Networked link journalism: A revolution quietly begins in Washington state

The discussion about journalism’s future so often focuses on Big Changes — Kill the print edition! Flips for everyone! Reinvent business models NOW! — that it’s easy to forget how simple innovation can be.

Sometimes all you need is a few Tweets, a bunch of links, and some like-minded pioneers.

That’s how a quiet revolution began in Washington state Wednesday. Four journalists spontaneously launched one of the first experiments in collaborative (or networked) link journalism to cover a major local story.

But it gets better. Those four journalists weren’t in the same newsroom. In fact, they all work for different media companies. And here’s the best part: Some of them have never even met in person.

“The whole thing came together on Twitter yesterday morning,” Elaine Helm, new media editor at the Herald in Everett, said in an email Thursday.

The story was crazy rain in western Washington: evacuations, flooded and closed highways, avalanches, a breached levee, the whole deal. Elaine (@ehelm on Twitter), put a call out for local Twitterers to adopt a common hashtag for flooding coverage. Paul Balcerak (@paulbalcerak), assistant editor of dynamic media for Sound Publishing, suggested #waflood, which they agreed on and posted for their Twitter followers to see.

As Paul described it in an email, Brianne Pruitt (@briannepruitt, Wenatchee World web editor) and Angela Dice (@adice, Kitsap Sun web editor) picked up on the hashtag, “and it snowballed.”

That would have been innovation enough, but Paul went a step further: He saved links to flood coverage through Publish2, tagging each with “waflood,” and posted on Twitter that he was doing so. Soon Elaine, Angela, and Brianne were also adding links to Publish2 with a “waflood” tag.

They then put Publish2 widgets on their news organizations’ sites that displayed the links they were collaboratively gathering, greatly expanding their sites’ coverage of the flooding.

Here’s the Herald’s link roundup (which is also linked on the Herald’s homepage);

Kitsap Sun’s (inset in a story at left, linked on the homepage at right, and on this full page of links);

Wenatchee World’s (see inset box at left);

and the one at Sound Publishing’s (see “Washington state flooding” at the bottom).

Voila — instant collaborative link newswire!

The collaborative spirit of journalism’s future

This collaboration is remarkable in all kinds of ways.

First, you can tell by the Twitter timestamps how quickly everything came together. Second, with a link newswire fed by multiple news organizations, there’s a danger that everyone might add only their own stories to the mix. But this group added outside sources as well (including the News Tribune, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Seattle Times, Yakima Herald-Republic, the Daily Record, and more). Third, all four independently and instantly “got” what the others were doing, which shows how much the ideas of collaboration and link journalism (and even the term itself) have spread.

Lastly, did I mention the four journalists work for different media companies? The Herald is owned by the Washington Post Co., Kitsap Sun by Scripps, Sound Publishing by Black Press (of Victoria, B.C.), and Wenatchee World is independent/family-owned. Paul hasn’t met Angela or Brianne in person, and has met Elaine briefly once. Yet none of that was an obstacle.

I asked Angela in an email whether she knew the others in non-Twitter life. Here’s her wonderful answer:

I used to work with Elaine at the Sun and talk to her regularly, and she’s one of the reasons I joined Twitter. While I’d never done any project with Brianne before, she had made it a point to visit other papers around the region and introduce herself when she became the Wenatchee World web editor, which is how I started following her on Twitter. I met Seth Long [Sound Publishing's new media director] on Twitter, which is how I met Paul, neither of whom I’ve met in person. They both, however, work with a former co-worker and friend of mine. It’s a small, small online journalism world in Western Washington.

How refreshing is that? Forget walled gardens — this is the spirit of journalism’s future.

In some ways the networked linking process is an extension of how newsrooms collaborate with traditional wire services, but I think the Washington project is more than that. Papers using a traditional wire service aren’t really collaborating. They’re primarily trying to a) extend the reach of their stories, and b) get access to material they can’t afford to produce on their own.

The dynamic on display Wednesday, and the relationships Angela described in the quote above that allowed for this collaboration, seem more organic — a mental leap forward. They even emphasized the collaboration in the widget descriptions: Kitsap Sun’s says “Stories are chosen by news reporters and editors from Washington news organizations,” while the Herald’s says “Below are news stories that journalists around the state have selected to post using a service called Publish2.”

I asked Seth Long (@greenergrad) about a similar project he and Angela had worked on in December to round up links to snowstorm coverage. (For future Wikipedia articles on link journalism: To my knowledge, theirs was the first example of networked link journalism across media companies.)

He noted that “Her newspaper is a direct competitor with a group of our community weeklies.” In the old world, that would have made collaboration a non-starter. But today readers rightly come first. As Seth said, “My perspective is that our job is to serve our communities as best we can.”

Innovation that’s easy, popular, and cheap

The Washington link projects should serve as models for the entire news industry. They show that collaborative linking draws readers, is easy, and costs nothing more than time (and not even much of that).

Seth said the December snowstorm link roundup was on the homepage for three or four days — but it was the site’s most-trafficked story for the entire month. (This tracks with’s success with a popular football link roundup.)

Angela described some of the other benefits of collaborative linking:

I think it’s especially useful in situations like these, where events affect a large region. I can also see it being used as a way to track things like state government news, or any broad-reaching issue that your readers will be talking about.

Having a group of people adding the links just makes your job that much easier. As both a reader and a web editor, I can keep updated on what’s happening on a particular topic without opening and slogging through a dozen web sites.

This is the power of collaborative news networks. By forming a network, newsrooms can discover not just a greater volume of news, but a greater volume of relevant, high-quality news than one person, one newsroom, or one wire service could alone.

Compare the Washington group’s great waflood link roundup to a Google News search for “Washington flood” — I know which one I’d rather have as a resource if I lived in that area.

Doing this isn’t complicated. In an email, Brianne described the extent of her planning: “I follow the others on Twitter, and they had started a hashtag, #waflood, and then mentioned using the same tag for publish2 links.”

That’s it! Any group of news organizations can do this, even if they’re not Twitter-friends.

A good way to start is to set up a Publish2 newsgroup and invite other journalists (as Angela did with a Northwest News newsgroup in December). Collaboratively save links about a couple of non-breaking-news subjects to get a feel for it, and try publishing feeds of those links. Then when a big story breaks, it’s a simple matter of choosing a common tag and alerting everyone in the newsgroup.

Don’t get hung up on worries about sinking a lot of time or money into this. As Angela said, “There’s a perception that with some tools, it’s a lot of extra work, but — I’m specifically talking about the Publish2 model — when you realize how little time it really takes to bookmark a page you’re already reading, it’s a wonder you weren’t doing it before.”

As for money, when the technology is free all you need to invest in is smart journalists. Here’s what Paul had to say Wednesday:

I think it’s worth pointing out that everything we did today cost us $0.

That, too, is the spirit of journalism’s future. I can’t wait to see what this innovative crew cooks up next in that spirit — and who will be the first to follow their lead.

When A Newspaper Stops Publishing In Print, What Happens To The Print Advertising Dollars?

With all the debate over the future of newspapers, here’s a question I haven’t heard anybody ask (much less answer): If a metropolitan newspaper suddenly ceased to publish, leaving the city with no newspaper, what would happen to all of that newspaper’s ad dollars?

Most newspaper companies’ strategy right now is based on the assumption that you can’t shut down the print newspaper because it brings in 90% of the revenue, and you couldn’t possibly support the same news gathering operation with the 10% revenue slice that goes to the website. (The 10% problem)

There’s just one problem with this assumption. All of the ad dollars that the print newspaper gets are, by definition, ad dollars that the newspaper’s website does NOT get.

Think about that for a second. Newspapers know that they are competing with their websites for ad dollars. But newspapers are also essentially competing with their websites for survival.

So what WOULD happen to those millions of dollars in advertising if there were no longer a print newspaper to collect them? 

Some of it would simply vaporize due to one of the following factors: 

  • Craigslist, Kijiji, or other free classified websites
  • Businesses stop advertising altogether (never saw ROI)
  • Businesses shut down entirely (e.g. retailers)
  • Prolonged cyclical downturn (e.g. real estate)

But what would happen to the rest of it, to the ad dollars that businesses still want to spend?

Who would compete for those ad dollars? How much pricing power would they have with the old monopoly gone?  How would the value propositions and ROI (perceived or real) differ from that of newspaper advertising (e.g. search advertising vs. display advertising vs. new ad models). How would advertisers perceive these alternatives to print advertising?

