January 15th, 2006

Media Should Start With Conversation, Then Synthesis


The problem with the current debate over Old Media vs. New Media is that most people see it in binary terms — either Old Media dies and the web becomes a completely open marketplace of commoditized content (as Jeff Jarvis and countless others have argued), or consumers rebel and cling to the structures of Old Media.

The problem with this “either/or,” as Rob Hof points out in his framing of the debate, is that:

…old and new media can’t afford to choose sides. Because the former audience isn’t.

Rob is of course referring to Jay Rosen’s tagline for this debate: “the people formerly known as the audience.” I think the solution to this quandary will come from focusing on what the (former) audience wants and needs — Rob is right that consumers aren’t going to consciously choose New Media’s archetype over Old Media’s archetype (or vice versa). As with most polemics, the solution probably lies somewhere in the middle.

After reading Jeff Jarvis’ though-provoking piece on the value of scoop vs. collaboration, it occurred to me that there might be a new model for publishing online that is neither pure conversation nor purely structured, one-way content. Right now consumers have two basic choices:

1. The Old Media “article” (like BW’s cover story on math, the subject of Steve Baker’s lament, which got Jeff thinking), which is fact-checked, packaged, polished and published. The article sparks conversation, but the only conversations that happened “pre-publication” were between the journalist and her/his sources — the journalist is the focal point for a limited sphere of conversation, which the journalist then “synthesizes” into an article. Perhaps the problem with this model is not the synthesis (which is arguably where the value is), but the limited sphere of conversation — the journalist can only get so many people on the phone.

2. The New Media “conversation” — the debate on New Media vs. Old Media is a perfect example. The conversation is broad, wide ranging, with an every-expanding sphere of participation — blogs (like this one) link to other threads in the conversation. Here are a few great threads I haven’t mentioned yet:

Sam Waldman’s The ‘former audience’ is still an audience
Matt Blumberg’s New Media Deal, Part II – the We Media Deal
Matt McAlister’s The “Old Media” rebuttal to the noisy blogosphere
Mark Pincus’ the future of media…looks just like the past but different

I list them here as part of the New Media mechanism for letting them know I’m part of their conversation. The problem is I’ve only just scratched the surface — there are so many threads, so many sub-conversation (and sub-sub-sub-conversations) — and nobody to tie it all together.

It’s at a moment like this in an evolving debate that I start to wish for a BusinessWeek cover story to pull all the threads together and synthesize all of the thinking. I could do that on Publishing 2.0, but it would probably carry a lot more weight if BusinessWeek did it.

Why is that? Is it because I’m just one mind, while BusinessWeek has the benefit of an editorial team, i.e. their collective thinking (and experience) is much more powerful than my individual thinking? Or is it also because people trust the BusinessWeek brand more than they have any reason to trust me? (I’m wishing right now that I had some fact-checkers and copy editors.)

The problem in a nutshell is that New Media has a powerful conversation, but with no synthesis, and Old Media has synthesis, but with a more limited conversation.

What if there was a way for New Media and Old Media to work together to produce the best possible media product? Let’s take Steve Baker’s BusinessWeek cover story:

1. Steve starts by announcing that BusinessWeek is going to tackle the topic, and “seeds” the conversation with a thought-provoking blog entry. (Doing this would allow BW to stake out the terrain and preempt the “scoop” issue, as Jeff rightly suggests.)

2. Steve’s traditional journalistic work — seeking out and interviewing the most interesting people on the topic — is then complemented by the online conversation that he’s started. He won’t control the conversation, but he can participate in it, help guide it, and follow it wherever the blogosphere takes it.

3. Steve writes his article and leverages the collective intelligence, experience, and resources of BusinessWeek’s editorial function — but maybe (and I know this is radical) he submits a “draft” of the article (or synthesis) on his blog and invites comment. The blogosphere conversation would then significantly enrich the synthesis.

4. Steve then publishes his article — the goal is not to be definitive — the conversation will continue. Instead, the goal is to provide a useful guidepost along the road, which can help people find their way without having to navigate the sea of conversation up to that point.

