A Pulitzer Goes to ProPublica, the First Ever Digital Only Award

April 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

MediaBistro’s FishbowlNY had this to say about the Pulitzer given to ProPublica for the series by Jake Bernstein and Jesse Eisinger on the role played by banks and hedge funds in the - still reverberating - financial crisis. It says it all.

“While all the Pulitzer winners deserve recognition, FishbowlNY wanted to highlight ProPublica.org, which won the first Pulitzer awarded for a series that didn’t originate in print. Read that sentence again, because this is huge news.”

Quite huge, and it comes only two years after Pulitzer’s rules changed to allow entries from digital only participants.

Congratulations ProPublica, Jake Bernstein and Jesse Eisinger,

A Disturbance in the Force: Egypt Goes Offline

January 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Startling images of an Internet gone cold in Egypt, this one courtesy of a report by Declan McCullagh at CNET.

Egypt: Cancelled Until Further Notice

At Buzzmachine, Jeff Jarvis quotes John Perry Barlow who declared in 1996:

“Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.”

Egyptians have much more at stake than internet connectivity. But a free and open internet will be one thing – perhaps even the main thing – to say when they’ve got it, when it comes to pass.

NYU Professor Jay Rosen Offers Advice to an Incoming Class of Journalism Students. He Should Offer the Same Advice to Advertising Students.

September 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

MediaBistro’s Morning News Feed points to the remarks NYU journalism professor, Jay Rosen, made to the incoming class of students at Sciences Po école du journalisme in Paris on September 2, 2010. His address, to “The Journalists Formerly known as the Media: My Advice to the Next Generation,” is a great read back over 250 years of cultural upheaval that begat the rise of professional journalism. Now, after 150 years of thinking and acting (and making money) one way, the so-called professional media class is being told to re-invent itself. In summary, Professor Rosen says:

“Seeing people as masses is the art in which the mass media, and professional media people, specialized during their profitable 150-year run (1850 to 2000). But now we can see that this was actually an interval, a phase, during which the tools for reaching the public were placed in increasingly concentrated hands. Professional journalism, which dates from the 1920s, has lived its entire life during this phase, but let me say it again: this is what your generation has a chance to break free from. The journalists formerly known as the media can make the break by learning to specialize in a different art: seeing people as a public, empowered to make media themselves.”

Rosen offers 10 pieces of advice (in bold print, below) to the incoming class of journalists to help them “break free” from the last media interval. It is advice that with a little work and some license we can make work equally for advertisers. Indeed, if we can’t make it work for advertisers something in the new media equation is broken. 

1. Replace readers, viewers, listeners and consumers with the term “users.” “Users” is precisely the term for advertising audiences online. Why not consolidate audience terms in the same way as Rosen proposes as a step towards making advertising truly cross-platform.

2. Remember: the users know more than you do. A point Rosen borrows from media writer/reporter/commentator Dan Gillmor who recognized that the aggregate knowledge of his users is greater than his own. It is equally true of users as consumers. As the legendary David Ogilvy said, “The consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife.”

3. There’s been a power shift; the mutualization of journalism is here. There has always been a mutualization of advertising and marketing. Word of mouth is still the most potent advertising vehicle. The difference now is that media itself has become mutualized.

 4. Describe the world in a way that helps people participate in it. Also from David Ogilvy: “When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”

5. Anyone can doesn’t mean everyone will. Jay Rosen refers to the one percent rule, coined possibly by the Guardian in the U.K., that suggests for every 100 users online, one will create, 10 will interact and the rest – 89% – will simply lurk. It is a formula that easily describes user behavior in response to advertising. It is nearly inviolable as advertising law. Accordingly, stop regarding digital new media in purely response-driven terms.

6. The journalist is just a heightened case of an informed citizen, not a special class. Journalists are paid to ask questions which any smart citizen can do, says Professor Rosen, admonishing the incoming class to steer clear of any notion that the public needs them more than they need the public. Do users need advertising?  No, as far as users are concerned they don’t need advertising and would happily seek to destroy it. There is no quid pro quo between advertisers and consumers. Break free from that idea.

7. Your authority starts with, “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.” For journalists authority starts with, “I’m a witness to what’s happening and you’re not.” For advertisers authority starts with the strength of their product or service. “I can provide what you need or want.” Advertisers with authority make and keep promises.

8. Somehow, you need to listen to demand and give people what they have no way to demand. People will pay attention to what you think they need to know if they believe you are listening to them at other times. Mass media – nearly by definition - corrupted the listening skills of advertisers, who continue to try and dominate the conversation online. Advertising intrusiveness is not a virtue.

9. If your bid to be trusted, don’t take the View From Nowhere; instead, tell people where you’re coming from. Be transparent.

10.  Breathe deeply of what DeTocqueville said: “Newspapers make associations and associations make newspapers.” Explains Professor Rosen:

“Alexis De Tocqueville, a Frenchman, visited the United States in the 1830s. Among the observations he made was: “newspapers make associations and associations make newspapers.” What I think he meant was: wherever people have a common interest and wish to discuss it, there lies an opportunity for a smart journalist.”

Ditto: wherever people have a common interest and wish to discuss it there lies an opportunity for smart advertisers.

Citizen media, Swedish style

February 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

There is much that can be said about the campaign from Swedish public broadcaster, Radiotjänst, encouraging people to fess-up and pay the annual TV license fee that underwrites the cost of television in that country. For starters, it’s a great viral campaign that has earned it “Idea of the Week,” from Ad Age and Cream Global. But the presentation resonates in our new media world today, accounting, perhaps, for the 6.1 million videos that have been created and shared in the campaign, so far.

