Archives for posts with tag: Ben Huh

There’s great confusion about what the role of the press in a democracy is. The majority of Americans in a recent poll think the role of the press is as a consumer watchdog. Pew regularly surveys people for their views of the press, and their results are always heartening.

Another scholar stipulates that the news in any country is shaped by four social imperatives: the role of the news in a democracy; the corporate structure of news production; the entertainment imperative of news; and the political behavior of news entities in the United States.
http://faculty.uml.edu/sgallagher/culturalcon.htm

For the sake of clarity, I would like to define the news as the founding fathers saw it — an instrument of knowing so important to the democracy that journalism is the only industry mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.

Jefferson defined the news very simply. He said, “The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

This is the prize on which, as stories get shorter and shorter, and newspapers disappear, we need to keep our eyes. I’ve previously referred to this as the League of Women Voters value-neutral policy paper model of journalism.

As I am concerned here to define 21st century journalism, without proscribing it, I’d like to stick as close to the original, rather juridical definition of it, as the instrument of an informed electorate bent, pretty much, on revolution, with the truth and nothing else as their legal defense.

One of the many things that people don’t understand about newspaper journalism is how legal standards of evidence — will this stand up in court? — are deployed during the editing of every story that is published.  (Television news is different.) And, given the law’s long history of being argued and re-invented, I think its “interactive” standards of evidence are as close to justice as human beings are going to get. So we have journalism as the peoples’ instrument of knowing, and its bona fide practice based on legal standards of evidence.

Today I’m going to start to examine and review the ideas of two internet entrepeneurs about what the news is. LOL Cats founder Ben Huh has a “re-imagined” news startup, Circa, scheduled for launch this summer.
http://blog.cir.ca/

Huh is promising to re-invent news for the internet. Schell Games CEO Jesse Schell has interesting ideas about the “gamification” of the news and its interactivity (the whole subject of “citizen journalism” – unpaid content provision, Wiki researchers, the HuffPo’s uncompensated bloggers, and curated comment falls under the “gamification” rubric) .

I am taking their thoughts as typical — however unfair that may be — of the definitions that millennial entrepeneurs with agency have for news in the 21st century. It can’t represent the confusion millenials have about what news is, or their significantly good ideas about it. Hopefully the analysis of  Huh’s and Schell’s ideas will serve as the caveat emptor on their ideas, the warning that the majority of Americans thinks the news should be.

Young people think Jon Stewart is the news, that the mashup, hip-hop soundbite, satirical pastiche of events served up by Stewart – the latest in a series of television comedians, from Carson’s monologue through Saturday Night Live’s weekend news update – is what the news is.

They’re not wrong.

But they’re not right either, and I would argue that if making fun of the news alienates voters, which I suspect it does, a correction needs to be made. Comedians need to start registering ten young people to vote for every political joke they tell on national television. Hopefully having a government that represents the comedians’ constituency would put the comedians out of business.

http://pewresearch.org/pubs/829/the-daily-show-journalism-satire-or-just-laughs

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/17/arts/television/17kaku.html?pagewanted=all

But to bite the news, as the comedians would have it, requires a certain kind of news story. I was recently asked to write a 300-word story a week for the electronic newsletter of a public access television station.  I told the millennial editor in charge I had no access to 300-word stories. She was convinced a 300-word story was the précis of a 1500-word one, or a 13,000 word one (I chose that figure in honor of Norman Lewis, whose 1969 multi-thousand word story, “Genocide in Brazil”, was the longest ever published by the London Sunday Times. It resulted in the founding of Survival International and was later published as The Missionaries: God Against the Indians. You see where this is headed.)

Norman Lewis, journalist, author of The Missionaries: God Against the Indians, and a long-form news story, “Genocide in Brazil”, which helped found Survival International.

The young editor was entirely uninterested in,  and non-comprehending of,  the conceptual parameters of the 300-word story.

It is the crux of 21st century journalism.

News is not the promotion of your music video,  your comedy routine, or any other kind of advocacy. Still, Jon Stewart, Seth Myers, Johnny Carson, every comedian whose daily bread was political commentary is biting the 300-word story – and never the 15,000-word Pulitzer Prize winning series on violence in the Philadelphia public schools.

