A few things Mark Wallace

Tag: media

The Time For A Digital “New Journalism” Is Now

Frédéric Filloux had an interesting post this week on The Need for a Digital “New Journalism” in which he calls for “an urgent evolution in the way newspapers are written” online. Among other points, Filloux — who writes the Monday Note, an insightful weekly column about “media, tech, and business models” — winds up by exhorting digital media to “invent its own journalistic genres.”

The web and its mobile offspring, are calling for their own New Journalism comparable to the one that blossomed in the Seventies. While the blogosphere has yet to find its Tom Wolfe, the newspaper industry still has a critical role to play: It could be at the forefront of this essential evolution in journalism.

While I’m not entirely sure that a kind of New Journalism isn’t already at work on the Web — and it may well have its Tom Wolfe already — I appreciate Filloux’s broader point: instead of decrying the “death of journalism,” newspapers and news reporters of whatever stripe would be far better off to simply reinvent it. Stalwart institutions like The New York Times still carry enough weight to have a serious influence on the future of electronic journalism, should they so choose. But that won’t last forever.

If You Build It They Will Share — Or Not

I like the idea of Quartz, the new business magazine from the Atlantic Group, but I’m not convinced they have a plan in place to reach the people they need to reach. Maybe they do, but I haven’t heard about it yet. Instead, Quartz Editor-in-Chief Kevin Delaney, in an interview with the Nieman Journalism Lab, responds to a question about distribution mostly by citing the quality and accessibility of his content. These are good things to have, but they aren’t the same as a distribution strategy.

Nieman’s Justin Ellis asks, “You aren’t on a print newsstand and you’re not in an app store. How are people going to find Quartz?” Delaney responds by saying Quartz’s content is (a) free, (b) multiplatform, and (c) “made to share.”

That’s not an answer that satisfies me Continue reading

Maybe All Journalism is Service Journalism

Back when I was writing for print magazines on a more regular basis, most editors made a distinction between “service journalism” and other kinds of news and feature writing. Not news and not long-form feature or narrative writing, service journalism provides strongly consumer-oriented information, usually designed to help readers make purchasing decisions of one kind or another. Being the narrative snob that I was, I generally loathed this kind of writing. Being the freelance writer that I was, however, I generally took such assignments when I could.

More recently, I’ve been looking at journalism and media from a new perspective, trying to bring to bear my last half dozen years or more in and around tech and startups. Part of what I’m interested in, of course, is the evolution of journalism and media in general. And part of what I’m starting to realize is that all journalism is service journalism, in one way or another. And therein may lie a signpost.

What’s interesting to me is the parallel to digital marketing and the value of audiences: readers, viewers, members and users are more valuable to marketers at the moment they’re making a purchasing decision. Hence the emphasis on reaching targeted and qualified traffic. For marketers, it’s often more valuable to get in front of a few people whom you know to be interested in the product you’re pushing than it is to get in front of a larger number of people who may or may not care. Hence the value of service journalism: the readers who pay the most attention to a fashion magazine article on makeovers, for instance, are likely buyers of lipstick and eye shadow. If I’m a makeup company, I want the ad space across from that page — and I’m a lot less interested in the ad space facing an article on politics. If I’m a movie company, I want the ad space across from the reviews page. And so on.

But general-interest media companies — companies that do “journalism” proper (like The New York Times, for instance) — face a curious problem in that the product they’re pushing is not the topic of an article, but the article itself. This is part of what’s been so troublesome for them in trying to build (or rebuild) audiences that monetize well in a new (digital) medium. What’s been striking me lately, though, is how closely general-interest news and information resembles service journalism, if viewed from the correct perspective.

Take the upcoming presidential election. Whether you’re reading about Romney’s tax returns, Obama’s comments on entrepreneurship, or our allegedly broken electoral system, you’re also gathering information that will help you decide who to vote for.

