Tag Archives: chris anderson

Readings: On brawny work, memory and Google, social media misuse and serendipity-doo-dah

Lots of good long-form and think pieces about journalism, the media and the digital realm are served up here for your weekend reading. There’s plenty to choose from here, so enjoy:

But it feels like the first time: Slate’s Jack Shafer says the print-Web wars have nothing on the way the newspaper industry faced its first competitive threat, at a time when it was in much better health:

“Some print journalists and industry leaders claimed that radio content was inaccurate, skimpy, sensationalist, and trivial and that its practitioners were amateurs. When radio news was accurate, they asserted, it was either a bunch of headlines from a newspaper or a story directly pilfered from one. Does any of this sound familiar?”

AP’s copyright cluelessness: Erik Sherman at BNET lets the news collective have it over its threat to sue sites merely linking to its content. “Idiots” and “pinheads” are among his kinder epithets:

I’m not someone who buys into the whole ‘information wants to be free’ ethos. I make a living off my intellectual property of writing and have a lot of sympathy for print publications, where much of my work appears. However, you can’t run a business on how you wish the world operated. Instead, you must find a model that operates within reality. And that’s why the AP, and other media companies that long for the good old days, are doomed.”

Going down with the ship?: Ex-Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News reporter Michael Sokolove talks to Brian Tierney, publisher of both papers and who unapologetically defends the print-and-ink process:

“The Web efforts, they add something. I congratulate them. Let a thousand flowers bloom. But if somebody thinks in any short term, or even medium term, that the answers are those things, they’re kidding themselves. I know I sound like a heretic in that I won’t come out and say, ‘They’re the future.’ But they’re not. The brawny work is what we’re doing, and the brawny vehicle to carry it is the printed product.”

Murdoch’s big paywall gamble: Shane Richmond at The Daily Telegraph says the media mogul is serving up a big gift to his competitors, which include, er, The Daily Telegraph, although not in this particular sentence:

“This is a great opportunity for the Mirror, The Daily Star and, I suppose, producers of pictures of topless women, to hoover up those Sun readers who aren’t sure whether they want to pay.”

Drinking from a firehose: Danielle Maestretti at the Utne Reader is looking for a few good people who know how to help the masses navigate their way around the Web:

“All of this fretting over the death of reading might sound more genuine if it wasn’t usually articulated by and for people who’ve staked their lives and careers on traditional media models—authors, academics, journalists, publishers, and the like. More importantly, it’s often beside the point. The debate over how we read, perpetuated largely by media insiders, is starting to seem like little more than a distraction from the real problem: We have access to more information than ever, yet we do not know what to do with it. We are desperately information-illiterate.”

What was that again?: Librarian Emily Walshe isn’t exactly hand-wringing, and she isn’t the first to worry about how cognition is being altered because of the ease of the search engine:

“With so many of us slave to tin can memory, our human capacity for identification is jeopardized. Because when we commit things to mind, we become the authors of experience. When we choose to remember, we relate to our most fundamental resource and, in so doing, achieve a unique and perfect balance between representation and meaning.”

Commodify your Tweets: Before Twitter’s denial of service attack on Thursday, Jasmin Tragas did a Google search on a topic that’s been bugging her and came up with a question directed at novelist Rick Moody. It confirmed her suspicions about the exploitation of social media:

“Have we gotten to a point where the commodification of personality has become so overbearing that it’s impossible for us to separate self-promotion from expression?”

A very fine wine: Along those same lines, British freelancer David Lloyd takes a dim view of Web wine impresario Gary Vaynerchuk’s yammering about personal branding:

“The blogs I visit most aren’t written to be ‘monetised’. They’re written because their owners have something to say. Or they want to offer a service, or advice, or, maybe, they just want to write. And isn’t that where all the best sites originated anyway? Money might follow. It might not. Really, Gary, don’t sweat it.”

How many years of blogs? David Silversmith argues that given the 500-year head start by the printed word, it’s far too soon to determine the longevity of blogs. But he predicts they won’t be very egalitarian and could end up being dominated by blogging Darwinians. I think that’s already the case:

The world can’t support 184 million blogs. . . . The few, the mighty and the strong blogs will survive and thrive – but the age of blogging offering everybody a voice will fade away.”

(via Amy Vernon)

Serendipity-doo-dah: New York Times technology editor Damon Darlin ignited a firestorm over his assertion that the digital age isn’t good for information meandering:

Ah, the techies say, no worries. We have Facebook and Twitter, spewing a stream of suggestions about what to read, hear, see and do. . . . But that isn’t serendipity. It’s really group-think. Everything we need to know comes filtered and vetted. We are discovering what everyone else is learning, and usually from people we have selected because they share our tastes.”

Big Digerati Dog Steven Johnson got the logrolling going emphatically:

“Do these people actually use the Web?”

More pushback here and here. Even some of Darlin’s fans are scratching their heads. But he does have some defenders on this point.

And of course, there has to be some over-the-top snark for good measure.

