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One more time -- open the news industry!

Friday, February 06, 2009 by Dave Winer.

As I said in a podcast a few days ago, since the beginning of my career in the early 80s, I've been meeting with people in the news industry to try to play a role in its transition to an electronic medium. But that's only half of it, the easy half. The hard half: I want to be a reporter, but a new kind of reporter. Instead of one of the few, I want to be one of the millions. And I want technology to find a way to do what reporters of the 20th century used to do, to organize all the information from what they used to call "sources" into reports that people like you and me can read and think about and discuss.  Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named menwalk.gifReporting is a connecting art, like a real estate broker, travel agent, stock trader. The writing part of reporting is mundane, you want the reporter to stay out of your way as much as possible, and the good ones do. It's like the other arts -- who wants a real estate broker who sells you on how great it would be to live in a house while you're looking at it. They don't know how you live, their chatter interferes with your dreaming, and it's the dream that buys the house. I once had a travel agent who loved to golf, so I ended up staying at hotels near golf courses. I don't golf. So now I do my own travel agenting. It takes more time, but I stay in places that are a better fit. Permalink to this paragraph

The news people talk about paying for news, but the suppliers of news, the sources, are never paid. So if we can find a way to do what reporters do, without paying reporters, then voila, we can have our news for free. Before you rattle off some tired rationale, think about it. What are reporters doing that amateurs and/or software can't do? Permalink to this paragraph

Jay Rosen explained this to me once -- the word for what reporters do that machines don't is "authority." Humans convey authority. But -- only until humans teach us how to do it for them. Permalink to this paragraph

Here's the idea I would program into the heads of people who run the news corporations if I could turn them upside down and hang them by the feet until all the old wrong ideas ran out of their heads, forming a fetid puddle on the ground beneath them. News people are all around you, anxious to get in there and work, for free, on the news. At first thousands of them, and then once the glitches are worked out, tens of thousands. There's no shortage of people who want to inform others. The challenge is to figure out which ones want to do it for love. And that might not be such a challenge. I can show you a few dozen, and I bet they could show you a few more and so on. In the end you might not be able to make money at news, but you're not making money now, so what else is new? ;-> Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named dropdead.gifThe manufacturing process for news has radically shifted. The question is, as with the economy, whether we can transition the existing process to become the new one (imho preferable) or does the old system have to collapse before the new one can rise to take its place.  Permalink to this paragraph

The key is to look at all those empty newsrooms, and to envision, before they completely shut down, filling them with volunteers -- who we can teach to write the news. Permalink to this paragraph

One more thought -- as with all post-apolcalyptic thinking, post-Katrina New Orleans provided the testbed, the dry run. Look at what the Times-Picayune did in the days after the hurricane. In my humble opinion a great newspaper rose overnight where a mediocre one had been the day before. The printing presses weren't running, and the normal management structure was heavily disrupted. But they had a story, a great one -- and if you go back to the roots of news, that's when it really happens, not when someone pays you well, but when you have a great story. (Same thing happens in software, when you're shipping a winner, somehow everyone on the team knows, and they put it in an even better performance.) Permalink to this paragraph

That's what we all want to be part of -- something great. I think that expresses the best of the human spirit. As young people we want to be the greatness, but as we grow we want to be part of greatness. That's much more exciting. Permalink to this paragraph

Update: Here's an example of the kind of reporting I find riveting, Pulitzer-worthy, written by an amateur, with passion.  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.

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"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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