The same goes for a host of other not-immediately-purchase-or-product-related content that nonetheless helps inform a range of decisions. Stories on the economy might help guide you as to whether now’s a good time to look for a new job. Similarly, reading about the Mars Rover may expand your notion of the possible — both for the space program and for yourself and the people around you. Even a complex story about a mining venture in Afghanistan can inform your choices as a consumer and civic participant. It’s a stretch, of course, to call those last two examples service journalism, but I don’t think it’s inappropriate — and I do think there’s a helpful lens in it: In one way or another, almost all journalism can be called service journalism insofar as it informs a reader’s decisions, whether in the near term or further down the line.

And that’s the small insight here: Journalism is generally taken to have the broad and lofty goal of “informing the public” of various events and situations. It is then the reader’s responsibility to make informed decisions based on that information. But what if those decisions were surfaced more in the writing process? What if journalism’s lofty goal were to help readers make very specific informed decisions about the very specific topics that are dealt with in a given article, whether it’s makeup purchases or political choices or even the existential question of who we are or can be?

This is almost too simple an idea to mention, but I don’t think it’s top of mind for most journalists on an everyday basis. There’s a difference between writing an article that examines the various sides of an issue like genetically modified food additives, and writing an article that helps the reader choose whether to consume and/or support such things. If it were more explicitly a piece of “service journalism” it might read differently — and attract a more focused and monetizable audience. Maybe there’s a middle ground between so-called “unbiased” reportage, and baldly market-driven product reviews. Maybe there’s a way to make more articles more useful to more people, simply by keeping in mind what decisions the article may be driving — by keeping in mind the specific audience segment that’s being targeted by the article, and the specific decisions that audience needs help in making.

I doubt this is what’s going to “save” journalism. (In fact, I don’t think journalism quite needs saving, though that’s a matter for another post.) But I do think it can help editors and publishers think more productively about how to provide a product that will generate more revenue in an age when that task has grown difficult.

Channel and Content: Facebook vs. the Virtual World

Uberstrike: Kill your virtual friends on FacebookI had the pleasure a few days ago of writing a piece for Wired magazine’s Opinion site on How Facebook Killed the Virtual World (which you can feel free to go and read, if you haven’t already — I’ll wait here). It garnered a predictable raft of reactions from virtual world fans. With a title like that, how could it not? But one comment in particular sparked some additional thoughts. Ramzi Yakob wrote:

To be honest, I don’t see how Facebook bears any relevance to MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft. You’re effectively arguing that a CHANNEL has the ability to replace CONTENT… which it can’t. The ability to use Facebook as a channel for games isn’t something I’d dispute – whether or not it has the ability to disrupt multi-billion dollar ventures that produce very high quality content is completely ridiculous.

There are some interesting semantic things going on here. I’m not arguing that a channel can “replace” great content. But I am arguing that channels have a great deal of influence in determining what content we consume. And by extension, I’d say that content on its own merits doesn’t have as much power — and that its power wanes as channels mature. This is the “build it and they will come” fallacy of Internet services: it almost never works that way. You have to put an enormous amount of effort into getting your content, no matter how great it is, in front of the people who may want it. And this is something Facebook facilitates very well — so well, in fact, that it is likely having an impact on our patterns of consuming even expensively produced, high-quality content like top-shelf MMORPGs and the like.

I say “likely” because it’s tough to measure, but there is certainly plenty of anecdotal evidence. And there are definitely plenty of (moderately) happy Facebook investors and newly minted Facebook millionaires who stand very firmly behind the idea (as I do) that Facebook can disrupt enormous and established industries that trade in high-quality content. Spotify (for which a Facebook account is necessary) is a great example of this, as are all the marketing campaigns on all the Facebook pages for all the movies, TV shows, games, and consumer products you’re buying every day.

