GroundReport: News Publishers Debate Journalism’s Future Live at Aspen Summit

Is American journalism in peril?

On August 16, leaders of the nation's most prominent media organizations will discuss the future of their profession in the leafy environs of Aspen, Colorado. The topic is a tricky one: how to fund responsible, public-serving journalism as media models crumble in the face of dwindling advertising and classified dollars, increased competition and changing audience behavior.

The format of the Aspen Institute event, 'Of the Press: Models for Preserving American Journalism,' is meant to facilitate straight, informal talk across industries, juxtaposing power brokers like Madeleine Albright with new media proponents like Jeff Jarvis. Participants include NPR President Vivian Schiller, Washington Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli, Google VP of Search and User Experience Marissa Mayer, and MediaNews CEO Dean Singleton. Gordon Crovitz, the former Wall Street Journal publisher now launching the much-publicized Journalism Online e-commerce venture with Steven Brill, will also be in attendance.

Collectively, the participants at this year's forum represent thousands of newspapers, radio stations and television channels--meaning the corridor conversations at the conference could translate to sweeping strategic changes in American media.

Part of the Aspen Institute Forum on Communications and Society program helmed by Charlie Firestone, citizen journalism platform GroundReport will produce the live broadcast for the third consecutive year, powered by Livestream, at

Watch the event live August 17-19 starting at 10:45 AM EST every morning at Tune in for live chat and daily coverage via GroundReport and Twitter.

paidContent – paidContent Quick Hits For Weekend: 08.16.09

»  Redbox’s video game rentals kiosks starts going live; first one in Reno, NV and rents games for $2.

»  France Telecom’s East Coast research center in Boston, Orange Labs is closing, after seven years. Cost cutting is the reason.

»  A 35-year old is the new head of Univision. And the company wants to become “the No. 1 broadcast network in the United States, regardless of language, within five years.” Ambitious.

»  Travelzoo is selling off its Asia-Pac division…in heavy operating losses.

»  Aussie car sales site CarSales is about to go public, but PBL Media, its largest shareholder, is holding on to its 49.5 percent stake.

Hugh McGuire: Why “Self-Publishing” Is Meaningless

This was going to be a short post. It's turned into a manifesto of sorts! Ah, well ...

I don't like the term "self-publishing."


In the emerging world of "cloud-publishing," it's meaningless, and does not reflect what's coming, what we're already seeing signs of. Cloud-publishing -- what we're doing at my start-up Book Oven -- is providing a tool set, on the Web, to publish books; a publishing model native to the web, with all the benefits:

  • Instantaneous global distribution at near zero cost

  • Simple, Web-based collaboration (editing, proofreading, design)

  • Networks of creators and collaborators (new and existing)

  • Networks of readers (new and existing)

How book creation gets organized in such a model will vary greatly, from the lonely writer, to a small press wishing to focus on content -- not technology -- to collections of colleagues and friends, to professional associations, collections of strangers aligned by topical interest, or financial interest, or just aligned in the interest of making books.

The key here is: cloud-publishing will provide the tools to allow groups of people to easily coalesce around the production, distribution and sale of a particular book or books. How those groups organize themselves will look different from book to book. But Book Oven's tools, and other cloud-publishing sites, will mean that book makers can focus on the important thing, the content, and not worry about the technical hurdles of making, printing, and distributing books.

What's Wrong with the Status Quo?

Others, of course, will prefer the current model, and that is wonderful and excellent and good. I love publishers, and books, and book stores, and libraries, and they have brought me great joy over the years.

But the Web offers new, parallel ways to make books, not necessarily better, but more flexible, more easily global, more connected, and better suited to some kinds of production.

That's the larger movement afoot.

Self-Publishing Doesn't Cut It

So "self-publishing" doesn't cut it as a description of what "independent" book making will look like in the coming years. It's too limiting, and doesn't get anywhere near the exciting vision of a new, parallel, model for publishing as a whole.

As the availability of web-based tools for making books grows, the distinction will be between what you might call "corporate publishing" -- blockbuster, and top-end publishing; commercial textbook production, etc. -- and the rest of us. The rest of us are "independent": the smaller presses, groupings of people who put craft and time into making something with various motivations, and yes, individual writers. That doesn't mean there won't be money on the independent side, but the structures around the businesses will be very different than on the blockbuster side.

We're All Indie Now, or None of Us Is

Though as Richard Nash suggests, we're all indie now (except the big guys), so even the term indie doesn't mean much:

So now the phase of indie is over, now that the monopoly on the production and distribution of knowledge, culture and opinion has been broken, what next, a new phase, a drive to, perhaps, create, maintain, defend a New Authenticity arises?--Ah, am I opening myself up for derision with that...? Never mind, I toss it up there, a wounded duck. Power will try to hide behind the people, let's use a new authenticity to stop them. [more...]

Bloggers Suck, Right? And Amateur Talkers?

But back to "self-publishing": once upon a time, it conjured in some people's minds a negative slew of adjectives: Bad. Sub-par. Not selected.

Deserved or not, that's how many react to the term.

They said the same thing about blogging in the old days, and yet I can (and do) now find 10 times as much wonderful, thoughtful, well-written content from blogs than I do from professional outlets (though now the distinction is so blurry, and pro outlets are "blogging" as much as anyone). But every time I hear people claim that blogging is "bad" (amazingly, you still hear that), I roll my eyes. As I said to Henry Baum: you might as well complain about bad "talkers." Some talkers are wonderful. Others insufferable. Some of the worst "talkers" are paid lots of money to talk; some of the best are friends of mine and they do it for free. So you would never consider complaining about "talking" as a method of communicating, just because lots of people talk nonsense. You assume that is the case, and seek out the good talkers. So on the web with bloggers, and music, and indeed, books.

Talking is just a means of transmission of words and ideas.

But for whatever reason, it's hard for people to think of distributing text in the same way that they think of distributing verbal words. While talking might be free, distributing text, audio, video has only recently become (effectively) free. And just as the world is getting used to blogging, and maybe podcasting, along comes this idea that books can be distributed essentially for free. Think about what happened with blogging: suddenly, the means of transmission of text -- to a global audience -- became free. When the cost restrictions on producing written text disappeared, so did the power of the established system to decide what was worth printing and what wasn't. And people did what they are wont to do when systems blocking them disappear: they started publishing text like crazy on the web. That made people very uncomfortable. It meant lots of "bad" writers were publishing their text for global consumption. But more importantly, it meant that we saw a beautiful flourishing of great writing that no one had bothered printing before -- the topic was too narrow, the audience too dispersed, the return on investment too low. It turns out that the calculations about what's "worth" publishing is very different when the cost of publishing approaches zero. And that means that now, if you have an internet connection, you can read just about anything produced anywhere in the world. Lutes and Violins? Bespoke tailoring? Goats? You got it.

In the end though, blogging is just a means of transmission of words. And it turns out that there were millions of people willing to write excellent stuff that for whatever reason the traditional media set up did not, or could not publish.

We expect to see something similar with cloud-publishing.

[We've had easy access to the tools of publishing for a while, see for instance Lulu. But the most important shift we're about to see, I think, is the network of readers and writers and book makers. That's for another post].

Good Books vs. Bad Books

Now, I can guarantee something. As the ability to publish books gets easier, we'll have more "bad" books than you can shake a stick at. (In fact, we probably already do, published, unpublished, self-published...).

But the lines of distinction will not be, as they were previously, between traditional publishing and self-publishing, but rather just between good books and bad books (with caveats about eyes of beholders etc).

We'll have corporate publishers making good books, and independents making more good books. And everyone will make lots of bad books too. But how independents organize themselves will change greatly too.

Publishers and the Web

Fact 1: Many corporate publishers are having a hard time coming to terms with the web. It's going to get harder for them -- they already are having trouble sustaining their cost structures, and have off-loaded much of the work around the web to their authors.

Fact 2: The Web has a wonderful ability to allow people to sort through huge piles of information, and seek, rank and share gems.

Opinion 1: People will find more new writing on the web; so "book publishers" must start to be native to the web, and see the web as integral to their task of connecting readers and writers; they cannot continue to see the web as some kind of add-on to their marketing departments.

Opinion 2: Big corporate publishers will have trouble with Opinion 1; so new publishing models need to emerge.

Nothing Is New Under the Sun

We've seen this in music and blogs/newspapers and encyclopedia, where the web, and cheap tools of production have spawned an explosion of creative activity, excellence, choice, and a toiling mass of music and writing of all shapes and sizes (along with lots of dreck, but that's a side effect of all the great stuff).

We think the same is going to happen for books. With a global audience hungry for content, and cheap easy tools for creation and distribution, and a growing network of creators and readers connected on the web and an explosion of devices that allow people to be reading at times and in places they never did before, the distinctions about where or how books were made will fall away.

Do I Want to Read It?

All that will matter are these two questions:
1. Is it any good?
2. Do I want to read it?

And so "self-publishing" is a term that should be retired.

Hugh McGuire: Babbling about Twitter

Danah Boyd points to a study of Twitter usage by PearAnalytics, that concludes:

40.55% of the tweets they coded are pointless babble; 37.55% are conversational; 8.7% have "pass along value"; 5.85% are self-promotional; 3.75% are spam; and ::gasp:: only 3.6% are news."

As Danah Boyd suggests in her first sentence, studies like this are irritating. Every time someone complains about Twitter, or microblogging, blogging, the Web or anything else being overrun with "useless" information, I always have the same reaction: you could say the same thing about talking, but no one ever questions whether talking is useful or not.

These are means of communication, used by humans to communicate, each with their own idiosyncrasies, but all driven by the same impulses that have always driven humans to communicate: the urge to connect, to find, to babble, to sell, to buy, to share, to romance, to complain, etc etc etc...

Twitter, or microblogging in general, will bring profound changes to some of its users (it has for me) in how they find/consume/interact with information and other people. As did the printing press, papyrus, the ballpoint pen, telegraph, telephone, radio, television, email, blogs, youtube, mobile phone, among others.

The interesting question is how these things change our informational and social interactions; but the question of whether or not these "new" tools are "good" or "valuable" are moot: if people use them, they use them because they find them good and valuable for whatever reason.

Humans have been pretty consistent in flaws and virtues over the past few thousand years; amazingly we still seem to be surprised when new tools of communication come along and display, in a new way, those same old flaws and virtues.

Gmail Passes AOL to Capture Third-Place in Web Mail

Just eked past AOL, still behind Hotmail and Yahoo Mail in total users. But, in terms of mindshare, Gmail utterly dominates. Many of my friends — technically knowledgeable, demanding email users — use and love Gmail. None of them use Hotmail or Yahoo Mail. Raw user count is the wrong metric; Gmail has already won.

Google is like Apple in this way. It starts by taking over the premium end of a market.

USOC Scraps Plans For Olympic TV Network After Pressure

BERLIN — The U.S. Olympic Committee postponed plans for its own television network after objections from international Olympic officials.

USOC chairman Larry Probst said Sunday he has decided to delay development of the TV project until all issues have been resolved with the International Olympic Committee.

The announcement came a day after Probst met in Berlin with IOC president Jacques Rogge to discuss the dispute over the U.S. Olympic Network.

"I think we're moving in a positive direction," Probst told reporters. "We want to try to get to the point where we've addressed all their issues and concerns as quickly as possible."

The IOC criticized the USOC last month for "unilaterally" announcing the launch of the TV network on July 8, saying it raised complex legal questions and could jeopardize relations with Olympic broadcaster NBC.

Probst was surprised by the backlash.

"There is no question that we underestimated the intensity of the reaction that we got from multiple constituents," Probst said. "I won't talk about what was going on behind the scenes, who said what or who did what, but obviously there was a more intense reaction than we anticipated.

"We anticipated a reaction that would've been neutral to positive and that didn't happen. It was a miscalculation on our part. The execution on this could've been better."

The IOC welcomed the decision.

"It was a good, positive and productive meeting," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. "We look forward to having more detailed information on their proposal."

Probst said he and Rogge agreed to meet soon.

The decision is a major boost for Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics. Had the USOC pushed ahead with the TV plans, it could have hurt Chicago's chances in the IOC vote on Oct. 2 vote in Copenhagen. The other bid cities are Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo.

"The USOC wants to do everything it can to help support the Chicago bid," Probst said. "We want to see Chicago win the bid. Anything we can do to help to support them, we're going to do that."

Patrick Ryan, the chairman and CEO of Chicago 2016, said he appreciated the USOC's decision.

"We applaud Larry Probst and the USOC for making a strong statement of partnership by stating that the USOC would secure the full support and cooperation of the IOC before moving forward with the Olympic Network," Ryan said in a statement. "It is important not only for the USOC and IOC relationship, but also for the USOC's role within the Olympic movement."

The IOC and USOC have had tense relations in recent years, particularly over the contentious issue of the USOC's share of Olympic revenues.

The IOC accused the USOC of acting hastily by announcing plans for the network, which was scheduled to go on air next year after the Vancouver Winter Olympics with Comcast as broadcast partner.

NBC holds the U.S. broadcast rights through the 2012 London Olympics. The network acquired the rights to the Vancouver and London Games in 2003 in a deal worth $2.2 billion. NBC has said it plans to be among the U.S. networks bidding for rights to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and 2016 Summer Olympics.

The USOC has said the network was a way to keep Olympic sports in front of viewers beyond the games. The project was intended benefit smaller sports that struggle to find air time outside of the Olympics.

Probst still feels it's a viable concept.

"I think it can be good for athletes. I think it can be good for the federations. I think it could be good for sponsors. I think it can be good for the Olympic movement overall," Probst said. "But I think it's got to be properly orchestrated and properly timed. Part of that orchestration is making sure that the IOC and other constituencies are fully bought in and supportive."


AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson in London contributed to this report.

Maureen Dowd Rips Palin: “Sarah’s Ghoulish Carousel”

I'm not sure the man who popped off and tweeted that Sonia Sotomayor was a "Latina woman racist" is the best Henry Higgins for the Eliza Doolittle of Alaska.

But Newt Gingrich was a professor. And he does know something about pulling yourself up by dragging down others and imploding when you take center stage -- both Palin specialties.