Metaphor: hamster wheel

The eternal squeaking wheel
Dean Starkman’s The Hamster Wheel, in the Columbia Journalism Review

Without getting into whether newspapers are worse or better than before—let’s concede they’re fabulous; that’s why everyone loves them so much—we should pause for a second and think about the implications of the do-more-with-less meme that is sweeping the news business. I call it the Hamster Wheel.

The Hamster Wheel isn’t speed; it’s motion for motion’s sake. The Hamster Wheel is volume without thought. It is news panic, a lack of discipline, an inability to say no. It is copy produced to meet arbitrary productivity metrics (Bloomberg!). It is “Sheriff plans no car purchases in 2011,” (Kokomo Tribune, 7/5/10). It is “Ben Marter’s Home-Cooked Weekend,” (Politico, 6/28/10): “Saturday morning, he took some of the leftover broccoli, onions, and mushrooms, added jalapenos, and made omeletes for a zingy breakfast.” Ben Marter is communications director for a congresswoman. It’s live-blogging the opening ceremonies, matching stories that don’t matter, and fifty-five seconds of video of a movie theater screen being built: “Wallingford cinema adding 3 screens (video),” (New Haven Register, 6/1/10). But it’s more than just mindless volume. It’s a recalibration of the news calculus. Of the factors that affect the reporting of news, an underappreciated one is the risk/reward calculation that all professional reporters make when confronted with a story idea: How much time versus how much impact? This informal vetting system is surprisingly ruthless and ultimately efficient for one and all. The more time invested, the bigger the risk, but also the greater potential glory for the reporter, and the greater value to the public (can’t forget them!). Do you fly to Chicago to talk to that guy about that thing? Do you read that bankruptcy examiner’s report? Or do you do three things that are easier?

Metaphors: TBD.com special

A supermarket for news
Robert Allbritton, quoted in Paul Farhi’s TBD.com making its move into the crowded market of local news, from The Washington Post

Right now, [getting local news on the Web] is like trying to buy groceries in the old country. First you went to the fishmonger, then to the baker, then the grocer and so on. And it worked until someone said, “Why don’t we create a supermarket and put it all together in one place?”

News judo
David Rothman’s TBD’s hyperlocal judo is smart and ethical: How should rivals at the Washington Post and elsewhere respond to all the linking ahead?

In judo, you can use a big guy’s weight against him, and the same applies in busi­ness, especially the news kind.

Reading the Washing ton Post story on the TBD local news startup — which will compete against the Post, AOL’s Patch local net work and the Washington Examiner — I couldn’t help but think “judo.”

Besides, in the end, the Post story today will have been just a sideshow despite its current benefits to TBD. The real judo will happen by way of a principle espoused by Jeff Jarvis, the media guru of BuzzMachine fame—in essence, Do what you do best and link to the rest. TBD’s own news staff is tiny, with just a dozen or so actual reporters and a small band of editors. So, to try to compensate, TBD will be regularly linking not just to the Post but also to the Examiner and Patch, which has drawn more than a few dollops of money from America Online.

Tom Sawyer as newsboy
Mark Potts’ Why TBD is Important

As it develops, I think TBD is going to prove a model for other local efforts around the country. It understands something very fundamental, something that once upon a time, a group of us referred to it as the Tom Sawyer strategy: when you’re working with limited resources, use them to the maximum–and turn to the rest of the Web for help with filling in the blanks.

A Coal-mine canary for news
Jack Mirkinson’s TBD.com: A First Day Look, from the Huffington Post

Why is so much attention being paid to a local news site? Well, TBD is something of a canary in the coal mine. The news industry is desperately searching around for new journalistic and business models, and local news has been seized upon as a potential savior. Local, so the thinking goes, is where the money’s at — where you can offer people something they can’t get anywhere else. This explains the rise in so-called “hyperlocal” coverage, which hones in with intensive zeal on the day-to-day happenings in neighborhoods and regions.

Metaphors: a farting dog and a wandering prophet

A farting killer dog
Adrian Monck’s Can apps save news journalism?

[W]here does the rise of the app leave the news business, the flatulent Rottweiler in the dog shelter of online content? Can apps give it a caring home at last?

Moses wandering the wilderness
David Cohn’s Generations in the Desert – Thoughts from Aspen

I’ve said before that professional journalists, in one interpretation, can be thought of as a diaspora. Their “home land” in newspapers has been compromised. If there is a promised-land for media, considering generational theory, it might be that this transition we are in will last much longer. I joked that unless I live to be as old as Moses (120) I won’t live to see the dawning of this new digital age. I am doomed to be part of that cusp generation that must wander in the desert with the elders who remember something long passed and can’t settle into something new. Meanwhile acting as a steward and trying to head north to a new land with a younger generation to take over for me.

via Steve Buttry