If this is a viable model, there can and should be intense competition for who does the best synthesis. Maybe it will be Old Media brands — or maybe New Media applications. Consumers are equipped to navigate these options.

Given that the alternative is media chaos and consumer apathy, I’ll end with this (consciously provocative) question:

“Why can’t we all just get along?”

UPDATE: Steve Baker explains on Blogspotting why BusinessWeek and other print publishers might not be ready to embrace the model I laid out here. Steve acknowledges that the importance of the print edition and its notion of the “cover story” will likely fade. In the meantime, BusinessWeek is fortunate to have Steve on the vanguard.

Comments (23 Responses so far)

  1. people seem to have eased up on the ‘us vs them’ rhetoric. AdAge.com has a nice article explaining why Blogging vs. Traditional Media has been oversold. Scott Karp’s recent post entitled Bloggers Are So Wrong About Media raised some hackles, but in a follow-up post he explains that (in his view) New Media has the conversations but Old Media has synthesis. As I emailed Scott, I think he raises some interesting points – but I still don’t quite agree. I’d argue that new media

  2. After getting long-winded yesterday explaining how I disagree with a post written last week by Scott Karp, I took Scott’s advice and checked out some other things he’s written at Publishing 2.0. Turns out the first item I found, which he posted yesterday, not only clarifies where he’s coming from (a lot more open-minded then I gave him credit for), but also suggests a practical approach to moving beyond the Media 1.0 vs. Media 2.0 dichotomy and rhetorical stalemate.

  3. with that topic, and which gathers all the information and links you might want. That is competition for the newspaper, and the radio and the television — heck, it’s competition for books and needlepoint, for that matter. Update: Just came across another of Scott’s posts on his blog , which indicates that his views are actually fairly close to mine — in other words, that “new” media such as blogs and traditional media need to collaborate, intermingle, cross-pollinate etc.

  4. on the blog I really enjoyed this latest metaphor: when it comes to the role aggregators, the editor is a DJ. I like that because it suggests some art, some intuition and humanity in the aggregation process. umair at Bubblegeneration also points to two posts on Publishing 2.0 that expand the thinking on this subject. : : BTW this is the closest thing to a definition of “edge comeptency”, a concept mentioned on the post I linked to on the Bubblegeneration site:

  5. de Scott Karp. O autor, responsável pela investigação e estratégia de uma editora (presumo, britânica), diz-se envolvido na tarefa de reflectir sobre a adaptação dos modelos de negócio da indústria à era digital. Numpost de meados de Janeiro, Karp apresenta-nos uma muito bem conseguida observação dos argumentos esgrimidos no debate ‘velhos media vs. novos media’. [IMG] Ontem, a ideia de partida é retomada para nos dizer que os novos meios podem (e devem)

  6. from the media ‘net for a while (although he was still blogging about music), crept back with a small series of link posts early this year and and has now re-emerged in fine form, and voice, with The former audience is still an audience. […]Publishing 2.0 » Media Should Start With Conversation, Then Synthesis Says: January 15th, 2006 at […] Sam Waldman’s The ‘former audience’ is still an audience Matt Blumberg’s New Media Deal, Part II – the We Media Deal Matt McAlister’s The “Old Media

  7. we ship within three business days of your payment clearing our account. … Amy Proctor – Blog We are winning the war in Iraq, regardless of the media _ s portrayal. … read, Saddam Only Kills His Own People: it _ s none of our business. That … Media Should Start With Conversation, Then Synthesis ” Publishing 2.0 … the blogosphere in revenue-sharing to the detriment of their business. … esgrimidos no debate velhos media vs. novos media _ . [IMG] Ontem, a ideia … LE REVUE GAUCHE – Left Analysis And Comment: A Paradox called Katrina

  8. This unfortunately is not good enough. I think you are spot on to suggest that “Old Media” needs to get together with the blogosphere at some points to better serve readers. This has to be a collaboration. However, in the model that you propose here BusinessWeek not only pockets the revenue from their synthesis but also from the conversation. “Everybody is an expert as something,” says Squiddo. I think this is partly right. There are fact-checkers, proofers and the like out there reading blogs. I think what projects like wikipedia prove is that industries with big bureaucratic companies vastly inflate their function. I think the underlying problem in reconciling the new with the old is finding a fair and standard way to monetize digital content. Once this is set in place everything else will fall into place. I’ll stay tuned.

