Tuesday, 31 May 2011

New media are always built on editorial content. At age 30 the web has yet to learn this.

Journalism and the World Wide Web thirty years out. Watch out for big money web entrepreneurs and their social media and search engine ideas.
by Tom Thorne
The World Wide Web is a technical form capable of supporting low cost high payback commercial journalism projects and businesses. Most of the journalism efforts on the web at the moment mirror old media forms and do not fully explore the web’s potential to provide low cost high quality journalism content from freelance stringers. 
The current web situation is falling into the trap of allowing old media ideas and large editorial firms or the newly rich social media czars to set up places where journalists can work on the web providing content in a traditional employer-employee relationship or on free blog spaces that create business for their providers. 
The nature of the web is such that journalists can own their own low cost entry points  (their computers) and can live and work on the web with the potential of creating an important editorial space or spaces that can surpass the old media worlds. They can also provide the public with excellent quality editorial content. The real trick is how journalists can make a living doing this work. That is the business plan to develop and journalists tend to be observers not doers.
Weaving the web...has become more of a spider catching content
When one re-reads Tim Berners-Lee’s useful 1999 book Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of The World Wide Web by its Inventor, the reader is chastened by the author’s original high minded vision and commitment to end users and information providers of the system he created. 
Form without substance web entrepreneurs miss the point of Berner-Lee’s ideas as they became fixated on how they can make the web theirs. Facebook, Twitter and Google have no perceptible editorial principles, history or commitment  to content but they are masters of technique and as such provide users with the form where content is someone else's responsibility. They are much like the common carriers of the cable television industry. All technique and no original content. Content providers keep them in business and they reap the rewards.
Berners-Lee’s web concept  is centred on how you can make the web yours. In some hands his concepts unfortunately provide the likes of  Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook with a platform to making a fortune from frivolous hyperlinks, gossip, chatter and egotistical self promotion. 
It is somewhat scary that Facebook is capable of building momentum in elections and political arenas. It is a type of mindless propaganda machine in its worst state and an undefined democratic entity in its best guise. However, Zuckerberg could not have created Facebook without Berners-Lee’s and others considerable software and protocol work. 
Picking up on Berners-Lee’s basic ideas and applying them to new journalism forms on the web has been an project of mine for some time. I see journalism on the web controlled by journalists. This may be a pipe dream unless a business model can be indentified to get this rolling. 
On the other hand what will journalism become if Google and Facebook and Twitter enters the business using their bloated revenues to expand into editorial content? At the moment they are content to let others create content and while they provide cross promotions and searches.  
Social media and search engine profits have to go some where...
The money made from social media will likely be reinvested into new web editorial forms or it will be used to buy out start ups that are promising or come up with a journalism formula to make money on the web. Social media will not likely do anything except live off the actions of its users . However the capital social media generates could buy out The New York Times or The Globe and Mail and certainly the Huffington Post could certainly be a target because it already integrated into social media and Google generated ads.
If social media and search engine companies do go into content production, journalists may not like the result. We are a breath away from artificial intelligence search engines that pull together data and information and turn it into content and stories. Truly this brave new world hovers on the technical horizon. This could be the result of their type of thinking. In addition, these systems would take your personal information and offer ads that match your profile when you go to your social media homepage or to one of their auto generated editorial products.
Social media money is big money and when it is put to work to build editorial content it may not have the respect for facts and editorial processes that make for first rate journalism. Zukerberg has scant regard for your personal information on Facebook so why can we expect a high standard if he was to create a search engine-based news service cross promoted to and from Google, Yahoo and Ping? How this all goes down is dependent on how passive journalists remain as the web develops further as the wealth generated by social media and search engine companies looks for opportunities. 
The other fear is without a healthy editorial viewpoint social media and search engine companies tend to roll over and play dead when anything controversial arises. Remember Google’s waltz with Chinese authorities when they wanted to tamp down their citizen’s access to unfettered information? They finally backed off from China. 
New web-based editorial forms
No medium in history has the potential for realizing new editorial forms better than the World Wide Web. Gutenberg could not have conceived of the periodical or newspaper when he invented movable type printing. He was a book man still living in a manuscript world as his 42 line Bible attests.  Very few people realize how the web is structured to never fail or be down or how it can be found through any telecommunications avenue no matter how remote the end users are is or where a content and  information suppliers are located. What kind of high quality editorial products does this suggest? Certainly something different from traditional print and broadcast media or the fluff we generally see on the web at the moment.
Some other issues...
During the Arab Spring the Egyptian Mubarak government actually tried to shut down the web within their jurisdiction. The web is inherently democratic and rattles top down dictators because they cannot hope to control it.  What dictators don't know is Egyptians and Libyans and others overseas will always break through on smart cell phones, satellite phones and simply by using something as antiquated as analogue telephone lines. Within 24 hours of the shut down journalists began to file their stories on the web and participants in the Egyptian revolution began to send phone camera images abroad. The Egyptian government gave up trying to control the web and email services a week or so later. When that failed they cracked down on local journalists and kicked out foreign correspondents. That didn’t work either. The Egyptian revolution intensified mostly through constant web coverage. 
Political dictators fall in a web environment
Every dictator that tries to shut the web down fails. Its technical form and protocols initially hammered out by Tim Berners-Lee are such that if there is a computer or phone running somewhere it can light up and create a new network entry or forwarding system once it is connected. It’s not a stretch to day to say that the nature of the web and the software protocols and the portable microelectronic systems that form these entry points into a web enable new social contracts to be forged with governments. They also offer journalists an opportunity to provide high quality editorial content.
The prospect of being a dictator who believes they can still control people in a web generated information environment are truly missing the point that this communications technique brings to human affairs and particularly those in the journalism world who cover and comment on these events. What's needed now are new web generated journalistic sites that are capable of a rapid response to events but maintain high quality content. 
The web is at a pivotal point for editorial work and opportunity because dictators fall in the world of real politics as a result of web activity. At the same time successful web entrepreneurs look for ways to invest their capital made from search engines and social media. Journalists need to be active in this world if they are to build credible editorial systems before the big money does it first with automated systems that mirror the worst excesses of tabloids. 

Take a look at: Weaving the Web: The original design and ultimate destiny of the World Wide Web by its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee with Mark Fischetti, Harper Collins, San Francisco, New York, 1999, ISBN: 0-06-251586-1 http://www.harpercollins.com   Try also: http://www.harpercollins.com/searcheng/2pagesearchx.aspx?mode=search&search=Berners-Lee
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment