Why digital media is like two people chatting over coffee

78556382I have this image of two people chatting over coffee whenever I try to explain the communication model behind digital media. So the Sender is also the Receiver. And they both engage in a conversation, providing each other messages that are sent back and forth, producing feedback. Sometimes, there’s interference (e.g. someone good looking walks by and distracts you for a second).

I also have this other image of digital media. It’s like that old-school stock market. It’s noisy, people are screaming, but there seems to be order in this chaos. The people use gestures or visual aids, and certain codes to transmit their message.

Defining media in the age of social and the Internet is becoming more difficult as the lines between sender/receiver, message/noise– are blurred. There’s this other image, which Eli Pariser has proposed: imagine big bubbles that contain smaller bubbles. Each bubble is a “filter” that contains the message within that space. And there exists millions of these so-called filter bubbles.

Social media networks like Facebook are considered filter bubbles that are powered by algorithm. This algo learns from your behavior. From that, it now predicts stories that you may want to read, and it pushes it into your feeds. Eventually, you’ll end up reading things that you only like, limiting your exposure to perspectives that you disagree with.

Today, I gave my students readings, which others may label, TL;DR. Yes, they were too long; didn’t read-types of readings.

There was this work by Dan Gillmor, called the We The Media, which introduced the idea of citizen or grassroots journalism. It was a seminal work, which captured the significant developments in digital media.

When this book (We the Media) was in its earliest stages, the author, a respected Silicon Valley journalist, posted an initial outline on his weblog, asking for comments. He was besieged with emails offering suggestions and advice. More, in fact, than he could handle. Later, he posted draft chapters as they were finished. One reader, the publisher of a small newspaper in upstate New York, whom he had never met, sent back a draft chapter dripping with digital red ink, commenting: “The time is right; the subject is right. But your book deserves to be better than this.”

I also shared a recent lecture by Emily Bells delivered during the 2015 Hugh Cudlipp lecture. She described the “tabloidization” of today’s journalism, thanks to the boom of “listacles” (list-articles) and click-baits, which combined screaming, exaggerated headlines that jumped out and grabbed you by the neck, making you click. But once you’re in, there was nothing but fluff and a gallery of gifs added to keep you staring at the screen longer.

Tonight I want to talk to you about the ‘Digital Tabloid’.

What is happening to popular journalism on the web. Tabloids always had the biggest reach, the largest impact, the most flexible standards. On the web, however, we are seeing the tabloidisation of everything. I don’t mean this as a negative. Far from it. All news outlets need numbers in the web economy that are vastly greater than they had in an analogue world firstly to make the economics work and secondly to have an impact. The demands of web scale economics have torpedoed the local news model; they have also driven great invention and a new set of entrepreneurial skills into journalism.

Then, I provided my students an interesting white paper and video clip about BBC, which is now trying to figure out its future. It talked about the evolving mediums, and changing media habits. It collected opinions and insights from experts, including one that said that having your newspaper delivered in your doorstep is a practice that has disappeared. BBC is traditional media that we all associate to mass media. BBC is one of the old giants in the UK that is hoping to catch on with the smaller and nimbler players that don’t carry extra baggage.

As I went on to explain why do we need to understand where media was coming from by looking at its definition, I was hoping to make them think about other means to effectively attract and address the need of end-users through the technology that we have today.

There’s this concept of “shovelware,” where traditional media extracts what it has on its traditional medium and brings it to the newer medium. Many news websites still look like the newspapers. Before breaking news, liveblogs, and live tweets were a norm, online news websites took what it had on print, and just put everything online. That’s shovelware. It’s content that is only transformed to digital without adding any value to it; it’s almost static.

Our concept of media today has changed dramatically. Even the players have. I went around the room asking each student about their main source of news these days. The top two sources were Facebook & Twitter. No surprise there. Tell this to traditional news editors of newspapers or TV, and they would cringe at the idea that no one bothers to go to their website to check the news.

It is also becoming more evident that WE THE PEOPLE, are increasingly consuming news the way we consume snacks. We snack on news everyday, thanks to our mobile phones, which are replacing our desktops, tablets, and of course traditional media. There were a few students still reading newspapers and listening to radio. Their reasons: their parents listen to it, specially in the case of radio.

So I go back to the main point of this article, which starts with an image of two people chatting over a cup of coffee. That’s my idea of digital media, and the way I define it hangs on that metaphor. But is that enough to explain what is happening to our digital universe? What about the NOISE?

In the BBC video, Jeff Jarvis talks about journalism addressing the needs of its audience. It is a concept that he espouses. He argues that journalism should understand the needs of a community, first. Once that’s done, then we look to technology as tools to address those needs. In that way, you establish a better relationship with your audience. It’s no longer about producing clicks, page views, and time-spent on videos that feature cats & cute babies.

