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What worked for HBO won't work for news

Thursday, July 23, 2009 by Dave Winer.

First a couple of upfronts. Permalink to this paragraph

1. I love The Wire. It's the best TV series ever. I've paid for it twice, once on HBO and once on DVD. So I not only believe in paying for content I love, I practice it. Redundantly!  Permalink to this paragraph

2. I'm drinking coffee. There's no spittle in the corner of my mouth. Writing about something I've spent my whole career working on and thinking about. And I'm no kid. I'm five years older than David Simon, former Baltimore Sun journo and co-writer of The Wire. Permalink to this paragraph

Simon wrote a remarkable piece in the Columbia Journalism Review, saying that the NY Times and Washington Post must charge for their work the way HBO charges for shows like The Wire.  Permalink to this paragraph

With all due respect, putting up a "pay wall" is exactly what these organizations don't need. They need to decentralize, get further out into the world, not hole-up behind a wall and try to tough it out.  Permalink to this paragraph

What worked for HBO won't work for the news because HBO is ficition, and news is not. You can take years writing and developing a story on HBO, polish it, cut out parts that don't support the plot you've devised, even drop the series in the middle if you lose interest. That doesn't happen with the news. News is happening all the time, on its own schedule, all over the place, including many places you don't have reporters. (Think about the arrest of Prof Gates in his own house in Cambridge, this week. Sounds like something that would happen on The Wire.) Permalink to this paragraph

And often, the stories are far more complex than reporters can comprehend. This is something I know many people in the news business disagree with. I just don't think the reporter model is working. All it does is inflate the self-importance of these people, turn them into gatekeepers, and often bullies. People who behave like the power brokers they're supposedly covering, when they're forced into playing footsie with them if they want access. Usually under the table but sometimes in plain sight.  Permalink to this paragraph

As a user of news, I'm sure the future is in shortening the distance between the sources and the readers. Yes, there was a time when, if you wanted to get a story on the wire you had to call a reporter. But that's less true every year, as new channels of news have developed, channels that the NYT (not so much the Post) are just starting to participate in. Watch out as that develops, because it's a potent combination. News people immersed in a sea of news makers. I don't know what news will look like coming out the other end, but it won't look like the system Simon and I grew up in. Permalink to this paragraph

This must run its course. The idea of putting up a paywall will just force more reporters outside of it if they want to do their jobs and shrink the publications further. It's no solution.  Permalink to this paragraph

PS: I don't believe in citizen journalism, which has amateurs playing the role of reporters. I think news is being refactored, unbundled -- broken into components, much the same as other aggregators like travel agents and stock brokers. Music A&R people. I believe in the Sources Go Direct model, the disintermediation of journalism. I also think there's a need for aggregation, but it's a practice people like Simon often mock. In fact reporters base their work on generous people who contribute their knowledge for free -- sources. 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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