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Sources go direct

Friday, May 15, 2009 by Dave Winer.

A picture named hope.jpgI read this morning that the NY Times will decide by the end of June how to generate more revenue from its online presence.  Permalink to this paragraph

The two choices, they say, are: 1. Metering and 2. Membership. Metering is complicated, but boils down to a new rule -- you can use the site for free for a while, then you have to pay. Membership is like NPR membership. They ask for donations, if you like the service, you give them money. You might get a coffee mug or tote bag. Permalink to this paragraph

My opinion: They shouldn't do #1, it would screw everything up, and they might as well try #2, it will raise some money, but not enough, not until they inspire people with new ideas. (Make note, this inspiration is hugely important, and not impossible.) Permalink to this paragraph

I do think I know how this will shake out, but I don't have time this morning to explain in detail why. You'll find plenty of pieces in the archive of scripting.com that back these ideas up. I can't prove that they'll work, but I'm pretty sure they will. But they will require the Times to give up one of its sacred tenets. And that won't go down easy. But I believe the quality and integrity of the product will soar as a result. But change is hard.  Permalink to this paragraph

First some premises: Permalink to this paragraph

1. People want more news, faster. Permalink to this paragraph

2. The news industry has been cutting back. Permalink to this paragraph

3. Even so, news still happens. Permalink to this paragraph

4. Believe it or not, the tech industry doesn't know how to deliver news on the Internet. (Caveat: It's getting there.) Permalink to this paragraph

5. This creates a vacuum that is being filled by what some call "User Generated Content." I don't like that term. Instead, I call it "Sources Go Direct." Same idea, but with more respect and emphasis on quality. Sure, some of the stuff you read online is crap, but some of it is the quality stuff we crave. Permalink to this paragraph

Now what is the Times? Here's what I think it is. Permalink to this paragraph

It's a somewhat tarnished brand that equates in people's minds to "The Best in Journalism." It's not the printing press, the trucks, or even the editors and reporters. It is the logo and the tradition, the history. Whatever the Times does, it must not diminish the value of the brand, it must enhance it. The challenge is to tap into the enormous potential of the Internet as a news creation and delivery system.  Permalink to this paragraph

Like it or not, and some Times reporters appear not to like it -- much of the value in the Times is captured by its sources. The reporters, when they're doing their best work, are facilitating the flow of ideas and information from sources to readers. And don't miss that the flow works the other way too, from readers back to sources. The newspapers have been complaining wildly about this, they say the bloggers get their ideas from news people. And who do you think the news people get their ideas from? And the truth is that a lot of the bloggers they don't like are also sources. Permalink to this paragraph

To understand how news works, you need to visualize a flow diagram that includes all the elements of the news process. All the people, not just the reporters and editors. That's where the growth is going to come from.  Permalink to this paragraph

So basically the Times must evolve, just a little, to see their sources not just as quotes, but also as reporters with a beat -- their expertise. There's still enough shine in the Times rep that people could be enticed to write for the Times, for a fraction of what a reporter makes. Not for free, they must share in whatever revenue the Times gets from their work. But the Times is entitled to a cut, we want the Times to get a cut, because we want this system to go forward. Remember when I said inspiration was going to be key to it, this is how you build it. By showing people how you are going to lead us to the future. So far, I hate to say it, but the news industry has been a huge stick in the mud when it comes to the future. Just getting rid of the drag would be enough to get us to open our wallets, a bit. But imagine if the news industry decided that news was exciting again! That would do a lot to inspire people. Permalink to this paragraph

Basically, we're not going to let you fail if we love what you're doing. Permalink to this paragraph

And conversely, we're not going to rush to your aid if you're holding us back. Permalink to this paragraph

Now I have to get back to work writing some software for this new world. ";->" Permalink to this paragraph

PS: One more thing. Of course reporters reading this are going to ask "What about me?" Well, you have to find a job that pays a salary and provides the benefits you need. Today there are some jobs for reporters. What skills do you have that a news org might need in a world where sources go direct? Permalink to this paragraph

Update: How will we tell deceit from truth?  Permalink to this paragraph

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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 54, 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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