Among other things, the 300-word story needs to be about someone we all recognize. There is no space to describe and introduce anybody.  For the same reason, this well-known person needs to be in an instantly recognizable setting,  making a gesture – a soundbite isn’t as good – within the context of his celebrity and environment that is also instantly recognizable.  From this instantly comprehensible vignette, the comedians start their riff. Or apply, if you will, their meta political critique.

The perfect 300-word story — a recognizable person making a recognizable gesture —  is the crux of journalism for the 21st century.  (P. S. If Britney can make it through 2007, you can make it through today.)

The 300-word story requires access to celebrities doing stuff.  The medium — 300 words — ensures that celebrity news will probably be the cockroach, or the PVC shopping bag with a biological half-life of 500,000 years, that survives us all.

The only people who can produce 300-word stories are beat reporters – one reason I’m mesmerized by the TMZ paparazzi and their dubious, but incredibly hotttt, SUV enterprise journalism. I don’t blame Britney for falling for Adnan Ghalib. The great chronicler of Britney’s meltdown, Vanessa Grigoriadis in Rolling Stone, didn’t either:  Ghalib winds up begging Grigoriades to be gentle with the mentally unstable superstar.

The 300-word story is the medium for the 21st century. Our problem is that it is the message too, and that long-form print journalism which ends genocide, or, like the  Philadelphia Inquirer series which recently won the Pulitzer Prize for uncovering violence in the public schools, will disappear. Hip-hop soundbite news, the Afro pomo homo pastiche, is the only one which can compete for our internet attention. Our problem is how to package the 50,000 word story in three hundred, or 140 Tweet characters, for such information consumers as Joe Weisenthal, the finance blogger. A recent, 2,887-word profile of Weisenthal suggests him as my prototypical 21st century news consumer . He wakes up at 3:50 a.m. in his apartment just north of the Financial District in New York City and Tweets  What did I miss?
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/magazine/joe-weisenthal-vs-the-24-hour-news-cycle.html?pagewanted=all

To summarize the points of reference in the discussion of 21st century journalism, and to make a critical point: how to write the 300-word story, especially for television news, is no big secret. In 1965 they were telling us that the secret of writing a three-minute news story for television was to say what the story was you were about to tell, to say, now I’m telling you the story, and then to say, this is the story I just told you.

This is the story I just told you:

  1. As space for journalism decreases,  confusion about all its roles must be stripped away, and it is up to journalists to make this clear to their consumers.
  2. The role of journalism as government  and institution watchdog, meeting juridical standards of evidence, is the only prize we can afford to keep our eyes on. (Questions of monetization of internet news and truth police fall under this rubric.)
  3. LOL cats founder Ben Huh and Schell Games CEO Jesse Schell will be our models of millennial internet entrepeneurs defining news for the 21st century. They have the power, the motive, the opportunity. Do they have any clue? (The queer theory observation that the founders of TMZ and Gawker both are gay men fearlessly proselytizing gender equality and outing allegedly gay celebs, along with the gossip, the snark, the aggregated news, the curated comments,  falls under this rubric.)
  4. Joe Weisenthal, the 24/7 news vacuum, is our model consumer. (That the rush of megalo information, not just the surfing, is the medium of the 21st century news, and that Internet finance itself as well as finance journalism has created and valorized it, and will skew click-counting journalism values toward capitalism and the white boys, falls under this rubric.)

Joe Weisenthal, finance blogger, our typical 21st century journalism consumer. By Marvin Orellana for The New York Times.

Tomorrow:  Analysis of Ben Huh and Jesse Schell concepts of journalism

http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/05/cheezburgers-ben-huh-says-news-organizations-should-think-like-teenagers-if-they-want-to-survive/
http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/05/super-mario-cub-reporter-jesse-schell-on-what-the-game-industry-could-teach-the-news-industry/

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Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. — A. J. Liebling

Press critic A. J. Liebling

I was once talking to a publisher of very fancy books and he was complaining how his edition of Gary Snyder’s latest, I think it was, had sold only 12,000 copies.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since.

Virginia Woolf, to whom I keep referring because she is the one thing I know almost everything about, having realized, when I set out to be a reporter, 43 years ago, that it would be a state of being one mile wide and one inch deep, and if I wanted any self-respect at all, I needed to know everything about one thing, and it was she, was her own publisher.

