Don’t keep thinking about the future. Think what you can do now. Find your passion. Do it, and see what happens. The element of surprise is sometimes the reward. We all have unique experiences in life–and none, even any self-help guru or book–will tell you otherwise on how to live your life. Innovate on yourself first. Don’t be afraid to jump in with the sharks!
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.
Note: This a short story by Arthur Clarke, as retold in a creative task for The Future of Storytelling course in Iversity.
Some time in the future, a group of astrophysicists were on their way back to Earth after investigating the “Phoenix Nebula,” a supernova that would explain one of the greatest mysteries in the Universe.
Traveling on a spaceship, these astrophysicists had one goal: investigate the time when this supernova occurred. Supernovas were known to be the last breath of dying stars that eventually exploded, creating enormous energy and light that traveled through space and time. By the time supernovas were seen on Earth, it may have happened hundreds of thousands or even billions of years ago. Throughout history, such phenomenon were recorded, albeit rarely. Supernovas were evidence of what was once a Star or what is “left of a Star.”
Our unnamed protagonist recounted how he was now part of a historical and scientific discovery after traveling in space this far to reconstruct the beginnings of the “Phoenix Nebula.” To his amazement, his group found evidence of a small planet that revolved around the dead star– just as Earth revolved around the Sun. They went on to investigate the God-forsaken planet and stumbled upon a huge monument, a pylon that served as a “marker.” They decided to dig up the site and found a Vault.
To their astonishment, the Vault remained unscathed even after the apocalyptic explosion of their “Sun,” obliterating the planet’s civilization. The Vault was full of treasures but what caught his attention was the well-preserved “history” of the Vault’s content—as if the civilization who left it behind wanted it found.
Just like time capsules, the Vault immortalized a civilization now gone.
The Vault revealed a civilization just like Earth. They were happy. But amid their bliss, they knew their Sun was dying. This time capsule was the only evidence that they existed.
As they traveled back to Earth, the protagonist was torn. After finally making calculations to understand when this cataclysmic event happened–using pieces of evidence they’ve collected from the Vault, he uncovered an unfathomable truth. He was sure. And he didn’t doubt his math. That was his job.
He was conflicted. How would he now show that THIS supernova seen on Earth was THE star that shined so bright in the night sky, allowing a group of wise men find their way into Bethlehem.
There are many ways to learn new stuff today. One of them through “MOOCs.” It stands for massive open online courses. Similar to MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), MOOCs are THAT, massive. Thousands enroll in these course (50,000 in the current course am taking). But drop-off rates range in the 70% to 80%, as many would discover that it is NOT EASY.
I’ve done my share of MOOCs from various providers including the popular Coursera, which offers courses for “FREE” but later hooks you into paying a premium service that offers an accredited certification, which you can use in your job applications or what not. Now, you may be thinking, “How can you even find time going through this when the world is moving so fast?”
MOOCs have gained popularity in the last few years–in my case, I started hearing about this early this year when I signed up for two courses in separate organizations. I discovered a lot, apart from the friends I’ve gained and the network I’ve built after. MOOCs are great social experiments. A good question to ask is: Why deliver learning this way? Is it effective? Can you teach 7,000 students and expect them to get it? I will say NO, and Yes. No, you cannot expect everyone to have the same level of understanding. But what makes MOOCs interesting are peer-graded assignments, which means you’re graded by classmates. This will challenge you to write well–and produce works that require a lot of “persuasion” in terms of selling your ideas, your experiences, and your version of the truth.
MOOCs is not formal education. But do you need formal education to even learn something new? No.
Finishing a MOOC takes time, discipline, and dedication. Also, there’s a big social element here. People tend to congregate into study groups through social networks. And that’s where things become more interesting. Meeting a diverse group of people with varying backgrounds make MOOCs a community. In fact, I learn to use so-called “mindmaps” in MOOCs. Mindmaps are visual tools to help you remember a lot of concepts. This is especially important in remembering details.
Wait, there’s more!
Where can you find free education these days? And many universities are now jumping the MOOC bandwagon, offering their own versions. The delivery is via the web. The modes of teaching are varied: video, text (readings), photos, excerpts from textbooks and popular books, discussion boards, quizzes, and my favorite: peer-graded assignments. You only need 2 to 3 hours a day to finish one module. If you’re fast, you can even finish a weekly set for one day. Teachers also vary in style. Some are very animated. Some conduct the video lectures like you’re watching TV. I love the more intimate–“face-to-face” types because you feel the professor is talking to you straight. Some have added special Google Hangouts for “live interactions.” Some courses require a final exam or final work that you have to submit on time. And oh yes, this works under a timeline–strict for some.
Grades are NOT very important in these courses--as I’ve discovered in some offerings. As I noted earlier, this is a big social experiment by universities. It’s their way of making themselves relevant in a world where classroom-based education is being combined with online elements. Imagine, if this is delivered through formal education. I’ve done one for my Masters, but it’s not as massive as this.
What is the future for MOOCs? The question to ask, however, is perhaps, “Is MOOCs the future of e-learning?” I believe we’re barely scratching the surface with MOOCs. There are still a lot of aspects of it, which are in infancy, and needs innovation. For instance, there’s little control of potential cheating in online quizzes and exams. Peer-graded assignments can also be written by someone else, not the student who is enrolled. Much of MOOCs is about trust, honesty and integrity. It assumes the output they see from you is your own.
MOOCs also feature a lot of recorded video lectures. I see this moving more towards interactive lectures that may shift to real-time (ala Google Hangout). But this may prove difficult because the web is global, and not all students work on the same time/space continuum.
MOOCs are good means to deliver e-books to a bigger audience, and it could prove to be a good business model for publishers. Make books cheaper, or parts of it, available to student enrolled in the courses. Much of the content of these courses are still taken from textbooks that are hard to find online–and they’re very expensive.
MOOCs in enterprise settings. Big organizations use very traditional training courses today. Most of the time, it is very individualistic. They should consider MOOCs as a better model–as they say the “more the merrier!”
So I’m okay being called “hypereducated.” Learning is a life-long exercise. Applying it is another.
Before I dose off, I’m making this note: Mark this day. There will be more mountains to climb. And the road to the top will be bumpy. So strap yourself tight. Get ready to experience the thrill, pain, and the bumps. There’s no fun in things that are easy. Challenge yourself. Be deliberate in learning things. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. But learn the lessons –if you can, map it out–visually.
Tomorrow is another day. More hoops to jump over. But stay focused. And always maintain that inner peace. Thanks Dragon Warrior.