Most importantly for newspapers, what share of these suddenly liberated ad dollars could their news brand (which used to be the name on the advertisers’ checks) capture with an online-only reincarnation, now that the brand was no longer competing with itself? (I’m following ASNE’s lead in calling it a news brand instead of a newspaper brand.) What kind of newsroom and journalism could those “reclaimed” ad dollars support?

If I were a newspaper executive, I would cancel all meetings, clear off my desk, get out a really sharp pencil, and start trying to answer these questions. You can be sure that many other companies are already working on figuring out the answers.

To be clear, I’m not saying that newspapers should shut down the print product. I’m saying that newspapers should make sure they think through what would actually happen to all that advertising revenue if they were forced to stop publishing in print (which increasingly looks like a real possibility for some newspapers). Figuring this out could, in some cases, make the difference between surviving in some form (or even thriving) and ceasing to exist.

P.S. Regarding circulation revenue, those dollars will likely vaporize if the newspaper stops publishing in print. Why pay for distribution when its free? (Yeah, newspaper subscriptions were mostly for the distribution, not for the content. Everyone understands printing the newspaper and delivering it to your door is costly. And everyone knows it’s not the case with bits. Which is not to say readers don’t value the content, but there’s a big difference between paying for news and paying for the delivered bundle of news and information that is a newspaper.)

Crowdsourcing, citizen journalism, and the lesson of scrapbook news

I want to further explore the idea of “scrapbook news” as a way of reframing the crowdsourcing/citizen journalism discussion.

One reason mainstream news organizations haven’t embraced the concepts may be that the spirit (if not the letter) of the cit-j discussion tends to focus on the people involved rather than the news being covered. That is, the tonal takeaway is often something like “Who needs professional journalists? Throw the useless bums out of their tower!”

These ideas might get a better reception if the discussion instead focused on which kinds of news are best suited to coverage by people outside the newsroom.

Scrapbook news offers an interesting example. Matt Waite wrote a great comment about this kind of news on my previous post:

When I was a kid — the 80s — when I or a group I was part of did something scrapbook worthy, my mom would type up a little announcement about it and bring it to the local twice weekly. Next edition, there it was, almost unchanged. Scrapbooking would ensue. Far from an experiment in crowdsourcing, this is the way it’s done in small towns across the country. The only experiment is how to scale it from a community of 6,000 to 60,000 to 600,000.

In the past, my cynical response to news items like that would have been “What’s this doing here?!? It’s not news!!” But to many people, it is news. For most readers, seeing their name in the paper is worth more years of goodwill and subscriptions than any blockbuster investigative story.

A more appropriate response (for cynics and non-cynics alike) would be: “Why are we spending time on this when readers could do just as good a job, and in doing so become more engaged with the paper?”

The truth is, scrapbook news written by journalists is effectively the same as scrapbook news submitted by the would-be scrapbookers. If the story is “Megan won the 4-H award at the fair,” how much of a difference does it make to have a journalist write the story rather than Megan’s mom? (Though you’d probably still want some minimal level of editing so every item didn’t say “Goooo, Megan!” Or maybe that would be ok too.)

The key would be to acknowledge that while scrapbook news is news, certain kinds of news might not carry the same burden of expertise, professionalism, polish or “objectivity” (if you believe in that sort of thing) as city council coverage might.

Come to think of it, even some city council coverage could fall under this category. As more governing bodies stream their meetings online and provide downloadable transcripts and video, why couldn’t gadflies and other interested people cover some meetings, with full-time journalists focusing on follow-up reporting? (For a contrary view, see Daniel Victor’s excellent series of posts on crowdsourcing.)

Similarly — though on a subject of less civic importance — why couldn’t sports fans provide some game coverage? Are readers really that much better served by a journalist giving a play-by-play rundown of a game that anyone with the right satellite-TV package can see, topped off with a handful of clichéd quotes?

I’m not suggesting sports reporters never do serious reporting. But fans are so immersed and educated in sports minutiae that they could point out key plays and strategies just as well as a journalist can, which would free up sports reporters for more non-game reporting. And the world would be a much better place if there were fewer quotes about wanting it the most, winning it in the trenches, doing what we came to do which was to win, just taking it one day at a time.

Letting outsiders cover some of these topics doesn’t have to mean abandoning editorial standards. Newsrooms could require that any contributors attend a session about journalism and editorial standards. Once it’s contributors’ name on the story and readers start lobbing criticism at them, they’ll realize that adhering to those standards is the best defense.

So let’s review: Reader-contributors get as excited about seeing their names in the paper as li’l Matt Waite’s mom was back in the day. Strained newsrooms are relieved of some of their burden without stinting on certain coverage. Journalists stop hearing that Random Person #72 could do their job better, because the journos now have more time to focus on the reporting that no random person could do.

What newsroom would say no to that deal?

UPDATE: This is linked via trackback in the comments, but be sure to read John Zhu’s tour de force response post. He raises lots of good questions. I’ll try to respond once I’ve had a chance to process all of it.

Why not writing a story is innovation

Discussions about journalism innovation usually focus on technology: Twitter, RSS, Flash, Django, data visualization, and all the other cool stuff that’s making online news so rich.

But there’s an equally important conceptual aspect of journalism innovation. Newsrooms have to rethink the kind of stories they cover and the way they tell those stories, or all the new technologies could be wasted on news that readers don’t find relevant or interesting.

To do this, they have to practice innovation-by-omission. That is, they need to stop writing stories that don’t deserve to be written.

Newsrooms no longer have the luxury of wasting resources on non-stories — on “the journalism of filling space and time,” as Jeff Jarvis put it. They no longer have the luxury, in an information-overload world, of wasting readers’ time with non-stories or information readers already know. Readers will simply go somewhere else.

Jarvis offers a mental checklist for journalists to consider before publishing a possible non-story:

if you can’t imagine anyone linking to your coverage — if you can’t imagine anyone saying “this was new,” “this is good,” “this was valuable,” “go here for more,” “I didn’t know this,” or “you should know this” — then chances are, it’s not worth saying and in the link economy it won’t get audience, and so it’s not worth making.

Filler news can take many forms. Jarvis singles out reporting on election and post-holiday-shopping days. John McIntyre flags another persistent form of filler — stories based on dubious surveys — in this post. Jack Shafer never tires of exposing bogus trend pieces.

I would add: many stories based on (or directly lifted from) press releases; one-sentence news like stock market updates, shuttle takeoffs, and incremental updates of previous stories; many politics-as-process stories. Even “important” news can become filler. Crime briefs become monotonous after so many days; the fifth front-page story on the Russia-Georgia conflict isn’t likely to resonate.

Most of these story approaches are so ingrained that it’ll take conscious effort to stop and come up with more effective alternatives. But it can be done.

My favorite recent example of innovation-by-omission is a blog post by Daniel Victor, a reporter at The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa. Back in August, Victor was assigned to cover a campaign “event” that the state Democratic Party had touted in a press release: “local residents would ‘welcome John McCain to Harrisburg by unveiling a new video called ‘Jobs’ at a press event.’ ”

Victor discovered — surprise! — that the event was a news-free attempt to manufacture free publicity for the campaign. (His must-read post recounts the details of this discovery.) So he told his editor there was no story. Here’s how Victor describes the “newsroom tango” that followed:

I argued that there was no story, editor argues it’s worth a short story. I write a short story focusing on the similarities with the DNC news release, and the fact the event was pitched to media as an unveiling but really wasn’t at all. Editor quickly wonders if it shouldn’t be recast as a straight “Dems respond to Mccain” story. I argue phony news events don’t deserve real news coverage. Editor finally sees it my way, the story is spiked, and you won’t read about it in my newspaper.

Thank goodness for that. We in the media can do our part to actually aid the discussion by checking these events out, then promptly ignoring them when they turn out to be duds.

Just because local politicians are speaking, and just because a reporter spent an hour listening to them speak, doesn’t mean we need to report on it.

Sometimes it’s impossible to know if a story is worthwhile without doing some digging, as Victor did. The definition of “filler” will vary from newsroom to newsroom; my idea of filler could be another person’s scrapbook keepsake. What’s important is that newsrooms at least have this discussion.

Once newsrooms better define their idea of filler, it’ll be easier to stop those stories before they start. It’ll also make it easier to come up with better ways of treating certain subjects.

