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Currently program director and instructor at the Digital News Test Kitchen at the University of Colorado Boulder. Also occasional speaking, digital-media consulting and advising for miscellaneous clients. Now focusing on: future of news technology & techniques, future of investigative journalism, innovative digital storytelling tools, and news business models.
I’ve been reading the classic science fiction novel Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, to my youngest daughter. It’s one of my favorite sci-fi books and I’m enjoying re-reading it. Here’s a quick synopsis from Wikipedia:
“Ender’s Game (1985) is one of the best-known novels by Orson Scott Card. It is set in Earth’s future where mankind has barely survived two invasions by the ‘buggers,’ an insectoid alien race, and the International Fleet is preparing for war. In order to find and train the eventual commander for the anticipated third invasion, the world’s most talented children, including the extraordinary Ender Wiggin, are taken into a training center known as the Battle School at a very young age.”
While Ender is the main subject of the book, his brother, Peter, and sister, Valentine, also play a role back on Earth. (All are child geniuses.) A sub-plot has Peter and Valentine pretending to be adults on “the nets” and posing as intellectuals capable of influencing masses of people. In Card’s world (the year is 2135), the great debates of the day take place on the nets.
While there’s plenty of time for Internet discussions to turn around, I suppose, I can’t help but think that Card wasn’t terribly prescient with this prediction. In Ender’s Game, “the nets” are democratic and participative — anyone can join them, as long as they have the intellect to keep up — but there’s no problem with too much noise, trolls, spammers, and plain old stupidity.
Maybe Card was looking well beyond 2008 with his prediction of worldwide networked discussions being meaningful and orderly. Perhaps by 2135 we’ll have really good spam filters. But from the vantage point of 2008, it’s hard to imagine the author’s optimism about online digital discourse playing out.
Earlier this afternoon I tossed off a Twitter post that needs more than 140 characters to explain what I’m thinking. … What raised my disgust was this memo posted on Romenesko by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s managing editor, explaining a new policy to stop posting “signature investigative reporting, enterprise, trend stories, news features, and reviews of all sorts” on the Philly.com website first. (Breaking news still goes to the website right away.)
OK, I understand the thinking: The print product is suffering and this is a way to give it an edge — to encourage people to think that there’s some good stuff that you’ll get first by sticking with print.
But this is an argument that has been decided (or so I thought), so it’s disheartening to see a major newspaper go backward.
Jeff Jarvis said it nicely and succinctly in a Twitter post: “Insanely, suicidally stupid. If we keep out the gas stations, we’ll force them to ride horses, damnit.”
What’s long held back the newspaper industry and gotten it in the current mess has been holding back online innovation that might impact the legacy product (print). The kind of serious innovation that might have avoided the turmoil we’re now seeing among newspapers (especially larger metros like the Inquirer) could only take place with an attitude of “Let’s completely forget about the print edition and just try to build the best damn online service possible.”
But the industry didn’t do that, for the most part, instead settling for incremental innovation that wouldn’t upset things too much on the legacy side. That’s exactly the thinking that’s in this Inquirer memo.
It’s in wiki format, and I’m asking your help in writing it.
Read about it in more detail over there, but briefly it’s in response to Google CEO Dr. Eric Schmidt’s public fretting about the state of newspapers and investigative journalism, and his suggestion that Google has a “moral imperative” to help figure out a new advertising model that will support important watchdog and investigative journalism.
If Google is willing to help, then the newspaper industry should take Schmidt up on that.
Here’s a video from AdAge.com of Schmidt sounding the alarm bell: