Why blocking news aggregators is dumb and won’t work

DALLAS - MAY 1:  Owner of the Dallas Mavericks...
Mark Cuban: This is your media on crack. Any questions?
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The apparent crack epidemic sweeping the executive suites of media organizations across the U.S. has claimed another victim.

Mark Cuban loves the news business. Over the years he’s done and said some smart things in media. But on his blog a few days ago, he took a big ol’ nose dive straight into the shallow end of the pool.

In his Aug. 8 post, My Advice to Fox & MySpace on Selling Content – Yes You Can, Cuban exhorted news sites to start blocking access to links to their content coming from aggregators. So, for instance, someone might encounter a Newser summary of a USA Today story — but if USA Today blocked inbound links from Newser, someone who wanted to learn more from the full story would click the link and go nowhere.

Here’s the key point for news orgs to grasp: The audience would NOT view Newser as the problem there. Newser has already provided value with the story summary — and they were trying to provide the audience with even more value through a direct link to the full story.

Instead, the news organization would be spoiling its own reputation by presenting itself as an obstacle. The blocked aggregator link in effect says “We don’t want your attention unless you come to us our way, even though we’re not providing the kind of easy summary through aggregators that obviously meets your needs and attracts your interest.”

To which the audience would more likely respond, “Yeah, screw you too. I’ll take my eyeballs elsewhere, thanks.”

Not exactly good for the news business.

The sad and scary thing about Cuban’s post is that a lot of news execs will probably listen to Cuban right now, and maybe even follow his advice, because they’re scared and he’s playing to their fears, prejudices, and weaknesses. It’ll be sad to watch.

Perhaps the one bright spot in this mess is that it may be technically simple to get around aggregator link blocking…

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Pew on Social Media: It’s Bigger than You Think

An example of a social network diagram.
Image via Wikipedia

On Jan 14., the Pew Internet and American Life project released a report on Adults and Social Networking Services. It said, “The share of adult Internet users who have a profile on an online social network site has
more than quadrupled in the past four years — from eight percent in 2005 to 35 percent now.”

Over at the Knight Digital Media Center News Leadership 3.0 blog, Michele McLellan observed: “It appears that American adults are moving into social networks more quickly than top 100 news organizations…”

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Continental 1404, Pan Am 103, and thoughts on dodging bullets

This morning, before I’d even had my tea, I learned via e-mail that at my local airport last night a Continental flight 1404 veered off the runway and crashed, injuring 58. AP reported that local resident Mike Wilson tweeted his experience immediately after he escaped the burning plane.

Two tweets from Wilson especially caught my attention:

Mike Wilson's first post about the Denver plane crash he survived

Mike Wilson's first post about the Denver plane crash he survived

And then, a couple of hours later…

Mike Wilson reflects on a similar bullet he dodged earlier

Mike Wilson reflects on a similar bullet he dodged earlier

…Next I was making breakfast, listening to Colorado Public Radio, which was (of course) reporting on the Denver airport accident. They followed that with a story that stopped me cold for a bit: Witnesses, Families Remember Lockerbie Bombing. Yes, today is the 20th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 — a terrorist attack that killed 259 on the plane and 11 on the ground.

On the evening of Dec. 21, 1988, I was a 22-year-old journalism student packed up and ready to head back home to NJ after spending a semester in London. I’d been at the office Christmas party for the business magazine where I’d been interning. When I entered the house I’d been sharing since August with five other students, my housemates who hadn’t yet departed for home were sitting in the living room, crying. Mindy said, “Diane’s plane crashed”…

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Tipsheet Approach to News: The Launching Point IS the Point

Typically news is presented in narrative story format (text, audio, or video). Often, that works well enough. But what about when people want to dig into issues on their own? What if they want to learn more about how the news connects to their lives, communities, or interests? Generally, packaged news stories don’t support that leap. It generally requires a fair amount of reading between the lines, initiative, research skills, and time — significant obstacles for most folks.

