Cloud Journalism and the Fate of Beats

Jobs — including jobs in journalism — just aren’t what they used to be. Earlier this week, consultant Robert Patterson observed after reviewing trends in unemployment statistics that “the idea of a ‘job’ as a full-time object that can support a person or even a family, is disappearing.”

Placeblogger founder Lisa Williams applied that theme to the field of journalism and took it further. In GlobalPost: Journalism in the Cloud she pondered whether journalism might be moving away from the dedicated news organization model and moving toward an on-demand service model, similar to Amazon’s EC2 service for on-demand computer processing power. Williams explained:

“EC2 isn’t storage. It’s compute cycles, the raw power of a server as it does what computer programs do: serve Web pages, generate maps, whatever. You use EC2 as an insurance policy. Instead of buying powerful servers just in case you get a ton of traffic or new users one day, EC2 lets you buy compute cycles like you buy electricity: a lot when you need it, a little when you don’t. Services like these are generally called cloud computing because when you draw a diagram of your nifty new system, you’ll represent these third party services as a cloud — opaque, because you don’t care what’s in them, just that you get reliable utility from servers and storage that are ‘in the cloud.’

“I think sites like GlobalPost, Spot.us and many others I could name are the first inklings of ‘journalism in the cloud.’ Just as many tech outfits have figured out that it’s too expensive to have too many fixed assets, many news outlets are faced with the fact that they can’t support the same number of foreign correspondents or beat reporters. The fundamental experiment that these sites are running, each with their own protocol, is this: How can we make journalism happen where it’s needed, when it’s needed, and then redeploy elsewhere when things change?”

I asked Williams whether this would mean that reporters would have to move around a lot. She replied: “Not necessarily. A reporter could stay in the same location. If it worked, though, it would mean they’d report on more different subjects. I think what’s dying are beats, because beats are expensive.

I find this concept intriguing: a cadre of general assignment reporters, ready to work on whatever needed doing. This wouldn’t necessarily replace what traditional news organizations do, especially on a day-to-day local level — but it could be an interesting complement to traditional news organizations. And, in places where news organizations are dying, it would be better than no reporting at all.

But I’m not sure that this model would spell the end of beats…

Continue reading

links for 2009-01-15

  • Any white knights? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?…. "Rocky Mountain News owner E.W. Scripps Co. said Wednesday it will accept bids for the struggling newspaper through the close of business Friday.

    "Scripps then will review any offers "as quickly as possible, but there's no specific timetable for completing that process," spokesman Tim King said.

    "Wednesday's announcement, made among increasing speculation about the future of the News, marks the first time that Scripps has set a specific deadline for dealing with the 150-year-old newspaper."

  • George Kelly put this media-hosting site on my radar screen: "NODE101 is the idea that people can teach each other independent media using whatever means they have access to. We like to think of it as a loose collective of passionate people spreading media through teaching online distribution of video and/or screening videoblogs (this includes you if you so choose).

    "Many of us have established brick and mortar classrooms- some are still running, some are not. Many of us have taught at conferences, unconferences, college classes, workshops, tech stores, television stations, theatres, coffee shops, living rooms- any space with power and wifi. Some of us have raised money, gotten grants or found change in our couches to make this happen.

  • "How do you want to reinvent your city?

    "Twitter bots, aggregators, social software, mobile apps – we use these things more and more in our daily routines to make our lives better. But can we also use them to remake our cities altogether? How can these technologies be applied to transform urban spaces, changing them from the centralized, hard-coded things they are today into finely-tuned, fluid, user-operated systems that are efficient, sustainable and fit for life in the 21st century?

    "DIYcity is a place where people figure these things out by actually building and launching applications that address the problems around them."

  • Useful instructions for a process I'm doing today
  • "
    "OpenMicroBlogging is an effort to create an open standard for micro-blogging (also called micromessaging or microsharing). Our goal is a specification that allows different messaging hubs to route microblogging messages between users in a near-realtime timeframe.

    "The current specification is at level 0.1, and is implemented by Laconica (the software behind Identi.ca) and OpenMicroBlogger."

  • "Introducing Geode, an experimental add-on to explore geolocation in Firefox 3. Geode provides an early implementation of the W3C Geolocation specification so that developers can begin experimenting with enabling location-aware experiences using Firefox 3 today, and users can tell us what they think of the experience it provides. It includes a single experimental geolocation service provider so that any computer with WiFi can get accurate positioning data.

    "More than just resturant lookups. For example, imagine an RSS reader that knows the difference between home and work and automatically changes it’s behavior appropriately. Or a news site whose local section is, in fact, actually local. Or Web site authentication that only allows you to login from certain physical locations, like your house.

    "Even if you can’t code, you can share your thoughts by commenting on this post or via the Concept Series, a forum for surfacing, sharing, and collaborating on new ideas and concepts.

  • Just heard about this on the Directions on the News podcast. Sounds like an intriguing tool, could be useful for journalists, bloggers, and news orgs. Costs $89: "Depiction is more than mapping. With Depiction, it is easy to add and integrate a wide variety of information from the web and your own sources, and then discover what-if…"
  • Belated news (from Dec. 22) but still worth noting: "Russ Stanton, editor of the LA Times, sent email following up on questions I had confirming the much-discussed report below that its web revenue is now sufficient to meet its entire editorial payroll. 'Given where we were five years ago,' he emailed, 'I don’t think anyone thought that would ever happen. But that day is here.'

