Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Haque and Doc on news, evolution, and bucks

Attention to the dire straits of news as insolvent, failing enterprise and what to do about it goes on. Interesting discussions include that of Umair Haque, who suggests that nichepapers may provide a clue to how content can make money in the future. He makes a distinction between news - the commodity that is immediately available everywhere when something "newsworthy" (Michael Jackson dies) happens and knowledge, which is "meaningful" and "lasting."

Doc comments on Haque, offering a tantalizing suggestion about how the new news is larval, how it pixellates via many witnesses and sources, and how this may over time evolve into something rich and strange.
The results paint a mosaic, or perhaps even a pointillist, picture of news sourced, reported, and re-reported by many different people, organizations and means. These are each portraits of an emerging ecosystem within which newspapers must adapt of die.
Where Haque is looking at the hierarchic depth of knowledge as gleaned from informed sources by discerning journalists, Doc is watching the world scan itself, reacting with almost a visceral immanence, seismically, to events. Twitter picks them up and gossip bubbles up.

Somewhere between Doc and Haque may lie some future -- place? medium? manner? -- of instant information channeled and built into useful knowledge.

One thing both writers speak to, but implicitly, I think, is the current complexity of what is now knowable as news. Newspapers can still position themselves as significant cullers of local news and information useful and desired by their local audiences. But no single newspaper can hope to match the scale and complexity of the Internet as a sensorium resonating with the quickening awareness, wit, and free comment, learned or ignorant, moving all around us. Nor can any modality other than the Net contend with the complexity and intricacy of, say, the Federal Government or Organized Crime in all their tentacular scope.

Rather than compete with the Net, newspapers - no, news organizations - will need to adapt and work with it. Haque and Doc are both saying this, but I'm emphasizing the evident difference imposed by scale that makes this not an option, but a new norm. This is why TV studio local news has become nothing more than a joke - its simplicity beggars belief in a networked world of information.

But the other side of this - how to make a profit - is still unclear in Haque and Doc. According to Haque, successful nichepapers like HuffPo are indicators of how money is made:

"What is different about them is that they are finding new paths to growth, and rediscovering the lost art of profitability by awesomeness."

I'm less persuaded that content alone, no matter how stunning or seductive, can establish reliable, viable earnings. Which is why I have been trying to formulate one simple observation -- that we who use the Internet think of the Net as both mechanism and mind - pipes and content. We believe that when we've paid our Internet Service Provider, we've done our share. The stuff we find when we connect is what we have already paid for.

Only, the corporate "owners" of the pipes do not see it this way. They make a clear distinction between pipes and content (and then proceed, if they're Verizon or Comcast, to offer miserable excuses for content), and tell us we are only paying for the pipes.

What strikes me in all the discussions, white papers, and bloggery among journalists and commentators is, they apparently buy this hokum -- hook, line, sinker, and mouse turd. Not once have I seen the savvy content gurus suggest that the money we end users intend for content is all being waylaid, ripped off, by the pipe guys. Somewhere back in the day when the pipes were being laid, there was a logical moment when Big Pipe had to think: "What if no one puts any content out there? Then who will use our infrastructure?"

Fortunately for Big Pipe, no content provider apparently ever raised the issue with them, saying, in effect, "That's a nice pipe you've got there - want some content? Let's make a deal."

That deal has yet to be made. The discussion involving the economics of content seems trapped inside Flatland's notion of content. They extrapolate from antique models of moneymaking and apply them to the future, instead of journalistically analyzing the lie they've all been fed, and all believe, that the Internet can, in the eyes of its paying customers, be divided neatly into monthly infrastructure charges on the one hand, and then, on top of that, an infinity of charges to the same customers for the privilege of reading or seeing anything.

My $.02 is that this entire economic system of the Net has to be revisited. The mega profits generated and hoarded by Verizon, Comcast and their keiretsu buddies needs to be shared with content makers -- not just with news, but with anyone doing worthwhile stuff. This is what I've been trying to speak to in recent posts here, as you'll see if you scroll down.

My proposal (caution: Language!) recommends creating an independent pool of funds generated from the income streams of the ISPs or ILECs -- funds which then can be shared among providers of content via an equitable micropayment system.

I don't mean to imply this is the way it must be. I'm saying that I've yet to see any economics of content - including that of David Simon - that makes better sense by leaving out the economics of the totality, which includes the infrastructure. I'll be happy to be pointed to a better idea.

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Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Doc reminds that he was looking at this whole thing in depth back in 2005.

7/28/2009 4:33 PM  
Blogger jonhusband said...

The point of "news", as I understand (or used to understand) it was to let / help me (and of course everyone else) make some type of sense out of what is / was going on out there.

The Web allows us, if we want to give the attention, take the responsibility, and do the work, to weave and stitch items, snippets, anecdotes, images, etc. together into a tapestry of meaning ... just as we have always done in each of our own heads.

The sources of raw material for the weaving and stitching and in some senses the process of doing so have been changed.

Like Doc I opined (or observed) about this a few years ago, writing about how hyperlinks, feeds, etc. helped us stitch and weave together tapestries of meaning. I also wrote a somewhat ambitious (or more accurately amateurish) and very incomplete "The Medium is the Meaning We Consume and Create".