The growing number of citizen journalists (of various flavors) obviously are willing to do at least some of this work — but they don’t always know how to find what they’re seeking, or have sufficient context to even know what might be worth pursuing beyond the narrative line chosen for a packaged news story. Also, lots of people who have no desire to be citizen journalists still occasionally get interested enough in some news stories to want to check them out further first-hand. They just need encouragement, and some help getting started.

Therefore, it helps to consider that news doesn’t always have to be a finished story. In some cases, or for some people, a launching point might be even more intriguing, useful, and engaging. Here’s one option for doing that…
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What ABCnews.com got really wrong about social media and Mumbai attacks

On Nov. 28, ABCnews.com published a story by Ki Mae Huessner called Social Media a Lifeline, Also a Threat? about the role of Twitter and other social media in the coverage of, and public discourse about, last week’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Huessner interviewed me for this story because I’ve been blogging about it on Contentious.com and on E-Media Tidbits. She chose to include a few highly edited and interpreted quotes from me that I think grossly misrepresent my own views and the character of our conversation.

Yeah, being a journalist, I know that no one is ever completely happy with their quotes. I’ve been misquoted plenty in the past, and normally I just roll with it. But this particular case is an especially teachable moment for my journalist colleagues in mainstream media about understanding and covering the role of social media in today’s media landscape.

Today’s a pretty busy day for me, but I didn’t want to let this go unsaid any longer. So I made a little Seesmic video response to this story. Here I am speaking strictly for myself — not on behalf of any of my clients or colleagues. Yes, I am very emphatic here and somewhat critical. Please understand that my frustration is borne of seeing this particular problem over and over again.

Working with Journalists: What’s in It for Geeks?

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, and there are some comments over there. I’m reposting this here because, frankly, this site poses fewer hurdles to commenters, and I’d like to get some diverse discussion happening.

Earlier this week I wrote about the internal and external obstacles journalism schools face when trying to achieve collaboration with other academic departments (such as computer science). That spurred a pretty interesting discussion in the comments.

This discussion got me thinking: Right now, it’s becoming obvious to many journalists that our field sorely needs lots of top-notch, creative technologists. Developers for whom software is a medium, and an art form. Developers with a deep passion for information, credibility, fairness, usefulness, and free speech.

However, my impression is that, so far, it’s not nearly so obvious to most “geeks” (and I use that term with the utmost affection and respect, as do many geeks themselves) how they might benefit from collaborating with journalists, j-schools, and news organizations.

So if journalists need geeks, but right now they don’t need (or even necessarily want) us as much, the question becomes: What’s in this for the geeks? Why might they want to work with us? Where’s their incentive?… Continue reading

Media Career Insurance: Your Blog

Last month I spoke to a class of journalism undergrads at the University of Colo., Boulder. These people are just starting out in journalism. Not surprisingly, most of them hope to land more-or-less traditional reporting jobs in more-or-less traditional newsrooms.

I asked these students whether they read blogs. As is common, the vast majority said no. But, as with Web users of all types, it’s likely that in fact they do read blogs far more often than they think. That’s because nearly all Web users frequently encounter blogs through search engine results. But they may not realize that, since many weblogs don’t call themselves (or resemble) blogs. In fact, they often look just like any other Web site — except that they happen to be supported by a blogging platform on the back end.

Why should young journalists care about this? Because in a professional environment where staying findable equals sustained opportunity and flexibility, search engines are a key arbiter of your career. The more findable and linkable you are, the more search engines will reward you.

…And search engines really, really love blogs…

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Twitter Basics for Journalists & Recovering Journos

On Saturday, at the annual conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists, I gave a talk to an audience of mostly journalists explaining the basics of blogs, social media, and search visibility. People had lots of questions, more than I could get to in the session. I was getting stopped in halls, at parties, and even in bathrooms, to be asked things like, “Does it really make that big a difference if I blog under my own domain?” (Answer: Yes!)

OK, I don’t mind answering those questions. That’s really why I went to this conference — because I know that journalists (many of whom are facing potential layoffs, or who have already been laid off) are in dire need of online media awareness and skills.

