Phillip Smith

Defining journalism on the open Web: Six ideas.

Here’s a mental exercise: Let’s brainstorm a list of the changes that define what journalism will look like tomorrow, or – better yet – let’s answer the question ‘what is journalism on the open Web?’

Below are six ideas to start the exercise with. None are original or entirely new. Many are stolen from people much smarter than I am about such things. Each idea speaks to a shift that is underway already, or about to begin, in most professional news organizations.

Maybe you’re experiencing one of these shifts? Perhaps you have your own to share? I hope that you’ll add to the list, or the conversation in some way: maybe we can build a comprehensive definition of ‘journalism on the open Web’ and share it with the world.

Journalism today            -->  Journalism tomorrow
Publishing is the end       -->  Publishing is the beginning
Reporter talks to sources   -->  Sources go direct
Markets are conversations   -->  Journalism is a conversation
Curate the Web              -->  Re-mix the Web
The perfect CMS             -->  The Web *is* the CMS
Thinking about the Web      -->  Web thinking

Publishing is the beginning: On the open Web, the act of publishing something is the beginning of the conversation. It’s the first step toward creating a community, engaging with ideas in the open, and providing a platform for others to build on top of. It isn’t a simple act of Rinse. Wash. Repeat. on a never-ending 24-hour cycle that starts and stops when the words go to print.

Sources go direct: This is a phrase coined by the ‘irascible gadfly’ Dave Winer to document the disintermediation of journalists and news organizations in the conversation between those with information and those who want the information. This disintermediation is made possible by the open Web and the open-source software that powers it, and it’s a trend that is only going to continue.

Journalism is a conversation: More than ten years ago, David Weinberger wrote that “markets are conversations” in the Cluetrain Manifesto, a statement which predicted that walls would be torn down between the people inside of organizations, and those outside. Perhaps it has taken longer for the message to penetrate the thick walls of the Daily Bugle, but the day has come to accept that journalism is also a conversation and those walls will come down too.

Re-mix the Web: Today it is possible for those with limited technical skills to curate the Web. Curation is just starting to be seen as something that journalism professionals need to learn how to do. Tomorrow, however, it will be possible to re-mix the Web: to create entirely new experiences from the component parts. That is what the Hackasaurus project is teaching kids today. Today’s kids are tomorrow’s news users – be ready.

The Web is the CMS: NPR’s Middle East uprising super-star journalist Andy Carvin doesn’t need a better content-management system to make better journalism. On the contrary, the Web is his content-management system. Re-tooling the back-office IT in news organizations is the wrong problem to focus on – those systems were not designed for rapid change – a complete re-boot is necessary, and the new ‘back office’ will use the open Web as the kernel, operating system, and publishing tool.

Web thinking: Emily Bell calls it “being of the Web, not just on the Web,” but – taking a phrase from the ten-year-old Web of Change community – I like to call it Web Thinking. This isn’t just about being ‘digital first.’ It’s about looking outside the newsroom, relinquishing some control, playing some new roles – like convener and connector – and moving at Internet speed. There’s so much more, but that’s a whole post of its own.

Those are the six changes that are on my mind today. How about you: What changes and shifts are you experiencing?


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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