Trouble at the Chronicle
Saturday, March 24, 2007 by Dave Winer.
Tim O'Reilly is hearing rumors that the SF Chronicle is in "big trouble." It's a fascinating piece, a must-read, it's kind of scary to think that the mainstream press is going down without a fight.
At a breakfast meeting yesterday with a CTO at a major print pub, I observed that the MSM guys love to hear Jeff Jarvis's message of gloom and doom, but feel threatened by my prescription for embracing the new media, a message of hope, of finding new relevance for the skills and experience of professional journalists.
First, reform journalism school. It's too late to be training new journalists in the classic mode. Instead, journalism should become a required course, one or two semesters for every graduate. Why? Because journalism like everything else that used to be centralized is in the process of being distributed. In the future, every educated person will be a journalist, as today we are all travel agents and stock brokers. The reporters have been acting as middlemen, connecting sources with readers, who in many cases are sources themselves. As with all middlemen, something is lost in translation, an inefficiency is added. So what we're doing now, in journalism, as with all other intermediated professions, is decentralizing. So it pays to make an investment now and teach the educated people of the future the basic principles of journalism.
Second, embrace the best bloggers. How? Easy -- every time someone is quoted in your publication, offer them a blog hosted on your domain. This has a couple of advantages: 1. It gives the reporters the ultimate say on who gets to share some of your authority, who gets a chance to be the next amateur star. 2. It gives the reporters an incentive to only use sources that are qualified, it would improve the quality of your reporting. It also has a third benefit, as you expand the number of people writing under your banner, you also expand the reach of your publication, into school boards, local government, sports teams and businesses. It's also important because it's how you decentralize, aligning your interests with the "grain" of the web, as opposed to the current positioning, against it.
Of course you run ads on each of the pages, that's your reward for sharing your authority with the people who used to be your sources (and who still are, in every sense). Now your reporters just have to read the blogs to find the new trends, the quotes for their articles. They will learn a lot and perhaps even start having fun, instead of (as Markoff puts it in the O'Reilly piece) feeling like they're at a wake. That's depression, and you can feel it in the articles they write, and you can't possibly dig out of a hole when you're depressed. You need to find a way to tap into the excitement of the Internet, to bring it into your publication. In the tech business they call this "embrace and extend."
Eventually new businesses will form out of the messy brew of sources, editors and reporters you'll be supporting and in some cases, employing. The publishers and owners must also keep their eyes and minds open, be creative, no one knows the future, but there certainly is one, even if some days it feels like there isn't.