JCL Blog

Do We Dare Say that Journalism Has Hit the Bottom?

Last week the Pew Center released its State of the News Media report for 2014.  While the report reinforces the headwinds faced by traditional media outlets (ad revenues down 52% from 2003), it also illuminates growth in digital only news outlets that now number over 500 and employ about 5,000 full time professionals. Could it be time for the journalists to stop blaming technologists for depriving them of the means to pay for the essential service they provide?

Jeff Jarvis anointed Johannes Gutenberg as the original technologist in his 2012 book Gutenberg the Geek.  Whether or not Gutenberg needed Jarvis’ endorsement, journalism and technology have certainly been dance partners for hundreds of years.  Gutenberg’s movable type printing press brought about revolutions in business, religion, and politics and gave story tellers the ability to reach a larger audience than ever thought possible at open mic night in 1439 Strasbourg.

The advertising industry traces its roots to the very same 15th century when the practice of paying artists including Michelangelo to produce art that contained certain messages.  Many of these new visual advertisements were religious in nature. Soon politicians and business people were the fast followers of this new technology; commissioning works that were clearly promotional.  In early renaissance Italy, everybody who was anybody had a portrait with a 3D background showing off the Filippo Brunelleschi’s new technology of perspective drawing.

About a hundred years later the Gutenbergers and the Brunelleschis joined their ability to print things cheaply and their desire to encourage readers to buy things and gave birth in 1525 to advertisements as we know them today.  In fact the New York Times Book Review was not an original idea, because those early ads were mostly for books and were found in the precursor to newspapers, the broadsheet.

All of this is to make the simple case that technology is just doing what it does.  Yes, Craigslist, Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the techies have stolen away the revenue the newsrooms needed to survive.  However, their geek ancestors created the technology that enabled advertising and newspapers some 500 years ago for the same reason the newsroom is in the emergency room today.  The geeks are still just doing what they do.

Technology people don’t under-appreciate Ed Murrow.  23 generations after Gutenberg, they are still in the business of delivering as much information as possible to as many people as possible as cheaply as possible.  The argument that we are replacing the system that brought us back from the brink of McCarthyism with a system that serves up the best grumpy cat videos has been used to cling tightly to the way that it was for long enough.  We have now seen how new media actors like Julian Assange, Ed Snowden, and Glenn Greenwald, have worked with the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Der Spiegel to revive the fourth estate.

Certainly, there is much work to be done.  A flood of technology energy is being applied to this industry, and not just the high profile purchase of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos, or the founding of First Look Media by Pierre Omidyar.  New media organizations are everywhere, both succeeding and failing fast in their pursuit of good journalism.  We know that 5,000 jobs created in the new digital world do not fill the hole created by the tens of thousands of jobs lost in traditional newsrooms, but it does seem possible that the bottom has been reached and working together journalism and technology are building something we should be watching.


Some Things Never Change (NBC for example)

The 1976 Olympics was my first.  in ’72 we lived overseas and did not have a TV, and ’68 -- I just don’t remember.  But ’76, that was awesome.  I watched everything I could and found it absolutely mesmerizing.

This year, I have watched a few hours.  Mostly with the sound off and while reading something else.  If a cool looking event, swimming has the highest cool factor for me, happened to be on when I looked up, I would turn on the sound and watch.  I don’t think I watched a single commercial.  I am not sure if this makes me one of the 20 to 35 million nightly viewers on NBC or not.  

I was busy during the NBC’s airing of the opening ceremony, so I missed it.  I spend half an hour or so looking for video of the opening ceremony and could not find it.  I suspect that just like the movie people, NBC wanted to make sure it was not available for some reason.  I did hear about Tunnel Bear, a web site that would enable me to watch the coverage by the BBC, or any other country.  It went on my list of things to check out, but now the Olympics is almost over and I have not done it and probably wont.

Recently a friend said that she just did not find it all that compelling to watch NBC’s coverage either.  She was also not interested enough in the games to find other ways to watch it.  She just opted out of the olympics this year.

Two individual opinions does not a survey make, but I suspect that there are some other people that have also drifted away from the Olympics.  Our media consumption habits ave changed and NBC has not changed much.

In fact, it seems that one of the things that has not changed since 1972 -- or even before that -- is the way that NBC thinks about its audience.  If you are interested in this kind of thing, check out Jeff Jarvis’ Buzz Machine.  He is on a crusade to change NBC -- good luck with that Jeff.

The Privacy Stack

Leo Laporte and Jeff Jarvis are two of the most public people on the internet.  For those of you not familiar with their disclosures, Leo tweets his weight and Jeff gives regular updates on his experience with prostate cancer and that is just the start of it. This week on TWIT, as they were extolling the virtues of living in public, Jeff asked Leo where he would draw the line on privacy.  The question went unanswered at the time, it was a great show recorded at SXSW with a lot going on and I think Leo may have just missed it.  Either way it is an interesting question that we all should consider.  What is your comfort level with privacy?  I searched for privacy and found several articles about how to keep your data private, the dust up over Buzz and Facebook, but did not see a privacy hierarchy list, or what I have called here the Privacy Stack.  So here is my shot at building a it.  I have started with the stuff that most people would agree to open to the public -- so I guess the stack is up side down -- but you get the idea:

  1. Job Details (things on your business card)
  2. Job or Educational History (things on your BIO or Resume)
  3. Past Performance (Grades, job reviews, details of professional separations)
  4. Identification (Name, address, phone number, email, social security number, birth date)
  5. Transaction (What did you buy, how much did you pay)
  6. Location (Where are you now, where have you been, where are you going to be)
  7. Relationship (Friends, family members, business associates, group affiliations -- past and current)
  8. Interaction (Who did you talk to and what did you say)
  9. Intellectual Property (Writings, images, thoughts, plans)
  10. Contractual (Anything professional or personal covered by a legal document including legal instruments for contracts, divorces, payment plans, agreements of exclusivity)
  11. Financial (Income level, net worth, credit rating, assets, liabilities)
  12. Health (Records of doctor visits and lab tests)

Clearly this idea needs expanding -- including turning it into a matrix because there are degrees to each item.

My though with this privacy stack is that people would be more willing to share the things at the top and less willing to do so with the things at the bottom.  My question to guys like Leo and Jeff is -- where do you draw the line?  

All of this gets much more complicated when you start to think about what information could be made public as a result of your interacting with a person or system that has not drawn the line across the privacy stack in the same place you did.  This is fundamental to the current Facebook / Buzz debate.  If a person thought their email inbox was private, and then found out that it was not, it presents a big problem.  

Item number eight: Interaction, is where this was already an issue in the pre-social media world.  One person (a third grader even) tells another person something with the idea that it would be kept between them and the other person has a different idea about privacy and... well you know the rest.

Google got in trouble because they beta tested Buzz inside the company.  Privacy in a work email environment is much different than otherwise.  If you have an email with a business contract attached that is going back and forth between people at the office, it is much different than the email going back and forth between a client and an attorney with a divorce settlement attached.  Everybody is on the same "friend list" inside a company -- it is called the company directory.  So any issues associated with sharing lists of work friends does not translate to the real world because at work everyone has access to everyone else's work friend list (the same company directory for everyone).

So how much of the stack would you share?  I have to say I start to get out of my comfort zone when I hit number 4-Identification, can't see doing 5-Transaction or 6-Location, and am dabbling in 7-Relationship with Linked In and Facebook, but I am clearly not all in like Leo and Jeff.