Image by stevegarfield via Flickr
I would fire myself as Publisher and rehire myself as CEO, Local (Your Market) Information Utility
It was nice to see this coming from a respected industry veteran, which shows that not only renegades are proposing fundamental change. I would add one warning though. If you haven’t completely changed your mindset, don’t rehire yourself! When I started this blog, I used LIU, or Local Information Utility, because American Press Institute was using it, and the last thing we needed was another acronym. However, after great feedback, I was persuaded that LIU was too constricting, with Utility conjuring up those entities that do things for you, or to you, and are not very responsive. So, I switched to Complete Community Connection, and it has stuck with our team.
The fundamental nature of the change required, the different tasks to be performed, and the switch in “concept” was noted over 11 years ago by Bruno Giussani in a First Monday piece when he was the founding editor of Webdo:
We knew on the onset that an online information service would have to be based on a different concept than the traditional printed one, that simply repackaging editorial content would not do.
It was obvious to us also that in order to respond to this challenge, the only way would be to take full advantage of what characterizes this new medium – interactivity, hypertext, and multimedia capability. With this in mind as a starting point, everything was to be created. A logic of production, consumption, and commercialization. A language, a rhythm, a new kind of connection with our readership.
I am going to position myself here as a journalist and an editor. Because it’s my original profession. Because it’s also the profession I am trying to re-invent (or more accurately, to learn again from scratch) since I have been doing it online. And mostly, because I firmly believe that journalists have an essential role to play in tomorrow’s interactive society and that they are quite wrong in fearing to become obsolete with the advance of the new media.
I will tackle three concepts which I believe outline the contours of this new journalism: diversity, community, and movement.
As George Gilder wrote, by establishing the existence of a mass audience, therefore necessarily a homogeneous one, the media in fact negate the individuality of their readers, their generous diversity, the real scope of their interests and passions, their multiple lifestyles and ambitions. In a way, the papers we publish today are contradictory to human nature.
The second concept I would like to bring up is community. Though there is much said about interactivity it is my feeling that it’s not fully understood by the press and everyone in the publishing field yet. The concept of interactivity is not about the user clicking on an icon to unlatch a reaction from his computer: it is above all about connecting people.
With this in mind, facts and information can circulate without interference and without the journalist acting as a filter. He will have to give up part of the power he used to have – based on his competence as well as on his position. The role of the journalist is changing into a more central figure, a mediator. He directs traffic, explores, becomes a facilitator of discussions. His new power will depend on his ability to animate a group of people, to develop methods and means to enliven the community, to organize information-gathering and use with the participation of the members of the community.
A journalist with little online experience tends to think in terms of stories, news value, public service, and things that are good to read, points out Melinda McAdams in her excellent account of the making of the Washington Post online venture. But a person with a lot of online experience thinks more about connections, organization, movement within and among sets of information, and communication among different people.
By redefining the way we think and write, this new structure redefines all of our culture. I agree with New York sociologist Neil Postman that
New technologies alter the structure of our interests: the things we think about. They alter the character of our symbols: the things we think with. And they alter the nature of community: the arena in which thoughts develop.
They also alter our relationship to time. As an insider we know the newspaper as a succession of deadlines: lead time for articles, editing, printing, distribution. If one of these deadlines is not met, the paper will lose most of its value if not all of it. Consequently, information must fit into this schedule and it grows old with the paper it is printed on (today’s breaking news, tomorrow’s fish wrap).
Online content on the other hand is fluid, moving. It doesn’t know deadlines – actually, every moment is a potential deadline. There is no set chronological order, you can change original content, update it, correct it, complete it and re-use it, anytime. An article becomes a story in progress, enriched by other stories thanks to hypertext, and allowing for constant re-composition.
[some bold and italics added by Chuck Peters to highlight flow of concepts, others in original article]
Giussani’s First Monday article of 11 years ago is worth reading in its entirety, if for nothing else than to show that the game to be played has been defined for some time. We need to get on with it. As a matter of interest, Bruno has gone on to be the European Director of the Ted Conference and recently blogged about Charles Leadbeater‘s presentation at the Picnic 08 Conference on The Power of Mass Creativity:
the future is all gonna be about our activity to collaborate, to pull together the diversity of knowledge and insight that we need to make that possible”. What does that mean? “For most of my life, we have worked and being served by organizations that should do things for you but often actually do things to you. The logic of the Web is “with”, how to work with people, how to learn together. If you want a very simple way to think of the current shift, it’s that difference: from the world of “to” and “for” to the world of “with” and “by”.” “Is this just a passing moment, a fleeting fad? Or is it a possible permanent change in how we organize ourselves? And if it is, can we use that possibility or are we going to screw it up?” “Somebody recently asked to Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the Web: are we asking too much of the Internet, are we loading too much onto it, bearing the weight of this social transformation? Tim answered: the danger is that we will ask too little from it, that we will reduce it to just another tool”.