Dave Snowden of complexity and KM reknown has often said humans are pattern recognition animals (or machines ? .. take your pick). We all do whatever it is our cognition, mental models and beliefs compel us to do with information .. so it is that spin and ropoganda are so very powerful and are now more often than not the coin of the realm.

I use "coin of the realm" purposefully, as the established news industry saw, or sees, that the quickest and easiest route to ongoing profit was the packaging and re-packaging of predetermined meaning (propaganda). Not so much any more ?

It would be nice to believe that the Web helps dispel some of the spin, disinformation, misinformation and propaganda (which it surely does here and there), but it's all to easy to drown in the sea of dissonant and purposefully contradictory flows of "news", or to suffocate in an overly narrow and ideologically driven niche.

The Web is indeed, to my mind, the latest evolution of the potential Toffler wrote about in PowerShift - Knowledge, Wealth and Violence at the edge of the 21st century. And it is precisely (in my opinion) because the arrival and evolution of the Web addresses the power issues of information and knowledge, that we are seeing such large and protracted battles over who runs and controls what ...

All of the above I know you know. as is evident of the past several years here and elsewhare, I just like commenting because it's one of the key ways I work out what I am thinking and what I believe.

7/30/2009 11:57 AM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...


I want to return to your thoughtful comment in more detail, but here's a question for "journalists": how has the internet changed the way you see the world? How has it changed the scope of your gaze, your reading, your basic assumptions about the world you allegedly "cover"?

More in a bit...

7/30/2009 1:13 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

There's nothing wrong with being in the bandwidth business, of course. But some of these big boys want to go farther with it. They don't see themselves as a public utility selling a pure base-level service, such as water or electricity (which is what they are, by the way, in respect to the Net). They see themselves as a source of many additional value-adds, inside the pipes. They see opportunities to sell solutions to industries that rely on the Net--especially their natural partner, the content industry. - Doc.

This is exactly right. Jon, how would you feel if TV networks, instead of enveloping "content" like sports or public events (inaugurations, funerals) in the candied wrapper of their bogus presenters and "commentators," merely placed cameras and let the events speak for themselves?

I frankly would prefer it most of the time. Sports around the world today is never without the "color" of white men talking to each other, as if they were the event, not the sport. Same with news. As you say, we knit our own reading, in so doing, we write our own news.

I don't care if it's this person or that reading the news. They're reading the news, fer chrissake. But in TVland, certain people with eyes are paid $8 schmillion to do that, because in some executive mind, the populum Murkanum is tuning in to watch them read, not to get the news.

News orgs often make the same mistake. I will be happy for the day when the Net is so transparent that I can see the lobbyists' dollars as they flow into the bank accounts of my senators - no investigative report complete with frenetic music necessary.

In reality, the pipes are mute, dark, subterranean - until the light of content fills them. We are paying for the light. Why we believe we are paying for the dark is beyond fathoming. But we do, we do.

So I'd go a bit further. The pipes are pipes. Half their revenue, or more, should flow to content creation, on an equitable basis. Indeed, content creators should band together, file a class action, and seek to recover the billions that have been pocketed by the Pipers. Then (after icing the lawyers), put the settlement into a general fund, and start paying for the content that right now, even the brilliant stuff, is starving, because "news" people have failed to interpret their own predicament, to uncover the lie that has them picking cotton for less than black slaves made in 1823.

7/30/2009 8:33 PM  
Blogger jonhusband said...

I frankly would prefer it most of the time

Me too. I long ago tired of having relatively uninformed commentators offer me their opinion on the issue on which hey are reporting, especially the knowing glances, pursed lips and square jaws (remembering fondly the name of Anne Galloway's fine blog).

I am in 100% support of the actions called for in your last paragraph. That is a logical business model for an era where significant amounts of content comes from "users" (hate the word in the context of connecting to and reading, watching, listening to and creating content of various forms for the Web).

7/30/2009 9:34 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

I'd probably omit the bit about icing the lawyers ;). So is it just me, or is there an actual exact parallel between this enslaved content situation and the lunacy of USian health insurance?

In both cases, corporations who set themselves up as affording us a service have in fact become the prime, unaffordable obstacles to that service being available to many who have every right to it.

7/30/2009 11:09 PM  
Blogger jonhusband said...

So is it just me, or is there an actual exact parallel between this enslaved content situation and the lunacy of USian health insurance?

No, that's pretty much it. Seen from away, looks like the USian version of "free markets" operating to ensure choice and viable competition ;-)

Versions of it (enslaved situation) operate in other sectors too, I think.

8/06/2009 12:19 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

I'd welcome additional examples, Jon. There's a larger thesis here that I'm still trying to clarify for myself, maybe.

One thing is clear: the moment content folks (Fox has announced it will charge for every one of its sites) start charging either by the piece or monthly fees or whatever, it will dawn on people that there is no way they can afford the pipes and paid content.

8/06/2009 2:55 PM  
Blogger jonhusband said...

One thing is clear: the moment content folks (Fox has announced it will charge for every one of its sites) start charging either by the piece or monthly fees or whatever, it will dawn on people that there is no way they can afford the pipes and paid content.

I think you're right.

It feels to me like the couriers' messages, the signals, flags and horns are all preparing the ground for the final battle.

As has often been warned about in the recent past, the Net / Web may be at last and for real (and forever ?) becoming just the most recent version of the engine for the golem that is corporatism.

8/08/2009 2:54 PM  

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