Thursday, January 6, 2005

Watch Out, Traditional Media!

Start of my "Reality Media" column at AlwaysOn.

My bi-weekly column at AlwaysOn got started today. Check it out!

Watch Out, Traditional Media!
The collective intelligence and power of the blogosphere are bringing accountability and competition to broadcast news and journalism.

The tagline for my column reads:

As social networks and blogs become more integrated into our daily digital world, we examine the events, trends and technology across the globe will affect this sector.

This is a good and fun initial foray into journalism. Even though AlwaysOn is a tech blog, the center space of the site is managed by editors similar to a newspaper or magazine. My editor, Jill, was great and I already learned some aspects of writing that I didn't know about from her. It's also interesting to see the editing process. Actually, here is a copy of my initial draft, so check this out and compare with what's up at AlwaysOn:

Shifting From Reality TV To Reality Media

It seems there was a shift in the reading and viewing habits for the world in 2004. Reality television lost its luster and people were getting tire of this genre while eyeballs continued to multiply towards content with substance – from the Internet. With blogs leading the way, old mediums were left scratching their heads like Elmer Fudd looking for Bugs Bunny after being blindsided by the likes of Power Line (Time’s Blog of the Year), Engadget, and others breaking news days before their mainstream media counterparts on everything from false documents used by “60 Minutes” to faulty Kryptonite locks.

John Hinderaker, one of Power Line’s bloggers, stated in an interview for this post:

“Whenever I look at one of those newspaper dispensers, I look at the headlines and I’m always kind of surprised because they seem so out of date. I tell myself, ‘They’re still talking about that?’ There’s always a day or two lag. Blogs, and the Internet in general, have accelerated the pace of the news cycle. In the blogosphere, there are really two or three news cycles within a day. If something is more than six to eight hours old in the blogosphere, it’s really part of a former news cycle. The speed has really changed how people view information.”

In another way, time isn’t a factor in the blogosphere. Posts on blogs are just part of a greater conversation on the Internet. They can be a starting point or just a part of the continuing discussion. As Jeff Jarvis states, “We used to think that the news was finished when we printed it, but that’s when the news now begins.”

In the old days, this piece would probably be too dated to be published, especially if I just focused on a review of activities in 2004, but through the medium of blogs it’s still timely and relevant… well, within certain boundaries.

Probably the most important characteristic of this widespread move towards “reality media” in 2004 has been the power of collective intelligence. We see it here at AlwaysOn almost everyday. No article or post is complete without some commentary, correction, or additional information from a community member. The most significant example of this in 2004 was Power Line’s lead in proving Dan Rather’s use of false documents in a “60 Minutes” story on President Bush’s Texas National Guard service. I asked John Hinderaker about whether the breaking of the “Rathergate” story was the first time he experienced the collective intelligence and power of blogs at work:

“Well, no. For years people have been predicting that the Internet would be a significant political medium, but until this year I didn’t think it happened. This year there were a number of respects in which it was. You start with the Howard Dean campaign and its use of the web for fundraising and organizing. Subsequent to that is the Bush campaign. It’s less well known, but they did a better job in using the Internet to communicate with supporters, raise money, and so forth. The thing that I thought put the whole medium over the top was the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth story. When they started out they only had $200,000 and only had enough money to buy advertising on three TV stations in Ohio. Kerry’s advisors told him don’t respond and don’t mention it. The media is not going to cover it. They can’t hurt you because they have no money. The group put the ad up on their website and we and many other blogs and websites directed traffic there. Two weeks after that ad came out even though virtually no one had seen it on television. Somebody did a poll that 57% of all respondents knew about the ad and a lot of them had already seen it. What the vets had done was circumventing all the traditional media and use the Internet to get the message out. Of course along with seeing the ads a lot of people made donations. It was the day after the survey came up the Kerry people just freaked because their assumption was that without money the vets couldn’t do any damage, and they were right that the mainstream media would blockade the story and they did. Then you had “Christmas in Cambodia” and so forth and we played a significant role in that along with various other blogs. Even without Rathergate, which I already stated in a lecture I gave in South Dakota, that this is the year that the Internet came into its own as a political medium. Obviously the CBS story was icing on the cake.”