For example, “scrapbook news” — county fairs, local events, awards — could be a place to start experimenting with crowdsourcing. National or world news that has become filler because of the nature of wire coverage could be made relevant through linking. Local political coverage could focus more on how policies will affect readers and less on news-free campaign events. And crime coverage could become more data-driven and be integrated “into a health & safety site, because violence is a public health issue,” as Jane Stevens suggests.

There are many things newsrooms need to do differently to survive the coming years. But one of the foundational changes they must make is to listen to Daniel Victor. Sometimes there’s just no story.

Should Newspaper Companies Get Out Of The Newspaper Business?

Forget the bailout. I have a great new business model for Detroit automakers. Sell Toyotas and Hondas. Detroit already has the dealer networks. There’s great demand for Japanese cars. In fact, Detroit could retool all of their manufacturing plants to make Toyotas and Hondas.

That proposal is similar to one put forth for newspaper companies by API’s Newspaper Next project. Says managing director Stephen Gray:

“[Newspapers] should become the leading local Internet ad agency, which goes against ancient newspaper instinct of not ever helping anyone who is your competitor,” he said. “But the fact is that audiences have split in a million directions, so here we are in a local market and our job is to help businesses in our local market succeed. If that means we are placing ads on Google and Facebook for local businesses, so what? That’s what it takes to succeed and ad agencies have been making a living off doing that for some time.”

It’s a actually not a bad idea (and I’ve seen some newspapers do it successfully). Except it seems to be tantamount to recommending that newspapers get out of the newspaper business. And if they become ad agencies, then newspapers really aren’t newspapers anymore, are they? And then there isn’t really a need for all that expensive journalism anymore, is there?

This is the problem with the idea of coming up with a “new business model” for newspapers. If you have a new business model, then you’re not in the same business anymore. But you hear it discussed as if newspapers and journalism can remain fundamentally what they are, just with a new “business model” plugged in. Like a toy car that just needs new batteries to keep running.

It’s the same type of thinking that leads to statements like this from the API CEO Summit:

The summit conference was a constructive dialog among senior industry leaders, serving as a catalyst for continuing conversation and efforts at reversing declining revenue and profit trends.

“Reversing declining revenue and profit trends” — I just love that phrase. To continue the car analogy: Is your business going in the wrong direction? Oops, you must have it in the wrong gear. Just throw it into reverse.

Look, I’m not saying that media companies shouldn’t offer marketing services — they’ve been doing so for decades (e.g. custom publishing). And as brands increasingly want to provide content directly to consumers, marketing services may be a big growth area for media companies.

The problem is that once you cross the line to selling other companies’ media because it’s more valuable than your own, then you face a fundamental question about why you’re going to the expense of producing your own.

Follow the logic here:

What’s not being done is realizing that in your community — say, a 50,000 person community, you have 1,500 or 2,000 active advertisers but there are 8,000 businesses that serve consumers in your market. So three-quarters of them are not your customer. The difficult part is helping newspapers understand that if they want new business they need to get a new job done for businesses that they’re not serving.

It’s not that we don’t know what that is. Some of what they want is: a one-to-one relationship with customers; a way to respond to what’s going on in customers’ lives; make sure they hear about me when they make a choice. The traditional product built on that job is the Yellow Pages, but I just read an article saying the Yellow Pages are expected to lose 39% of revenues in the next four years. Increasingly if we want to find something, we don’t go to the Yellow Pages, we go online, and Google doesn’t always work well.

Google isn’t doing it all that well yet, and the Yellow Pages aren’t doing it that well, so we’re saying, ‘Look this is where you [newspapers] should be.’ It’s very hard for ad staffs and management at newspapers to get their minds around the fact that not everyone wants mass reach, and once you understand the needs, you take the technology available today and use them to get the job done.

So newspaper should sell ads on Google because there is more value there for more businesses. That makes sense on the face of it. But what happens when those 1,500-2,000 newspaper advertisers also decide there’s more value on a highly targeted Google search result page then in the mass medium of the newspaper?

Again, I’m not saying that newspaper companies shouldn’t try to transform their businesses — most of them will have to in order to survive.  But companies that reinvent their business models typically find themselves in very different businesses, with very different products.

