Personal note: A job change for yours truly

by Mathew on November 3, 2008 · 196 comments

As many people who have been reading this blog for awhile probably know, I work for the Globe and Mail, a daily newspaper based in Toronto, where I’ve been working since 1994 or so. I’ve written about the stock market, the rise of the Internet, moved out West to write about oil and gas, and then came back in 2000 to be the Globe’s first online columnist and its first blogger (before anyone — including me — really knew what that meant). For the past year and a half or so, I’ve been the newspaper’s “new media” reporter, writing about all the ways in which the Web and social media are changing the business of online content for newspapers, magazines, authors, musicians, actors, artists and just about everyone in between.

A little while ago, I was offered an opportunity at the Globe that I got pretty excited about: a position that we’re calling “Communities Editor.” What does that mean exactly? To tell you the truth, I’m not quite sure.

As far as I’m concerned, it means a chance to apply some of those Web 2.0, “media is a conversation,” social-networking principles (the kind we started the mesh conference to talk about) to the newspaper that I work for, instead of just writing about what other content producers are doing. We’re talking about blogs, comments, interactive features, Twitter, Facebook, and much more. Some attempts will fail. Others (hopefully) will not. The reality is that creating communities doesn’t happen overnight.

In fact, I would argue (and have argued) that it’s impossible to actually create a community at all, despite the fact that legions of companies are desperately trying to do just that. To use a real-world analogy, you can build houses and lay sidewalks and plant trees, but you can’t create a community — that’s something that happens organically, if you have all the right ingredients. What are those ingredients? I don’t think anyone has the answer to that, which is part of what makes it so fascinating.

When it comes to the Globe, I think that compelling, thoughtful content and commentary is a pretty good starting place for growing a community, and judging by the response since we launched comments on all of our news stories (the first newspaper in North America to do so, as far as I know), lots of other people think so too. I’m hoping we can build on that. But it’s going to take work, and more than a little risk as well.

As I told the senior editors at the Globe, in order for us to do this properly, we need to be committed to opening up our content in ways we haven’t even thought of — including some ways that might seem strange or contentious, and which could at least initially be met with considerable internal resistance. Among other things, we need to make it easier for people to find our content, share our content, link to our content and even make use of our content (in some cases to create their own content).

To me, that’s part of what “social media” means, and it’s the kind of thing that true communities take for granted.

Are we ready for that? To be quite honest, I don’t know. I hope so. But the reality is that unless we are sincere in our efforts, then we might as well not bother. As I said when I accepted the job, if what we’re talking about is creating the appearance of conversation, a Potemkin village that creates the illusion of a community, or using social-media tools solely to spam readers with advertising, then we have already failed. Creating a real community is infinitely harder — but I think it can also be substantially more rewarding, and that’s what I’m hoping to work towards.

As far as this blog goes, I’m going to continue to write about most of the things I’ve been writing about up until this point — social media, new business models, and so on. I think the challenges that newspapers like mine are facing are more or less the same as the challenges facing the music industry, the movie business, book publishers and pretty much any other content-related industry you can think of. And I hope to be able to tell you about some of the things we’re experimenting with or thinking about, and get feedback from you on what to do or how best to do it (feel free to tell me when and where we are blowing it as well). Should be a fun ride.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Dave — so am I :-)

  • http://www.consolationchamps.com James McNally

    Congratulations, Mathew! Since my new job title is “Community Specialist” and I'm equally muddled, I'll be following your journey with great interest!

  • Connie Crosby

    Seesmic video reply to Mathew Ingram

  • http://tinkutales.blogspot.com Amrita

    Congrats Matthew – I am a long time reader of your articles. Looking forward to hearing what your new position is all about.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, James.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Amrita — I'm looking forward to finding out what it's all about :-)

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks a lot, Connie — and congrats on being the first to leave a video reply :-)

  • http://ravinglunacy.org alan herrell – the head lemur

    Matt,
    Congratulation and Condolences!

    You must have sweat bullets over this decision, as it does represent a profound opportunity in terms of shaping the direction of a medium that has spent many years being in the proclamation business. I hope this works. Because this really is the future of reporting and journalism.

