Building tomorrow's news today

Chip Oglesby bio photo By Chip Oglesby

Tomorrow is our first big event with Social Media Club Columbia. We’re having our future of journalism conference. We’re talking about the future of journalism and the impact of social media in the newsroom.

Some of our guest have already taken the time to respond to our questions. Dan Conover and Doug Fisher have addressed all of their questions on their own blogs. I also plan on answering as many questions on the site since I was the one who came up with them.

I wanted to take the time to highlight two great points from Dan and Doug. First is an idea from Conover

There are plenty of people who can walk into your newsroom and set up the workflows and training sessions that can make a web-first system work (like, say, [me for instance]( But unless your top management is accountable for its success, and by that I mean that their salaries and bonuses are tied to it, it's not going to change. This is a cultural challenge masquerading as a technical problem.

Dan has really hit on something here. How many publishers salaries are tied into how well their website do? Right now, I would guess that the majority of their concern is with the print product, but it is going to take a complete change in mentality before everyone is ready to accept the web first model of news. I would like to see a newsroom system set up that rewards everyone for being web first.

Everyone wants to talk about micropayments from customers, but let’s flip the idea and consider micropayments for reporters, editors and photographers who move stories, photos and video faster, engage their audience and get more pageviews. Those employees would receive a monthly bonus based on how well they did online.

Once we put the incentive on being web first, I think we’ll see more of the pieces of this puzzle fall into place.

The second point, raised by Doug about institutional knowledge verses reader knowledge:

Well, let's start with these two assertions: at least half of your audience knows more about a story than you do, but two-thirds of them really have no clue about much outside their own little world. In other words, the collective and institutional knowledge are complementary. If you don't acknowledge a lot of people know more than you do, all sorts of bad things result. You tend to write down to your readers. You tend to ignore nuances and oversimplify. You might miss valuable information.

As we all know, journalism can no longer be a one-way street of information, it has to flow both ways. Part of the problem journalist have with community journalism is knowing that we can trust what they say and write. When you approach journalism from a wiki style model where a static story becomes a living story, you’ll learn that sometimes you’re readers know much more about a subject than you do. Figuring out how to collect and curate this content is one thing we hope to discuss.

One other quick point that I would like to make is the idea of curation. Clay Shirky had a great quote in a recent interview “If anyone can say anything, publishers can no longer do things the way they use to.”

Maybe what we need to consider is a way of curating content for consumers so they don’t become overwhelmed by information.

There are two ways to approach this idea so just hear me out.

People on one side of the argument will tell you that “it’s unnecessary to curate content for people because they can do it themselves. There are tools for doing that.” That’s true, with twitter, google reader and the New York Times custom RSS feed, who needs journalists?

There’s the other side of this argument. “People need us because they are lazy and don’t have the knowledge to do it themselves.” That may be a blunt statement, but part of it is true. How many people do you know that actually change their own oil? How many people can repair their own P.C.? I know plenty of people who can do both, but I know that their are more people who are willing to pay someone to do it for them, because they don’t know how, or they would rather not waste their time trying to figure out something they only need to do once or twice. Once we can figure out a sustainable way of curating content for readers, we’ll move forward in this discussion.

Let’s take this idea and apply it to what we’re currently doing. I posted on twitter that if I started a news company tomorrow, we wouldn’t have a central website. Think about the possibilities of building great mobile and desktop applications that give the user a great UI that they would be willing to pay for.

This could solve two problems. One, How do we get people to pay for content? Two, how do we get our content on the web without putting it behind a paywall?

Your content would still reside on the web, it would be indexed by Google and could be linked to by legacy bloggers who are still blogging the same way in 10 years, but no one says how it should look. The link itself could be a simple text file with nothing more than a bunch of meta tags.

Here’s a video that Charles Ellison and I recorded for our SMC meeting, I think it’s about as painfully awkward as you can get and I freaking love it!