Personal note: A job change for yours truly

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.

196 thoughts on “Personal note: A job change for yours truly

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  2. 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.

    • 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.

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

    regards, bernie

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  5. 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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