Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Squattocracy vs aggregatocracy

After the latest Arringtonpile during the week, I have been thinking back to my conversation at the Influence 2006 conference with the Australian IT's Stuart Kennedy. One aspect of the argument I made to Stuart defending the 2.0 scene against his accurate criticisms that has only now matured in my own mind is this: the MSM should be worried about 2.0 because it represents an alternative methodology by which the audience identifies merit in the people they want to bring them their news.

Both the MSM and 2.0 "industries" are meritocracies (no sniggering by you journos at the back), but they differ in their methods for choosing people who do the reportage. In the MSM, you need a degree from a journalism school, or at least something in the humanities. Then you need to convince the crusty old incumbents that you follow their rules of conduct - as well as having the requisite skills of a reporter - before they will entrust you with the keys to the T-Bird. In the blogosphere everyone can publish, but due to the zeitgeist-forming influence of news aggregators like Digg and Google News, only a select few rise to the top of the A-List. Both industries create a power law distribution of audience reach for their publishers, where the blogosphere's graph has a very long and thin tail but nevertheless contains a short rump of A-listers - but the MSM has a very tall rump and no tail at all.

In the MSM, it is taught in journalism schools that it is good to be a generalist. The majority of the journalists working on IT sections in major newspapers would rather be working in the main news section, and many do graduate out of the IT ghetto to that lofty post, as my contemporary Simon Hayes did at the Oz recently. Or they move on to travel magazines, or bridal brochures, or anything that pays better than technology. In the blogosphere, specialisation is encouraged. Domain knowledge is what gets you respect. Poor writing skills can be excused if the blogger's ideas are interesting.

As for news-gathering skills, journalists are trained to do things that bloggers do all the time: off-the-record briefings, leaks, even a bit of pretexting now and again are part and parcel of the blogger's communication-saturated life. And bloggers start from in front, because it's not their job to know about their industry, it's their industry. The audience didn't care how Mike Arrington got the info that Google would buy YouTube, they only cared that he got it before the New York Times, which is why TechCrunch is all over the aggregators when big stories in its beat are broken.

So if you pit bunches of journalists against a group of people representing the 2.0 industry part of the blogosphere - coders, startup execs, consultants, an excommunicated journo turned entrepreneur or two - who would win in a commercial battle of publications? Let's see.


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