The world is changing with amazing speed, and we need to pay close attention to what is happening. … No one in our business has yet launched a really impressive or successful electronic product, but someone surely will. I’d bet it will happen rather soon. The Post ought to be in the forefront of this — not for the adventure, but for important defensive purposes. We’ll only defeat electronic competitors by playing their game better than they can play it. And we can.
Here is a fascinating glimpse of the future of digital media and newspapers’ place in it as seen from the year 1992 by then-Washington Post Managing Editor Robert Kaiser. Read Mark Potts’ write-up, and then read the full memo.
As an aside, it’s worth noting that Potts debunks the now-popular notion that newspaper execs’ “original sin” was not pursuing paid digital models from the get-go. In fact, newspapers tried many variations on paid content over the years, and most failed. (Newspaper executives were negligent in many other ways where digital is concerned, but on this count I think they deserve a pass.)
What’s most striking to me, though, is how the radical changes in technology that were predicted at this conference 20 years ago have unfolded more-or-less the way the technologists foresaw. (Remember, this is before anybody outside academe and big science had heard of the web, and 2400 bits per second was probably the most common connection speed for home computers to online services.) In fact, one of the few major technological advancements of the last two decades not mentioned in Kaiser’s memo is the explosion of mobile.
The thing nobody seems to have adequately imagined is how these changes in technology would shift the foundations of mass media in two fundamental ways: By disrupting the advertising business model and by giving rise to search and social media (and thus disaggregating the “bundle” that gave newspapers much of their value).
It would seem the near future is fairly easy to predict in purely technological terms. What’s harder to see are the economic and social implications of those changes. Credit to Bob Kaiser for trying.
When I left the Los Angeles Times in the depths of the 2008 financial crisis — a time when the newspaper industry’s future looked particularly bleak — I wondered wistfully if I was walking away from my last newspaper job. I’d worked for newspaper companies my entire career, and despite their sometimes frustratingly slow advance into the digital age, I’ve always loved newspapers and the work they do.
Turns out, I’m not finished with newspapers. Or they are not finished with me.
I am starting a new job next month at The Seattle Times as assistant managing editor, digital. I’ll be guiding editorial efforts on the paper’s online products, including SeattleTimes.com. The Times has earned a reputation for innovation in local digital journalism, and I am looking forward to being a part of the talented team that makes it happen.
I’ve missed the newsroom, and I can’t wait to get back there.
Photo: Clock at Pike Place Market, Seattle, by Flickr user mikeensor (Creative Commons)
If I couldn’t be a journalist, I think I’d be a librarian. I decided this after spending a lot of time in libraries in the last couple of years and interacting with some very smart (and completely unstuffy) librarians.
Maybe it’s because, as it turns out, journalists and librarians have a lot in common.
Fundamentally, we’re both interested in making information useful and meaningful to the widest possible audience. Beyond that, practitioners in both fields are committed to public service, free speech, open access, transparency in sourcing, etc.
Librarianship might not be the hippest profession — one more thing we share, I suppose — though, as my former LAT colleague David Sarno points out, this is changing.
Librarians with an eye to the future speak not of books but of an information commons — an open network of places, both physical and virtual, where people come not just to receive knowledge but to create and share knowledge with others.
In the U.S., public libraries are seeing record numbers of visitors. Even circulation is up.
Unfortunately, budgets are down. Libraries are a convenient target for cash-strapped local governments looking to save money.
But cuts to public libraries, especially in bad economic times, are short-sighted. They hit job seekers, community groups and people engaged in independent study, among others.
It’s time civic leaders took a closer look at libraries and the services they provide and imagine how much poorer our society’s information commons would be without them.
Photo: Seattle Central Library by Flickr user pmorgan (Creative Commons)
I am an ex-Flash user. I uninstalled the Flash plug-in on my primary browser about a month ago, and I haven’t looked back. Here’s how it happened:
Back when Apple announced that its forthcoming iPad would lack Flash support, it sounded to me like a boneheaded move. If a device built for consuming multimedia doesn’t support the web’s leading format for multimedia presentation, what good is it?
I use a woefully underpowered first-generation MacBook Air that I’d rather not replace just yet. I’d done about all I can think of to squeeze a little more performance out of it, including installing a solid-state hard drive and upgrading the OS to Snow Leopard. Still I found many common activities, particularly web browsing in multiple tabs or windows, painfully slow.
