I point to TechCrunch all the time — both in this blog and in my public presentations — as an example of a journalistic blog.
It is a blog that breaks news, real news, important news. It is also a blog that is full of opinion. It is also a blog that is winning in the marketplace of readers and revenue.
TechCrunch represents both the present and the future of online journalism, of a reinvented journalism.
Today, Erick Schonfeld, a respected and serious journalist who joined TechCrunch six months ago after his previous employer, the magazine Business 2.0, went out of business, blogs about blogging for TechCrunch.
Working at TechCrunch is a completely different experience. For one thing, I no longer write long-form, narrative journalism. There is not much time for story-telling (except for weekend posts like this one). It is mostly breaking news, reporting facts and providing analysis. At TechCrunch, I am completely focused on blogging, 24/7. With a few exceptions, no single post is very difficult to write (unlike an in-depth magazine article that can require 50 interviews and weeks of travel, for instance). But taken as a whole, blogging is actually harder. That is because the blogging never stops. Just ask my wife and kids, who now mock me by repeating back my new mantra: “I’m almost done, just one more post.”
TechCrunch succeeds because its bloggers do very good journalism — gathering lots of stories, getting them online quickly (if not first), and because its bloggers know what the hell they’re talking about, their commentary is respected.
There is always something else to write about, and not enough time to cover it. But we live or die by how fast we can post after a story breaks, if we can’t break it ourselves. We hardly have time to proofread our posts, as anyone who’s come across one of the frequent typos in TechCrunch knows. Luckily, our readers love to point out our mistakes in comments. They are our copy editors and fact checkers. (We love you guys). Our philosophy is that it is better to get 70 percent of a story up fast and get the basic facts right than to wait another hour (or a day) to get the remaining 30 percent. We can always update the post or do another one as new information comes in. More often than not, putting up partial information is what leads us to the truth—a source contacts us with more details or adds them directly into comments.
What some newsrooms (e.g., The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) have done is turn the workflow around — in a way that makes sense when the number of subscribers to the print product is decreasing and the number of online visitors is increasing: Make “Web first” the rule, in all cases. Produce for online, write for online, shoot for online, design for online.
If you’re going to produce for online first, start by thinking and acting like a blogger. If you don’t know how to do that, start following TechCrunch. You’ll learn.
I’m by far no fan of Eric Alterman, but his seven-page piece on the state of newspaper journalism in the New Yorker is a must read. There isn’t a thought out of place or a misdrawn conclusion. There’s no need for me to comment on it. It stands on its own.
There’s nothing to this blog thing, right? It’s just a lot of blow hards spouting opinions.
Well, upstart HuffingtonPost.com has surpassed DrudgeReport.com (not a blog, but more of a big media headline aggregator, and so well established now as to be pretty MSM) in traffic, and according to compete.com, is gaining on the Chicago Tribune.
As newspapers struggle through a recession at a time of media tumult, Stowe Boyd writes:
The Big Band era is coming to an end, and while some oldsters are going to keep on listening to Count Basie and Duke Ellington, most of us are moving on to rock and roll. Many of the players will find new gigs, experiment with new musical forms, but some won’t. Some will retire, open bars, or find something else to do. Zell and Tierney may have to take their losses and find something else to invest in. David Carr may have to start blogging for the Huffington Post, or run for office.
His comparison with the death of the Big Band era is more apt than he states.
You could say Big Bands were killed by rock and roll, but that would really miss the point (and be at least a decade off the mark). Big Bands were killed as much as anything by hubris, greed and technological efficiency, not to mention changes in society’s musical taste and needs.
The musicians strike of the 1940s opened the door to smaller combos filled with non-union musicians. Not only where these combos more nimble, they were playing new kinds of music (such as country and rhythm and blues), driven by better technology for amplifying their music. By the time the strike ended in 1944, the new musical forms had not yet gained in popular demand, but the trajectory was set. Hank Williams would break through in 1947. Louis Jordan dominated R&B charts from the early 1940s through the end of the decade, setting the stage for the birth of Rock and Roll.
Of course, the oldsters who clung to the golden era of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman saw no value in hick or race music. To them, it was all a fad whose time would pass. These wild sounds weren’t polished or sophisticated. This wasn’t quality music. The public would return to its senses and soon demand those big band sounds again. Sort of sounds like journalists attitudes toward bloggers, doesn’t it? (Interestingly, Goodman made a fine switch to small combo music, and he recorded some of the first jazz to feature lead guitar, employing the pioneer Charlie Christian).
Note that music didn’t die with the Big Bands, nor did it really diminish in quality. It fact, some of the greatest music of human history was created in the second half of the 20th Century. The music that came after was, to the discerning ear, no better nor worse than the stuff gathering dust on scratchy 78s. It was just different.
The same will be said of journalism fifty years hence.
For old-time sake, here’s Big Band music at its best: Goodman’s band playing the Louis Prima-penned, “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
UPDATE: Ur, um, is this video really “Sing, Sing, Sing”? Nobody’s called me on it, but upon reflection — the “Sing, Sing, Sing” melody is not any part of this performance. What it does have is elements of “Christopher Columbus,” which was incorporated into Goodman’s version of “Sing, Sing, Sing.” But “Sing, Sing, Sing” was eight (studio version) to 12 minutes long (the famous “Live at Carnegie Hall” performance, which is without a doubt the single greatest achievement of recorded music history. At least, I say so. More here.
A common complaint in the journalism world is that newspapers aren’t innovative enough. The complaint usually goes something like, “Why didn’t a newspaper invent Google or Yahoo! or MySpace?” And then there is some finger pointing at executives for not funding R&D or being bold enough in their visions.
This “why didn’t we come up with the big idea” is one of the myths of innovation.
The problem with innovation in incumbent industries isn’t the lack of big ideas. It’s the failure to see the importance of little ideas, because they don’t point the way to immediate profits commensurate with current company values.
All innovation starts with taking a look at what tools and materials are available now and how they can be used differently. It involves finding a job to done and figuring out how to modify what’s already on the table. Or it involves, “oh, I can use that thing differently and I bet this will help other people, too.”
That was true of the light bulb, the telegraph and YouTube.
Innovation is small. It only looks big in hindsight.
Google began with a small, simple idea — what if we ordered our search results based on how many sites link to a particular URL (not even an original idea, since the notion of authority ranking pre-dates the web). Simple idea. Big results.
Any person working in any department of a newspaper can be an innovator. The trick is to look at what you do every day, what you touch every day, and ask, “are there other uses for this?”
For example: Find a rubber band and ask yourself, “what could I do with this to derive as much value as possible?”
Do me a favor, please, and go read this story in Western Horseman about the Army’s plans to take 400,000 acres of land from ranchers in Southeast Colorado. The story is the best I’ve seen so far of the issue.
This is an issue very important to my entire family. My uncle would lose half of his range — a range that has been in the family since 1913. Here’s a picture of my great-grandparents homestead. That’s where my grandmother was raised. She just turned 90 this week.