    On the congrats side is the management decision to create such a position and your acceptance. Some folks may get the idea that such a position is a no brainer, being an extension of what you are already doing here, but as your postings, comments, and replies have shown, even when we have been on opposite sides of an issue, you have always handled these exchanges with class. Here is hoping that continues.

    On the condolences side, I hope that you do not get turned into a list mom for some short sighted attempt to increase circulation, like having to moderate a debate between butter and margarine, or get stuck being a talking keyboard for editorial policies shaping debate rather than encouraging it.

    Congratulations!

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Alan. I'm hoping the condolences won't be necessary :-)

  • http://www.twitter.com/ilovecpstyle Miranda McCurlie

    Seesmic, Twitter, Community Editor – Whatever industry, where ever you are… jump in or move out of the way!

    Congrats Mathew!

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Miranda

  • Jodi Echakowitz

    Congrats on the promotion! Your new role sounds like it may just be another first for a North American paper.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Jodi.

  • http://hyperbio.net Leila Boujnane

    This is very exciting. And about time? No? No doubt you will do awesome. Looking forward to it. Bonne chance (but you won't need it!).

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks a lot, Leila.

  • Mike McDerment

    Congrats again Mathew!

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  • http://www.pacificIT.ca pacificIT

    Cool. Good luck Matthew. Go Canada!

  • suthakamal

    Congrats and best of luck on the new gig Mathew… they couldn't have picked a better guy for the job.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Mike.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Robert.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Sutha.

  • dcress

    Belated congratulations Matthew. As a longtime fan of your analysis of all things web, I think you're ideally suited to the position.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Doug.

  • http://www.theclientsideblog.com Michael Seaton

    Well deserved Matthew. You have been a driving force within the changing face of journalism and this is great validation that The Globe gets it. May the force be with you in this new role.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks a lot, Michael. I'm going to need it :-)

  • http://www.blaise.ca/ Blaise Alleyne

    Congrats! I'm excited to see what you'll be able to accomplish!

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Blaise.

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  • http://pinayspeak.com/pinaytest/ BusbyTest

    Congratulations Matthew!

  • http://www.sensidea.com Jaafer Haidar

    Congrats Mathew! It'll be a challenge and a great opportunity to make an impact! We've been talking to a few news clients about how to “get their content moving” and found that it works best to introduce easily integrated tools and build toward a totally engaging experience.

    Best of luck!

  • Jim Kelly

    Matthew,

    Your new role sounds exciting, but also important to the discussions which take place so vigorously at the Globe.

    Tell me, is there any way to have email submissions checked for name and location? Some people make up ridiculous names and places, and even though their comments seem interesting and sincere, we have no way to know if they are being upfront.

    peace,

    Jim Kelly
    M'Chigeeng, ON

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Jim. Unfortunately, we get so many submissions — thousands every day — that there's no real way to check names and addresses. That's why we rely on our readers to call the really egregious ones to our attention.

  • Tom

    I watched Katherine Weymouth's panel presentation on media business, content, old and new technology etc. from The Aspen Institute. It might be a good things to watch if you haven't done so already. I watched it on a HD TV and received it through ITunes. The questions after her presentations seem equivalent to the G&M comments pages. Increasingly, I'm finding that both the presentation and the questions available to me from such forums have superior content to what I find in G&M stories, and certainly to the comments. It seems ironic is that I'm getting better news analysis content through ITunes than from a national newspaper.

    Through ITunes, I subscribe to CUNY lectures, FORATV, The Institute for Ideas and The Aspen Institute. I'm looking for other sources in and out of ITunes. I go to these forums, and each forum gives me direct access to analysis of topical issues from internationally recognized persons. Persons who pose questions also tend to have genuine credentials.

    Some problems with what you're trying to do that I see are:

    The newspaper isn't delivering the best content for either fast breaking news or analysis.
    Comments to news stories, especially with heavy anonymous moderating, is not an adequate basis for community (On other forums everybody knows when moderators have deleted a post or thread or banned a member).
    The moderation standards have the effect of dumbing-down comments. Quoting sources seems to trigger filters, while making obviously false or unsupported assertions is prohibited under the rules. It's a catch-22.
    Active comments sections to stories frequently are suspended with no explanation and restarted without the original comments. The site continues to accept comments during suspension, which do not subsequently posted.
    I'll stop here.