    "Can I hear an amen?"

links for 2009-01-14

  • "On 12 February 2009 cities around the world will be hosting Twestivals which bring together Twitter communities for an evening of fun and to raise money and awareness for charity: water.

    "Join us by hosting a Twestival in your city, attending an event, or participating online.

    "The Twestival is organized 100% by volunteers in cities around the world and 100% of the money raised from these events will go directly to support charity: water projects."

  • "EC2 isn't storage — it's compute cycles, the raw power of a server. You'll use EC2 as an insurance policy — instead of buying powerful servers just in case you get a ton of traffic or new users one day, EC2 lets you buy compute cycles like you buy electricity: a lot when you need it, a little when you don't."

    "I think sites like GlobalPost, Spot.us and many others I could name are the first inklings of "journalism in the cloud". Just as many tech outfits have figured out that it's too expensive to have too many fixed assets, many news outlets are faced with the fact that they can't support the same number of foreign correspondents or beat reporters. The fundamental experiment that these sites are running, each with their own protocol, is this: How can we make journalism happen where it's needed, when it's needed, and then redeploy elsewhere when things change?"

  • Intriguing real-time flight tracking service, recommended by Randy Cassingham
  • "As the 111th Congress kicks into gear, many of your elected leaders are starting their own YouTube channels. They're posting videos direct from their Washington offices, as well as clips of floor speeches and committee hearings alongside additional behind-the-scenes footage from Capitol Hill. And in conjunction with both the House and Senate, we're launching two new platforms that will help you access your Senator and Representatives' YouTube channels: The Senate Hub (youtube.com/senatehub) and The House Hub (youtube.com/househub)."

links for 2009-01-13

  • "Facebook Connect mania has swept the Internet! Why create an account on a random website when you can click a single button to join? That is the power of Facebook Connect, which allows websites, software, and even mobile devices to integrate with Facebook and send information both ways.

    "The last few months have been very busy ones for developers as they furiously integrated their websites with Facebook Connect. But a few implementations have stood out against the rest. Some are on this list because of the seamlessness of their integration, while others for their usefulness."

    – Joost
    – Vimeo
    – MediaWiki
    – Workstir
    – BackType
    – CNN the Forum
    – Digg
    – Red Bull Connect
    – Xobni
    – Disqus

  • "The one-month price for Visual Thesaurus is only $2.95 but you can try it first to make sure that’s something you really need.

    "Some of the best thing you will be able to do with it:

    * find words through their semantic relationship with other words and meanings;
    * see its definition and example sentences that express that meaning (when you hover over a meaning);
    * research different parts of speech (marked by different colors);
    * discover term related meanings (the tool database contains 145,000 English words and 115,000 meanings);
    * rotate word maps in three dimensions to reveal complex relationships."

links for 2009-01-12

  • "The unemployment figures are frightening. It is likely that they are going to get much worse. But this slide shows us a deeper trend. What it shows to me is that the idea of "Job" as a full time object that can support a person or even a family, is disappearing. There has been a huge jump in recent months – but the long term time line of this data shows us that this is a structural change."
  • Vikki Porter says this is "Something new Knight Digital Media Center is trying this year — a boot camp for digital journalists who have great ideas and don't know what to do with them. It's our attempt to bring some basic business/strategic planning skills to folks who have spent their lives trying not to think about where the money comes from. This is not a skills camp. The folks we want have already figured out the technology and that's why they've got great ideas for how to serve community news and info needs in the public interest. We hope we can at least help some folks put together a sustainable business plan and understand how to find funding support (if that's what they need). Hey, who knows, maybe we'll get some folks in shape to win the next Knight News Challenge!"
  • "Remote Diagnosis Disorder (RDD) is my new addition to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

    "People afflicted with this personality disorder suffer from an uncontrollable urge to diagnose individuals as suffering from one or more psychological disorders, specifically individuals which the RDD sufferer has had little or no direct personal interaction with. RDD sufferers often diagnose specific mental illnesses and may go so far as to offer treatment suggestions.

    "…Despite having little or no direct interaction with those they diagnose, RDD sufferers often remain strongly convinced their diagnoses are accurate. A side effect of this disorder is that RDD sufferers will typically avoid prolonged direct interaction with those they diagnose, as this could corrupt the benefits they obtain from RDD by proving their assumptions inaccurate."

links for 2009-01-10

links for 2009-01-09

links for 2009-01-08

  • "This morning I said to Erin, “I don’t see how to become jealous. I mean… even if I wanted to try being jealous, how would I even do that?”

    "Then I suggested, “Let’s be jealous of each other for one day. We’ll try it out to see what it’s like. It could be fun!”

    "Erin laughed. Neither of us had a clue as to how we’d actually pull this off.

    "Can anyone teach us how to become jealous of each other? What are the steps? What do you have to think, say, or do in order to whip yourself into a jealous frenzy?"

links for 2009-01-07