Listening is also important in digital media–and that’ the next topic of a series of lectures in class. For now, enjoy this video done in 2004. It’s fiction, but it speculates on the future–that is 2015.

‘Nobody said this job is f&^%$ easy’

It was with great interest, but also skepticism, that led me to read Marc Andressesen’s take on the Future of the News Business. Having been part of this business for more than a decade until I decided to shift to something else, I read, and re-read his thoughts about News being run as a business.

I’m expecting a lot of heads shaking from the world that weaned me into who I am today. The world of journalism, with the capital J, is not too accepting of the mere idea of having “business” mixed with “journalism.”  There are so many situations and stories about the bad marriage of business and journalism. As Marc puts it, it is indeed a Great Wall separating these two areas in news outfits. Why? Money, while it is important to keeping the lights on, it is often used to influence or even dictate the news agenda. Who do you think owns media today? Media as we know it is an expensive endeavor, given how it was built and organized.

But, Marc disagrees and he listed down companies breaking out of THE mold. His list includes the traditional outfits that have “successfully” transitioned to being a digital powerhouse. Their business models, however, are not too disruptive if we compare them to how Apple changed the music, mobile, and computing industry. Perhaps I’m looking for more radical ideas out there–Vice would be one of them, or even Red Bull–yes, the power drink that is creating its own branded content by focusing on depth and a niche of extreme sports coverage.

I agree that news is more widespread today than, say, 10 years ago. News is now a commodity because distribution is so pervasive. And for any commodity, the value goes down. So in order to make profits out of a commodity, you have to have reach–and scale. This is the main motivation that runs today’s BIG media.

Let’s go to the money aspect of news. Unfortunately, advertising is a big motivation for BIG media. Subscription, premium content, and other more creative business models have yet to take off in countries outside of the US. Internet portals like Yahoo!, Facebook, and Google all thrive because of their immensity–and they will continue to grow bigger. They need to shoot for the stars and create huge demand in order to make profit. Each, however, has different means and motivation to get there. What about the traditional BIG media that is dependent on advertising. Now, that’s where all this fear of news being seen as a business arises. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for most journalists trained to be objective to even think how advertisers have greater influence on News. Without advertising money, how can BIG media get by?

Marc’s take on News as a Business is a step in the right direction, but as to the industry he wants to focus on, he may have a blindspot. Media, as we know it, has changed. It’s no longer the domain of the J-School-trained professionals. In fact, I should digress on the issue of why J-Schools should include a mix of “News as a Business” in its subjects/courses. And why entrepreneurship should me a must-have in their curriculum. Journalists should start thinking like entrepreneurs.  But this is a discussion that will take another posting.

I go back to Red Bull, and why I think it is on to something. Take out the brand behind this venture, and we see how media and journalism can be a profitable business. Media has always been a generalist, and thus wants to spend all of its time covering the widest topics as much as possible. Thus, we’ve seen beats created in newspapers, which allows these news organizations to dip its finger on vertical topics of interest. But as we’ve seen how Cable companies have evolved–there’s money to be made in niche. And that’s where Red Bull Media is making a killing. Why? They practically own extreme sports coverage today–and by the way–their brand is all over the place. Isn’t that how advertising should be? Subtle and yet valuable?

I’ve seen this happen when I was still with an Internet portal. Digital ad spending is increasing two-to-three-fold. Big Media has seen this–and thus we’ve seen efforts shift to digital. Those who are stuck in their old ways will soon realize they’re at a tipping point where the curve is headed south.

I don’t claim to have all the answers at this point. But having seen what BIG Media has been doing all these years–trying to deliver the same s%^&* to its audience, in the guise of journalism, it pains me how it has forgotten the very essence of why we need to informed, and educated about things around us. Its motivations have changed. And so are the people running it.

Marc is right in picking out some lessons, but I totally agree with him on the idea of ingraining entrepreneurship to incoming journalists. Why? It pushes them not to accept status quo–and that’s where good, creative ideas start flowing.

Certified!

Four weeks after, I finally got certified. The journey was worth it.

Certified

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#millionpeoplemarch Disgusted, Filipinos take to the streets, the Internet

Back to writing for a magazine

100th Issue of Men's HealthIt has been a while since I’ve written for a magazine. If you have a bit of money to spare, grab the latest issue of Men’s Health (August 2013), which also happens to be its 100th issue.

In this edition, I write about four health heroes who come from different backgrounds: a dancing doctor, “warriors” against HIV, and a real-life “Ironman.” They are all part of the “Heroes of Health and Fitness” in the Philippines.

Go out and buy a copy now! :-)

 

 

Storified: J-students cover SONA 2013


Crowd-sourcing and why I love Quora

Have a burning question that’s been in your mind? Who do you call? (Ghostbusters!)

Seriously, I would assume you would go online and start searching for answers. Or, in this era of social, you can ask your peers.

Quora is one social network that offers answers to even the most ridiculous questions you have. But unlike its predecessors (i.e Yahoo! Answers, Answers.com), Quora is also a community of experts. It allows you to also find experts of various topics. In my case, I was looking for some background information and a starting point on my research on data journalism. It so happens that there were some experts in Quora who answered back a day after I posted my question. Amazing, right?

Go check it out.

Data Journalism winners announced

Data journalism is a relatively new, but growing field of the practice in story telling. While data crunching is not new to the practice of journalism, data journalism is an innovation. Understanding data mining, data visualization, spreadsheets, and some basic programming are some of the skills required. (Don’t be scared. This part does not require prior programming experience).

Here are examples.

Here’s the “Art Market for Dummies,” an interesting way of knowing who are the most “bankable artists” today.

Here’s BBC’s “The Great British class calculator.” This is a fun quiz that lets British know which “class” they are by putting in some data and answering some questions.

Check the other winners here at The 2013 Data Journalism Awards: The 8 Winners announced!

via DJA | Global Editors Network.

Finding your center

It’s not easy leaving a job to pursue my aspirations of entrepreneurship. Now I know what they mean by a “roller coaster ride.” It sucks sometimes.

It has been more than a month since I decided to take a plunge. So far, there are days I wished I was back in the rat race. But there are days that I won’t give up time with my family and children. They say work and life balance is an illusion. It is up to us to decide how we want to spend our time.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m glad I made the decision to slow down. I remember a friend of mine tell me, “Spend more time with your kids while they’re young.” When they get older, they will have less time for you. We all know this, as we have once been young.

On July 15, I would have been 4 years in my job. Looking back, those years felt longer. The challenges, the struggles, the wins, the people, and the mountains I needed to conquer–those years were precious. But all these are without meaning if you cannot find your center.

Yes, in life, we can get lost. I was lost many times. Getting buried in work or the life that I chose before, I often veer away from the important things in life: family and God. The latter is still a challenge. Work is work–it gets you by. But if you lose your center, none of these things matter: fame, glory, money, power, etc.

My wife and kids are my center in this life. Making them happy gives me peace. So sometimes I push myself at work because I thought giving them what they want will make them happy.  But TIME is what they need (sounds like a song!).

They need your time, your presence, your support, your heart, and your spirit. We see many relationships fail these days, broken families, couples who spend more time hating each other. I too had my share of problems. But if you keep reminding yourself what is your center, you will see better days.

We all wish life can be simple. Truth is, we can do it. But first, find and know your center. You may fall on the wayside. But when THAT happens, you know that someone you love will help you get back. I know, I’m slowly getting back on my feet, and making strides. I won’t make a sprint because this life is a marathon. See you all in the finish line.

 

How to get crowd-funding for a journalism project

ProPublica is perhaps one of the few organizations that has tested the crowd-funding waters for a creative journalism project.

In this article, the group summarizes strategies they used to raise $22,000 for a story about the internship economy in the U.S.

Using the power of social media and “traditional” media tactics, ProPublica hit its funding target!

So what is crowd-funding, and why is Kickstarter becoming the platform of choice for many initiatives worldwide?

Crowd-funding’s meaning has evolved over time. It now refers to a “collective effort of people” to fund an initiative, a project, a new product, an idea, or a start-up company. Kickstarter is a company that took crowd-sourcing to the Internet, and made it a successful business model.

In Kickstarter’s own words:

We’re a home for everything from films, games, and music to art, design, and technology. Kickstarter is full of projects, big and small, that are brought to life through the direct support of people like you. Since our launch in 2009, more than 4.3 million people have pledged over $676 million, funding more than 44,000 creative projects. Thousands of creative projects are raising funds on Kickstarter right now.

ProPublica is now one of growing number of creative projects using this platform to seek funding. They’ve cited several lessons they’ve picked up with this exercise. Among them is “mobilize your own readers and networks.”

As a group that has grown its network through its developmental and investigative journalism, ProPublica said it used its content, stories, and social media to generate interest in its project.

You also need a solid story to sell the idea–and some perks for donors.

Based on our experience, Kickstarter can be a great tool for creative, unique projects, but also tricky for those designed around story-driven projects. But if your newsroom has the time, resources and smart idea, it’s definitely worth an experiment.

Just imagine if a site will focus on crowd-sourcing more journalism projects. Would this work in societies where media is controlled by few, elite owners who are often sacred cows? Will this business model be able to sustain journalism in general, thereby letting go of the tried and tested advertising model?

Am sure someone has thought of this. What about you?

Other successful journalism projects funded via crowd-sourcing:

99% Invisible

DecodeDC

Matter