Monday, November 24, 2014 at 9:55 AM

How to rebuild journalism

  • I read Emily Bell's speech and her piece in the Guardian over the weekend. They fairly well reflect what you hear from journalism pundits these days. #

  • I don't think they know how to listen to technology. They of course, being journalists, focus on the money. But there's a lot of open tech available for them to use. They don't look there. #

  • It's like the blind men and the elephants, or Don's Amazing Puzzle (try it!). You see what you expect to see. Journalism is conservative. It wants things to stay the same. Tech is the opposite. It's invested only in upheaval. There's your conflict. #

  • The story of the last 20 years has been the story of the collision of journalism and tech. I've been working on this for my entire 40-plus year career as a software developer and writer -- what happens to story-telling when the tools of publishing are available to everyone. #

  • Journalism stood by while blogging took root. They covered it, but largely dismissed it. They ignored RSS. They ignored everything, including the threat to their art. I warned them many times, here on, that they would regret letting the tech industry own their distribution system. But that's what happened. Without any resistance whatsoever. Journalism let tech move in and take over. #

  • Yet tech has been a lot more generous than I thought they (we) would be. Perhaps because they understand as little about journalism as journalism understands about tech. Or perhaps because they want journalism to be independent of tech. Hard to know.#

  • The Algorithm#

    • Facebook's algorithm is something they don't like. Lots to say about that.#

    • 1. Most of them don't use Facebook. Which would be similar to not liking Google if you didn't use Google. Most of them do use Google, so will understand what this means, I hope.#

    • 2. The results you get from "the algorithm" is a function of how you trained it. If, on the day of the Ferguson shooting (the canonical example Bell and others cite) you were, like me, a lover of news, your feed would have had lots of stuff about Ferguson in it. (BTW, have you watched the network news shows recently? Lots of YouTube videos and pie-eating contests.)#

    • 3. Journalism has an opaque algorithm too. None of its users has any idea how they decide what is and isn't news.#

    • 4. Facebook hasn't really gotten into news yet. They are actively developing new technology in this area. To judge it on its ability to deliver news would be like judging the NYC Subway on its ability to deliver news. It's for people, today, more than it is for news. However, expect that to change.#

    • 5. I have been listening to Facebook people carefully. Reading the tea leaves, getting to know their developers. I believe they really want to work with you. Yet not very many journalists have expressed much interest. I think this is a big mistake. When someone offers to work with me, my first response is to say yes. I wasn't always this way, I had to train myself to do it, after watching lots of opportunities pass me by because I wasn't ready enough to work with others. #

    • 6. One thing you can learn from the process of tech is to study your competition, don't ignore them. Use the software yourself, understand its strengths and weaknesses before you attack. Journalism hasn't done any of this, which is odd, because that's supposed to be their job, understanding things that matter. #

  • How to rebuild#

    • 1. If I were running a news organization today, accepting that we let the tech industry own our distribution system, I would first incorporate it into my plans by flowing all my headlines through Twitter and Facebook, and then start to create our own distribution system to stand alongside the tech industry distribution system. #

    • 2. The first mover doesn't always win. That's a big lesson. Use what you know about news to build the best news system you can, and then learn from your users, and iterate. My first version of a product usually doesn't work very well. My second one works better. By the time I've done it the third or fourth time I usually hit the mark pretty well. #

    • 3. I would not rush to the government and make demands. That is just plain wrong. If your children behaved that way, before trying to work things out with each other, you'd send them back to at least try to find their own peace. You should have enough self-respect to do that yourself. I am sure the Bezos-owned Washington Post will not be seeking government protection from Twitter and Facebook.#

    • 4. It's also not right because there's so much potential right now. It's not time to lock it down and regulate. It's time for tech and journalism to behave responsibly and respectfully of themselves and each other.#

    • 5. We have enough open formats and protocols to build a dozen news distribution systems with all kinds of algorithms. We have bright-eyed J-school students who are excited about the future of news. Even some graybeards such as myself are still totally excited about the future. Come on, let's use the tools we have. Feed your headlines and stories into Facebook and Twitter, you have to do that -- they exist and billions of people use them -- but also into new systems for news distribution. There is room for lots of different approaches. We're at the beginning of something new, at a time of exciting possibilities. Let that excitement be reflected in your thinking.#

Last built: Sun, Mar 22, 2015 at 5:50 PM

By Dave Winer, Monday, November 24, 2014 at 9:55 AM. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.