Founded in February 2005, YouTube delivered more than 100 million video views by mid-2006 and was bought by Google for $1.65 billion on October 9, 2006.YouTube.com, the Web site where people freely upload and view video of all sorts, has nothing to do with journalism as we know it, but it can teach journalists a couple of things that we ought to learn. [See author’s note.] It reveals how many people have broadband and provides a good sense of how many people produce and publish “content.” It teaches us, too, about the increasing number of people who seem more interested in seeking out this view of the world rather than what journalists offer. If we want to reach these same people, we’d better find out what it is about, understand it, and react accordingly.
One of the more well-known examples is HousingMaps which brings information about houses for rent or sale from craigslist and puts them on Google Maps.Web 2.0 is a catch phrase created after the dot-com crash to capture the dynamic capabilities and vision of the Web when many had lost hope in its potential. There is no towering new technology to consider, so the new experience comes mainly from “mash-ups,” the mixing of applications and/or content from different sources to create new services. [See author’s note.] The experience is significantly different, though, and journalists need to learn a lot more about it, if only to figure out effective ways to use it to do the work they do.
Though Web 2.0’s definition remains in flux, its broad elements include these:
Platform: The Web is the platform through which nearly everything can be done: e-mail, document writing and sharing, commercial transactions, phone communication, and much more.
Receive/publish/modify: The platform allows interaction; once information is received or found, conversation begins. Users comment and they upload their own words onto blogs and wikis; they might even modify the platform itself.
Broadband: The number of people whose computers have “big pipes” always turned on, and through which images, music and video can be transmitted, is on a rapid rise.
Contributions: Broadband makes using the “read/write/program” capacity of the platform easier. This means more people are willing to share what they have with others.
Network effects: Contributions build to create a sum of knowledge greater than its parts. Companies and technologies harness “user generated content” and develop business opportunities. This changes the nature of knowledge, suggesting the potential to harness collective intelligence.
Journalism and Web 2.0
Change starts at the edges. That’s where people—our readers and viewers—probe new practices. That’s also where their emerging culture is forming, a culture in which they look at media from a different perspective. And so journalists’ new thinking needs to begin at the periphery, where change comes quickly among the younger generation of users, and a lot more slowly for us. Tomorrow’s potential readers are using the Web in ways we can hardly imagine, and if we want to remain significant for them, we need to understand how. Yet news organizations have been all too slow to notice movement in places that are away from what has been their center.
Start with the search engines. A significant part of the traffic of news Web sites comes from them; people arrive at a story without going through any of the thoughtful editorial organization usually put in place by editors. For the same reason, the content that is kept behind pay-walls is not indexed and, therefore, does not exist.
Cragislist.org, with its free online classifieds, siphons key revenue sources away from newspapers. But journalists can learn lessons there, too, from the way in which content is generated. Users place on the site what they have to offer, using a multimedia format if they desire and without limitation of space. Interactive software facilitates group creation that, in turn, contributes to brand recognition and people traffic.
“Community Building on the Web: Implications for Journalism”
– Craig Newmark Wikipedia.org demonstrates that access to information and the capacity to publish are no longer the privilege of a select few. The tendency to produce errors is compensated by the capacity to correct them, or so the thinking goes. This dynamic approach offers context quickly, and with hyperlinks there is instantaneous access to in-depth information, an aspect of storytelling that news companies tend to ignore. (Information about the structure of the World Trade Center towers and a documented hypothesis about their collapse on September 11, 2001 were first published on this site.)
Google News, Yahoo! News, Wikinews—sites that attract hundreds of millions of users—have their own news offerings that challenge traditional media. And Craig Newmark (craigslist’s founder) is one of the nonprofit funders involved with NewAssignment.net, a reporting partnership among reporters and editors and citizen journalists.
A plethora of lesser-known Web sites also allow users to handle information in ways that go far beyond the one-way approach of traditional media.
- At del.icio.us readers share articles by tagging them and setting them “free” for others to read. This “folksonomy” replaces traditional taxonomies, and it substitutes for work normally done by editors.
- At Digg.com articles are submitted and voted on by readers. Winners move to the top of the screen.
- NewsVine.com adds the option for users to write their own articles.
- Wikio.com is designed to be a kind of integrated Google News + Google Reader (an “aggregator for dummies”) that pulls together stories from traditional news media and blogs. Users create word associations with personalized tags.
