I’d love to know what people think about the message of this video. Snazzy composition aside, I was intrigued by what it had to say.


  1. It’s taken me a while to think about Prof. Wesch’s point. I can definitely see how the Internet, thanks to XML and aggregating software, is divorcing content from form in the presentation of online information. The implications of this for news disturbs me a little as an editor and newspaper designer.

    My business depends on the inseperability of form and content; I’m useful because I get to package the news, illustrate it, partition it into sidebars and timelines, label it as hard news or opinion or analysis. It’s no less important a form of journalism than reporting; designers are in the business of visual truth-telling, and we can be very good at what we do. Newspaper websites are also tools of visual truth-telling, albeit in a more interactive way. But as more Web users are able to self-select how they gather their news, they miss out on what the designers have to say.

    Prof. Wesch’s assertion that Web 2.0 lets us control how we use the Internet is a bit naive; we have this control initially, when we first set the defaults for, say, a news aggregator or a blog or a Wiki article, but then the inertia sets in and we just let the machine or the group mind do it for us.

    IBM, for instance, has done studies showing that the overall structure and content of most Wikipedia articles are decided by the initial author; this is the so-called “first-mover advantage.” Online collaboration isn’t quite as collaborative as it seems, and in many ways, we’re finding new and creative ways not to think about how to use the Internet.

  2. Evan,

    As a newspaper editor, you should be disturbed by it, because it’s the same force that’s pushing your job toward irrelevance. As we have more and more power over raw information, how it is packaged becomes a matter of preference – we’re all editors with a circulation of one.

    Editors serve the function of filtering and prioritizing news, in an ideal world, but in reality the mainstream media is as much of a hive-mind as any other medium. If you don’t believe me, consider the fact that every major newspaper’s headline yesterday was about a nobody gold-digging ex-stripper dying in a hotel room. Was that front-page news because each individual editor decided that this is what we as a society needed to know? Hardly. It’s sensational and it has tits, so it’s the cover.

    Your assertion that reading news not designed or laid out by an all-knowing editor is, to me, far more naive than anything that Prof. Wesch had to say. Certainly, editors play an important role in feeding us information that we wouldn’t find on our own, but now we have the technical means to feed ourselves. Our interaction goes far beyond “setting defaults for a blog,” we can select specific microchunks of information from numerous news sources and sort and filter them, updating, adding and removing these sources as our preferences, interests or the quality of the information changes.

    Editors still have a role in making sure we don’t gorge ourselves on candy, but more and more, the individual is deciding their media main course. The control is changing for both reporters and editors. Neither of these role are going away, but they are changing drastically right before our eyes. If they can’t see how important this is in the bigger picture of how we consume media, they’re going to be the engineers of their own obsolescence.

  3. Woo hoo for discussion and debate!

    I think what Evan is saying is worth consideration. The “objective” placement of visuals, sidebars and accurate headlines is important – the labeling of analysis, editorial or comment even more so. Now, you can debate the objectivity of the editor in question but there’s a deliberate process that goes into such placement and labeling.

    This isn’t to say they do a good job all the time – your Anna Nicole Smith reference is as telling an example as you’ll find – but their role shouldn’t be tossed aside.

    This actually coincides with my post about Google News. In that case, an algorythym (that was for you, Andy) selects the visual, not a human. We’ve all seen how badly that can go.

    Ryan, you’re right. I think a world where we can package and prioritize our own news has fascinating potential. But I also consider myself an intelligent and informed consumer of news. There may come an age when everyone is the same way but for now, I wouldn’t trust the majority of people to seek out balance and a distinction between news and opinion.

    I think editors and paginators can do a much better job than they do but I’m not ready to do away with them until humankind shows the ability to think critically a little more.

  4. Ryan, I’m all for the masses getting the news that they need and want to read. But how can they have more power over raw information if they’re getting it in a format that strips away its original format and presentation, and divorces it even further from the intent of the organization that actually gathered the news?

    News aggregators and blogs are valuable things, because they can point you to stories you wouldn’t otherwise notice. But the difference between me and a blogger is that, when bloggers decide to repackage or torque up an underplayed Globe and Mail article, they can’t call up the reporter and ask if their headlines are fair or their trimming keeps the essence of the story intact. I can do that. Or, for that matter, the reporters can call me and chew me out for making changes they think are misleading to the reader, because they can see me editing the story.

    Reporters are, sometimes deservedly, very angry when their reporting gets twisted or presented out of context. But blogs and aggregators are more likely to do that than I ever will; at least if I do it, even accidentally, there are other editors and designers around me to act as checks and balances. I work hand in hand with the people on the ground interviewing sources and seeing events firsthand, as do the photographers, as does the graphics department, as do the guys who run True, that system is sometimes prone to communication breakdown or bad planning. But bloggers rely much more often on hearsay; the fact that they can constantly revise this hearsay online doesn’t make it any less unreliable.

    Bloggers are smart people, mind you, and the good ones know how to see through partisan spin and fill in story context that doesn’t get in the newspapers. But it took them a long time to get the necessary media literacy to sift through all that, and more often than not, they got it from the so-called old media.