Just look at IBM. They used to sell mainframe computers — big pieces of enterprise hardware. Now they sell “solutions.” IBM transformed itself into a services company. Their business is no longer principally about hardware.

Newspaper companies could conceivably transform into local marketing services companies.

But if that happens, will their business still be principally about newspapers?

Will there be a place for journalism in a local ad agency?

The market and the internet don’t care if you make money

The title of this post comes straight from the mind-blowing mind of Seth Godin, preaching to the book industry (promoting his book Tribes), but he could just as easily be preaching to anyone in media:

[T]he market and the internet don’t care if you make money. That’s important to say. You have no right to make money from every development in media, and the humility that comes from approaching the market that way matters. It’s not “how can the market make me money” it’s “how can I do things for this market.”


The market doesn’t care a whit about maintaining your industry. The lesson from Napster and iTunes is that there’s even MORE music than there was before. What got hurt was Tower and the guys in the suits and the unlimited budgets for groupies and drugs. The music will keep coming. Same thing is true with books.

When I read this, I thought immediately of many assumptions the newspaper industry is making as the decline of its business model accelerates:

  • There has to be a new business model to support journalism with the same profit margins as newspapers have enjoyed in recent decades.
  • There has to be a way for newspapers to “reverse” the declines.
  • Newspapers will eventually find a way to make their web operations as large and profitable as their print operations once were.
  • Newspapers can’t be permitted to die, because then journalism will die.

But the reality is that all of these assumptions may be wrong.

Why? Because the web and the market don’t care. The web is the most disruptive force in the history of media, by many orders of magnitude, destroying every assumption on which traditional media businesses are based.

But the market should care, you say. What would happen if we didn’t have the newspapers playing their Fourth Estate watch dog role?

Here’s the bitter truth — the feared loss of civic value is not the basis for a BUSINESS.

The problem with the newspaper industry, as with the music industry before it, is the sense of ENTITLEMENT. What we do is valuable. Therefore we have the right to make money.

Nobody has the right to a business model.

Ask not what the market can do for you, but what you can do for the market.

Every conversation about reinventing a business model for newspapers begins, it seems, with a question about how to find a way to pay for what we value in the current product. In other words, how do we find a way to keep doing what we’ve always done and make as much money as we’ve always made?

I’ve rarely heard anyone start by asking what the market values. Where are the pain points in the market? How can we solve problems for people?

You know, business 101.

At Jeff Jarvis’ conference last month on new business models for news, I heard more out-of-the-box thinking in one day than I’ve had in the probably past year. But everyone had to constantly shoo the sacred cows out of the room.

I’ve been accused in recent months of Google worship, because I keep coming back again, and again, and AGAIN to Google’s business model.

Why? Because it’s the most successful media business on the web, by many orders of magnitude.

Why? Because Google solves a big problem for consumers. It helps them find stuff on the web they could never find on their own. And it solves a big problem for advertisers. It lets them buy traffic.

So what’s a problem in the market that newspaper companies could solve? When I know what I’m looking for, Google helps me find it. But when it comes to news, I don’t always know what I’m looking for, because, well, it’s NEW. And I want the best of what’s on the WHOLE web, not just what one news brand has to offer.

That problem is still largely unsolved.

And it’s just one example (and you can disagree about whether its a problem).

But Google as an icon is a double-edged sword. Google gave birth to the most destructive, soul-sucking, innovation-destroying notion in media today: monetization.

Nobody thought search was a business, until Google found a way to “monetize” it. Now everyone with something big, e.g. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc., assumes there must be a way to monetize it, like Google did.

Newspapers and other traditional media put their content online and try to “monetize” it. We have it, therefore it must be worth something.

We’ve got lots of page views, therefore they must be worth something. We’ve got lots of ad impressions, therefore they must be worth something.

But here’s the problem — so does everyone else.

Everyone is chasing more TRAFFIC.

You know, just like everyone wanted “eyeballs” in the 90s.

We’ve got some traffic, let’s monetize it.

But, frankly, the market doesn’t give a shit about your traffic.

So what does the market care about?


The web media market is a giant network. Google figured out how to harness the network. But nobody else has yet.

That’s not surprising. Media companies can only think about their own properties, their own content. They can’t let go of the monopoly control business which the web has already destroyed.

Since you made it this far in this post, I’ll tell you a secret, since this post was not meant to be defeatist, but rather a swift kick in the head.

So here’s the secret. Legacy media companies can’t create a new business model for news and journalism by themselves.

They have to work TOGETHER, to build a network — a giant network of much smaller pieces, loosely joined.

I’ve said this before. And I’ll surely say it again.

But most of the media company executives who read this blog will shrug and go back to trying to figure how to prop up their monopolies.

And those monopolies will continue to crumble faster every day.

I’ll write more about networks and media company collaboration in another post. In the meantime, I’m going to watch the the web’s disruption continue to blow up everyone’s assumptions (including whatever assumptions I still have left).

Newspaper CEOs are meeting for a closed-door summit this week. Maybe someone will forward them this post. Or print it out and set it on fire in the middle of the conference table. Whatever works.

And as for Journalism, I’m less worried.

I’ll repeat Seth: The lesson from Napster and iTunes is that there’s even MORE music than there was before.

We’ve got highly entrepreneurial, creative, and driven people like David Cohn — who’s launching this week — working hard outside of newspaper company walls to invent new models for journalism

Journalism will find a way. Even if the industries that once supported it do not.

It took the ruination of the Bush Administration to create the right conditions for electing Barack Obama. Sometimes it has to all be torn down before you can begin to build it back up again.’s Political Browser Uses the News Judgment of Journalists to Filter the Political Web has launched a new politics page called Political Browser, which features, wait for it… links to the most important and interesting political news around the web. That’s right, the Washington Post, one of the paragons of original political reporting, has dedicated a page to help you find the best of OTHER news organization’s political reporting.

Crazy? Well, actually it makes perfect sense.

I spoke with Eric Pianin, the Politics Editor for, who explained that The Washington Post sees an opportunity to extend their highly respected politic news brand to filtering the political web.

And filtering is a BIG opportunity on the web.

In fact, Political Browser was born of a determined effort by The Post to get into the news aggregation game. Eric told me that interest in news aggregation extends to the highest level of The Post’s senior leadership, including Katharine Weymouth — they have been “fascinated” by the success of aggregation sites like Drudge, Huffington Post, Hotline, and others.

Eric acknowledged that is “late to the party,” but in fact the Political Browser puts the Post way out ahead of many other news sites — while many have begun to recognize the value of aggregation and links, most have been slow to act.

As Eric points out, it’s “not just aggregation.” (Heck, any algorithm can do aggregation — that’s increasingly a commodity.) What Political Browser has set out to do, according to Eric, is put The Washington Post “stamp of approval” on the choice of stories, and to provide “insight” into what’s important in the sphere of political news on the web.

Also looking beyond commodity aggregation, The Post believes, with good reason, that a lot people who are interested in political news and in the Post’s political reporting would find it interesting to get “inside the heads” of Post journalists, to see what they are reading and what is informing their reporting.

One of Political Browser’s features is literally called “WHAT STAFF WRITER MICHAEL ABRAMOWITZ IS READING TODAY”

What are E.J. Dionne, Eugene Robinson, and other Post journalists reading that’s informing their perspective? Political Browser is taking the Post down a path where we can find out.

Political Browser is about the “news judgment” of Post journalists — and isn’t that, at the end of the day, what reporting and editing have always been about?

And here’s the really intriguing news — Eric reports that Political Browser is generating a lot of interest among Washington Post editorial staff to take part in the news aggregation effort, to influence what stories get linked.

And it makes sense — what journalist wouldn’t want to tap into a new vehicle for influence? And The Post aims to make Political Browser a major influence in the political web.

Political Browser’s Required Reading section synthesizes the judgment of The Post’s politics staff about the most important political stories of the day:

An essential feature of the Required Reading section are the brief comments that accompany each link. While the choice of stories is the core value, it’s The Post’s comments, summing up the significance of the story or adding perspective, that make Required Reading a unique and valuable editorial feature. It’s like a mini link blog — something that every news site should be doing on all of their topic pages. (Something that every journalist, really, should be doing.)

Required Reading may include a link to a Post story, but not necessarily — and that makes the feature an honest broker, avoiding conflict of interest with The Post’s own original content.

There is a section, Best of The Post, that exclusively links to Post political stories, but even this feature is groundbreaking in its own way. Most topic pages on news sites display a laundry list of ALL content. Here, the Post applies the same filter to its own content, helping to prioritize your reading.

