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Easy as pie

October 14, 2006

"News is not like the symphony," writes Dave Winer, "it's like cooking dinner." He's "totally sure," he says, that he knows how the future of news will play out:

In ten years news will be gathered by all of us. The editorial decisions will be made collectively, and there will be people whose taste we trust who we will turn to to tell us which stories to pay attention to ... The role of gatekeeper will be distributed, as will the role of reporter. Very few people, if any, will earn a living doing this, much as most of us don't earn a living by cooking dinner, but we do it anyway, cause you gotta eat.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported on the many journalists who have been killed covering the Iraq war:

Western journalists covering the war in Iraq face sniper fire, roadside bombs, kidnappers and a host of other dangers. Their Iraqi colleagues must cope with even greater risks, including families attacked in retribution for sensitive reporting, and arrest on suspicion of links to the violence journalists cover.

At least 85 journalists - mostly Iraqis - have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 - more than in either Vietnam or World War II. The security situation is getting progressively worse, and 2006 has been the deadliest year yet, with at least 25 journalists killed to date.

A week ago today, the Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya was murdered. She was "shot in the chest as she was getting out of an elevator, then shot in the head." The same day, two German reporters were murdered inside the tent they had pitched on the side of a road in Afghanistan. Last year, 47 reporters were killed while doing their jobs. The year before that, the death toll was 53.

"It's easier for readers to become reporters," Winer says, "than it is for reporters to become readers."

Thanks for the insight.


To extend the cooking dinner analogy, it's much easier to eat already-prepared junk food than to make a meal yourself from healthy ingredients. Many live off take-out and fast-food. Is (*more of*) that the future of news?

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at October 14, 2006 04:50 PM

Dave's right that in ten years even more people will be using blogging software to publish something that they will call news. How much of it will be recognizable as something produced by a legitimate news gathering and editorial process is very debatable. A guy with a blog who goes to a town council meeting and writes about it in his blog isn't necessarily creating news. He may well be doing the online equivalent of spreading gossip at a neighborhood tavern. Ditto the guy who blogs from downtown Baghdad. Ten thousand people with blogs in Baghdad isn't the equivalent of ten thousand qualified reporters in Baghdad, no more than ten thousand people in NYC who own a baseball glove means all of them can play for the Mets or Yankees.

Dave also argues that most of these news people won't make any money at it. I think that if there's no money to be made reporting the news, no one will report the news.

Posted by: billg at October 14, 2006 05:47 PM

Too many cooks spoil the soup.

Posted by: Charles at October 14, 2006 06:45 PM

This "qualified" thing is a red herring. Either you have information I want or you don't. A person trained in journalism is admirable, but does not necessarily have the information I want. The question is really about the editors, not so much about the reporters. Since I can't take in all accounts, I have to place trust in some editorial selection process. What I understand of Dave's concept, the social networking / crowd-sourcing / trusted source referral services like we now see (in infancy) at slashdot, digg, newsvine, reddit, netscape, etc. provide the editorial judgement which has, until lately, been in the hands of professionals, who, by the way, are running a mass-market business, therefore can't really cater to the ultimate niche market, me. Feeds I set up and continually refine use the wisdom of my affinity crowds and individuals I've discovered and provisionally trust to bring me the information I want.

Posted by: Stephen Harlow at October 14, 2006 07:01 PM

If we're supposed to be dependent for news from Iraqi webloggers in ten years, then where is one of the more famous Iraqi webloggers now? Where is Riverbend? She's been quiet since the first of August.

We make lousy journalists, we really do. We're biased, opinionated, and not necessarily balanced as to viewpoint. We don't have access to information, and we're too easily flattered. We pile on with the least provocation, we don't particularly care to fact check ourselves, and most of us don't even care about repeating the 'top' story: either in our towns or the rest of the world.

We don't know how to make contacts, and did I mention how we're too easily flattered?

What we do, we do well, which is provide a unique glimpse into each other's lives that also brings a peek into each other's environments, including our homes and our countries. This is good, but it's not going to take the place of the professionals who put their lives on the line to do their work.

As to our advanced legions, that's a joke. Almost 75% of the people on my subscription either post infrequently or have quit altogether. It's time to acknowledge that the numbers of webloggers is inflated, and if this is true, our ability to cover the news is also inflated.