Famously, she said it gave her the freedom to write some of 20th century modernity’s earliest works. This includes experimental novels like The Waves, which goes up blow-for-blow against Ulysses. In fact the Hogarth Press which she founded with her husband, for which she was both typesetter and  reader, turned down the opportunity to publish Ulysses in 1919.

Much has been made of what Virginia, who may be the finest literary critic of the 20th century, did not like and what she stole from Ulysses.

But as a matter of fact her husband, Leonard, who did the heavy lifting as publisher, writes that they decided to print it if they could find a printer willing to risk it. He showed Ulysses to two printers, and they “said no respectable printer would have anything to do with it, for the publisher and the printer of it would certainly be prosecuted.” [Beginning Again, 247]

Virginia’s ownership of her own means of production, her sales, her “platform” as the daughter of England’s foremost literary journalist, who herself made a living writing book reviews, have always been a part of my thinking about book sales and newspaper circulation. Her masterpiece, well-reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement, had two print runs, the first of 7,000 and the second, in the same year, of 5,000.[The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 4, 48, Note 3.]

The Waves will be read as long as people have eyes. Gary Snyder won’t be. To sell 12,000 copies of a truly arcane novel, in 1931, or late 20th century beatnik poetry, in 1996, is an fn miracle of literacy and good fortune.

To think that there are 12,000 people who can read arcana, and have the money to buy the book — last I checked fancy editions of Snyder are selling for $41 — is unprecedented in history. Snyder’s publisher was certainly thinking about the Dan Brown ball park, or maybe Tupac’s, and I made him pay for lunch because a.) he made fun of the waitress’ pronunciation and b.) he was so clearly delusional.

The paradigm is this: nobody goes into the quality writing business to make money. If you want to be Dan Brown, be Dan Brown. If you’re a poet, or a journalist, or the 20th century’s best writer of fiction, repeat after me. You’re not in this for the money, and you’re not going to make any, and 12,000 in sales is a miracle in the history of mankind.

If you’re a newspaper publisher, you’re not in it for the money. If you’re a rich Silicon Valley start up entrepeneur, and like nouveaux riches throughout the history of money, you find yourself mesmerized by the prospect of being a “newspaper” “publisher”, for lack of a better term, because of the supposed political entree, clout and social cachet that entails — oh! what fun we’ll have eating with Gwen Ifill and Ram Emmanuel in our kewel Watergate offices overlooking the Potomac! — you need to do four things.

Prepare to lose all your money, to have a separate income stream, to reinvent online journalism so as to monetize itself, or if you’re to produce real online journalism, suffer the circulation/advertising/monetizing consequences. Or else.

Finance is not my bailiwick. I don’t need to know the multiplication tables to see which way the wind and the invention of fiduciary instruments like sending college kids credit cards or bundling mortgages, blows. Craigslist has gutted newspaper revenues.  Newspaper advertising sales people are the slowest on the digital uptake.  Next?

Harvard’s Nieman people and the Columbia Journalism Review and the Project for Excellence in Journalism are among the serious players on the case. PEJ to be most trusted because they actually talk to working journalists about revenues and circulation.

Here we have Nieman, who are fanboyz, interviewing Ben Huh, the progenitor of I Can Haz Cheezburger. Huh, like every plutocrat since the beginning of time, is being sucked into the glamourous world, as he sees it, of “newspaper” “publication”. He is going to take his Cheez revenues and reinvent the news.

Ben Huh reinvents the news with his I Can Haz Cheezburger pelf.

http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/05/cheezburgers-ben-huh-says-news-organizations-should-think-like-teenagers-if-they-want-to-survive/

Let me say, first of all, I dote on I Can Haz Cheezburger.  Because I am and always have been, despite certain bluestocking tastes, a Downtown Girl, and what I think of as the Digital Watercooler Journalism — we all hang around cyberspace looking at LOL cats and reading aggregated Gawker riffs about John Travolta’s private parts as we trudge through our digi day — is a true benison of socially redeeming importance to all us cyberdrones.

As for Ben Huh’s ideas about journalism, keep your knees together and your hands on your wallet.

Next up:

huh

monetize with conferences or salons or kaplan
http://www.cjr.org/the_audit/the_washington_post_cos_self-d.php

PEJ — it’s reconforming truth: kickstart journalism, pro publica

http://archives.newyorker.com/?i=2010-01-25#folio=038 http://www.cjr.org/the_news_frontier/

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