Unplugged offcuts

I posted two days ago from the Al-Jazeera Forum Unplugged new media day but confined that one to the new initiative AJ is launching in this area. Here are a few bits and pieces from the other speakers which caught my ear.

Josh Benton of NiemanLabs. Demand Media (which matches freelance writers with commissions and/or payment) is now handling 5000 pieces of news a day; lifestyle journalism is very cheap to produce. Anyone thinking about paywalls has to reckon that there will always be free quality alternatives. The BBC, NPR, PBS & Co aren’t going away.

News is moving from being a manufacturing activity to becoming a service industry. The average US newspaper spends 15% of its budget on journalists. Young people in America spend an average of seven or eight minutes a month on the websites of newspapers; in the same period they spend seven hours on Facebook.

Benton, incidentally, turns out to be the reason why the NiemanLab blogs are so useful and well-written. He edits the material. Shocking, I know.

Joi Ito of Creative Commons. The key element of internet architecture, the heart and soul of the matter, is that the system allows people to connect without permission. Charging model that seems to work best is part-free, part-paid but with larger sums coming from fewer people. But he admitted that his best examples were not journalism: the rock group Nine-Inch Nails and Japanese anime companies.

Robin Sloan of Twitter. Our guiding principle at Twitter is friction-free simplicity: no choices, no interface, no hierarchy. That way you use Twitter in “interstitial time” and don’t have to go into “news mode” and make an appointment with yourself to do it. News mode moments are gong away; users flow away from friction. Newspaper websites are way too much work. TV is friction-free even if the old structure won’t work anymore. Global TV audience of 4bn people and now Google is doing search for TV and so perhaps changing the way people will engage with it.

Juliana Ritch of Ushahidi. The software company behind the text+internet location site Ushahidi, Swift River, uses software which tests and weighs the veracity of the information it gets. As I understood Juliana, this is by seeing if anyone is saying the same thing from the same area. I could have done to hear more of this for fact-checking is important for a site which makes real-time maps of suffering and danger (Kenyan riots, Haitian earthquake, Gaza siege) to guide help and aid.

Last word from William May of the US State Department’s “Digital Outreach Team”. Apparently his team go into chatrooms and if they see someone discussing, say, democracy and they have it “wrong” they post a suggestion that the writer look at a third-party site (i.e. not a US goverment one) for the right story. They might do this, he said, on topics such as law and justice. So next time you’re moaning about democracy, the person arguing with you may be located in Foggy Bottom.


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