    And to address Joe’s point: There may come a time when media literacy is so high that people can be more highly critical of what they read, but even then, not everyone will have access to the same information at all times. It’s only logical and fair that the people who edit and present the news should be in close contact with the people who gather the news firsthand.

    Ryan, editing will never be obsolete. It’s a discipline as old as writing; even the Bible is a work of exquisite editing, translation and retranslation over thousands of years. I make no judgments about what the media of the future will look like, but in an information age, editing will only get more important, not less.

  5. In all fairness, I never suggested that editors would ever go away, but their fundamental role will eventually have to change, as will the roles of reporters, and the role of the mainstream media as a whole. Also, I should clarify that when I talk about content aggregation, I’m not just talking about blogs, I’m talking about news as well.

    Thing is, the mainstream media will always be able to get more in-depth on a story than a blogger. In most cases, the media is the original source for the story. My point, and the point of the video, is that the layout duties of an editor are coming to an end because we as consumers can lay out our own papers based on semantic markup – headline, subhead, copy, byline. I may only want to see headlines. I may want to see headlines plus abstract. I may want to read the whole thing. It’s the distribution of the medium that’s being debated here, not the content.

  6. Firstly, a little thank you to Joe for the shout-out. (Hyphenated?Evan?)

    Ryan, I think you have underestimated the power of old media to stay where they are, and completely avoid adaptation to new media.
    Do there audiences shift to new media? Absolutely.
    Does their strength and power weaken? Definitely.
    But, they continue on.

    While people might be able to pick how they read the news, that does not mean they will stop reading newspapers.
    For lack of a better word, the “comfort” of reading a hard copy newspaper will continue to make me and others like me go to those tree kiling monsters (newspapers) rather than the internets. As long as people like me exist newspaper designer will matter. They will need to lay out the content in just the right way.

    I can’t take online news with me on a train. I can’t tuck it under my arm. I can’t read it in the tub. (If I was so inclined)

    If online content was really capable of destroying old forms of printed media, books would be long gone and yet, we print and read more of them now then ever before. Including, ironically enough, books about how the internet is changing the world.

    Personally I think newspapers moving online has been a mistake. While some of them have been doing interesting things that can only be done online others have been giving away their content to readers for free (who used to pick up the paper and pay for it) and having their copyrighted material stolen, with little return on advertising revenue.

    The only way I see newspapers getting replaced with online content, whether in the form of just web pages or content filtering and management, is if they can figure out a way to make it profitable and with the open nature of the internet I don’t see how that is possible.

    Unless someone smarter than me comes up with a way to make it so online news doesn’t hurt the bottom line of news organizations and soon, I think news organizations may consider whether providing online content is really in their best interest.

  7. Will newspapers go away? Not entirely. Will their influence (and therefore profitability) be significantly reduced? No question.

    Industries that resist social/cultural change and refuse to adapt die a slow, painful death. 50 years ago, typographers were saying the same thing that you are, and now you would be hard pressed to find one.

    The newspapers that flourish will be the ones who go with the change. The ones who don’t will go “online-only” or out of business altogether.

    I love the attitude that I see from so many journalism grads that the media is an untouchable force for good. Changing something that worked 100 years ago to something that works better now is not selling out your principles – it’s good business, and that’s what the news is – a business.

  8. I totally agree that news is first and foremost a business, but I don’t think the internet has been a boom for that business. Online news is great for consumers, but it pays newspapers very little.

    Google doesn’t have any content of its own and even though we all get google alerts daily on subjects we find interesting, if newspapers decided they were tired of providing the content they pay to produce for free they could shut down google news. (Unlikely I’ll agree) What good does it do for newspapers to give away their content for free.

    Online ad revenue is a pitance compared to the ad revenue from hard copy newspapers. Newspapers are also bought and paid for and online news isn’t.

    I think you’re right that newspapers have been to slow to change on a number of things, but you change to make your business more profitable and online news doesn’t do that.
    With more and more free daily newspapers sprouting up newspapers have more competition than ever, which is good, but the last thing they need is to be competing against themselves. Which means they need to manage their own content and take away control over it from their audience.

    It’s a bad business model. If someone can find a good one for online news that’s different, but I haven’t seen one yet.

  9. You’re right – online isn’t as profitable as print – for now. Thing is, in the advertising industry, we’re seeing people move away from print for advertising and putting more money into online.

    When you follow the money, it’s easy to see that less people relying on their local daily for all their information (as once was the case) means less eyeballs on the medium, which means less value for advertisers.

    Honestly, in that respect, I don’t know what the answer is, but I would hate to be the guy who had to come up with it.

  10. Firstly, I would like to commened Ryan and myself for continuing this talk well past where it first went and well after others lost interest.

    It’s possible there is a blend or compromise somewhere in the future that none of us have envisioned.

    Even though less people are getting there news from daily newspapers (although you’re link would say different) there is still a pretty healthy audience for it. I think newspapers will be safe for at least the immediate future.

    I think there are far too many unknowns to say what exactly might happen to newspapers in the future. My father will be 60 this year and reads a newspaper everyday and on the weekend he reads at least three. What’s going to happen to him and others like him retire and have the time to read three everyday? I think there are a lot of factors we don’t consider because we can’t possibly know what they are.

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