    Of course, it is often difficult to fit quality content into a space of 2,000 characters for a complex subject, However, the effect of comment management does seem to further reduce content and leave comments that are mainly sloganizing, ideological ranting and personal slagging. Myself, I don't write to interact or receive feedback. I mostly write to practice generating content–within my abilities and talents, for better or worse and I know my on-screen proofing is horrible. I don't expect my comments to be posted, but I do need to find interesting things to think about.

    Increasingly, I'm not finding many things of interest in either the stories or the comments, and the overall nature of the comments seem unattractive as a community. I'm coming to think of the comments as similar to the radio talk show buz (a variation on a carnival freak-show, according to a newsman friend). Cynically, I wonder if the comments work they way they do so as to maximize site traffic, and therefore advertising revenue. The fact that I could think of such a thing is perhaps more telling than the truth of it. Rightly or wrongly, seem to be feeling a bit manipulated and so I'm picking at things and in the process I found alternatives that seem more interesting.

    But really, it all goes back to content. If you start with a content empty story, such as Flaherty's Panic blurb in today's Business Section, how does anybody expect that comments to such as story will be anything but what they are. Taking such stories and comments together, there seems little content and little interest. thee also seems little community feeling except perhaps for ideologues and the socially bewildered. Unfortunately, I am describing how the G&M is coming to be branded for me.

    I don't know. Good luck with what you're trying to do.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Tom. Those are some good points, and many of the things you're suggesting are things we are already thinking hard about. I appreciate your input.

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  • Tom

    A follow-on to my recent comment:

    Today I posted a comment to the auto bail-out story as a test. I mainly wanted to pass along a link to a video of a panel of economists speaking on “What is Capitalism Good For.” I believe that what I wrote is beyond any stretch of breaking the moderation rules and was relevant to the subject. My post has not appeared.

    It might be good to think of what kind of community exists if an anonymous force decides who gets to speak and decides what everybody else gets to read. Such things seem the roles of parents. If members of a group are deprived of their own adulthood of deciding what they wish to witness or ignore, what is the nature of community? It might also be good to think of the role of the media in supposedly free societies. Is there a watershed between role and entertainment, for example.

    Basically, the effect of how the forums work at present is aa a community of exchange bounded by anonymous censorship. Talk forums that have endured do not work like this. The moderation on these forums is visible and highly so. The forums take responsibility for their censorship. Something that is written is posted and then censored. A form of community seems possible. It might be good realize that no discussion is possible without censorship but community as we think of it may be compromised if Censorship is not visible. It might be good to think about what is the purpose of the Censorship here.

    But, in my comment I am again only practicing to generate my own version of content. Any change that might happen in the forum is now too late for me. There are too many places where I can practice within the bounds of civility, post my stuff and be left to be read or ignored by the other members at their discretions.

    My view is that we have in our culture an agonizing flood of information but a crisis of meaning. The writer, van der Post, wrote much the same over 30 years ago, and also said that we have kept the Descartes but thrown away the Pascal in our modern culture. Perhaps that is why meaning remains a scarce, precious and hoarded commodity today. Katherine Weymouth said much the same thing recently during an Aspen Institute forum.

    We drown in information. News events are information. Opinions and attitude are information. Most media communications and especially advertising, is information. Information is what we protect ourselves from in modern times. We talk directly to each other as peers in communities. Sometimes in communities we might find some meaning that goes a bit beyond ourselves. Such meaning could be called content. It is the stuff of community.

    As you can see, I am entirely self-indulgent and inclined toward the fruitcake, and now I am out of here. The business model performs admirably.

    You might think about trying to put some meat around this idea of community. Regards.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Tom. I am already thinking about trying to “put meat around this idea of community,” as you put it. As for your comment not appearing, we don't manually moderate comments before they appear at all — we simply don't have the manpower — so there was likely some kind of glitch that prevented your comment from showing up. That occasionally happens.

  • bernieschmidt

    Hi Matthew, how can we help you be successful, and how do you see “success” being defined at this stage?

    regards, bernie

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Those are both excellent questions, Bernie — I am still in the process of finding answers :-)

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  • http://xtremax.com SEO

    Congrats on this finer move Matthew !! Well i must say you haven't taken a simple task and you have to face big challenges for its establishment..

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