuracy, fairness — the stuff of old school credibility — no longer matter. They do. It means, though, that the new information ecosystem, as Searls calls it, requires new ways of creating and communicating credibility and trust, the currency of anyone in the business of information. Much more to come on the new credibility online. Wish us well — we have a LOT of writing yet to do.

Partial list of Web 2.0 news sites

March 9, 2007

As a followup to the last post on journalism and social networking, here a partial list of user-generated content initiatives, crowdsourced news and “citizen journalism”, though I do not like this last term. Journalists usually are citizens, too.
Network of citizen journalism sites

Barista of Bloomfield Avenue
Hyperlocal blogger Debbie Galant, New Jersey

Bluffton Today
Hyperlocal news site for Bluffton, S.C., outside Hilton Head

Online collection of news, reviews and opinion pieces covering LA

Chi-Town Daily News
Hyperlocal news by Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism students

Gannett’s Information Center
The “Newsroom of the Future,” a hyperlocal, crowdsourced multimedia platform

Traditional journalism, but assignments made by citizens (and one of my favorite of this new generation of news gathering models)

Northwest Voice, Bakersfield CA
Citizen journalism site

“fresh, crowd-powered media”

You Witness News
Reuters and Yahoo News effort to create international multimedia news agency

“The free news source you can write”

Journalism, funerals and Web 2.0

March 9, 2007

Yesterday our Online Community class had what I believe was our best discussion of the semester, one that centered on John Perry Barlow‘s sentiment that perhaps you cannot have true community until and unless there is a funeral. We had a funeral here at Berry, and we discussed what it means that so many have grieved using FaceBook and online spaces.

We also talked about how old media is trying to cash in on Web 2.0. Newspapers like the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C., my old employer, and the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va., have embraced social networking, to cite two midmarket examples. Gannett is staking a large part of its newspapering future on “we” media by asking its readers to help out with the reporting. Even the Old Gray Lady recently began soliciting crowdsourced wedding announcements for its “Celebrations” section.

Reuters is one of the most progressive legacy media companies rushing to Web 2.0. In addition to putting a reporter full time into SecondLife, the company welcomes crowdsourced reporting, video, photography and blogs. (The company even hosted a “We” Media conference last May.)

I think what media companies are picking up on is the fact that the Internet is not about connecting computers, it is about connecting people who are using computers (and all sorts of other Internetworked devices). It is a communications phenomenon, in other words, and not so much a computational evolution, at least primarily. We are social, islanded in our physical bodies, perpetually trying to connect. The Internet is the best connector yet. The tradeoff for big media is yielding control, something they find institutionally difficult to do.

For greater understanding of just what the elites are trying to do, I recommend a new report from the Center for Citizen Media (a .pdf download). The report “looks at the first generation of traditional-media innovators in the arena of community engagement: bringing the community into the journalism itself, beyond blogs and comments.” Worth a read.