Posted by: Anonymous at October 14, 2006 07:43 PM

Nick, love to see you defend these "reporters"

"YouTube cannot keep up with the 400 weekly requests pouring in from the media, she (Shannon Hermes, Office Manager) explained, nor field the 230 hourly incoming phone calls."

Posted by: Anonymous at October 14, 2006 07:58 PM

The "qualified" thing is not a red herring. Possessing information isn't the same as knowing how to find or convey information to other people in a comprehensible manner. For example, George Bush and Dick Cheney possess information about the reasons for their decisions, but they aren't likely to convey it to the rest of us in a comprehensible dispassionate manner. That's the job of qualified journalists and editors: Find the news and write about it in a manner that puts aside their own passions and conveys the information to the rest of us.

As for social networks and "affinity crowds', I agree that they're performing a filtering and selection function. I'm not impressed by what I see, so far. None of the ones I've looked at seem to select much of anything that I want to read. Like Digg and Slashdot, the all seem to rapidly become havens for a self-selected and self-reinforcing incrowd.

That said, there is nothing standing in the way of "mass market" businesses from adopting the same techniques vis-a-vis the news they deliver via the web. The NYT, the LATimes, CNN or the BCC could easily allow readers to vote on their stories. Map differing sets of reader preferences to known reader categories and you'd have something: CNN for suits, CCN for geeks, CNN for soccer moms, whatever.

In the end, though, it's RSS and the lowly newsreader that will be the most potent weapon in allowing readers to parse and shape the news they consume. Even there, however, I believe so many sources will exist that professional intermediaries (gatekeepers) will prosper by finding and filtering the sources from which we select individual stories.

Posted by: billg at October 14, 2006 09:52 PM

My take is that both will happen. Much of what's out there pretending to be news will find themselves indistinguishable from amateurs while the true pros will go out of their ways to rise above the 'junk food', to serve gourmet food that is so good that no one will be confused.

Posted by: Don Park at October 14, 2006 11:53 PM

If someone threatens to off Dave, would that make him a reporter?

Just kidding.

Posted by: michael webster at October 15, 2006 11:15 AM

Spot on Nicholas.
My wife was a crime reporter in South Africa in the early nineties, not an easy job. Real death up close isn't like on TV.

It is easy for folks whose idea of news is sport scores and what the latest 2.0 thingy is to disparage journalists, but maybe check out this.

Blogs have a place, but they will not replace all journalism. It is like saying blogs will replace doctors.

Organisations like the BBC are far from perfect, but the world would be a poorer place without this sort of reporting.

Posted by: Thomas Otter at October 15, 2006 01:54 PM

I am not totally convinced that the aggregated news of bloggers is really perfect and a good fit for the news need. We should however look at a close collaboration between the traditional and new media to better tell the (troublesome) stories of our times.

The best model I have heard so far is to use this as the news stands are in Britain. That is the blogs provides more "news channels" but also ensures that the reader is exposed to more than one side of the story which is a prerequisite. This is just a teaser of the complexity.

I created a site for Lebanese and Israelians to post news via their cellphones during the latest conflict. You find it at http://itf.typepad.com/lebanon. Then purpose of the blogosphere is to have a dialogoue not go into the broadcasting mode of the traditional media. I am fully convinced that there will be a need for both in the future.

I have written quite a few entries about this and a selection of posts can be found here:

Posted by: Erik Sundelof at October 15, 2006 04:10 PM

It isn't obvious why you think that media organisations sending their reporters to Iraq to get shot at it is evidence of the value of professionalism.

It's not as if anyone is arguing that in lieu of professional journalists American bloggers will fly over to Iraq to get shot at themselves. Rather the idea is that the 'citizen journalism' would come from the Iraqis on the ground.

There are lots of good arguments against the reliability and quality of such citizen journalism, but I don't think Iraq is a particularly good example. Possibly U.S. news coverage of Iraq is of a much higher quality than that in the U.K., but the 'professional' news coverage here is very poor. My impression is that, in Baghdad, the situation is so dangerous that journalists rarely venture beyond their hotel and official press conferences. When they do venture beyond the zone they often get shot at and sometimes lost their lives - that's sad and regrettable but it's not -- in itself -- an argument against citizen journalism.

Posted by: Ben Roberts at November 7, 2006 07:41 AM

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