May 25, 2005

Sick Call: Jarvis, Okrent, Small, Outing and the Long Tail

I've been nailed to the bed (and elsewhere) for two days by a bad BLT. I'm still too groggy to think, but not too foggy to link. Here's some good reading:

 Two by Jeff Jarvis: I've been talking about new values for journalism; Jeff offers new roles for journalists. First, he redefines the role of editor. Here's point one of five:

"Aggregate, organize, and highlight the best of newsroom and citizen media: good reporting, good story ideas, new viewpoints, public pulse points."

Next, Jeff lays out tactics for old media to remain relevant in this time of new and newer media: Get rid of commodity news, provide news when and how people want it, get authentic voices and more. He also barbecues one of my favorite newsroom sacred cows, the perceived need by mid-size and up newspapers to replicate generic national news with their own writers, thereby taking precious resources away from the one type of news that differentiates them from other media: Local. Writes Jeff:

"Similarly, newspapers and their audiences would be best served concentrating on what they do best: local, local, local. If they gave us the local news that no one else could gather and report, they'd be worth more to us. But this, too, is a hard habit to break: not sending the 15,001st correspondent to the political conventions, not editing the already edited AP report, not printing the stock tables...." (Emphasis added.)

 Dan Okrent, One Classy Guy: I didn't link earlier to this post on PressThink about the good Daniel Okrent has done for the New York Times and for journalism in general, but I should have. His final column for the Times -- 13 Things I Meant to Write About but Never Did -- is a example of the thoughtfulness, erudition and transparency he brought to the job - qualities newspapers should pursue with vigor. A snippet:

" I would love to see journalists justify their work not by wrapping themselves in the cloak of the law, but by invoking more persuasive defenses: accuracy, for instance, and fairness."

 Small Initiatives, Big Thoughts: Jay Small, a former newspaper guy turned web guy turned consultant, argues that "niche-oriented service development could save newspapers," and in doing so addresses some very pragmatic issues that arise when you consider the move from mass to class. Small also takes a swipe at the same issue as Jarvis: the generic quality of local news. He's written two parts so far. Read them here and here. Here's a taste:

"Newspaper managers have to stop blindly assuming they are producing the only -- or the best -- news product their readers see every day. That assumption is what puts Bush/Putin in the lead spot on A1, and allows all the local sportswriters to doze because no high school events happen to be played on Sundays." (Emphasis added.)

 Citizen Editor: Steve Outing takes a crack at defining the new role of citizen editor at a newspaper. He quotes one definition by Rich Gordon of Northwestern:

"The job isn't to find stuff out and package it; it's to solicit other people to provide information and encourage interactivity among your [online] users."

That sounds a lot liked Jarvis' definition of the city editor of the future:

"Share news anywhere, anytime, in any medium: You will package and enable news gatherers to share news as it happens in and through any appropriate medium -- text, photo, audio, video, conversation, shared resources."

 Niche is the Signal Amid the Noise: Mike Orren of Pegasus News points to Chris Anderson'S argument that "the Long Tail is indeed full of crap. But it's also full of works of refined brilliance and depth--and an awful lot in between." Meaning what? That:

"This is why niches are different. Your noise is my signal. If a producer intends something to be absolutely right for one audience it will by definition be wrong for another. The compromises necessary to make something appeal to everyone mean that it will almost certainly not appeal perfectly to anyone--that's why they call it the lowest common denominator."(Emphasis added.)

In other words, the value proposition increasingly lies in the ability to produce news for the Citizen Me. [Read: Local News: Who is Going to Write for Citizen Me?] Says Anderson: "You can charge more for high-quality niche content because it is so well-suited to its audience."

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Posted by Tim Porter at May 25, 2005 05:56 PM