As a reader of Power Line, the amazing aspect of watching “Rathergate” unfold was that it wasn’t just their blog, but several dozen others collaborating with hundreds of their readers who emailed numerous pieces of information that validated the forgery of the documents. The collective intelligence and power of the blogosphere still has doubters.

A few weeks ago I was reading a USA Today article on our own Tony Perkins and came across this statement by Jason Pontin, Editor-in-Chief of MIT’s Technology Review, "The blogosphere doesn't have the capacity to produce analytical, well-researched journalism." I assume this type of thinking is not limited to Jason, but also prevalent among many journalists and mainstream media people who unaware of what the blogosphere really is. I asked Simon Waldman, Director of Digital Publishing for Guardian Newspapers and a blogger (personal blog and “50 quid bloke”), about some reaction to this statement and he said:

“I think the issue is a lot less about the merits or otherwise of bloggers' writing and research, and much more about the impact that bloggers - both as individuals and as a mass are having on the shape and structure of the net.

At one level this is about the impact that individual 'power bloggers' can have on bringing a particular story or issue into the limelight. At another level it’s the bloggers en masse are having – either through aggregation services such as Blogdex and Technorati, or through their impact on Google.

Overall, I think that the combination of blogs, RSS and the ongoing integration of news readers into browsers and e-mail clients is starting to lead to a real change in the way that people will find and consume information. And, no media organisation, traditional or
otherwise, can afford to be ignorant of that change and/or to think that it won't affect them.”

Hinderaker added:

“Well, that’s just silly. Why not? Scott and I have been writing together for newspapers and magazines since 1992. We’ve produced dozens and dozens of newspaper columns, we’ve produced longer research papers, some of which are linked to off our website and some of which have been very influential before the growth of the Internet. Why would people who write blogs be uniquely incapable of either analyzing or researching? That’s just silly…

The blogosphere has made them (mainstream media) pretty nervous. I know many journalists read Power Line. It’s amazing to me how many journalists read our site. I think that the knowledge that there is a whole army of people out there fact checking them has undoubtedly has caused a lot of journalists to be more carefully. I think that’s good.”

Mainstream has taken a bit of a beating this past year in its credibility and viewership. Every mainstream medium has declined in circulation and eyeballs besides the Internet. The Pew Research Center for People and the Press put out a report that reveal how the trust in mainstream media outlets has been declining since 1996. In 1996, approximately 32% of “people who believe ‘all or most’ of what a CBS News says” versus 24% in 2004. NBC and ABC News encountered similar declines and hover around 24%. Wall Street Journal had 36% of “people who believe ‘all or most’ of” what they wrote in 1996, and now only 24% believe in them. Local papers face percentages less than 20%.

The funny aspect of Jason Pontin’s quote is that he contacted Tony and told him how the reporter from USA Today quoted him out of context. If only USA Today was set up as a blog or a blog/social network like AlwaysOn, where that reporter would get an earful from people like Ed, Jeff, or Jason himself.

Note by columnist:
In this column, I will be covering the intersection of the blogosphere and social networking, which I will refer to as “slogging” (slog v. to social network and blog). I was just tired of writing “blogs and social networks” or “social networking and blogging.”

When I asked our own active community member, Marc Canter, about the events of this past year in the blogosphere and world of social networks he said:

“I lump the two into one. I don’t differentiate social networking and blogging. I consider both in the new era of software which I called Digital Lifestyle Aggregation. Publishing with text is the first step, but we’re always seeing the beginning of audio and video blogging…

All software is about people. It always has been. What we see and know as social networking is simply a recognition of the fact that rather than these big companies trying to lock our names into same membership database and charge us money and treat us like consumers. It’s the other way around now. You start with the viral effect of the communities interacting with each other then from that are a lot of opportunities.”

And lots of content. Looking forward to interacting with the AlwaysOn community on the “slogophere” in 2005. If you have any suggestions for topics, please feel free to email me at or send a message through the AlwaysOn channels. Thanks!

Since the old AlwaysOn site was taken down and posts were not properly transferred, I will post the original article in the near future.

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