by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume X, No. XIV

The Long View: A Unified Theory of Journalism

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The Long View: A Unified Theory of Journalism
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
Best of the Week
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in, Clueless

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For the Week of April 3, 2006

A journalist is someone who won't spend five minutes on Google. A blogger is someone who won't spend five minutes on the phone.

These are cliches with a ring of truth. I don't use the phone nearly as often as I should. And journalists are taught to distrust anything they don't themselves see or hear.

Both sides have blind spots, but those of the journalism profession are most maddening, because that is where I come from. Reporters brag about how their profession has no memory, but the Web has one, yet they don't use it.

Part of the problem comes from the fact that journalism companies see the Web as an antagonist. Most lack a Web business model that makes sense. This is the fault of the bosses.

And this is another big difference between journalists and bloggers. A journalist is someone who works for someone. A blogger generally works for themselves. Even when they're being paid a salary, even when they have a defined beat, a blogger has an enormous amount of control over what gets online. (Witness how Wonkette changed after its editor left.) Journalists have no control. Editors define the precise words and slant to be used, publishers define the editorial policy.

Yet journalists, and the journalism process, offer enormous advantages. As folks like Nick Denton and Jason Calacanis have proven, the bigger you are the bigger the noise you can make. People still trust The New York Times and The Washington Post, partly due to history, partly due to institutional heft, and partly due to marketing.

Yes, institutional heft and marketing. They still exist, and they still work. Not as well as they did, better than they will, but they do work.

I got a taste of just how well they work recently when I was forced to leave Corante after 4 years. My traffic fell to the floor. It will take time for people to find me, no matter how hard I work, no matter how I flog my friends. (Consider yourself flogged.)

I have spent 30 years in this profession, trying to find a business model that can get journalism through this transition. The Web is now over a decade old, and most papers are still living in the 19th century. I am not a bureaucrat, not part of the hierarchy, but more important I have yet to succeed on my own, and thus there is no reason for anyone in the business to listen to me.

While waiting for lift-off on Voic.Us, however, let me offer a few thoughts on how blogging and journalism can be unified.

  1. Journalists should think of the Web the way they thought of their morgues back in the day. And they should understand that it's all available to them, even the stuff other people came up with.
  2. Bloggers need to become more disciplined, if they are interested in making money. Blog early and often.
  3. A wide view is fine, but we need more finely-grained keywords, and a lot more help from firms like Technorati, if our words that fall outside the topic are to rise to the top of any stack.
  4. Journalists need to understand they are in the service business, not the news business. They need to define services that defined audiences will want, and get out of the box of old processes.

Please remember what a journalist does. They do not necessarily work for someone who buys ink by the barrel. They define, they organize, and they advocate a place, an industry, or a lifestyle. He or she who does this best is going to win.

The growth of Web 2.0, and the fact that even blog engines are now databases, levels the playing field, for now. If journalism companies understood that their job is to organize, and got busy creating compelling data packages worth paying for, they could still make the bulk of the blogosphere irrelevant. Even top blogging companies haven't figured this out, and are just using lower costs to drive the value of the old business toward zero.

Those who walk away from the wreckage will be the ones who can look readers square in the eye, and serve them. Really serve them. That does not just mean good writing, good radio, good TV. It means powerful databases that deliver values people can't get from Google - local values, special interest values, business values.

No one really has a Clue yet.


Shameless Self-Promotion

I have made a big decision. I have moved my main blog, formerly called Mooreslore, to under the name Dana Blankenhorn. (Hey, that's MY name.) The blog is written in Typepad and is also available at

I'm continuing to produce a special blog on Open Sourcefor ZDNet. I am pleased to say it has grown into a real money-maker. I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for Voic.Us, which aims to become a political "super-site" and offer mobile marketing services. Please visit that blog as well.

You are encouraged to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...


Best of the Week

The Lou Dobbs Election

It sort of depends on Lou Dobbs. He can continue the Howard Beale impersonation toward its natural conclusion, or he can start trying to right the ship, interviewing people with real solutions to propose.

Goodmail Defends Itself

Through the good offices of Esther Dyson, I received the following today from Richard Gingras, chairman and CEO of Goodmail.

What is the Internet?

The Internet is a larger, greater, more important result. It is Version 1.0 of a Global Mind

Real Dynamics of the Chip Business

The real problem with the chip business is that it's dirty, filthy dirty. The caustic chemicals used in chip manufacturing are hell on the environment. As a result, the production side of the business was exported long ago and many countries -- especially Taiwan and China -- have taken advantage of this fact to achieve dominance.

True Heart of the Spam Problem

The true heart of the spam problem is American businesses insisting they should have the right to spam.

We Have Met the Enemy

Anyone who puts themselves forward, as a candidate for public office, is taking a giant leap of faith, and not all of them are cynics.

The Potemkin Monopoly

This order isn't really about raising prices. It's about cutting them.

The Myth of Bandwidth Scarcity

The final proof is that big corporations no longer depend on the Bells to provide their networks. They build their own.

Phone Monopolies Deregulated at a Stroke

While no one was looking, the FCC has suddenly deregulated the Bells, allowing them to keep their monopoly powers and exploit them as far as they can.

Cato Calls for DMCA Repeal

It is significant that Cato has now come out for scrapping the DMCA.

The Long View: People Resist Occupation

Armies cannot occupy territory over popular objections.



A Sudden Attack of Liberalism

Base Beats Bucks on Immigration

Legislature Creates Development Winners and Losers

GOP Risks Growing Hispanic Vote

Prom Sex Taken out of Crime Bill

Are Democrats Catching Up?

Developers Pay but Most Don't Get to Play

Dems Pass Bible Bill

Jay Neal's Moment of Truth

Seven Days in March


ZDNet Open Source

Does Open Source Have Boundaries?

The Whole Network is the Computer

What Else Can a PC Client Do?

Can Closed Source Survive?

Microsoft, IBM and Open Source


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Lou Dobbs. He's on to something.

Clueless is Lou Dobbs. He might just be on to making a complete ass of himself.

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