Metaphor: Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters”

Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters”
Ken Doctor’s The Newsonomics of Anton Chekhov

I was first struck by this Chekhov quotation in the theater program: “Russians glory in the past, hate the present, and fear the future.” It’s not easy to find that exact quote on the web, but it certainly sums up much of the playwright’s work and his assessment of the national character into which he was born in 1860.

That thought also seems to say too something about news industry today. Those halcyon days of monopoly dailies weren’t as wonderful as the rose-colored rearview memories recall. The present is an unending struggle — the near future, at least, looking as bad or worse than today.

via Steve Buttry

Metaphor: Fixing webOS

Fixing the NYT with a redesign in a blog post is like posting a few spinets of code and saying that you've fixed Palm's webOS.
@bergus
Nick Bergus

An oblique reference to a redesign that seems to makes some bad assumptions about the problems it’s trying to fix.

Metaphor: Daniel Victor’s Candy Jar

The candy jar on Daniel Victor’s TBD.com desk
Daniel Victor’s How TBD’s candy jar is a seamless metaphor for news site participation

So my new mission was to create a sustainable, crowdsourced candy jar operation, beneficial to all but cumbersome to none. To do this, it’s not enough to simply rely on your reputation as the desk where everyone can find candy. Emotional appeals and guilt-pushing wouldn’t work, as that would simply turn people off. No, you have to give them non-financial incentives to participate.

Metaphors: Bill Clinton, Julius Caesar and Mothra

Janet Coats’ Changes at TBD show Godzilla just keeps winning

Apologies for blockquoting 50 percent of the original post, but there were so many media metaphors I couldn’t help it. — Nick

Bill Clinton

I don’t envy the folks at TBD.com, especially those in leadership positions.

I’ve been in that awkward position of trying to balance my journalistic obligation to truth-telling with my fiduciary responsibilities as a company manager. Even when you hew strictly to the facts in those situations, the nuance comes out as a painful parsing. You feel like Bill Clinton, clinging to the definition of “is’’ as your last line of defense.

Julius Caesar

Take it from those of us who’ve been on the front line of that culture war: Old media won. While TBD the Product may survive for a while, TBD the Culture is as dead as Julius Caesar.

Mating Godzilla and Mothra

A decade ago, when I was about the business of trying to integrate print and television newsrooms, I kept saying that the effort was a lot like trying to get Godzilla and Mothra to mate. These two beasts just weren’t destined to come together and form a common culture. The best you could hope for was cooperation.

An immune system

I think we can claim some very limited success at shifting the culture in those hybrid print/television/online newsrooms in Sarasota and Tampa. But the truth is that every time we started to push the organization around the next turn, those powerful legacy media cultures fought back. Triggered like an immune system, the impulse to timidity would kick in. And usually, we’d actually lose a little ground in the process.

Fragile shoots

So the green shoots get stepped on and ground out. And the leadership keeps clinging to models that creak and groan and show every sign of giving out.

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

Metaphors: supermarket and farmers’ market

Robert Allbritton, quoted in Paul Farhi’s TBD.com making its move into the crowded market of local news in 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?’ “

John Hawbak, on Twitter

By focusing on partnerships with local producers, TBD sounds more like a farmers market than a supermarket.

via Steve Buttry

Metaphors: maggot-infested meat, everything but the kitchen sink

Steak and maggots
Gene Weingarten’s Gene Weingarten column mentions Lady Gaga.

Call me a grumpy old codger, but I liked the old way better. For one thing, I used to have at least a rudimentary idea of how a newspaper got produced: On deadline, drunks with cigars wrote stories that were edited by constipated but knowledgeable people, then printed on paper by enormous machines operated by people with stupid hats and dirty faces.

Everything is different today, and it’s much more confusing. For one thing, there are no real deadlines anymore, because stories are constantly being updated for the Web. All stories are due now, and most of the constipated people are gone, replaced by multiplatform idea triage specialists. In this hectic environment, mistakes are more likely to be made, meaning that a story might identify Uzbekistan as “a subspecies of goat.”

Fortunately, this new system enjoys the services of tens of thousands of fact-checking “citizen journalists” who write “comments.” They will read the Uzbekistan story and instantly alert everyone that BARACK OBAMA IS A LIEING PIECE OF CRAP.

I basically like “comments,” though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It’s as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots.

It’s like everything but the kitchen sink
Steve Buttry’s Academics measure new media (again) by old-media yardstick

To measure what citizen journalism is doing in the Washington area, you need to study dozens, if not hundreds, of sites and blogs. Especially if you’re studying whether citizens could “replace” old media, you need to look at the full citizen effort. The cliché of bad comparisons is that you’re comparing apples to oranges. This is more like comparing an apple to a grape. A grape will never replace an apple. But a bunch of grapes might provide similar or more nutrition, even if one makes a better pie and the other better wine. These researchers didn’t study the full bunch of grapes that exists in every metro area.

These studies miss the point as badly as if you were to study whether NASCAR will replace horse racing. One kind or racing is declining and another is rising, but no one is replacing anyone here. The media revolution we are experiencing and witnessing isn’t like trying to replace an old quarterback by sending in a younger one (a story most traditional media would give more coverage than your average watchdog story).

Admission: On rereading, I notice that I have gone on a metaphor spree here: auto and horse racing, quarterbacks, fruit, watchdogs, a yardstick. Each of them makes the point I wanted to make, though, and I decided to poke fun at this weakness in my writing because I don’t have time to fix it today. I’ll just point you to the news-business metaphor collection Nick Bergus is compiling (at my suggestion, ironically enough). It’s so much easier to recognize my weaknesses in the writing of others.