The campaign (you need to be prepared to upload a picture of yourself if you intend to watch it) is intended to transform the idea of a fee into an investment that promotes ownership and accountability. Pull vs. push: citizens as determiners of the outcome and assurers of a free and open world. Against a backdrop of  haunting music and images that describe a society clinging to hope, words such as “trust”, “opinion”, “voices” and “choice” pepper the dialogue, along with arguments for “alternatives to uniformity” and against being “scared into silence”.

Those are Internet themes and mini-manifestos of our new media world. They explain the Long Tail, blogging, social-networking, the exuberance for content and citizen media, the global scale. They harken to the formation of the World Wide Web. They are its foundation code, the ones and zeros of its creation, recognizable to anyone who was there and anyone today who listens. They are rich in promise. They separate us from bondage. They reverberate, “First, do no harm.” 

It’s only an ad campaign, of course. For a TV tax, no less.  But it says a lot about the chance to sell anything in this new world if you can tap its DNA.

The Pentagon gives us a teachable, new media moment

September 11, 2009 § Leave a comment

The New York Times had a compelling piece by James Dao this week on military bloggers and social networkers that the ever-useful Around The Net in Online Media had the good sense to showcase.  This was a report on the tension inside the military regarding the presence of bloggers within the ranks and in the field. Some Generals think it’s a good thing. Other Generals aren’t so sure. Most are resigned that it would be almost impossible to shut-off the free flow of information among people in the Armed Services around an Internet world. But, the impetus for the article appears to be the Pentagon’s plans to issue new restrictions that will make a serious attempt to do just that: restrict access to social networking sites.

Good luck, right? Indeed, which is perhaps why it’s impossible for me not to detect a degree of sympathy for the blogging soldiers on the part of the New York Times, and the attending amounts of irony considering the impact that blogging and social networking have had on the news business. We might as well be talking about traditional media when the article reports:

To many analysts and officers, the debate reflects a broader clash of cultures: between the anarchic, unfiltered, bottom-up nature of the Web and the hierarchical, tightly controlled, top-down tradition of the military.

The quandary faced by the Pentagon gives us a teachable, new media moment when it’s possible to point-out the obviousin this case, that the “anarchic, unfiltered, bottom-up nature of the web” is the real deal. It’s authentic. It’s journalism.

Says one soldier to the Times in the final paragraph of the report:

“What comes out of my blog is the experiences of a soldier right in the middle of all of this,” Mud Puppy (a nickname for military police), who recently returned home to Illinois, wrote in a recent e-mail message. “I think that people need to hear from us, more than they need to hear from the big whigs. War has a cost, and that cost is paid by soldiers.” 

Over and out.

That’s the way it is (again).

July 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

When I heard that Walter Cronkite had died over the weekend I thought, get ready for all the “That’s the way it was” eulogies that will make inverted use of Cronkite’s famous sign-off from his evening broadcasts, “That’s the way it is,” to point out that the world over which Cronkite presided – truly presided – is gone.

All I can say is, thank goodness we had Walter Cronkite when we did. The retrospective 60 Minutes offered on the anchorman, “That’s the way it was: Remembering Walter Cronkite” took us through an extraordinary time when worlds collided in our country beginning, most dramatically, with the assassination of President Kennedy. I remember watching the broadcast of his funeral on our black and white television in the dining room of our house. (The dining room, because that was the only place to get reception.) Then there was the assassination of President Kennedy’s brother, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. Then, Vietnam, Woodstock, The Beatles, the Apollo Space program and the landing on the moon. The 1968 Democratic Convention. Watergate. These are all events that still shape our consciousness and conversation as a country.

But we had Walter Cronkite, and other heirs of Edward R. Murrow, who sought a certain sobriety in broadcast journalism that was person-to-person. Had the instincts of broadcast network news been more prone to the sensationalism and slick production values that became essential to the audience ratings game, and that took news out of the living room and put it on a stage – and that made actors out of anchormen - we might still be throwing rocks in the streets.

But, we had Cronkite and in last night’s 60 Minutes retrospective one especially poignant clip showed Cronkite taking a telephone call on-air from Tom Johnson, then press secretary to Lyndon Johnson, with news that the former President had died. The Evening News program was returning from commercial break and there was Walter Cronkite sitting at his desk, on the telephone. He motioned to the audience as you might motion to anyone asking them to be patient. He held up a finger. Then he explained, still holding the receiver, “I’m on the telephone with Tom Johnson, press secretary of Lyndon Johnson…,” etc. etc. I watched and thought, “He’s blogging.”

These days on-air personalities wear ear plugs, like secret service agents, through which people are constantly talking to them. In “The Situation Room” (pleease) with Wolf Blitzer, he will sometimes pause to say, breathlessly, “We’re just getting word.” But, it’s the media machine talking in the background. Global information robots and satellites. Cronkite was on the telephone, in our living room, talking to us. Cronkite was an anchor, not an actor. You never got the feeling he was selling you something.

Which helps make sense to me all over again why I’m comfortable with what journalism is becoming, even as worlds still collide. Thanks to the testimonies and inputs from citizen journalists around the world - bloggers, opinion-aters, text-ers, web publishers and the like - news lives in the real world again. It features the sort of one-to-one moments when Walter Cronkite was in your living room, holding up a finger, bidding you to wait just a minute while he gets the story. Call it process journalism or citizen journalism, or whatever. It’s news. And that’s the way it is.

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