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.”

and

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?

Networks.

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 spot.us 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.

washingtonpost.com’s Political Browser Uses the News Judgment of Journalists to Filter the Political Web

washingtonpost.com 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 washingtonpost.com, 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 washingtonpost.com 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.

How Newspapers Abdicated the Front Page’s Influence and How They Can Get it Back By Linking

The front page of the newspaper used to set the news agenda. Extra, Extra, read all about it! But that influence has steadily waned through the TV and Cable News era, and the web now threatens to obliterate it entirely.

So who sets the news agenda now? One significant influence is a guy with nothing but a page full of links (you know, the kind that “send people away”).

In a post the other day, Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza called Drudge “the single most influential source for how the presidential campaign is covered in the country.”

That’s quite a claim. Chris adds in a parenthetical:

A quick note to preempt the inevitable argument that Drudge’s influence is overblown. Tomorrow morning, take a minute to look at the stories Drudge is highlighting. Then, later in the day, watch a few cable channels to see what stories they are talking about. It will open your eyes.

As to the particulars:

The increase in positive McCain stories featured on Drudge has coincided with more skeptical coverage of Obama’s candidacy. In recent weeks, Drudge has featured in his center well spot: A picture of Obama shooting at a far off basketball hoop with a subtitle asking “Will he get his groove back?”; an image of Obama sweating on stage at the Democratic National Convention during the Illinois senator’s acceptance speech; and heavy coverage of the “lipstick on a pig” comments.

Interestingly, Greg Sargent over at Talking Points Memo took issue with Chris’ example of Drudge’s influence:

This strikes us as an unfortunate example, particularly in a column arguing (as Cillizza does) that the source of Drudge’s power lies in his influence over the cable networks. Because one of the stories ignored by Drudge actually got a whole lot more coverage on cable yesterday than the one Drudge pushed all day in that supposedly hypnotic banner headline of his.

But Greg’s push back is on the particulars, not the question of whether Drudge influences the news agenda at all:

Look, far be it from me to question the notion that Drudge has influence over network producers. Of course he does. But if we’re really going to devote so much time to flacking Drudge’s influence, how about a real and nuanced discussion of it?

And he adds at the end:

If Drudge is going to consume our attention, how about a real discussion of Drudge and what the Drudge phenomenon says about the journalism profession — one that goes beyond the narrow question of how influential he is?

Indeed, I agree the pertinent question is not the magnitude of Drudge’s influence. The real question is: WHY is Drudge influential at all, when all he does is link to news?

The answer is that Drudge, along with Google, figured out that in the web media era, when all news content is accessible by anyone, anywhere in the world, and no news brands no longer have a monopoly over news distribution, the power of influence lies in the ability to FILTER the vast sea of news.

Newspapers were once THE most important filters for news. But they gave up this role on the web, because they didn’t see that the web analogue to what they did on the front page in print was NOT taking the same content and putting it on a website front page. In fact, you could argue that this is the single biggest mistake that newspapers have made on the web.

What they failed to see is that the web analogue to the newspaper front page is LINKS to where the news IS. That’s Drudge.

The web is about CONNECTIONS, and newspaper website front pages don’t connect anything to anything. That’s why they have so little influence.

And here’s a hard truth about the current newspaper web strategy: Focusing exclusively on local isn’t going to bring back the influence of the newspaper front page.

Newspapers can’t just set the local news agenda. They have to set the WEB news agenda.

So while newspapers focus on new modes of content — video, audio, photos, interactive graphics — they are missing the BIG opportunity on the web.  The opportunity to regain their position of influence.

And newspapers won’t regain that position of influence by hosting more content, whether it’s multimedia or user-generated.

Yes, any one piece of content can be very influential, but systemically, content is not the source of influence on the web.  (Think about that for a while.)

LINKS = Influence on the web.

If newspapers want to regain their influence, they have to focus on LINKS.

The web, after all, isn’t really about content. It’s about connections between content, people, and ideas.

So before anyone in the newsroom gets trained on Flash or databases or digital video, they should receive the most fundamental training that anyone who works on the web MUST understand:

How to link.

You know, <a href=”WHERE THE NEWS IS

Is there ANY newsroom out there that trains their staff how to link? (If so, please get in touch.)

The lessons of how to be influential on the web have been around for a decade.

Isn’t it finally time to learn them?

Advertiser Online Now, Get a Free Ad In Print

Just saw this house ad on NYTimes.com:

A print ad offered as added value for online advertising. Now THAT’S a reversal.

Here’s more:

NYT is trying to reverse the economic polarity of its business.

Is this kind of offer a trend?