Below the jump is the response I originally made to Ramzi’s comment: Continue reading

Transmedia and the Future of Narrative Entertainment

I have a picture in my head of someone’s experience, circa 2-5 years from now (and probably starting sooner, like already), that is about how we will discover and consume our stories — our narrative entertainment experiences of whatever kind. Imagine a 17-year-old girl. While finishing some seriously late homework on her MacBook one morning before school, she happens on a Facebook post in which one of her friends has “Liked” a 6-minute video Webisode of Ninja Dino-Zombies of the Vampire-o-Sphere (more commonly known as “Ninja D’s,” or in other words, Entertainment Property X). The Like was posted from the smartphone on which the friend viewed the Webisode, and is coded with the geolocation of the bus line the friend was riding as she was watching it. Our girl watches the embedded video on Facebook and discovers a gripping tale of highly competent giant undead lizards trapped in a world of bloodsucking astronauts — naturally, she becomes interested to know more about the story, and clicks through to a page that lets her subscribe. She reads a chapter of a parallel narrative thread that’s just appeared as a blog post, checks out the zombie dino-damsel’s distress calls on Twitter, then heads to class. (What about the homework? Oh well.)

In class, she’s embarrassed by the chirp of her phone — it’s a text message with a news headline about developments at the vampire space station. Once the bell rings, she clicks through to download the next 6-minute video installment, and watches it while she heads off to Civics, which is two corridors away (so she has plenty of time if she takes it slow). At home that evening, she finds she’s gotten an email flagging the next chapter of the text-based narrative. While reading that, she notices a link to a Web-based scrapbook one of the other characters has created, explaining his love of the zombie dino-damsel and why their relationship is fated never to be (she’s just not that into inter-racial vampiric hookups, it seems). Our girl is more open-minded, though, so she posts a comment hoping he sees his way clear to confessing his affection, and — if she’s part of the 1 percent — maybe even writes her own alternate next chapter (or couple of paragraphs, anyway), in which he does confess his love, and sets off to rescue the maiden.

Meanwhile in Des Moines, there’s an aspiring writer who’s been following the same story (he’s mostly been playing the associated vampire-space-station-simulation game, though he refuses to buy any virtual blood), who spots our girl’s contribution, and who decides to run with it. Because Ninja D’s bears an accommodating license (like all truly popular works of the period), our Iowan can go ahead and cook up an entire alternate storyline in which the lovestruck bloodsucker rescues his girl and the two fly off to set up shop on a nearby planet — where a whole host of spinoff adventures start happening to them, authored both by this guy (who is so good that he’s making his living off the revshare produced by his work) and by other readers who pick up parallel threads of the cloth he’s weaving. This material too gets pushed out in the form of blog posts, chapters, video, text messages, Twitter accounts, push notifications, images, and more — all of it placed within the broad stream that is a single entertainment property in the transmedia age.

Insert end-of-vision tag here. I realize, of course, that there are already entertainment properties out there that are starting to behave in a similar manner. But what I’m really talking about here is the system that underlies those works, and that lets people create, consume, contribute to, discover, and distribute them on a synthesized, systematic basis. If you are interested in helping to build something like this (or think you already are), please get in touch.

How the Xerox Machine Changed Publishing

Joni Evans and the former tools of the publishing trade
Image stolen from The New York Times

I just noticed a great short piece in last Sunday’s New York Times by Joni Evans, one of the important figures in book publishing from the mid-1970s to mid-1990s (and now founder and CEO of wowOwow, a site for women). Evans gives a great, succinct portrait of the evolution of technology in the publishing trade, and how it changed how business gets done there. One great example: Before copying machines, there were rarely any bidding wars to acquire manuscripts, because the author would be sending a typescript copy around to one publisher at a time. If that publisher didn’t buy the book, it went to the next one on the list. Copying machines meant that manuscripts could go to many publishers at once. Having the property distributed simultaneously changed the competitive nature of the publishing market. These days we see similar effects at work across the Web, perhaps most notably in the news business at the moment. But Evans’s brief account is a great example of how such changes can come from unexpected quarters. Never underestimate the power of even the most pedestrian innovation to work the most profound of changes.


Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