So I decided, as an experiment, to remove the Flash plug-in from my primary web browser, Google Chrome. I still have it in Safari, which I fire up when I need to look at Flash content.
After about a month, here are my impressions:
The speed increase on web browsing is much more dramatic than the performance boost I got by adding Snow Leopard and the SSD. And since most of my computing time is spent in a web browser, that gives my old laptop a new lease on life.
Fewer obnoxious ads! That alone might make this “upgrade” worthwhile.
YouTube and Vimeo both have stable HTML5 video players, though most of the commercial content on YouTube is available only in the Flash player.
The Wall Street Journal’s video player works beautifully. (NYT and CNN not so much.)
Interactive charts in Google Analytics and Google Finance, sadly, are Flash-based and don’t downgrade gracefully.
In short, for me, the performance jump is worth the occasional inconvenience, but YMMV.
Thanks to all who turned out today at UBC Robson Square for my workshop on online tools and techniques for journalists. I’m creating this post as a way to continue the discussion online. If you have questions or comments on the topics we discussed, please share them in the comments, and I will do my best to respond.
A podcast of the session will be available in the next few days, and I’ll link to it when it’s ready.
In the four months since my last post — yes, I’m a terrible blogger — I’ve moved to Vancouver and started teaching at the University of British Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. Among other things, I’m coordinating the school’s Integrated Journalism course, required of all first-year students, and advising some second-year students on their theses.
The problem with writing for several outlets is that your stuff lacks a home on the Internet. But it’s nothing that a little aggregation can’t fix. In case you missed it, here’s some of what I’ve been writing in the last few months:
I’ve been enjoying using TwitterTim.es, an aggregator that lets you build a personalized “newspaper” featuring the posts tweeted most frequently by people you follow. (Here’s mine.) Intrigued, I interviewed Maxim Grinev, the site’s tech lead, for Online Journalism Review.
I weighed in on the question of whether SEO practices make for dumb, boring headlines, also at OJR. (By the way, I’m working on an online course on writing headlines for the web for the Poynter Institute’s NewsU. If you have some instructive experiences to share, please let me know.)
Finally, I wrote about recently launched redesigns at Germany’s Spiegel Online, where I worked this summer, and my alma mater, the Los Angeles Times, also for De Nieuwe Reporter.
Also, as I’m doing more writing and consulting in various places, I’ve updated my about page with the customary disclosures.
I’m looking forward to helping students think critically about the internet as a platform for news, and I would appreciate suggestions on how best to do that. In other words, if you had this gig, what would you teach?
I did this online journalism-related write-up last week for Spiegel International. It didn’t run there, so I’m posting it here (with permission, of course):
When a 71-year-old pensioner killed three people and wounded a fourth in a shooting spree last month in North Rhine-Westphalia, the police response unfolded in real time on Twitter. A user of the microblogging site, who was listening in on official radio communications taking place at the scene in the town of Schwalmtal, posted a running report of the suspect’s standoff with authorities.
The Twitter account was soon deleted, but not before much of user @JO31DH’s minute-by-minute account was repeated in blogs and other Twitter posts: “1 confirmed dead in rampage. … The commando unit has arrived on site … The forces will move to Hermmann-Löh Street in Amern … The helicopter is on Pletschweg … News channel N24 is also in Schwalmtal now.”
While listening in on police radio transmissions is legal in some countries, including the United States, it is forbidden in Germany and carries a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment.
In the midst of the two-hour standoff, with reports coming in that the suspect had taken hostages, Philipp Ostrop, an editor at RuhrNachrichten.de, tweeted, “If there’s really a hostage situation in Schwalmtal, can the perpetrator follow along with @JO31DH on what the police are up to? Is that such a good thing?”
Other posts warned the user that what he was doing was illegal.
The anonymous twitterer claimed protection as a journalist: “I call myself the press. That’s enough… Now shut up.”
The next day the would-be journalist posted a contrite message on his blog (now also offline but quoted by the Rheinische Post): “I would like to formally apologize. I see, in spite of everything, how these social networks can be misused. I don’t feel good about this. I hope things will soon settle down and others won’t repeat this stupid idea.”
The newspaper later reported that authorities had identified the Twitter user and would file criminal charges. According to police, the man did not threaten the operation because the commando unit on the scene was using secure mobile phones to communicate.