[bold and italics in original article]
Note the “to and for” becoming “with and by”, another confirmation of the difficulties of using the name Local Information Utility to describe the new enterprise! Names are important. A Publisher publishes a product, which is why the first item Wurzer suggest is firing the “Publisher”. An Editor is product focused. A Community Manager, or Facilitator or Mediator suggests the more appropriate roles.
As we define new tasks for the new game, or “business model“, a few concepts are always at the forefront:
1. We need to focus on the network of information, and bring elegant organization to it. We cannot depend on the nauseating cacophony of tweets, blogs, comments and articles to organize themselves. They must be moderated and organized. That organization must in large part be automatic, through tags and links.
2. Given our past history, and the lessons learned, we need to separate the creation of news/information networks from advertising networks, yet be able to link them, and let users know which is which.
3. Product creation is separate from content creation, whether news/information content or advertising content.
4. The goal is to have the products complement the network and each other, not add to the cacophony. Time is limited. If people want a particular piece of information they should be able to get it, where they are, on whatever device. If they want to explore a topic, they should be able to do so within an elegant organization, perhaps introduced to them by the print product, not the mind numbing search through Google lists and tagged articles.
5. Everyone will be learning a new task, and operating within a new organization, so patience is a virtue.
So, what are the key tasks for someone trying to create a Complete Community Connection? I am assuming that printing and distribution functions are outsourced, so imaging, print and online ad layout, printing, inserting and physical distribution are performed cost effectively in centralized locations. That leaves:
1. Community Liaison – The focal point (CEO) for the local C3 organization, out in the community, attending Service Clubs, Chamber meetings, speaking to groups. Gathers the overall sense of the defined geographical community, and has the final decision on whether the network of information is serving the community, with the right mix of products and services. Responsible for the financial health and development of the local C3 organization, which should be creating a strengthened geographical community, consisting of mulitple communities of interest and affinity, resulting from the benefits of group collaboration in the manner noted by Bruno Giusanni covering a presentation by Charles Leadbeater :
What prompts collaborative creativity?
- New and easy ways to allow people to contribute.
- Ways to connect people together and to build on one-another.
- A shared sense of purpose and some individual sense of payoff, that they’re getting something in return as they’re contributing to something larger.
- Usually there is a core or kernel that’s put there to begin with (the initial Linux software for ex)
- Structure: these communities won’t work unless they can make decisions, so they need to have some elements of structure (think Wikipedia)
2. Information Content Creator (Moderator) – Responsible for using best practices to develop an organization of employees (for large, sustained, efforts) and trusted sources which create tagged text snippets, photos, audio and video relating to issues or events; live blog from events to develop the richest perspective from the community on the particular event; create summarizing, contextual narratives, with appropriate links; and contribute to the local wiki, much like the CIA’s Intellipedia. The “soup to nuts” news service described by Steve Outing.
3. Advertising Content Creator – Creates ecosystem of print and online ads, with text ads, SMS ads, photos, audio, video appropriately tagged and linked so that an advertiser’s message is appropriately placed, contextually relevant and properly timed.
4. Digital Asset Manager – Manages an organization to lead numerous outside vendors, partners and collaborators to develop an ecosystem of technology that offers current best practices for the elegant organization of local information for use by content creators and product creators.
5. Product Planning and Development – Manages the system and organization of developing products complementary to the network, reaching audiences that do not significantly overlap, which can act as promotional flags for the network, and support the network financially. The product managers must have access to all content, and be able to package it as they see fit to reach their audiences.
6. Audience Measurement and Marketing – The organization that independently determines if the multiple audiences in a community are being reached, and needs served, by the portfolio of products and services. Allows product managers to have an effective and efficient mechanism for understanding and reaching their audiences.
7. Sales – Selling audiences to advertisers, consultatively. Not responsible for products, or any content creation. Can act like the local advertising agency, and sell solutions to advertisers outside of those offered by C3.
8. Shared Services – Such as human resources, information technology, facilities, accounting. Their primary change is recognizing and supporting the fundmentally altered business model and structure.
As we get on with this, and make the changes necessary, each participant has to answer three questions:
1. Do I understand that I am a participant in an organization trying to create tools to be used “with and by” the communities we serve, to allow the individuals in those communities to know what they want to know so that they can have the power to do what they want to do?
2. Do I acknowledge that I will get to participate in the creative evolution of my job, key tasks, reporting relationships and organizational mindset as we evolve into a new C3 organization?
3. Do I want to?
Because you “gotta wanna” in order for this to happen.
What do you think?