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News people must study their users

Tuesday, November 25, 2008 by Dave Winer.

Yesterday I wrote a piece saying that point of view is everything when thinking about the future of news.  Permalink to this paragraph

The newspapers always approach the question of their continued existence from their own point of view, which of course is understandable. But it doesn't yield an answer, because that point of view is what's disappearing.  Permalink to this paragraph

If they could consider other points of view, two in particular, they might get somewhere.The two points of view are: Permalink to this paragraph

1. People with news. Permalink to this paragraph

2. People who want news. Permalink to this paragraph

Source and destination. Reporters are distributors. And editors are facilitators of distribution.  Permalink to this paragraph

If the people with the news can publish it themselves, and they can; what's to stop the people who want the news from reading it directly. Permalink to this paragraph

When professional news people consider the Internet they think of it replacing them. Not so. It reduces their role to a bare minimum, makes them less necessary. I still want soundbites from the sources, but I want them to link to the full blog post behind the quote. Too often, in the past, reporters played funny games with partial quotes, or by quoting one person after another as if they were speaking in sequence, when in reality neither had any idea that the other was being quoted. I want the collection of wisdom, I'll draw my own conclusions, as a reader that's my right. (I'll do it anyway, even if the reporters try to mislead me, that's why we're all so suspicious of the news, we were trained to be.) Permalink to this paragraph

If reporters are to remain relevant they have to recast themselves, more humbly. Don't think about "deputizing" us to do what you do. Instead think of the value of your rolodex, your sources. Cultivate and develop that rolodex. To the extent that you know who to call when a bit of news breaks, that's the extent of your value in the new world, the one we live in now. Permalink to this paragraph

An example I often cite. When there's a fire in Santa Barbara, I know where to go. Doc Searls has staked out that turf in the blogosphere. When there's a breaking story on his beat, his blog has all the pointers you need to get quickly informed. Pictures too. Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named accordion.gifAnother example. Paul Krugman's blog. When the economy is crumbling, as it is now, he reads a lot of other blogs and points to the ones I need to read to stay informed. Sharing this kind of stuff is a human impulse. I doubt if Dr. Krugman gets paid extra to do this, and I know Doc doesn't. This is the amateur spirit. And it's how we're going to route around the outage if the news industry collapses. (However it would be better if the news industry didn't, which is why I bother to write these missives, for over a decade now.) Permalink to this paragraph

To the news industry, I suggest that instead of having another brainstorming session among news people, instead let's convene a conference where the people who speak are news users, the #1s and #2s, and the reporters, editors and owners do what they're supposed to do, sit in the audience and take notes. Later they can tell us what we said. Sounds boring perhaps? Well folks, that's what reporters do.  Permalink to this paragraph

The solution to the puzzle is in the minds and hearts of the people who want to tell a story and the people who want to listen. And of course some days we might be in one category and the next day in the other. Or I might have expertise in one area, and need to acquire it in another.  Permalink to this paragraph

So the first step in solving the problem is understanding what the users want from news. This is knowledge the news industry has carefully avoided attaining. Seriously. I'm not kidding. And it seems to me there's the problem.  Permalink to this paragraph

Hank Williams asks if the papers are reaching The End Of Days? Permalink to this paragraph


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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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