So I’m going to do a bunch of posts answering questions, because it’s more efficient to do that via blogging. This is one of those posts.

By now you’ve probably heard about Twitter, the social media service that allows you to publish posts of 140 characters max.

What Twitter does, in a nutshell: This service allows you to receive posts (“tweets”) from other Twitter users whom you choose to “follow.” Likewise, other Twitter users can choose to follow you. When you follow someone on Twitter, their tweets show up in reverse chronological order in the “tweetstream” that scrolls down the Twitter home page when you’re logged in. The effect is somewhat like an ongoing Headline News version of what’s happening in the minds and worlds of people you know or find interesting.

Twitter also supports rudimentary public and private conversation between users.

THE VALUE OF TWITTER

In my experience, Twitter’s biggest payoff is that it allows you to gather a personal posse who can support you in powerful, flexible, speedy ways.

Also, if you’re choosy about the people you follow, Twitter can be quite an effective radar screen for news or relevant issues.

But there are many other potential benefits, especially for journos…

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Journalism: A Toxic Culture? (Or: Why Aren’t We Having More Fun?)

Despair, Inc.
Remind you of any journalists you know?…

(NOTE: I originally posted this article on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits. But I thought Contentious readers might be interested in it, too.)

Most of what I do is help journalists and news orgs wrap their brains around the Internet. Generally I enjoy that work. Lately, though, I’ve been getting quite aggravated at the close-minded and helpless attitudes I’m *still* encountering from too many journalists about how the media landscape is changing. Those attitudes are revealed by statements, decisions, actions, and inaction which belie assumptions such as:

  • The only journalism that counts is that done by mainstream news orgs, especially in print or broadcast form. Alternative, independent, online, collaborative, community, and other approaches to news are assumed to be inferior or even dangerous.
  • Priesthood syndrome: Traditional journalists are the sole source of news that can and should be trusted — which gives them a privileged and sacred role that society is ethically obligated to support.
  • Journalists and journalism cannot survive without traditional news orgs, which offer the only reliable, ethical, and credible support for a journalistic career.
  • Real journalists *only* do journalism. They don’t dirty their hands or distract themselves with business and business models, learning new tools, building community, finding new approaches to defining and covering news, etc. As Louisville Courier-Journal staffer Mark Schaver said just this morning on Twitter, “[Now] is not a good time [for journalists] if you don’t want your journalism values infected with marketing values.”
  • Journalistic status and authority demands aloofness. This leads to myriad problems such as believing you’re smarter than most people in your community; refusing to “compromise” yourself professionally by engaging in frank public conversation with your community; and using objectivity as an excuse to be uncaring, cynical, or disdainful.
  • Good journalism doesn’t change much. So if it is changing significantly, it must be dying. Which in turn means the world is in big trouble, and probably deserves what it will get.

There’s a common problem with all these assumptions: They directly cut off options from consideration. This severely limits the ability of journalists and journalism to adapt and thrive…

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Breaking Out of the Echo Chamber

OpenDemocracy, via Flickr (CC license)
What might this Malian girl and I have in common, and what might we learn from each other? How could we know if we can’t really connect?

This morning I listened to an excellent Radio Open Source interview. Host Christopher Lydon was talking to Global Voices Online founder Ethan Zuckerman and GVO managing editor Solana Larsen. I’m a huge fan of GVO and read it regularly — mainly since I enjoy hearing from people in parts of the world I generally don’t hear much about (or from) otherwise.

One of the most interesting parts of the discussion concerned how homophily shapes our individual and collective view of the world. Homophily is a fancy word for the human equivalent of “birds of a feather flock together.” That is, our tendency to associate and bond with people we have stuff in common with — language, culture, race, class, work, interests, life circumstances, etc.

Zuckerman made a profound point: Homophily makes you stupid. Which is another way of saying something my dad told me a long, long time ago:

“You’ll never learn anything if you only talk to people who already think just like you.”

Here’s what Zuckerman actually told Lydon about how homophily makes it hard for people from around the world to relate constructively…
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