The anchor of the Political Browser is The Takeaway, written by Ben Pershing — as Eric describes it a “clever, breezy, irreverent, but highly informed” look at the most important stories and buzz on the campaign trail.

It’s a classic link blog, featuring plenty of links and attitude, and serves, as Eric points out, as a complement to the Post’s other successful political blogs.

Work on The Takeaway begins at 8 a.m. with a first post and extends throughout the day as political news evolves and breaks.

Political Browser has a further assortment of short, punchy link features, such as Trench Warfare, with links to stories and commentary from the left and right.

There’s also Blunder Box, i.e. “gotcha journalism” as Eric describes it with tongue in cheek — but it’s done with a link, so that means the blunder is already out there (e.g. this McCain ad declaring victory in the debate, which ran before the debate), so it’s not really a gotcha in the sense that journalists are typically accused.

The effort to compile links for Political Browser begins around 6 a.m. and by 8 a.m. a fresh page is up. Currently, the process involves emailing journalists to see if they have any additional links to contribute. It’s a tremendous step forward that The Post has begun developing an editorial workflow for links, which most newsrooms lack, so that they don’t lose the value of what reporters and editors are already finding in their daily reading.

And here’s where technology could give The Post a competitive advantage in the developing their editorial workflow. A web-based editorial system for links could optimize this workflow and make it easier for journalists in the newsroom to contribute links, and for Political Browser editors to edit and publish those links. Imagine getting the entire Post newsroom set up to do link journalism, to contribute dynamically to the news aggregation effort.

The big opportunity for The Post in leveraging web technology is efficiently tapping into the collective intelligence of ALL of their journalists. Sites like Digg have demonstrated what a powerful and dynamic filter can be created using social web technology to enable people to collaborate on filtering the web. Imagine dynamically connecting the news judgment of the entire Post newsroom — tapping into editorial network effects among journalists.

There’s still so much untapped potential in news aggregation, and The Post is ideally positioned to realize that potential.

Political Browser is only about a week into its new life, so it’s too early to talk about traffic or other such measures of success. But the Post is committed to testing how well they can build an audience for news aggregation and link journalism. And the commitment to experiment is one of the most notable features of Political Browser. These days, all innovation in the news business is experimental by definition. Eric says that they don’t know yet now Political Browser will evolve, which actually increases the chances that it will evolve into an even greater innovation.

Still, attempting to build an audience for a page of links, as an influential destination, feels like a good bet to be making on the web.

One immediate response The Post has seen is other news sites getting in touch to discuss reciprocal linking deals. Of course, linking in the form of “deal” drains a good deal of the editorial value — in fact, you might argue that such arrangements compromise the editorial independence of the link journalism. If Political Browser links to Politico, you want to know it’s because the Browser’s editors think the story is worth reading… not because Politico is linking back.

What would be much more interesting is an open editorial system for exchanging links, where sites could get links to their content on other sites based on editorial merit rather than deal making. Think of it like a newswire for links.

What’s most radical about Political Browser is that the Washington Post has committed to creating significant value with their editorial brand beyond their core mission of original reporting.

But how better to unlock the value of The Post’s brand on the web than to apply human editorial judgment to the challenge of filtering the web? Algorithms can beat humans at comprehensive web search, but humans should be able to beat algorithms at news aggregation.

And I would argue that the links on Political Browser are a form of journalism — and that news aggregation and filtering the web will be an essential function of news organizations going forward.

As Philip Meyer observed in AJR:

The old hunter-gatherer model of journalism is no longer sufficient. Now that information is so plentiful, we don’t need new information so much as help in processing what’s already available. Just as the development of modern agriculture led to a demand for varieties of processed food, the information age has created a demand for processed information. We need someone to put it into context, give it theoretical framing and suggest ways to act on it.

“we don’t need new information so much as help in processing what’s already available”

It’s a radical idea, still, for many news organizations. But not for The Washington Post — they are aiming to excel at BOTH, at the original reporting that surfaces essential new information AND at processing the information that’s already available.

Of course, filtering the web with links is not really a radical idea for the thousands of journalists who read Romensko every day or who chase after links on Drudge.

They just need the courage to try it themselves.