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The Reading World

Media transformation is inevitable—just maybe

<p> <a href=”http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2004/12/02/rect_glsr.html” target = “new”>Jay Rosen notes a growing willingness</a> to join a new journalism movement. <a href=”http://susanmernit.blogspot.com/2004/12/mark-glaser-media-company-i-want-to.html”>Susan Mernit points</a> to the way the industrial journalism industry has created the conditions for its own destruction: “Like dragons sitting on piles of treasure, publishers have built up client relationships and sub lists that fuel their […]

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<a href=”http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2004/12/02/rect_glsr.html” target = “new”>Jay Rosen notes a growing willingness</a> to join a new journalism movement. <a href=”http://susanmernit.blogspot.com/2004/12/mark-glaser-media-company-i-want-to.html”>Susan Mernit points</a> to the way the industrial journalism industry has created the conditions for its own destruction: “Like dragons sitting on piles of treasure, publishers have built up client relationships and sub lists that fuel their businesses and keep margins high. Like the polar ice floes, that all seems to be melting away, and at a similarly alarming rate.” Oh, and <a href = “http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/04_50/b3912115_mz016.htm” target = “new”>BusinessWeek misspelled my name</a>.
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<a href=”http://www.nickdenton.org/002078.html” target = “new”>Nick Denton says it’s time for a committee</a> to enforce ethics. <a href=”http://calacanis.weblogsinc.com/entry/8816914257178893/” target = “new”>Jason Calacanis is leading the charge</a> to launch a blog ethics watchdog. This smacks of the preliminary professionalization of the medium by those in the position to claim they have the capital necessary to enforce ethical standards, a sure sign that the well-funded see things about to take off. That doesn’t make Nick and Jason bad guys, just shrewd businessmen who see a growing challenge to their business model, which is centralized (around an ad sales infrastructure) and cost-intensive.
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<img src = “http://www.ratcliffeblog.com/speer-honor.jpg” width=”300″ height=”218″ border=”1″ align=”right”>Yet what we know about blogging is that it is highly decentralized and while parts of the network will certainly be organized by Nick and Jason’s companies many projects have to take root for a richly varied media to thrive. Their ethics are important examples, but they must not be the rule.
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The economics of a blog-based media—though I don’t advocate a blogs-only approach at all, but for sake of the argument will use the phrase here—are susceptible to lightweight infrastructures, as well. For example, <a href=”http://www.siliconbeat.com/entries/2004/11/29/snap_the_future_of_transparency.html” target = “new”>Bill Gross has introduced</a> what, to today’s media giants, is surely a frightening level of transparency in his startup search engine company. He shows how much revenue is collected daily. A collective effort to produce <a href=”http://www.correspondences.org/” target = “new”>civic</a> <a href=”http://demo.wikinews.org/wiki/Main_Page” target = “new”>journalism</a> can operate in the open and everyone involved can see the economic progress they are making. If you can show individual contributors, such as editors, writers, photographers and videographers that they are helping to create something big, they will work for very little in exchange for a small share of ownership—Wired proved this, without providing any accountability whatsoever, in the mid-90s—and a significantly increased level of editorial control.
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<img src = “http://www.greatbuildings.com/gbc/images/cid_2343022.150.jpg” width=”150″ height=”150″ border=”1″ align=”left”>I’ve been reading Christopher Alexander’s four-volume <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0972652914/ratcliffecom-20/102-4701855-9772918?creative=327641&camp=14573&link_code=as1″ target = “new”>The Nature of Order</a>, which is about creating a living architecture (buildings, not information technology). There’s so much to his work that it would be impossible to summarize (though it is <a href=”http://www.natureoforder.com/overview.htm”>by his publisher here</a>), but the richness of the living designs he uses as examples throughout the book are the result of real craftspeople working over long periods of time to produce structures that engage people, enhance their lives and enable their work, spirituality and pleasure through its interaction with them. As I think about the journalistic structure awaiting catalysis, it seems that the thing will begin simply and become incredibly deep or complex, even when they are simple, because they are full of life. Fractal would be the pop cultural way of describing it, but that discounts the importance of managing—architecting—what will be built.
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<img src = “http://www.ratcliffeblog.com/roof.jpg” width=”300″ height=”226″ border=”1″ align=”left”>As Jay Rosen has written, <a href=”http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2004/01/07/press_religion.html#morel”>journalism is a kind of religion staffed by believers</a>. What is wrong with a committee to oversee the entire range of blog ethics is that it immediately becomes a rigid infrastructure, a kind of theology instead of the living spiritual process that Alexander describes in living architecture. The current diverse and contentious debate is a source of liveliness that can prevent a new journalism from taking on the stultifying sameness of the mass media. Layers of journalistic experience, ethical decisions and business experiments can add up to something greater, something alive. We ought to accept that mistakes will be made and learn to live with a process that is ever-improve through debate. So, no committee, but a metalogue should be organized and we should begin to record the lessons learned, the ethical lapses and successes. If we can embrace some uncertainty, we might just pull off something extraordinary.</p>
Here’s a December 2, 2004 post about the reinvention of journalism, a discussion with a long history and not a whole lot of success to date.
Jay Rosen notes a growing willingness to join a new journalism movement. Susan Mernit points to the way the industrial journalism industry has created the conditions for its own destruction: “Like dragons sitting on piles of treasure, publishers have built up client relationships and sub lists that fuel their businesses and keep margins high. Like the polar ice floes, that all seems to be melting away, and at a similarly alarming rate.” Oh, and BusinessWeek misspelled my name.
Nick Denton says it’s time for a committee to enforce ethics. Jason Calacanis is leading the charge to launch a blog ethics watchdog. This smacks of the preliminary professionalization of the medium by those in the position to claim they have the capital necessary to enforce ethical standards, a sure sign that the well-funded see things about to take off. That doesn’t make Nick and Jason bad guys, just shrewd businessmen who see a growing challenge to their business model, which is centralized (around an ad sales infrastructure) and cost-intensive.
Yet what we know about blogging is that it is highly decentralized and while parts of the network will certainly be organized by Nick and Jason’s companies many projects have to take root for a richly varied media to thrive. Their ethics are important examples, but they must not be the rule.
The economics of a blog-based media—though I don’t advocate a blogs-only approach at all, but for sake of the argument will use the phrase here—are susceptible to lightweight infrastructures, as well. For example, Bill Gross has introduced what, to today’s media giants, is surely a frightening level of transparency in his startup search engine company. He shows how much revenue is collected daily. A collective effort to produce civic journalism can operate in the open and everyone involved can see the economic progress they are making. If you can show individual contributors, such as editors, writers, photographers and videographers that they are helping to create something big, they will work for very little in exchange for a small share of ownership—Wired proved this, without providing any accountability whatsoever, in the mid-90s—and a significantly increased level of editorial control.
I’ve been reading Christopher Alexander’s four-volume The Nature of Order, which is about creating a living architecture (buildings, not information technology). There’s so much to his work that it would be impossible to summarize (though it is by his publisher here), but the richness of the living designs he uses as examples throughout the book are the result of real craftspeople working over long periods of time to produce structures that engage people, enhance their lives and enable their work, spirituality and pleasure through its interaction with them. As I think about the journalistic structure awaiting catalysis, it seems that the thing will begin simply and become incredibly deep or complex, even when they are simple, because they are full of life. Fractal would be the pop cultural way of describing it, but that discounts the importance of managing—architecting—what will be built.
As Jay Rosen has written, journalism is a kind of religion staffed by believers. What is wrong with a committee to oversee the entire range of blog ethics is that it immediately becomes a rigid infrastructure, a kind of theology instead of the living spiritual process that Alexander describes in living architecture. The current diverse and contentious debate is a source of liveliness that can prevent a new journalism from taking on the stultifying sameness of the mass media. Layers of journalistic experience, ethical decisions and business experiments can add up to something greater, something alive. We ought to accept that mistakes will be made and learn to live with a process that is ever-improve through debate. So, no committee, but a metalogue should be organized and we should begin to record the lessons learned, the ethical lapses and successes. If we can embrace some uncertainty, we might just pull off something extraordinary.

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