Mesh and Pros vs Amateurs

Pros vs. Amateurs – the War for Attention
Jon Dube talks with Paul Sullivan, Steve Herrmann and Tony Hung.

Jon: so one of the issues is control and who controls the content. with the BBC, the BBC have the final say, with Paul, there are a series of editors, with Tony, anything goes.

Paul: we do not make distinction btw pro and amateur, if you have a story you are more than welcome. Power was important in journalism, but it concentrated in traditional media, often for a lot of good reasons. But people felt and still feel alienated. they believe they have something to say, that they have stories to tell. and rather than pound on the door of teh newspapers, so i decided to give them that opportunity. People are respectful of the site and they play the game civilly. we have filters, filter out a vast role call of words. People are so used to other people having authority, when we give them the responsibility, they get kind of nervous. We’ve turned it on its tail – the editors work for the corresponders and not the other way round.

Jon: so what is missing in the way the BBC does stuff

Paul: the BBC have the final authority over my story; with the best intentions. When I hired a couple of sex workers to cover a trial, I got 100’s of calls telling me why it would not work…but it did. Street authenticity is missing;

Tony: if editorial control, or lack thereof, is important, why don;t they start their own blogs.

Paul: we provide a presentation platform, we provide and audience and we are a community and that is important for a lot of people

Steve: i come at it the other way round. The BBC news brand, if we are speaking the language of news, if we tell people that this is the news, we need ot be sure that this is right. I would never relinquish that responsibility. Other areas, message board, music reviews, etc people can get on and tell their stories. but if there are mainstream news, etc, you have to get it right. The other difference is around show case and presentation. etc…For Mogadishu, we found a person to tell their story but there English was very poor, , but we subbed the story down, turned it into readable and sharable English.

Paul: but how did you know that was right? As a journalist, I came across 1000’s of stories where the facts were wrong. An editorial overview does not always get it right.

Q: how was the legal issues of using the sex workers to cover a story and did you pay them.

Paul: we taught them about the legal implications, contempt of court, libel etc but we pushed that this was their story. (the Picton trial). we all have to live by the law and make accountable decisions. Everyone is just as capable of making the decisions.

Jon: Tony, do you have lawyers look over the stories? (BLog Herald)

Tony: we use our judgement; if you get it wrong people tell you. If you repeatedly get it wrong, then you other people take over the story

Steve: mainstream media is not immune to that kind of feedback, you need to become attuned to what is out there, about what people are saying about your writing.

Jon: can anyone turn themselves into their own personal brand? Can pros and ams work together

Steve: we have 2 areas to focus on. Transparency about what we do and why we do it, the editorial process, get it in the open, to maintain peoples trust in a world where it is possible to go elsewhere. Also media literacy, to explain what the process of reporting the news it, so people can buy into it or not buy into t. If you have a training model for journalists, turn it into a public-facing model, so all can benefit it. if you don’t run things, explain why,. Second thing, open the gates, bring in the sources, to help you tell the story when you need them. That is easier said than done, it is resource intensive, it is the only way to do it. you cannot pretend that you are the only ones, you have to ask others what they know and reflect back out to a wider audience. The transparency and incorporation of reader stories, there are simple logistical issues, how do we do this. eg emails with attachments, Until recently we had 10 people altogether that had to do it manually. now we are developing software to automate that, to chew up emails and turn them into somethings that can be easily uses and categorised.

Paul: Steve is talking about an important way for a trad company to open the gates and talk to people. Bu they need to understand that people want to go further. People have the means of production now and they will do it. So how do pros work with them.

Steve: so i think that there is room for all this stuff…and our responsibilities on our sites to reflect back this stuff. to recognise stuff that is interesting, that is pertinent to the story. SO how – do we handpick, take technorati feed etc. say to our audience, here’s our version and there are other versions as well, and point to it.

Jon: what about the future.

Tony: trusted brands will exist, and this will include current traditional brands, plus new stuff. As we open up tools to communicate, the signal to noise issue will get more challenging and the tools will also rise to the challenge. It will get louder and noisier, but people will be able to tell them apart.

Paul: i think that anyone can tell a story in the way they want. if you want to do a newspaper and people still buy it, then fine, do it. but how long will you have to continue to pay for the news? there are too many choices. I can get details on any story that I want. tehre are one or 2 trad venues that I may continue?

Jon: is society ready for unfiltered news?

Steve: it;s here already. the questions is what is going to stand out; where do people go to get news? One model that I’m interested in is journalists getting a personality. This is here – Arrington and others. I went to a presentation by someone who was a football writer; he was a local Norwich sports writer. He left the newspaper and set up own site and got traction and ads. How long before that breaks out even further. We have some ‘famous’ journalists’ and in theory, they could leave and set up own brand/sites etc.

Tony: Om Malik did that; the magazine he was with encourages people to set up own blogs inhouse and they are trying to share revenue from ads etc. Riases questions about popular rather than quality.

Steve: quality will out; if best quality is somewhere else, then people will go there.

Paul: a free market of stories.

Tony: it does not always have to be about people reporting on events, it could be people in the events

Steve: who else pays for correspondents in multiple places; there are bloggers in Iraq etc that are doing a good job and we use these. In otehr places, there are not the people and we need to cover it. You cannot assume that other people will send in journalists to places.

Oaul; you have to assume people will. We have bloggers in repressive regimes…the more sources you have the more diffciult it is to shut doen the story, you can;t out pressure on all of them. OIne of the things that is happening is freedom of information.

Jon: Final question – what keeps you up at night (10 words or less)

Tony: making sure there is the potential for anyone to say what they like
Paul: al quaeda behaeding videos
Steve: keep getting it right and being able to respond quickly when we are told it is wrong.

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