Saturday, January 28, 2006

The distributed newsroom

Topix.net CEO Rich Skrenta has done his bit to keep the News 2.0 meme going as flavour of the week in the wake of the Bayosphere letter with a great post about citizen journalism (CJ) and related issues. He even quotes me from an AIM convo we had (he asked first, of course). In a first for the Topix blog, there is a comments section, in which Topix marketing VP Chris Tolles bobs up, as does NowPublic's Michael Tippett with a mini-essay about collaborative CJ.

For new[s] 2.0 to work all of these functions need to be in place: you need a mechanism for sorting out the good from the bad; you need the ability to write original stuff and post photos & videos; and you need the ability to seed, digg or otherwise get news into the public view. News is a team effort and that is what makes it interesting.

Once you see news as a collaborative effort that involves editors, reporters, photographers, fact checkers and others you start to see how CJ news can actually be better than the mainstream stuff.

Personally I don't think that CJ should necessarily strive to be "better", even if it sometimes is. I agree with Rich that the attraction of CJ is not its quality - in the controversial words of Nicholas Carr, "free trumps quality all the time". Proprietors of CJ ventures should be striving to fill the gaps between MSM coverage, and give voice to those who are not the MSM's primary sources of information. It should not be "model citizen" journalism where the system is engineered to identify the best writers or researchers, because that only rewards the highly educated and time-rich who are already well served by the MSM as readers. CJ should not be a stepping stone for budding content professionals looking for their big break, because then it becomes a recruitment arm of the media industrial complex and the content drifts towards mirroring MSM norms.

Where I do agree with Michael is that news is a team effort and that the various checklist items represented in the News 2.0 feature list are not just a "me too" list, but a way for sites to build necessary journalistic functions into the new media without having to hire trained journalists. Effectively, the site's newsroom is a distributed processing application running in the heads of its participants. The question remains about whether the most successful model will be to have all those functions under one roof, or whether users will want to get the different functions at different sites. Perhaps the site who will win out will aggregate the aggregators, or at least aggregate the various CJ sites.

It's great to see protagonists at these companies all exploring the issues in public with each other - Mike Davidson from Newsvine, Gabe Rivera from Memeorandum, Kevin Burton from TailRank et al. I get the feeling we're building up to something, that the end point of this conversation will be something interesting that wouldn't have been reached without the collaborative nature of the discussion. That's what News 2.0 is all about.

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