Alan Rusbridger on the future of news

Alan Rusbridger is the editor-in-chief of The Guardian, easily one of the most prestigious newspapers in the English-speaking world, and is widely admired as a journalist’s journalist. At the same time, he has also been one of the driving forces behind making his newspaper a leader online, which has involved embracing community — including ground-breaking experiments such as Comment Is Free — as well as social-media tools such as Twitter. The video embedded here (click through if you’re reading this via RSS) is a great summary of some of his views about the future of newspapers, the wisdom of the crowd, the blurring of the line between journalists and non-journalists, the need for community and the appeal of Twitter. Highly recommended. Hat tip to Adam Tinworth for the link to the video.

The benefits of a live-blog

Like a lot of newspapers and media outlets, the paper I work for in Toronto — the Globe and Mail — has been experimenting a lot with a great live-blogging and live-discussion tool called Cover It Live. The software comes from a company located in Toronto, but is being used by everyone from Newsweek and Yahoo to Vanity Fair and the Austin Statesman-Review. We’ve hosted live discussion/news stories involving the Obama inauguration, the NHL hockey trade deadline, federal communication hearings and even a shooting in a Toronto subway station.

One of the big benefits of the software is that it allows you to do so much within the app itself, which is embedded in a story page as a widget via javascript. You can post photos right in the stream, embed video clips and do instant polls — and integrated into all that are comments from readers. You can also pull comments from Twitter, either by approving individual users or by pulling in tweets that use a specific hashtag or keyword related to the topic. The editor or “producer” can see all the comments and moderate them, and the live blog can be archived and replayed.

For large public events such as the Obama inauguration (or the Oscars), there is a very powerful desire to interact with other people who are watching the same event, and Cover It Live makes that very easy and appealing. News updates are interspersed with user comments in a very natural way, and reporters and editors can respond easily. For events such as the NHL trade deadline, several readers asked specific questions of the reporters and columnists who took part, and got answers within minutes — something that simply doesn’t happen with traditional newspaper stories, even online.

(please read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab)

Cluetrain: Human speech, human concerns

Earlier this year, my friend and former Globe colleague Keith McArthur came up with the idea of celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Cluetrain Manifesto by having 95 people blog about the 95 theses that formed the core of the book. So he set up the Cluetrainplus10 wiki and asked people to sign up, and after looking at the available choices, I settled on number 38: Human communities are based on discourse — on human speech about human concerns. Why? I guess in part because I’ve been thinking a lot about those kinds of issues in my still relatively new role as Communities Editor at the Globe and Mail, where my job consists of trying to find new and better ways to connect readers with our writers and our content.

In many ways, the Globe isn’t really all that different from any other company. We have a product — namely, our content — and we have customers, except that we call them readers. Of course, unlike many companies, we also play a kind of public-service role, but that’s a service to readers and to the community as a whole as well. And just like other companies, we are trying to find our place in this new, more connected world, where our customers are not just looking to interact and engage with us, but are also interacting with each other, carrying on conversations that we theoretically helped to start. How can we become a part of those conversations? I think the Cluetrain message is a simple one: by being human, and by speaking the way that human beings do.

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Is Craigslist the victim of a witch-hunt?

In the aftermath of a horrible murder by someone who is now routinely referred to as “the Craigslist killer,” the online classified site has been coming under increasing pressure from both the government — which has been waging a prostitution-related crusade for some time now — and others who see the service as somehow complicit in these kinds of crimes. Venture capitalist and blogger Jeff Nolan, for example, says in a recent post that Craigslist “has a problem” and should find some way to deal with it, and suggests that both founder Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster don’t seem to care much, or want to do anything about it.

“Instead of waiting for a community solution to a problem that will only get worse, Newmark and Buckmaster should be taking a leadership position and driving effective change to combat crime taking place on Craigslist.”

Jeff seems like a smart guy, but I couldn’t disagree more with his post. As far as I can tell, Craigslist has been doing everything it can to remove posts that are linked to criminal behaviour, whether prostitution or anything else, and they appear to have bent over backwards to co-operate with the attorneys-general from a number of states when it comes to imposing fines on wrong-doers and other strategies for limiting that kind of behaviour. What more could they possibly do — turn over their server log files to the authorities? Let Craigslist become an arm of the government?

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When does curation become scraping?

Curation has become a popular term in media circles, in the sense of a human editor who filters and selects content, and then packages it and delivers it to readers in some way. Many people (including me) believe that, in an era when information sources are exploding online, aggregation and curation of some kind is about the only service left that people might be willing to pay for. That’s why it’s been interesting to watch one prominent website — All Things Digital, the online blog property that is owned by the Wall Street Journal, but run as a separate entity by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg — wrestling with how to handle that kind of aggregation, amid criticism from some prominent bloggers that it has been doing it wrong.

As described by Andy “Waxy” Baio in an excellently reported roundup of the brouhaha, the fuss seemed to start with comments from Wall Street Journal editor Robert Thompson about how Google and other aggregators of news are “parasites” in the intestines of the Internet, because they republish the content of others and then make money from it. Pretty soon, some bloggers were pointing out that All Things Digital did exactly the same thing in a section called Voices — namely, published long excerpts from a variety of prominent bloggers, displayed in exactly the same way as the rest of the site’s content, and surrounded by ads.

Josh Schachter, founder of Delicious, noted this behaviour in a Twitter message, and Metafilter founder Matt Haughey said that “apparently The Wall Street Journal’s All Things D does a reblogging thing. I sure wish they asked me first though. That’s a hell of a lot of ads on my ‘excerpt’.” Merlin Mann, who blogs at 43folders, said on Twitter that “republishing online work without consent and wrapping it in ads is often called ‘feed scraping.’ At AllThingsD, it’s called ‘a compliment.”

(please read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab)