Articles are Antiquated
I was reading the Wizard of the East, Jeff Jarvis, questioning the need for articles in the near future www.buzzmachine.com/2011/05/28/the-article-as-luxury-or-byproduct/.
Geoff and I have been conviced the article is antiquated and inefficent since around 2003.
The article is not the basic unit of storytelling, reporting, selling or anything else. It is an antiquated by product not of good journalism, but a quickly fading era. The article was forged in an industrial age when news was represented in physical goods with two key limitations: space and time. The paper or magazine was only so long. Deadlines prohibited covering a story for as long as it took, rather the article had to be ready for publication.
Of course many of us grew up in this age and therefore feel comfortable with the poor old article. We know how to read them and how to write them. It is designed to be edited in serial and fit in with the organizations we have created. It would be massively disruptive to the people who work in those organizations to abandon the article and worse, it would be foreign to readers.
In 2005 when Geoff and I started testing a new concept called a storyline instead of articles our potential readers didn’t like it. They had to learn a new way to interact with media off-the-bat just to get the story. We learned quickley that we had to present an interface that looked like the old and that would grow over time into something new. We hid the storyline concept as a feature. That proved to be a smart move.
It is easier to hire journalists, work with volunteer community contributors and showcase The Sacramento Press to potential advertisers. The minute you see the site you know what it is. If you want to go deeper, click on the storyline button on an article or even the author’s name and you will start accessing the advanced features that will be cruicial to the social, collaborative and platform agnostic future of journalism.
(see www.sacpress.com and play around – use the search too, it’s fun)
What do I mean about social, collaborative and platform agnostic?
1. Professionals and amateurs are just people and will want to gather to read, share and tell stories. They will want to debate and react and converse. Digital journalism will reflect the parlour or town hall meeting more than a TV show or a bundle of paper. People will be compelled by structured social communication like achievements and exclusive groupings. This is already evident with Groupon and Foursquare. We have integrated merit badges in our system and emails notifying contributors that editors have chosen their articles for our featured pages.
2. Collaborative journalism is common sense. We do too much in serial along a series of deadlines. Peer editing groups, stringers and reporters can work in parallel to tell stories on the fly. The key is this group of people must work synchronously. That is asking a lot of people so organizations will have to give more value to these contributors. Maybe that compensation is money like what we pay reporters and editors now. Maybe it will be social satisfaction or in exchange for training like interns. No doubt this will require new organizational structures.
3. We built a platform from scratch. How 2003 of us! Though I do love our platform, there will be value in being platform agnostic. Media organiations will have to learn to connect with communities of interest where they already spend time online. Luckily, platform makers have learned that they must be open if they wish to survive. They must let us interact with these tribes of influence and enthusiasm or those communities will leave their platform. Therefore we will have the access and the interest to reach beyond any wall.
This is how aggregation dies – it morphs from something people scoff at to something so core to our journalisic process we have to protect it to better inform the public. What we now chide and deride will become the norm in the future, but in such a sophisticated and beautiful form we won’t want to go back to the old days where real time meant un-edited and untrustworthy.
The article may still be part of the process – or something like it. Why? Why do we still use QWERTY keyboards? Because anachronistic things often survive if there is significant societal training behind them. In fact, it makes sense that headlines will survive as well. They seem to be more suited to short messaging platforms than other fragmented pieces of our antiquted model.
Transition from big to lean, from industrial to ethereal, and from utility to beauty is hard to achieve – but surprisingly easy to predict. The toughest part will be understanding your community and not flat our introducing the future just because you can. In practical terms someone gave me this advice years ago:
Give your audience two things they understand up front – then slip in one they don’t!
-Ben Ilfeld, follow me @benilfeld