  9. Elliott, how is it that BusinessWeek would pocket all the revenues? What about the traffic to all of the blogs participating in the discussion? And so what if BusinessWeek does pocket all the revenue for their synthesis — as I stated above, “there can and should be intense competition for who does the best synthesis.” I don’t see the point in shooting down models because they don’t seem “fair” — let that great online free market decide.

    Sure Wikipedia proves that New Media can do its own fact checking, but there are limits to that accountability, as we saw with the false biography of John Seigenthaler. Nobody was minding the store and someone’s reputation was unfairly dragged through the mud. This was a significant blow to Wikipedia’s credibility, and to the whole concept.

    Here’s a more minor, but still significant example — you misspelled my name in your comments on one of my other posts, which you cut and pasted (with the same mistake) on another site:

    “Seriously considering new models for distribution wouldn’t, as Scoot suggest, amount to “Communism” but rather create new revenue streams.”

    Who is going to fix that error? Maybe you don’t care, but I do. And your not caring would be a slippery slope for New Media, since in the self-policing model, we’re all accountable.

    Old Media may be “bureaucratic,” but at least they have the courtesy to issue a correction if they spell your name wrong (and are much less likely to do so in the first place).

    UPDATE: After writing this I noticed that I had spelled Elliott’s name wrong and fixed it.

  10. Interesting points. Initially, I don’t think it will work at BW with the traditional stories we do. I think we have to look instead for stories in which the very forum of the blog (and the broader blog world) creates a unique type of story, and not just a blog-fed version of our normal stuff. The challenge is to come up with the right idea. Meantime, we can open-source other types of stories. I brought the blog into a how-to article on podcasting a few months ago, and got lots of good input.

    As far as the spelling goes… It would be foolish for me to brag about our spell-checking and fact-checking, because readers will always find mistakes. All I can say is that we take it seriously–and feel miserable when we make mistakes.

  11. Scott, let’s not exonerate Old Media from dragging individuals reputations “through the mud.” And let’s not assume that printed retractions and corrections amount to accountability. Wikipedia is obviously more prone to criticism on this front but I am willing to bet the bank that other institutions are in the lead when it comes to defamation.

    With regards to your response to my characterization of your model as one where “BusinessWeek pockets all the revenue,” point taken. I wasn’t suggesting that BW include the blogosphere in revenue-sharing to the detriment of their business. You’re right this is for the invisible hand to decide. I was merely musing, and clumsily so, that their is still an alternative model in which amateur content creators (writers, musicians, writers) SELL their work directly to interested parties. Skip advertising. How would this look? I don’t know but I think it is the answer for bloggers and the like; collaborate on more comprehensive (but still time-sensitive) projects and someone soon will create a more techno-savvy mechanism to sell them for real money. But everyone should still keep their day job for now.

    I won’t take any more space up on your comments. I am trying to stick with my new years resolution keeping out of the blogosphere but you provocative writing is making that difficult. I’ll stay tuned.

  12. [...] What’s Wrong With This Picture? (AdPulp)Apple caught copying again? (AdLand)Beware the iTunes Effect (Encyclopedia Hanasiana)Wink’s Michael Tanne Discusses the Future of Tagging (Marketing Pilgrim)REAL motivation posters (Creating Passionate Users)Media Should Start With Conversation, Then Synthesis (Publishing 2.0)Caption Competition (YesButNoButYes)Technorati tags: Web 2.0, PR, Blogs, Websites, Public Relations, Marketing, Advertising, Media spans = document.getElementsByTagName(‘span’); number = 0; for(i=0; i < spans.length; i++){ var c = ” ” + spans[i].className + ” “; if (c.indexOf(“fullpost”) != -1) number++; } if(number != memory){ document.write(‘Read more…’); } memory = number; [...]

  13. I think there is synthesis. Reconstructors like Memeorandum do synthesize – often better than editors can.

    That said, I think you are talking about a different level of reconstruction…

  14. Umair, you’re right, I am talking about a different level of synthesis — one that requires a human intelligence to create a narrative. (But tech.memorandum is linking to this post, so I can’t complain.)

    Elliott, corrections and retractions may not be sufficient accountability, but it’s more than we’re getting from Web 2.0. It’s also about conscience — as Steve points out, BW may make mistakes, but at least there’s someone to feel accountable for the mistakes and to take responsibility for trying to make it better. It’s possible that someone will find a way to make collective accountability work, but I worry that in our litigious society that may prove to be a messy prospect. (I hope for my sake you continue to break your resolution.)

    I’m intrigued by Steve’s notion that some story concepts might be more suited to open sourcing, which could take journalists in a different direction from where they might go if they were writing for print. But I don’t think traditional print journalism would hesitate to take on any story idea, so I don’t see why open-source journalism should be any different, i.e. more limited.

  15. [...] innovation. Edge competencies are the unificiation of all these. — umair // 3:20 AM // 0 comments Comments: Post aComment [...]

  16. [...] 看樣子台灣的部落格圈比較有效率(比較沒活力?),早早就吵完了。Publishing 2.0 » Bloggers Are So Wrong About Media Publishing 2.0 » Media Should Start With Conversation, Then Synthesis BuzzMachine » Blog Archive » The value of scoops vs. collaboration Why we keep secrets in the mainstream press 不過回頭想想….在美國吵的這些人都是有錢有勢的大喀,而且年紀都也都不小了,還那麼血氣方剛真不容易。在美國,說不定真的就這樣吵著吵著就有糖吃了,在台灣,給吃屎的機率比較高。也難怪有些人會有這樣的感覺了,其實非常貼切呢:Rough Type: Nicholas Carr’s Blog: Memeomainstream 「Sometimes I think that if it weren’t for the shadow of the cathedral, there’d be no place to set up the bazaar.」 Posted by portnoy at 2006年01月17日 13:30 Comments Post a comment [...]

  17. [...] Media Should Start With Conversation, Then Synthesis は、「Web 2.0 vs オールドメディア」という対立の構図そのものに問題を見て取る。実はその前に Bloggers Are So Wrong About Media という記事を書き、その中で There is so much wrong with the blogger view that the monoliths of old media will be brought down and consumers will bask in the glory of infinite media choice — discussing, creating, tagging, rating (meta-ing) each other’s content in one big solipsistic frenzy. Everyone can create media. Everyone controls their own media. Everyone is media. Everything is conversation. Complete entropy. Complete harmony. [...]

  18. I think that Newsvine is succeeding at providing both synthesis and conversation by providing both “New Media” blogging hosting and support and seeding of blogsphere and traditional stories. Further, by having a built-in feed from AP, it provides “Old Media” stories as a basis for discussion. It’s the first site I’ve seen that seems to strike that balance well (and, by the way, also distributes ad revenue to writers). To me, they are the poster child for publishing 2.0.

  19. [...] » Media Should Start With Conversation, Then Synthesis from Publishing 2.0 The problem with the current debate over Old Media vs. New Media is that most people see it in binary terms — either Old Media dies and the web becomes a completely open marketplace of commoditized content (as Jeff Jarvis and countless others hav… [Read More] [...]

  20. I haven’t seen Newsvine yet, although I’ve read the reviews (at some point they need to open it up, or the anticipation is going to turn into annoyance). It sounds like it has a lot of promise, but I still think that seeding the conversation with “traditional stories” is no substitute for a synthesis of an issue. So Newsvine may come to play a critical role in the news cycle, but it doesn’t sound like it will be a place where people can come to get perspective.

    I’ll try to reframe my point about synthesis — following an issue or news thread by reading across connected or related pieces of content still leaves the individual to figure out what it all means. It’s great that we’re empowering individuals, but we all have our limits — we can all use help figuring out what it all means. I hesitate to use this phrase, but we need media entities that serve the function of connecting the dots — what does it all add up to?

    I still maintain that whoever figures that out will be the next Google. Google (search) is the killer app for finding discrete pieces. What’s the killer app for finding useful “wholes”?