I revel in all forms of serendipity, though I lean toward Darlin’s point that “group-think” could be a negative consequence of too much, or the wrong kind, of filtering. (What I compile here each Friday is a combination of serendipity and filtering by others, both in print and on the Web.)

During that testy interview with Der Spiegel last week, Chris Anderson admitted he really doesn’t do serendipity:

“I figure by the time something gets to me it’s been vetted by those I trust. So the stupid stuff that doesn’t matter is not going to get to me.”

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Readings: Massing, nichepapers, “Free” bashing

On Fridays I like to serve up some long-form material on digital media, suitable for weekend reading. As always, journalism on the Web is a hot topic, and particularly Chris Anderson’s snippy interview this week that has even a few online evangelists a bit incredulous.

Good news about news on the Web: At The New York Review of Books, longtime political journalist Michael Massing offers a prodigious assessment of the evolution of news into a print/Web hybrid. He points out the Internet’s shortcomings — including it being “a hothouse for rumors, distortions, and fabrications.” But after examining the work of Andrew Sullivan and Talking Points Memo, among other pioneering political bloggers and news sites, Massing likes much of what he sees happening online:

“The practice of journalism, far from being leeched by the Web, is being reinvented there, with a variety of fascinating experiments in the gathering, presentation, and delivery of news. And unless the editors and executives at our top papers begin to take note, they will hasten their own demise.”

Massing admits all this is unsettling, and remains concerned about how good journalism will be funded. But his lucid, empirical argument is a refreshing alternative to the either/or shouting into caverns of the digital divide.

Niches as news institutions: Web media entrepreneur Umair Haique, writing on the Harvard Business School blog, goes beyond railing against old media tendencies to charge for online news. “The Nichepaper Manifesto” argues in favor of news structured into distinct, dynamic and inviting ways for readers to interact and respond — via a curating method he calls “commentage.” And he claims that the “superior economics” of this idealized model will be the foundation for the future of news:

“Nichepapers do meaningful stuff that matters the most. The great failing of 20th century news is that monopoly power became a substitute for meaningful value creation. At root, that’s the lesson that newspapers are learning the hard way.”

However, Haique doesn’t address the economics of how this news is to be created and which is at the root of the raging debate over “Free.”

Hate to interrupt your triumphalism: Blogging superstar Cory Doctorow’s takedown of “Free” is more devastating than Malcolm Gladwell’s. Doctorow’s not a defensive print journalist but an author who has posted his new science fiction novel online for free. Ultimately he can’t embrace Anderson’s thesis because of what he leaves out:

“Also missing in Free is the frank admission that for many of the practitioners threatened by digital technology, the future is bleak.

“For while it is true that Madonna and many other established artists have found a future that embraces copying, there will also be many writers, musicians, actors, directors, game designers and others for whom the internet will probably spell doom. And for every creator who loses her livelihood because she is unsuited to the digital future, there will be many more intermediaries – editors, executives, salespeople, clerks, engineers, teamsters and printers – who will also be rendered jobless by technology.

“It is possible to be compassionate about those peoples’ fortunes – just as it is possible to mourn the passing of mom-and-pop bookstores, the collapse of poetry as a viable commercial concern, the worldwide decline of radio serials, the waning of the knife-sharpening trade, and a million other bygone human activities – while still not apologising for the future.”

Come on, just say the “J” word: In a contentious interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, an annoyed Anderson insisted he doesn’t use the words “journalism” and “media” any more. The same for “news.” In fact, he proclaims that “the words of the last century don’t have meaning.” Because there’s no need to rely on time-honored sources or methods to find out what’s happening in the world:

“It comes to me, which is really quite common these days. More and more people are choosing social filters for their news rather than professional filters. We’re tuning out television news, we’re tuning out newspapers. And we still hear about the important stuff, it’s just that it’s not like this drumbeat of bad news. It’s news that matters. I figure by the time something gets to me it’s been vetted by those I trust. So the stupid stuff that doesn’t matter is not going to get to me.”

His “journalism as hobby” line naturally has some old print tribes up in arms. But general readers ripped into Anderson when he chirped about how much he gets his news from Twitter, and sounding like someone who thinks milk comes from the supermarket instead of the farm.

“Oh dear, Chris, get back on the planet:” Roy Greenslade, media writer of The Guardian, admonishes Anderson for his semantic stubbornness:

“I count myself as a passionate advocate for new ways of practising journalism. But I do believe there is something called journalism. I do believe we there is still something called news.”

After rave reviews of “The Long Tail” (which I read and liked), the response to “Free” has been mixed from the start. I think he’s largely correct in assessing how individuals are consuming and sharing news, and that journalism increasingly may be left to hobbyists. But I was surprised by his smugness and agitation when challenged to back up his claims. Then again, new media gurus aren’t used to having their views challenged.

I haven’t read Anderson’s new book (it’s not “Free,” but a hefty $26.99), so I’ll reserve a more complete critique for later. For now, he smacks of an old media pontificator who doesn’t like being upbraided, even in the slightest.

And Anderson’s embrace of a postmodernish verbal relativism — which goes beyond mere vocabulary — leaves me stone cold. Words do have meaning, and how they’re used matters even more.