- Socializing in blogs. A small button dragged to the browser toolbar allows the user who reads an interesting article to “sphere it,” and thereby gain access to other articles or blog entries about the same topic. This provides a range of opinions and information to the user, adding the dimension of diversity to move beyond the journalistic benchmarks of objectivity, balance and fairness.
- ChicagoCrime.org is a mash-up that puts crime-related information coming from the police department on a Google map. It can be browsed by street, ward, zip code, types of crime, and news stories.
- In Eugene, Oregon the Chambers neighborhood (www.cnrneighbors.org) used the Web to fight a development project with maps, pictures and 3-D images. Journalists can take ideas from this experience that can help them approach “coverage” of a local issue of intense interest to a community.
- At NewsTrust.net, still in pilot mode, volunteers “help people identify quality journalism—or ‘news you can trust.'” News is rated based on journalistic quality, not just popularity, and comes from hundreds of alternative and mainstream sources.
RELATED WEB LINKS
· Yahoo! News
· Le Monde.fr (in French)
· Clarin.com (in Spanish)
· OhMyNewsThese sites—and thousands of others—affect journalism profoundly. Multimedia presentation replaces storytelling that has taken place in just one medium. The issues involving story selection, organization and presentation become preeminent in a time when the phenomenal growth of blogs, moblogs, vlogs, stories told through maps (43places.com) or games (kumawar.com) cannot be ignored.
At the same time, the role of editors is under attack from three sides. On Google News and on sites such as Le Monde.fr, algorithms are used to redistribute stories onto the home page. Search engines direct readers to articles, effectively bypassing editors’ guidance and, with RSS and aggregators, users grab what they want from sources they fancy and organize them in personalized spaces like NetVibes.com and tag them, too.
The wildness of the Web means that news organizations must format their content on all kind of platforms and for all kinds of devices—hoping to capture the attention of users, wherever they are, and however they want to interact with the information. Today, users expect to engage the journalist directly and to “be” journalists, too. Although citizen journalism is still looking for viable formulas, it is clear that journalism, as Dan Gillmor likes to say, is now less of a lecture and more a conversation.
A list of such initiatives can be found at www.cyberjournalist.net.Signs of such change abound. Madrid’s El Pa’s makes it simple for readers to report an error. Next to its list of links of most recommended stories, Le Monde’s site displays recent comments about articles. Clarin.com (Buenos Aires) lets users select the sections they want on the home page. The BBC has a special page on which people can upload pictures, stories and comments, and Korea’s OhMyNews’s online example of citizen-generated news coverage is spreading fast. [See author’s note.] Journalists will have to learn to practice their trade with the same rigor and demanding values in a much humbler manner.
Blogs, forums and readers’ polls are ubiquitous, and the list of Web experimentation is as lengthy as it is prudent. But despite these reactive activities, a successful transition for journalism is far from guaranteed. During a recent panel discussion about the new media business, Gillmor spoke for many when he raised the specter of a “complete unraveling of business models for traditional journalism.” Others spoke of the extreme slowness of the responses by traditional media. Yet all seemed to agree that no clear business model exists for the Web as a platform for the practice of journalism.
A new news ecosystem has to evolve, adapted to the multifaceted participation of people who not long ago were called an audience. Just this adjustment in language indicates the enormity of the cultural changes underway. Confidence in many public and private institutions has also diminished—in some cases, been lost—and people use technological tools to do for themselves what distrusted institutions, such as the press, once did for them. Yet journalists can have a hard time understanding this shift—and the diminishment of trust with which their work is viewed—since many see themselves as critics of some of these institutions, too.
Journalists want to hold tightly to their ethics and standards, yet they also realize that a business model must support their enterprise. The real difficulty is that the broad participation of others through Web 2.0 challenge journalists’ share of the power they once held as conveyors of news and information as much as it does their ethics and sustainability. Their ideas will continue to bring change from the edges that will affect the work of journalists, as blogs did when they first appeared on the media’s margins before being adopted by many mainstream news organizations. But change does not need to happen in this way. Rather than assuming a defensive position to these challenges, journalists ought to join in conversation with those who aren’t trained as we are and find ways to help them understand and acquire the values and skills that make what we do socially useful.
Francis Pisani, a 1993 Nieman Fellow, is a freelance blogger and columnist covering information technology and new media in the San Francisco Bay Area for several European and Latin American newspapers. He has lectured on these topics at the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University.