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Scripting News, the weblog started in 1997 that bootstrapped the blogging revolution.

The reboot of journalism Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named pagemaker.gifThe last piece on journalism got a lot of reads, but more importantly, unveiled some areas where I need to repeat things I've been saying for a long time. It's my fault -- I get into the habit of being misunderstood, and I expect it will always be so. But two things happen: 1. The world changes and 2. I get better at explaining.

Apparently I am one of the very few who think we're in the middle of the reboot of journalism, not at the start. It's not in the future, it's been happening for a long time. But as all things one is in the middle of, it can hard to see that it exists. Ask the fish to describe water -- he'll say there is no such thing. Ask a mammal to describe air or ask someone who is living through a transformation of journalism to explain, they can't. This is no one's fault, it's just human nature. The closer you are to something, the harder it is to see.

Talking with Jay Rosen on Tuesday, in a conversation we didn't record, he said we don't know the shape of the new journalism, and I agreed -- but that's the only thing we don't know. We know very well the components, the same sources that the old journalism was built on, with one major difference -- they now go direct.

This is what we've been working on in the blogging space for 15 years. I wrote about billions of websites in 1995. And before that, desktop publishing and laser printers made it possible to print newsletters in 1986, 23 years ago. All that time, every time a former source started publishing on their own, the process of new journalism took a step forward.

A picture named hope.jpgI warned the news industry about this, starting at the latest in 2000, in a piece I wrote in Amsterdam, asking them to open the doors to the people. Later, in 2002, I urged the NY Times, who I was working with on RSS, to give blogs, under the NYT banner, to anyone who was quoted in a NYT piece. They could have, but didn't, take steps to move forward on new journalism. In my experience, if you participate in the movement that undermines your way of doing business, you have some say in how it evolves. If this were the transport industry, it's as if I were recommending that the NY Central railroad make an investment in Trans World Airlines. Or that UPS invest in FedEx. I still don't think it's too late, but the time is very short, it seems.

There are so many examples of sources that go direct. Jay has been sending me links. I see them everywhere; I stopped looking a long time ago, when blogging seemed to be on solid ground. At Cal on Monday, I talked about judges, attorneys, jurors, defendents and plaintiffs blogging, and was laughed at by the pros, but Scott found a judge that is blogging. (And a judge blogging is the most extreme example, I know it.)

In 2003, when I went to Harvard to bring blogging to a major university, the profs I talked to gave me the blank stare, as if wondering why I would be pitching them on publishing independently. None of them took me up on the offer, because Harvard profs had no trouble getting published. But there are lots of them who blog now, every one an expert, the kind of person news organizations quote. Now they're going direct, wholesale, and realtime with their observations. This is as it should be, and to the hand-wringers who think we're losing something in the transition to the new journalism, it's the other way around -- our horizons are expanding, the bottlenecks aren't just widening, they're being blown up. The new world is much better than the old one.

Jay's comment (about not knowing the shape of the new journalism) got me thinking, as well as a topic we glossed over in last Sunday's podcast, the question of Twitter as an environment for journalism. My claim is they have screwed it up, by gifting some reporters with huge flow while leaving others out. No environment for journalism can do that, without immediately spawning competition. That's how confused the business people of journalism are, because near as I can tell, they are ceding the whole opportunity to a little tech company in SF that has a very weird idea how news works. They appear to think it exists to promote their product. That is far too narrow a definition. Twitter is very important now, but not that important long-term. Twitter is part of the answer to Jay's question about the shape of the new journalism. It might be the backbone, the top level; or the back room, the back channel, the virtual newsroom. Or it might be both. ;->

In math, when you have to prove a hard theorum, first you try to prove elements of the theory, that if true, would prove the whole thing. In software, you may not know what the final user interface looks like, but you know some layers to it, so in either case you can start work right away. In 1994 we didn't know what the new journalism would look like, and we still don't, but we knew some essential elements, perhaps the essential element -- that sources go direct. It's the thing the Internet does to all intermediaries, it disses them. It happened to travel agents, realtors, classified ads, all kinds of shopping, and it has happened to news too.

As with everything new, to see it you have to jump out of your skin and look at the situation from the new body, not the old one. Imagine what news would look like once the limits of the past are erased by the technology of the new. It's been knowable for many years, but some didn't want to look. But if you looked, as millions did, if you weren't one of the gatekeepers; rather you were one of the people the gates were meant to keep out -- there was no problem seeing how it would shape up. Now we're there, we're not at the beginning, we're already far along.

PS: Brent Simmons remembers InternetWorld in 1997 when we met a guy who thought there would be at most 10 websites in 2000. I don't remember his name either. ;->

Rave review for EC24P Permanent link to this item in the archive.

Tomorrow I'm going to release the EC2 for Poets howto, and a podcast roadmap. In the meantime, here's a review by Michael Fidler.

I did it! In addition, I'm sending this from the new Firefox browser that you included. Thank you so much! I have wanted to do this for so long. When they first announced the service I visited Amazon, but there were so many choices that I didn't now where to start. This was such a rewarding first step. What comes next, Dave? Will there be more tutorials possible? Even if there isn't, this one might have been the nudge I needed to get started on my own. This was an extremely thoughtful thing of you to do. Give yourself a big hug for me (or a pat on the back). I think I'll mess around in here for a little while longer:-)

This is exactly what I hoped would happen. Big hugs, Dave ;->


Last update: Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 6:48 PM Pacific.

A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.

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