Elephant Diaries: Cleaning Out the In Box

Between the university economics class I’m taking and the various stuff people are actually trying to pay me to do, I’ve been too busy to pay proper writerly attention here to a number of important events and discussions. Let me just dump a few things quickly, and let you click through to read what smarter people than I have to say.

On the Seattle P-I’s demise, Chuck Taylor talks about what form Web alternatives might take, especially with regard to some of the efforts being discussed by former P-I staff:

I think the more voices in town, the better, but I’ve warned the P-I staffers that they need to differentiate their work from routine news coverage in The Seattle Times and, to a lesser extent, on SeattlePI.com and other news Web sites in town. They can’t simply continue to write beat reports and feature stories as they did at the print P-I. They need to make a compelling case for people to visit yet another Web site.

Chuck’s also got some nice discussion of the potential for relationship between the formerly inkstained crowd and various public broadcasters.

Michael Tobis has a great, if inconclusive, discussion of the typology of science communicators:

Journalists give even coverage to each team. Advocates root for one team or the other. Most people are far more familiar with these types of discourse and find scientists’ way of reasoning very peculiar.

If I had the necessary clarity in my own thinking, I’d say something smart and (I hope) helpful to Michael about deconstructing his argument and rebuilding it from the audience up rather from the communicator down, a sort of typology of audiences that might lead to some useful set of distinctions regarding types of science communicators that (might) bear different labels. But I don’t feel terribly smart tonight, so I’ll leave this as an exercise for the reader.

As a bridge between the musings on Seattle’s new journalism future and Michael’s attempt to think through science communication, I offer this final note, from Dave Ross at KIRO in Seattle on what readers say they want, versus what they actually want:

People SAY they want objective information but what they really want is vindication for their point of view.
Not sure what “objective” is, but if you can figure it into your typology, Michael, you’ll be onto something.


  1. Thanks for the links and the provocative comments and the buttering up. I look forward to the advice part.

    Your quote “People SAY they want objective information but what they really want is vindication for their point of view” really is a succinct summary of the realization I came to that prompted the linked article.

    As long as the press is a for-profit business that is mostly about marketing toaster pastries and shoes and lost puppies, though, the upshot is “you can’t always get what you need, but if you try sometimes you get what you want”.

    SOME people want objective information. If it were more accessible, maybe more people would develop a taste for it, just like decent coffee has become more popular, to the point where you can even get a tolerable cup in smallish towns nowadays.

    But the state of journalism and politics in America leaves most people just thinking “I don’t like coffee very much”. My questions are simply, 1) what is the potential for the current chaos in the old media and the power of the new media to increase the availability of fresh, strong brew and 2) how do I position myself to be a decently paid barrista in the great new Starbucks of the aether?

  2. 1) For John & Michael both, you might want to consider taking standard business *value chain analysis*, as in:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value_chain and apply it to publishing.

    Basically, there exists some chain from origination (in this case of information and/or analysis) to final use and support. It may pass through one or more organizations, and *integration* happens at various stages.

    2) Various stages have varying levels of *barriers to entry* from competitors. For example, having printing presses & distribution systems was a long a fine barrier-to-entry for newspapers, and that supported the integration of news+advertising.

    3) Stages that add more cost than value either become rentiers if they somehow have a monopoly, or (more likely) get squeezed out.
    Major technology changes rearrange things.

    Once upon a time, minicomputer companies added serious value by design CPUs (multiple boards of logic), creating their own operating systems, integrating other hardware to produce and support their products. Proprietary hardware and software offered strong lokcin factors, akin to what newspapers used to have.

    Microprocessors came and simply slaughtered most of them, as it became too easy to build a computer by buying a microprocessor and adding some logic (less over time). Likewise, between UNIX and Microsoft, their proprietary operating systems, rather than being fine barriers to entry, became money-eating boat-anchors … like newspaper printing presses.

    Of course, if you can be the major link (monopoly or strong #1) in some stage of a big value chain, you can make money. If you can be the *only* such link you can make a huge amount of money, because the rest of the stages get commoditized. This might be seen in the ways Microsoft often supported non-Intel CPUs, and Intel often supported UNIX, Linux… 🙂

    3) We get:
    a) The Economist
    b) The Wall Street Journal (except for OpEd, which we ignore).
    c) The nearby San Jose Mercury News
    d) And often look at the really local

    IF I could only have one, it would be a). It is part-owned by the FT, which is owned by Pearons.

    A few weeks ago The American Academy of Arts and Sciences had an event at the Computer History Museum here. our CEO is John Hollar, who used to be a senior exec at Pearson (which owns the FT, which part-owns The Economist. The session was basically “the future of the book”, with speakers like Hollar, John warnokc (Adobe), Dan Clancy (Dir. Google Book Search), Michael Keller (Stanford Library), Donald Lindberg (Dir,National Library of Medicine).

    While primarily on books, there were thoughts on other topics. Hollar showed a slide with a happy lady named Marjorie Scardino, CEO of Pearson, and an unhappy face of Rupert Murdoch, noting that the former had been thinking very hard about the likely effects of electronic media for a decade and making changes.

    4) So, if I were thinking about this, I’d think about the way the value chains were changing, and I might look at Pearson to see what they’re doing. Recall that micros & commodity OSes killed most minicomputer companies, but they enabled a lot of very small teams to create all sorts of competitive new systems, in a way similar to what the web does (or might do) for individual writers.

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