  21. [...] Managing the Edge: The Editor as DJ Another one o… bubblegeneration – strategy, business mo …  –  14 hours ago Managing the Edge: The Editor as DJ Another one of my 06 predictions was that this would be the year that managers at the edge would evolve to being something like DJs – that new management innovation emerged to let firms really begin building edge competencies. The meme is already starting to take shape ( and this ). The delicious irony is that all this is coming from a fun blog called Publishing 2.0, by Scott Karp , who does strategy for Atlantic Media – and one of my predictions for 05 was exactly called Publishing 2.0; the death and rebirth of the publishing industry. Very nice – Scott, if you have a min, check out my presentations :) Of course, the call for synthesis in this post also misses half the equation – reconstructors like Memeorandum are valuable because they synthesize, or reconstruct microchunks into coherent streams of attention. The shift away from manager at the core to DJesque choreographer at the edge is something many of us have felt for a long time; the problem, of course, has been the “cannibalization” of traditional media business models – they can’t capture any value from conversation. That’s why media needs edge competencies. Management innovation has to be backed up with business model innovation, and, often, product/service innovation. Edge competencies are the unificiation of all these. [...]

  22. [...] Publishing 2.0 » Media Should Start With Conversation, Then Synthesis Says: January 15th, 2006 at 1:05 pm [...]

  23. [...] I’m NOT saying that conversational media isn’t an innovation — it’s a HUGE leap forward from uni-directional Old Media. But “conversation” feels like half the process — there needs to be SYNTHESIS (as I’ve tried in the past to articulate). [...]

  24. [...] Here is an example of the problem:  The Jesus Myth.  An admitted dilatante is mislead by the Jesus Seminar and posts his confusion to a blog which generates a torrent of accusations, assertions and acrimony.  This is good news?There is a real risk of Gresham’s Law — the counterfiet and worthless displacing the true and valuable.  The number of uninformed, poorly informed and intentionally misinforming will far exceed the number of well-informed.  We will be awash in noise.  A recent controversy on a false, prankster biography on Wikipedia  illustrates some of the issues.  Blogging sites, such as Digg, have fallen prey to pranks and propoganda.  They respond with a variety of spam detection methods — basically reader voting and "reputation" (both vulnerable to automated manipulation).  These are after-the-fact responses.  The bad post still exists and readers have wasted time or been mislead.Controversy often exists between well-informed people who possess different facts or points of view.  Take, for example, the recent controversy over the structure of water molecules.  Scientists at Stanford and UC Berkeley are in strong (ahem) disagreement over whether water molecules are structured as pyramids or as rings.   (like you care about this topic). Nevertheless, nothing prevents every internet user from weighing in on this topic (except their own choice / lack of effort).Open authoring sites such as blogs and wikis have a noise problem.  Anyone can post incomplete, incorrect, misleading, defamitory or other distractions.  Readers cannot verify either the person — often hiding behind abbreviated signon ids — or the material.Anything controversial ends up invoking partial arguments carried over from other sites and instances of similar controversy.  These inevitably lead to a short-hand form of argumentation — labeling.  The participants in an instance of controversy soon begin referring to each other by perjorative labels and the level of insults increases.  Intellectually curious readers receive a vitriolic introduction to the topic and are left to piece together the elements of truth to the arguments of each side.Committed readers, who follow the controversy on some regular basis, are left reading repitions of superficial evidence offered by poorly informed, but fully enthused, commentators.  The experienced readers would be better served by pointing out any truly new developments in the evidence or logic of the controversy — advancing their understanding rather than refreshing material already encountered.Wikipedia had to create a special class of topic — controversial — and tags and procedures for dealing with topics that continuous spiral through superficial diatribes.   Some sort of noise filter is needed for all the open writing sites.  A key element of  the noise filter will be the reader’s own skepticism.  Readers will need to relearn how to validate sources, how to confirm the reliability of evidence.  For example, photo editing tools make it quite easy to change backgrounds, move and morph objects, add or remove indicators such as dates and times.  Readers will have to work hard to determine whether a photo has been retouched.  This is even harder for "first-person" reports which have been fabricated or exagerated for the author’s benefit. We do not need another noise amplifier.  We need a noise filter to show all the news fit to use. [ Back ] [...]

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